The Existential Hero

I made a comment over at Jim’s Blog on the topic of working-class consciousness, how whites needed to see themselves as workers as well. Jim responded pretty strongly to this, to the original comment and to the extent of making a post directly on the topic,  Working class consciousness, dismissing the idea comprehensively as leading to Nazism or communism.

It turns out Jim isn’t a “neo-reactionary” at all but just a very familiar figure, a Randian capitalist libertarian. According to Jim, people don’t make things, joint-stock corporations make things.

I don’t like to put my own links in comments, but the comment I made on quasi-black nationalist/comic book nerd/Howard University dropout Ta-Nehisi Coates is strangely enough appropriate for Jim.  My comment on Coates was that black people don’t make things, white people make things; my comment to Jim, with only a few side comments needing changes, is that joint-stock corporations don’t make things, white people make things.

Ayn Rand is regarded pretty snidely by the good people- a crazy woman a few nerds like in high school, and some black-hearted libertarians and Republicans. And yet the Randian hero- a capitalist who strives against all odds, opposition, and even the law to build his empire- is at least as much a hero of progressives as of neoconservatives. Who is more the Randian hero than Steve Jobs? More the progressive ideal? Less heroic, but still in the mold, are Mark Zuckerberg, the Google guys, and various other tech capitalists. (The more socially conventional engineers who made it all possible with the actual technology are conveniently forgotten- after all they are just white guys making stuff in their garages like my uncle.) Unrestrained capitalism of the right sort is deeply admired by progressives. Blacks, latinos, women, and gays have rights, but workers are just losers, whatever their skill level.

The existential hero- a more modern version of the German Romantic hero- is the individual who defies fate and the conventional order to create his own destiny, to remake the world in his own image. Ayn Rand saw the mass-manufacturing capitalists of the late 19th century as her ultimate models, and yet the communist terrorists of the same era fit the bill at least as well. The existential hero shapes the colorless and dull mass of humanity to his ideal.

So both the idealized market economy and the two basic kinds of leftism- the cultural kind, progressivism, and the economic kind, communism- place great importance on the figure of the existential hero. Here’s the thing, though- there is no existential hero. Every human being is at the mercy of, a product of and hostage to forces far greater than he and far outside his power and control. The ostensible existential hero is only one, more visible member of a greater human community, and above that creation itself.

Marx placed the source of human wealth in the laborer- and ambiguous term, that in Marx’s original economics meant much more a skilled worker than came later, since he wrote in the early stages of industrialization. All the classical economists tried to form a labor theory of value, starting with Adam Smith, and never came up with a good one. Marx’s theory, which he set out at great length, is based on David Ricardo’s, which takes about a paragraph. Ayn Rand placed it in the genius of the untamed individual. Jim places it in a form of legal organization of assets.

All these things work together- work, of various levels of sophistication, genius and creativity, the organization of society, and in innovation a willingness to question and overthrow the accepted way of doing things. But to elevate one high above the others is to misunderstand their relationship. The defect of leftism is not a particular form of organization, as much as it is crushing the culture and the individual.

Another way- not exactly a third way, maybe a fourth or fifth way, without Marx or Rand, and without a corporate legal system that shuts out any plaintiff without huge amounts of money- recognizes the organic nature of human society, and protects and disciplines all. The truth is the existential hero is a myth. People build on the accomplishments of others, and pass along what they have built to others. A society or system that doesn’t understand or recognize the contributions of all types and classes of people will suffer from a harmful imbalance.

(Cross-posted with substantially the same content to my religion blog here.)

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About thrasymachus33308

I like fast cars, fast women and southern-fried rock. I have an ongoing beef with George Orwell. I take my name from a character in Plato's "Republic" who was exasperated with the kind of turgid BS that passed for deep thought and political discourse in that time and place, just as I am today. The character, whose name means "fierce fighter" was based on a real person but nobody knows for sure what his actual political beliefs were. I take my pseudonym from a character in an Adam Sandler song who was a obnoxious jerk who pissed off everybody.
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6 Responses to The Existential Hero

  1. Hizzle says:

    To understand why progressives support someone like the sociopathic Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, but why they recoil at Rand, you need only reread what you yourself have written about George W. Bush in the past. It’s the style of the thing, but people with advanced education can’t say, “When I look at X person I get a warm and fuzzy feeling, but when I look at Y, I want to throw up.”

