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Ayn Rand: A New Opportunity To Personally Judge the Facts of Reality

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Some welcome Ayn Rand glasnost, from an estate that is famously pretty restrictive in who they allow to see what when it comes to the treasures of Randiana in its possession: a free online archive is now available of many of the Russian emigre libertarian novelist's lectures, both in audio and video form.

No one talks Rand like Rand, as they say, and though registration is necessary, that's a small bit of value-for-value for this nifty collection of 20th century libertarian, literary, and philosophical history.

You can find an intellectual and personal biography of Rand and her movement within the pages of, ahem, my own new book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement , a history in which she is, of course, a central figure.

Rand's centennial was noted in the pages of reason back in March 2005 with a perspicacious and controversial essay by Cathy Young on the appeal, limits, and paradoxes of the Objectivist queen, and a varied and wild collection of data points exhibiting how Rand has influenced the culture.

NEXT: The Good Czar

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  1. Does the archive contain an online version of the Barbara Branden biography?

    …I kid, I kid…

  2. I often wonder how widely read Rand is in Russia today.

  3. Atlas Shrugged.

    Chucklehead yawned.

  4. Brian,
    Your Amazon Sales Ranking is dropping like a stone. You need to pull off some kind of stunt. I think you should get back on the road and pimp it, but this time – as an Ayn Rand Impersonator.

    I really think you could pull it off. A blouse some combing and a couple of days to perfect that Russian accent.

  5. Will they be including a link to this video? 🙂

  6. Rand is, unfortunately a typical libertarian public figure. Full of great ideas but such a weirdo that ‘normal’ people are largely turned off by her.

    This is the thing I find most frustrating about being a libertarian. When we nominate guys who want to blow up the U.N. to be our presidential candidate, and venerate Any Rand we send the ‘we’re a bunch of weirdos’ signal to members of the general populace.

  7. and a couple of days to perfect that Russian accent

    “Ve should be out makink big truble for sqirl and moose!”

    (Alley oop for VM)

  8. “I often wonder how widely read Rand is in Russia today.”

    I bet she sells right up there with the Yeltsin autobiography.

  9. Rand is, unfortunately a typical libertarian public figure. Full of great ideas but such a weirdo that ‘normal’ people are largely turned off by her.

    A pointless and typically ignorant generalization.

  10. This is the thing I find most frustrating about being a libertarian. When we nominate guys who want to blow up the U.N. to be our presidential candidate

    John Bolton is running on the LP ticket?

  11. Rand is, unfortunately a typical libertarian public figure. Full of great ideas but such a weirdo that ‘normal’ people are largely turned off by her.

    I don’t think Rand is a “typical” libertarian figure so much as an overly-deified libertarian saint.

    As for being “full of great ideas,” she pretty much had one idea she repeatedly recycled up from hack storytelling to pseudo-philosophical mush.

    She wasn’t really all that weird, either. I think her big turnoff comes from the fact that – rightly or wrongly – people the world over are turned off by selfishness. When preaching “the virtue of selfishness” is your stock in trade, well, you see where I’m going with that.

    As a libertarian icon, she brings little to the table when it comes to libertarian economics or free market theory. And her dialog and characterizations suck.

    Her books do little to show us a world as it is or a world as it should or could be. It’s mostly a world where her wooden, stilted protagonists are supposed to be bowed down to for little more than their spirit of individuality. Big deal.

  12. Brian, is it time for the two-minute hate already? Wow how time files.

    Ok, here goes:

    “Rand got me into Libertarianism in like the 8th grade, but by the time I was a freshman in high school I already could see that she was simple-minded and I had moved on to Hayek and Friedman. I can’t believe people still take her seriously!”

    Good enough?

  13. My mother sloughed off an old copy of one of Rand’s Objectivist issues…wow. Ol’ Ayn, um, seems to have kind of went off the deep, ranty, rabid end of things after a while, didn’t she?
    But anyhow, I seemed to recall concluding that she was fairly critical of libertarianism. So what gives? I can see where her free market, rugged individualist ideals intersect, but I think she tended to look on it like a bastard son. So I am a little confused by the statement “…Russian emigre libertarian novelist…” in light of that… I mean, she accuses libertarians of not defending capitalism. Doesn’t sound like she liked libs too much, let alone identified with them.
    And madpad, I think “Libertarian Icon” is really, really going entirely too far in the Ayn-love department. The woman would’ve bitchslapped you for that.

  14. re madpad: wow, I completely misread that. my apologies still! bitchslapping, crazy russian woman with little sense of humor. You see where I’m going with this.

