By: J. Marlando
Ayn Rand was a naturally bright girl. It is said that she taught herself to read by age six while growing up in St. Petersburg, Russia; at age nine she had decided to be a writer. And, as such, the young girl was destined to impact the United States.
Growing up in Russia between 1905 and 1925 her social experiences would have been complex and manifold. After all, her young life would be spent during the times of social and political unrest; a time of a people's revolutions.
During 1917 woman workers went on a mass demonstration against the czar's policies
Ayn Rand no doubt despised Russian totalitarianism which Russian communism was with the confiscations of industry and other private enterprises as part of their social plan along with a strong avocation of Social Tyranny. Nevertheless, Ayn obtained permission to leave Soviet Russia to visit relatives in the united States. She lied to the Soviets telling them her intent was for a very short stay but she had no intention of returning. She arrived in New York in 1926 and continue on to Chicago where she lived with relatives. Obtaining an extension on her visa, she traveled on to Hollywood where she hoped to become a screenwriter. As it turned out she would become a tremendous intellectual influence on a great many Americans that has lasted into our own times. I have just read Atlas Shrugged for the second time; it is a brilliantly written book that declares Rand's philosophy dramatically and conscientiously. The paperback is over 1000 pages and I could not put the book down even during my second read; a book I love to hate for its philosophical content and hate to love (which I cannot resist) for it's apparent literary beauty.
It is my intent to share my view of Ayn Rand's so-called objectivism in this article. A view that I consider as socially inept as communism which is at the far side of the political pendulum. In short, that Ayn Rand's philosophy is equally as dangerous to the right extremes as communism is dangerous to the left extremes.
It is my hope that anyone who is interested in U.S. morality and ethics will read forward and contemplate the issues. Enjoy!
Ayn Rand in Overview
Ayn Rand hated collectivism in all its forms but not without good reason: She was born and raised in a country that enslaved the individual and Ayn Rand was, above all else, an individualist. Unlike Emma Goldman, however, also an individualist, she was not for the "good" of the people in terms of humanity but rather for those, like herself, who forges ahead in the name of self-interest.
At first glance this seems like ultimate Americanism; about the pull yourself up by the bootstraps kind of individual stamina and ambition. The stuff most American kids are raised on; American idealism! The problem is that "American Idealism" is just that....idealism, with only a touch of it weaving itself into the actual culture. Indeed, the pursuit of happiness ideal has been stripped away by the concept of consensual crimes and a country of more laws and more prisons than any other on the planet.
This was not the major flaw in Rand's philosophy, however. After her experiences in Russia, living in the US offered both the possibilities she had dreamed of...opportunity and all the freedoms that capitalism offers. She struggled for around five years but then sold her first screenplay to Universal Pictures in 1932 with title: "Red Pawn." It was never made because it was a dramatic love story that, at the same time, exposed a real look at communism and that was simply not to be made public during those times. This was nearly twenty years before the insanity of McCarthyism when lots of lives were ruined because of unfounded accusations of Americans being subversive and communist prone. America was mostly in economic turmoil while Ayn Rand was learning the ropes in Hollywood
F.D. Roosevelt would become the most popular president for most of the people in modern America. He would be accused of being far too left by the righteous right because he believed that government needed to step up to the plate and give a hand to a nation where human beings were standing in bread lines. It wasn't only the depression that put millions of Americans on tilt. The Dust Bowl that gripped the mid-west was changing the entire face of farm life. Ayn Rand was privy to all this. Roosevelt ran on a ticket promising lowered taxes and smaller government. Believe it or not, Ayn Rand voted for him. In the 1936 election, however, it is guessed that she voted against him and in 1940, she actually gave up working on her novel, The Fountainhead," to work for Wendell Willkie's campaign. He lost to Roosevelt!
By the time of Roosevelt's third election Ayn Rand was a staunch (far) right-wing advocate; a supporter of big business and stark individualism hailing those who made it to the top of their fields "heroic." Indeed, such self-serving, arrogant. Men such as Rockefeller, Philip Amour, Jay Gould, J.P Morgan and other like them; men who grew rich and powerful on the backs of labor, government nepotism and other self-aggrandizing motives; those who were willing to step over and even on the other guy for their own benefit and financial success were heroic to her; men who lived for no one but themselves...regardless of anyone else.
On the other hand, she did make an eye-awaking observation. Rand was against both world wars and said, World War One, "led not to democracy, but to the creation of three dictatorships: Soviet Union, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany. As for Roosevelt's Second World War. It did not lead to Roosevelt's Four Freedoms, "but to the surrender of one-third of the world's population into communist slavery." (Recall she was not stranger to the futile experiences of war).
