[Paleopsych] Meme 039: Ayn Rand Centennial: Patch Still Needed
checker at panix.com
Wed Feb 2 21:36:41 UTC 2005
Meme 039: Ayn Rand Centennial: Patch Still Needed
Atlas Shrugged was the book that influenced me more than any other. I read
it, at the suggestion of my best friend back home in Colorado, during the
Summer between my second and third year in college, that is in 1964, when
I was 19. He said, read it a hundred pages a week and you'll be finished
by the end of the Summer. At first I thought it was a caricature, and was
three or four weeks into the reading before I got caught up in it. I
finished it quickly.
I had gotten bored with the graduate math courses I had been taking ever
since I arrived at the University of Virginia. The beginning graduate
level courses were very good, but the later ones struck me as pointless
piling up of abstractions. My professors told me that even they lacked
intuitive understanding of their research work but nevertheless could
crank out papers.
So Atlas Shrugged gave me a new direction in life. Most of the books she
recommended reading were in economics. At it happened, U.Va. had one of the
few free-market graduate economics schools in the world. I convinced James
Buchanan and Gordon Tullock on the economics faculty there I could do the
work, even though I had had no courses, so I switched majors.
However, there was a fight between the "conservative" economics faculty
and the Dean of the Graduate School, who was a mediocre political science
scholar and a liberal. He was not only envious of Tullock's outstanding
scholarship but resented the incursion of economics into his turf of
political science. He used his power to block Tullock's promotion to a
full professor. Tullock left U.Va. as a result. Next year, Buchanan
threatened to leave if Tullock were not brought back. He wasn't and he
I was associated with the Buchanan-Tullock group and was too naive
then--and am probably too naive today--to play dissertation politics. I
was told, "Mr. Forman, if you give us a dissertation, we will give you a
Ph.D.", in other words, no assistance. I went to work for the federal
government temporarily in 1969 and am still there! First for the Civil
Aeronautics Board, where I came out for deregulation much too early, like
the day I arrived. My first boss, Sam Brown, agreed with me, and he gave
me my only promotion. His section was abolished after his research
questioned the merits of some of the CAB's actions. The Board was
abolished at the end of 1984, and I've worked at the U.S. Department of
Education ever since. I would keep only that part of it that generates
information, which is a public good, or about 1% of it. This attitude,
plus the fact that I have worked in policy units and am too hard of
hearing to play the policy game even if I were cynically bent on doing so,
has kept me stuck at a low level. I am not sure which is the more
Back to the story, I had pretty much forgotten about Ayn Rand by the end
of 1984, but I started corresponding with Buchanan about another matter,
namely the philosophy of Mario Bunge, who was writing an eight-volume
Treatise on Basic Philosophy, designed to show what the world is to actual
scientists by clarifying and systematizing their implicit assumptions.
Bunge is as Aristotelian as Ayn Rand and far more knowledgeable about
science. I told Buchanan that Bunge's "systemism" had the key to
reconciling the conflicts between individualism and collectivism. Having
moved from Virginia Tech to George Mason, he invited me to write a
dissertation under him at GMU, which I did. I got my Ph.D. in 1985, no
promotion at work, but an enormous personal satisfaction at having
finished a dissertation at last, and under so distinguished an economist.
There was only part of a chapter on Ayn Rand in the dissertation, which I
expanded into a full chapter in my book, _The Metaphysics of Liberty_
(Dordrecht, Holland: Kluwer Academic, 1989). The book is on my website,
http://www.panix.com/~checker (don't forget the tilde).
I lost interest again in Ayn Rand, until I got my first home connection to
the Net in early 1995 and spent a great deal of time arguing about
Objectivism. On June 7 I sent forth the essay right below. There were a
couple of feeble replies and then silence. The need for a patch remains.
It took me a few more years to become a Recovered Objectivist, which is to
say, just rather bored with the controversies. There are several essays of
mine pertaining to Objectivism on my site.
I follow my essay with a bunch of items on the centenary that I found
from Google News.
I do not regret the years I spent wrapped up in Ayn Rand, nor anything
about my life, really, and most esp. not the other path down the road of
biology and human group differences. I might have been more productive of
ideas had I not spent so much time chasing down so many byways. I don't
think, bar a major upgrade in the quality of our species, that the grand
hopes of a final vision promised by the Enlightenment are going to
materialize. I've become a thoroughgoing post-modernist in this respect,
and a transhumanist is urging the upgrading.
The quest is as important as the vision, anyhow. My autobiography is
mostly what I read, readings that I have been sharing with you on my
lists, not any partial conclusions that never seem to settle down to
anything I can write up. Nietzsche and Peirce had the same problems, not
in not writing at all (Wittgenstein stopped after one dissertation and one
article) though on a higher level.
Thank you, Ayn Rand, for your leading me in the path of righteousness for
your name's sake. Wrong metaphor.
PATCH NEEDED FOR "THE OBJECTIVIST ETHICS"
by Frank Forman
I have restudied Ayn Rand's key essay,
"The Objectivist Ethics," very closely, but I
find a hole in her argument, a gap in her
reasoning. She passes from the indisputable
fact that dead men make no choices to an
entire system of egoist ethics. In what
follows, I am going to outline her argument.
I shall be arguing that she moves from
survival as the supreme aim to happiness.
This move requires a patch to cover the hole
in her argument, and that patch I denominate
the Objectivist psychology, which is at
bottom a theory of virtue. But all this is so
far mostly implicit. If there are other
writings of hers that can provide a fully
satisfying patch to cover the hole, or if any
readers can provide the patch on their own,
we certainly want to hear it. I'm using _The
Virtue of Selfishness_ for pagination.
**Morality** (here equated with ethics)
is "a code of values to guide man's choices
and actions--the choices and actions that
determine the purpose and the course of his
life" (p. 13, the first page of the essay,
which ends on p. 35).
So, she defines a word, "morality," in
terms of other words, "code," "value,"
"guide," "choice," "action," "determine,"
"purpose," "course," and "life." Most of the
words are not likely to give any trouble, at
least not here and at least not now. We can
argue how comprehensive this code should be,
where the principles leave off, and where one
just goes ahead and makes cost-benefit
estimates or just acts on one's tastes. We
can also argue over the various meanings of
"determine." But for now, only "value" and
"purpose" are apt to give problems. I am not
trying to maximize quibbling, rather to
isolate a hole in an argument interpreted as
best as I can.
**Value** "is that which one acts to
gain and/or keep" (p. 15). This definition
has been quoted many times by Ayn Rand's fans
and/or critics. She does not specify the
scope of values or which levels they cover:
first level desires like tastes, second level
desires that are more considered and deal
with longer-range achievements, and what may
be top-level values having to do with the
overarching purpose of one's life. Again,
"purpose" is a word that will be causing
trouble. In any case, "value" here is simply
a matter of what one does in fact act "to
gain and/or keep."
Life or Death
She goes on: "The concept 'value' is not
a primary; it presupposes an answer to the
question: of value to _whom_ and for _what_?
It presupposes an entity capable of acting to
achieve a goal in the face of an alternative.
Where no alternative exists, no goals and
values are possible" (p. 15). Well, yes, but
the definition seems clear enough: the value
is that which *one* *acts* to gain and/or
keep. There is an actor and the value is what
that actor acts to gain and/or keep. What she
means by a "*primary* concept" is not clear.
But I don't want to quibble; nor will I
quibble that a new concept, "goal," has been
Then she, speaking through John Galt,
tells us that "there is only one fundamental
alternative in the universe: existence or
nonexistence--and it pertains to a single
class of entities: to living organisms. The
existence of inanimate matter is
unconditional, the existence of life is not:
it depends on a specific course of action.
Matter is indestructible, it changes its
forms, but it cannot cease to exist. It is
only a living organism that faces a constant
alternative: the issue of life or death. Life
is a process of self-sustaining and self-
generated action...." (p. 15). Diamonds, of
course, are entities and can cease to exist
by being heated to a certain temperature,
even though the elemental carbon continues,
but diamonds cannot act. So perhaps she means
values are to be attributed only to entities
that can act. On the next page, however, she
speaks of her famous hypothetical
"indestructible robot" (p. 16), which (she
says) can have no values (cannot act to gain
and/or keep anything), since it does not face
the "one fundamental alternative in the
universe: existence or nonexistence." The
term "fundamental" has been introduced
without definition, so I cannot be certain
whether she is mistaken about there being
"only one fundamental alternative in the
universe." My own view is that indestructible
robots violate the laws of physics, but they
are at least logical possibilities and they
could indeed have values.
Life or Reproduction
I make these points only because her
next paragraph introduces something that is
contrary to what we know about biology: "On
the _physical_ level, the functions of all
living organisms...are actions generated by
the organism itself and directed toward a
single goal: the maintenance of the
organism's _life_" (p. 16). We know from
biology (Miss Rand was not up to date) that
*reproduction* is every bit as much the goal
of organisms, if not more so, as the
maintenance of life. True enough, the
organism must remain alive long enough to get
the sperm or eggs out (sometimes it dies
before birth of its offspring is actually
achieved), but the goal of continuing to live
can be, and often is, overridden by the goal
of reproducing. Self = two children = four
grandchildren = ... is the governing
equation, since the self is going to die
anyway. Organisms, often, will go on living
after the birth of their children, but the
end is to serve getting one's offspring to
the point of _their_ reproduction, not to
keep oneself alive. Once Mom and Pop have
outlived their usefulness, they die; indeed,
they are genetically programmed to die, or so
at least claim most biologists. So the
"fundamental alternative" is not life but
Now this view of biology, known as the
"selfish gene" view, is not without its
critics. The older view, which was Darwin's,
was that the individual organism is the
fundamental and only unit of selection. Now
the consensus view is that individual genes
are the sole units. But then there are those
claiming that units larger than the
individual, even entire species and higher
taxa, can also be units of evolution. This
gives rise to the difficulties of what is
called group selection: there must be a
genetic disposition to what biologists call
"altruism," meaning a willingness to
sacrifice one's life for the good of some
group larger than the carrier's of one's own
genes. But this means that those organisms
with such a disposition will be bred out of
the population. Group selection can arise in
very limited circumstances, nevertheless, but
such circumstances are quite rare, or so goes
the consensus opinion. I mention all this,
since the question of units of selection has
never been satisfactorily conceptualized. I
should also state that the biological world
is rife with cases of apparent "altruism,"
and accounting for them is regarded by many
biologists, including E.O. Wilson, as the
central issue of sociobiology. A great deal
of apparent "altruism" can indeed be
explained away: how big the residual of
unexplained instances is, I do not know. I
have not browsed sci.bio.evolution enough to
check on any debates there. Objectivism will
certainly have to be developed much further,
or be replaced with a scientific metaphysics
of the sort Mario Bunge has developed, or
merged with it, to tackle this extremely
important and difficult issue.
Ayn Rand continues: "An _ultimate_ [not
_fundamental_, but this seems to be no big
change] value is the final goal or end to
which all lesser goals are the means--and it
sets the standard by which all lesser goals
are _evaluated_. An organism's life is its
_standard of value_: that which furthers its
life is the _good_, that which threatens it
is the _evil_.... the fact that living
entities exist and function necessitates the
existence of values [recall: that which one
acts to gain and/or keep] and of an ultimate
value which for any given living entity is it
own life. Thus the validation of value
judgments is to be achieved by reference to
the facts of reality. The fact that a living
entity _is_, determines what it _ought_ to
do. So much for the issue of the relation
between "_is_" and "_ought_" (p. 17).
Forget for now the problems biologists
have with life, not reproduction, being the
*fundamental* (or *ultimate*) value. What she
is saying, and *all* that she is saying, is
that in order for an organism to act to gain
and/or keep anything at all, it must stay
alive, that *enough* of its actions must be
such as to succeed at keeping alive. In other
words, though this is a conclusion she did
not draw, the organism might act to gain
and/or keep any number of things^, but it has
to value staying alive and moreover its
actions must in fact succeed in its staying
^[What constitutes "things" is
unspecified: Ayn Rand just says "that
This seems like an utterly harmless
truism. Living things are *constrained* in
the sorts of action they can undertake, but
how constrained is the question. An ethics,
at all worthy of the name, can get out of
this seemingly harmless truism *only* if the
constraints are really vigorous. The task for
ethics is to formulate just what these
constraints are. Ayn Rand does not go into
the full details of what living things must
do to get an adequate amount of food, but she
does state that plants do so automatically.^
Animals (the higher ones, at any rate) also
need consciousness, of at least the
sensational variety, to go hunt for their
food, and animals higher yet need to operate
on the perceptual level. But men have to
operate on the _conceptual_ level as well, at
least sometimes and perhaps a great deal of
the time, if they are to stay alive.
Moreover, making concepts is voluntary (p.
20). She never explains why, since she was
largely uninterested in biology, but she
could have read a statement of V.C. Wynne-
Edwards: "Compliance with the social code can
be made obligatory and automatic, and it
probably is so in almost all animals that
possess social homeostatic systems at all. In
at least some of the mammals, on the
contrary, the individual has been released
from this rigid compulsion, probably because
a certain amount of intelligent individual
enterprise has proved advantageous to the
^[So do certain lowly animals like
sponges, but I won't quibble.]
^^[V.C. Wynne-Edwards, "Intergroup
Selection in the Evolution of Social
Systems," _Nature_ 200: 623-26 (1963)). This
was available before the paperback edition of
_The Virtue of Selfishness_, though no one
should blame Ayn Rand for not knowing the
Now if Ayn Rand can quote John Galt, I
can quote me: "Such an explanation invokes
group selection and is bound to be
controversial. An alternative explanation
might be that a) thinking requires work (uses
up costly brain chemicals) and b) free-will
circuity allows the animal (or maybe just
certain humans) to choose both whether to
think and what to think about. Far less brain
hardware, in other words, may be required by
taking the free will route"^
^[Frank Forman, _The Metaphysics of
Liberty_ (Dordrecht, Holland: Kluwer
Academic, 1989), p. 155).]
But now what do we have? Only that, to
survive, each individual man must engage in a
certain amount of conceptualizing. There is
much more to be done before we arrive at the
Objectivist ethics as we know it. Ayn Rand
goes on in the next few pages to discuss what
concepts are ("mental integrations of two or
more perceptual concretes" (p. 20)), what
reason is ("the faculty that perceives,
identifies and integrates the material
provided by the senses" (p. 20)), and what
thinking is (the process of reasoning) and
requires ("a state of full, focused
awareness" (p. 20)). She redefines
consciousness "in the sense of the word
applicable to man" to mean the (voluntary)
focusing of his mind. She adds, "the choice
'to be conscious or not' is the choice of
life or death" (p. 21).
The Hole in the Argument
What has happened is that there is an
elision between *some* focusing as being
necessary to any man's survival and "a state
of full, focused awareness." ****It is this
elision that constitutes the major hole in
the Objectivist ethics and needs to be
patched up****. She adds that "a process of
thought...is not infallible" (peculiar
grammar here) and that man "has to discover
how to tell what is true or false and how to
correct his own errors; he has to discover
how to validate his concepts, his
conclusions, his knowledge; he has to
discover the rules of thought, _the laws of
logic_, to direct his thinking" (pp. 20-21).
How man survived the hundreds of thousands of
years before he did all these things is not
addressed. Again, there is an elision between
the minimum necessary and virtuous
Here is a potential patch: "If some men
do not choose to think [at what depth?], but
survive by imitating and repeating, like
trained animals, the routine of sounds and
motions they learned from others, it still
remains true that their survival is made
possible only by those who did choose to
think and discover the motions they are
repeating. [This is true of nearly all the
thinkers, too.] The survival of such mental
parasites depends on blind chance; their
unfocused minds are unable to know _whom_ to
imitate, _whose_ motions it is safe to
follow. _They_ are the men who march into the
abyss, trailing after any destroyer who
promises them to assume the responsibility of
being conscious" (p. 23).
Or, you'd better think for yourself,
lest you be at the mercy of others. But Ayn
Rand, as in many other cases, dichotomizes a
continuum: you'd better think and focus to
the hilt, or you're a mental parasite and
your survival depends on blind chance. She
adds presently, "The men who attempt to
survive, not by means of reason, but by means
of force, are attempting to survive by the
method of animals,...by rejecting reason and
counting on productive _men_ to serve as
their prey. Such looters may achieve their
goals for the range of a moment at the price
of destruction: the destruction of their
victims and their own. As evidence, I offer
you any criminal or any dictatorship" (pp.
23-24). (Note that the last sentence here and
the last sentence of the previous paragraph
leave the individual and discuss social
Same problem. The hole in her argument,
the gap in her reasoning, is still there:
this "moment" may very well last an entire
lifetime, and it is only a *claim* that if
"man is to succeed at the task of survival,
if his actions are not to be aimed at his own
destruction, man has to choose his course,
his goals, his values in the context and
terms of a lifetime" (p. 24). And she
switches from survival to "man's survival
_qua_ man," as opposed to "the momentary
physical survival of a mindless brute,
waiting for another brute to crush his skull"
(p. 24). She adds that a man "_can_ turn
himself into [such] a subhuman creature and
he _can_ turn his life into a brief span of
agony.... But he _cannot_ succeed, as a
subhuman, in achieving anything but the
subhuman--as the ugly horror of the
antirational periods of mankind's history can
demonstrate" (pp. 24-25). By again dragging
in social consequences of the actions of
individuals, she has conflated the individual
man with collectivities of them. This, from a
prophet of egoism!
