Why Ayn Rand is Compelling, Despite Her Human Faults

Liberals and libertarians have areas of agreement and disagreement. As there is a considerable variation in the views of liberals, some liberals are more sympathetic to libertarianism than others. It also may be a matter of whether particular liberals care to stress their areas of agreement or disagreement, but there is a variety of views with regards to libertarians seen in the liberal blogosphere. While Ayn Rand did not consider herself to be a part of the libertarian movement, the same can also be said about liberal attitudes about her. Some of us respect her for her work to promote liberty, while others object to her for a variety of reasons.

Ezra Klein has recently written of “how utterly astonishing I find it that anyone takes her seriously.” Jake Young has an excellent response. One reason I found his response to be of value is that he recognizes both the strength in Rand’s work as well as her failings, which are often amplified by some of her more extreme followers:

First, we all knew some yo-yo in college freshmen who proclaimed themself an Objectivist on the first day. They were in some cases outrageously selfish, socially inept, and prone to getting other people into long-winded philosophical discussions against their will.

Now, I assure you that I found these individuals as distasteful as you did. It has also been my experience that in most cases they took everything that Rand said to be the Gospel truth without serious analysis. However, I do not consider it wise to judge a philosophy by the inadequacies of college freshmen, and I don’t think it fair to judge an individual by what they were like before they grew into themselves… It has not been my experience that all people who like Ayn Rand are like this.

Second, Objectivism as a movement — particularly in its later years — can be reasonably defined as a cult, by which I mean a body of individuals that enforces extreme ideological conformity by means of excommunication.

I do not deny this. Rand was a human being with many more faults than average. She created a philosophy that has some things with which I agree and other with which I don’t.

Jake notes that “Rand was one of the most vehement deniers of the right of the government to conscript individuals to participate in unjust wars” and suggests that her detractors might just find something to like in her work. He presented three main reasons for finding Rand compelling. Of the three, this is the one I found to be the strongest:

She validates the individual and the power of the individual human mind. In Atlas Shrugged, she describes a world where the intelligent and the capable have made clear that they are not willing to be exploited by the violent, the ignorant, and the incompetent. They argue that this is a world that can be grasped and improved by an individual intelligence and all that is required is the application of effort and logic. As a scientist, a physician, an intellectual, and a human being, I find that appealing.

I am neither the strongest, nor the most attractive, nor the richest, nor the most socially gifted kid in the room, but I am sure as hell capable of using my mind. Rand argues that this is all that is required for happiness.

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4 Comments

  1. 1
    FreedomDemocrat says:

    The only person I’ve really known to love Ayn Rand (as opposed to random nuts on the Internet) was a uber-liberal ex-girlfriend who was a Neo-Pagan/Jew. I was shocked when I found out how much she loved Ayn Rand. When she later criticized me for my libertarian economic views and said I wasn’t a real Democrat, I realized that people don’t have to be consistent to think that they are always right.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    The more they love Ayn Rand, the more dangerous. I appreciate her as a good novelist who wrote about ideas, but wouldn’t consider her one of the great philosophers of all time as her followers do. Of course her real followers (cultists) would more likley accuse you of being a socialist for being a Democrat, and maybe (but probably not) see some hope in your support of libertarian economic views.

  3. 3
    Trey007 says:

    What I find troubling, is Ayn Rand had little understanding of evolutionary theory. Here writings are guilty of …how does she say it, “blank out?”. For me, a persons atheism is suspect if it does not come from an evolutionary understanding and a physical sciences perspective. For a champion of Reason, she seems to have bypassed the sciences, which I find strange/odd/troubling. I suspect she recieved all she needed to know from the world from sitting at the feet for 15 years of a very well read and intellectual christian libertarian, Isabel Patterson. Indeed, when on compares their work, a certain style emerges, catchy and with sizzle. Rand could certainly turn a phrase, and so could and did Isabel Patterson. But Patterson was not an evolutionist, and Rand I believe, suffered because of it. Its been noted that her own library was very limited, while Pattersons was deep and vast. This explains how Ayn Rand, I believe, gained most of her world-wide perspective. Speaking of the Objectivist cult, which I think is still in effect, yet without the Brandens, the evidence for this is its love for the State of Israel. These followers all, took their one and only cue on the subject from Rand’s quip against “Palistinian savages” on the Donahue show. To read the website today, you would think that she had a well thought out understanding on the issue, but its the other way around. On Donahue, she in effect ducked the question, only to answer that she was on the side of the industrious and productive, and it was that aspect of Man that she wished to glorify. Well fine enough, but her followers of Objectivist Reason fail to use it in analysis of the creation and maintance of a singular Theocratic State: Judism. Which I might add, is strange indeed, for an openly Atheist organization as the Objectivists, to heep praise upon praise and refuse to see fault with the zionist enterprise and insestious relationship with “big government” in Washington. Most of my friends, did manage to “use Rand against herself” and quickly drifted “civil-libertarian”-“green/capitalist” and -“old school liberal” without becoming dogmatic Randoids. Our love of science, evolution, and the liberal principles of this country grew even stronger. As an arch enemy of alturism, we think she failed. To champion man “qua man”, one must recognize that like a left and right hand, Man has and needs both his selfish nature and his alturistic one as well. Recognizing this fact of our nature, that man is not “A Blank Slate” as Steven Pinker writes, but comes with a bundle of instincts, Sociobiology can be the science that will assist us, in the end, to advance on firm ground our liberal values.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Trey007,

    Remember, the topic here is whether Ayn Rand is compelling and whether it is worth reading and considering her views, not whether we agree in all areas. It’s been over thirty years since I’ve read Rand’s novels and essays published in book form. There are many parts I can still recall clearly (which is a sign that she is a compelling writer). I do not recall her views on evolution, but from what you say it sure sounds like I’d disagree with her. I have no doubt that she was capable of closing her mind to aspects of science.

    For a more contemporary analogy, I enjoy Bill Maher and agree with a lot of what he says. I also disagree at times, and really cringe when he brings up anything to do with health care. It is possible to find things of value from Rand and Maher while having strong disagreements.

    I suspect my views on Israel would be much more favorable than yours, but I’m also not in the camp that believes that Israel can do no wrong. I can sympathize if a quip about “Palistinian savages” is the basis of the beliefs of those you disagree with. Unfortunately an attitude such as that would also interfere tremendously with finding a solution which is fair to both sides.

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