Phil Kaveny

The Fiction of Philip Kaveny

Reflections on Ayn Rand’s Objectivism: Or ignorance is not a point of View by Phil Kaveny


Ignorance is not a point of view:

 Illuminating Friedman’s Shock Doctrine of Disaster Capitalism through the lens of Feminist Standpoint Theory in Harding & Klein.

Introducing Standpoint Theory to Friedman


In this paper I will briefly apply a few of Sandra Harding’s formulations of standpoint theory and strong objectivity as analytical tools in addressing the ideological (Chomsky[i]) use of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism as she developed it in Atlas Shrugged (1957), and, of course, the 1976  Nobel Prize  winning Economist  Milton Friedman’s  formulations  on Capitalism and Freedom[ii].  I will finally argue that Rand and Friedman are being used in is a theological sense which makes them invulnerable  to falsification because they are self-justifying, not evidence based, claims, at least in the ordinary sense, in the same way we might consider any other religious  text or miraculous event.  Thus, I argue, Rand and Friedman’s works should be studied as one might study any non-factual claim, were it not for the pernicious influence on democratic process as exemplified the 2010 United States Supreme Court decision in favor corporate free speech and unrestrained political spending.[iii] I suggest that Harding would approve this type of analysis because it is historically consistent with the best traditions of the Enlightenment Project, which was to move theology away from philosophy, as in the case of Hume for example.

This required me to recently read  Atlas Shrugged from cover to cover just in case since, as they say in The Godfather Sagas:  “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer”, and of course:  “your enemies get strong on what you leave behind.” I completed that Herculean labor in less than week and I turn to Gore Vidal’s comments to summarize Rand’s position (Esquire, August 1961).

Ayn Rand’s ‘philosophy’ is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society…. To justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil.

Yet the strangest thing about Rand is the driving force of her novel, a certain group of technocratic elites with their expert labor which she contends are essential for the factors of productions to replicate.  If they withhold their expert labor the system crashes. It’s almost like she and Karl Marx are standing on the soles of each other’s shoes in space, both hard materialists, both expounding their own labor theory of value. What I mean is that Atlas is really about a general strike of expert labor. Perhaps like one the one tried by air traffic controllers that Ronald Regan used to break the back of the American labor movement.

I read Atlas Shrugged to gain insight into conservative politicians like Wisconsin Republican vice-presidential candidate & Congressman Paul Ryan[iv].  My conclusion is that I may be one of the few people who actually read all 1243 pages of the book.  To rephrase, it’s not so much that Rand is read but she is signed onto like a creed, as an act of faith, perhaps not so different from what fourth- century Christians were required to do after Emperor Constantine converted the Roman Empire to Christianity. This observation was sparked, if one will use that that expression, by a year’s study with Dr. Burns of the New Testament and early Christianity as it evolved over a three-hundred year period from a marginalized sect of Judaism to the official religion of the Roman Empire. Admittedly this observation on my part was informed by Walter Benjamin’s formulations on the concept of history which he made shortly before he committed suicide in the process of rescuing his party as he fled from the Nazi’s after the fall France in 1940.[v]

Though I will not attempt to argue that Ayn Rand, and Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman (author of the canonical Capitalism and by Freedom, 1962), and other proponents of unrestrained global multinational capitalism directly influenced each other.  Yet I would argue that there was a remarkable confluence of mutually held values best articulated by Milton Friedman’s definition of the ethical responsibility of corporations[vi]


Standpoint Theory

I found the following definition of standpoint theory and strong objectivity very useful for operational purposes.

The notion of strong objectivity was first articulated by Sandra Harding. Strong objectivity builds on the insights of feminist standpoint theory, which argues for the importance of starting from the experiences of those traditionally left out of the production of knowledge. By starting with the inquiry from the lived experiences of women and others who have been traditionally outside institutions of in which knowledge of social sciences is generated and classified more objective more relevant knowledge can be produced. In fact, Harding (1986) and Hartstock (1983) argue that knowledge from the point of view of the subordinate status group members may offer stronger objectivity due to their increased motivation to understand those in power.[vii]

This Paper represents my belief that my scholarship, in the words of Simone de Beauvoir, is my lifetime existential project and as such must include part of my own process as I evolve as a knowing subject.  I would also note that, rightly so, the entire conceptualization model of the knowing subject and of totalizing studies. With their Enlightenment precepts and generalization of results, has been besieged by the various iterations of post-modernism since the end of The Second World War in Europe, sixty-eight years ago.[viii] Yet, Harding’s strength is in her demands that the Enlightenment be true to its own precepts.  She seeks to broaden the scope to something more than a white, European, male, subjectivity. For example we think of the beloved child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim (1903-1990), author of Love Is Not Enough: The Treatment of Emotionally Disturbed Children (1950) Truants from Life: The Rehabilitation of Emotionally Disturbed Children (1955), The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (1976). Bettelheim also wrote The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self (1967). This is the book in which he formulated the idea of “The refrigerator Mom” who became the cause in his mind for the clinically and empirically measurable condition of autism. He went so far as to prescribe therapy in the face of countervailing evidence which demanded total mother and child separation for extended periods.  It took decades of research to overthrow his unproven theory and halt the resulting practices (if they have indeed all been halted).

