The Radical Center
Published in

The Radical Center

Robert Mugabe vs. Ayn Rand

Zimbabwe’s former dictator, the socialist Robert Mugabe, is dead. He epitomized the political use of envy to rile up hated and destroy his own country. This is from my book Zimbabwe: The Death of a Dream.

There is one fact in today’s world many people find unsettling: We all prosper because of the greatness of the few. Each new step forward in humanity’s journey is the result of a few great minds. This is the nature of achievement and that is why any great achievement also brings with it hatred and envy. By definition, the great will always be the few. And it doesn’t matter what field we are discussing. The scientist who innovates a new cure for disease will be outnumbered by the those who will need the cure. The great musician will be outnumbered by the fans who adore them. There will always be more readers than authors; more students than teachers; more workers than employers, more hungry than farmers.

In her novel The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand wrote of the nature of achievement. Her main character, Howard Roark, stands in a courtroom and tells the jury:

“Thousands of years ago, the first man discovered how to make fire. He was probably burned at the stake he had taught his brothers to light. He was considered an evildoer who had dealt with a demon mankind dreaded. But thereafter men had fire to keep them warm, to cook their food, to light their caves. He had left them a gift they had not conceived and he had lifted darkness off the earth….

“That man, the unsubmissive and first, stands in the opening chapter of every legend mankind has recorded about its beginning. Prometheus was chained to a rock and torn by vultures — because he had stolen the fire of the gods. Adam was condemned to suffer — because he had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Whatever the legend, somewhere in the shadows of its memory mankind knew that its glory began with one and that one paid for his courage.”

As long as there is achievement there will be envy or resentment. And this typically follows a particular pattern. In her journals Rand outlined for herself, while writing her novel Atlas Shrugged, that pattern. She wrote:

“The three attitudes of the parasites toward the creators are: (1) ‘We don’t need you at all’; (2) ‘We need you — therefore you must serve us’ (the appeal through weakness and pity); (3) ‘Never mind any reasons, or who’s right or wrong — we’ll just force you to serve us.”’ She also wrote: “Actually, the parasite’s attitude is: first, ‘Help me because I’m weak and you’re strong, I need you so much’; then second, when he got what he wanted: ‘Don’t be so damn conceited, I don’t need you at all.’ Here the parasite got the effect and forgot the cause. In regard to his appeal, the parasite is humble and begs for charity — so long as the creator will not permit him anything else. The moment the creator is demoralized and disarmed through the creed of altruism, the parasite turns arrogant and demands help as his rightful due, as the creator’s duty. ‘Help me because I need you,’ then becomes an order, a command — not a plea.”

That the creators are always needed by the majority encourages a sense of resentment — a hatred for the fact they are needed. From this springs all sorts of political movements driven by envious resentment. The National Socialism of Hitler, or Nazism, is one example. Jews were prosperous and successful, which is why the Nazis both appealed to the lower classes and preached anti-Semitism. The same is true of socialism in all its various guises. Those who do not reach the levels of achievement of the great, but who drink long at the well of resentment, are attracted to ideologies based on hateful envy.

These ideologies promise them the “first shall be made last.” They promise the “people” that the great “exploiters”, that is those who achieve, will be humbled if not destroyed. Robert Sheaffer in his book Resentment Against Achievement explained it this way: “Socialism is that scheme that seeks to harness and exploit the superior achiever for the benefit of the inferior. Of course, the superior achiever seeks to escape this servitude if he can. Hence a “brain drain” is suffered by partly socialist countries, while the Berlin Wall becomes a necessity where resentment’s triumph has been complete.” Marx himself said something similar: “Primitive communism is only the culmination of… envy and levelling down on the basis of a preconceived minimum.”

The fact one is not an “achiever” however, does not mean one is a parasite riddled with envy. I am not an “achiever” in the field of medicine, but I don’t resent those who are. I appreciate there are others more gifted in that field than I. I periodically call upon them for their services, and I happily pay them their due. This, of course, is not true for everyone: witness efforts to force doctors to give “service” simply because others need it. The fact is when one man is forced to provide, against his will, for the needs of another man is slavery — perhaps limited in time — but slavery none the less.

In a free society we can all be achievers of one kind or another. My auto mechanic is not able to write this, and I am not able to replace my brake pads. That’s fair enough. I was fortunate to sit at the feet of some wise professors at university, but I wouldn’t ask them to paint my house. Neither would I take sociology or philosophy courses from my painter.