The hole is still there, but there are
ten more pages to go in this essay, as well
as in other essays by her and by others like
Nathaniel Branden and Leonard Peikoff. And
the readers here might supply the patch with
their own arguments and evidence. The patch
so far is the claim that hoping that others
will take up the slack if you default on your
thinking is risky. She presents no evidence
that the risk is all that great. Her policy
is what economists would call extreme "risk
aversion": take no chances that others will
pick up the slack. But she does not justify
The Objectivist Virtues
But there is another way to cover the
hole. The patch in the Objectivist ethics is
quite implicit in the rest of the essay,
which mingles more stuff about the
requirements of survival with talk about
virtue and happiness. Exercising my brain may
not have all that much effect on my life
span, after a certain minimal point, but
doing so may nevertheless make me better off
in some sense. Mental exercise is on all
fours with physical exercise: it is self-
recommending and you may need specific
advice, which you may or may not carry out.
So let Ayn Rand stop being our moral
*physicist* and become our moral *physician*.
The patch between the two I denominate the
"_Value_ is that which one acts to gain
and/or keep--_virtue_ is the act by which one
gains and/or keeps it. The three cardinal
values of the Objectivist ethics--the three
values which, together, are the means to and
the realization of one's ultimate value,
one's own life--are: Reason, Purpose, Self-
Esteem, with their three corresponding
virtues: Rationality, Productiveness, Pride.
"Productive work is the central
_purpose_ [not virtue] of a rational man's
life, the central value [not life itself
anymore] that integrates and determines the
hierarchy of all his other values. Reason is
the source, the precondition of his
productive work--pride is the result.
"Rationality is man's basic virtue, the
source of all his other virtues," and it
means "the recognition and acceptance of
reason as one's only source of knowledge,
one's only judge of values and one's only
guide to action.^ It means one's total
commitment to a state of full, conscious
awareness, to the maintenance of a full
mental focus in all issues, in all choices,
in all of one's waking hours...." (p. 25).
^[Can we trust others very much at all?
Should be all become our own physicians, if
life is the standard of value?]
Ayn Rand, the Moral Physician
This is Ayn Rand the moral *physician*,
not the moral *physicist*, talking.^ It ought
to be the job of physicians get their
patients actively involved with their own
health, rather than just to manage their
diseases, to aspire and not just do the
minimum.^^ Ayn Rand fits this to a T, and
that, I submit, is what her philosophy and
her ethics most especially is all about. Her
novels are aspirational. She said she was a
novelist first. We ought to take her
seriously on this.
^[Or should it be moral meta-physicist,
with a thesis about life being the standard
of value? It was Nathaniel Branden who went
on to being a moral *coach*, with his various
Institutes. Anyhow, the term metaphysicist
should be reserved for Mario Bunge.]
^^[Here I go using the O-word ("ought"),
but never mind.]
Now watch what happens: Rationality
comprises several subvirtues, among them
independence, integrity, honesty, and
justice. Regards the latter, "one must never
seek or grant the unearned or undeserved,
neither in matter nor in spirit" (p. 26).
Fine, but two new concepts, unearned and
undeserved, have appeared out of nowhere in
an essay that purports to give a foundation
for ethics. You and I have a pre-
philosophical understanding of what these two
words mean. We have gone to Ayn Rand the
moral *physician* for advice on how to live,
not Ayn Rand the moral *physicist* for
elucidation of ideas.^^
^^[There's similar stuff about the
virtues of productiveness and pride that
follows in this part of "The Objectivist
Ethics," which I do not need to cite.]
And what does this moral physician
promise us? Happiness. "The basic _social_
principle of the Objectivist ethics is that
just as life is an end in itself, so every
living human being is an end in himself, not
the means to the ends or the welfare of
others--and, therefore, that man must live
for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself
to others nor sacrificing others to himself.
To live for his own sake means that _the
achievement of his own happiness is man's
highest moral purpose_" (p. 27).
The *physicist* said life was the
fundamental purpose; the *physician* holds
out happiness. Here's her justification for
the switch: "In psychological terms, the
issue of man's survival does not confront his
consciousness as an issue of 'life or death,'
but as an issue of 'happiness or suffering.'
Happiness is the successful state of life,
suffering is the warning signal of failure,
or death. Just as the pleasure-pain mechanism
of man's body is an automatic indicator of
his body's welfare or injury, a barometer of
its basic alternative--so the emotional
mechanism of man's consciousness is geared to
perform the same function, as a barometer
that registers the same alternative by means
of two basic emotions: joy or suffering" (p.
^[As is the case with thought being
volitional, she does not recognize the
importance of neurological or evolutionary
evidence to verify this harmonious fit.
Humans have emotions because the animals we
evolved from do, but why animals should
burden their brains with an emotional circuit
instead of just straightaway doing the right
thing as far as survival and reproduction go
is a good question, since adding extra
circuits has a cost in calories. I tried to
get some answers on some other newsgroups but
Cognitive Basis of Emotions
What Ayn Rand does claim is that the
emotions, in order to pay off in the coin of
happiness, must be programmed correctly. And
that calls for reason, since man is born
without innate ideas.^ Full happiness cannot
be obtained unless one thinks to the hilt and
thereby ensures that one's values are
rational. "If he chooses irrational values,
he switches his emotional mechanism from the
role of his guardian to the role of his
destroyer. The irrational is the impossible;
it is that which contradicts the facts of
reality; facts cannot be altered by a wish,
but they _can_ destroy the wisher. If a man
desires and pursue contradictions--if he
wants to have his cake and eat it, too--he
disintegrates his consciousness; he turns his
inner life into a civil war of blind forces
engaged in dark, incoherent, pointless,
meaningless conflicts (which, incidentally,
is the state of most people today)" (p. 28).
(What were things like in Russia, then, I
^[She is wrong here. Men are afraid of
snakes even in countries like Madagascar
where there are no poisonous snakes. This
fear is an emotional reaction by the mind and
therefore, on her own theory of the
cognition-emotion link, a piece of innate
knowledge about snakes and their dangers.]
Something very wrong has happened. An
obsessive desire (as opposed to some idle
daydreaming) for something one is aware is
impossible will surely cause emotional
problems. But we all pursue goals that turn
out not to be feasible, that contradict "the
facts of reality." Ayn Rand almost seems to
be imagining a mind^ that has direct access
to the truth and will punish emotionally
those who do things contrary to this truth.
What an incredible machine! Of course, she
would deny any such thing; in this very
essay, she stated that men are fallible. But,
nevertheless, that's what she said. I will
leave it to others to specify what she should
have said, to figure out what she meant by
irrational values. We will still need to know
how to choose rational values among the
myriad available ones, the only limitation
being that they support life.
^[She rarely uses the word brain and
almost always says "rational being" instead
of "rational animal." Methinks her thought is
towards the end of the spiritual pole on the
spiritual-materialist continuum, even while
she officially rejects the mind-body
The message from Ayn Rand, the moral
*physician*, however, is clear enough: be
ambitious; set up long term goals that are
plausible; get to work; be productive; do
things yourself; don't mooch; don't loot;
don't swindle. Take pride in your
achievements. Above all, be independent.
Sounds like good advice to me, but
independence comes to me naturally. I think
it's in my genes. It gets me into trouble,
endlessly, but I keep my self-respect and my
sanity. I never did care for all those
altruists who thought other people came
before me. Indeed, when I first read _Atlas
Shrugged_ in 1964, for the first few hundred
pages, I thought the book was a modernist
satire on these people. But that her advice
is for everyone, I do not know. Yes, a lot of
people would be happier if they were more
daring and independent. That they should all
be as independent as Ayn Rand is just a claim
of one moral physician and one great
The rest of the essay moves away from
the individual's code for his own life to
what most people regard as morality, namely
rules for dealing with other people. There is
more dichotomizing, which is superb
exhortation but bad metaphysics. There is her
famous metaphysical claim that "the
_rational_ interests of men do not clash--
there is no conflict of interests among men
who do not desire the unearned [that word
again!], who do not make sacrifices nor
accept them, who deal with one another as
_traders_, giving value for value" (p. 31).
She concludes her essay with political
philosophy. The word "right" appears out of
nowhere four lines from the bottom on page
32, but then she said she had presented the
political theory of Objectivism "in full
detail in Atlas Shrugged_" (p. 33).
I don't think she did; in fact, I know
she didn't. If there is what the
metaphysicians among philosophers call
"preestablished harmony" among the interests
of rational men, this needs to be
demonstrated. _Atlas Shrugged_ did not do the
job, nor did a later essay, "The 'Conflicts'
of Men's Interests."
Whatever the holes, Ayn Rand, to her
great credit, focused on what is generally
called not "ethical egoism" but "metaethical
egoism," or the doctrine that any system of
morals must be justified to the individual.
The problem, "Why be moral?", goes back at
least to Socrates, who gave the same answer
Ayn Rand did, namely that it's good for your
character. Otherwise, a system of morality is
something anyone can draw up however he
chooses and it will remain an idle set of
Ayn Rand knew better. She tried to
ground her system on the necessity of keeping
alive. Alas, not very much can be deduced
from that. But that was Ayn Rand the moral
physicist. Ayn Rand the moral physician had a
system that was far, far more comprehensive.
But it rests upon an implicit Objectivist
psychology. Until that psychology is
presented, elucidated, and defended (which
will involve more neurology, evolutionary
biology, and more just plain empirical
drudgery than she ever realized), the
Objectivist ethics has holes. They need to be
patched. And in the attempts to make the
patches, the ethics may be get altered quite
a bit, but it may also be able to answer many
questions it now cannot.
1995 June 7/First Version
The New York Times > Books > Critic's Notebook: Considering the Last Romantic, Ayn Rand, at 100
By EDWARD ROTHSTEIN
What did Ayn Rand want?
Today is the centennial of her birth, and while newsletters and Web
sites devoted to her continue to proliferate, and while little about
her private life or public influence remains unplumbed, it is still
easier to understand what she didn't want than what she did. Her scorn
was unmistakable in her two novel-manifestos, "The Fountainhead"
(1943), about a brilliant architect who stands proud against
collective tastes and egalitarian sentimentality, and "Atlas Shrugged"
(1957), about brilliant industrialists who stand proud against
government bureaucrats and socialized mediocrity. It is still
possible, more than 20 years after her death, to find readers choosing
sides: those who see her as a subtle philosopher pitted against those
who see her as a pulp novelist with pretensions.
She divided her world - and her characters - in similarly stark
fashion into what she wanted and what she didn't want. Here is what
she didn't want: Ellsworth M. Toohey, "second-handers," Wesley Mouch,
looters, relativists, collectivists, altruists. Here is what she did
want: Howard Roark, John Galt, individualism, selfishness, capitalism,
But her villains have the best names, the most memorable quirks, the
whiniest or most insinuating voices. At times, Rand even grants them a
bit of compassion. Toohey, the Mephistophelean architecture critic in
"The Fountainhead," could be her finest creation. And when she argued
against collectivism, her cynicism had some foundation in experience:
she was born in czarist Russia in 1905, witnessed the revolutions of
1917 from her St. Petersburg apartment and managed to get to the
United States in 1926. Her sharpest satire can be found in some of her
caricatures of collectivity.
But the good guys are another story. Are "Fountainhead's" Roark and
"Atlas's" Galt really plausible heroes, with their stolid ritualistic
proclamations and their unwavering self-regard? Did Rand really
believe that the world should be run by such creators while
second-handers (ordinary workers like most of us) humbly deferred?
These are not abstract questions. Fifteen million copies of her books
have been sold. "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged" still sell
130,000 to 150,000 copies a year. In 1999, Rand even made it onto a
United States postage stamp. Her moral justifications of capitalism
shaped the thinking of the young Alan Greenspan (now Federal Reserve
Chairman) and other conservative acolytes. She declared it permissible
to proclaim "I want" and to act to fulfill that demand. But the
question remains, what did she really want?
Certainly not what we have now. Many of the battles she engaged in
rage on today. There are still debates about the free market,
movements lobbying for collectivism and state power, and
confrontations between doctrines of self-reliance and doctrines of
self-sacrifice. But the world Rand actually wanted her heroes to build
now seems far from revolutionary; it can even seem somewhat quaint, an
almost retro fantasy. It was a Romantic utopia, in which the tensions
of democratic life are not resolved but avoided.
Consider, for example, works of art created by her heroes: Roark's
Stoddard Temple in "The Fountainhead" or Richard Halley's Fifth
Concerto in "Atlas Shrugged."
Rand reportedly had Frank Lloyd Wright in mind when creating Roark;
Warner Brothers tried negotiating with Wright (who admired "The
Fountainhead") to create the designs that Gary Cooper's Roark would
build in the film version. But Rand's descriptions of the temple
hardly bring Wright to mind. She describes it as a small building of
gray limestone "scaled to human height." It is a "joyous place," open
to the world of nature and the city's skyscrapers in the distance. At
its far end stands a statue of a naked woman, the novel's heroine,
whom Roark loves. The temple, Rand makes clear, is a kind of
anti-cathedral, devoted not to a god but to the spirit of man. It may
even be a temple that Roark dedicated to himself, or perhaps, to his
The same spirit is heard in Halley's Fifth Concerto in "Atlas
Shrugged." It too is a joyous celebration, a "symphony of triumph"
whose sounds embody the essence of "upward motion," creating a
"sunburst of sound," promising the "freedom of release." It is "the
song of an immense deliverance," with a "clear, clear, complex melody
at a time when no one wrote melody any more."
If you love these joyous works, the novels unconvincingly assure us,
your worth is certified. If you are left cold by them, then you belong
with the looters who try to bring down Roark and drive Halley into
exile. The two works are depicted as revolutionary in their threats
and promise. The two creators reject their social surroundings and are
rejected in turn. Rand's novels have similar aspirations. They too are
meant to be monuments to man's spirit, promising his deliverance. They
too suffered from rejection (12 publishers turned down "The
Fountainhead" before it was published). And for Rand, their reception
divided the world into acolytes (her inner circle had a cultic aura)
But these novels and the art described in them are actually far from
revolutionary. They draw on the Romantic myth of the misunderstood
artist and derive more properly from the mid-19th century than from
the mid-20th. The statue in the Stoddard Temple can seem like a relic
of kitschy Romanticism; Halley's waves of climaxing melody sound as if
they are a throwback to Wagner; and Rand's novels can read like
Romantic melodramas (one of her favorite novelists was Victor Hugo).
This is Rand's utopian art: programmatic neo-Romanticism. Rand was not
looking forward, but backward; in this, she shares certain tastes with
Socialist Realism. Of course, the Romantic style fits Rand's theme,
for mid-19th century Romanticism often celebrated the human spirit,
dramatizing conflicts between the striving individual and the
surrounding world. But those works were revolutionary because they
challenged remnants of an aristocratic world; their notes of triumph
ushered in a democratic age. Rand wanted instead the restoration of a
Or more accurately, she was torn about it, and her novels and ideas
reflect that ambivalence, a position that is far from unique in
contemplating art in a democratic culture. Democracy, for Rand, always
seems to verge on being Soviet: a culture of collectivity dominated by
a supposed doctrine of equality. It stifles her heroes and motivates
her villains. She referred to Toohey as "the genius of modern
democracy in its worst meaning."
She might have wanted to be the "genius of modern democracy" in its
best meaning, leading humanity into a brave new world. In a new brief
biography, "Ayn Rand" (Overlook Press), Jeff Britting, an archivist at
the Ayn Rand Institute with access to her papers, shows how deeply she
was attached to popular tastes. As a precocious child in Russia, she
wrote action adventures and was enraptured by silent-film melodrama.
She came to the United States to begin a career in the film business.
Late in life she was an avid viewer of television's "Perry Mason" and
But she could never convincingly reconcile elite achievement with
democratic culture, which is why she so often seems antidemocratic.
She wanted heroes who could straddle that divide. And she created
heroes who could presumably be celebrated for their elite achievements
within democratic society: the entrepreneur heroes like the
industrialists of "Atlas Shrugged," or the artist hero in "The
Fountainhead" cut from American folklore, as self-reliant as Paul
Bunyan. Rand famously said: "This is the motive and purpose of my
writing: the projection of an ideal man."
But ultimately, these men find their ideals only in isolated rejection
of democratic society, as cardboard reincarnations of the Romantic
hero. Perhaps Rand really believed democracy was hopeless and wanted a
government ruled by such men. Perhaps she never really cared about
working any of this out. Or perhaps, in the end, she really didn't
know what she wanted. At any rate, the failure to reconcile democratic
culture and high achievement has not been hers alone: it is one reason
readers are still choosing sides.
OPA News Release, 10/2001 New fellowship for study of objectivism
established at The University of Texas at Austin
October 16, 2001
Robin Gerrow, 232-2145
spacer latest news
Office of Public Affairs
P O Box Z
FAX (512) 471-5812
AUSTIN, Texas--The Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship has
established a $300,000 fellowship within the Department of Philosophy
at The University of Texas at Austin to promote the study of Ayn
Rand's philosophy of objectivism.
Funds from the fellowship will be used to educate objectivist doctoral
students and help them in securing teaching positions, as well as
promote the production and dissemination of scholarly works on
"Academic interest in Ayn Rand's philosophy has been growing, and we
are honored to be supporting the Philosophy Department's investment in
this new field of scholarship," said John McCaskey, president of the
To date, the fellowship has sponsored a graduate student, and has
assisted Tara Smith, university associate professor of philosophy, in
producing two papers, "The Metaphysical Case for Honesty" and "Money
Can Buy Happiness." Future projects to be funded by the fellowship
will include the appointment of visiting faculty and the development
of distance-learning options.
The Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship is a non-profit
organization that sponsors teaching, writing and research on Ayn
Rand's philosophy of objectivism through fellowships at universities
and colleges at both the graduate and undergraduate level. Schools
interested in such fellowships should contact McCaskey.
2. mailto:mccaskey at stanford.edu
The Objectivism Store -- The Literary Art of Ayn Rand
The Literary Art of Ayn Rand
by William Thomas
The Literary Art of Ayn Rand focuses on Rand as a writer: the
brilliantly distinctive stylist, the master of aphorism and symbol,
the apostle of essentialistic characterization, the rigorous
integrator who insisted that all elements in a work serve a single
theme, and the igenious plotter who took pride in constructing her
magnum opus as a "stunt" novel of mystery and misdirection.
