Ayn Rand Answers Q and A misquoting example

Elliot Temple has been discussing misquoting recently. People often misquote and this is a problem because if people can’t even quote properly there isn’t much prospect of rationalm discussion. Ayn Rand Answers is a book of questions and answers in talks edited by Robert Mayhew. George Reisman has written that the answers have been edited heavily. I’m going to review a particular example. On pp.102-104, in the book Mayhew writes:

When you consider the cultural genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of blacks, and the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War Two, how can you have such a positive view of America? 

America is the country of individual rights. Should America have tolerated slavery? Certainly not. Why did they? At the time of the Constitutional Convention and the debates about the Constitution, the best theoreticians wanted to abolish slavery right away, and they should have. But they compromised with other members, and that compromise led inevitably to a catastrophe: the Civil War. If you believe in rights, then the institution of slavery is an enormous contradiction. It is to America’s honor, which the haters of this country never mention, that people died to abolish slavery. There was that strong a feeling about it. Slavery was a contradiction, but before you criticize this country, remember that slavery was a remnant of the politics and philosophies of Europe and the rest of the world. Blacks were in many cases sold into slavery by other black tribes. Historically, there was no such concept as the right of the individual; the United States is based on that concept, so that so long as men held to the American political philosophy, they eventually had to eliminate slavery, even at the price of civil war. Incidentally, if you study history, following America’s example, slavery or serfdom was abolished in the whole civilized world in the nineteenth century. What abolished it? Capitalism, not altruism or any kind of collectivism. The world of free trade could not coexist with slave labor. Countries like Russia (which was the most backward) liberated the serfs without any pressure from anyone, but because of economic necessity. No one could compete with America economically so long as they attempted to use slave labor. That was the liberating influence of America. 

Now, I don’t care to discuss the alleged complaints American Indians have against this country. I believe, with good reason, the most unsympathetic Hollywood portrayal of Indians and what they did to the white man. They had no right to a country merely because they were born here and then acted like savages. The white man did not conquer this country. And you’re a racist if you object, because it means you believe that certain men are entitled to something because of their race. You believe that if someone is born in a magnificent country and doesn’t know what to do with it, he still has a property right to it. He does not. Since the Indians did not have the concept of property or property rights—they didn’t have a settled society, they had predominantly nomadic tribal “cultures”—they didn’t have rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights that they had not conceived of and were not using. It’s wrong to attack a country that respects (or even tries to respect) individual rights. If you do, you’re an aggressor and are morally wrong. But if a “country” does not protect rights—if a group of tribesmen are the slaves of their tribal chief—why should you respect the “rights” that they don’t have or respect? The same is true for a dictatorship. The citizens in it have individual rights, but the country has no rights and so anyone has the right to invade it, because rights are not recognized in that country; and no individual or country can have its cake and eat it too—that is, you can’t claim one should respect the “rights” of Indians, when they had no concept of rights and no respect for rights. But let’s suppose they were all beautifully innocent savages—which they certainly were not. What were they fighting for, in opposing the white man on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence; for their “right” to keep part of the earth untouched—to keep everybody out so they could live like animals or cavemen. Any European who brought with him an element of civilization had the right to take over this continent, and it’s great that some of them did. The racist Indians today—those who condemn America—do not respect individual rights. As for Japanese Americans placed in labor camps in California, that wasn’t done by defenders of capitalism and Americanism, but by the progressive liberal Democrats of Franklin D. Roosevelt. [PWNI 74]

The actual question and answer was from a lecture given in 1974 called “Philosophy Who Needs It“. I have transcribed the relevant answer:

Q: Uh mam, at the risk of [unintelligible], at the risk of stating an unpopular view, when you are speaking of America, I couldn’t help but think of the cultural genocide of native Americans, the enslavement of black men in this country and the relocation of Japanese-Americans during World War II. How do you account for all of this, in your view of America?

A: To begin with there is much more to America than the issue of racism. I do not believe that the issue of racism, or even the persecution of a particular race, is as important as the persecution of individuals, because when you deprive individuals of rights, if you deprive any small group of individuals of their rights therefore look at this fundamentally if you are concerned with minorities the smallest minority on Earth is an individual. If you do not respect individual rights you will sacrifice or persecute all minorities and then you just get the same treatment given to a majority which can be observed today in Soviet Russia.

But if you ask me “Well now, should America have tolerated slavery?” I would say certainly not. And why did they? Well, at the time of the constitutional convention, or the debates about the constitution, the best theoreticians at the time wanted to abolish slavery right then and there and they should have. that is a big compromise with other members of the debate and that compromise has caused this country a dreadful catastrophe which had to happen and that is the civil war. You could not have slavery existing in a country which proclaims the inalienable rights of man. if you believe in the rights and in the institution of slavery it is an enormous contradiction. It is to the honour of this country which the haters of this country never mention that people died giving their life in order to abolish slavery there were that much strong sorts of feelings about it. Certainly slavery was a contradiction but before you criticise this country remember that that is a remnant of the politics and the philosophy of Europe and of the rest of the world. The black slaves were sold into slavery by in many cases by other black tribes. Slavery is something which only the United States of America abolished. Historically, there was no such concept as the right of the individual. The United States is based on that concept. For that so long as man here the American beliefs or philosophy they had to come to the point even of a civil war but of eliminating the contradiction with which they could not live: namely the institution of slavery.

Incidentally, by following America’s example, slavery or serfdom was abolished in the whole civilised world during the 19th century. What abolished it? Not altruism. Not any kind of collectivism. Capitalism. The world of free trade could not coexist with slave labour. And countries like Russia which were the most backward and have had serfs liberated them without any pressure from anyone by economic necessity. Nobody could compete with America economically so long as they attempted to use slave labour. Now that was the liberating influence of America. 

