“Mozart Was a Red” is, to my knowledge, Murray N. Rothbard’s one and only play. It is a form unusual for him, but one well suited to its subject: the cult that grew up around the novelist Ayn Rand and flourished in the 60s and early 70s. For the principal figures of Rand’s short-lived “Objectivist” movement were indeed like characters out of some theatrical farce.
Even if you dislike Ayn Rand’s moral philosophy of objectivism, and her subsequent exaltation of free market capitalism, you should appreciate this movie.
Atlas Shrugged is about everything that Hollywood is currently against and as a result needed to be privately funded for $10 million. A fraction of the cost of what most A-list actors charge.
There were some minor alterations to Ayn Rand’s massive 1000+ page tome. The time-frame has been set in the not-too-distant future, 2016, and current events and trends were used to set the stage for the dystopian future. But while the overall story may have been given a contemporary polish, much of the core storyline has remained in tact. As someone who hasn’t read the book yet, the first installment of three managed to accomplish the director’s goal of enticing newcomers to pickup the book and read it.
Those who don’t ascribe to objectivism (or its close cousin, utilitarianism) will be put off by the mechanistic view of man portrayed in the movie. This is shown most explicitly in the first of two sex scenes in the movie.
This, in turn, means that bleeding heart liberals, who Rand explicitly loathed, will find the content of Atlas Shrugged to be particularly unpalatable.
Overall, however, I highly recommend this movie because it does do a good job of portraying both objectivism as well as free market capitalism.
One of my favorite scenes:
John Stossel on Hollywood’s opposition to the movie:
On the Set of Atlas Shrugged: 53 Years in the Making
Ayn Rand is famous for arguing for a political stance wherein men were seen as sovereign beings. While this view has merits, one of its pitfalls comes when discussing man’s relationship to other men. It seems that any appeal to community is lampooned by her and her followers as “collectivist”. Rand centered her philosophy in the rationality of the mind. However, I believe that it is precisely the mind where we find the strongest reason we have to believe that man is made for community.
When I pressed one of Rand’s followers what reason we have for believing the mind to be an accurate source of true beliefs, I was told:
The reason I trust my mind is due to a long road of trail and error. Started as a baby with simple concept formation.
The process of trial and error is only valid once you have information and a mechanism for evaluating truth from falsehoods. Babies rely on external agents to provide them with information AND the ability to sort out truths from falsehoods.
For example, I jokingly told my kids that landsharks would get them if they didn’t stay in bed a while back. My daughter firmly denied their existence based on prior argumentation of there being no such thing as monsters. My son, however, has been convinced they exist. Both of them have also subsequently been exposed to “evidence” for landsharks in the form of a shark ride at a local park and a youtube clip from SNL (its pretty funny too). Now, how are they supposed to find out, without me or some other external agent telling them, that landsharks are, in fact, not real?
I would agree that a man’s mind is essential to his survival. But the mind alone does not produce information. Like logic, all the mind can do is process what is already in it.
If you maintain that the mind is merely a physical chunk of meat I would wager that your burden of explaining how true beliefs are formed even more difficult since, under such a view, the mind would merely be a slave to the stimuli in the environment around it. This would also further call into question the mind’s design (or lack thereof) of producing true beliefs for it’s owner.
In opposition to this, I would maintain that true beliefs require the intervention of intelligent agents external to ourselves. This condition indicates that man is not complete in and of himself but rather is dependent on others, on the community.
No man is complete in himself, and children are a prime example of this fact.
The following is a portion of an email conversation (reposted with permission) I had with Dan Barber regarding the foundation for morality.
Morality is only objectively grounded when you have an object to ground it upon. which object? A single, solitary human with a mind. Without humans and his mind, there is no need for morality.
Ask yourself do we need a moral code at all? What for? The answer is yes! Because man has not the automatic instincts like all other animated life forms do. We have to learn about our nature and the space that we live within, Using our creative mind. All things related to how the mind works most effectively has to do with morality. All things that destroy the mind are against human life.
The individual is only moral if he is acting in his own rational self interest to foster the continuation and flourishing of his life using his healthy mind to do so within the knowledge that is available to him ~of course. (and absolutely he is best served by having many kind and loving relationships all around to help him – this the system of trade as his only moral means to relate with anyone else and still be non-contradicted. (remaining moral)
Not relying on the corrupted minds of a collective. Who tell him to hope and pray for knowledge received from the heavens or elsewhere. (the collective always works to destroy the individual minds. It has to. How does a healthy mind function? Compared to a dysfunctional one? One is moral the other is not. Why bother making the distinction if there is no objective morality.
Consider Fred Phelps and his “God Hates Fags” campaign. By what objective standard is he wrong about God killing those people in Arizona? He has Bible scripture that proves his point! Subjective as hell! Either Fred’s mind is good or not good. What makes it not good?
How would you destroy a healthy mind? In my opinion, “faith” is by far the greatest tool known to man. It says pay no attention to reality. live and think by an alternative method. A method in fact that we “the faithful” do control
But, alas, I stand in no mans way to destroy his own mind, after all it is HIS to destroy. As long as he does not also think he has a right to destroy mine. I will after all always act morally in my own self defense and do what is needed to stop him. He is certainly suicidal when he attempts that behavior. History is full to the brim with those kinds of deaths!
There are no conflicts of interest concerning , rational; self interest and any other individual’s RSI. within the conflict lies the irrationality, every time!
There is only a conflict when one or many attempt to enslave the efforts instead of trade for the efforts of any given individual. Suicide again. When you deal with the moral man who loves and honors his own life!
For the most part I agree with your position regarding the ontology of ethics, that is, that they simply exist as part of the furniture of the universe. However there are a few problems I believe exist when the attempt is made to ground such ethics in rationality or the human mind.
The first problem is, whose mind are we grounding these in? One of the problems of being contingent beings is that we cannot be 100% sure of our thoughts and thus anything we come up with on our own has the possibility of being flawed at worst or non-optimal at best. Its easy to consider an insane person’s rationality as flawed because we are making such an observation from a more or less neutral position. But what happens when two apparently rational people, like you and I, disagree over something like the rationality of homosexual behavior? Whose view of rationality should we consider to be the most correct? How can we objectively determine which one should win out?
I would be prone to arguing that we can’t unless we posses Cartesian certainty or knowledge of all things (omniscience).
That brings me to the second flaw I see in what you’ve proposed. How do we go about knowing, with any degree of certainty, what this ultimate rational standard entails? It would seem that without the completely rational knower from our first dilemma giving us special revelation as to what is and is not rational, we would have no way of knowing what is and is not rational with regard to our self-interests.
So I would propose that your view of rational self-interest is incomplete without an ultimate rational mind who reveals to contingent rational minds like ours what is and is not rational, particularly with regard to self-interest.