Skip to comments.What Liberals Donít Understand About Ayn Rand
Posted on 08/24/2012 5:13:46 PM PDT by SeekAndFind
Ayn Rand, the Russian-born writer and self-styled philosopher who died three decades ago, is back in the news as a favorite author of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. In recent years, the passionately individualist, pro-capitalist Rand has been embraced as a champion of freedom by many conservatives and libertarians, and denounced as a prophet of greed and narcissism by many liberals. Yet, if Rand admirers tend to ignore the flaws of her vision, her detractors reduce her to grotesque caricatureand invoke her popularity as proof of right-wing nuttiness.
One major misconception is that Rand worshipped the rich and saw moneymaking as lifes highest goal. In fact, most wealthy characters in her novels are pathetic, repulsive, or both: businessmen fattened on shady deals or government perks, society people who fill their empty lives with luxury. (There are also sympathetic poor and working-class characters.)
In The Fountainhead, Rands first bestseller (and best novel), the hero, architect Howard Roark, describes the man whose sole aim is to make money as a variety of the second-hander who lives through others, seeking only to impress with his wealth. Roark himself turns down lucrative jobs rather than sacrifice his artistic integrity, at one point finding himself penniless.
Rand extolled selfishness, but not quite in its common meaning. (To some extent, she was using the now-familiar confrontational tactic of turning a slur against a stigmatized groupin this case, true individualistsinto a badge of pride.) Roarks foil, the social-climbing opportunist Peter Keating, gives up both the work and the woman he truly loves for career advancement. Most people, Rand says, would condemn Keating as selfish; yet his real problem is lack of self.
To Rand, being selfish meant being true to oneself, neither sacrificing ones own desires nor trampling on others. Likewise, Rands stance against altruism was not an assault on compassion so much as a critique of doctrines that subordinate the individual to a collectivestate, church, community, or family.
Was Rands individualism too radical? Yes. Her hostility to the idea of any moral obligation to others led her to argue that, while helping a friend in need is fine, doing so at the expense of something it hurts you to give up is immoral. In her fiction, even private charity as a vocation is despised; so, mostly, is family. Rand made little allowance for the fact that some people cannot help themselves through no fault of theirs, or that much individual achievement is enabled by support networks.
Yet great insights can come from flawed thinkers. Rands anti-altruism tirades often turn their target into a straw man, but she is right that the knee-jerk habit of treating altruistic goals as noble has aided evilfor instance, blinding well-meaning Westerners to communisms monstrosity. When pundits alarmed by Rand-style individualism scoff at the myth of individual autonomy, we should remember that this myth gave us freedom and human rights, and unleashed creative energies that raised humanitys welfare to once-unthinkable levels. Rands work offers a powerful defense of freedoms moral foundationand a perceptive analysis of the kinship between progressive and traditionalist anti-freedom ideologies.
Rands ideas apply to the personal as well as the political. One neednt go to Randian extremes to agree that the valorization of sacrifice and the accusation of selfishness can be potent weapons for users, manipulators, and family despotsor that dependency is not the path to healthy relationships. (In Rands words, To say I love you, one must first know how to say the I. ) A common critique is that Rand appeals to adolescents who think theyre self-sufficient, special, and destined for great achievement. Yet surely the world would be poorermaterially and spirituallywithout people who carry some of that spirit of youth, as Rand called it, into adulthood.
Attacks on Rand have also focused on her person, from her disastrous extramarital affair with a much younger protégé to her brief infatuation, at 23, with a notorious killer she described as an exceptional boy warped by conformist society. Ugly stuff, to be sure; but plenty of other intellectuals had a sordid personal lives and romanticized murderers as rebels.
Rand is best viewed as a brilliant maverick. But there are reasons this woman attracted hordes of followers, influenced many others, and impressed smart people from journalist Mike Wallace to philosopher John Hospers. Those who treat Rand as a liberal bogeyman will forever be blindsided by her appeal.
You caught me...I’ve been drinking...but I’m not as thunk as you drink I am!
Cathy Young was born in Moscow in 1963 and came to the United States with her family in 1980. I’ve read her columns in Reason over the years. Her take on Ayn Rand always shows a mild level of hostility and damnation with faint praise. I don’t trust her sincerity on the topic of Rand.
And then, right away, correcting your typos. #:)
Thanks. Damn bifocals!
Thanks, GW. This is as good as it gets on FR.
...and don’t forget that one of Jim Rockford’s favorite aliases was “Jim (Jimmy Joe) Taggart.
Everyone....Another “need to read” by Ayn Rand....”Anthem”
He was deserving of it. Really boneheaded move.
I would love some backup for this claim. But in all my reading and re-reading of Rand I can think of none.
My guess is that critics who bring up this are talking about Hank Reardon and his family. The problem is though, that Rand has nothing against "family," however in Reardon's case, we're dealing with a mother who has no pride in what her son has done, a brother who hates him for his success, and a wife who's nothing more than a social climber, who has no love for him, and goes out of her way to dismiss his successes. They have no love, nor respect for Henry, but they live off of him, all the while disparaging him.
On the other hand, you have Cheryl, who eventually marries Jim Taggart, precisely because she misunderstands who Taggart is. She's a sympathetic and tragic character in this book, and while she's not capable of doing the "great things" that Dagney or Henry do, but she recognizes how things should be, and refuses to be a moocher or looter, even though her lot in life is minimal (at least until she meets James Taggart.)
Wow, shortly after? I would be very interested in your sources, and of course the backstory. B-D
Great book. Anyone who's heard "2112" by Rush, you're familiar with the story already
Great book. Anyone who's heard "2112" by Rush, you're familiar with the story already.
“”To the glory of mankind, there was, for the first and only time in history, a country of money- and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement. For the first time, man’s mind and money were set free, and there were no fortunes-by-conquest, but only fortunes-by-work, and instead of swordsmen and slaves, there appeared the real maker of wealth, the greatest worker, the highest type of human being- the self-made man- the American industrialist.
“If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose- because it contains all the others—the fact that they were the people who created the phrase ‘to make money.’ No other language or nation had ever used these words before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity- to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted, or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created. The words ‘to make money’ hold the essence of human morality.” ~ Francisco’s “Money Speech” from Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Or simply read the books. Most of these jackasses are getting the Cliff's Notes version as published by their leftist buddies. I always marvel at people who cannot understand a given work, yet manage to criticize it, anyway.
Considering the sheer volume of hate levied at Ayn Rand's writings and person, she must have been dead on target. Marxists hate it when people think and question what they are doing. Rightly so; marxism is indefensible in any form.
yep ole dickey had more than his fair share of ‘proggy’ ideas...
1 he created the Environmental Protection Agency and Clean Air Act *
2 brought in new civil-rights laws and agencies for minorities, women, the handicapped and children.
3Proclaimed the first official U.S. Earth Day/Earth Week in 1971.
* Totally reformed the governments relationship with Native Americans, bringing new self-determination and civil rights to U.S. tribes while saving such Indian natural wonders as Pyramid Lake the tribe even renamed its capital Nixon.
* Loved those Chinese communists.
* Spent more on social programs than defense!
12 years, thanks Publius.
What an amazing woman.
She NAILED Human Nature.
Liberals are wrong.
There is NO way to pick up a Turd by the clean end.
Myself, I thank God for Ayn, Ronald, Margaret, and Winston.