People have long had a favorable view of the United Nations: kids learn about it in school, and teachers and parents encourage them to participate in Model UN (a simulation of how the organization’s General Assembly and other bodies work). Students then put that experience in their college applications and their resumes, knowing it will increase their chances of getting into their dream school or getting a job. For many, the UN is a force for good and an admirable organization.
The UN does have its critics. But none is as radical and as profound as Ayn Rand. Rand’s analysis of the UN is unique, colored by her distinctive moral theory, one that calls for objective moral judgment.
Rand’s criticisms went to the heart of the organization, to its nature and to the principles it has followed from its inception. For her, it wasn’t just that the UN was financially corrupt, or wasteful, or politically mistaken, as other critics claim: it was morally irredeemable. She argued that the UN is an immoral institution that sanctions and provides moral cover to evil regimes.
She took issue with a fundamental aspect of the UN: its roster. Soviet Russia, despite having deliberately starved, killed and imprisoned millions of people, became a charter member of the UN. Indeed, despite its stated ambition to overthrow free societies across the globe, and having initiated many international conflicts, in 1945 the USSR joined as a permanent member of the Security Council — the UN organ dedicated to preserving world peace and security.
In 1964, decades before many of the headline scandals that have since plagued the UN, Rand was asked if she would favor a US withdrawal from that organization. In an interview with Playboy magazine, she explained:
Yes. I do not sanction the grotesque pretense of an organization allegedly devoted to world peace and human rights, which includes Soviet Russia, the worst aggressor and bloodiest butcher in history, as one of its members. The notion of protecting rights, with Soviet Russia among the protectors, is an insult to the concept of rights and to the intelligence of any man who is asked to endorse or sanction such an organization. I do not believe that an individual should cooperate with criminals, and, for all the same reasons, I do not believe that free countries should cooperate with dictatorships.1
The same criticism remained true in 1971 when communist China, led by one of the bloodiest dictators in history and with its death toll in the tens of millions, supplanted Taiwan (the Republic of China) in the UN. As a result, sitting at the table with America, France and the UK as permanent members of the Security Council were two totalitarian dictatorships.
The fact that an organization supposedly working toward world peace and the protection of human rights gave two of the bloodiest regimes in history such power is not a contradiction. It’s perfectly aligned with the organization’s nature and the principle it has stood for since its inception: the premise of moral neutrality.
As Rand puts it in her essay “The Cult of Moral Grayness” when talking about the “neutralists” at the UN — those countries who refused to take sides during the cold war:
Observe the phenomenon of the so-called neutralists in the United Nations: the “neutralists” are worse than merely neutral in the conflict between the United States and Soviet Russia; they are committed, on principle, to see no difference between the two sides, never to consider the merits of an issue, and always to seek a compromise, any compromise in any conflict — as, for instance, between an aggressor and an invaded country.
Rand identified that this kind of compromise always ends up whitewashing and enabling evil — it puts evil regimes on par with moral regimes. The consequences are disastrous. In her article “The Anatomy of Compromise,” Rand explained that what authoritarian regimes “stand to gain from a collaboration with the (relatively) free countries is the latter’s material, financial, scientific, and intellectual resources; the free countries have nothing to gain from [them].”2
And she continued in the same article:
Psychologically, the U.N. has contributed a great deal to the gray swamp of demoralization — of cynicism, bitterness, hopelessness, fear and nameless guilt — which is swallowing the Western world. But the communist world has gained a moral sanction, a stamp of civilized respectability from the Western world — it has gained the West’s assistance in deceiving its victims — it has gained the status and prestige of an equal partner, thus establishing the notion that the difference between human rights and mass slaughter is merely a difference of political opinion.
When asked about Soviet Russia’s role in the UN, Rand explained:
[The UN] is supposed to be dedicated to preserving peace and to protecting rights, and yet Russia, which is the worst offender against peace and individual rights, on the largest scale, is one of the charter members. That really amounts to a town’s having gangsters as part of its crime-fighting committee.3
Even though Soviet Russia collapsed in 1991, Rand’s critique of the UN is still relevant and just as applicable to the organization’s current makeup.
The distinctiveness of Ayn Rand’s perspective lies in her moral framework — a framework that encourages us, among other things, to unapologetically pass objective moral judgment and condemn evil. She viewed this as an essential task for any individual or organization. The UN, since its inception, has purposedly failed to do so — and has enabled and whitewashed evil instead. Rand’s evaluation of the UN was so low that at one point she referred to it as “that contemptible citadel of global hypocrisy.”
Critics of the UN often debate over how the organization can be fixed to better serve the world — over how much budget to cut and how to rework the organization’s agenda. But for Rand, such debates completely miss the point. The UN, due to its very nature, is morally corrupt and irredeemable.
As Rand proposed, the only rational step for America with respect to this organization is to withdraw completely.
Tap here for a list of Ayn Rand’s commentary on the UN
Here are citations to some of the many occasions on which Ayn Rand commented on the United Nations:
- “The Shanghai Gesture,” Ayn Rand Letter 1 (April 10, 1972)
- “The Anatomy of Compromise,” in Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (New York: Signet, 1967 Centennial edition)
- “Nationalism vs. Internationalism,” in Peter Schwartz, ed., The Ayn Rand Column, 2nd ed. (New Milford, CT: Second Renaissance Books, 1998)
- “The Chickens’ Homecoming,” in Ayn Rand, Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, Peter Schwartz, ed. (New York: Meridian, 1999)
- “The Cult of Moral Grayness,” in Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness (New York: Signet, 1964 Centennial edition)
- “The Lessons of Vietnam,” in Ayn Rand, The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought, Leonard Peikoff, ed. (New York: Meridian, 1989)
- “How to Judge a Political Candidate,” Objectivist Newsletter 3 (March 1964)
- Interview, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (October 26, 1967)
- “Don’t Let It Go,” Ayn Rand Letter 1 (December 6, 1971)
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