Ayn Rand

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Ayn Rand (February 2, 1905 – March 6, 1982) was a Russian-born 20th-century American novelist, today considered the founder of the philosophical movement called Objectivism, which believes in objective reality and reason, and which leads to an ethic of rational self-interest and libertarian capitalism.[1]

She was an influential, if polarizing, figure in American conservatism,[2] and current Libertarian Party politicians such as Bob Barr still discuss her.[3] Her ideas are best known through two bestselling novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, which have characters giving voice in extensive speeches to her own philosophic views. She also wrote formally on philosophy,[4] although academic philosophers disagree about her right to use the term philosopher. There is, however, a body of both printed (e.g., the Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist[5]) and online discussion of her thoughts on formal philosophical positions.[6] Rand was also involved in private research centers such as the Nathaniel Branden Institute, although she later broke with Branden.

Rand stated in a 1963 essay, titled "The Goal of My Writing", that her fiction was intentionally different in that its goal was to project a vision of an ideal man: not man as he is, but man as he might be and ought to be. Rand, who described herself as a "romantic realist," presented her theory of aesthetics more fully in her 1969 book, The Romantic Manifesto : A Philosophy of Literature. On the other hand, in a 1957 interview with the New York Times, she explicitly stated that "I've written plays yet do not regard myself as a playwright, but as a novelist. I don't think of myself as a propagandist, either, but primarily as a novelist."[7] She took herself and her works very seriously: when the noted editor Bennett Cerf implored her to cut a 56-page speech that is the philosophical heart of Atlas Shrugged, she replied, "Would you cut the Bible?" So strongly did she feel about her manifest that she accepted Cerf's proposal to reduce her royalties by seven cents per copy in order to pay for the extra pages, "Giving up her royalties to preserve her vision... something no genuine capitalist, and few popular novelists, would have done." [8]

Life and Works

Rand was born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and studied a mixture of social sciences and history before going on to become a screenwriter, a career which eventually took her to Hollywood where she 'odd-jobbed' for a number of years including appearing as an extra in Cecil B. DeMille's film, The King of Kings. It was while working on this film that she met her future husband, Frank O'Connor.

Her first published novel was a critical and semi-autobigraphical account of Soviet Russia called We the Living (1936) but neither this book nor the next had much critical or commercial success. However, her third book, The Fountainhead, which appeared in 1943 rapidly found amass market, and is claimed to have now sold over six million copies. This book presents the entrepreneur as hero, a theme developed in due course by her best known work, Atlas Shrugged (1957). Atlas's plot involves a dystopian United States of America in which industrialists and other creative individuals decide to go on strike and retreat to a mountainous hideaway where they build an independent free economy .

After the popular success of Atlas Shrugged, Rand increasingly promoted her 'philosophy' of 'Objectivism', editing a newsletter devoted to the subject. As to the origins of the philosophy, The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z, quotes her as saying:

"The only philosophical debt I can acknowledge is to Aristotle. I most emphatically disagree with a great many parts of his philosophy--but his definition of the laws of logic and of the means of human knowledge is so great an achievement that his errors are irrelevant by comparison." [9]

In the same book, she elaborates:

Aristotle's philosophy was the intellect's Declaration of Independence. Aristotle, the father of logic, should be given the title of the world's first intellectual, in the purest and noblest sense of that word. No matter what remnants of Platonism did exist in Aristotle's system, his incomparable achievement lay in the fact that he defined the basic principles of a rational view of existence and of man's consciousness: that there is only one reality, the one which man perceives--that it exists as an objective absolute (which means: independently of the consciousness, the wishes or the feelings of any perceiver)--that the task of man's consciousness is to perceive, not to create, reality - that abstractions are man's method of integrating his sensory material - that man's mind is his only tool of knowledge - that A is A.

If we consider the fact that to this day everything that makes us civilized beings, every rational value that we possess - including the birth of science, the industrial revolution, the creation of the United States, even of the structure of our language - is the result of Aristotle's influence, of the degree to which, explicitly or implicitly, men accepted his epistemological principles, we would have to say: never have so many owed so much to one man."