Now in one volume, nine essays by six authors shed new light on the
depth and complexity behind Rand's inspiring and entertaining writing.
The contributors include:
Kirsti Minsaas: "Structural Integration in The Fountainhead and Atlas
"The Visual Power of Ayn Rand's Fiction"
"The Stylization of Mind in Ayn Rand's Fiction."
Susan McCloskey: "Odysseus, Jesus, and Dagny: Ayn Rand's Conception of
"Work and Love in The Fountainhead"
Mimi Reisel Gladstein: "Breakthroughs in Ayn Rand Literary Criticism"
Nathaniel Branden: "The Literary Method of Ayn Rand"
David Kelley: "The Code of the Creator"
Stephen Cox: "The Literary Achievement of The Fountainhead"
The Literary Art of Ayn Rand
In Stock: Yes
Education | A growing concern
Mainstream academic interest in the Russian-born novelist-philosopher
Ayn Rand continues to grow around the world, writes David Cohen
Friday December 7, 2001
The recent news that the philosophy department at one of America's
leading public universities has established a $300,000 fellowship in
honour of Ayn Rand offered another reminder - if one were needed - of
the growing academic dimension to the international following enjoyed
by this rather odd Russian-born novelist-philosopher.
The fellowship, sponsored by the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist
Scholarship, has been established at the University of Texas at Austin
and will promote the study of Rand's philosophy of objectivism. The
funding will be used to educate objectivist doctoral students and help
them secure teaching positions. It will also promote the production
and dissemination of scholarly works on the late author's
Rand, a self-styled high empress of the libertarian right, who died in
1982 has long enjoyed wide popularity outside academe. Her coterie
extends beyond the 30m (and counting, at a pace of several hundred
thousand a year) readers who have purchased her books to include such
pop stars as Simon Le Bon and the tennis player Billie Jean King,
along with an array of trade union bosses, economists and political
insiders on both sides of the Atlantic.
Probably her most influential disciple is the Federal Reserve
chairman, Alan Greenspan, who has said of his old friend: "She taught
me that capitalism is not only practical and efficient but also
Educators have until now largely been absent from the roll-call,
though, perhaps not surprisingly given the scorn Rand seemed to
reserve for universities and their faculties, which she often viewed
as being intellectually corrupt.
Two long-standing exceptions to this general rule have been
American-based academic organisations: the Ayn Rand Institute, based
in California, and the Objectivist Center, in New York, both of which
have produced an impressive amount of material related to her work
over the years, particularly a recently published book, The Contested
Legacy of Ayn Rand, written by David Kelley, a Princeton-trained
Those groups are largely in-house affairs, however, catering more to
Rand's popular following than to academe, while at times also being
riven by such ill-feeling over what constitutes the true Ayn Rand
message that the former group refuses communication with the latter.
Over the past two years, however, a rash of new scholarly books from
more mainstream academic sources have appeared on aspects of Rand's
aesthetics, moral philosophy, and relevance to such scholarly
disciplines as women's studies and the sciences. After years of
neglect, in the view of her supporters, her work is finally appearing
in a number of general philosophy encyclopaedias and university
textbooks as well.
The latest issue of a relatively new scholarly publication, the
Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, contains papers written by a dozen or
more international academics from prestigious universities, including
professors from Britain and continental Europe.
Elsewhere on international campuses, if a quick web search is any
guide, the list of new student groups from across the world dedicated
to Rand's ideas appears to be getting even lengthier than the
jumbo-sized neoliberal orations sprinkled throughout her novels and
non-fiction. Similar groups now exist in Australia, Canada, Israel,
the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and the US.
Ayn Rand never looked the type of person to gather such devotion. A
diminutive Russian Jew, she was born Alissa Rosenbaum, in St
Petersburg in 1905, the daughter of bourgeois parents.
She loathed socialism, particularly as she experienced it during her
own years as a student at the University of Leningrad, and emigrated
to the US when she was 21, changing her name en route to Rand, after
the typewriter she brought with her to the New World.
She headed to Hollywood and worked as a movie extra and screenwriter,
before moving to New York for a succession of jobs for motion picture
In 1943 she published The Fountainhead, the best-seller about an
idealistic architect who blows up his construction project when he
finds its design has been tampered with by yobbish bureaucrats.
Fourteen years later came Atlas Shrugged, a 1,084-page epic about a
future decade in which big government and trade unions strangle
individualism, leading to a strike by the "men of the mind" and the
collapse of future society.
These novels, like her later non-fictional writings, came underpinned
by objectivism, the author's world-view prizing the "virtue" of
selfishness and its corollary, laissez faire capitalism.
At a sales conference Rand was once asked to systematically define
this philosophy while standing on one foot. This she did, defining it
thus: metaphysics - reality; epistemology - reason; ethics - rational
self-interest; politics - capitalism.
Such gestures pretty much defined her style to the end, and her
extremely black and white view of life in general. "In this universe
everything, everybody, is either all good or all bad, without any of
those intermediate shades which, in life, complicate reality and
perplex the eye that seeks to probe it truly," the critic Whittaker
Chambers once noted in a brilliantly corrosive review published many
years ago in the conservative American magazine National Review
"This kind of simplifying pattern, of course, gives charm to most
primitive storytelling. And, in fact, the somewhat ferro-concrete
fairytale the author pours here is, basically, the old one known as:
The War between the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness. In
modern dress, it is a class war. Both sides to it are caricatures."
A generation on, the accusation of caricature remains, even at a time
when Rand's intellectual reputation appears to be on an upward
cultural trend elsewhere.
Heading the school of Randian naysayers is Jeff Walker, author of The
Ayn Rand Cult and a sceptic of the deepest dye.
Mr Walker, a Canadian writer, compares Rand to a cult leader, while
battering her followers claims about her originality, literary talent
and morality. The book contains startling anecdotes drawn from within
Rand's inner circle, including descriptions of non-smokers being
ostracised from the chain-smoking guru's social gatherings during her
lifetime (she later died of lung cancer), and a bizarre love triangle
involving Rand and a younger husband and wife team she at one time
designated as her intellectual heirs.
As for the scholarly value of Rand's work, Mr Walker might just as
well have adapted Edward Gibbon's famous view of Thomas Aquinas - her
better ideas tend to be borrowed; the words, alas, are entirely her
own. He writes that objectivism's greatest intellectual appeal remains
with keen minded yet sadly impressionable youths or else platitudinous
dullards with a taste for the cult life.
In the end, Mr Walker's recently published book may be even more
hysterical than the movement he seeks to disparage. What's probably
most significant about it, in 2001, is that any student or professor
with an interest in debating the kinds of issues it raises can now
find haven for the debate in a growing number of institutions of
The Ayn Rand Institute: Clarification of ARI's Position on Government Help
to Tsunami Victims
Friday, January 7, 2005
On December 30, 2004, the Ayn Rand Institute released as a letter to
the editor and as an op-ed a piece that condemned the U.S.
government's use of taxpayers' money to help victims of the recent
tsunami ("U.S. Should Not Help Tsunami Victims"). That piece was
inappropriate and did not accurately convey the Institute's position.
We would like to clarify our position.
Obviously, the tsunami, with the thousands of innocent victims left in
its wake, is a horrible disaster. The first concern of survivors and
of those trying to help them is to provide basic necessities and then
to begin rebuilding. The American public's predictably generous
response to assist these efforts is motivated by goodwill toward their
fellow man. In the face of the enormous and undeserved suffering,
American individuals and corporations have donated millions of dollars
in aid; they have done so by and large not out of some sense of
altruistic duty but in the name of the potential value that another
human being represents. This benevolence, which we share, is not the
same thing as altruism.
The ugly hand of altruism--the moral view that need entitles a person
to the values of others, whose corresponding duty is to sacrifice
their values for that person's sake--did show itself in the petulant
demands of U.N. and other officials that "stingy" countries must give
more. On their view, the U.S. has no right to the wealth it has
produced, because it has produced it; the helpless victims of the
tsunami have a right to that wealth, because they desperately need it.
This perverse view is not an expression of goodwill toward man. In
generously providing aid, the U.S. government should repudiate all
such altruistic demands and refuse to associate with the organizations
that make them.
In a fully free, fully capitalist society--a society toward which ARI
works--the government would not have the power to tax citizens and
redistribute their wealth for the purpose of charity, domestic or
foreign. The government would be restricted to one fundamental
function: to protect the citizens' individual rights to life, liberty,
property and the pursuit of happiness. To accomplish this, the
government would need only a police force and a military to protect
citizens from aggressors, and a legal system to adjudicate disputes
among citizens who allege that their rights have been infringed.
Charity would be left to private individuals and organizations, as it
was successfully left in 19th century America (in even a
semi-capitalist system, there is no shortage of wealth or of
benevolence, as the public's response to the tsunami illustrates).
But of all the ways in which our government today fails to uphold
individual rights, providing (through compulsory taxation) short-term,
emergency relief to foreign victims of a natural disaster is among the
most innocuous. It was therefore inappropriate to single out for
condemnation the government's offer of assistance. True, it would be
preferable to use the aid money for a legitimate function of
government, such as to purchase needed military equipment and armor
for our soldiers in Iraq, who are being asked to risk their lives to
defend our freedom. It is likely, moreover, that the increase in aid
offered by our government in the days after the disaster stemmed not
from benevolence but from surrender to the altruists' corrupt demand
that the U.S. had not sacrificed enough. Nevertheless, thousands of
the government's actions are more damaging to our rights. Far worse,
for instance, would have been to pour the aid money into government
programs and agencies whose very purpose is to violate individual
rights, such as into the antitrust division of the Justice Department,
which persecutes successful businesses for out-competing other
companies on a free market. If one wants to fight the government's
growing encroachment on individual rights, such are the areas on which
to focus, not emergency relief.
The crucial issue in the battle for a free society is to restrict the
government to its only legitimate purpose: the protection of
individual rights. (The issue of compulsory taxation, the focus of the
original piece, is a derivative; it pertains to the appropriate means
by which a proper government would finance its activities, and is the
last issue to address in establishing a free society. For elaboration,
see Ayn Rand's article "Government Financing in a Free Society" in
The evolution of Ayn Rand -- The Washington Times
By Steve Chapman
Published February 2, 2005
Has Ayn Rand gone mainstream? The radical champion of individualism
and capitalism, who died in 1982, is no longer an exotic taste. Her
image has adorned a U.S. postage stamp. Her ideas have been detected
in a new mass-market animated comedy film, "The Incredibles."
And today on the 100th anniversary of her birth, there will be a
Rand commemoration at the Library of Congress -- an odd site for a
ceremony honoring a fierce anti-statist.
In her day, Miss Rand was at odds with almost every prevailing
American social attitude. She infuriated liberals by preaching
economic laissez-faire and lionizing titans of business. She appalled
conservatives by rejecting religion in any form while celebrating, she
said, "sexual enjoyment as an end in itself."
But her novels found countless readers. "The Fountainhead,"
published in 1943, and "Atlas Shrugged," which followed in 1957, are
still in print. In 1991, when the Book of the Month Club polled
Americans asking what book had most influenced their lives, "Atlas
Shrugged" finished second only to the Bible. In all, Miss Rand's books
have sold some 22 million copies and continue selling more than half a
million a year.
Miss Rand emerged in the aftermath of the Great Depression, the
New Deal and World War II -- which were taken as proving the
obsolescence of the free market, that prosperity required an
all-intrusive government, and that national success demanded
subordination of the individual to collective purposes. After the
traumas of the 1930s and '40s, America was intent on building a
well-ordered welfare state by compromise and consensus.
In that setting, Ayn Rand resembled the female athlete in Apple
Computer's 1984 Super Bowl commercial, who sprinted into a mass
assembly of oppressed drones to hurl a sledgehammer at the Big Brother
orating from a giant TV screen -- smashing it and bathing the audience
in dazzling light.
Miss Rand, a Russian immigrant, saw herself harking back to the
Enlightenment values of reason, limited government and personal
liberty that fueled the American Revolution. "The United States," she
declared, "was the first moral society in history."
Her novels were derided by critics, who saw them as interminable
philosophical diatribes disguised as melodrama. What she regarded as
thoroughgoing consistency struck many readers as overbearing
dogmatism. Her political ideas attracted only a fringe following.
Outside a tiny band of true believers, few people counted themselves
as disciples of Ayn Rand.
But many people absorbed much of her thinking and incorporated it
into their worldviews. Public figures as diverse as Hillary Clinton,
Clarence Thomas and Cal Ripken have cited her influence, on top of
millions of other unfamous people.
In time, her work bore fruit. By the mid-1970s, wage-and-price
controls had wrecked the economy, in perfect accord with Miss Rand's
predictions. Her view of capitalism not as a necessary evil but a
moral good helped turn public opinion toward free markets, opening the
way for the Reagan Revolution.
Her celebration of individual joy also echoed in the leftist
counterculture of the 1960s, which rebelled against the sterile
conformity of the Eisenhower era. However, Ayn Rand had no use for the
irresponsible hedonism that spawned the saying, "If it feels good, do
it." That was a perversion of her insight that pleasure is not cause
for guilt. You can hear Miss Rand even in Bruce Springsteen: "It ain't
no sin to be glad you're alive."
That's just one illustration of how her influence went beyond
economics and political theory. In her eyes, there was no greater good
than each person's integrity and self-fulfillment. One of her essay
collections had the surprising title, "The Virtue of Selfishness."
Looking back, it's hard to recapture how jarring that phrase was a
generation ago, when altruism and self-sacrifice were seen as the
central elements of an exemplary life. Today, Americans take it for
granted that they are entitled to live for their own happiness,
It may seem curious to honor a writer who merely defended free
markets, preached the superiority of reason over blind faith and
extolled the American ideal of the pursuit of happiness. David Kelley,
head of the Rand-oriented Objectivist Center, jokes that he's reminded
of the theatergoer who complained that "Hamlet" was full of cliches.
Miss Rand's beliefs have been so widely disseminated and absorbed that
we have forgotten where they originated.
The truth is that for all she did, they are no longer her ideas.
To a large extent, they are ours.
Steve Chapman is a nationally syndicated columnist.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Entertainment
Rand's philosophy, influence still hold weight
Cox News Service
Last update: February 02, 2005
ATLANTA -- Fay Stephenson's old copy of "Atlas Shrugged" was turned
into soggy mush when her basement flooded and ruined a bunch of stored
books. Bill Fallin keeps his copy of the novel in his desk and
re-reads sections occasionally. Ron Mahre read "The Fountainhead" when
he was in college and now plans to give his battered original copy to
his 17-year-old daughter Bethany.
Like a first rock concert or a first slow dance, some people never
forget their first encounter with Ayn Rand, the passionate,
controversial author of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead,"
creator of the philosophy called objectivism, patron saint of
libertarians (both capital "L" and small "l") and galvanizer of
several generations of intellectually inclined teenagers.
"I think at that age you're still sort of forming who you are and who
you will become," said Stephenson, 49, a former marketing executive,
recalling her own teenage infatuation with "Atlas Shrugged" while in
high school in New York. There was something rebellious and utopian
about Rand's harsh but romantic critique of society, she said, that
appeals strongly to young people.
Today is Rand's centenary -- the 100th anniversary of her birth -- to
be marked with a conference at the Library of Congress in Washington
sponsored by The Objectivist Center, and a private party in Atlanta
Saturday for the Georgia Objectivists. A new illustrated biography,
"Ayn Rand," by Jeffrey Britting in the Overlook Illustrated Lives
series will be released, and the new issue of Reason magazine devotes
its cover story to re-assessing Rand.
Ayn (rhymes with "fine") Rand was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and
immigrated to the United States in 1926. She was an extra in movies,
including Cecil B. DeMille's "King of Kings," but soon made a name for
herself as a writer. The most widely read of her many books are "The
Fountainhead," her 1943 novel about an architect with a rigid code of
honor, and "Atlas Shurgged," a 1,000-plus page 1957 novel about the
greatest achievers of the world going on strike. Huge, overblown,
romantic, it's packed with lengthy speeches on philosophy and spawned
the catchphrase "Who is John Galt?" (the novel's mysterious hero).
Rand died in 1982, but her books continue to sell well -- "Atlas"
alone sells more than 150,000 copies a year, with overall sales past
5.5 million, according to the Ayn Rand Institute. In a 1991 Library of
Congress public opinon poll, it was cited as the second most
influential book ever -- after the Bible.
Rand was "a cult figure with plenty of worshippers and plenty of
desecrators," contributing editor Cathy Young writes in Reason, noting
that she offered her millions of readers "a bold, ardent vision of
defiance, struggle, creative achievement, joy and romantic love."
Yet Rand's intense celebration of the individual, rationalism and
capitalism remains, for many readers, "a way station on a journey to
some wider outlook," Young writes.
Which is another way of saying that many people go through an "Ayn
"You initially get sucked in by the pulpiness of her novels," said
Merridith Kristoffersen, 34, a trainer for a real estate company, who
read "Atlas" and "Fountainhead" in high school in Florida. "They're
kind of racy and lavish, but she's sending a message that's more
weighty than just pulp."
While still a fan of the novels, Kristofferson said Rand's philosophy
of unfettered capitalism wouldn't work in today's society.
Jean Crabbe, a stay-at-home mother of three, was so into Rand's novels
in high school that she wrote her senior term paper on Rand -- "The
Fountainhead of Objectivism," she titled it. "Imagine remembering that
after all these years and forgetting so much else," she laughs.
She remembers arguing with friends in the early '70s over which was
the greater novel -- "Atlas Shrugged" or "Lord of the Rings."