Freedom embraces greatness at all levels. It allows the man or woman who does a job well to succeed. For this reason we do the work we do. I write. You, on the other hand, might be a computer technician, a grocer, a plumber or a farmer. In a free society we trade with one another. When I need plumbing I pay a plumber and when I need medical care I pay a physician. In return there are some plumbers and physicians and mechanics who will hopefully pay to read my books.

Some of what I’ve said here can easily, sometimes intentionally, be misinterpreted. To speak about achievers and parasites brings forth images of Nietzsche’s “Superman,” who has the right to rule others. That is the doctrine of Hitler and Mussolini — it is not my doctrine, nor is it the doctrine of anyone who promotes achievement. Right-wing dictatorships tend to argue the masses should serve the great. Left-wing dictatorships tend to argue the great should serve the masses. A society based on human rights rejects both concepts and embraces voluntary exchange: trading value for value. It would abolish slavery, whether done in the name of the “great” or in the name of the “people.”

Thomas Jefferson spoke of “a natural aristocracy among men” which is based on virtue and talent. This he contrasted with the “artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents.” I would classify these two groups this way: one has authority because of talent and the other because of power. They are not the same thing. Bill Gates has talent. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has power.

There was a time when the word “authority” meant someone who was respected in a field because of their ability. In the American Heritage Dictionary this is the fourth definition. The first refers to someone with the “power” to enforce laws. We have reversed the premise. Originally someone had “power,” in a very loose sense of the word, because they were an authority. Today we tend to think of someone as being the “authority” because they have power. I go to my dentist, not because he is able to compel me, but because he knows what he is doing. If he doesn’t know what he is doing I won’t go back. I’m free to choose between competing authorities. I pay government, not because it’s good at what it does, but because I am compelled to pay them. Their authority is derived from power, not from ability. They are, in the Jeffersonian sense of things, an artificial aristocracy.

Jefferson natural aristocracy and Rand’s achievers are the same people. What has changed is who comprises the artificial aristocracy. In Jefferson’s time this group was made up of kings, counts, bishops and dukes. Today the artificial aristocracy, those who are capable of living off the productive effort of others, are the Robert Mugabe’s of the world. They take power with the backing of the parasites of the world — those people incapable or unwilling to sustain their own life. They promote a philosophy, which if it could be embodied in one concrete reality, would take the form of a vampire: a dead thing that sustains itself by sapping the life out of others but a creature who, if it consumes all the living, will die itself.

Mugabe came to power by appealing to these people. He advocated socialism and told them he would redistribute the wealth of those capable of production. He appealed to the people with a philosophy of envy. Scheaffer, though not mentioning Zimbabwe, in fact describes it quite well. He writes:

“Both resentment and achievement have existed throughout history, in all societies, although in widely varying degrees. When the morality of achievement predominates, civilizations flourish in commerce, in the arts, in science; they erect great monuments and are remembered by future times as magnificent eras. When the morality of resentment gains the upper hand, civilizations decline and eventually perish. A civilization is the sum total of all the achievements of its people, and as achievement becomes increasingly discouraged, scorned, and even persecuted; the forward momentum of society is quickly halted and then ultimately reversed.

As a civilization ascends, it is inevitable that its progress and growth will be nonuniform. Societies that have insisted on equality at all costs (resentment-morality explicitly made law) are not so troubled by this problem, since they never experience significant economic growth. When a civilization experiences such growth over a period of decades or centuries, those who have contributed the least develop powerful resentments as they find themselves significantly behind those who have worked, saved, risked, and prospered. These resentments are not positive or laudable in any way; if they were the resentful would direct their energies toward raising their own productivity, and resentment would be self-limiting rather than civilization-limiting. Instead, resentment slowly brews envy and hatred of civilized society and its accomplishments. The higher a civilization rises, the more powerful is the envy it inspires in the uncivilized.