  15. To the majority of the people in the world we are a bunch of weirdos. Otherwise we would be mainstream.

  16. Oread,
    Yes, Rand was critical of libertarians, and said some hurtful things about them. But Rand was critical of everyone not named Ayn, and would eventually say hurtful things about all of them. She had her share of friends/lovers/colleagues during her life. She had alienated virtually all of them by the time of her death.

    Ayn’s assessment of us is irrelevant. We venerate Ayn because she played an important role in our philosophical development.

  17. *yawn* … more Rand-bashing. You anti-Randers have long ago run out of your arsenal of degradations for a woman whose very ideas are the main reason (pardon the pun) this magazine exists.
    I’m no Rand Kool-Aid drinker, but this woman was an intellectual giant. And her ideas cut right to the heart of what liberty means in a social context. While I personally enjoy the intellectual insights of Nozick more, I give deference to this woman.
    So she was odd in her personal life. At least she swung her big brass Russian balls out there, when she could have been … oh, I don’t know … making snarky anonymous comments.

  18. I do get that. I do. Without her, there is no us. I know.
    I’m just saying it’s probably (i.e.: IS) erroneous to label her a libertarian. Just because I think I owe my formation of ideals to someone, I’m not going to label them as such, especially if they reject said label. Like…I’d call my “pagan” aunt instrumental in me finding out about taoism, but I certainly wouldn’t call her one cos she prefers to wander about pretending to be a druid and is happy with that. Does that make sense?

  19. … I had moved on to Hayek and Friedman.

    Rand never claimed to be an economist, genius.

  20. Oy, madpad, she kill your puppy?

    Anyway, here’s my two minute hate:

    “Rand? Just look at her life to see how her philosophy held up! Her writing style sucks and like Galt’s speech was longer than the longest thing in the world! Who takes that long to say ‘I love myself’ anyway? Characters so static they could have been Pre-Shakespearian! Rape scene! HUAC! Nathaniel Branden! Ooga Booga!!”

  21. Rand never claimed to be an economist, genius.

    Both Hayek and Friedman wrote on liberty as well as economics. You would know that if you had actually read them.

    Oh, and my comment about the two-minute hate was in reference to the fact that everyone piles on any time Rand is brought up around here. i.e.: it was a fucking joke.

    Moron.

  22. People, people – the pro-Rand vs. anti-Rand stuff is just so much Bolshevik/Menshevik nonsense.

    99% of the population couldn’t tell Rand and Hayek apart if they examined both of them naked.

  23. fluffy wins the thread.

    semi-related: i do have high hopes for bioshock.

  24. Ayn Rand wasn’t a libertarian. Most libertarians are subjectivists. She had views that overlap with libertarians, but she had a whole rigid ideology that precludes the whole libertarian “live and let live philosophy”.

    And, it is very clear there is a whole cult of personality around Ayn Rand.

  25. Why do I love Ayn Rand?

    Because objectivist women, IMHO, are ABSOLUTELY FRAGGIN AMAZING in bed.

    Other than that, I have no reason. Atlas Shrugged was kind of cool, true, but Rand is no Stephenson.

  26. I just saw it claimed on another board that Ron Paul named his son Rand Paul.

    Is this true, or is somebody pulling my leg?

  27. Fluffy,

    I looked in his wiki entry. It’s true, though Rand is a real first name and may have nothing to do with crazy Russian women with some good ideas but a weird nymphomaniac rape fetish.

  28. The only Rand novel I thought was very good was Anthem. Mostly because its a hell of a lot shorter than her other books while saying the same thing.

  29. (1) Rand was not a libertarian, as she was the first to most vehemently insist.

    (2) It happens to be true, whether it is a worn cliche or not, that I found her only marginally interesting as a teenager, and simply did not care for her fiction, replete as it was with one-dimensional, not-human characters. Libertarianism didn’t click for me until as a young adult I read Hayek and then subscribed to Reason, c. 1980.

  30. I think near the end of her life she was pretty much hooked on methamphetamines, which would explain the cranky weirdness of many of her Objectivist newsletters.

    I’ve always wondered what her last words were. I envision either some around-the-bend quip or a sixteen hour speech on the evils of coupons.

  31. Oh yeah, and don’t forget how rational it is to smoke.

    We all owe a debt of gratitude to Rand. I am by no means her biggest cheerleader, practically on the short list to excommunication because I liked We The Living and really could care less for either of her Magnum Opus’ (that’s plural got dam it). Loved Virtue of Selfishness and (please don’t laugh too hard) Anthem.

