PJ Media recently posted an amusing quiz asking readers to guess which of 16 quotations were from Ayn Rand and which were from Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger.
The quotes reveal that Sanger was a racist and eugenicist for whom birth control and abortion rights were primarily a means to “eliminate the stocks [i.e. people] that are most detrimental to the future of the race. . . ” Will this reduce Sanger’s power as an icon of the left? Unlikely: Sanger, after all, fought for birth-control and abortion rights!
The PJMedia quiz tells the reader almost nothing about Ayn Rand’s basic principles.
The quotes also show a surprising Rand, if you think of her as a right-wing nut-job. She favored gun control! (Not really: the quiz quotes Rand out of context, leaving out her remark in the quote’s source: “You do have the right to self-defense.” She was, in fact, uncharacteristically conflicted on the issue.) Rand was for abortion rights, too! Rand hated Ronald Reagan! Rand was for open immigration!
But the quiz tells the reader almost nothing about Rand’s basic principles. In fact, almost every statement of general principles in the quiz is from Sanger. I suppose most readers are supposed to think it plausible that Ayn Rand would speak in terms of “the future of the race,” despite being an arch-advocate of individualism to whom all collectivism was repugnant.
This quiz works best if one thinks of good values and good policies as being a list of concretes: Pro-immigrant? Check! Pro-abortion rights? Check! Ronald Reagan boo-hiss? Check!
If one approaches issues at this concrete-bound, intuitionist level, then, to a leftist “liberal” in America Sanger comes off as more disagreeable and I suppose Rand comes off in net as more agreeable.
But if one looks at Rand’s underlying philosophy of Objectivism, then the unifying reasons behind her concrete judgments are revealed, even when she was wrong.
Rand was wrong about Ronald Reagan, for instance—Rand saw Reagan mainly as a voice for Christian, religion-based policy. As an advocate of reason and liberty, she was repelled by that. But in fact, Reagan ended up mostly advancing economic liberty and facing down the Soviet Union, policies Rand would have applauded. For a generation now, the Christian right has only rarely gotten traction for its agenda of enforced Christian morality. But Rand can be forgiven for having taken Reagan at his word.
See: to even begin to explain Rand’s judgment on this issue requires more than a sound-bite. And it requires a willingness to think in the abstract, to relate general principles to a variety of cases.
But that’s just what too few Americans do these days. How can we keep a republic of liberty, when we can’t even think about it in the abstract?