"And I have to say now in looking back, maybe they were right," Crabbe
said. "Maybe 'Lord of the Rings' was better."
Better or not, "Lord" hasn't influenced public policy as much as
"Atlas." Rand's promotion of laissez-faire capitalism free of all
government regulations made her a fountainhead for many economists and
conservative thinkers. Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan,
no less, wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times in 1957,
responding to the paper's negative review of "Atlas Shrugged" and
calling it "a celebration of life and happiness." Greenspan has called
Rand "clearly a major contribution to my intellectual development."
Like Greenspan's, some love affairs with Rand last a lifetime and are
not a "phase." Bill Fallin, 74, read "Atlas Shugged" more than 30
years ago, when he was on the verge of bankruptcy. The book's message
inspired him to turn his business life around, and he went on to be
president of three companies.
"I've guided a lot of people toward that book," Fallin said. "I've
probably recommended it to 200 or 300 people over the years."
Like many fans, Fallin agrees with only some of Rand's philosophy.
Rand was an atheist, but Fallin, like others, says he has no problem
being a Christian and also being inspired by Rand's message.
During her life, however, Rand would not have stood for such
disagreement among her acolytes. Although she preached individualism
as the highest value, she demanded that her close followers agree with
her every pronouncement or face banishment from her inner circle.
"I was overwhelmed when I first read her," Crabbe said. "It seemed
like she had the answers and had it all figured out. When you're that
age, that's the way you look at the world. It's either/or, with no
in-betweens. Now I understand that that's just not realistic."
OBJECTIVISM'S MAIN POINTS
-- Reality exists as an absolute -- facts are facts, independent of
feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.
-- Reason is man's only means of perceiving reality, and his only
source of knowledge. (A corollary: Faith in God is not a part of
reason, and therefore not a part of objectivism.)
-- Every man is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others.
He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others
nor sacrificing others to himself.
-- The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism.
The government should act only as a policeman that protects man's
rights; it uses physical force only against those who initiate its
use, such as criminals or foreign invaders.
-- Condensed from the Web site of the Ayn Rand Institute
Ayn Rand at 100
February 2, 2005
by David Boaz
David Boaz is executive vice president of the Cato Institute, author
of Libertarianism: A Primer (Free Press, 1998), and editor of
The Libertarian Reader (Free Press, 1998), which includes a lengthy
interview with Ayn Rand by Alvin Toffler.
Interest in the bestselling novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand continues to
grow, 20 years after her death and 60 years after she first hit the
bestseller lists with The Fountainhead. Rand was born February 2,
1905, in St. Petersburg, Russia.
In the dark year of 1943, in the depths of World War II and the
Holocaust, when the United States was allied with one totalitarian
power to defeat another, three remarkable women published books that
gave birth to the modern libertarian movement. Rose Wilder Lane, the
daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who had written Little House on the
Prairie and other stories of American rugged individualism, published
a passionate historical essay called The Discovery of Freedom.
Novelist and literary critic Isabel Paterson produced The God of the
Machine, which defended individualism as the source of progress in the
The other great book of 1943 was The Fountainhead, a powerful novel
about architecture and integrity by Ayn Rand. The book's individualist
theme did not fit with the spirit of the age, and reviewers savaged
it. But the book found its intended readers. Sales started slowly,
then built and built. It was still on the New York Times bestseller
list two full years later. Hundreds of thousands of people read it in
the 1940s, millions eventually, and many of them were inspired to seek
more information about Ayn Rand's ideas.
Rand went on to write an even more successful novel, Atlas Shrugged,
in 1957, and to found an association of people who shared her
philosophy, which she called Objectivism. Although her political
philosophy was libertarian, not all libertarians shared her views on
metaphysics, ethics, and religion. Others were put off by the
starkness of her presentation and by her cult following.
Like Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek, Rand demonstrates the
importance of immigration not just to America but to American
libertarianism. Mises had fled his native Austria right before the
Nazis confiscated his library, Rand fled the Communists who came to
power in her native Russia. When a heckler asked her at a public
speech, "Why should we care what a foreigner thinks?", she replied
with her usual fire, "I chose to be an American. What did you ever do,
except for having been born?"
George Gilder called Atlas Shrugged the most important novel of ideas
since War and Peace. Writing in the Washington Post, he explained her
impact on the world of ideas and especially the world of capitalist
ideas: Rand flung her gigantic books into the teeth of an
intelligentsia still intoxicated by state power, during an era when
even Dwight Eisenhower maintained tax rates of 90 percent and
confessed his inability to answer Nikita Khrushchev's assertion that
capitalism was immoral because it was based on greed.
Rands books first appeared when no one seemed to support freedom and
capitalism, and when even capitalisms greatest defenders emphasized
its utility, not its morality. It was often said at the time that
socialism is a good idea in theory, but human beings just arent good
enough for socialism. Ayn Rand insisted that socialism is not good
enough for human beings.
Her books attracted millions of readers because they presented a
passionate philosophical case for individual rights and capitalism,
and did so through the medium of the vivid, cant-put-it-down novel.
The people who read Rand and got the point didnt just become aware of
costs and benefits, incentives and trade-offs. They became passionate
advocates of liberty.
Rand was an anomaly in the 1940s and 1950s, an advocate of reason and
individualism in time of big government and conformity. But she was a
shaper of the 1960s, the age of do your own thing and youth rebellion;
the 1970s, pejoratively described as the Me Decade but perhaps better
understood as an age of skepticism about institutions and a turn
toward self-improvement and personal happiness; and the 1980s, the
decade of tax cuts and entrepreneurship.
Throughout those decades her books continued to sell -- 22 million
copies over the years, and they still move off the shelves. According
to Penguin/Putnam, publisher of her books, sales of Atlas Shrugged
exceeded 140,000 copies in 2002, up 10 percent from the previous year.
Combined sales of all four of her novels in paperback exceeded 374,000
copies. That level was higher than any year since Rands death in 1982.
Add in purchases of hardcovers, book club editions, and Rands
nonfiction works, and readers are buying 500,000 copies of her books
College students, professors, businessmen, Alan Greenspan, the rock
group Rush, and the top economic adviser to Russian president Vladimir
Putin all proclaim themselves fans of Ayn Rand. Both The Fountainhead
and Atlas Shrugged appear on Barnes and Nobles list of the top 50
classic bestsellers, and screenwriters are working on movie scripts
for both. In a survey of Book of the Month Club readers for the
Library of Congress, Atlas Shrugged came in second to the Bible as the
most influential book for Americans today.
Recently Rand has been the subject of profiles in USA Today, the
Washington Post, the New Yorker, and C-SPANs American Writers series.
Her name has turned up in novels by Tobias Wolff and William F.
Buckley, Jr.; in stories about Playboys 50th anniversary; in Playbill,
the theater magazine; in newspaper profiles of her friend Mickey
Spillane; in a Showtime movie, The Passion of Ayn Rand, starring Helen
Mirren; and in a documentary, Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, that was
nominated for an Academy Award in 1997. She even appeared on a
first-class stamp as part of the Postal Services Literary Arts series.
A quotation from Rand greets visitors to the American pavilion at Walt
Disney Worlds Epcot Center.
Few writers are more popular or more controversial than Ayn Rand.
Despite the enormous commercial success of her books, and the major
influence shes had on American culture, reviewers and other
intellectuals have generally been hostile. Theyve dismissed her
support for individualism and capitalism, ridiculed her purple prose,
and mocked her black-and-white morality. None of which seems to have
dissuaded her millions of readers.
Although she did not like to acknowledge debts to other thinkers,
Rands work rests squarely within the libertarian tradition, with roots
going back to Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke, Jefferson, Paine, Bastiat,
Spencer, Mill, and Mises. She infused her novels with the ideas of
individualism, liberty, and limited government in ways that often
changed the lives of her readers. The cultural values she championed
-- reason, science, individualism, achievement, and happiness -- are
spreading across the world.
Reason: Rand-O-Rama: Ayn Rand's long shelf life in American culture
This is the only novel of ideas written by an American woman that I
can recall.Nothing she has to say is said in a second-rate fashion.
You have to think of The Magic Mountainwhen you think of The
Fountainhead. Lorine Pruette, The New York Times Book Review (1943)
From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from
painful necessity, commanding: To the gas chambersgo!.A tornado might
feel this way, or Carrie [sic] Nation. Whittaker Chambers, National
Atlas Shrugged is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is
unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and
rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently
avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should. [The New York
Times reviewer] suspiciously wonders about a person who sustains such
a mood through the writing of 1,168 pages and some fourteen years of
work. This reader wonders about a person who finds unrelenting justice
personally disturbing. Alan Greenspan, future chairman of the Federal
Reserve, responding to a negative review of Atlas Shrugged, in The New
York Times (1957)
Its all great, Hef! Exceptdo you really think our readers will dig a
nude fold-out of Ayn Rand? Hefner and His Pals, a comic strip in Mad
Like most of my contemporaries, I first read The Fountainhead when I
was 18 years old. I loved it. I too missed the point. I thought it was
a book about a strong-willed architect...and his love life.I
deliberately skipped over all the passages about egoism and altruism.
And I spent the next year hoping I would meet a gaunt, orange-haired
architect who would rape me. Or failing that, an architect who would
rape me. Or failing that, an architect. I am certain that The
Fountainhead did a great deal more for architects than Architectural
Forum ever dreamed. Nora Ephron, The New York Times Book Review (1968)
He spent several days deciding on the artifacts [that would be found
with his dead body]....He would be found lying on his back, on his
bed, with a copy of Ayn Rands The Fountainhead (which would prove he
had been a misunderstood superman rejected by the masses and so, in a
sense, murdered by his scorn) and an unfinished letter to Exxon
protesting the cancellation of his gas credit card. Philip K. Dick, A
Scanner Darkly (1977)
With acknowledgement to the genius of Ayn Rand liner notes to the Rush
album 2112 (1976)
JENNIFER GREY: You cant just leave [the girl you impregnated].
MAX CANTOR: I could blow a summer hauling toasted bagels just to bail
out some little chick who probably balled every guy in the place.Some
people count, and some people dont. [pulls The Fountainhead from his
pocket] Read it. I think its a book youll enjoy. But be sure you
return itI have notes in the margin. Dirty Dancing, 1987
Lots of girls fell in love with Definitism because of the erotic power
of the books. No one wanted to admit how important the sex was, but
lets face itthe books were very erotic. There were all these intrigues
going on, all these little girls wanting to satisfy their sexual
cravings. Mary Gaitskill, Two Girls, Fat and Thin (1991)
MARGE: Maggielikes a bottle of warm milk before nap time.
MS. SINCLAIR: A bottle? Mrs. Simpson, do you know what a babys saying
when she reaches for a bottle?
MARGE: Ba Ba?
MS. SINCLAIR: Shes saying I am a leech! Our aim here is to develop
the bottle within.
MARGE: That sounds awfully harsh. conversation between Marge and the
proprietor of the Ayn Rand School for Tots, The Simpsons (1992)
LOUIS: I could have you arrested you.creep. Theyd think I put you in
jail for beating me up.
JOE: I never hit anyone before, I
LOUIS: But itd really be for those decisions. It was like a sex scene
in an Ayn Rand novel, huh?
JOE: I hurt you! Im sorry, Louis. I never hit anyone before, I
from Angels in America, by Tony Kushner, conversation between lovers
Yes, at first I was happy to be learning how to read. It seemed
exciting and magical, but then I read this: Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn
Rand. I read every last word of this garbage, and because of this
piece of shit, I am never reading again. police officer Barbrady,
South Park (1998)
However completely you think you preside over your own schedule, there
are inflexibilities there. Inflexibilities which not even one of Ayn
Rands heroes could do very much about. William F. Buckley Jr., Miles
Gone By: A Literary Autobiography (2004)
Unlikeany other Marvel [Comics] author, [Spider-Man co-creator Steve]
Ditko received plotting credit as early as Amazing Spider-Man #25
(1965), an unprecedented concession that was most likely the result of
Ditkos contemporaneous discovery of Ayn Rands Objectivism, with its
hatred of creative dilution and unearned rewards. Andrew Hultkrans in
Give Our Regards to the Atom Smashers!: Writers on Comics (2004)
The Incrediblessuggests a thorough, feverish immersion in both the
history of American comic books and the philosophy of Ayn
Rand.Luckily, though, [writer and director Brad] Birds disdain for
mediocrity is not simply ventriloquized through his characters, but is
manifest in his meticulous, fiercely coherent approach to animation.
A.O. Scott, The New York Times (2004)
Reason: Ayn Rand at 100: Loved, hated, and always controversial, the
best-selling author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged is more
relevant than ever.
A hundred years after her birth and nearly 25 years after her death,
Ayn Rand remains a fascinating and enigmatic presence. She has been
mainstreamed enough to have been honored by a U.S. Postal Service
stamp in 1999 and to have been featured on C-SPANs American Writers
series in 2002. Her novels figure prominently in readers lists of the
20th centurys greatest books. Notably, in a 1991 survey of more than
2,000 Book-of-the-Month Club members about books that made a
difference in their lives, Rands magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, came in
secondalbeit a very distant secondto the Bible. Rand, a devout
atheist, might have seen that as an insult rather than an honor.
Yet in many ways Rand remains an outlier and an oddity on the cultural
scene, a cult figure with plenty of worshippers and plenty of
desecrators. No other modern author has had such extravagant claims of
greatness made on her behalf: Followers of her philosophy,
Objectivism, regard her as the greatest thinker to have graced this
earth since Aristotle and the greatest writer of all time. Mainstream
intellectuals tend to dismiss her as a writer of glorified pulp
fiction and a pseudo-philosophical quack with an appeal for
impressionable teens. Politically, too, Rand is an outsider: Liberals
shrink from her defiant pro-capitalist stance, conservatives from her
militant atheism, and conservatives and liberals alike from her
individualism. Libertarianism, the movement most closely connected to
Rands ideas, is less an offspring than a rebel stepchild. In her
insistence that political philosophy must be based on a proper
epistemology, she rejected the libertarian movement, which embraced a
wide variety of reasons for advocating free markets and free minds, as
among her enemies.
In recent years, at last, some analysis of Rand has appeared that is
neither uncritical adulation nor unrelenting bashing. Some of it has
come from unorthodox neo-Objectivists, such as the feminist scholar
Mimi Gladstein or the political philosopher Chris Matthew Sciabarra.
(The two edited the 1999 book Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand,
and Sciabarra wrote 1996s controversial Ayn Rand: The Russian
Radical.) The five-year-old Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, co-founded by
Sciabarra, often features essays by mainstream intellectuals that
treat Rands legacy in a non-hagiographic way. Two controversial books
about Rand the person remain a good place to start for an
understanding, but not adulatory, look at her life and work: The
Passion of Ayn Rand (1986) by Barbara Branden, no doubt the first-ever
sympathetic biography whose subject slept with the biographers
husband, and Judgment Day: My Years With Ayn Rand (1989) by Nathaniel
Branden, the husband in question.
In 1962, when they were still among the faithful, the Brandens
co-wrote a book called Who Is Ayn Rand? More than 40 years later, the
question still stands.
The Appeal of Ayn Rand
Reading Rands philosophy can be an exhilarating, head-turning
experience; it was for me when I first picked up her nonfiction
manifesto For the New Intellectual at the age of 19, two years after
coming to the United States from the Soviet Union. (Rand herself was
an American immigrant from the Soviet Union, leaving her family behind
to move here in 1926.) Rands rejection of the moral code that condemns
selfishness as the ultimate evil and holds up self-sacrifice as the
ultimate good is a radical challenge to received wisdom, an invitation
to a startlingly new way to see the world. While Rand was hardly the
first philosopher to advocate an ethos of individualism, reason, and
self-interest, no one formulated it as accessibly or persuasively as
she didor as passionately. In Rands hands, the virtue of selfishness
was not a dry, abstract rationalist construct with a bloodless
economic man at its center. It became a bold, ardent vision of
defiance, struggle, creative achievement, joy, and romantic love. That
vibrancy, more than anything else, accounts for her extraordinary
Politically, Rand wanted to provide liberal capitalism with a moral
foundation, to take on the prevalent notion that communism was a noble
if unworkable idea while the free market was a necessary evil best
suited to flawed human nature. In this she succeeded brilliantly (even
if the notion that socialism failed because it has never been properly
tried is still alive and well among the intelligentsia). Her arguments
against compassionate redistributionand persecutionof wealth have lost
none of their power in the decades after they were made.
Yet there is a reason Objectivism remains, for most people, a way
station on a journey to some wider outlook. Even Nathaniel Branden,
who still espouses most Objectivist tenets, has been severely critical
of Rands judgmental and contemptuous attitude toward all emotions she
deemed irrational, her tendency to glorify
emotional repression, and her lukewarm support even for voluntary,
non-self-sacrificing mutual aid.
The Limits of Ayn Rand
Perhaps Rands biggest error was the totalism of her philosophy. Having
rightly concluded that the values of the free market were moral, she
went on to make the sweeping assertion that those values were the only
moral ones, and that all human relations must be based on the
principles of trade. Yet there is nothing unreasonable and nothing
anti-market or anti-individualist to the belief that individualistic
and market-based values need something to complement them.
The Victorians emphasized the importance of charity and viewed family
and community as havens in a heartless world. This value system had
its serious drawbacksfrom preachy sentimentalism to fairly rigid
gender roles, with women virtually excluded from economic and
intellectual endeavors and relegated to the complementary sphere of
love, care giving, and charity. But at least the Victorians recognized
the need for a balance and variety of virtues.