    Best of all, at a time when the entirety Western intelligentsia was Frog Kissing the USSR’s bung hole she had the guts to stand up and call that what it was.

    So yes, she was a little like your looney great aunt, but anyone who has perused the comments at H&R will realize that Stoner wasn’t stoned when he said To the majority of the people in the world we are a bunch of weirdos..

    Rand is by no means the only heavy hitter and Piekoff, who was the only one who could stand the abuse she dished out long enough to inherit it all, certainly isn’t fit to carry the torch.

    Be that as it may, she inspired a whole lot of people and helped pave the road upon which many of us followed.

  32. Brian, I have a Big O friend who is afraid to read your book because he thinks that you are going to spend too much time on the splits, he said, she said, & Mommy Dearest stuff. I’m not very far into the book and I don’t know what to tell him.

  33. TWC, great simpsons shout out…I giggled mightily over that one.

    Cesar, you took the word right out of my mouth. Everything you could ever want to know about Ayn Rand’s *ahem* ‘philosophy’ is summed up nicely, readably and (praise Jesus) quickly in a mercifully short read.

    Oread, we’re cool…glad you reread.

    To the rest, as for whether or not Rand was a libertarian is not the point. The point is that many libertarians – even ones who don’t like her – have declared her something of a patron saint of libertarianism.

    If you doubt me, check this quote from Nick Gillespie a mere two years ago:

    “Not only is Rand one of the most important figures in the libertarian movement of which reason is a part, but this magazine’s name is an homage to her philosophy, Objectivism, which ascribes a key role to rationality.”

    Libertarianism was around in spirit long before Rand wrote a single paragraph. It’s hard to say whether or not the excesses of the 60’s liberals and the Nixon administration would have galvanized the folks who started the American Libertarian Party without her.

    I’m thinking the movement probably would have found purchase in her absence.

    Still, if she has any singular plus, it’s that she got people seriously thinking about individuals vs society vs government by way of fiction. Not an easy task.

    I might not like her, but she did resonate with a lot of folks way back then and now.

  34. Thanks Mad, I still LOL just thinking about the Ayn Rand Day Care Center

  35. Libertarianism was around in spirit long before Rand wrote a single paragraph.

    quite true, to anyone whose ever read any … well, John Locke, Mill. Trouble is, libertarianism died in the last half of the 19th century. And its finest elements didn’t surface again until economics rescued it.
    What Rand did was give the libertarian instinct a moral foundation, unlike Smith, unlike von Mises. That is a rare (and welcome) accomplishment. The reason most people still find her abhorrent (if they’ve heard of her philosophy at all) is it conflicts so strongly with naturalism and religion, both of which have deep roots in this country.

    It’s hard to say whether or not the excesses of the 60’s liberals and the Nixon administration would have galvanized the folks who started the American Libertarian Party without her.

    It’s not hard to say. Libertarianism would probably have morphed into a dope-smoking, socialist philosophy merely concerned with the rights of … well, dope smokers and socialists. Trouble was that Rand hated hippies, and hated drug use, even though she (quietly) defended their rights to put substances in their bodies. But Rand was far more trusting of the Establishment than what was the dominant thinking of the lefty-libertarians of the time. She came across as a defender of militarism and corporatism in a time when that was simply shat upon.

  36. Christ, the audio files are in Real Audio format. Who the hell uses that anymore?

  37. Pious,

    Good point regarding her take on Libertarian ideals as a moral issue.

    Can’t say as I agree with your follow up, though. Remarkably pessimistic view you have of people to think that Rand was the only thing that made it all possible.

    I don’t think I’d lay the salvation of libertarianism from the potential clutches of “dope-smoking, socialist philosophers” solely at her feet.

    Influential she was. I’ve admitted that much. But needling over alternative histories is pointless. Being influential is one thing. Being the only influence is quite another. You make some good points worth considering but I think you give her too much credit.

    But what do I know. In a very real sense, she gave libertarian thinkers a ‘mythology’ by which to share a language and a set of emotions that drove what they believed. That’s powerful stuff.

    I’ll think some more about it.

  38. Christ, the audio files are in Real Audio format. Who the hell uses that anymore?

    Well, I’m not a big Real Player fan myself but with this technology I think they’re back in the game.

  39. Whatever else can be said about Rand, it is probably time for libertarians to move past her legacy.

  40. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Rand. I am by no means her biggest cheerleader, practically on the short list to excommunication because I liked We The Living and really could care less for either of her Magnum Opus’ (that’s plural got dam it). Loved Virtue of Selfishness and (please don’t laugh too hard) Anthem.

