Mitt Romney recently selected Paul Ryan as his running mate. There has now been a great deal of media buzz about the fact that Ryan once said that the philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand was a major influence on his intellectual life. Though some of this attention has been accurate, a number of bloggers and pundits have portrayed Rand as a one-dimensional pariah who believed that the poor should be sacrificed to the rich.
Judith Thurmon of the New Yorker writes, “Rand’s ruthless supremacism, however—her stark division of humankind into ‘makers and takers’—leads inexorably to a society like the one that staged ‘The Hunger Games.’” Another critic has labeled Rand “undoubtedly one of the most lunatic shrieking sociopaths that there has ever been” and claims that her ideas would help Ryan destroy the middle class.
One might assume from these statements that Ayn Rand’s ideas should be avoided. But do Rand’s critics accurately portray her ideas? We certainly don’t think so—and we believe it would be a shame for anyone to take the critics at face value and not decide for themselves whether Rand’s admittedly controversial and distinctive views are worth a deeper look.
Consider the following passage from her best-selling novel, The Fountainhead:
He had not liked the things taught to him in college. He had been taught a great deal about social responsibility, about a life of service and self-sacrifice. Everybody had said it was beautiful and inspiring. Only he had not felt inspired. He had felt nothing at all. . . .
He had always wanted to write music, and he could give no other identity to the thing he sought. If you want to know what it is, he told himself, listen to the first phrases of Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto—or the last movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second. Men have not found the words for it nor the deed nor the thought, but they have found the music. Let me see that in one single act of man on earth. Let me see it made real. Let me see the answer to the promise of that music. Not servants nor those served; not altars and immolations; but the final, the fulfilled, innocent of pain. Don’t help me or serve me, but let me see it once, because I need it. Don’t work for my happiness, my brothers—show me yours— show me that it is possible—show me your achievement—and the knowledge will give me courage for mine.
Does this passage look like one written by someone who thinks that people should be at each other’s throats? Or does it instead suggest that people do need each other to serve as examples of happy, virtuous lives, to demonstrate what it means to be successful, and to create artistic achievements?
In evaluating Ayn Rand, as with any subject, it is important for us to make our own decisions regarding the truth of her philosophy. Don’t rely on malcontent pundits to form your opinions. Instead, see for yourself. Pick up one of her novels or essays and draw your own conclusions. If all you’ve heard are the critics, we think you’ll find some quite different than you expect.
Photo courtesy of Carl Svanberg