Ayn Rand: Decide for Yourself

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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

Posted by on September 16, 2012. Filed under Culture, Fall 2012. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
  • TB

    Well said! Thanks for writing this article. Please share this to spread the word (and prevent the Rand critics from having adverse effects on the campaign).

  • Mr.Logic

    This is a foolish and apinonated article that takes one quote and tries to make it sound like this tells the whole story of Ayn Rand. She was at her core a very selfish woman who tried to justified it through objectivism and talk of individualism and when presented with a counter argument she simply label it as evil instead of listening or debating it.

    • The Ultimate Philosopher

      Mr. Logic (I sure hope you live up to that name!), the appropriate thing to do for purposes of understanding and painting the full picture of Rand is to look at the totality (the full context) of the things she wrote, said, etc. It would simply not do to dismiss this passage from Rand since Rand herself considered such a passage representative of what she termed “sense of life” – in her case, of the “benevolent universe premise.” Key Objectivist concepts/terms such as these (among many others) are included in the online Ayn Rand Lexicon. You can also find plenty of passages quoted in the Lexicon where she specifically defines and discusses her concepts of selfishness and individualism. As for counter-arguments she encountered, you might have a look at the letters she wrote to philosophy professor John Hospers which are included in the book ‘Letters of Ayn Rand.’ (There are also her letters on religious subjects in correspondence with her friend Isabel Paterson, a Christian.) But maybe you can present an example (a *good* one, one worth the time to discuss, not a lame and contrived one) of what you refer to as her simply labeling counter-arguments as evil without any debate.

      Cheers,

      UP