Politically, too, Rands insistence on de-emphasizing, or even
denigrating, family, community, and private charity is not a
particularly clever tactic for capitalisms defenders. These are the
very institutions that can be expected, in the absence of a massive
welfare state, to meet those human needs that people prove unable to
satisfy through the market. Rand did claim to be in favor of
benevolence, in contrast to altruism; but it would be fruitless to
look for providers of private charitable aid among her good guys,
except for those who lend a helping hand to a friend. When charity is
mentioned in Rands fiction, it is nearly always in a negative context.
In The Fountainhead, the chorus of second-handers eager to condemn her
heroic, individualist architect protagonist, Howard Roark, include the
society woman dressing for a charity bazaar who uses charity as an
excuse to flaunt her virtue; in Atlas Shrugged, a club providing
shelter to needy young women is mocked for offering help to unworthy
sufferers such as drinkers, dope users, and unwed mothers-to-be.
Family fares even worse in Rands universe. The virtual absence of
children in her work has been noted by many critics, starting with
Whittaker Chambers in his infamous roasting of Atlas Shrugged in
National Review. Actually, John Galts private utopia in Atlas features
a nameless young woman who makes it her career to raise rational
children; but this brief passage comes across as little more than a
pro forma nod to motherhood. In her 1964 Playboy interview Rand flatly
declared that it was immoral to place family ties and friendship above
productive work; in her fiction, family life is depicted as a
stifling, soul-killing, mainly feminine swamp.
Its noteworthy that in The Fountainhead, the heroesRoark, newspaper
magnate Gail Wynand, and Roarks troubled lover, Dominique Franconhave
all grown up motherless, while the arch-villain, critic Ellsworth
Toohey, spent his childhood as his mothers pet and the worthless Peter
Keating, who relies on Roark to do his architecture work, has a
grotesque caricature of a selfless, smothering, tyrannical mother. The
only Randian heroic couple to actually reproduce is the hero of Anthem
and his girlfriend, who is pregnant at the end of the dystopian
science fiction novelette; but they have the excuse of needing to
breed a new race of free men, since the world around them has
regressed to post-apocalyptic primitivism and slavery.
In its pure form, Rands philosophy would work very well indeed if
human beings were never helpless and dependent through no fault of
their own. Thus, its hardly surprising that so many people become
infatuated with Objectivism as teenagers and grow out of it later,
when concerns of family, children, and old agetheir own and their
familiesmake that fantasy seem more and more impossible.
The Darkness in Ayn Rand
In the heyday of the Objectivist movement, Rand used to brush off
charges that her Übermensch heroes were unrealistic by pointing to
herself and the Brandens, at one point shouting during a debate, Am I
impossible? In fact, what is revealed of Rand in the Brandens
biographies dramatically illustrates the gap between ideology and
reality in her own life. In the Randiverse, a man whose beloved left
him for another would manfully accept her rational decisionmay the
best Übermensch win!and remain friends with her and her new partner.
In real life, Rands rational affair with Branden, whom she fantasized
as a Galt or Roark come alive, caused devastation all around, to
themselves as much as to their spouses. Rands unshakable belief in the
power of the human mind led her to refuse to recognize the mental
deterioration of her husband, Frank OConnor, and she tormented him
with exercises in psycho-epistemology. When she herself was diagnosed
with cancer, she refused to disclose her illness publicly, evidently
because she believed, according to Barbara Branden, that cancer was
the result of philosophical and psychological errors.
Rands detractors often brand her a fascist. She is not, of course; but
does her work have overtones of a totalitarian or dictatorial
mentality? This charge irks even ambivalent Rand admirers, such as
Nathaniel Branden, who fully recognize the dogmatism and intolerance
in the Objectivist movement. They point out that Rand decisively
rejects the use of force except in self-defense. True; but as Branden
has observed on the topic of emotional repression, it would be wise to
pay attention not just to what Rand says but to what she doesin this
case, in her novels. Near the end of Atlas Shrugged, when the heroes
go to rescue John Galt from the baddies, female railroad magnate Dagny
Taggart calmly and quite unnecessarily shoots a guard who cant decide
whether to let her in or not. The man, you see, wanted to exist
without the responsibility of consciousnessobviously a capital crime.
Still more troubling is an earlier passage in Atlas in which
bureaucratic incompetence and arrogance lead to a terrible train
wreck. Many would say, Rand wryly notes, that the people who died in
the accident were not guilty or responsible for the thing that
happened to them. Then, in a series of brief portraits, Rand endeavors
to show that the passengers were guilty indeed: All of them had
benefited from evil government programs, promoted evil political or
philosophical ideas, or both. Rand does not advocate their murder, of
course (though she sympathetically depicts a trainmaster who chooses
not to avert the disaster, partly in revenge against the regulators);
but she does suggest that they had it coming. In Atlas and the
nonfiction essays she turned to in her final decades, political and
ideological debates are treated as wars with no innocent bystanders,
and the dehumanization of the enemy reaches levels reminiscent of
communist or fascist propaganda.
One inevitable consequence of this attitude toward most other human
beings is, to quote the title of a George Orwell essay, the prevention
of literature. There can be no question that Rand was a highly
talented writer with a great gift for plot, description, and yes,
characterization. The Fountainhead is a brilliant book, and so is
Rands often underappreciated first novel, We the Living, a richly
textured, passionate, moving story of life in post-revolutionary
But in these novels Rands philosophy has not yet petrified into dogma.
Even the larger-than-life romantic heroes have recognizable human
emotions. (Rands detractors often claim that Roark is a robotically
unfeeling superman, but consider this passage, when Dominique tells
him of her marriage to Peter Keating: It would have been easy, if she
had seen a man distorting his mouth to bite off sound, closing his
fists and twisting them in defense against himself. But it was not
easy, because she did not see him doing this, yet knew that this was
being done, without the relief of a physical gesture.) Rands moral
scale in The Fountainhead still allows for shades of gray. The
power-seeking Gail Wynand is a tragic figure whom Roark loves despite
the error of his ways; Dominiques father, Guy Francon, is basically a
good guy despite exemplifying none of the Randian virtues; even the
despicable Peter Keating merits some sympathy, and his failed romance
with his true love, Katie, has some dignity and poignancy.
But in Atlas Shrugged, Rands final novel, the ideologue crushes the
writer almost completely. While a few characters show occasional
glimpses of humanity, most of the heroes are abstractions of
greatness, while the villains are subhuman vermin. The story
suffocates under endless speechifying and analysis in which each point
is flogged to death and each un-Randian idea is reduced to a straw man
the heroes can easily beat down and shred. In this effort, all life
and beauty are drained from Rands prose style, and we are treated to
passages like this one, when industrialist Hank Reardens wife tries to
hurt him by telling him she has slept with a man he despises: There,
he thought, was the final abortion of the creed of collective
interdependence, the creed of non-identity, non-property, non-fact:
the belief that the moral stature of one is at the mercy of the action
The Paradox of Ayn Rand
For all her flaws, Rand remains a towering figure on the last centurys
cultural landscape. She arose in an era of competing totalitarian
ideologies and declared that communism and Nazism were not opposites
but evil twins, and that their true opposite was freedom. In an era
when collectivism was seen as the way of the future, she
unapologetically asserted the worth of the individual and his right to
exist for himself, and declared the spiritual dimension of material
achievement. In an age of existential doubt, she offered a celebration
of creativity, of the human mind, of the joy of life on this earth.
(The Fountainhead has a glorious passage in which a young man who is
starting to despair of finding beauty or purpose in life is moved and
inspired by the sight of Roarks just-finished construction project.)
Atlas Shrugged, clunky and extremist though it is, contains some
brilliant and powerful pro-capitalist polemicssuch as Francisco
DAnconias speech on the meaning of money and the tale of one factorys
disastrous experiment in implementing the slogan, From each according
to his ability, to each according to his need.
Rand zealots, and even moderate fans such as the Brandens, are often
prone to credit her with almost single-handedly rolling back the tide
of socialist ideology in the 20th century. Thats quite an
exaggeration, as is the notion that her philosophy sprang whole from
her mind like Athena from the skull of Zeus. Still, Rand was the most
successful and widely read popularizer of the ideas of individual
liberty and the free market of her day. In the 21st century, as we
face Islamist terrorism abroad and when public discourse at home often
seems dominated by religious conservatism on the right and politically
correct pieties on the left, Rands message of reason and liberty, if
its stripped of its odder features, could be a rallying point for what
the neo-Objectivist philosopher David Kelley, who runs the Objectivist
Center, calls Enlightenment-based values.
From yet another perspective, Rand can be seen as a great eccentric
thinker and writer whose work is less about a practical guide to real
life than about a unique, individual, stylized vision, a romantic
vision that transforms and transcends real life. Rands philosophy
admitted no contradictions or paradoxes in reality; but reality is
full of apparently irreconcilable truths. The truth of what Rand said
about the heroic human spirit and individual self-determination does
not negate the truth that human beings often find themselves at the
mercy of circumstances beyond their control and dependent on others
through no fault of theirs. The truth of the self-sufficient soul
coexists with the truth of the vital importance of human connections.
Rand herself was a creature of paradox. She was a prophet of freedom
and individualism who tolerated no disobedience or independent thought
in her acolytes, a rationalist who refused to debate her views. She
was an atheist whose worship of Man led her to see the human mind as a
godlike entity, impervious to the failings of the body or to
environmental influences. (Nathaniel Branden reports that she even
disliked the idea of evolution.) She was a strong woman who created
independent heroines yet saw sexual submission as the essence of
femininity and argued that no healthy woman would want to be president
of the United States because it would put her above all men.
This is perhaps how Rand is best appreciated: as a figure of great
achievement and great contradictions, a visionary whose vision is one
among many, whose truths are important but by no means exclusive.
Rand, it is safe to say, would have regarded such appreciation as far
worse than outright rejection. But thats just another paradox of
Contributing Editor Cathy Young is a columnist for the Boston Globe.
20. mailto:CathyYoung63 at aol.com
Reason: Editor's Note: Rand Redux
Reason does Ayn Rand on her 100th birthday
Let me admit up front that I'm no great fan of this month's cover
girl, Ayn Rand, whose 100th birthday falls on February 2 and whose
legacy we analyze on page 22. It's a doubly embarrassing admission:
Not only is Rand one of the most important figures in the libertarian
movement of which reason is a part, but this magazine's name is an
homage to her philosophy, Objectivism, which ascribes a key role to
rationality. When a Boston University student named Lanny Friedlander
started reason back in 1968 as a mimeographed call to arms--well,
let's just say he very much grokked the Russian-born writer.
You'd never catch me writing a letter of complaint like the one former
Rand acolyte and current Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan
sent to The New York Times in 1957 after the paper blasted Atlas
Shrugged. Just what was wrong with a novel in which "parasites who
persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should?"
huffed the man who decades later would popularize the term "irrational
exuberance." I'm more simpatico with Officer Barbrady, the illiterate
cop on South Park who declared, "At first I was happy to be learning
to read...but then I read...Atlas Shrugged... because of this, I am
never reading again."
Yet as Contributing Editor Cathy Young shows in her brilliant essay
about "Ayn Rand at 100," Rand continues not merely to draw our
attention but to command it. A century after her birth and more than a
decade after her death, Rand remains one of the best-selling and most
widely influential figures in American thought and culture. As we
document in "Rand-O-Rama," she casts a long shadow, not simply
providing punch lines for South Park but infusing such recent movie
hits as The Incredibles with what a Times reviewer called "a disdain
for mediocrity." She is even getting newfound respect from academics.
What's the secret of Rand's cultural staying power? At her best, notes
Young, Rand provided "liberal capitalism with a moral foundation."
That's no small feat in a world that, even after the fall of Nazism,
communism, and other collectivist ideologies, still looks with
suspicion on economic self-interest. Rand also celebrated the
individual in a mass age, creating a series of memorable, compelling
characters who embodied or emboldened the aspirations of millions in a
time of often stultifying conformity, bureaucracy, and routinization.
But as important to Rand's hold on the public imagination is the great
gulf between her fictional heroes and the often tawdry, disheartening
details of her own biography, especially the cult-like obedience she
demanded of her inner circle. In the gap between Rand's soaring ideals
and her lived reality, we see in particularly strong relief both the
creative power of individual desire and its vast capacity for
intolerance and delusion. In a world in which more people have more
control over their lives than ever before, that's something to always
ESR | January 31, 2005 | The appeal of Ayn Rand
The appeal of Ayn Rand
By Onkar Ghate
web posted January 31, 2005
Ayn Rand February 2 marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of
one of America's most controversial and inspiring writers, Ayn Rand.
She continues to be wildly popular among the young: some 14,000 high
school students per year submit entries to essay contests on her
novels and, in the past two years alone, high school teachers have
requested over 130,000 copies of Anthem and The Fountainhead to use in
their classrooms. They know that students respond to her stories and
heroes as to few other books.
It remains, however, all too common for a young person to be told that
his interest in Ayn Rand is a stage he will soon grow out of. "It's
fine to believe in that now," the refrain goes, "but wait until you're
older. You'll discover that life is not like that."
But when one actually considers the essence of what Rand teaches, the
accusation that her philosophy is childish over-simplification stands
as condemnation not of her ideas but of the adult world from which the
The key to Rand's popularity is that she appeals to the idealism of
youth. She wrote in 1969: "There is a fundamental conviction which
some people never acquire, some hold only in their youth, and a few
hold to the end of their days--the conviction that ideas matter." The
nature of this conviction? "That ideas matter means that knowledge
matters, that truth matters, that one's mind matters. And the radiance
of that certainty, in the process of growing up, is the best aspect of
To sustain this youthful conviction throughout life, Rand argues, one
must achieve a radical independence of mind. Independence does not
mean doing whatever one feels like doing but rather forging one's
convictions and choosing one's actions rationally, logically,
scientifically. It is refusal to surrender one's ideas or values to
the "public interest," as liberals demand, or to the "glory of God,"
as conservatives demand. It is refusal to grant obedience to any
authority, human or divine. The independent mind rejects faith,
secular or supernatural, and embraces reason as an absolute. "The
noblest act you have ever performed," declares the hero of Rand's last
novel, Atlas Shrugged, "is the act of your mind in the process of
grasping that two and two make four." She meant it.
The conviction that ideas matter represents a profound dedication to
self. It requires that one regard one's own reasoning mind as
competent to judge good and evil. And it requires that one pursue
knowledge because one sees that correct ideas are indispensable to
achieving the irreplaceable value of one's own life and happiness. "To
take ideas seriously," Rand states, "means that you intend to live by,
to practice, any idea you accept as true," that you recognize "that
truth and knowledge are of crucial, personal, selfish importance to
you and to your own life."
Her approach here is the opposite of the view that ideals transcend
this world, one's interests and human comprehension--that idealism is,
in the words of the religious exhortation to America's youth in Bush's
inaugural address, "to serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger
The advice Rand offers the young? Think, reason, logically consider
matters of truth and morality. And then, because your own life and
happiness depend on it, pursue unwaveringly the true and the good. On
this approach, the moral and the practical unite. On this approach,
there exists no temptation to think that life on earth requires
compromise, the halfway, the middle of the road. "In any compromise
between food and poison," she writes, "it is only death that can win.
In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can
In a world where our President (as well as the religious warriors
we're battling against in the Middle East) equates idealism with
otherworldliness, faith, and sacrifice of self, and where commentators
otherwise sympathetic to his message lament that it leaves no room for
worldly compromises, since, as Peggy Noonan puts it, "perfection in
the life of man on earth" is impossible--Ayn Rand stands alone. She
argues that perfection is possible to man the rational animal. Hold
your own life as your highest value, follow reason, submit to no
authority, create a life of productive achievement and joy--enact
these demanding values and virtues, Rand teaches, and an ideal world,
here on earth, is "real, it's possible--it's yours."
Does an adult world that dismisses this philosophy as "simplistic" not
The centenary of Rand's birth is an appropriate time to recognize the
thinker who was courageous enough to take on that world and challenge
its rampant skepticism, eager cynicism, and unyielding demand for
compromise, the thinker who portrayed and explained--at the most
fundamental level--the heroic in man. [esr.jpg]
Onkar Ghate, Ph.D. in philosophy, is a senior fellow at the Ayn
Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes the ideas of
Ayn Rand--best-selling author of Atlas Shrugged and The
Fountainhead and originator of the philosophy she called
Ayn Rand's Contribution to the Cause of Freedom - Mises Institute
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Ayn Rand's Contribution to the Cause of Freedom
by Roderick T. Long
[Posted February 2, 2005]
Today marks the centenary of Ayn Rand's birth. Born Alisa Rosenbaum in
St. Petersburg, Russia, on February 2nd, 1905, Rand would go on to
become one of the 20th century's foremost voices for human freedom.
After living through the Russian Revolution, and the economic chaos
and political repression that came in its wake--events she would later
dramatize in her novel We the Living--Rand fled the Soviet Union
for the United States in 1926 to begin her career as screenwriter,
playwright, and novelist. Dividing her time between Hollywood and New
York, the fiercely anticommunist Rand began to develop a philosophy of
ethical and political individualism, and to make the acquaintance of
such leaders of the libertarian "Old Right" as John Flynn, Henry
Hazlitt, Rose Wilder Lane, H.L. Mencken, Isabel Paterson, Leonard
Read, and a fellow refugee from European totalitarianism, Austrian
economist Ludwig von Mises.
Rand's chief popular success came from The Fountainhead (1943) and
Atlas Shrugged (1957), two epic philosophical novels on the model
of Dostoyevksy that quickly established her as one of the century's
most controversial authors. The enthusiastic audience these works
brought her enabled Rand to build a politico-philosophical movement
based on the system of thought she would call "Objectivism," and
Rand's attention accordingly turned thereafter to nonfiction; she
would devote the remainder of her career to editing a series of
Objectivist periodicals and to penning philosophical essays, political
commentary, and cultural criticism.
Rand always stressed the importance of placing political arguments in
a wider philosophical context, insisting that she was "not
primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism," and "not
primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason."