[10]

Atlas Shrugged

Forty-one years after the publication of Atlas Shrugged, Newsweek summed up Rand's two most famous works as "clenched fists waved in the face of postwar conformity. (Both still vindicate Rand's reverence for markets by selling briskly.) They are lumbering, sprawling stories (727 and 1,168 pages respectively), wrapped around Rand's real points, which are political pamphlets in the form of her heroes' philippics." [11]

The heart of Atlas Shrugged is a speech by its hero, John Galt. In it, Galt explains the philosophy of Objectivism. [12] Here, Rand echoes Nietzsche's contempt for the Christina virtues of sacrifice:

"This is an age of moral crisis, brought about by the doctrine of sacrifice " and "The essence of previous moral codes is to demand that you surrender your mind and your life to the whims of God or society."

In place of this, Rand offers an argument from selfishness:

"If you must act to benefit others, why is it acceptable for others to accept such benefits? Because they did not earn them. At its core, the Doctrine of Sacrifice is a doctrine that seeks the unearned."

Instead,

"To maintain its life, any organism must act in accordance with its means of survival. For man, this means living by the exercise of his mind." And: "Man's life -- the life of man qua rational being -- is the proper standard of value. Your own life -- and happiness as its emotional concomitant -- is the purpose of morality."

Rand believes that the proper means of interaction with others is trade. Rand offers a vision of free-market economics:

"In a society of trade, there is no conflict of interests among men at different levels in the pyramid of ability. The most talented people, who make new discoveries and invent new products and technologies, contribute the most to others; while those at the bottom, who are engaged in mere physical labor, benefit the most. "

The speech is very long, spanning 56 pages in one paperback edition (the only interruption occurs after the first paragraph), and appears in the chapter "This is John Galt Speaking" in the third section of the book. Later in the book, the speech is referred to as being approximately three hours long.

The speech, like the book, like the philosophy of objectivism, finishes:

"You will win when you are ready to pronounce this oath: "I swear -- by my life and my love of it -- that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." "

Among many 1957 reviews in the mainstream media, Granville Hicks, in the New York Times (daily circulation approximately 700,000[13]), began his lengthy review with:
This gargantuan book comes among us as a demonstrative act rather than as a literary work. Its size seems an expression of the author's determination to crush the enemies of truth -- her truth, of course -- as a battering ram demolishes the walls of a hostile city. Not in any literary sense a serious novel, it is an earnest one, belligerent and unremitting in its earnestness. It howls in the reader's ear and beats him about the head in order to secure his attention, and then, when it has him subdued, harangues him for page upon page. It has only two moods, the melodramatic and the didactic, and it both it knows no bounds. [14]
Time magazine, with weekly sales of approximately three million[15]), was equally dismissive. Under the title "The Solid-Gold Dollar Sign", their critic began:
Is it a novel? Is it a nightmare? Is it Superman—in the comic-strip or the Nietzschean version? During the book's opening passages—for 300 or 400 pages, that is—the reader cannot be sure. Then the truth emerges: Author Ayn Rand, a sort of literary Horsewoman of the Apocalypse, is smashing the world with half a million words in order to rebuild it according to her own philosophy. And that philosophy must be read to be disbelieved.

Atlas Shrugged was also reviewed by the highly conservative National Review, a magazine with a circulation of only 19,000[16] but one that might appear to be more ideologically favorable to Rand's ideas. William F. Buckley Jr., however, who had founded the magazine two years earlier, and Rand despised one another; Buckley, a devout Catholic, was especially angered by her views on religion. The review was scathing. It called the book "sophomoric" and "remarkably silly," and, echoing the New York Times, said that it "can be called a novel only by devaluing the term."

A 1990 National Review retrospective of the 1957 review contains the memorable line calling her "the Jackie Collins of ideological novelists".[17] And 19 years after that, a Newsweek magazine review of a lengthy novel by Ralph Nader that is intended to be a liberal's answer to Atlas Shrugged, says dismissively, "Rand was also a romance novelist, which explains her enduring appeal to bookish and hormonal high-schoolers." [18]

Despite this negativity, however, half a century later Atlas Shrugged is still consistently in the top few hundred bestsellers at Amazon.com, with high sales in the United States in particular.

