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What Liberals Donít Understand About Ayn Rand
Reason ^ | 08/24/2012 | Cathy Young

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 caricature—and invoke her popularity as proof of right-wing nuttiness.

One major misconception is that Rand worshipped the rich and saw moneymaking as life’s 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, Rand’s 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 group—in this case, true individualists—into a badge of pride.) Roark’s 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 one’s own desires nor trampling on others. Likewise, Rand’s stance against altruism was not an assault on compassion so much as a critique of doctrines that subordinate the individual to a collective—state, church, community, or family.

Was Rand’s 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. Rand’s 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 evil—for instance, blinding well-meaning Westerners to communism’s 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 humanity’s welfare to once-unthinkable levels. Rand’s work offers a powerful defense of freedom’s moral foundation—and a perceptive analysis of the kinship between “progressive” and “traditionalist” anti-freedom ideologies.

Rand’s ideas apply to the personal as well as the political. One needn’t 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 despots—or that dependency is not the path to healthy relationships. (In Rand’s 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 they’re self-sufficient, special, and destined for great achievement. Yet surely the world would be poorer—materially and spiritually—without 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.


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; News/Current Events; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: aynrand; liberalism; liberals
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To: FredZarguna

You caught me...I’ve been drinking...but I’m not as thunk as you drink I am!


21 posted on 08/24/2012 5:53:02 PM PDT by gorush (History repeats itself because human nature is static)
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To: Publius

BUMP!


22 posted on 08/24/2012 5:55:04 PM PDT by PGalt
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To: Publius

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.


23 posted on 08/24/2012 6:01:05 PM PDT by Misterioso (The truth is not for all men but only for those who seek it. -- Ayn Rand)
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To: Publius
Leadershiup starts with getting off the couch.

And then, right away, correcting your typos. #:•)

24 posted on 08/24/2012 6:08:50 PM PDT by Misterioso (The truth is not for all men but only for those who seek it. -- Ayn Rand)
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To: Misterioso

Thanks. Damn bifocals!


25 posted on 08/24/2012 6:11:50 PM PDT by Publius (Leadership starts with getting off the couch.)
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To: Gail Wynand

Thanks, GW. This is as good as it gets on FR.


26 posted on 08/24/2012 6:12:12 PM PDT by Misterioso (The truth is not for all men but only for those who seek it. -- Ayn Rand)
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To: fanfan

dunno. [shrugs]


27 posted on 08/24/2012 6:13:21 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: ridesthemiles

...and don’t forget that one of Jim Rockford’s favorite aliases was “Jim (Jimmy Joe) Taggart.


28 posted on 08/24/2012 6:46:05 PM PDT by gorush (History repeats itself because human nature is static)
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To: All

Everyone....Another “need to read” by Ayn Rand....”Anthem”


29 posted on 08/24/2012 7:00:57 PM PDT by JW1949
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To: dynachrome

He was deserving of it. Really boneheaded move.


30 posted on 08/24/2012 7:54:06 PM PDT by FreedomPoster (Islam delenda est)
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To: FredZarguna
so, mostly, is family.

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.)

Mark

31 posted on 08/24/2012 10:19:48 PM PDT by MarkL (Do I really look like a guy with a plan?)
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To: Tau Food

Wow, shortly after? I would be very interested in your sources, and of course the backstory. B-D


32 posted on 08/24/2012 11:24:11 PM PDT by Bethaneidh (another literalist.)
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To: Gail Wynand

+1


33 posted on 08/25/2012 5:45:05 AM PDT by griswold3 (Big Government does not tolerate rivals.)
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To: JW1949
Everyone....Another “need to read” by Ayn Rand....”Anthem”

Great book. Anyone who's heard "2112" by Rush, you're familiar with the story already

34 posted on 08/25/2012 7:31:18 AM PDT by Cymbaline ("Allahu Akbar": Arabic for "Nothing To See Here" - Mark Steyn)
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To: JW1949
Everyone....Another “need to read” by Ayn Rand....”Anthem”

Great book. Anyone who's heard "2112" by Rush, you're familiar with the story already.

35 posted on 08/25/2012 7:31:31 AM PDT by Cymbaline ("Allahu Akbar": Arabic for "Nothing To See Here" - Mark Steyn)
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To: SeekAndFind

“”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


36 posted on 08/25/2012 7:41:47 AM PDT by Vigilantcitizen (Dave Mustaine for president.)
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To: Mr. Jeeves
"You know, it would be nice if those who try to find things to criticize about Rand to seem "balanced" in their analysis would actually cite examples from the books instead of just making sweeping generalizations that can't easily be supported by her actual prose."

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.

37 posted on 08/25/2012 8:57:55 AM PDT by ronnyquest (I spent 20 years in the Army fighting the enemies of freedom only to see marxism elected at home.)
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To: dynachrome

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 government’s 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!


38 posted on 08/25/2012 1:06:30 PM PDT by jimsin (g)
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To: Publius; SunkenCiv

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.


39 posted on 08/25/2012 3:10:32 PM PDT by fanfan ("But if Muslims were asked to go to church on Sunday and take Holy Communion there would be war.")
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To: huckfillary
Hmm. I love the Literal Interpretation you base your reasoning on, but I was referring to Ayn Rand. ;-)

Myself, I thank God for Ayn, Ronald, Margaret, and Winston.

40 posted on 08/25/2012 3:18:52 PM PDT by fanfan ("But if Muslims were asked to go to church on Sunday and take Holy Communion there would be war.")
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