Ayn Rand has made an amazing comeback in recent years; it seems as though the worse the world gets, the better she sells. There have been articles about her recently in every major news publication, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and Time. Two new biographies have just come out, Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne Heller (Nan. A. Talese) and Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the America Right by Jennifer Burns (Oxford), explaining who Rand was as a person and how she’s relevant to the economic crisis. Through the end of September of this year alone, just one of Ayn Rand’s books, Atlas Shrugged, has sold over 300,000 copies. Clearly, more and more people are finding Rand relevant today.
However, Ayn Rand was not a philosopher limited to simply fiction or economic analysis. She has a rich philosophy called Objectivism. Unfortunately, there is one glaring omission from Objectivism: sexual ethics. While Ayn Rand hints at what her sexual ethics may look like in different places, including Atlas Shrugged’s “sex speech” (p. 453), she never elaborates this into an actual sexual ethic. This is where Eros and Ethos comes to the rescue.
Eros and Ethos is a new sexual ethic based in Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. It picks up the bits and pieces that Ayn Rand alluded to and constructs this into a robust sexual ethic that is capable of handling even the most challenging questions. It is, fundamentally, an extension of Objectivism into new territory, while retaining a firm basis in Objectivism. This is fortunate, since the economic crisis is not the only one we are facing right now: the world is also facing a sexual crisis on both the social and personal scales.
The World Health Organization estimates that over 3,000,000 women are forced to undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) every year, or roughly 342 women every hour of every day. For those who don’t know, FGM ranges from the removal of the clitoral hood, to the removal of the clitoris, to the removal of the outer and inner labia, to effectively sowing the vagina closed (infibulation). This is frequently done with whatever implements are at hand, including rusty pieces of metal, scissors, pieces of glass, etc, and rarely with the use of anesthesia. It is done for various reasons, depending on the locality, but the unifying element in the “inherent dirtiness” of the female body and to “help” women conform to cultural expectations of chastity. I point this out because people think that our ideas about sex don’t matter or that the consequences of bad ideas about sex are limited to nothing more than an unsatisfying sex life. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that bad ideas about sex can kill. It is for this reason that Sexual Ethics is vital.
Sexual Ethics, however, is not limited to only preventing atrocities and human rights violations, it is also, and perhaps more fundamentally, oriented at identifying the principles necessary to allow us to integrate sex into a fulfilling human life. This means bringing sex into our lives in a positive way that helps us to become better people and live more fulfilled lives. In order to be able to fulfill both its broader goals of creating a sex-positive society and its narrower goals of helping people to properly integrate sex into their lives, sexual ethics will have to first identify the principles that underlie both these goals and then apply them to both social issues and to achieving the best kind of life possible.
What makes Eros and Ethos unique is that it combines Objectivism’s rich philosophy of personal development with an emphasis on sexual issues to achieve a unified theory of ethics. After all, humans are unarguably sexual beings and if our ethics cannot account for something that fundamental about what it means to be human, then we have a poor ethic indeed.