M Gandhi and Ayn Rand

“How does one live a good life?” was the core question for Plato and other classical Greek philosophers. Here are two mutually exclusive answers from the 20th century:

Gandhi: Through service to others and simplicity of lifestyle.

Ayn Rand: Through rational self-interest and the advancement of capitalism.

Pick your path to happiness and to our best possible future. I know which one I lean toward.

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21 thoughts on “M Gandhi and Ayn Rand

  1. I once asked my Pentacostal friend Bryan Oz if he thought Jesus would have been a Democrat or a Republican. His answer was shocking but true, “He would have been a Communist”. Sad that so many Americans calling themselves “Christians” have the religion of unbridled capitalism and think that the poor and lower classes deserve what they got as a result of America’s true religion.

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    • If you ask libertarians, pretty much every one of them agrees that Christ was a libertarian (see, e.g. a discussion on Stefan Molyneux’s channel). And if you ask Satanists, some think that Christ was Satan. etc. etc. To me, a discussion by us mere mortals of a persona who might not have been born like us is usually made in vain, especially when we try to compare his philosophy to any other. On the philosophical front I must say that Christ was an exquisitely unique individual, if he’d ever existed in the first place. I think a better question would be whether Christ held a hypocritical face, a usual treat by idealists, beneath a superficial mask of love, and whether the latter had any visual solidity when you dig into the mythos he generated or inspired.

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    • Hi Cheryl. They were offered as two very different visions of how to live, each of which had an influence on large groups of people in the late 20th century. I just offered both for people to ponder and see where they fit, or would like to fit — food for adjusting your sense of place in the world. I find the Gandhi approach more attractive, but I didn’t want to push too hard on that up front.

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  2. I don’t get it either. Help me out. Can’t I have both? Can’t you enjoy the perks of a free market economy and still be a nice, helpful person to others?

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    • Hi Manja. They are two very different approaches, reflected in the very different lifestyles and daily philosophies of Gandhi and Rand. The second terms (Gandhi’s commitment to simplicity of lifestyle, Rand’s commitment to capitalist principles and ambitions) are different emphases – maybe not entirely exclusive, but I believe they are difficult to hold together as guiding principles in daily life. The first two terms (service to others, rational self-interest) really are exclusive, as Rand defines “rational self-interest” in a way that specifically excludes compassion and service to others from the field of legitimate motives.

      (To your point, you can enjoy the perks of the market economy and still be motivated to be kind and helpful, but the latter motivation is incompatible with Rand’s philosophy. You can live Gandhi’s principles within a market economy … so long as you’re aware that your lifestyle choices make you complicit in good and ill effects down the line.)

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    • Manja, you certainly can have both. Capitalism is a rational basis for an economic system. The system is based on supplying the needs of individuals as determined by the individuals themselves, which enables wealth to be created and resources to be allocated in the most efficient way.

      But Rand is wrong when she tries to turn Capitalism into a moral framework. Self interest is not and cannot be a moral system. Gandhi is the one to listen to here.

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      • Sounds reasonable enough. Terrifying idea though that there are people out there willingly shutting out all forms of compassion.

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      • Hi Steve. Well put. Self-interest as an economic mechanism does not translate into self-interest as an ethical principle. And if I praise the “socialist” layering in European capitalism, it could be because I live in a system with a starker, more dogmatic version of capitalism, where the whole political spectrum is shifted further right, or it could be because it’s easy to idealize from a distance, but I prefer to think it’s simply because I’m right all the time 🙂 For a push-comes-to-shove comparison of U.S. and European systems, see my “Individualism and Collectivism” blurb (https://shakemyheadhollow.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/individualism-and-collectivism/)

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      • Hmm. Actually self-interest can be the basis for a moral system. Schopenhauer shows us how. But we would have to believe that all ‘selfs’ are ultimately the same ‘self’ for this to work. Thus Schopenhauer explains altruism as a breaking-through of a metaphysical truth, viz, that we are all the same self. Ghandi would have agreed, I suspect, and he might not have had a problem with a morality based on self-interest as long as it is based in knowledge and not ignorance.

        As for Rand, don’t get me started.,

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  3. Capitalism and Communism are not opposites. That is a fallacy. Capitalism results in disparate groups working together through mutual self-interest. Communism never managed to achieve such successful teamwork.

    But Rand is an extreme outlier. She’s a strawman to beat Capitalists with.

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    • Hi Steve. I assume Rand is an extreme outlier by UK standards. Would that it were so here in the U.S., where powerful figures in Congress like Paul Ryan and Rand Paul expressly draw on her philosophy when setting policy. I don’t really think of communism as a relevant term of debate so much as capitalism vs socialism. And that debate, too, is sadly cartoonized in the U.S. (i.e., we = capitalist; Europe, Russia, China, and everyone else = socialist). In fact, as you point out, these are NOT opposites. The U.S. is about 23% “socialist” and the UK is about 45% “socialist” (by percentage of the economy controlled by government spending). I agree with your definition of what “capitalism” is in theory. In practice, what it has become in the U.S. (since the 1980s) is an enormous upflow of wealth to the top while the middle class not quite breaks even. The more “socialist” elements I see folded into European capitalism are merely ways to ensure that some of the profits generated by middle-class productivity are rolled back into services for the middle class (as opposed to here, where roughly a million families a year – many of them middle class families with insurance – go bankrupt over health care costs, where college graduates routinely carry tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt into their first job – indeed U.S. banks now make more money from student loans than from all credit cards combined. Etc. The middle class generates all the profits and we lack those European “socialist” policies that would help us to recapture some of the benefits).

      Anyway, I wasn’t originally thinking so much of politics, just of the people I know who avidly read Rand with an eye on her ethic as a guideline for how to live one’s daily life.

      And yes, I made up the word, “cartoonized” :)

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      • American politics puzzles me. Judging by government spending you are more free market than the UK. Yet you seem to have a massive problem with what sounds like government corruption. We have nothing like this in the UK. Corruption is generally associated with top-heavy bureaucracies where the state has too much power to interfere in people’s lives. I can’t work this one out.

        More paradoxes – the US government spent massive amounts of money bailing out the banks and then spending in a Keynesian style attempt to avoid recession. As a result you have unbelievable amounts of public debt. The US looks more and more like a socialist state.

        I don’t know enough to work out what’s going wrong. But every American blogger who writes about politics seems to think a disaster is coming.

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        • U.S. politics puzzles me too. Sometimes I think we’re not ready yet for Europe’s late capitalist tilt into socialism. I look at corruption on local as well as larger levels and think that you might need a well-educated general populace and a history of civic consciousness (both of which I think are better established in Western Europe), without which the tilt toward socialism will be ripe for corruption. For this reason – that whatever your ideals, skipping steps is dangerous – I think my votes go a bit less left here in New Orleans than they would in New York, insofar as I think we’re a bit behind New York on evenly educated populace and level of civic consciousness.

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