The just-published A New Textbook of Americanism: The Politics of Ayn Rand presents Rand’s little-known 1946 essay “Textbook of Americanism” and never-before-seen commentary on issues in political philosophy. Building on Rand’s philosophic thought, the book also features new essays from Objectivist scholars and writers exploring further aspects of the actual nature of Americanism.
In her essay on Americanism, Rand sets out to articulate and defend the philosophic principles that define America’s unique political system — ideals that to this day are widely misunderstood and attacked. That essay, originally published in four installments, is written in Q&A format, addressing such questions as: What is a right? How do we determine when a right has been violated? What’s the proper function of government? What is the basic principle of America? Can a society exist without a moral principle?
Rand envisioned a long list of additional questions to tackle in future installments, but the project was shelved. That’s where A New Textbook of Americanism comes in. The book’s editor, Jonathan Hoenig, commissioned scholars and writers knowledgeable about Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism to address the remaining questions. The aim was to present readers with a rational conception of “Americanism” and relate Rand’s political thought to issues of today.
For Rand, “Americanism” is predicated on the philosophic idea of individualism. In her essay, she observes:
The basic issue in the world today is between two principles: Individualism and Collectivism.
Individualism holds that man has inalienable rights which cannot be taken away from him by any other man, nor by any number, group or collective of other men. Therefore, each man exists by his own right and for his own sake, not for the sake of the group.
Collectivism holds that man has no rights; that his work, his body and his personality belong to the group; that the group can do with him as it pleases, in any manner it pleases, for the sake of whatever it decides to be its own welfare. Therefore, each man exists only by the permission of the group and for the sake of the group.1
Throughout the essay, Rand stresses the necessity of understanding the ideals that underpin freedom — and the need to defend freedom as a matter of principle. In the following passage, we can see foreshadowed her analysis of the issue of compromise, which she wrote about at length decades later.
Once a principle is accepted, it is not the man who is half-hearted about it, but the man who is whole-hearted that’s going to win; not the man who is least consistent in applying it, but the man who is most consistent. If you enter a race, saying: “I only intend to run the first ten yards,” the man who says: “I’ll run to the finish line,” is going to beat you. When you say: “I only want to violate human rights just a tiny little bit,” the Communist or Fascist who says: “I’m going to destroy all human rights,” will beat you and win. You’ve opened the way for him.2
Along with Rand’s essay, the book features chapters by scholars and writers applying Objectivist ideas to illuminate “Americanism” and connect it to today’s cultural, political, and economic issues. Notable contributors include Leonard Peikoff, Harry Binswanger, Onkar Ghate, Gregory Salmieri, and Yaron Brook. (You can preview the table of contents here.) Among the topics covered: What is capitalism? Can we do good by force? Can charity be a “right”? What is the profit motive? Are monopolies created by capitalism? What role does voting play in the American system of government?
Finally, the book includes never-before-published Rand comments from a philosophy workshop for scholars. These excerpts from the workshop, part of a series held between 1969 and 1971, offer a glimpse of Rand’s engagement with several thorny issues in political thought. Two issues caught my attention. One is Rand’s stress on the importance of objectivity in a proper political system, both in the functioning and procedures of the law and in the government’s use of retaliatory force. The other comes up in her critique of international law and the “laws” of war; here Rand discusses her view of what’s morally permissible, on the battlefield, to a country waging a war in self-defense. To read these excerpts is to gain a deeper appreciation for the distinctiveness of Rand’s political thought. Because she upholds the ideals of reason and individualism, in her political thought she differs fundamentally from not only conservatives and liberals but also libertarians and especially anarchists.
To celebrate the publication of A New Textbook of Americanism: The Politics of Ayn Rand, we’re pleased to reprint two chapters from the book in New Ideal. First, we will feature Onkar Ghate’s chapter, “On American Political Philosophy,” in two parts, and then my essay, “What Should a Distinctively American Foreign Policy Do?”
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- Jonathan Hoenig, ed., A New Textbook of Americanism: The Politics of Ayn Rand (Chicago: Capitalistpig Publications, 2018), 2.
- Hoenig, New Textbook, 14.