The proof of this, as the saying goes, is in the pudding; meaning the results prove the theory. When resentment morality dominates a culture those who produced are punished for doing so. The result is decay in every sense of the word. When the productive farmers in Zimbabwe are attacked, and the farms redistributed, the result is a massive decline in production. This does not worry the advocates of resentment politics. They do not advocate prosperity only equality. Unfortunately their political agenda does not create wealth so they cannot create equal wealth. They can only strive for equal poverty. Redistribution of wealth is, in fact, a misnomer. It does not exist. But, it is possible to redistribute poverty. We can achieve a society where all are equally poor, equally miserable, equally enslaved. This equality can only be achieved by the whip. It requires the destruction of the most capable. The sociologist Helmut Schoeck in his work Envy noted that the envy motive could be useful in politics. He wrote its usefulness is derived:

…from the fact that all that is needed, in principle, is to promise the envious the destruction or confiscation of assets enjoyed by the others; beyond that there is no need to promise anything more constructive. The negativism of envy permits even the weakest of candidates to sound reasonably plausible, since anybody, once in office can confiscate or destroy. To enlarge the country’s capital assets, to create employment etc. requires a more precise programme. Candidates will naturally try to make some positive proposals, but it is often all too apparent that envy looms large in their calculations. The more precarious the state of a nation’s economy at election time, the stronger the temptations for politicians to make ‘redistribution’ their main plank, even when they know how little margin is left for redistributive measures and, worse still, how likely they are to retard economic growth.

The only way to achieve wealth is to increase productivity, but socialism does not do that. It does not make the “workers” more productive. It simply takes from those who produce more and gives to those who produce less. The productive lose incentives to produce and some join the queues with hands out begging. When a society has fully plundered its own people, it then uses such concepts as “social justice” and “equality” to emotionally blackmail other wealthy nations. In the envy-ridden society begging is all that is left. Even worse, this begging is not done on the basis of simple charity, but is promoted on the basis that the productive actually owe the handout to those in need. Those who produce thus have an “obligation” to hand over their wealth. Even this is short term. Ultimately the advocates of envy destroy the wealth producers.

Mugabe himself may not be motivated by envy. He is simply an incompetent man who destroyed a country and now finds he must resort to more desperate measures to remain in power. History is filled with examples of what happens to men like him when they are toppled; he is not anxious to be summarily executed by angry mobs of his own citizens.

Envy is just a tool he uses to inspire his Brown Shirts to intimidate the most productive members of their society. The campaign has been hidden behind a mantle of racism, but racism alone is not the motivation. Washington Sansole, one of Zimbabwe’s first black judges, said under Mugabe the rule of law was destroyed and “we have had no racial reconciliation. Whites are still blamed for having better houses, better jobs, better education, but they [the people blaming whites] forget that in 14 years there should have been enough time to get the situation right.”

Much of the motive behind anti-white racism, as Judge Sansole has pointed out, is rooted in envy, but the bulk of Mugabe’s victims are not white farmers, but blacks. Mugabe mobilized the least productive, least intelligent, least capable, members of his society in a war on their betters. Most of the victims are black. The Sunday Times of South Africa, in an editorial, pointed out Zimbabwe’s schools are shut down and the hospitals are left without staff. “The cause of this is that bands of thugs belonging to the ruling ZANU-PF party have been roaming the countryside, threatening and beating up educated citizens.”

The paper went on: “Mugabe’s harassment of professionals bears the hallmark of the Fifth Brigade’s reign of terror in Matabeleland in the ’80s, during which educated people were singled out for murder and torture. Mugabe, whose Cold War allegiances lay with Maoist China, has not come round to accepting the concept of multi-party democracy. He might do well to remind himself of how China’s Mao Tse-Tung and Cambodia’s Pol Pot set economic and technological development in their respective nations back by decades by trying to annihilate and silence the thinking classes.” The problem with these remarks is their author seems to assume that development matters to those seeking equality. It doesn’t. When people are allowed to develop their skills and resources there is a natural inequality of ability, which inevitably leads to unequal distribution of wealth.

F.A. Hayek, in his book The Constitution of Liberty, wrote: “It is just not true that human beings are born equal;… if we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual positions;. . . [thus] the only way to place them in equal position would be to treat them differently. Equality before the law and material equality are, therefore, not only different but in conflict with each other.” There are in the world people with varying levels of intelligence, let along varying levels of education. Not everyone can be a nuclear physicist or a physician. And no amount of education can change that. So how do we achieve equality of results if that is our goal? The only method left is to tear down the great. Those who are intelligent thus become victims of the least intelligent in their society. This is why Mao had the intellectuals attacked. This is why Pol Pot attacked the educated. This why Mugabe has targeted professionals.

