Micah Redding — faith in humanity's future

Politics is Metaphysics

Child standing near tree

I watched Atlas Shrugged last night. Not a great movie. Nevertheless, it was thought-provoking in several ways.

One might be forgiven for thinking that this movie was about politics. The cameo appearances from political pundits, the focus on government, regulation, and industry, the people who seemed to have supported its creation — all would seem to suggest that this is primarily a piece of political propaganda.

But it’s not. It’s metaphysical propaganda.

The core argument of the story — poorly told as it was — is that the essence of mankind is creative work. Further, that creative work can only happen when a person is completely free, and the best way to cultivate creative work is to focus entirely on your own self-interest.

That last bit is the part I’m most skeptical about, but we’ll come back to that. The main point — that mankind is, in essence, the creative worker — is a metaphysical claim, and all the politics in the story are really peripheral to it.

It occurs to me that this may be the case with most politics. Most political stories we see are not really about the mechanics of government or the legal system. Most of them are simply proxies for bigger questions that people are already fighting over. And many of these bigger questions ultimately connect up to subjects that border on the metaphysical: Are humans intrinsically good, socialized towards evil? Or are humans intrinsically evil, socialized towards good?

We’ve fought over these ideas for eons, and are still fighting them today. Only our expressions change.

I think about this kind of thing when I overhear political arguments that seem overblown or irrelevant to me. I remind myself: these people aren’t fighting about politics, they’re fighting about what it means to be human.

And given the significance of that subject — to everything from our understanding of the cosmos, to an individual’s ability to get through the workday — I’m not surprised they fight.


Maedell Davis:

Regarding Atlas Shrugged, I have never seen the movie, but would urge you not to judge the book by the movie. The book was excellent. I have to think more about the assumptions you make!


You'll notice I said absolutely nothing about the book. :)

Stephen Wheeley:

I think you have a valid idea that many arguments about politics are in essence about metaphysics, for indeed the underlying themes are not always structural but about one's basic worldview. But I would suggest that the issue, particularly from a " Randian " perspective, is not that you proposed, ie. are humans intrinsically good or evil or socialized those ways, but rather this: Do all humans have an intrinsic value, one that transcends their social status, nationality, religion, health or other situations, many of which are beyond our control . Or is the only value in their " utility " to society or government. The vision of Atlas Shrugged's author is the latter view, coupled with their other fallacy of " self interest " as the supreme value we should seek. In other words, the true question is religious rather than purely metaphysical, for only in religion ( and primarily in Christianity ) do we find the idea that humans have an intrinsic value simply because of their humanity, because they belong to a greater power, our Creator . Btw, anyone who thinks Ayn Rand was either a good writer or someone with a valid opinion of how humans should treat one another doesn't understand her agenda.


I thought Ayn Rand argued that all humans have intrinsic value to themselves, but no claim on each other. That's where the selfishness comes in - you are your only responsibility. No one else should depend on you. Every Ayn Rand devotee I've met would rage at the idea that they only have worth as defined by their utility to society - that's how her villains operate! Viewing people in terms of their utility is fundamentally a statist principle, either Marxist, authoritarian, or plain old fascist. In China, you only have value in respect to the wishes of the State. In the Objectivist vision, you have value, but people are free to assess that value as they wish. I don't agree with Rand's ideas, but they are a rejection of state-determined values, not an embrace of them