Values and the Defense of Freedom

As such, Rand is opposed to many modern libertarians who consider freedom to be an irreducible primary, one which justifies the choice of any “values” whatsoever. To her, it’s the other way around: she defends freedom as a consequence of man’s need to pursue rational, life-affirming values.

While the conclusion that values underlie freedom may seem superficially similar to the religious view, Rand’s account of the source and nature of those values sets them diametrically apart. (As an illustration of just how great the difference is, consider that in contrast to the Christian reverence for faith and humility, Rand counts reason and pride among her primary values and virtues.)

Yet her fundamental disagreement with the religious approach doesn’t end here; it also extends to her view of man. Many traditional religionists see the need for a “Big God” because man, in their view, is fundamentally flawed (see the doctrine of Original Sin). Because of his inherent flaws -- be they greed, pride, or what have you -- man can’t be trusted to do good. He must be kept in place by a supernatural Authority.

Rand, on the other hand, sides with the giants of the Enlightenment in considering man to be morally perfectible. According to her, man has in his possession the means (free will and a reasoning mind) and the incentive (the betterment of his life) to choose and practice the good. Thus, when left free, men will tend to a life of achievement. (This is borne out on a historical scale, where the freest countries were both the most productive and most moral. Think of America and the UK during the 1800s vs. any theocratic or communist state.)

In her view, freedom is both moral and practical. No top-down authority is necessary to keep man in his place, and most laws are written primarily to punish the relatively few who would choose to initiate force against others.

The debate over limited government and fiscal restraint, in Tea Parties and GOP alike, hinges on the grounding and defense of freedom. Does freedom come from the alleged endowments and pronouncements of a Judeo-Christian God, or is its source this-worldly, residing in the nature of man and his faculty of reason?

Ayn Rand offered powerful arguments for the latter view. Moreover, as she once wrote:

[T]o rest one’s case on faith means to concede that reason is on the side of one’s enemies -- that one has no rational arguments to offer. The “conservatives” claim that their case rests on faith, means that there are no rational arguments to support the American system, no rational justification for freedom, justice, property, individual rights ....

Thus Rand not only establishes how to champion limited government without appealing to religion -- she also shows why we must. Let’s heed her advice by giving our values and freedom the rational defense they deserve.