    Lots of people think Rand is for foolish young idealists, but they think the same thing about Marx. The thing is, neither Rand nor Marx are responsible for the things people do in their names, but Marx’s theories make more sense to me than hers. “If I do the work, I should get the money. If you do the work, you should get the money.” Trickle down, Rand, National Review, Libertarians, etc. can roll their eyes all they want, but I don’t think most people (outside of America) see much sense in “You do the work, I get the money, because…”

    But pro-worker sentiment is intrinsically linked to the Left, which is intrinsically linked to Jews, going back to Marx, so being pro-worker is probably taboo for most WNs. Then again Libertarians from Rand to Rothbard and Friedman were Jewish too, so who the hell knows?

  2. tg moderator says:

    Jim an interesting blogger. I do suspect that he came to reaction via libertarianism. He has come out against government intervention meant to encourage free markets. He tends toward the laissez faire. But as reactionaries we know that sovereignty is conserved. The sovereign decides the law regarding what are unfair competitive practices. For example shooting the CEO of your competitor is not allowed, but dumping product on the market below cost so that any upstarts are driven out of business is allowed. Where does one draw the line? With regard to workers shooting unions organizers is not allowed, but bringing in cheap labor from overseas is ok I guess. We have had too much government intervention in markets for so long that we tend to forget the the Randian solution leads to tyranny as well. Here is Jim’s comment regarding the Sherman act, and the interstate commerce act: “Railroads form a natural monopoly. But, not until a railroad is built. Expected monopoly profits encourage the building of railroads, which tends to compete away monopoly profits.

    Since the cost of building a railroad was high, and operating a railroad was low, regulating away monopoly profits may well effectively expropriate the investors in favor of customers who already have a railroad passing through their area, to the disadvantage of people who do not yet have a railroad in their area.

    That which is seen, is people who financially benefited because they were not charged monopoly railroad fees. That which is not seen, is railroads not built.

    However, the favorite example of a trust is Standard Oil, which attained its monopoly by radically and rapidly reducing the cost of gasoline.

    In this case, that which is not seen, is other people doing similar things with other products.

    I am fond of saying that if your big example of a female scientist is Marie Curie, then females are not very good at science. Similarly, if your best examples of evil monopoly trusts are the railroads and standard oil, trusts and monopolies are not a problem.”

    So Jim may very well be correct, but it depends on what the desired outcome is. Do we wish a high standard of living for most people, or do we simply pursue maximum economic activity? A Randian would argue that the latter yields the former.

  3. Pingback: The Existential Hero | A Cry In The Dark

  4. Red says:

    I love Jim’s blog. He’s a very knowledgeable and smart guy, but he has no appreciation for what’s required to build a base strong enough to support the capitalist structure he loves so much. He like B thinks that wealth, power, and people are fungible and with enough investment with the right leaders any group can be a winner. But it’s not true. Very few regular people will die for money. They die for each other and their tribe. If their tribe treats them like shit eventually they won’t die for it anymore and they sure as hell won’t work hard for it. For a while empire survive on slaves and mercenaries, but eventually there’s just nothing left to keep a nation going once it’s been hallowed out.

    You don’t have to pay the middle and lower classes well. But you do need to treat them well and make sure that they know they are important. And most importantly of all you have to care enough about them to guide them to maintain the status quo or even improves in the quality of such classes. The love of money is the root of all evil because the pursuit of money destroys the bonds between the classes, where as the pursuit of glory, success, honor, and renown binds a group together as all classes are need in such pursuits. Think the Apollo program instead of face book.

  5. Aaron says:

    NR is mostly an outgrowth of libertarianism. Exhibit A: Moldbug.

    NR doesn’t have to be the end-all be-all summation of all history and sociology in order to be an improvement. If it can draw more people out of the political process, that itself is an improvement. The rest is hopefully a work in progress no pun intended.

  6. Pingback: Commentary on several news sources for the 13th of March | vulture of critique

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