The UK’s new Health Secretary Sajid Javid has stated on several occasions that he likes the book The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, telling The Spectator in 2018 he identifies with the book’s protagonist Howard Roak. This, and his calls to end all COVID-19 restrictions on July 19th, has caused some to label Javid as an Objectivist. But is he?
What is Objectivism?
Ayn Rand is a controversial figure, to say the least, who developed a philosophical system called Objectivism, with her notable works being The Fountainhead and Atlas Struggled. Rand is one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century, a capitalist version of Marx.
So, what is Objectivism? In essence, it’s a form of libertarianism that advocates for a very (very, very, very) small government. According to Rand herself, the only government functions are “the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law”. This quote, taken from her 1961 book For the New Intellectual, may seem reasonable, you might even agree with it, but it must be taken in its proper context.
The central thesis of Rand’s philosophy is the belief that selfishness is good (she even wrote a book called The Virtue of Selfishness) and altruism, empathy and compassion are harmful. The “hero” in Atlas Struggled was even based on a real-life child murderer she admired.
Objectivists are against any form of collectivisation or state intervention in the economy. Now many people, myself included, support free markets but with legal oversight and a robust social safety net. But Rand took capitalism to its extreme, being against public schools, public libraries, public hospitals, and public roads and believed that capitalism, rather than altruism, should be the foundation of a moral system.
Rand didn’t even believe that we owed anything to anyone, even our families, hence why many of her fellow objectivists have horrific views on children.
One of Rand’s contemporaries, Murray Rothbard, even supported the idea of selling children and believed that parents should be allowed to neglect their children. Writing in his book The Ethics of Liberty: “the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die.” Truly horrific stuff.
Rand described the poor and weak as “refuse” and “parasites”, and hated anyone who tried to help anyone else. She was also against social security (even though she claimed it herself), health care, any workers rights (even supporting voluntary slavery).
Rand was supportive of the genocide of First Peoples in the Americas, stating that “the Indians did not have any property rights, they didn’t have the concept of property… they didn’t have any rights to the land.”
Is Javid really an Objectivist?
I certainly hope he isn’t, and I don’t think he is, but Javid’s philosophy is certainly inspired in part by Rand, and Javid himself has admitted this. His wife once threatened to divorce him if he didn’t stop reading The Fountainhead to her.
Javid has now rejected the core principle of Objectivism, which is that being kind is bad. Javid told The Prospect, “I’m not a Randian, I never have been … I don’t believe in her Objectivism. Altruism is one of the reasons I’m in government – the most important part of my job is to help those who find it hard to help themselves. That’s what motivates me.”
I feel these aren’t just empty words. Javid’s actions are anti-Randian. During the Rotherham Sex Scandal, Javid was one of the strongest advocates for a formal investigation and lead the inquiry into child abuse in the UK in 2020. Javid was also concerned by an assault of a 15-year-old Syrian refugee in a playground in Huddersfield, writing him a personal message and held later meetings with him. These actions by Javid, showing concern for those less able to protect themselves, are entirely at odds with Rand.
Instead, Javid seems to be more of a Neoconservative, and his regular appearances at Neoconservative think tanks support this theory. Neoconservatives support some state-supported social welfare programs (though the amount differs from commentator to commentator) and stress the importance of a capitalist economy. Neoconservatives don’t believe that the free market can’t replace morality.
Warnings of further privatisation of the NHS are all consistent with Neoconservative policies. The difference between NHS privatisation (which is still bad) and Objectivism is that healthcare in the UK will most likely continue to be free-at-the-point-of-use but with private companies running services paid for with public money. In an Objectivist healthcare system, the total cost of treatment would fall on the recipient without the Medicare/Medicaid that so many in the United States rely on. An Objectivist healthcare system would be far worse than the worst health care system in the developed world.
Like most people, Javid’s political beliefs come from a wide range of sources, including Thatcherism, Neoconservatism, and his personal experiences facing racial abuse by fascists when he was younger.
Rand’s characters, rather than Rand herself, does seem to have an impact on his views. In an interview with The Spectator, he said The Fountainhead is “about the power of the individual… About sticking up for your beliefs, against popular opinion. Being that individual that really believes in something and goes for it”. Javid rereads the courtroom scene a couple of times a year.
It’s clear that Javid isn’t an Objectivist as he openly rejects Objectivist disdain for altruism and the more self-serving elements of Rand’s philosophy. However, he still seems to adhere to the ideas of self-determination and the refusal to compromise with the establishment embodied by the character of Howard Roak, proving that you can like a book but not the views of the author.