This is the fourth post that explores the tenets of objectivism as stated by Ayn Rand which are: reality, reason, self-interest and capitalism. The first post introduced objectivism and the first tenet which is reality. The second post built on the definition of reality and explored the implications of reason. The third post dipped our toes into the apparent dichotomy of self-interest versus self-sacrifice, especially from a Judeo/Christian Biblical perspective.
Starting with the dictionary definition of self-interest that is consistent with Ayn Rand’s writings articulated simply as concern with one’s own interests, let’s juxtapose them with principles familiar with Judeo/Christian beliefs. First, in the Old Testament, we find numerous examples of God placing the interests of the nation of Israel over other nations, particularly at the time when Joshua and Caleb led the children of Israel into battle for the land they would possess after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. But that self-interest and the self-preservation carried with it a responsibility that the nation would govern equitably with outsiders. Leviticus 19:34 speaks to this idea:
“The resident foreigner who lives with you must be to you as a native citizen among you; so you must love the foreigner as yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (NET)
In order to love the foreigner, it was a prerequisite to know how to “love yourself”. This was leveraged on the existence of a God that had established the worth of the nation, and by abstraction from earlier writings, the individual. The worth of the individual was established In Genesis when God created the man and woman and saw all that he had made and remarked that is was very good.
Self-interest as a minimum is acknowledging the validity and worth of the individual self as a created being made in the image of God. But how do we reconcile the idea of laying down one’s life for another as an act of supreme love? Jesus stated that he had that right to do just that. In John 10:18 Jesus states:
“No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again. This commandment I received from my Father.” (NET)
The key is that this self-interest is rooted in individual authority that is submitted to the authority of the Creator. Apart from that authority, one still exercises individual authority, and ultimately self-interest. But that self-interest will naturally be distorted from the perfect intentions of its Creator when the Creator’s authority is replaced by the exercise of individual authority outside of God’s authority.
What does self-interest look like that is submitted to the authority of God? Genesis 1:28-30 gives us a distinct picture:
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground”. 29 Then God said, “I now give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the entire earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the animals of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has living breath in it—I give every green plant for food.”
The productivity that various characters such as Henry Reardon and Dagney Tabbart exhibited with earth’s raw materials as presented in Ayn Rand’s novel, “Atlas Shrugged” play into this model of being productive given by our Creator. Those who are under God’s authority are aware of this directive to be productive with the raw materials given by our Creator. Purpose and meaning are made tangible through the idea of productivity. But the purpose is built initially on the value of His creation, and our acknowledgment of that value through the mechanism of self-interest. That our self-interest is to be established before it is directed towards others in ways that can and should at times become self-sacrificing becomes clear when scripture is exegeted rather than cherry-picked. Purpose and meaning become possible with this biblical foundation of self-interest that can be expanded outwards through avenues of service and mutual trade between willing participants. Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians that “…if anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat” fits nicely into this understanding.
In the next post we will wrap up self-interest and delve into capitalism, the 4th tenet of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.