Influence

National Review fireworks aside, Rand's conflicts with other American conservatives reflected factions in that movement. [2]

American politics

Especially in the 1960s, Rand's ideas stimulated many arguments and developments, both agreeing and disagreeing with her, in the "New Right" political movements of the United States. [19] Rand's views and advocates tended to clash intensely with William F. Buckley Jr. and the social conservatives. While she herself distinguished between objectivism and libertarianism, many contemporary libertarian activists drew inspiration from some of her works. There were, indeed, confrontations between New Left and New Right personages, such that it was hard to tell who was for and against Rand.

Some political figures that mention she affected their ideas include:

Advocacy of Objectivism

The books are promoted by an organisation called the "Ayn Rand Institute: The Center for the Advancement of Objectivism" which has substantial funds for promoting Rand's works. The Institute has also encouraged the study of 'Objectivism' in U.S. schools and colleges, for example by providing free books and materials. [21]

The book has acquired a following particularly amongst those who see themselves as entrepreneurs applying Rand's principle of Nietzschean freedom (that is, the freedom of the exceptional individual to ignore the consequences of their actions for others less able or powerful). Outside politics, figures who consider that Rand influenced their thinking include:

There is a video game called BioShock, (released in the summer of 2007) built around Rand's philosophy and Atlas Shrugged.

Rand received the rare accolade of appearing on a U.S. postage stamp, one first issued in 1999 in New York City.

References

  1. Ayn Rand (1962) "Introducing Objectivism", Ayn Rand Institute
  2. 2.0 2.1 Edwards, Lee (January 22, 2007), The Conservative Consensus: Frank Meyer, Barry Goldwater, and the Politics of Fusionism, Heritage Foundation
  3. 3.0 3.1 Weigel, David (November 2008), "Bob Barr Talks: The best-known nominee in Libertarian Party history talks to reason about war, drugs, pornography, Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Ayn Rand.", Reason Online
  4. Rand, Ayn (1990), Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (Expanded 2nd Edition ed.)
  5. The Objectivist Newsletter
  6. adapted from lecture by Leonard Pleikoff, What is Objectivism?
  7. http://select.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F30F15FF3B54157A93C1A8178BD95F438585F9
  8. "Ayn Rand's Revenge", by Adam Kirsch, in the New York Times Book Review of Sunday, November 1, 2009, pages 1 and 8, a review of Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller. The entire review can be read at [1]
  9. "About the Author," Appendix to "Atlas Shrugged" quoted from "The Ayn Rand Lexicon" (1986) Edited by Harry Binswanger, Introduction by Leonard Peikoff, p344
  10. "For the New Intellectual, HC(20),pb(22)" from "The Ayn Rand Lexicon", p35
  11. "Tom Wolfe's Rooftop Yawp", Will, George F., November 23, 1998, http://www.newsweek.com/id/93953 DEAD LINK 404 error 2010-08-28
  12. All quotes can be found at: http://www.objectivistcenter.org/cth--1721-OutlineofGalt'sSpeech.aspx accessed November 20 2008
  13. The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 1966, page 735
  14. http://select.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F30714FF3B54157A93C1A8178BD95F438585F9
  15. The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 1966, page 734
  16. From an email dated December 5, 2008, to Hayford Peirce: "According to the annual publishers statement published in the Oct. 11,1958 issue of National Review the average number of copies sold or distributed during the preceding 12 months was 19,080. Sincerely, John J. Virtes, Research Director National Review"
  17. Rockwell, Llewellyn H., Jr. & Jeffrey A. Tucker, "Ayn Rand is dead - Christian libertarianism", National Review
  18. "Unsafe at Any Read", a book review by Seth Colter Walls of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!, by Ralph Nader, Newsweek, September 28, 2009, page 67
  19. Tucille, Jerome (1971), It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand, Stein & Day
  20. 20.0 20.1 Chapman, Steve (February 1, 2005), "The evolution of Ayn Rand", Washington Times
  21. "Atlas Shrugs Again", Forbes, September 28, 2007. Retrieved on November 22 2008