There is no doubt that Ayn Rand was a brilliant human being but even brilliance can be corrupted by concepts and while she was destined to infect the American mind with her philosophy of so-called objectivism which is promoted in her most famous work: Atlas Shrugged.
Ayn Rand as Philosopher
Ayn Rand's philosophy worked with much of "intellectual" America because in a way, it supports rugged individualism. The problem is that her "individualism" lacks human empathy and altruism; it is a non-sympathetic philosophy that supports cold and calculating business practices that not only permits but advocates using labor as the mere machinery that pours out greater wealth, prestige and power to those at the top. She has no patience for human weakness or frailty of any kind. Her heroes are men and women who dare to stand above the others who achieves greatness through their own volition and willingness to serve his/her own needs above all others; to live for the self alone and for no other reason. In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand describes the ideal man through her character Dagny Taggard. Dagny describes John Galt as having a face, that bears no pain or fear or guilt; the shape of his mouth was pride and he carried an arrogance about him in the very shape of his cheeks and yet Galt's face has none of these qualities, ...it had their final sum; a look of serene determination and of certainty, and the look of ruthless innocence which would not seek forgiveness or grant it." A major advocate of Ayn Rand's philosophy is writer/philosopher Nathaniel Brandon who tells us, [John Galt] "is the man who is passionately in love with existence, and passionately in love with his own consciousness--the man of intransigent rationality and inviolate self esteem."
Politically , Ayn Rand is an advocate of Laissez Faire. And, in a perfect world Laissez faire would certainly be the right choice. Unfortunately, what I call "a short-form socialism" and so unions had to come into play because the worker ended up in terrible working conditions, sweat shops, mines and so forth for lousy wages. As a result government was forced to step in and take control of work-standards and at least minimum fair pay. The Ludlow massacre, however, is a good example of Ayn Rand's philosophy working behind the doors of the White House. In 1913 when coal miners went on strike
The miners cheered because at last they were going to get some help. Instead the Guardsmen turned their gun on the miners and their families. Thirteen human beings were killed including young children.
When the truth was found out it was Rockefeller interest that had made a deal with the Colorado governor to pay the National Guard's salary for doing the company's dirty work. Unions incidentally would never have taken hold if owners had merely paid decent wages, given fair hours and safe environments to work in. Most didn't, as Ayn Rand would say, the owners were heroic because they lived for themselves and no one else.
Ayn Rand's beloved Laissez faire simply doesn't work because capital always takes advantage of labor. Indeed, Rand's bottom line would support the idea that its okay that those at the top earn millions while those at the bottom barely make a ten dollar and hour minimum wage. This was the result of Laissez faire in action! (A better name for Ayn Rand brand of economics would be "capitalism without compassion...We have plenty of that around the world).
Rand's main character in Atlas Shrugged is John Galt, a self-made man, who prepared the way for the modern yuppie. A name seldom used anymore but it describes (y)oung (U)rban (P) professionals, mostly fresh out of college and landing high...very high paying jobs. As a result the "yuppie" flaunts his affluent lifestyle and finds his value in the "stuff" that he owns and the money he can spend. By and large he or she sees him or herself as an intellectual snob. (Most of that intellectualism goes down the toilet when their actual, limited knowledge is flushed out, however).
John Galt, Rand's heroic character, is a physicist and inventor, Rand's ideal of the realist or, if you will, the objectivist. We'll "dive" into that topic next.
Ayn Rand's Objectivists Worldview
It is no accident that Rand makes her hero a physicist and inventor; she makes him a man of vast ability, a contributor to society by virtue of his "high" moral values although that Nathaniel Brandon tells us that the real hero of the Atlas Shrugged is man's mind; human potential manifested by men of ability. The intellectual twist to the story is the question what would happen to the world if the "men of ability," the men who make the wealth and gather the fortunes (for themselves) suddenly quit. Then what would happen to the world? What would happen to the little folks who depend on the "bigwigs" for jobs and therefore livelihoods...what would happen to the world then? She loved the top executives who she gives John Galt's character too; the oil mongrels, the men at the top of the railroads and other industrialists, giant retailers and all other men, if you will, on top of their game; the movers and shakers of the world and so the super powerful and wealthy men who have made it to the top of their fields, above everyone else.
When we strip away all the intellectual fluff, however, what Ayn Rand adored and admired were men of greed, of self-assertiveness and self-possessed; philosophically he belongs to himself as the center and no other; a stark realist and a stark materialist; he is, most simply, a laissez-faire capitalist. At bottom line, however, he is merely one more Gordon Gecko
the major character of Wall Street who tells his audience that greed is good. The only difference would be that John Galt is a man of the highest standards and would not bow to dishonest temptations. On the other hand, he has the same kind of arrogance of a Gordon Gecko, putting himself first, before all others. Without concern for any other and all with cold calculation as opposed to any emotional attachments altruistic concerns for anyone but himself. This is Ayn Rand's "superman!"