Rand's influence on the libertarian movement is incalculable; despite
her own frequent antipathy toward that movement and even toward the
word "libertarian," Rand played a crucial role in helping both to
create new advocates of laissez-faire and to radicalize existing ones;
Rand encouraged libertarians to view their standpoint as an
alternative to, rather than a branch of, conservatism, and to base the
case for liberty on moral principle and not on pragmatic economic
benefits alone. Rand's influence on popular culture is likewise
enormous; an oft-cited Library of Congress survey of "most influential
books" placed Atlas Shrugged second only to the Bible.
Rand owed much of her success to the power and directness of her
writing style. She was a master at what one of my colleagues calls
reductio ad claritatem, "reduction to clarity"-- i.e., the method of
refuting a position by stating it clearly--as when she wrote that "if
some men are entitled by right to the products of the work of others,
it means that those others are deprived of rights and condemned to
slave labor," or when she summarized the view that human perception is
unreliable because limited by the nature of our sensory organs as:
"man is blind, because he has eyes--deaf, because he has ears."
Upon the publication of Atlas Shrugged, Mises wrote to Rand
praising both her "masterful construction of the plot" and her "cogent
analysis of the evils that plague our society"; in another context he
called her "the most courageous man in America." Rand in turn
enthusiastically promoted Mises's writings in her periodicals, and
declared that her ideal curriculum would be "Aristotle in philosophy,
von Mises in economics, Montessori in education, Hugo in literature."
Rand's biographer Barbara Branden notes that
beginning in the late fifties and continuing for more than ten
years, Ayn began a concerted campaign to have [Mises's ] work read
and appreciated: she published reviews, she cited him in articles
and in public speeches [and] recommended him to admirers of her
philosophy. A number of economists have said that it was largely as
a result of Ayn's efforts that the work of Von Mises began to reach
its potential audience. (The Passion of Ayn Rand, p. 188.)
A brief intellectual association with Mises's student Murray Rothbard
was less successful, beginning in mutual appreciation but dissolving
over ideological and personal differences--though Rand and Rothbard
would nonetheless share the honor of being drummed out of the
"respectable" Right by a statist-minded conservative establishment.
(The forthcoming Spring 2005 issue of the Journal of Ayn Rand
Studies is devoted to an exploration of the connections between Rand
and the Austrian School, and includes contributions from a number of
Because Rand called big business a "persecuted minority" and dismissed
the military-industrial complex as "a myth or worse," she is often
taken as a naïve apologist for the corporatist élite; but she also
condemned the "type of businessmen who sought special advantages by
government action" as the "actual war profiteers of all mixed
economies"; and it's easy to forget that most of the businessmen
characters in Rand's novels are statist villains.
As Chris Sciabarra reminds us, Rand likewise grasped the symbiotic
relationship between militarism abroad and neo-fascist politics at
home; in an era when many of her followers are enthusiastic supporters
of American military intervention overseas, it's worth remembering
that Rand herself opposed U.S. involvement in World War I, World War
II, Korea, and Vietnam.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Rand's philosophy--her
rejection of altruism and her embrace of ethical egoism--is also one
of the most misunderstood. Despite her sometimes misleading
rhetoric about "the virtue of selfishness," the point of her egoism
was not to advocate the pursuit of one's own interests at the expense
of others', but rather to reject the entire conflictual model of
interests according to which "the happiness of one man necessitates
the injury of another," in favor of an older, more Aristotelean
conception of self-interest as excellent human functioning.
It was on such Aristotelean grounds that she rejected not only the
subordination of one's own interests to those of others (and it is
this, rather than mere benevolence, that she labeled "altruism") but
also the subordination of others' interests to one's own (which she
labeled "selfishness without a self"). For Rand, the Aristotelean
recognition of properly understood human interests as rationally
harmonious was the essential foundation for a free society.
Discussion of Rand since her death in 1982 has often focused on her
dogmatic tone and personal eccentricities--traits sometimes imitated
by her followers, and effectively satirized by Rothbard in his one-act
play Mozart Was a Red. But as David Kelley argues in his book
The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand, Rand's intellectual
contribution, like anyone else's, can and should be disentangled from
the vagaries of her personality.
In an era when libertarianism and Aristoteleanism were unfashionable
enough separately, Rand had the audacity to defend their systematic
fusion, and identified Enlightenment liberalism's roots in the
Thomistic recovery of Aristotle at a time when this connection was
less widely recognized than it is today. (Though Rand's followers have
sometimes intemperately proclaimed her the greatest philosopher of all
time, Rand always firmly insisted that Aristotle was the greatest and
that Thomas Aquinas was the second greatest--her own atheism
notwithstanding.) Whether her specific versions of libertarianism and
Aristoteleanism, and the specific terms on which she attempted to
unite them, were ultimately the most philosophically defensible
ones is perhaps less important than the example she set in making the
In the decades since Rand first began constructing her maverick
philosophical system, the philosophical mainstream has moved in Rand's
direction. Professional philosophers are far more likely today than
they were in the 1960s to agree with Rand about the directness of
sense-perception, the relation between meaning and reference, the
incompatibility of utilitarianism with individual rights, or the
prospects for a neo-Aristotelean ethical theory (or indeed a
neo-Aristotelean philosophical approach generally); and many of the
dichotomies she rejected--between empiricism and rationalism, analytic
and synthetic statements, dualism and materialism, nominalism and
conceptual realism, fact and value, liberalism and an ethics of
virtue--have fallen into increasing disfavor.
These developments are largely independent of Rand's own influence
(and, ironically, stem in part from the recent resurgence of Rand's
philosophical nemesis Immanuel Kant--who, despite Rand's impassioned
denunciations, is actually her ally on most of these points), but they
are not entirely so; I can testify, from two decades' experience in
the profession, that the number of academic philosophers who will
privately admit having been decisively influenced by Rand is far
greater than the number who can be found citing her in print.
It's a mistake, though, to think that the validation of Rand's legacy
depends on academic approval. Human progress is often driven by people
either outside or on the margins of the academic establishment, as for
example the philosophes of the 18th century or the Austrian revival of
the 20th. Whether or not the academy understands or acknowledges her
achievements, Rand's inspiring vision of the grandeur of human reason
and human liberty has made its mark on modern thought.
Still, for what it's worth, scholarly recognition of Rand's work is
currently at an all-time high. The days when nearly all discussion
of Rand was either slavishly adulatory or sneeringly dismissive seem
to be passing, and the new century is likely to see a just assessment
of Rand's place in the history of philosophy and the cause of liberty.
Happy Birthday, Ayn Rand.
Roderick T. Long (email) is senior fellow of the Mises Institute,
professor of philosophy at Auburn University, and the new editor of
the Journal of Libertarian Studies. See his website. Subscribe to
the Journal today. Post your comments on the blog.
26. mailto:rlong at mises.org
Chicago Tribune: Rereading 'Atlas' on Ayn Rand's 100th
By Julia Keller
Tribune cultural critic
January 30, 2005
There it sits, a thick rectangle whose soft sides -- it's made of
paper, after all, ordinary paper -- belie the harsh astringency
You sense the need to keep an eye on it. You can't just leave it there
on a corner of your desktop as if it were an ordinary book, letting it
cool its heels amid the messy papers and dried-up pens and the
dark-chocolate wafer of your laptop.
No telling what it might do, this paperback copy of "Atlas Shrugged"
(1957) by Ayn Rand, all 1,069 pages of it. No telling what impact it
might have on the desk's detritus or the rest of the room.
It's like a radiation leak: You can't see the danger, but you know
Rand, of course, would adore the notion that the novel she began
writing six decades ago, right after she'd wrapped up "The
Fountainhead" (1943), still is regarded as perilous and possibly even
lethal -- lethal, that is, to complacency and lazy thinking and easy
Wednesday marks the 100th anniversary of Rand's birth in St.
Petersburg, Russia. She died in 1982 -- at least in the narrow
physical sense. Measured across the historical timeline of ideas,
however, Ayn Rand ("Ayn" rhymes with "fine," although it's often
mispronounced "Ann") remains vibrantly alive. The philosophy she
created and espoused in novels, plays and nonfiction treatises still
enthralls and disgusts, still intrigues and outrages -- there's no
middle ground -- a whole new generation.
Known as Objectivism, its message of rationality, self-reliance and
unrestrained capitalism, and its rejection of altruism or empathy, is
perhaps best summarized by the title of one of Rand's non-fiction
works: "The Virtues of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism" (1964).
"Her impact is large and goes well beyond the world of literature,"
declares Mimi Gladstein, chair of the department of theater, dance and
film at the University of Texas at El Paso, who has written two books
and co-written a third about Rand's work. "I do think she's being
taken more seriously now."
Objectivism is always lighting fires under people's backsides -- it's
the wisest thing in the history of the world, it's the dumbest bunch
of malarkey on the planet -- but our concern here is not the
philosophy but the chief vessel in which Rand chose to serve it up:
And most especially "Atlas Shrugged," the purest, longest, loudest
statement of her beliefs, the preposterously romantic tale of railroad
magnate Dagny Taggart and the mysterious John Galt.
This much, at least, is irrefutable: "Atlas Shrugged" grabs hold of
you and shakes you up and challenges everything you thought you
believed about the world, about God, about good and evil. That's why
it can't be exiled to a corner of your desk, where its slightly
curled-back cover looks, in the right light, like a tiny sneer of
reproach: How dare you not be reading me now, this minute. How dare
Rand's fiction has been critically scorned in some quarters, her
philosophy reviled, but her influence is undeniable.
Did somebody say "influence"? Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal
Reserve Board, counts himself among her devoted flock. Rand's books,
vastly popular in her lifetime, continue to sell at a nifty clip: More
than 5.5 million copies of "Atlas Shrugged" have been snapped up since
its initial publication, and in the last few years, sales have
averaged about 150,000 copies annually, reports Richard E. Ralston,
publishing manager for the Ayn Rand Institute. "The Fountainhead" has
sold more than 6 million copies, with annual sales currently topping
130,000, he adds.
Clearly, then, Rand knew what she was doing when she created
dreadfully wooden characters to represent her philosophical and
economic ideas, when she put long, impossibly windy speeches in the
mouths of those characters.
Because for all that, for all the technical flaws that even moderately
attentive readers could red-pencil in their sleep, for all the
narrative rules Rand breaks -- the novel just won't leave you alone.
Of how many books can that be said?
Read at the right moment in one's life -- usually in late adolescence,
when the world seems like a tangled mess of hypocrisy and confusion,
and you hate your parents and especially that stupid assistant
principal who is seriously on your case -- "Atlas Shrugged" is a
tonic, a dream, a throat-scalding draft of pure, radiant clarity. You
feel as if you've been walking upside down for most of your life,
seeing things the wrong way, and now -- now -- suddenly you're
right-side up again and everything starts to make sense. Turns out it
was the world that was upside down, not you.
But here's the funny thing: Re-reading Rand as an adult in 2005 is not
what you thought it would be. It's not a "Oh, wow, what a chump I
was!" feeling. In fact, the ideas from "Atlas Shrugged" you thought
you had outgrown don't seem all that outlandish, after all. The themes
you abandoned as hopelessly naive and almost comically operatic -- all
those fist-shaking tirades about human destiny, all those "Greed is
good!" screeds that predate Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" by three
decades -- somehow start making a bit of sense again, in a world
upended by religious fanaticism and a nation crippled by soaring
Flaws and all, "Atlas Shrugged" still is a powerful novel, a sweeping
epic that either pulls you into its sphere or scares the bejesus out
of you, or maybe both.
That's how it all struck Michael Paxton back in the early 1970s, when,
as a kid coming of age in upstate New York, he discovered Rand's
"I was very lost about my direction in life, about what life meant,"
says Paxton, now a writer and film producer in L.A. "One day I decided
to go into a bookstore and find a book that would make sense to me."
He found "We the Living" (1936) and worked his way through the rest of
the Rand canon.
Paxton's 1998 documentary, "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life," nominated for
an Academy Award for best documentary, tells the dramatic story of
Rand's life: her birth to a middle-class Russian family as Alice
Rosenbaum, just before the Russian Revolution; her escape to America
as an eager 21-year-old, aspiring screenwriter; her success as a
playwright, novelist and essayist, as the fierceness and originality
of her philosophical ideas began to captivate the public.
First popular novel
Her novel "The Fountainhead," the story of brilliant, headstrong
architect Howard Roark, who was played by Gary Cooper in the 1949
film, was her first great popular success.
Rand lived intensely, eager to defend her ideas, and she lived
passionately. She had a close inner circle of admirers, within which
allegiances shifted and dramatic renunciations and reconciliations
But to those who weren't swept away, Rand's conviction that
self-interest is a more efficient and plausible motivation than
traditional Judeo-Christian ethics was just too shocking even to
"She's so maligned," Paxton says. "People think she's a fascist --
and, of course, she's the opposite of that."
Gladstein believes that Rand's reputation among literary critics --
she's rarely, if ever, included on lists of the 20th Century's
greatest authors -- has suffered because of her popularity. "In
academe, there are people with certain ideas about `haute' literature.
If it's too popular, it can't be taken seriously. They forget the fact
that Shakespeare was popular too."
None of her books has ever gone out of print, Ralston says. And
Penguin recently reissued "The Fountainhead," "Atlas Shrugged" and
"Anthem" (1938) in special paperback editions to commemorate the
That is the version of "Atlas Shrugged" that simmers on my desk, an
intimidating-looking white volume with a stark cover design: blue
sculpture of Atlas holding up the world; simple, blunt typography.
This novel is all business.
But the book's dialogue -- oh, heavens, that dialogue! That stilted,
florid, totally inauthentic dialogue, the kind that would be laughable
in any other context but that somehow, when dangling between the
pincers of Rand's big ideas, simply works. You believe it.
You believe that Dagny's lover, Henry Reardon, would actually rise
from the bed upon which they had just made love for the first time and
say, I wanted you as one wants a whore -- for the same reason and
purpose. . . . You're as vile an animal as I am. I should loathe my
discovering it. I don't.
Uh, OK. But somehow it holds up, this faintly absurd novel in which a
bevy of business types follows the dictates of John Galt right off the
edge of the world. Somehow, it works.
The novel is worth reading, worth re-reading. Be careful, though; it's
dense with powerful ideas and has a mind of its own. So whatever you
do, don't leave "Atlas Shrugged" home alone.
Now let us praise free minds (Metro Times Detroit)
by Jack Lessenberry
They promise you answers and a blueprint for living your life, if you
promise not to think too much.
Last week I gave a talk on what I called "The Myth of the Liberal
Media" to a pleasingly large and well-informed group called Pointes
for Peace, in (surprise) Grosse Pointe Woods. I told them there are
mainly two kinds of media in this nation today -- the "mainstream
media," which are about as liberal as corporate America in general,
and virulently ideological right-wing media.
What could honestly be called the "liberal media" consists, pretty
much (apart from a few cranks like me), of a handful of columnists
like Molly Ivins, Jim Hightower, Paul Krugman, and -- did I mention
All of this was hardly news to anyone paying attention to what Eric
Alterman and Ben Bagdikian have been saying for years. This country
and its press have shifted dramatically to the right in the last
quarter-century, and my craft will pay for this folly for years.
Being in the Grosse Pointes, I imagined I'd get challenged by people
who think there's really a vast conspiracy of New York intellectuals
who want to force gay marriage, partial-birth abortions and
fluoridated water on us all. There was none of that. But something did
happen that astonished me to the point of speechlessness. An
attractive, if a bit steely, dark-haired woman on the sidelines raised
her hand and, after ranting on that Bush and Kerry were equally bad,
proclaimed that the only hope for salvation, or mankind, or something,
was Chairman Bob Avakian's Revolutionary Communist Party.
Had I been prepared, I might have allowed myself a frisson of
nostalgia, and spoken to her in her own artificial language. "Sorry,
comrade, but an objective analysis of current conditions demonstrates
that the time is not right for the mass uprising, and that what's now
needed is a popular front."
Part of me wanted to sing the "Internationale" off-key in French, just
to watch her swoon with desire, or nausea. But instead, I merely stood
there like a geek staring at a two-headed calf until my colleague Dick
Wright said, "I think we are all pretty bourgeois here," and brought
down the house.
Later, a sweetly grandmotherish lady, who said she was a revolutionary
communist too, tried to sell me Avakian's autobiography, From Ike to
Mao. I was barely mature enough not to say, "Hold the mayo."
We tend to think of commies as harmless anachronisms now, which they
mostly are. But back in the day -- the 1960s, say -- we tended to
regard fundamentalist religious movements the same way. Not now. Both
the Marxist-Leninists and the dogmatic Christians are very much alike
in that they promise you answers and a blueprint for living your life,
if you promise not to think too much, and keep your mouth shut if you
That promise has proven devastatingly seductive for most men at most
times. Ayn Rand offers another system with all the answers, and so
does Osama bin Laden, and so do various others of what George Orwell
used to call "all the smelly little orthodoxies that are now
contending for our souls." What all these systems do is take parts of
the truth and construct a brilliantly woven little system and
substitute it for reality.
Ayn Rand has a lot to say that's worthwhile about the heroic struggle
of the individual. There's much that even an intelligent atheist can
recognize as true and compelling in most religious dogma. Marxism is a
brilliant critique of the sins of capitalism, especially capitalism as
it existed during the Industrial Revolution. And most of our
multinational corporations today seem to be misbehaving as though
following a script written by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. That may well be
sparking a mini-revival of revolutionary communist movements.
But the Glorious Worldwide Great Proletarian Revolution isn't coming,
comrades. Unfortunately all these systems, when in power, eventually
bump against annoying reality, which they try to overlook first, then
suppress by killing anyone who points out the man behind the curtain,
before they finally crash.
