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A recent piece by John Ellis at PJMedia, Take the Quiz: Who Said It ... Margaret Sanger or Ayn Rand?, catches our attention by the odd juxtaposition of Rand and Sanger. Ellis offers 16 quotations, with the challenge to say which woman is the source. Sanger was an activist for a woman’s right to use contraceptives and obtain abortions; she is the founder of Planned Parenthood. Rand is the individualist philosopher who wrote Atlas Shrugged, among other novels, and developed the philosophy of Objectivism.
So what’s the point of the quiz? Ellis sets it up this way:
One woman [Sanger] is the patron saint of liberal ethics for Planned Parenthood and progressives the country over; the other [Rand] is the ideological darling of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and many who self-identify as tea partiers…. Considering how polar opposite their ideologies are, it should be easy to determine which lady said what. And this is good news, since there is a quiz, of sorts, below.
OK, Sanger is a liberal icon, Rand a conservative one (though she denounced conservatism). Still, the point is? Your guess is as good as mine. I emailed Ellis for an explanation, but he did not respond. Let’s take a look at the questions on our own.
Four of the quotations (1, 2, 3, and 14) are about abortion. Sanger and Rand both held that women should have the right to choose. Is Rand’s belief in that right supposed to shock conservatives? That’s pretty old news.
The really striking thing about the quiz is the number of statements from Sanger expressing her eugenicist outlook. Eugenics was a progressive—i.e., liberal— movement in the early 20th century. It was a left-wing form of social Darwinism, holding that people of “inferior” races or diminished capacities should be prevented from reproducing, in order to “assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit” (Sanger, #12). Eugenics was an ugly movement, with ugly results, including the forced sterilization of tens of thousands of people and immigration laws that were the height of racist injustice.
What does any of this have to do with Rand? In the quiz, there’s #8, to the effect that children should not be exposed to the retarded. I disagree; it’s a matter of circumstance, though I understand her concern not to diminish children’s’ quest to realize their own best selves. But this has nothing to do with eugenics. The latter is inherently collectivist, holding that the race is the unit of value, trumping individual rights. Rand was the arch-individualist who defended such rights and opposed every form of collectivism, including racism: “Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism.” [“Racism,” in The Virtue of Selfishness.] Rand and Sanger were polar opposites on that score.
So, again, what’s the point of the comparative quiz? Despite the polar opposition between Rand’s individualism and Sanger’s collectivism, I wonder whether “elitism” is another intended link. Liberals are supposed to be opposed to elitism, which Sanger clearly favored on racial and ethnic grounds. Although nothing in the quiz (beyond #8) points to elitism on Rand’s part, that is such a common accusation—sometimes inflated into the claim that she was a social Darwinist—that I must refer readers to the refutation of this myth: “Myth: Ayn Rand was an Elitist.”
Indeed, there are so many misconceptions about Rand’s thought that I recommend the book Myths about Ayn Rand. We would be happy to send Mr. Ellis a copy.
David Kelley is the founder of The Atlas Society. A professional philosopher, teacher, and best-selling author, he has been a leading proponent of Objectivism for more than 25 years.