04
Feb
08

Ayn Rand


A week ago I began reading Atlas Shrugged, written by the late Ayn Rand. It is considered one of the most influential books in America–and for that I am sad.

For those of you who do know of Ayn Rand (Pronounced INE), here’s a quick biography: Rand was born Alisa Rosenbaum 1905 in Russia. Her parents were Jewish. Rand’s family life was severely disrupted by the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Eventually she gained a visa to visit the United States and was amazed by our open and free society; she knew she would not go back to Russia. She married actor Frank O’Connor and they remained married for 50 years. As an American citizen, she wrote several novels, the two most well-known being The Fountainhead and her Magnum Opus–Atlas Shrugged.

Rand was an empiricist. That is, if she could not directly see, touch or hear something–or use any of her senses, to her, such a thing could not exist. This way of thinking she is said to have gained from Aristotle, her favorite philosopher.

Eventually, Rand developed her own belief system, which she termed, Objectivism. She was a very strong anti-communist and a staunch advocate of capitalism. She also loved America.

But I must split with Rand, when her Nietzschean beliefs creep out–and believe me, they do quite often.

First–she hated religion of any type, believing it to be irrational. Secondly, she had the bizarre idea that altruism (the helping of others at the expense of self) was wrong in all instances. Now, I can appreciate wanting people to be the best they can and help themselves when they’re able, but the idea that it’s immoral to at all disadvantage yourself by helping others, is aberrant. I reject it.

Her awful ideology of selfishness is so pervasive in her novels, that reading them makes me feel physically ill. Now granted, for some reason, ever since I was a child, reading certain pieces seemed to effect me more than other people. Maybe this is why I picked up writing. But I can read Nietzsche and sometimes come away with a good feeling–I don’t get that with Rand. 50 or so pages into Atlas Shrugged, I was ready to light the book on fire. And the plot is interesting! But sick.

I’ll even go as far as to say that Ayn Rand was a genius, but genius is no prophylactic to bad ideas, nor to the severe unhappiness, which I believe that Rand must have suffered from.

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2 Responses to “Ayn Rand”


  1. 1 Rory
    July 17, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    Could you provide me with some quotes where Ayn Rand and Nietzsche’s ideas explicitly overlap? It’s just, I’ve studied both Philosophers, and Nietzsche’s ideas couldn’t be further from Ayn’s.
    Ayn Rand believed in existence as the primary, as something which just /is/, and that it is essentially up to a man to learn about it and use that knowledge to make the best decisions towards his survival – as such, man, in a social context, must be left free to make decisions for himself, free from force, because force annihilates any reason – it just becomes ‘do what I say or else’.
    Nietzsche believed there was a mystical ‘will to power’ underlying all of existence – not just like, under the floorboards, but literally, existence was made up of these ‘quanta’ of the will to power. He believed that there was this great clash between chaos and order, which was all linked to this great ‘will to power. He thought man came about as some strange aberration from the will to power, an experiment of sorts in reality. Eventually, this leads to the idea of the kind of Buddhist Ubermensch, who is contact with the will to power, and that this man has the right to rule over other man.

    Yeah, I can see Ayn Rand and Nietzsche were real bosom buddies.

    Also, this:
    “Rand was an empiricist. That is, if she could not directly see, touch or hear something–or use any of her senses, to her, such a thing could not exist. This way of thinking she is said to have gained from Aristotle, her favorite philosopher.”
    Is an outright lie, besides the bit about Aristotle being her favourite philosopher. Neither Aristotle nor Ayn Rand, believed if you couldn’t see a thing, it didn’t exist. You can’t empirically ‘see’ causation, justice, love, freedom – Ayn Rand believed in these things, because she believed that all concepts were derived from sense-perception, which is man’s only means of gaining data about reality.
    This is what marks her from empiricists: they believed sense-data was self-evident, but that concepts were arbitrary inventions; she believed sense-data was self-evident, and laid out in ‘Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology’ how man derives concepts from sense-data.

  2. July 18, 2008 at 1:38 am

    Rory,

    Seems I’ve stirred up an Objectivist. There’s usually a lot of anger in any of their conversations.

    Nietzsche was an egoist, argued the benefits of selfishness, and the evils of altruism. In those ways, the two were in agreement. Those things are tantamount to Atlas Shrugged’s plot.

    Indeed, Rand herself did say that she did not like the quasi-mystical beliefs of Nietzsche such as the Will-to-Power (Which he kind of ripped off from Schopenhauer) and the Eternal Recurrence.

    As far as her empiricism, I stated that any of her senses could have been used to “see” reality. Empiricism does not require one to “see” love, after all, John Locke surely believed it existed, and he was an empiricist.

    The American Heritage Dictionary defines empiricism as follows: The view that experience, especially of the senses, is the only source of knowledge.

    Sounds like Rand to me.


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