The Virtue of Selfishness

Last Christmas I saw a copy of this book on the desk of one of my Dickens Square colleagues, and the audacity of its title reminded me that, while I had read all of Ayn Rand’s novels (at age sixteen or seventeen), I had never read any of her non-fiction. So I read this (at least the essays by Ms. Rand herself). Oddly enough, there is no essay that deals exclusively with Rand’s unusual concept of selfishness, but selfishness is laced throughout the collection. Anyone interested in our current politics could save a lot of time by not reading Atlas Shrugged but dipping into this book for an hour or two.  Here’s just one quote about Medicare that struck me:
“The fog [of collectivized thinking about Medicare] hides such facts as the enslavement and, therefore, the destruction of medical science, the regimentation and disintegration of all medical practice, and the sacrifice of the professional integrity, the freedom, the careers, the ambitions, the achievements, the happiness, the lives of the very men who are to provide that ‘desirable’ goal–the doctors.” [the “goal” being Medicare]
Rand puts individual freedom above all things and calls “collectivist” those concepts that place limits on total freedom in favor of those things that benefit the greater good. Of course, she didn’t believe in Social Security, either, but that didn’t stop her from signing up for it, an action she would have called hypocritical if anyone else but herself had done it.

I love doctors, but I guess I don’t love them as much as I desire the greatest good for the greatest number, a concept that Dickens would more likely have endorsed than those ideas of Ms. Rand’s. The doctors I know don’t seem too crushed in their ambitions or lacking in personal integrity.

Not all of her ideas are kooky, at least up front. She deplored racism and racial discrimination, but a few pages later declares the civil rights bills of the sixties as “the worst breach of property rights in the sorry record of American history in respect to that subject.” Just when you think she has a good idea, she pulls the rug out from under herself and her arguments crumble.

I once said that Rand was a bad novelist and a worse philosopher, and I stand by that assessment.

One thought on “The Virtue of Selfishness

  1. This just goes to show that people can see or read the same thing and take away different meaning. The quote you cite is, to me, about the doctors and their practice of medicine, specifically how Medicare restricts their ability to treat as they see fit in favor of a formula of options. This is probably second only to the rapidly decline reimbursement rates as the reason doctors are fleeing Medicare.

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