Since I am writing about feminist standpoint theory and situated knowledge I will say a bit about my own standpoint and situated knowledge. I share the belief, along with Martin Luther King and Simone de Beauvoir, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere[ix]  and from an ethical perspective I am a consequentialist utilitarian though not a total pragmatist . I have found feminist standpoint theory very useful in reconciling those values in such way that they are irreducible to a simple relativist preference, or to sinister speculations which ask when it might be okay not to rescue a drowning baby, or it would be okay to ignite kitten on fire. To say that another way, philosophy has more important tasks to pursue than becoming a disembodied, self-referential, language game, at least when my taxes or tuition is supporting the activity.  My core beliefs, along with the knowing subject, include moral agency and freewill.

I first became aware of Professor Harding’s work through her book Whose Science Whose Knowledge, published in 1993. At that time I presented on her work in seminar as part of graduate program I was doing at University of Wisconsin Madison. What I was most impressed by was her elegant, and relevant, link with Hegel (p 132) drawing upon the epistemological foundation of the master-slave relationship. I found her argument, that from the standpoint of understanding most situations, the view from the margins held by those who were low-power stake holders, was clearer than those whose view was clouded by having an investment in maintaining the existing situation, whatever it might be.  From this position, she moved to a Hegelian, left-wing perspective which argues that the mere existence of something, an idea for example, does not imply its rationality.  Thus for me, as a political philosopher, making knowledge-based ethical claims, she rescued Hegel from the ash-heap of history.


Later in the this paper I will further develop a picture of how  she empowered truth claims for a politicizing philosophy so that it did not require the abandoning of the concept of the knowing subject, or making knowledge  justified truth claims which could lead to informed  policy decisions. Thus, unlike many of her postmodern compatriots, she did not abandon either the process of enlightenment or the Enlightenment as an historical movement. What she did demand was that it live up to its own principles as far as dealing with women and including women in the knowledge process as they were not at the start of her career in the late 1950’s.  I had the pleasure of meeting her at her at the University of Wisconsin Women’s Studies Consortium Conference in 1996. I remember her prescient observation at the nearly high-water mark of the success of global multi-national capitalism shortly after the fall of communism. She said much of the apparent gain comes from bogus cost accounting, for which a new lost generation is now being forced to pick up the tab, in terms of lost opportunities. To which I would add mortgage and student loans along with opportunity cost, which rival what the redemption dues faced by imperial Russian Serfs in 1861. Further, emancipated serfs did not have to face global warming as the next generation will.

At that same UW-System Women’s Studies Conference held seven years later at UW-Steven’s Point (2003) I presented the following paper: “Standpoint Theory: Sandra Harding Speaks to Men of Goodwill.” The key operative phrase is ‘men of goodwill’ which, in the sense that Jean Paul Sartre or Simon de Beauvoir meant, is that one does not act in bad faith or argue that one has no choice when one does.[x]

The remainder of this paper demonstrates that even though Klein may not have been aware of Harding’s theories of situated knowledge, in an academic sense she was nerveless able to use them to expose the ideological grounding of the Shock Doctrine and its implication through the policy of disaster capitalism.

In 1967 Milton Friedman to spoke to my upper-level political theory seminar at UW-Madison. At the time he was pretty much a totally discredited nut case as far as the academic and political world was concerned. Even Nixon would have nothing to do with him as he made his famous statement “Now we are ally Keynesians ” yet this is the point in which he and his Chicago School boys were developing, in a conspiratorial sense, their concept of shock therapy with a certain Leninist discipline which made them as unconstrained with democratic values as Lenin was with liberal bourgeoisie democracy.

Hegel starts to sense the power that is at the margins.  If those who seek power feel they serve some higher law, purpose, or mythology the realization of which is their revealed theology, they also see it as coming from some divine source. Their perspective incorporates a sense that some people are intrinsically worth more than others and their privileged is the badge of their merit.  In the last forty-some years I have watch otherwise bright you students quote Friedman and Rand as if they were biblical texts proving their superiority, and in the process really enslaving them.

