The art of quoting Ayn Rand out of context

The fact that vice-president candidate Paul Ryan has cited Ayn Rand as a major influence on him has engendered a flurry of comments on the net. The positive thing about this is that Ayn Rand will come to the forefront in the coming election; the negative thing is that we will see even more of the smears of her that we are already too familiar with, and even more of the complete misinterpretations of her views that we are also too familiar with.

Here is a typical quote:

Rand has […] been elevated to a central figure in conservatism. Business moguls have embraced her because of her frank worship of wealth. “Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue,” she said. And her contempt for government, with its regulations and taxation, was just what America’s reckless and self-centered class of business executives wanted to hear.

What does it mean to say that “money is the barometer of a society’s virtue”? To Ayn Rand’s detractors it obviously means that a man’s wealth is a measure of his virtue, regardless of whether he has earned it by productive work or by loot-and-plunder. They see no difference between honest work and robbery: both are just ways of grabbing money.

The quote is from Francisco d’Anconia’s “money speech” in Atlas Shrugged. So let me quote the full paragraph:

Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue. When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion – when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing – when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you – when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice – you may know that your society is doomed. Money is so noble a medium that it does not compete with guns and it does not make terms with brutality. It will not permit your country to survive as half-property, half-loot.

And another quote:

Money will always remain an effect and refuse to replace you as the cause. Money is the product of virtue, but it will not give you virtue and it will not redeem your vices. Money will not give you the unearned, neither in matter nor in spirit. Is this the root of your hatred of money?

It is statements like this that the detractors of Ayn Rand simply have to ignore or evade and not let come to public knowledge in order to smear her.

(More from Francisco’s “money speech” and other Rand quotes on money in The Ayn Rand Lexicon.)

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