August 21, 1946
Mrs. Rose Wilder Lane
Route 4, Box 42
Dear Rose Wilder Lane:
Thank you for your two letters. I have asked The Vigil to send you extra copies of the magazine. They publish it just for members of the M.P.A. [Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals], and had not thought of selling extra copies, but they will be glad to send you any number of copies that you can use.
In regard to my definition of rights, in the second installment of my TEXTBOOK[*], I am inclined to agree with your suggested correction, that the sentence should read: “a right is exercised without permission” instead of “can be exercised”. I think the general meaning is the same, but the sentence reads stronger your way.
I did not quite understand the basis of your definition of rights, which you mentioned briefly in your letter. I agree with you that rights are a natural human function, indispensable to man’s survival, but I did not understand your argument to the effect that even though it is possible to kill one man, it is impossible to exterminate all of mankind. I don’t quite see your point, but I see some danger in that argument, for two reasons: 1. If we maintain that the right of life is collectively inalienable, that is, that the race can’t be destroyed—this is no defense or consolation for any particular man who is being murdered. 2. On such a basis a collectivist could claim that when he violates the rights of individuals, he is not violating human rights, since he can’t enslave or destroy all of mankind. But as I say, I am not clear on the meaning in which you used the above argument.
My own definition of the existence of human rights rests on the fact of man’s survival. Rights are intrinsic to the survival of a rational being, because the mind is man’s only means of survival, and the mind is an attribute of the individual which cannot function under compulsion. If we accept as an axiom that man’s survival is desirable, we have to recognize man’s rights. The violation of these rights leads to the destruction of individuals, and, if continued, can and will destroy the whole human race—since such violation is based on a premise which makes man’s survival impossible.
Now to your second question: “Do those almost with us do more harm than 100% enemies?” I don’t think this can be answered
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with a flat “yes” or “no”, because the “almost” is such a wide term and can cover so many different attitudes. I think each particular case has to be judged on his own performance, but there is one general rule to observe: those who are with us, but merely do not go far enough, yet do not serve the opposite cause in any way, are the ones who do us some good and who are worth educating. Those who agree with us in some respects, yet preach contradictory ideas at the same time, are definitely more harmful than the 100% enemies. The standard of judgement here has to be the man’s attitude toward basic principles. If he shares our basic principles, but goes off on lesser details in the application of these principles, he is worth educating and having as an ally. If his “almost” consists of sharing some of the basic principles of collectivism, then we ought to run from him faster than from an out-and-out Communist.
As an example of the kind of “almost” I would tolerate, I’d name Ludwig von Mises. His book, “Omnipotent Government”, had some bad flaws, in that he attempted to divorce economics from morality, which is impossible; but with the exception of his last chapter, which simply didn’t make sense, his book was good, and did not betray our cause. The flaws in his argument merely weakened his own effectiveness, but did not help the other side.
As an example of our most pernicious enemy, I would name Hayek.[**] That one is real poison. Yes, I think he does more harm than Stuart Chase. I think Wendell Willkie did more to destroy the Republican Party than did Roosevelt. I think Willkie and Eric Johnston have done more for the cause of Communism than Earl Browder and The Daily Worker. Observe the Communist Party technique, which asks their most effective propagandists to be what is known as “tactical non-members”. That is, they must not be Communists, but pose as “middle-of-the-roaders” in the eyes of the public. The Communists know that such propagandists are much more deadly to the cause of Capitalism in that “middle-of-the-road” pretense.
Personally, I feel sick whenever I come up against a compromising conservative. But my attitude is this: if the man compromises because of ignorance, I consider him worth enlightening. If he compromises because of moral cowardice (which is the reason in most cases), I don’t want to talk to him, I don’t want him on my side, and I don’t think he is worth converting.
As to George Peck, I don’t know enough about him to be able to tell whether he is worth educating or not. I have just received a letter from him in answer to mine. It is a very nice letter, in that he tries to answer criticism honestly, but I am appalled by his mental confusion. He maintains, for instance, that Hitler is worse than Stalin. I don’t know by what possible standard one can establish degrees of evil as between dictators representing exactly the same
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principle. I am afraid that George Peck means well, but has not given our cause a serious study. Perhaps, he is worth educating. But stay away from Hayek, if you want my opinion; he is worse than hopeless.
Now, am I a good correspondent?
With best regards,
I had just finished this letter to you, when, strangely enough, I received an appalling answer to the question you asked me—a final proof that our “almost” friends are our worst enemies. It was the worst shock in all my experience with political reading. I received the Economic Council Letter of August 15th. (Incidentally, I subscribed to that Letter mainly in order to get your book reviews.) And I read that Merwin K. Hart, a defender of freedom and Americanism, is advocating a death penalty for a political offense.
I am actually too numb at the moment to know what to say. I don’t have to explain to you that once such a principle is accepted, it would mean the literal, physical end of Americans; nor to ask you to guess who would be the first people executed under such a law; nor to remind you that the crucial steps on the road to dictatorship, the laws giving government totalitarian powers, were initiated by Republicans—such as the draft bill, or the attempt to pass a national serfdom act for compulsory labor.
I know that you know all that. What I wonder is: is it in your spiritual power to discuss this with Hart? If you can, if you have arguments that would reach him—please do it. I confess I’m helpless in such an instance. It’s too monstrous.
*The second paragraph refers to AR’s “Textbook of Americanism,” printed in May 1946, in The Vigil, a publication of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. It was later published in The Ayn Rand Column, ed. Peter Schwartz (New Milford, CT: Second Renaissance Books, 1998) and in A New Textbook of Americanism: The Politics of Ayn Rand (Chicago: Capitalistpig Publications, 2018).
**F. A. Hayek, who shared the 1947 Nobel Prize in Economics. For AR’s marginal comments on Hayek’s best-known work, The Road to Serfdom, see Mayhew ed., Ayn Rand’s Marginalia, pp. 145–60.
In her August 24, 1946, response, Lane wrote, “That Council Letter gave me the same shock…. I can take it up with Hart and I shall.”