Norwegian Pirate or Prince?

Ragnar Danneskjöld is not, as some have said, a modern-day Robin Hood. Some have said, “Ragnar is just like Robin Hood, but he is stealing from the poor to give to the rich.” I disagree. It is true that he is taking, but not from the “poor” as such. Rather, he is taking back property that has been taken by force from those who produced. In Atlas Shrugged, that property had been the property of men and women of the mind, who created wealth for their own use and survival. Ironically, their freedom, their individual right to property, was violated in the name of freedom and rights. The manifestation of Ragnar Danneskjöld‘s principles makes him a complex character. His inclusion in Atlas Shrugged raises questions about the use of brute force. His actions are misunderstood at best. Maligned for the wrong reasons, derided, and villainized at worst.  
Rand says this through Ragnar Danneskjöld:

“I’m after a man whom I want to destroy. He died many centuries ago, but until the last trace of him is wiped out of men’s minds, we will not have a decent world to live in.”
[Rearden:] “What man?”
“Robin Hood.”
Rearden looked at him blankly, not understanding.
“He was the man who robbed the rich and gave to the poor. Well, I’m the man who robs the poor and gives to the rich—or, to be exact, the man who robs the thieving poor and gives back to the productive rich.”

The use of force isn’t justified, unless it is responding to a violation of the rights of the individual. It is the job of the government to protect the rights of the individual, and the job of the Constitution to protect the individual from the government. In Atlas Shrugged, the Constitution seems neglected. In the name of “economic justice” or an ill-defined sense of egality, the rights of some individuals (producers) have been trampled and violated in order to support those who have need.
A substantial similarity between the actions of the government and the actions of Ragnar Danneskjöld is the use of brute force. The government used brute force, not reason or persuasion through even BAD philosophy, to seize property wrongfully in the name of economic justice. This was not the natural order, arrived at through the productive capacity of the human mind. Ragnar Danneskjöld‘s actions exercised brute force. His motives were an attempt to restore justice, a justice that is in keeping with the natural order, arrived at through the natural order.
There continues to be disagreement and haziness in the public debate about what should be, but one thing is clear. Both parties can’t be right.

In the theatrical version of Atlas Shrugged (Part 1 expected in 2011), the newspaper headlines in this picture [left]  illustrate the outrage that the world experiences in response to the actions of “the pirate.” (see if you’re having trouble seeing the picture).

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

3 thoughts on “Norwegian Pirate or Prince?

  1. I am watching with interest the blogs like yours that are struggling to find common ground between Christianity and Objectivism. So I am reading some of your archive and stumbled onto this apparently unsettled question in your mind re Ragnar’s forceful actions.

    Ragnar’s use of force is justifiable, because he has chosen to operate as an outlaw and forfeited his political rights.

    The Objectivist ethics recognizes force as the opposite of reason and the only danger to the freedom of men to apply their own reason to their own actions in the service of their own life. That ethics is applied to the social context of politics by giving the government the task to remove force initiated for gain from human interaction. Individual rights are defined as the standards establishing how the populace and the government may and may not use force in their defense.

    Individual rights are, however, contextual. They exist only in such a social context and solely for the purpose just stated. When a populace fails to establish a fully rational and consistent government of laws, the government’s use of force in defense of an irrational law will actually constitute a violation of individual rights. In that case, we will nevertheless continue to uphold the law and the government while seeking to correct the irrational law. We continue to give our consent to be governed on a “because of the good laws” and “in spite of the bad laws” basis. We choose to “live by the rule of law” in this way for the sake of our own defense from others who would cherry pick the laws to obey unilaterally. It is a reciprocal agreement that is necessary to preserve the objectification of laws and procedures.

    This works only so long as the former exceeds the latter. When bad law becomes dominant, then living by the “rule of law” becomes an immoral act of self-sacrifice. The rational man must then try to flee to a more just society. If there is no other more just, he must seek a method to overthrow the government and replace it with a just one.

    At that point, there is no context within which political rights could have any meaning. One who revolts against that government no longer expects protection from individual rights that are not being recognized anyway. And because they are not being recognized, all of the populace who continue to support that government explicitly or implicitly will by that also have forfeited their rights.

    That is the condition in which Ragnar acts. The only rights that govern him are his moral rights (and wrongs) and his loyalty to the virtues of integrity and justice. Robbing from thieves and destroying their wealth by force is, under that condition, a supremely moral act.

  2. Thanks for your post. I appreciate the clarity of your thought. You mentioned “blogs like yours that struggle to find common ground between Christianity and Objectivism.” I’d like to explore. Please share.

  3. Mark,
    I do not regularly follow any blogs. Rather, Google alerts me to the presence of “Ayn Rand”, “Objectivism”, or “Objectivist” in blogs within a few hours of their publication.

    If a conversation does not ensue after I comment, or when a conversation tapers off, I wait a week or two and then delete my link to it. Consequently I have no record of the blogs I referred to—other than yours.

    If you just do a Google search for “christian objectivism” and variations thereof, you will land on many pages dealing with that particular conundrum.

    Also, if you would go to or search “google alerts” you can sign up for any word or phrase you want for all sorts of venues like blogs, news, forums, etc. and they will email you digests of links to writings with those words/phrases in them every day.

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