Ayn Rand really stinks as a philosophy of history, as she ignores violence

Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand

Moving on with reading Goddess of the Market, it’s even hard to read about Ayn Rand.

One of the things that distinguishes Rand is that she has a philosophy of history. As she sees it, individualists are the engines of creation. Thus, the success of the American enterprise (and, indeed, all human success, though she uses the sexist term “man” constantly, ugh) arises from individual risk-takers as exemplified by our frontiersman past.

Wealth does arise from exploitation and violence.  Not from a multi-century conquest of a large part of North America and its riches. Not as arising from the genocide of Native Americans to acquire North America. Not from the exploitation of slave labor.

The second most well-developed capitalist nation, the United Kingdom, has a similar narrative. Their business ideology was the best! It was not based on conquests of the British Empire, the captive markets, the draining of resources from the Empire into the coffers of England at gunpoint.

No, no, it’s all about individual achievement! Ignore the genocides, the enslavement, the conquests. Those have no economic bearing on the success of the United States and the United Kingdom! Even though it is recognized that the vast wealth of both countries comes primarily through the exploitation of their conquered areas.

It’s one of those historical disconnects that baffles me. On one hand, all Americans know that much of the wealth of the country arises from the “westward expansion” (to be clear: westward expansion is the common euphemism for “conquest”). On the other hand, in Rand’s fevered imagination, that westward expansion has no other significance other than to demonstrate the rugged individualism of true Americans. The unfettered natural resources – without the thousands of years of exhaustion of European land and mineral resources, and free of the political complexities of Europe – had nothing to do with our national wealth and success, despite those unfettered resources being the primary reason for westward expansion!

It. Makes. No. Sense. It baffles me that any intelligent person, learned in American history, doesn’t attribute the rise of wealth and power of the United States in the 19th century as primarily arising from access to the formidable resources to which we gained access through our “westward expansion” – since to grab those resources was the damn reason for the expansion!

(The same must be said to be true, of course, of almost all European powers from the 16th century to the modern day. Europeans spent five hundred years plundering the rest of the world and draining its wealth into their coffers. The political and economic dominance of Europe during this period MUST take the vast wealth gained by imperial conquests into full account made during this period!  Especially when discussing economic history where the balancing of accounts seems particularly appropriate. To say it was simply because of an advantage in political and economic management is absolutely without historical merit. Sure, countries like the UK made all these claims about the benefits of liberal empire, but they still drained the coffers of the conquered into English banks and industry.)

Furthermore, and this contradiction thrills me even as it saddens me, because Rand ignores the role of conquest in the creation of individual wealth, she can also ignore the role that the government played in that conquest. However, the creation of that national wealth was made possibly only through massive government military intervention against the Native Americans and Mexico, and through immense purchases of the Louisiana Territory from the French and Alaska from the Russians. The very government Rand despised made possible the very resources that the United States used to make itself so rich.

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