Socialism is simply another version of vandalism. The hateful adolescent who smashes someone’s car does so simply because someone else has a car. The act will not give him a car but it will deprive another person of that enjoyment. In ancient Greece Aesop told his fables which contained lessons in morality. One such tale was about the nature of envy. He wrote:

Two neighbors came before Jupiter and prayed him to grant their hearts’ desire. Now the one was full of avarice, and the other eaten up with envy. So to punish them both, Jupiter granted that each might have whatever he wished for himself, but only on condition that his neighbor had twice as much. The Avaricious man prayed to have a room full of gold. No sooner said than done; but all his joy was turned to grief when he found that his neighbor had two rooms full of the precious metal. Then came the turn of the Envious man, who could not bear to think that his neighbor had any joy at all. So he prayed that he might have one of his own eyes put out, by which means his companion would become totally blind.

The true nature of envy is it does not “uplift” the envious. It merely tears down the well off. It is a physical manifestation of the envy exhibited in Aesop’s tale that we see in today’s Zimbabwe. The rich farmers who produced such vast wealth are deposed of their land. It is now ostensibly given to peasant farmers. And what is the end result? The land becomes barren; the farmhouses are destroyed; the irrigation systems are ruined. The poor are no better off than they were before the occupation of the land. But production has been destroyed. For the philosophically inclined that was their goal; for those who don’t think, this was not necessarily the goal but it was the inevitable outcome of their ideas.

In Atlas Shrugged, Rand wrote the history of any country that allows the morality of resentment to dominate. She described how the producers are used as cash-cows by the “people” to promote their ideas of justice: a justice where the man who produces is not allowed to keep the fruits of his labor for the very reason he was the one who produces it; while those who did not produce are allowed to enjoy it for the very reason they did not produce it. In 1895 the political economist Wilhelm Roscher said: “How many of those moods which we supposed to be a sense of justice are infected at their very base by envious impulses.”

Writing Atlas Shrugged during the late 1940s and the 1950s Rand obviously knew nothing of Robert Mugabe and his dictatorial regime. But she did describe so much of what is going on there. She described how various pieces of legislation, backed with Mugabe-like rhetoric, slowly confiscated the wealth and rights of the most capable in the society. Enterprises were nationalized and their control turned over to individuals whose only ability was to please the ruling powers. This led to a downward spiral where each new regulation leading to a greater crisis requiring more and more legislation in a vain attempt to undo the problems the regulations created in the first place.

In the book the creators ask themselves why it is they continue creating. Rand said she didn’t want to show what the prime movers do but instead show “what happens when they don’t do it.” In her Journals she wrote the story would proceed like this: “The prime movers say to the world, in effect: ‘You hate us. You don’t want us. You put every obstacle in our way. Very well — we’ll stop. We won’t fight you or bother you. We’ll merely stop functioning. We’ll stop doing the things you martyr us for. And see how you like it.’” Thus the title of her book: Atlas Shrugged. In Greek mythology Atlas carried the world on his shoulders. Here Atlas is all those people who create, who achieve, who live by their own effort. In Rand’s novel she asks the question: What would happen if Atlas shrugged?

In the novel the great entrepreneurs slowly start disappearing. One by one the enterprises they created are either destroyed or grind to a halt. Dagny Taggert, who runs a railroad, vows that she will stop the “destroyer,” whoever he may be. She believes the destroyer is the one persuading these men to stop producing. Slowly and inevitably the society starts moving toward total collapse. The novel itself is filled with brilliant insights into the human character. Rand’s description of the Twentieth Century Motor Company is, in fact, a history of the how Marxism destroys any culture which adopts it. It alone is the worth the price of the book.

Some of the achievers decide they will simply dismantle the factories they created, or destroy them. A copper empire crumbles over night. A prominent banker simply vanishes. One of the more dramatic incidents in the novel deals with oilman Ellis Wyatt. In the novel Dagny is on a train in Colorado. The government has imposed a new tax on Colorado, because it is one of the few wealthy areas left in the country. And Wyatt is the main wealth producer in the state. Dagny is thinking:

“The tax on Colorado, she thought, the tax collected from Ellis Wyatt to pay for the livelihood of those whose job was to tie him and make him unable to live, those who would stand on guard to see that he got no trains, no tank cars, no pipeline of Rearden Metal — Ellis Wyatt, stripped of the right of self-defense, left without voice, without weapons, and worse: made to be the tool of his own destruction, the supporter of his own destroyers, the provider of their food and of their weapons — Ellis Wyatt being choked, with his own bright energy turned against him as the noose — Ellis Wyatt, who had wanted to tap an unlimited source of shale oil and who spoke of a Second Renaissance…

She sat bent over, her head on her arms, slumped at the ledge of the window — while the great curves of the green-blue rail, the mountains, the valleys, the new towns of Colorado went by in the darkness, unseen.