And none of them rewards the person who points out, however gently,
that the system has flaws, or even worse, tries to think for himself.
Those who question are seen as heretics, savagely turned on, and true
believers are taught to hate them more than they do their ideology's
natural enemies. Orwell, my personal hero, was a writer of
uncompromising honesty, a socialist who nevertheless was hated, in his
day, by many on the left because he pointed out the flaws of his
allies as well as his foes. He was attacked especially for noting that
Soviet communism had evolved into just another form of murderous
totalitarian dictatorship, something he lampooned brilliantly in his
masterpieces Animal Farm and 1984.
Locally, I have a couple heroes who fit this mold, both of whom,
ironically, are religious, rather than political figures. The first is
Bishop Tom Gumbleton, best known perhaps for trying to raise our
consciousness about the conditions in places such as Haiti and Iraq
and El Salvador.
These are all countries in wretched shape, and in most of them our
nation has managed to make things worse. He's tried to help them when
he could, and tried to be a tug on our conscience too. He's no
opportunistic, cynical politician with a clerical collar; he deeply
believes in God.
But he also believes in speaking truth to power, whether that power
wears a Haitian general's uniform, works in the White House or sits in
the Vatican. He was among the first to demand the Roman Catholic
Church he loves come clean on the sex scandals of a few years ago.
As a young man studying in Rome, Gumbleton was inspired by the
excitement of renewal and the heady intellectual ferment of the
Vatican II conferences, which tried to redefine the church's role in
the modern world.
This set his path for life; he came away believing that his church
ought to dedicate itself to transforming this world into as close an
imitation of the kingdom of heaven as possible. He was made a bishop
in 1968. The leadership of his church is far more reactionary today.
Last week, he turned 75, and bishops are traditionally supposed to
offer their resignations then.
Bishop Tom, who looks and acts two decades younger, has no desire to
stop doing what he's doing, and more than one member of his parish
(St. Leo's) has told me they'll protest if the church tries to take
him from them. The irony, of course, is that the pope is a decade
older and in appalling shape. Yet nobody would dare whisper that he
My other hero is the Rev. Harry Cook, rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal
Church in Clawson. In a lecture this week at the University of
Colorado, he plans to tell the students that he fears "religion may be
the death of us all."
He means the kind of religion that actually caused a GOP politician to
say that denuding the forests is all right because "when the last tree
is felled, Jesus will come again." Cook proclaims himself a "secular
agnostic humanist," for which he has taken some heat. I think he
deserves more admiration than the pope. What's so moral about being
good if you know you'll get paradise as a reward?
What's far nobler, I think, is to try and follow Christian principles
even if you have no idea what comes after this life, and grappling
with the awesome challenge of trying to figure out each unique
situation. These are two different, but very inspiring men, and
Detroit is lucky to have them.
Boston Globe/ Opinion / Letters / Plenty of reasons Rand was wrong
SOMEONE NEEDS to point out to Edward Hudgins ("Still a voice of
reason," op ed Jan. 29) and other resurgent misty-eyed,
laissez-faire-lovin', neo-conservatives that their heroine Ayn Rand
was much more a science fiction writer than a true, insightful
philosopher or economist.
History is riddled with the consequences of unregulated, unbalanced,
money-driven societies where power and wealth become concentrated in
the top few bricks of what is essentially a very large pyramid scheme.
Oftentimes Rand's rugged, ambitious individuals of high achievement
might be seen to prefigure some of history's worst criminals.
In this country, they were robber barons like Jim Fisk and Joy Gould,
who along with other "successful businessmen" propagated the first
financial "Black Friday" out of sheer, unmitigated greed devoid of any
sense of conscience or concern for others.
One does not have to look very hard these days to see similar traits
in current "achievers" that the history-ignorant like Hudgins admire
A Strangely Important Figure
BY ANDREW STUTTAFORD
To call Ayn Rand, the high priestess of the human will, a mere force
of nature would to her have been an insult as well as a cliche. But
how else to describe this extraordinary, maddening, and indestructible
individual? Born a century ago this year into the flourishing
bourgeoisie of glittering, doomed St. Petersburg, Alisa Zinovyevna
Rosenbaum was to triumph over revolution, civil war, Lenin's
dictatorship, an impoverished immigrant existence, and bad reviews in
the New York Times to become a strangely important figure in the
history of American ideas.
Even the smaller details of Rand's life come with the sort of epic
implausibility found in - oh, an Ayn Rand novel. On her first day of
looking for work in Hollywood, who gives her a lift in his car? Cecil
B. DeMille. Of course he does. Frank Lloyd Wright designs a house for
her. Years later, when she's famous, the sage of selfishness,
ensconced in her Murray Hill eyrie, a young fellow by the name of Alan
Greenspan becomes a member of the slightly creepy set that sits at the
great woman's feet. Apparently he went on to achieve some prominence
in later life.
To Rand, none of this would really have mattered (well, the fame was
nice). To her, an intensely Russian intellectual despite everything,
it was ideas that counted. They were everything. When, after nearly 50
years, her beloved long-lost youngest sister, Nora, made it over from
the USSR, they promptly fell out - over politics, naturally. Poor Nora
was on her way within six weeks, back to the doubtless more easygoing
embrace of Leonid Brezhnev.
Scarred by her Soviet experiences, Rand was a woman on a mission. She
couldn't stop: not for her sister, not for anyone. She had plenty to
say, and she said it - again, and again, and again. She wrote, she
lectured, she hectored, she harangued. Words flowed, how they flowed,
too much sometimes, too insistent often, but infinitely preferable to
the silence of the Soviet Union that she had left behind.
And somehow her work has endured in the country she made her own. Her
creed of ego and laissez-faire, and the reception it won, was one of
the more interesting - and encouraging - cultural phenomena of
mid-20th-century America. It has persisted, lasting longer, even, than
the vast, daunting paragraphs that mark her prose style. Just over a
decade ago, "Atlas Shrugged" (1957) was voted Americans' most
influential novel in a joint poll conducted by the Book-of-the-Month
club and the Library of Congress.
Hers is a remarkable story, and I find it curious that one of the only
publications being brought out to commemorate the 100th-birthday girl
- besides new printings of the novels by Plume - is Jeff Britting's
new, very very brief account (Overlook Duckworth, 144 pages, $19.95).
The latest in the series of Overlook Illustrated Lives, it's too short
to do Rand much justice; any reader already familiar with Rand's life
won't learn much.
Biographies in this series are intended as overviews rather than
something more comprehensive. The author is an archivist at the Ayn
Rand institute, the associate producer of an Oscar-nominated
documentary about Rand, and obviously a keeper of the flame. Thus Mr.
Britting has little to say about the romantic entanglements, more
Peyton Place than Galt's Gulch, that devastated Rand's circle in later
Most notably, Rand had an affair with her chosen intellectual heir,
Nathaniel Brandon. While both Rand's husband and the wife of the
intellectual heir agreed (sort of) to this arrangement, it added
further emotional complications to what was, given Rand's prominence,
a surprisingly hermetic, claustrophobic little world, one best
described in "The Passion of Ayn Rand" (Bantam Dell) - the compelling,
and sympathetic, biography of Rand written by, yes, the intellectual
As I said, Peyton Place.
Closed, neurotic environments filled with true believers are the
hallmark of a cult, and there's a good case to be made that that's
exactly what Rand was running. Take a look at the way in which she
treated her acolytes: angry excommunications, overbearing diktats,
dramatic interventions, and, disappointing in one who preached
self-determination, rather too much fuhrer prinzip.
The cult-or-not controversy goes unmentioned in Mr. Britting's book.
What a reader will find, particularly in the excellent selection of
illustrations, is a real sense of how Rand's life related to her
novels. One glance at her Hollywood-handsome husband, and the rugged
succession of steely supermen who dominate her fiction make more sense
("All my heroes will always be reflections of Frank").
Rand herself, alas, was no beauty; her glorious heroines, ridiculously
gorgeous, impossibly named, remarkably lithe, are less the template
for - as some allege - a sinister eugenic agenda than the stuff of
Ayn's randy dreams garnished with a dollop of Art Deco kitsch. The
first, extraordinarily violent, coupling in "The Fountainhead" of
Howard Roark with Dominique Francon is not a general prescription for
the relationship between the sexes but merely Rand's own erotic
fantasy ("wishful thinking," she once announced, to the cheers of a
Likewise, her sometimes-overwrought style is no more than - well,
judge this sentence from "Atlas Shrugged" for yourself: "She looked at
the lone straight shaft of the Taggart Building rising in the distance
- and then she thought she understood: these people hated Jim because
they envied him." Call Dr. Freud.
If sex in Rand's fiction can be savage, so is argument. Her sagas deal
in moral absolutes, her protagonists are the whitest of knights or the
blackest of villains, caricatures of good or evil lacking the shadings
of gray that make literature, and life, so interesting. Yet "Atlas
Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead," at least, have a wild, lunatic verve
that sweeps all before them. Like Busby Berkeley, the Chrysler
Building, or a Caddy with fins, they are aesthetic disasters, very
American aesthetic disasters, which somehow emerge as something rather
There is plenty in Rand to make a modern reader queasy, though you
would not know so from Mr. Britting's worshipful text. For example,
there is something to the claim that like so many of the
intellectuals, left or right, of her time she succumbed to the cruder
forms of social Darwinism. For a woman who worshiped man, Rand did not
always seem that fond of mankind.
But the accusation by Whittaker Chambers in National Review that there
was a whiff of the gas chamber about her writings is wrong. Rand lived
in an era of stark ideological choices; to argue in muted, reasonable
tones was to lose the debate. As a graduate of Lenin's Russia, she
knew that the stakes were high, and how effective good propaganda
Rand's nonfiction may have a greater claim to intellectual
respectability, but it was the lurid, occasionally harsh, simplicities
of her novels that would deliver her message to the mass audience she
believed was out there. She was right. Her key insight was to realize
that there was an appetite among Americans for a moral case for
capitalism. In a restless age that believed in the Big Answer, neither
historical tradition nor utilitarian notions of efficiency would
suffice. Ayn Rand gave Americans that case, perhaps not the best case,
but a case, and she knew how to sell it.
The establishment always disapproved. Critics sneered. Academics
jeered. The publishers Macmillan turned down "Anthem" (1938), saying
that Rand, a refugee from the Soviet Union, "did not understand
socialism." Oh, but she did, and so did those millions of Americans
who bought her books, books that played their part in ensuring that
the dull orthodoxies of collectivism never prevailed here.
The last image in Mr. Britting's biography is of an exultant Rand
speaking at a conference in New Orleans in 1981, the final public
appearance of this magnificent, brilliant oddball. Her hosts tried to
lure her there with the promise of payment in gold coins and travel in
a private rail car.
Needless to say, she accepted.
Mr. Stuttaford is a contributing editor of National Review Online.
January 21 - 27, 2005
Ayn Rand Institute tries to twist tsunami disaster
by Nick Schou
You may know Ayn Rand for her lugubrious, stultifying novels The
Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and her book of essays (with co-author
Nathaniel Branden) The Virtue of Selfishness, which promulgated her
"Objectivist" philosophy of personal greed as social progress. But you
may not know the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI), which was established in
Irvine in 1985. The groups website, www.aynrand.org, says ARI was
formed to spearhead a "cultural renaissance that will reverse the
anti-reason, anti-capitalist trends in todays culture."
But since the end of the Cold War and the concurrent demise of the
global-communist conspiracy, ARI and its Randian followers have been
struggling for a new bugaboo to replace socialism as the chief enemy
of "reason, rational self-interest, individual rights and free-market
capitalism." Since 9/11, not surprisingly, ARI has directed most of
its wrath against "Islamo-fascism."
But now, ARI has found an even more dangerous force in the world: poor
people who die in great numbers during extreme weather events.
On Dec. 30, ARI sent out an unsolicited opinion piece on the Indian
Ocean tsunami which killed more than 250,000 people in Indonesia,
Thailand, Sri Lanka and India four days earlier. Entitled "U.S. Should
Not Help Tsunami Victims," the article stated that while private
citizens had every right to donate cash, government-financed aid
amounted to theft.
Later, ARI used the tsunami to attack another enemy:
environmentalists. It said nature-lovers were "dead wrong" in their
claims that technology causes environmental problems. "Far from being
the cause of such tragedies, science, technology and industry provide
the only means of safeguarding human lives against natural disasters,"
ARI argued. The release went on to state that "relatively undeveloped
Caribbean islands . . . suffer far worse devastation and loss of life
from the same hurricanes that hammer Florida year after year" because
the U.S. enjoys "the use of satellites, radar and communication
technology" to "warn people well in advance of danger."
Apparently, the Randians arent above issuing an apology when theyre
wrong. On Jan. 7, ARI issued a follow-up press release entitled
"Clarification of ARIs Position on Government Help to Tsunami
ARI called its previous release "inappropriate" and said it "did not
accurately convey the Institutes position." What is ARIs actual
position? "The ugly hand of altruismthe moral view that need entitles
a person to the values of others, whose corresponding duty is to
sacrifice their values for that persons sakedid show itself in the
petulant demands of U.N. and other officials that stingy countries
must give more."
Somewherethat would be her fountainhead-shaped graveAyn Rand groaned,
not at her followers stunning lack of taste, but at their cowardly
Yet theres nothing altruistic about U.S. government aid to tsunami
victims. As exemplified by Colin Powells high-profile tour of the
devastationnot to mention the constant footage of U.S. soldiers
distributing food and watera major benefit of our assistance is
positive public relations for an America widely viewed as preoccupied
with blowing shit up in Iraq.
Also implied in ARIs attack on the victims of the recent tsunami is
the notion that hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved
if only those nations had invested in the same type of early-warning
system as the U.S. But as many as 160,000 Indonesiansby far the lions
share of the victimsdied in the tsunami within mere minutes of the
waves formation. Because many of those people lived in remote villages
so close to the massive earthquakes epicenter, its unclear whether a
warning system would have done much good. Secondly, at least some of
the Indonesians who did survive lived in technology-free societies
with an oral tradition that taught them to run for the hills when the
But theres an even more fundamental problem with ARIs position,
especially if you take Ayn Rand and her pro-free market philosophy
seriously. The U.S.-run Pacific Tsunami Warning Centerlike the
National Earthquake Information Center and the National Oceanographic
Service, which warns against hurricanesisnt a product of free-market
capitalism. In fact, it was created through taxpayer-funded government
interventionwhat ARI would call theft. So if you want to blame
something for the most destructive wall of water in recent memory,
dont blame nature. Blame capitalist Indonesia, Thailand, India, and
Sri Lanka for failing to follow the socialist example of the
capitalist U.S.A. by investing in a taxpayer-funded tsunami warning
Ayn Rand Introduced Me to Libertarianism
by Jacob G. Hornberger, February 2, 2005
My very first exposure to libertarianism was provided by Ayn Rand,
whose 100th birthday is being celebrated today.
One afternoon in the fall of 1974, I was sitting around watching
television. At the time, I was temporarily working as a waiter in
Dallas, having just completed three months of infantry school in
Georgia to fulfill my Army Reserves active-duty commitment, before
returning to finish law school in Austin the following semester. An
afternoon movie quickly engrossed me, becoming my first exposure to
libertarianism -- The Fountainhead, starring Gary Cooper and Patricia
Neal. The credits stated that the movie was based on Ayn Rand's novel
by that name and so I ran out at once, bought it, and read it. Howard
Roark and Dominique Francon quickly became my heroes!
A few years later, I was rummaging through the Laredo public library
for something to read and I discovered four volumes of a series of
books entitled Essays on Liberty, which had been published by The
Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in Irvington, New York.
Reading those uncompromising essays caused the seed that Rand had
planted a few years before to burst forth into what has become a
lifelong love of libertarianism. Soon after that, I discovered Atlas
Shrugged, which I've read three times (okay, skimming through Galt's
speech the third time around!), along with The Virtue of Selfishness,
Anthem, We the Living, the Objectivist journal, and most of Rand's
It was Ayn Rand and FEE's founder Leonard Read who changed the
course of my life. The reason: Both of them emphasized the fundamental
importance of moral principles in political and economic analysis.
When it came to moral principles, Rand and Read did not deal in shades
of gray but rather in black and white. It is morally wrong to take
what doesn't belong to you. It is morally wrong to coercively
interfere with the peaceful choices that people make in their lives.
It is morally right that people be free to make whatever choices they
wish so long as their conduct is peaceful, even if -- or especially if
-- their choices are considered irresponsible or immoral.
In the intellectual arena, that means the unfettered right to write,
read, or watch whatever you want without governmental interference. In
the economic arena, it means the unfettered right to pursue any
business or occupation without governmental permission or
interference, to engage in mutually beneficial trades with anyone else
anywhere in the world, to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth, and
to do whatever you want with your own money -- spend, save, hoard,
invest, or donate it.
Thus, when it comes to morality, there was only one real choice for
structuring a political order -- libertarianism, where people are free
to live their lives the way the choose, so long as their conduct is
peaceful, and where government's primary role is protecting the
exercise of such choices by punishing violent, anti-social people who
would interfere with them through such actions as murder, assault,
stealing, burglary, trespass, rape, and fraud.
Fortunately, God has created a consistent universe, one in which
freedom produces prosperity and harmony and nurtures the values that
most of us hold dear, such as compassion, love of one's neighbors, and
honoring one's parents. But it was not the utilitarian case that
attracted me to libertarianism. It was the moral case for freedom
presented by Ayn Rand, most eloquently in Atlas Shrugged, and Leonard
Therefore, the main reason that I've never been attracted to so-called
reform plans whose purpose is to reform, not repeal, socialist
programs such as Social Security and public (i.e., government)
schooling is that such plans, by their very nature, implicitly call
for the continuation of an immoral act. As Rand and Read both
emphasized, the right approach to an immoral action is to call for its
end, not its reform.