Conclusion and summary

There is no essential reason why it had to be Harding and Klein contesting the shock doctrine from a theoretical and investigative perspective any more than one has to be a woman to syntheses Feminist Standpoint Theory, or a female to do the investigative reporting and research that Naomi Klein has done, any more than one would have to be female to teach feminist philosophy. However I suspect that it might be useful if we do not start the process by assuming that the lack of female presence in a certain field was either due to some realization of the natural order or to some essential biological difference. Here we reference to Simon de Beauvoir’s preface to the new English translation of The Second Sex, “One is not born woman, one becomes woman,” which I take to signify the becoming in the broadest social construction of gender identity. However I would assume that one would be more successful if one started from a relational-based ethical system, than a, perhaps, social Darwinism in which ruthless survival was by itself a badge of moral fitness, or, for that matter the social stance of former British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher with the disavowal of society which she made in 1987.[xi]

In the process of doing this paper I have returned to work in three courses for Dr. Thomas in the economics department and two independent studies projects.  At one point we were working on supplying evidences for “The Shock Doctrine” that was to be presented at the economics sections of the American Association for the Social Sciences. I am in the process of recreating that evidence (a better word is assembling it), and that will appear in a latter version. I just got off the phone with Dr. Kemp and he has agreed to continue the collaborative work with me.

Yet I cannot do this as part of the process of this paper so for now the entire Shock Doctrine will have to be represented here in only sixty-four words.

In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein explodes the myth that the global free market triumphed democratically. Exposing the thinking, the money trail and the puppet strings behind the world-changing crises and wars of the last four decades, The Shock Doctrine is the gripping story of how America’s “free market” policies have come to dominate the world– through the exploitation of disaster-shocked people and countries. [xii]

One of the things Dr. Kemp and I noticed is that the bar for the magnitude of disaster necessary to implement methods of Disaster Capitalism has been considerably lowered since the book was published in 2007, during the Bush administration.  These events predate the bursting of the housing bubble, the meltdown of 2008, the starved economic stimulus package, and the seeming unending recession current unemployment rate of 7.75.  No longer is a Category Four Hurricane, or a storm of the century, or a highest level of C02 in 2 Million years[xiii] necessary to evoke the Disaster Capitalism agenda. In the case of our own formerly progressive state of Wisconsin the mere election of Republican governor undoes much of a cooperative progressive legislative agenda dating back to the late 19th Century progressive Republican Party founded by Robert Lafollette Sr., an agenda which not only proclaims that Wisconsin is open for business but it’s non-renewable resources are up for sale, at fire sale prices.

I contend that this is still a philosophy in spite of the fact that my own objectivity situated knowledge and values are not opaque to it.  Let us take for example what level of strength inheres in a kind theological assumption that environmental degradation is a necessary contingency of economic growth and job creation. If the statement is seen as being theological and incontestable then any evidenced-based claims to contest it will be ignored by a statement like this:  You’ve got your facts and I paid my experts. Yet it turned up in report on the ten o’clock news last night that a Professor  at University Montana School  of Mining indicating that because of the energy and capital intensive nature of sand mining very few jobs are created. Those with a historical family memory will remember and see the projects of New Deals Civilian Conservation Core wherever they turn, and along every tree lined side road in Wisconsin.






“Ryan said the following at a 2005 Atlas Society speech: “[T]he reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.”

[v] It is well-known that an automaton once existed, which was so constructed that it could counter any move of a chess-player with a counter-move, and thereby assure itself of victory in the match. …One can envision a corresponding object to this apparatus in philosophy. The puppet called “historical materialism” is always supposed to win. It can do this with no further ado against any opponent, so long as it employs the services of theology, which as everyone knows is small and ugly and must be kept out of sight.


[vi] There is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use it resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud”


[viii]  My namesake First Lieutenant  uncle Philip  Dunn J( 1920-1996)  informed me shortly before his death that his  unit assisted in the liberation of  a Nazi  POW camp for Americans which was run as a death camp. He mentioned that he met one of his enlisted men who had been captured in the Battle of the Bulge, and now after six months’ captivity was reduced from 180 to 79 pounds. He also showed me the trophy brandy flask which and translated the Heidelberg class of 1909.  He said I got it by knocking an escaping German general out of his motorcycle side car. I am  proud of him yet I have protested every American War in my lifetime



Cached Oct 24, 2003 – Bogstad and Sheila Smith, UW-Eau Claire. Stand Point Theory: Sandra Harding Speaks to Men of. Goodwill Philip Kaveny, UW-Madison,

[xi] Epitaph for the eighties? “there is no such thing as society”Prime minister Margaret Thatcher, talking to Women’s Own magazine, October 31 1987




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on May 1, 2016 by in Academic Paper, Non-Fiction, Phil Kaveny, Philosophy and tagged , , , , .
%d bloggers like this: