No Man is an Island
Recently we read excerpts from William Sumner’s What Social Classes Owe to Each Other and Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. While reading Sumner, I found myself very discomforted. Originally, I wasn’t quite sure why, as the basic idea presented in the essay – that a laissez-faire social doctrine would effectively solve many of the world’s problems – is appealing on the surface level. Upon closer examination, however, there is a current of social Darwinism that runs throughout the essay, suggesting wholly unpleasant and long since discredited conclusions about how society is meant to function. The implicit answer Sumner’s presents is that the social classes owe each other nothing, a belief that can too easily be used to ignore the plight of those in the world who would genuinely benefit from help. That said, while I personally disagree with the conclusions, Sumner is exceptional and I would consider this essay be interesting and relevant read for today’s world.
The Fountainhead, on the other hand, is abjectly horrifying; Rand’s writing reads as nothing more than a power fantasy. The mindset that Rand pushes in The Fountainhead smugly establishes that society is holding back the true geniuses from expressing themselves. You, the reader, are clearly pushed to think that the genius being held back from achieving greatness is of course you, and thus are inclined to support this idea. This simply isn’t the case in society today; visionaries succeed and continue to succeed in the world: Elon Musk continues to push space travel to new frontiers, Sergey Brin and Larry Page built Google, Kanye West (Personal life notwithstanding) reinvents hip hop with just about everything he does. Even then, arguably the most important thing to take away from these modern visionaries is that they all required other people to assist them and contribute to a creation. The modern success story is one that features tens and hundreds of people working to create a single vision. The real world utterly rejects Rand’s individualist mindset by demonstrating the power of people working in groups to create something that betters society. These people don’t create in a vacuum, they work with others and with what others have already made, and in doing so demonstrate a way for society to progress as a collective rather than as individuals.
After consideration of the works of Sumner and Rand, I eventually concluded that my own problems with the Classical Liberal worldview arise from the fact that the eventual conclusion of the Classic Liberal belief of individualism seems to be either a form of Libertarianism or Objectivism. I find both of these ideologies abjectly horrifying. Objectivism has been largely discredited by philosophers, so I’ll ignore that specific branch and instead focus on the broader issues with the Libertarian issue. To bring this into today’s world, let’s look at the Libertarian Party. Due to Donald Trump’s divisive nature, the Libertarian Party has taken an opportunity to attempt to enter into the national stage. This is the party that most embodies the laissez-faire social doctrine promoted by Sumner and Rand, and its ideals are nothing short of a train wreck. According to their party platform, Libertarians want to eliminate public education (Considered a right by the United Nations), deregulate the finance sector (Which in part caused Great Recession), and want to eliminate the income tax (The elimination of which has been shown to reduce social mobility). That’s not to say that the Libertarian Party is without merit – indeed many of the positions held by the Libertarian Party could be seen as extremely progressive – but rather demonstrates the inherent insanity in fully adopting the Classical Liberal mindset in today’s world. There is certainly value in finding purpose and meaning from oneself, but to take it a step further and propose that society should be set to benefit the individual is to ignore the benefits everybody currently reaps in a world with a more hands-on approach to governance. We all benefit from acting in the best interests of each other, and thus the best way for the individual to succeed is to take part in what society has created. To quote President Obama, “We succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”