Ayn vs. Karl.

My two most recent literary conquests were Ayn Rand’s Anthem and Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto.

WARNING: Spoilers.

What a perfect book combination! Firstly, both are very short. Anthem is maybe 80 pages, The Communist Manifesto about 40-50* Secondly, both books predicted amazingly similar resulting oppressions despite completely opposite political views. Rand communicates her ideas via the story of Equality 7-2521. He’s a dude who has grown up in a complete collectivism environment. The population is imprisoned in bureaucracy and all aspects of individuality have been banned. The world is bleak, white, mundane, and scripted by ‘The Councils’. Equality 7-2521 has an awakening and finds an escape to the mundane through the development of himself and, essentially, capitalism. He develops an individuality and an ego with which he reinvents property and plans a capitalist revolution! (cue trumpet fanfare)

Karl Marx, on the other hand, conveys his point with a succinct presentation of his beliefs. He describes Capitalism not as a path to triumph but instead as a path to exploitation. He looks at capitalistic society and sees the few commanding bourgeoisie posed above the many victimized proletariat. Without exploitation, Marx argues that there can be no capitalism. He predicts that a purely capitalistic world will continue to widen the wealth gap until the vast majority of the world’s population will live in a bleak, mundane world scripted by the bourgeoisie. He ends by calling for a revolution.

If this were a fight, who would win?

Point goes to Ayn Rand. Marx is academic in his writing style and it can get boring. It took me longer to read Marx’s shorter essay than Ayn Rand’s longer essay. Ayn did a great job of keeping the storyline captivating and the plot moving.

hmm. Tie. Both predicted pretty miserable results if you were to choose their opponents path. I found it fascinating and awesome that both predicted such a similar outcome though.

Karl Marx does a better job with supporting his arguments. But… I guess that’s expected. Ayn is telling a story – there’s little room to really get into supporting historical facts and such. Marx on the other hand is arguing and does a good job in cranking the volume to 11 on his political amplifier.

Which would I recommend?
I would recommend that you read whichever book you disagree with more. For those hardcore Republicans amongst us, try to get through the Communist Manifesto. For the diehard Liberals, go for Ayn Rand. I would say that both of these books are important reads for anyone who deems themselves well-read.

Which do I agree with?
Had you asked me before reading these books, I would have guessed that I’d go with Ayn Rand. I’m a strong believer in the theory that hard work can help pull the most out of luck into a position of strength. My Dad is my example of the ultimate hard worker who brought a comfortable lifestyle to his family through incredible dedication to his work and schooling and a fortitude to stick with it no matter what. He is a man who won’t stop for his own convenience and I’m quite certain he’ll never stop working for the benefit of his family, friends, and community. If the world were full of people like my Dad, capitalism would work beautifully.

But there are a lot of people who get higher capitalistic stature by pulling those around them down. I see Marx’s argument as a clever way to prevent exploitation. Rand, I think, argues that the world will stop trying if you start spreading wealth. I’m not sure I agree. I remember reading in one of my organizational behavior classes that there were three sources of motivation: Power (doing something to gain Authority), Social (doing what you do for your family or friends), and Achievement (I do it so I can say I did it!). I think I’m a mix of achievement and social. I think my Dad is something similar. Perhaps Marx is right. Perhaps if we removed the financial benefits of doing work, the world would not grind to a halt… perhaps instead we’d find a new motivation. The kind of motivation that drives people to publish free online software or the kind of motivation that advances the whole populous not just the individual.

I strongly encourage you to read both of these books. Reading both gives a great representation of opposite views. Hopefully they can help you better understand both ends of the political scale. These books definitely helped me.

*it’s a little hard to tell length of books with the Kindle. Both of these books were completed within a 2-3 hour period (each).

One thought on “Ayn vs. Karl.

  • 6/1/2009 at 10:49 am

    I like your sources of motivation (Power, Social, Achievement). It especially interested me because I was trying to come up with my own definition as to what makes a satisfying job to help me decide what I want to be when I grow up. My version for job happiness was you needed to be satisfied with your level of Salary, Fame, and Ego-Stroking. Maybe ego-stroking is too broad a category, but I can think of so many thankless jobs where the entire category can easily be said to be neglected altogether. That’s just my two cents.


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