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Interview with Yaron Brook: Why Ayn Rand Still Matters

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“I really don’t see the Republican Party standing for a real free market or getting the government out of our lives on the domestic front. I don’t see them…proposing winding down the welfare state.”

From 2000 to 2017, Dr. Yaron Brook led the Ayn Rand Institute on a day-to-day basis, and today he serves as the chairman of the organization’s board. He is known for his advocacy in promoting Ayn Rand’s ideas in American society. On May 11th, he joined Merion West to discuss the Republican Party’s relationship with Objectivism, which has been notably adopted by some of the Party’s leaders, the intersection of religion and the movement, and his own background having grown up in a family of Socialists.

Dr. Brook, good afternoon. I spoke with your colleague Steve Simpson for an interview in December of 2017, and I look forward to speaking with you today.

For my first question, growing up in a socialist family, how did one novel, Altas Shrugged, persuade you to abandon your previously held beliefs?

Well, I just really challenged everything I believed in, in terms of collectivism, the morality of altruism, and socialism. I challenged them by presenting an alternative in rational, logical terms that I thought of. I couldn’t find any faults in the kind of arguments presented in Atlas Shurgged. These arguments proposed the alternative of rational self-interest, individual likes, reliance on individualism, and the defense of capitalism. I kept trying to poke holes in it and couldn’t. It took me a long time to read Altas Shrugged, but by the time I was finished, she had convinced me.

Do you feel it was important that your previously held ideas were challenged? Would you have continued down the socialism path if they hadn’t been?

It’s so hard to predict what would’ve happened if they hadn’t been. I doubt that at the end of the day I would’ve stuck with socialism. I don’t know what way I would’ve gone. Socialism is so obviously wrong, it doesn’t work, and it produces evil results. So, I don’t think I would’ve stuck with socialism but it’s hard for me to tell where I would’ve ended up. Certainly, I wouldn’t have come up with Ayn Rand’s ideas by myself, so I’m not sure where, ideologically, I would’ve ended up.

And which domestic policy changes in the United States do you hope to see come about, should Objectivism continue to gain in popularity? Are there any particularly important policies that the Ayn Rand Institute is specifically advocating for?

Sure, right now, free speech is a big issue for us. As you know, I would like to see the attacks both from the Right and the Left on free speech to go away, particularly the attacks on campuses by the Left. I’d like to see a country where you can speak, and you’re not constrained by political correctness or by the fear of offending somebody, if you can actually have a discussion or a debate about any topic with people.

Beyond that, what I’d really like to see is a renewed understanding of the proper role of government: a government as a  protector of individual rights, a government that is limited to the protection of individual rights, a govermnet that doesn’t do anything further. I’d like to see, domestically, government stop subsidizing businesses. I’d like to see government stop regulating business, and, ultimately, I’d like to see government roll back the welfare state. The government should get out of the business of businesses and get out of the business of individual wealth, but it’s going to [take] a long time.

Would you say that Republican politicians are doing a good job at some of these things or do they still have a long way to go, in your mind?

No, quite the opposite. I think the Republican Party is far, far from these ideas. I mean, the Republican Party is strongly for, particularly with Trump and before Trump, subsidizing the businesses they want, as opposed to the businesses maybe the Left wants. They were very much for controlling and manipulating the economy. Donald Trump has proved to be, very much, attempting to be the C.E.O of the economy which, I think, is not the job of the President. So, no, I haven’t—the Republicans just approved the budget, which expands domestic spending dramatically.

I really don’t see the Republican Party standing for real free markets or getting the government out of our lives on the domestic front. I don’t see them, really, proposing winding down the welfare state. Maybe it’s because they’re afraid to do it. But more importantly, I would like to see the Republican Party really advocate for gettingthe government out of business. I’m not seeing that. I haven’t seen that in a long time.

George W Bush, when he was President, grew government dramatically through government spending, government regulations, government controls, and I think Trump is doing the same. So, yes, the last President who actually spoke about reducing government, shrinking government and deregulating in a significant way was Ronald Reagan.

So do you see a future for a third party that is more in line with Objectivism?

Well, not in the near future because I think objectivism is too radical to win political power. I don’t think Objectivism in any near term can have substantial influence. It is too radical, and too few people agree with us. So if we had an Objective candidate today, we’d lose in a landslide.

So I do think a third party is necessary in the United States today: a party that doesn’t want to regulate our social lives, our bedrooms, our marriages, our sexual lives, and doesn’t want to regulate business either. This is what some people call, “Fiscally conservative and socially liberal,” but properly understood, it would be a party that really stands for reducing the role of government in our lives. I’m hoping that there is a place for such a third party and that such a third party does come about in the years to come. But it won’t be an objectivist party. There is still a long time before that will be feasible.

So you alluded to this in your last answer, but many people, when they hear of Ayn Rand, immediately form a negative connotation and dismiss it as some kind of a fad. What’s the key to getting people to take Objectivism seriously?

I think it’s very difficult. The key is we need to get people when they’re young and open to radical ideas. I think the older people ge,; the more close-minded they get, the more settled their ways get, and the less open they are to these radical ideas. So I think exposing young people to these ideas. We want to get them to actually read Ayn Rand, [as opposed to] getting them to read about Ayn Rand.

But, at the end of the day, Rand’s philosophy and ideas appeal to a people who want to think for themselves and who choose to think for themselves. You can’t force people to think. You can’t force people to consider ideas if you’re a radical. I think the other thing is to realize that Rand’s ideas are primarily philosophical and not political. Politics is not what’s important about Ayn Rand. What’s important about Ayn Rand is her ideas and the way they apply to the individual’s life and how we live our lives as individuals. In that respect, Ayn Rand has a huge amount to offer young people in terms of how to guide their lives and how to achieve a happy, successful life. So I’m hoping that as people realize that she is deeper and more interesting than just politics and the way the Left (and sometimes the Right) presents her, it will be more interesting. More people then will be open to studying her ideas and discussing them. And, at the end of the day, what’s important is living the ideas.

During our discussion in December with your colleague Steve Simpson, he mentioned how reconciling Christianity and objectivism is impossible. With the majority of Americans being religious, and some of these very same people embracing Ayn Rand’s ideas, what do you make of the intersection between religion and Ayn Rand’s philosophy?

You can’t embrace Ayn Rand’s ideas fully, if part of you is still mystical and part of you still accepts faith as a source of knowledge. It’s very important to learn that philosophy: “With reason is how we fill knowledge.” It’s how we know stuff; that’s it. There’s no revelation. There’s no reading anything from a book. It is fact, reason, and reality that should guide you and should guide your knowledge. I think Christians can get a lot out of Objectivism because I think there are a lot of principles they can relate to, and that can help them improve their own lives. But, at the end of the day, to be a consistent Objectivist, one has to abandon the idea of faith.

Thank you for joining us today, Dr. Brook.

My pleasure. Thanks for the interview.