A question arrives at this juncture: What does Ayn Rand and Hitler have in common?
And the answer is, that they both were influenced and even inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) who would declare that a "superman" is one who absolutely masters himself, refusing the herd-mentality of religion and willing to create his own morals; to be likened to an emperor and yet with the soul of Christ. Yet, his work inspired Hitler's Aryanism and Rand's hero, John Galt. (I will add here that she denied being influenced by Nietzsche but I suspect this was her own ego speaking).
Friedrich Nietzsche is also known for his famous line, "God is dead." This line was first uttered in Nietzsche's "Gay Science in 1882 And again in his most famous work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. (I have always believed that this statement grew out of Nietzsche's disappointment in the shock of Darwinism; A somber recognition for Creationists of the later 1800s).
In the mid-1960's Time Magazine ran a cover asking the question, Is God Dead?" Ayn Rand was a self-avowed atheist and this is another way that she was apparently influenced by the philosopher Nietzsche if she wishes to admit it or not.
Especially after Ayn Rand's classic, "Atlas Shrugged" was published in the late 1950s A new intellectual movement emerged, atheism spread like a virus through academia adding greater validity to the Darwinists and reductionists already teaching higher education to vulnerable young people who carry out the "God is Dead" view through social memes and coffee house conversations. Indeed, atheism became fashionable.
Later, on college campuses, there became an apparent divide between Right Wing, Republican and Conservative students and Left Wing, Democratic students; a kind of strange division between the radicalism of Allen Ginsberg
One of Objectivism's observations, faulty as it is, is that reality exist independent of consciousness. That reality can and is comprehended through human observation and one's own senses. A is A and that's all there is too it.
In view of the above, it seems also to be apparent that Ayn Rand was caught up in the web of Isaac Newton's physics i.e. a clock-work universe!
Today's most physics would hardly agree with Rand's theory of consciousness; that we have a direct contact with reality through sense perception. Even most of academia has rejected her philosophy in overview but there is, as I understand it, a large group of those who support her "objectivist Epistemology." I obviously am not among them. At gut level I consider the entire Ayn-Rand-philosophy one that simply build's a case for a kind of psychopathic businessperson become a social Darwinist. Nevertheless, she remains a great and thought proving read, and I especially believe that "Atlas Shrugged" belongs in every home library. It's a doozy of a book!
In reviewing Ayn Rand's philosophy and so her books and novels it is important to understand and remember that she was born and raised under the iron fist of Russian dictatorship. She was in her late teens when Lenin came into power. And so, it is no wonder that she loathed all forms of collectivism and hated the coercive forces of the statist. Today, she would no doubt be repulsed by the direction the country is headed in. After all, it is like James Bovard tells us, "The doctrine of "freedom under the law" is one of the most dangerous political relics of our age. "Freedom under the law" now means freedom to cowtow, to curtsy, to grovel before any government employee with a memo or ticket book; freedom to admit and accept one's legally inferior status; freedom to accept as many burdens as politicians and bureaucrats deign to impose."
For any thinking person "freedom under the law" is not and cannot be freedom, it can only be enslavement; a tyranny in the gowns of justice. Ayn Rand no doubt would agree with this since freedom was her major objective.
Where I part company with Ayn Rand is in insistence that the ethics of altruism is destructive. Her major character in "Atlas Shrugged" demands more of human beings; he easily steps over the beggar in the streets oddly enough in the name of justice; Ayn Rand does not write of compassion because, I imagine she lacked it herself. We should never loose sight of the fact that the psychopath (the sociopath,) does not have to be a mad-dog killer but can be a school teacher, a banker, a doctor, and yes, a writer or politician; a cop or fry cook.
In view of the above, Ayn Rand was an existentialist, a person who cherished her own life but at the same time saw an absurdity to it; she rejected all things that related to mysticism as nearly all closed and static individuals do. This is why her concept of consciousness was separated from reality. Reality to her was (is) materialistic; if you can't see it, touch it, spend it, save it or measure it, it simply isn't of value; it just ain't real.
I do agree with one thing she taught, however, which I thoroughly agree with. She said: Economic power is exercised by means of a positive, by offering men a reward, incentive, a payment, a value; political power is exercised by means of a negative, by the threat of punishment, injury, imprisonment, destruction."
There is something of understanding in this if not a touch of empathy.
Binswanger, Harry & Leonard Peikoff (EDs) * Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist
Bovard, James * Freedom in Chains * St. Martin 's Press
Objectivist Epistemology * A Meridian Book
Branden, Nathaniel * Who is Ayn Rand (Contains a biography by Barbara Branden) * Paperback Library.
Rand, Ayn * Atlas Shrugged * A signet Book
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