One of the highlights of my life occurred in 1990 when, in response to
my September 1990 Freedom Daily essay, "Letting Go of Socialism,"
which criticized public-school vouchers (and Social Security reform
plans), Milton Friedman leveled a criticism against me in a public
speech that was later reprinted in Liberty magazine. His criticism was
that my position was too uncompromising, comparing it to the
uncompromising positions of Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises. It was one
of the greatest compliments I've ever received -- and from a Nobel
Laureate to boot!
Another highlight in my life was watching Rand deliver her last public
speech in 1981 at Jim Blanchard's National Committee for Monetary
Reform (NCMR) annual conference in New Orleans. She died soon after
that, on March 6, 1982.
As I wrote in "Letting Go of Socialism" some 15 years ago, "People
everywhere are letting go of the socialist nightmare. But they are
looking through a glass darkly with respect to what should be the
alternative. It shall be the Americans, I am firmly convinced, who
will yet let go of socialism, once and for all, and lead the world to
the highest reaches of freedom ever dreamed of by man!"
When that day comes, it will be Ayn Rand who will have played a major
role in the restoration of American liberty.
Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom
Foundation. Send him email.
20. mailto:jhornberger at fff.org
On the Centenary of America's Radical for Capitalism
by Sheldon Richman, February 2, 2005
February 2 is the centenary of the birth of Ayn Rand, the novelist who
inspired tens of millions of readers with her philosophical action
stories celebrating reason, individualism, and freedom under
capitalism. Her death in 1982 did not stanch interest in her work
either as an artist or as a philosopher. On the contrary, that work
has never been taken more seriously, and books about her intellectual
and artistic contributions continue to pour forth.
What accounts for this growing interest? In her bestsellers The
and Atlas Shrugged, Rand captured the essence of America's
original identity. On the surface that may seem ironic. She was born
in Russia and was a young woman when the Bolsheviks began to turn that
place into a charnel house. She was fortunate to find refuge in the
United States. But there is nothing ironic in the story. It is
unsurprising that a refugee from brutal "humanitarian" totalitarianism
would appreciate individual freedom as no native-born American could.
She never had the luxury of taking liberty for granted. My favorite
story about her comes from the 1940s, when someone in an audience
pointed out that she was foreign-born. "That's right," she said. "I
chose to become an American. What did you do besides being born?"
Rand knew better than to mistake the trappings of "democracy" for
actual freedom. One is not really free if the elected officeholders
have the power to interfere with the lives of innocent people. Voting
is preferable to violence, but how people get into office is not as
important as what they can do once they get there. (Most of the
commentaries on the Iraqi election have not understood that.)
Rand realized that freedom, if it is to last, requires a rock-solid
foundation. Just any foundation, or none at all, won't do. She
grounded the case for freedom in the conditions required by the nature
of man, who needs to live by reason in this world open to his
understanding. According to Rand, for persons to be truly human they
have to be free to think, to act on their own judgment, and to
transform the physical world, that is, to engage in productive work.
Each person has the moral authority to make the most of his life. He
needs no one's permission. These principles -- rights -- regarding
life, liberty, and property form the basis of a peaceful society in
which people cooperate through the division of labor. Since all people
have these rights, force and fraud are illegitimate. They rob men and
women of their humanity.
Rand's great achievement was to give capitalism a moral justification.
Too often advocates of free markets emphasized the efficiency of
markets and abandoned morality to the socialists. Rand passionately
declared that capitalism isn't only efficient; it is also good because
it is the only social arrangement in which each individual is free to
pursue his happiness -- "exist for his own sake" -- without being made
a beast of burden forced to serve others. Benevolent generosity is one
thing; duty-bound self-sacrifice is quite another. Under capitalism
the pursuit of rational self-interest and the attendant innovation
produce a cornucopia of goods and services that benefit everyone. But
as socialism's history shows, the cart can't be placed before the
horse. The "common good" that arises out of rational individuals'
making the most of their lives cannot be achieved directly.
Another of Rand's achievements follows from this. Going back to the
ancient Greeks, production and trade have been seen as degraded
activities, inferior to nonmaterial concerns. Rand finally gave the
producer his moral due, showing that the passion, genius, and
creativity entailed by the production of material goods is like the
passion, genius, and creativity entailed by the production of
"spiritual" goods, such as works of art. This outlook was a
consequence of Rand's rejection of the mind-body dichotomy and her
embrace of man's life on earth as something lofty.
Considering the squalor in which men lived before capitalism, and the
wretched condition of today's remaining socialist countries, Rand, the
American radical for capitalism, was surely right.
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation,
author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State, and
editor of The Freeman magazine. Send him email.
21. mailto:sheldon at sheldonrichman.com
Neglected Fortieth Anniversary (October 1997)
by Sheldon Richman, January 1997
A remarkable event occurred 40 years ago this month. Not the launching
of Sputnik, which in retrospect, considering the collapse of the
Soviet Union, had much less significance than people suspected at the
time. Ironically, the event I am thinking of involved a woman who
understood from the beginning that the Soviet Union was a fraud,
economically, morally, and in all other respects.
The woman was Ayn Rand, who died in 1982, and the event was the
publication of her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged , a grand novel that
has sold more than five million copies, continues to sell very well
today, and has had a deep impact on readers around the world. An
indication of that impact came in a 1991 survey by the Library of
Congress and the Book-of-the-Month Club, which asked 2,000 members to
name a book that "made a difference" in their lives. Atlas Shrugged
placed second behind the Bible.
What kind of book could strike such a chord in readers? Rand's novel
is big in many ways. It is more than a thousand pages long; but more
important, it covers a wide range of personal, political, and economic
issues. In fact, it presents a full philosophy of life, from the
nature of man and reality to the nature of knowledge, from a doctrine
of good and evil to the morality of a free society, from a theory of
money and trade to a theory of art. That all of this is integrated
into an action thriller makes the book all the more remarkable.
Its many aspects are as relevant today as they were four decades ago.
Two seem particularly worth mentioning now. One of Rand's lasting
achievements in Atlas Shrugged was to set out a moral case for the
economic system we call capitalism. Rand often called it "laissez
faire capitalism" to emphasize that she meant the complete separation
of state and economy. She condemned the "mixed economy," that
contradictory brew of freedom and government control that has gripped
the United States for much of its history. For Rand, capitalism was
not merely the best system for producing material goods. (Today,
unlike 40 years ago, hardly anyone disputes that.) Capitalism, Rand
believed, was the only moral system, the only one suited to man's
nature as a rational, creative being. The free-market economy lets
people produce, trade with willing buyers without interference, and
keep the fruits of their effort. It is the system that recognizes each
person's right to the pursuit of happiness, to use Thomas Jefferson's
radical phrase from the Declaration of Independence.
Rand, who escaped Bolshevik Russia as a young woman, spent a lifetime
trying to show Americans, of all people, how much a break with the
past Jeffersonian America was. Until 1776, no political document had
ever affirmed the right of the individual to live by his own judgment
and for his own sake. That revolutionary philosophy produced the
freest, most prosperous, most benevolent society the world has ever
seen. Unfortunately, the country soon forgot its revolutionary
origins. Rand's book is a ringing reminder of that heritage and a
proclamation that the free market embodies the highest human virtues.
As Hank Rearden, an industrialist in Atlas Shrugged , says, "I work
for nothing but my own profit -- which I make by selling a product
they need to men who are willing and able to buy it.... I have made my
money by my own effort, in free exchange and through the voluntary
consent of every man I dealt with."
There is a related point that shines through every page of Atlas
Shrugged . Since life requires the production of values, men and women
in business are heroes. They are often treated as villains, yet their
ability and dedication make life possible and increasingly better.
That point is at the very core of the novel. What, the book asks,
would happen if the people of productive ability quit? Atlas Shrugged
is a vindication and celebration of those unsung heroes who need never
again be embarrassed by their profits.
The manifest failure of socialism and communism as economic systems
has led to a renewed respect for capitalism. But it is a grudging,
half-hearted respect. The economic appreciation of capitalism has not
yet been matched by a moral appreciation of the system that leaves
people free to make the most of their lives, to translate their
ability into achievement, to keep and enjoy the rewards for their
effort, and, as an inevitable byproduct, to lift the living standards
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation,
editor of The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty (The Foundation for Economic
Education), and author of Separating School & State: How to Liberate
America's Families (1995) and Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must
Abolish the Income Tax (1998).
Of Course, It All Began with Ayn Rand
by Bart Frazier, February 2, 2005
Like so many others, Ayn Rand has heavily influenced the paths that I
have chosen in my life. And like most everyone else, it began with
I was nineteen when someone gave me a worn, pocket-sized edition of
Atlas Shrugged. Unlike so many others my age at the time, I was not
what some people might call a lost individual. I certainly felt no
need to "find myself." I was a proud leftist.
I paid little attention to politics, current events, or philosophical
debate then. I wasn't dumb and I liked to read, but I enjoyed novels
and literature and found political science, economics, and their ilk a
bore. When it was handed to me, all I knew of Atlas Shrugged was that
it was a work of fiction that several people had told me was a great
And it was.
It was radically different from the novels I was accustomed to
reading, and the heroes were unlike the protagonists popular with
people my age at the time. You simply could not understand life if you
had not read Catcher in the Rye, and seen it through the blue-colored
glasses of miserable Holden Caulfield. If you were not familiar with
Death of a Salesman, the pointlessness of life itself could not be
conveyed to you through pathetic Willy Loman.
The list of my favorites at the time is long. The over-indulgent
characters of Hemingway. The morally vacuous characters of Fitzgerald
and the all-out assault on business of Salinger's. The portrayal of
our putrid human nature by Orwell, Steinbeck, and Huxley. Don't get me
wrong -- these are great books and I still love them for the great
works they are. But they are not inspiring and they always draw the
picture of a person that the reader would never want to emulate.
Not so with Atlas Shrugged.
John Galt, Dagney Taggart, Hank Rearden, Francisco d'Anconia -- these
were characters like none that I had ever encountered in a novel. They
were people that a reader could aspire to be, they celebrated life,
and they were heroes in the truest sense. They were honest and
honorable. They believed in principle instead of pragmatism. And
without my realizing it until the end of the book, they had me
cheering against the government.
At the time, if I had been told that Atlas Shrugged was a novel about
the evil of the state, I would have declined to read it. But because
it was an exciting read with an intricate plot and a mysterious
protagonist, I couldn't put the book down and ended up cheering
against the government along the way. Many libertarians forget how
radical an idea this is to most people even today.
Most people conflate the government with society. Whatever the
government does is for society's benefit. Government officials always
act with our benefit in mind, not their own. Our government is more
than a protector of rights; it is the embodiment of the country
itself. If you criticize the government or its actions, you are not a
true patriot; you are un-American. As Archie Bunker would say, "My
government, right or wrong!"
The beauty of Atlas Shrugged is that it makes the case against
government in a solid yet entertaining way. I flew through the book --
couldn't put it down. When I finished, I suddenly felt that there was
more to this whole government thing. Maybe there was another viewpoint
about government that I wasn't aware of. Was it possible that my
representatives, my representatives, were not looking out for my best
interest? Had Ayn Rand written anything else? (She had, by the
Atlas Shrugged opened up paths that I had never considered before.
Jefferson, Madison, Washington -- these were names that I equated with
irrelevance, not irreverence. Wasn't Thoreau just a crazy old hermit?
Who on earth is Lysander Spooner? This stuff pertains to economics?
But the biggest question I had was, "Am I the only person who thinks
like this?" My answer came not long after finishing Atlas Shrugged. I
was driving past the capitol building in Tallahassee, Florida, where a
small demonstration was going on. And among the many placards that
people were waiving at the capitol steps was a sign that read, "Where
is John Galt?" I knew then that I was not alone because I had just
found out that for someone else, it had all begun with Ayn Rand.
Bart Frazier is program director at The Future of Freedom Foundation.
Send him email.
20. mailto:bfrazier at fff.org
Philadelphia Inquirer | 01/30/2005 | Assessing Rand at centenary
By Carlin Romano
Inquirer Book Critic
'I am haunted by a quotation from Friedrich Nietzsche," Ayn Rand once
told a Time magazine reporter, explaining her withdrawal from punditry
on passing events to focus on writing philosophy. "It is not my
function to be a flyswatter."
No problem there. Even her enemies never accused the controversial
novelist (The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged) and champion of
individualism, rational self-interest and atheism of thinking small.
"I did not want, intend or expect to be the only philosophical
defender of man's rights in the country of man's rights," she declared
with typical grandiosity when she closed down her regular newsletter
in 1976. "But if I am, I am."
OK, ditch the flyswatter. As the centenary of her birth arrives
Wednesday, accompanied by special events around the country and a new
illustrated biography - Ayn Rand by Jeff Britting (Overlook, $19.95) -
what image does fit her today?
Prophet? Steamroller? Esteemed yet occasionally embarrassing great
We now live in a country where the administration in power vigorously
embraces some, if not all, of Rand's once iconoclastic ideas about
human freedom. A country whose Federal Reserve Board chairman, Alan
Greenspan, once sat at her feet as part of the 1950s circle of
admirers she sardonically called her "Collective."
"Ayn Rand was instrumental in significantly broadening the scope of my
thinking," Greenspan told Rand biographer Barbara Branden for her life
of the author, The Passion of Ayn Rand (1986), "and was clearly a
major contributor to my intellectual development, for which I remain
profoundly grateful to this day."
Rand's healthy profile in Washington today might be deduced from one
of the centenary's main events, a symposium on her work Wednesday
morning in the Members of Congress Room at the Library of Congress'
Sponsored by the Objectivist Center in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., one of the
two major keepers of the Rand flame, its speakers will include Reps.
Ed Royce (R., Calif.) and Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), and Howard Dickman,
assistant chairman of programs at the National Endowment for the
The other home of Rand studies, the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine,
Calif. (self-described as the "authoritative" arbiter of matters
Randian because Rand anointed it to carry on her legacy), will host a
reception Wednesday evening at which biographer Britting, the
institute's archivist, and others will talk about Rand and present an
exhibition on her.
"One of the great urban myths," says Britting, "is the notion that Ayn
Rand was a dictator of people's tastes."
He sees her as a "generous" and "fiery" philosopher devoted to
argument, dialogue, and explanation of her ideas, whose greatest
legacy remains her "ability to dramatize ideas." He admits that
"vigorous debates about details and specifics of her philosophy"
No one, however, now doubts that she pulled off a major, enduring
American career as both novelist and thinker, and that her influence
and popularity have persisted among readers since her death in 1982.
Born Alisa Rosenbaum into a Jewish family in St. Petersburg, Russia -
her father was a successful pharmacist and her mother a highly
intellectual and opinionated homemaker - Rand emigrated alone to
America at 21. Her experience of Russia's forced conversion to
communism forever colored her beliefs. To pursue her ambition to be a
great writer, she devised her nom de plume by taking "Ayn" from a
Finnish writer she'd never read and "Rand" from her typewriter.
A lucky encounter with director Cecil B. DeMille drew her into
Hollywood life: jobs as a scriptwriter, marriage to actor Frank
O'Connor in 1929, and early success as a playwright with The Night of
Following two short novels, We the Living (1936) and Anthem (1938),
The Fountainhead (1943) made Rand famous. In it, protagonist Howard
Roark illustrated her belief that the model of ethical life is the
"hero" - a rational, self-interested, totally independent person.
Partly based on architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Roark despised
mediocrity and compromise. The 1949 film version starring Gary Cooper
only bolstered Rand's status as poster-woman for American
individualism in a cultural world still largely inclined to the left.
Her other major novel, Atlas Shrugged (1957), only enhanced that
image. More schematic than The Fountainhead, it offered another ideal
hero - self-assured John Galt - who projected "the virtue of
selfishness" and rejection of self-sacrifice at the core of her
philosophy, which she came to call Objectivism. It so impressed a
young Southern businessman named Ted Turner that he bought cryptic
billboard signs across the South asking, "Who is John Galt?"
One complication for Rand's reputation over the years became the sharp
schisms among her followers over matters of doctrine - a good source
is Canadian journalist Jeff Walker's The Ayn Rand Cult (Open Court) -
and her unconventional lifestyle. For a thinker who exalted "reason"
as the sole guide to life, Rand radiated volatile emotion.
In the 1950s, for instance, she conducted a torrid affair with the
first young man whom she designated as her "intellectual heir,"
Nathaniel Branden, winning the grudging consent of her husband and
Branden's wife, Barbara (later her biographer). She also began to cut
off acolytes - including, eventually, Branden - when she fell out with
them. A 1990s Showtime movie, based on Branden's bio, depicted Rand -
supporters say unfairly - as histrionic and neurotic.
All of that hasn't changed, you might say, the tale of the tape. A
1991 survey by the Library of Congress found Atlas Shrugged to be the
American novel most influential on readers' lives. Her books have sold
more than 30 million copies around the world and sell hundred of
thousands every year in the United States.
Even studies in academe - the sector of America most resistent to Rand
in her lifetime - are increasing. Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical by
Chris Matthew Sciabarra (Penn State, 1995) argued that Russian
ideology influenced Rand more than previously understood. What Art Is:
The Aesthetic Theory of Ayn Rand by Louis Torres and Michelle Kamhi
(Open Court, 2000), thoroughly explored her philosophy of art. The
most recent multivolume encyclopedia of philosophy, from Routledge,
included an entry on her.
According to Branden's biography, Rand liked to be called "Fluff" by
O'Connor, her beloved husband of 50 years. Given how her career turned
out, no one would dare try that now. At her funeral, a 6-foot-high
dollar sign marked the coffin. Conversion rates aside, she's still in
Contact book critic Carlin Romano at 215-854-5615 or
cromano at phillynews.com.
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