Ayn Rand a Natural Law Thinker?
He also thinks that Ayn Rand was a Natural Law thinker. Does atheistic Objectivism share the same roots as Roman Catholic political philosophy?
On Thursday night, Hudgins addressed around thirty spectators at the America’s Future Foundation May Roundtable, which focused on “Church and State? The Dynamic of Religion and Liberty.” Hudgins discussed Rand’s connection to the Western Tradition – invovling both Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas – in response to the question, “In a social society, where does common morality come from?”
In Aristotelian fashion – quite similar toHillsdale College’s President Dr. Larry Arnn – he began by saying, “we’re human beings, so we have a common nature.” “Reason,” he continued, “differentiates us from the other animals, and the first moral act is to focus your mind.” Hudgins did not point to a cup (as Dr. Arnn is famous for doing) and say, “how do you know this is a cup?” but he did claim that reason makes us human.
“If I want to survive as well as flourish,” Hudgins added, “there will be a path that takes me there.” Aristotle, in writing about politics, asserts that men can live outside of society, but in order to live well – to flourish – men must join together. This fulfillment which society enables – true happiness – “involves putting reason first.” As Aristotle and Plato would say, allowing reason to rule over the lower appetites leads men to the highest form of life.
So far, so good. These ideas persisted through the Western tradition – from Plato to Aristotle to Saint Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and even 18th-century moral philosophers like William Paley. Hudgins, however, puts a distinctly Randian spin on the idea of virtue – the proper goal and fulfillment of human life in Aristotle’s schema.
“As man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul,” or so Ayn Rand would have us believe. Hudgins believes it wholeheartedly. He urged his audience to “realize your own potential,” adding that “individualistic productive work is the centerpiece of that.” While Christians may warn about the vice of pride or avarice, Hudgins asserts that “productivity is central not because we serve others but because we serve ourselves.”
This does not mean that Hudgins has no concern for others. As he mentioned many times in his speech, he has two beautiful daughters, whom he loves very much. “I’m for family values,” he said, adding “I have a family and I value them.” Nevertheless, his primary goal in all things is to make himself happy – to benefit Ed Hudgins.
At this point, Hudgins and Rand depart from a central aspect of the Western tradition. Hudgins criticized Liberals for arguing that we should work to help others for their own sake. This communitarian mindset, he believes, is the opposite of liberty. The Romans, most especially Virgil and Cicero, (a man Hudgins said he admires) would disagree. America’s founders believed in promoting the public good – “the general welfare” – as a goal worthy in itself, not as a mere biproduct of self-interest.
The Northwest Ordinance, one of the earliest documents signed under the Constitution of 1787, reads “religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” Religion teaches self-sacrifice, as well as self-interest. If reason does not provide a ground for it, religion may have to.
Hudgins – and Rand, for whom he speaks – gets a good deal right, in Thomistic terms. Indeed, the synthesis of reason and virtue that the Founders sought to achieve runs similar to his goals. Their ethics of hard work and self-determination echoes Saint Paul’s dictum that he who does not work shall not eat. Nevertheless, the emphasis on self-serving, to the detriment of public spirit, omits an important part of republicanism. From the good-hearted Liberal who wants to help his fellow men to the soldier risking his life for his family, Americans know the value of self-sacrifice.
Perhaps being a Secular Humanist and Objectivist does not cut someone off from the Western Tradition – but it truncates a person’s view of morality. Ethics, the sphere of personal interaction, (as distinct from economics in the marketplace and politics in the state) must form Hudgins’ whole view of morality.