On Ayn Rand’s Rugged Individualism

writer Ayn RandI have just read John Guzlowski’s blog posting about, as he puts it in an email, “how I liked the writer [Ayn] Rand when I was a college student and then didn’t.” The essay is brief and eloquent; I would encourage you to read it at http://everythings-jake.blogspot.com/2012/08/who-is-ayn-rand_15.html.

I myself have not read Ayn Rand, though with all the talk recently even before the Paul Ryan Vice-Presidential nomination I have often considered that I ought to acquaint myself first-hand with Atlas Shrugged, the title usually mentioned. Though already I have read enough summations of her work – of which John’s elegant narrative of reconsideration is at least one of the best – to know that I concur with his later feeling that her message of ruthless individualism, if I may roughly paraphrase, negates our supposed Judeo-Christian ethic of community and concern for others.

But don’t let what I say get in the way of reading John’s posting for yourselves. It won’t take but a moment and will leave you at least the nourishment of food for thought.

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5 responses to “On Ayn Rand’s Rugged Individualism

  1. Even those like John, who have read Rand’s novels, commonly misconstrue her philosophy. He is no exception. Understanding Ayn Rand’s philosophy cannot be accomplished through casual reading; it requires some serious study and a lot of thought. As one example, he falsely states that her morality amounts to: “to hell with other people.”
    For anyone who wants to understand Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, I recommend looking over this post on morality (Click), its associated blog, and reading the books mentioned.

    • Thank you for directing me and my readers to your post. I have read through it a couple of times and find much food in it for thought. I do not necessarily agree with the suggestion (I paraphrase) that to understand Rand’s argument is to see its truth; its correctness in relation to competing philosophies, and whether or not it would really make me happier, is not established. But certainly understanding and discussion is best aided by as objective as possible an assessment of the facts of the matter as you present them.

      One question comes to mind immediately. If you don’t mind diverting your attention for a moment from the purity of the argument, would you care to comment on how well or poorly Rand seems to be interpreted by today’s advocates in particular within the Republican Party? Because often I have the sense that in their drive to identify corporations with their outsized power as individuals equal to any single citizen, and to eliminate the social safety net that has been established over several decades, they do approach a point of saying to hell with all those who lose in the Social Darwinist struggle of “nature red in tooth and claw,” as borrowed from Tennyson’s poem.

      That raises another point: can you elaborate on the distinctions between Rand’s Objectivism and Spencer’s Social Darwinism? I for one would be extremely interested in your input on these matters, and I imagine that many readers will also.

      If you prefer responding at length by Word attachment to my email (brettalansanders@gmail.com), I will consider using your words in the body of a future blog rather than in the messages that might tend to be passed over. Though I always hope for deeper participation in the discussion.

      • I’ll comment briefly on a fundamental error that leads people today to see laissez-faire capitalism as a “Social Darwinist struggle of ‘nature red in tooth and claw.'”
        The basic error is this: wealth (the valuable goods and services that sustain human life) is not a static quantity to be fought over. There is not one “pie” that “society distributes.” Wealth is created. It is created by each individual, essentially in proportion to the amount of successful mental effort he has expended and the scope of his thinking.
        At the time of the Europeans’ arrival, the Americas were very poor. The American Indians lived near subsistence level. Today, the US is a very wealthy country, and the total wealth in the world has increased, because the wealth was created.

        Under laissez-faire capitalism, everyone who works at all benefits from the surplus wealth creation around them, especially those with lower intellectual productivity, who gain the benefit of the ideas produced by those with higher intellectual productivity. Entirely voluntary interactions within the market will tend to reward individuals according to the amount of wealth (needed goods/services) they produce, as individuals.

        In a laissez-faire society, the “weak of intellect” benefit from the ideas of the “strong,” and no one–who isn’t considered a criminal–resorts to the “tooth and claw” barbarism of extorting money from anyone else (forced, redistributive taxation) or partial enslavement of anyone else (coercive regulations.) Everyone’sindividual rights are protected. (YouTube lecture: Rand’s Theory of Rights)

        You can read a quote from Atlas Shrugged on the issue of “‘competition’ between the strong and the weak of the intellect” here: Objectivism FAQ It’s under “Does Objectivism hold that all individuals have something valuable to contribute? What about people who lack creativity or ability? Would they fit into a pure capitalist society?”

  2. Whatever Ayn Rand’s intent, her philosophy has been used
    by many on the far right to justify what I would describe as a highly rationalized form of narcissism, disguised as a paean to individual freedom. Only those who want to live alone on an island can ignore the needs of the sick, the hungry, the disabled, and the downtrodden. “Pulling yourself up by the bootstraps”–aside from being physically impossible–is surely not an option for those who have no boots…or even feet. What is our moral responsibility to these persons? What would Ayn Rand say?

    Rand may or may not have been guilty of holding or inspiring the self-centered attitude I am describing. But we find many in politics today who fit that description and who cite Rand as one of their early influences. Incidentally, Maureen Dowd discusses Paul Ryan and his connection to Rand in today’s New York Times.

    Ronald Pies MD

    “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.” –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

  3. Sword of Apollo, I think I understand Rand. My reading of her was part of my considerable study of her work and teachings. II don’t read casually. I have a PhD in modern and contemporary literature.

    Rand doesn’t believe that charity is a “moral imperative.” She also doesn’t think it’s really a big deal. Here’s a statement by her from the Ayn Rand website:

    My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.

    [From “Playboy’s 1964 interview with Ayn Rand”

    Of course, she’s got a right to feel this way. And the thing I admire about her is that she is so honest about her feelings. I wish the politicians who were influenced by her were as honest as she was.

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