The sudden jolt of brakes on wheels threw her upright. It was an unscheduled stop, and the platform of the small station was crowded with people, all looking off in the same direction. The passengers around her were pressing to the windows, staring. She leaped to her feet, she ran down the aisle, down the steps, into the cold wind sweeping the platform.

In the instant before she saw it and her scream cut the voices of the crowd, she knew that she had known that which she was to see. In a break between mountains, lighting the sky, throwing a glow that swayed on the roofs and walls of the station, the hill of Wyatt Oil was a solid sheet of flame.

Later, when they told her that Ellis Wyatt had vanished, leaving nothing behind but a board he had nailed to a post at the foot of the hill, when she looked at his handwriting on the board, she felt as if she had almost known that these would be the words:

“I am leaving it as I found it. Take over. It’s yours.”

Is this only the fantasies of Ayn Rand? Not in Zimbabwe it isn’t. The homes of the business elite are now up for sale. Estate agents say they have ten sellers for every two that want to buy. Stuttafords removal company promises they can empty a house in just one hour, due to their new rapid deployment squad. Travel agents say that they are booking tickets left, right and center for all those leaving. Roy Bennett paid $700,000 for Childswood Estates, a coffee plantation. In 1999 he exported 410 tonnes of coffee and still had time to teach peasant farmers in the area how to grow coffee. He joined the opposition party and as a direct result his farm was invaded. The “war veterans” told him to either join ZANU-PF or lose his farm. He said: “I can’t put material things over my principles.” He walked off the farm. His pregnant wife agreed: “What’s right is right. You can’t support evil.” Already the “war veterans” have trashed the farmhouse and the rest is a matter of time.

Border Timber was one of the largest timber producers in Zimbabwe. Their sawmill and other operations employed some 3,500 workers. ZANU-PF thugs marched on the company and demanded that Border fire all whites and replace them with black workers, provide transportation to bus people to ZANU-PF rallies, identify opposition supporters on their staff so they can be disciplined, and provide cattle for slaughter by the ZANU-PF thugs. The board of directors of the company sat down, discussed the matter, and closed the company. Atlas shrugged.

Both socialism and apartheid severed the connection between creativity and distribution. In the one you benefited because you were white. In the other you benefited because you were poor. It is the right of the producer to share and help those who, through no fault of their own, are not well off. But, once the principle of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” is enshrined in law we will start on the first downward spiral that is now totally engulfing Zimbabwe.

Socialism won out in Zimbabwe thirty-years ago; today we are seeing the net results. Socialism won out because the advocates of free enterprise allowed the morality of Marxism to dominate. The idea that wealth should be redistributed, once accepted in principle, leads in practice to what Mugabe has done. To assume you can accept the premise but deny the conclusion is irrational. In any ideological battle between two similar ideas the one which is more consistent will win out. The capitalist who defends capitalism solely on the basis of what it does for the poor has accepted the premise the good of the poor must dominate all questions of economics. Once he has done this he is impotent to fight confiscatory measures to redistribute wealth.

An ethics of freedom and depoliticized markets requires the promotion of individualism and the right of the individual to live for his own sake. Marxism and apartheid denied both. Under apartheid there was no individualism, just a vague concept of group rights. This meant that the individual must live for the sake of the volk. Under Marxism rights are parceled out according to needs, and the individual must live for the sake of the state. Both systems are similar forms of statism. Both denied individual rights. Both opposed free enterprise. Both are based on the premise that we must live for the sake of others. This is the root of the problems in Africa. Be it apartheid in the old South Africa or socialism in Zimbabwe, the philosophy of collectivism has won out. And the only way to destroy evil ideas is through the power of good ideas.

Afterword: I would state for the record that much of the tactics of Mugabe and the resentment and bigotry he promoted can be found in the tatics of Trump and today’s Republican Party.

Our one source of income remains payment or donations for the columns that you see here. Please consider either making a one time donation or a monthly donation to help sustain them. The link is below.

Your support to fund these columns is important, visit our page at Patreon.



A blog for the Moorfield Storey Institute: a liberaltarian think tank.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.