    I, for one, think We The Living is Rand’s only “real” novel. The others were decent enough yarns if you like the type (and they worked for me) but We The Living is the only one with anything I recognize as having a plot and the development of multi-dimensional, complex characters with flaws as well as strengths. The 1942 Italian movie version of the novel, Noi vivi, is to my mind terrific. But then wops, even fascist wops (or maybe, particularly, fascist wops – see the biography of Fellini), have a way with film.

    Virtue of Selfishness is probably one of the best defenses of individualism and free market economics ever written for the casual reader.

  41. Why Isaac Bertram, I had no idea…..

    🙂

    I had always noticed that Mrs TWC was Just My Style but she was a bit young (well, I guess that wasn’t a serious drawback). Then I saw her carting around a copy of For The New Intellectual and I was hooked. So I owe a personal debt of gratitude to Ms Rand.

    More than you really wanted to know regards, TWC

  42. Madpad, I think you’ve made some good points, but the whole “(ahem) philosophy” shtick is a bit tired.

    Certainly Rand stood outside the mainstream of the development of philosophy in the 20th century, and refused to even employ its language or address its concerns, but that’s only a negative if you feel that philosophy conducted itself admirably during that time. Considering the fact that academic philosophy has ghettoized itself as a discipline and made itself irrelevant, I think it might wish to be a little less proud. It’s like listening to a homeless guy declare himself king of France.

    I would also hazard the claim that the aspects of Rand’s thinking that made her disreputable are probably precisely the ones you like. You’re really only disdaining yourself.

  43. Fluffy,

    Yes, my jabs at her philosophy may be a bit tired…though no less tired than the die hard hagiographers who post Rand-worshiping.

    Beyond that, I’m not really sure what you’re talking about. There’s a lot to like about her and her ideas. There’s also a lot to question.

    Her defense of individual liberty as a moral imperative is arguably her greatest influence.

    But she has little to say regarding competing personal liberties. As the world grows more complex and interdependent, personal liberty objectives will increasingly intersect and step on each other. Her views have little to nothing to say on this topic.

    Add to that her notions about happiness, religion, sex and capitalism for it’s own sake and it becomes clear what starts creeping out both philosophers and regular folk. At it’s simplest, she has a very accessible concept. But then the devil is in the details.

    I won’t argue your points on academic politics other than it’s probably inaccurate to paint them all with the same brush. In my experience, philosophy professors were some of the more interesting and less ‘prickish’ sorts at the colleges I went to.

    And I don’t know that academic philosophy was ever all that relevant to begin with. It’s always been more of a basic part of a classical education. Kind of like world religion, art history and mandatory P.E. credits. Once you get past Plato, and Aristotle, it’s all pretty much a subjective cat fight anyway.

  44. Heck, if one is going to speak of “philosophy” in Rand’s novels, you can get just as much out of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s space operas. Especially “Subspace Explorers”–an interesting combination of S.F. and Ayn Rand, but done with the inimitable Smith brio….(Smith also takes a few pokes at “the company” if I read correctly.)

  45. “Heck, if one is going to speak of “philosophy” in Rand’s novels, you can get just as much out of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s space operas. Especially “Subspace Explorers”–an interesting combination of S.F. and Ayn Rand, but done with the inimitable Smith brio….(Smith also takes a few pokes at “the company” if I read correctly.)”

    Eh, skip all of it, check out John C. Wright’s “Golden Age” trilogy instead. Now those books rocked on toast.

  46. Does anyone have anything to add to the Madpad/Fluffy discussion? I have often heard comments like “it’s not even a philosophy”, and am not sure what this actually means. I’m not talking about people disagreeing with Rand’s philosophy (or “philosophy”), I’m referring to those who state that it is not a philosophy at all. Is there any specific meaning to this? Does something about Rand’s work fall short of the academic criteria for a philosophy, or is this just a stupid insult?

    Red Sox and Yankees fans may hate each other, but I’ve never heard one make the argument that the other’s club is “Not actually a baseball team”.

  47. Dave,

    My criticism of Rand’s philosophy is pretty straightforward. As ideas go, I agreed (and expanded on) the notion that giving personal liberty a moral justification is a remarkable and powerful thing. That alone explains and justifies her influence.

    But as far as having a well-thought out, consistent logic that stands up to some rigorous application, it falls more than a little short.

    To quote dear Fluffy, “Certainly Rand stood outside the mainstream of the development of philosophy in the 20th century, and refused to even employ its language or address its concerns…”

    Just because she didn’t address their concerns doesn’t mean those concerns weren’t valid. And my most pointed criticism has been not at Rand herself, but at folks who feels she’s above criticism and that her philosophy does not have to answer for itself or defend itself against sensible questions.