That’s in regard to the slavery of black people, but as to the example of the Japanese people, you mean the labour camps in California? Well, that was certainly not put over by any sort of defender of capitalism or Americanism. That was done by the left wing progressive liberal democrats of Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

[here I omit some utterances that aren’t very clear]

Q: Did you mention the American Indians in your question as one of the groups? Okay do you want to address yourself to that also?

Yes, because if you study reliable history and not liberal racist newspapers, racism didn’t exist in this country until the liberal brought it up. Racism in the sense of self consciousness about separation of races. Yes, slavery existed as a very evil institution and there certainly was prejudice against some minorities including the negroes after they were liberated. But those prejudices were dying out under the pressure of free economics because racism in the prejudicial sense doesn’t pay. Then if anyone wants to be a racist he suffers the workings of the system is against him. Today it is to everyone’s advantage to form some kind of ethnic collective. the people who share your view or from whose philosophy those catchphrases come are the ones who are institutionalising racism today. What about the quotas in employment, the quotas in education? And I hope to god from not religion but just to express my feeling that the Supreme Court will rule against those quotas. But if you can understand the vicious contradiction and injustice of establishing racism by law, whether it’s in favour of a majority or a minority doesn’t matter, it’s more offensive when it’s in the name of a minority because it can only be done in order to disarm and destroy the majority. in the whole country. It can only create more racist division and backlashes and racist feelings. If you’re opposed to racism you should support individualism. You cannot oppose racism on one hand and want collectivism on the other.

But now as to the Indians, I don’t even care to discuss that kind of alleged complaints that they have against this country. I do believe, with serious scientific reasons, the worst kind of movie that you have probably seen – worse from the Indian viewpoint – as to what they did to the white men. I do not think that they had any right to live in a country merely because they were born here and acted and lived like savages. Americans didn’t conquer, Americans did not conquer this country… Whoever is making sounds there, I think it’s [unintelligible],  he’s right, but please be consistent, you are a racist if you object to that.

You are that because you believe that anything can be given to men by his biological birth or for biological reasons. If you are born in a magnificent country which you don’t know what to do with, you believe that that’s a property right. It is not. And since the Indians did not have any property rights – they didn’t have the concept of property – they didn’t even have a settled society, they were predominantly nomadic tribes. They were a primitive tribal… culture, if you want to call it that.

If so, they didn’t have any rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights, which they had not conceived and were not using. It would be wrong to attack any country which does respect, or try for that matter, that respects individual rights. Because if they do, you are an aggressor and you are morally wrong if you attack them. But if a country does not protect rights, if a given tribe is the slave of its own tribal chief, why should you respect the right they do not have? Or any country which has a dictatorship. Government… the citizens still have individual rights, but the country does not have any rights, anyone has the right to invade it, because rights are not recognized in this country; and neither you, nor a country nor anyone can have your cake and eat it too – in other words want respect for the rights of Indians, who incidentally, for most cases, of their tribal history, made agreements with the white man. And then when they had used up whichever they got through the agreement of giving, selling certain territory, then came back and broke the agreements and attacked white settlements.

I would go further, lets say this, lets suppose they were all beautifully innocent savages, which they certainly were not, what was it that they were fighting for? If they opposed white men on this continent. For their whish to continue a primitive existence? Their right to keep part of the earth untouched, unused, and not even have property but just keep everybody out, so that you have to live, practically like an animal or maybe a few caves above it? Any white person who brings the element of civilisation, has the right to take over this country. And it is great that some people did, and discovered here, what they couldn’t do anywhere else in the world and what the Indians, if there are any racist Indians today, do not believe to this day: In respect for individual rights.

I am, incidentally, in favour of Israel and against the Arabs for the very same reason. there you have the same reason in reverse. Israel is not a good country politically it leans strongly it’s a mix of communist, it leans strongly toward socialism. But why do the Arabs resent it? Because it is a wedge of civilisation an industrial wedge in part of a country which is totally primitive and nomadic. Israel is being attacked for being civilised and being specifically a technological society. It is for that very reason that they should be supported that they are morally right because they represent the progress of man’s mind just as the white settlers of America represented the progress of the mind not centuries of brute stagnation and superstition. They represented the banner of the mind and they were in the right. 

Mayhew has very heavily edited the answer and left out a lot of material while changing the order so that the material about FDR appears after the material about the Indians for no apparent reason. And the editing makes the answer worse in some respects like omitting Rand’s explanation that you can’t be given property for biological reasons and that thinking otherwise is racism. This is a very serious misquote and if the other answers have been edited in the same way they’ll have a lot of missing content and arguments.

About conjecturesandrefutations
My name is Alan Forrester. I am interested in science and philosophy: especially David Deutsch, Ayn Rand, Karl Popper and William Godwin.

4 Responses to Ayn Rand Answers Q and A misquoting example

  1. justinceo2 says:

    Thanks for looking into this. Btw something like Otter.ai can make transcriptions a lot quicker (even if you care about accuracy, easier to edit mostly automated stuff than to do a long transcript by hand).

    > The actual question and answer was from Rand’s lecture “Philosophy Who Needs It”Mayhew has very heavily edited the answer and left out a lot of material while changing the order of in 1974, which can be found in a YouTube video and I have transcribed the relevant answer:

    Missing period and space (I think?) after “Philosophy Who Needs It”. Some sort of editing issue around “while changing the order of in 1974”. “I have transcribed the relevant answer” should maybe be its own sentence.

  2. Pingback: Popper quote checking | Conjectures and Refutations

  3. Pingback: Checking Szasz quotes | Conjectures and Refutations

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