Ayn Rand would have backed David Cameron's stand against the EU's "second handers"

Former British Ambassador Charles Crawford applauds David Cameron's willingness to see Britain "isolated"

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Charles Crawford
On 16 December 2011 08:07

The two great novels of American writer and philosopher Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged) are not everyone’s cup of tea. Too “heavy”, too “long”, too “clever” – and, good grief, she extols radical individualism to the point of explicit selfishness! How can any society run like that?

Hmm. Perhaps we should question the premises of that last question. But while we are doing that, let’s enjoy one undoubtedly striking idea she gave us: The concept of the “second-hander”.

The second-hander is someone who is not a prime creator of ideas and/or driver for their implementation -- someone who is unable to create self-standing work of his or her own, and so must live off the ideas and efforts of others. As Rand’s hero Howard Roark proclaims in court when he is put on trial in The Fountainhead for blowing up the housing complex he designed:

The creator’s concern is the conquest of nature. The parasite’s concern is the conquest of men.The creator lives for his work. He needs no other men. His primary goal is within himself. The parasite lives second-hand. He needs others. Others become his prime motive.

The extreme (and rare) example of a second-hander is the beggar: the existential nothing whose fate depends wholly on others taking pity and handing over some of their own production.

Rand refined the idea to apply it more generally to modern life by creating two wide categories of second-handers: “moochers” and “looters”. Moochers try to live off others by active wheedling and sucking up. Or they proclaim some sort of entitlement to the results of others’ hard work. 

Looters by contrast simply use bullying or outright force to take money from those who create wealth and proceed to redistribute it (often to themselves and their friends).

Needless to say, moochers and looters usually find it makes tactical sense to join forces to squeeze ever more juice from those people and processes whose ideas lie at the root of all wealth. Hence the modern, sprawling, collectivist state.

There is even an official mouthpiece for Second-Handers, Looters and Moochers here in the UK, namely the BBC Radio Four Today programme. Every morning, day after day, month after month, year after year, it broadcasts to the nation at its most vulnerable, people tottering round the kitchen making toast.

Its message is unambiguous: the categorical imperative that whatever that morning’s fashionable problem might be, it is the explicit responsibility of “society” in general and the state in particular to “do something” about it. Only collectivist action counts. This appalling, arguably evil message transmitted over decades has transformed the way our country runs, evidently for the worse.

Anyway, the rich insight afforded us by the Rand categories of second-handers, looters and moochers is thought-provoking in many different contexts. I was prompted to recall it by the shriek of despair across the BBC and general progressive commentariat last week after all the member states at the EU Summit except the UK opted for a new treaty intended to stabilise the Eurozone. David Cameron’s insane policies had isolated the UK!

Let’s look at that idea of “isolation”. In the sense used in this EU context, it is intended to say that regardless of the merits of our own arguments on the policies needed to prop up the Eurozone, it is ipso facto a bad thing in itself that we have not agreed with the other 26 member states. This is a startling, far-reaching, quintessentially second-hander idea.

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