    In the end, this is a marketplace of ideas and she’s, in the end, subject to the whims it. What’s more Randian – or libertarian – than that?

  48. Red Sox and Yankees fans may hate each other, but I’ve never heard one make the argument that the other’s club is “Not actually a baseball team”.

    I guess as far as personal belief systems go, Rand’s beliefs constitute philosophy in the broadest sense of the word.

    But giving people powerful ideas to think about is one thing. Standing up to academic rigor and answering tough questions about applications of your philosophy is a different sort of nut. And her logic was often incomplete and circular.

    She justifies Howard Roark’s blowing up of his building. Unfortunately, for a capitalist icon, she never gets around to answering for the moral right of the people who paid him to design it to have what they wanted.

    Her philosophy is peppered with those kinds of selfish romaticisms. So much for a philosophy as a system the whole world should live by.

    Consider Fluffy’s defense of Rand as philosopher. Fluffy didn’t even try to defend her philosophy…he simply knocked academics who questioned her.

    That argument is kind of typical of the “Rand is the greatest Philosopher of all time” crowd.

    How about your euphemism? Let’s say it’s the New York Yankees against the neighborhood little league team. Certainly there are those who will crow about the noble 12-year olds valiant struggle, and everyone will agree that, yes, they are both baseball teams.

    But in the end, the little sluggers will likely lose.

    Rand is a powerful influence not because she was a great philosopher but because she doggedly pursued a powerful idea. She influenced the last 3 generations of liberty seekers and she has been given her due over and over again.

    Trust me, her legacy is not diminished because myself and others point out some weaknesses in propping up her ideas as something they might not be.

  49. “She justifies Howard Roark’s blowing up of his building. Unfortunately, for a capitalist icon, she never gets around to answering for the moral right of the people who paid him to design it to have what they wanted.”

    You couldn’t have picked an easier example to explain. The people who contracted Roark to design their building did so with the promise that it would be built exactly as Roark saw fit, end of story. They didn’t have a moral right to “what they wanted” outside of that.

  50. They didn’t have a moral right to “what they wanted” outside of that.

    If they’re paying for it, then most of libertarianism, capitalism AND objectivism dictates they can do whatever they damn well please.

    And Roark had a lot of other options he could have exhausted before blowing the damn thing up.

    Admit it, Roark was an infantile weenie who lacked any sense of reality.

  51. Let’s assume, for a moment, that even in some Objectivist paradise, there is a subset of people who will lie and alter the terms of the deal after the fact.

    If the only way an Objectivist can find to handle the issue is to destroy the object of contention, it seems you’ve pretty much proved my point about Rand’s inability to handle sensible questions about her philosophy in anything approaching practical terms.

  52. Libertarianism, Objectivism, and Capitalism do not hold that they can do “whatever they damn well please” because they are paying for it, IF they agreed to and contracted to different terms. Why is this hard to understand?
    Whether or not Roark had better options than to destroy the building completley misses the point that The Fountainhead is a work of fiction (although a fiction intended to influence the real world) meant to illustrate the moral argument in dramatic fashion. How interesting would the story be if it ended with “20 years later, after being endlessly dragged through various appeals courts, it was ruled that the builders had violated the contract by altering Roark’s original design, but since the building had been occupied for decades and wasn’t going anywhere, this was all pretty much irrelevant”? Or even if it ended with “….had violated the contract by altering Roark’s original design, so eventually new housing units were built in other areas and the now dilapidated structure was demolished to make way for a parking lot”? The fact that Roark’s moral right trumped law, social convention, and public opinion doesn’t exactly come through so strongly in that case.

    Star Wars doesn’t end with Luke feeding the Death Star false coordinates to get it lost. Would have accomplished the mission but doesn’t have the same “oomph”, now does it?

  53. You’re funny there, Dave. Dramatic license I understand.

    But I disagree that a broken contract gave Howard Roark a “moral right” to blow up a building he – in the end, since the design was changed – didn’t actually completely design, didn’t own, didn’t build and didn’t pay for. And since Keating was taking the credit for it anyway, it wouldn’t have affected Roark’s legacy or reputation.

    But hey, you’re right. It makes for good drama, no doubt. But not so good a foundation on which to build a philosophy…which is my point that you originally disagreed with.

    Suffice to say (and I’ll repeat) I have acknowledged Rand’s influence and agreed as to why her ideas are so powerful. I simply think as a writer she’s a bit overrated and as a philosopher she leaves a lot to be desired.

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