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Ayn Rand’s Individualist Perspective on Racism

Rand’s essay “Racism” advocates reason, individualism and capitalism as antidotes to the evils of racism.

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In August 1963, the spiritual leader of the American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr., delivered a now-famous speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., calling for an end to racism in America.

“I have a dream,” declared King, “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

In that same turbulent year, Ayn Rand published “Racism,” a remarkable essay that not only denounces racism but identifies its philosophic roots and psychological motivation.

Almost sixty years later, as the controversies over racism rage on, Rand’s essay is worth reading for its unconventional analysis of racism and its diagnosis of the many confusions surrounding this complex phenomenon. The buzzwords of today — “critical race theory,” “anti-racism,” “woke” culture — may be different, but the issues are timeless: “What is racism? What are its causes? How do we recognize it? What should we do about it?”

A lifelong champion of reason and individualism, Rand loathed racism, calling it “a doctrine of, by and for brutes.”

Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage — the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.

As for racism’s psychological root, Rand located it in “the racist’s sense of his own inferiority,” which leads to a “quest for the unearned . . . above all, a quest for an automatic self-esteem (or pseudo-self-esteem).”

'In stark contrast to mainstream thought today, Rand argues that the only antidote to racism is “the philosophy of individualism and its politico-economic corollary, laissez-faire capitalism.”' Share on X

In light of today’s “anti-racist” policy proposals — which work to institutionalize race as a criterion in hiring, promotion, university admission, and other areas — Rand’s argument against advocates of racial quotas is particularly relevant.

Instead of fighting against racial discrimination, they are demanding that racial discrimination be legalized and enforced. . . . Instead of fighting for “color-blindness” in social and economic issues, they are proclaiming that “color-blindness” is evil and that “color” should be made a primary consideration.

In stark contrast to mainstream thought today, Rand argues that the only antidote to racism is “the philosophy of individualism and its politico-economic corollary, laissez-faire capitalism.”

READ ALSO:  Ayn Rand’s Unique Understanding of Racism

To explore Rand’s perspective on racism, you can read “Racism” in Rand’s collection of essays in The Virtue of Selfishness, or online here on the Ayn Rand Institute’s Campus website.

Image credit: itakdalee/Shutterstock.com.


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Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith, PhD in philosophy, is a fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute where he lectures and develops educational content for the Institute’s intellectual training and outreach programs. He is a member of the Ayn Rand University faculty.

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