Objecting to Objectivism

This week, Canada Customs and Revenue seized a number of newsletters headed for the University of Toronto Objectivist Club, saying that they may constitute hate propaganda. But does Customs have a case? Is a recognized campus group spreading hate propaganda at U of T?

The newsletters were to be distributed at a lecture yesterday evening entitled The Moral Case for Supporting Israel, by Dr. Yaron Brook, president of the Ayn Rand Institute in California. A look at the newsletter reveals why Customs may have stopped the shipment. On the very first page, a subheading says there is “No moral equality between Israel and its enemies.” Page eight sports an article called “Innocents in war?” by Onkar Ghate, with the subheading “A free nation should not let the fear of causing civilian casualties hinder its self-defense.”

The aim of the newsletter seems to be to transform the Israel-Palestine issue into a conveniently detached moral debate. The argument is that an extreme anti-Palestinian position can and should be supported on the grounds that Israel is morally superior, from an Objectivist point of view.

Objectivism is the “philosophy” of Ayn Rand, based on the startling revelation that self-centeredness seems to be very good for material success. Ayn Rand emigrated from Russia to the United States in 1926. Within a year, she was “discovered” and went to work for director Cecil B. DeMille. Inspired by her success, she wrote books in praise of western (predominantly American) political and economic ideals, citing the values of freedom and rationality as embodied by the drive for personal gain. From an Objectivist standpoint, any worldview that denies the “virtue of selfishness” is against reason, freedom, and human life. Since Israel is a western capitalist country, it has more right to exist than the would-be nation of Palestine.

A telling example of this sentiment is the article entitled “Radical Islam’s Assault on Human Life” by Edwin A. Locke. The article hinges on two main points: that “in Islamic philosophy it is a moral duty and a moral virtue to kill ‘infidels,’” and that in Islam “The individual is not supposed to think independently but to selflessly subordinate himself to religious dogma.” Locke goes on to say that the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center were not attacking just a perceived enemy, but life itself.

He concludes, “The only proper response to people who have declared war on life and happiness—and everything that makes them possible—is to give them what they want: death.” No mercy for the enemy. A nice, life-affirming statement if ever there was one.

Now it’s Locke, not the Koran, who is expressing the moral duty to kill the infidels—and it is this, most likely, that Canada Customs and Revenue took issue with. He also fails to notice that the tone and style of his own article is suggestive of the very kind of dogmatic thinking he criticizes Islam for.

While the Objectivist newsletter probably can’t be called hate propaganda, everything about it misses the point: the causes (and solutions) of intolerance and violence, such as in the Israel-Palestine situation, run much deeper than intellectual musings or moral proofs.

How easily could Yaron Brook, Edwin Locke, or any of the other contributors to this newsletter argue their claims if they actually lived in the Middle East, in the thick of the carnage, rather than in North America, spending their copious free time engaged in armchair debates about the moral right of various people to exist?

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