Libertarian History/Philosophy

The Value of Ayn Rand to the Freedom Movement


Katherine Mangu-Ward writes below of today's Wall Street Journal article questioning the value of Rand to the free-market movement. The piece quotes and cites me and my book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement.

When the reporter, Heather Wilhelm, interviewed me for the piece, I had a great deal to say about her thesis, most of which I couldn't really reproduce any longer, but here are some scattered thoughts.

I say, not entirely humbly, that to understand the full story of exactly how important Ayn Rand was and is to the libertarian movement as it exists today, you really should read the 40,000 or so words on the topic contained in my book, noted above, which makes an amazingly appropriate Christmas present:

*A difficult and often obscure ideology's adherents should think a few times at least before condemning or denying an immensely popular novelist who is collecting hundreds of thousands of new readers 52 years after the publication of her last novel.

*Obviously, many libertarians don't agree with everything Rand said (neither do I), or find her tone always congenial, or find aspects of her personality or her fans salubrious.  This is all somewhat interesting as a matter of intellectual history. Why it is something that lots of libertarians feel a need to speak out about so frequently, and on many occasions so saltily, sometimes confuses me (I know, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal called and asked; that's decent reason enough I suppose.) And one's personal distaste or disagreement with Rand absolutely pales in importance, if the spread of libertarian thinking is your concern, with Rand's value.

It is one thing to say, as the complaints of many libertarian anti-Randians amount to, that her particular style or arguments wouldn't be convincing to my mind at this point in my intellectual development (or that I imagine a world of others to which it wouldn't either); another thing to say that she doesn't turn lots of people to libertarian thinking.

*Despite what Fr. Sirico is quoted as saying by Wilhelm, clearly Rand both offends and converts. It is my belief that she offends for the most part only the ones who could not be converted–that is, people whose core moral and intellectual values would make them enemies of economic liberty whether or not they ever came across the scabrous invective of Ayn Rand or were ever forced to wonder how much Ellsworth Toohey they might have in them. In which case, her offending them is no net loss for the cause of libertarian conversion.

*Rand's very colorful aspects that make magazines like GQ dedicate thousands of words (why, a veritable "cacophony of rage and dread," as Wilhelm quotes the New Republic saying of Rand's fans) even today to pissing on her grave guarantee that at least some of those readers, intrigued by how a dead and supposedly terrible novelist could so captivate and infuriate journalists and editors today, how she could elicit such interesting thoughts from such interesting characters as Michael Malice or Nick Gillespie, will read her. Some will be offended, and some will be converted. (Most will just be either entertained or bored.)

*Brink Lindsey is right noting in Wilhelm's article that it's a good thing to have people out there in the intellectual fight stressing what he calls his "bleeding heart libertarianism." In all my admiration for Rand I would never recommend that everyone in the world of libertarian persuasion ought to emulate her. The libertarian movement's richness and success are not due to any one thinker's rhetoric, ideas, or approach. Clearly different styles and emphases are needed for a full-service intellectual movement devoted to social and political change.

Having said that…I will now say this: That Ayn Rand was who she was, and did what she did, was a good thing for the spread of libertarian ideas; that's a very hard thing to deny, however little you admire her yourself. (I recall, though I was unable to verify it for sure this afternoon, that Brink Lindsey's own intellectual career had an early phase writing for Objectivist publications. I'll correct this point if I'm mistaken in my memory.)

Katherine Mangu-Ward closed with a quote from Rand's former right-hand man Nathaniel Branden, about the interesting (but not, I think, terribly relevant to the long-dead novelist's appeal today and in the future) benefits of distance from Rand the human.

I have a favorite Nathaniel Branden quote I like to drag out everytime I'm in the middle of the Ayn Rand war zone, which can be found on page 542 of my book. Branden was noting that Rand's detractors rarely deign "publicly to name the essential ideas of Atlas Shrugged and to attempt to refute them. No one has been willing to declare: 'Ayn Rand holds that man must choose his values and actions exclusively by reason, that man has the right to exist for his own sake, that no one has the right to seek values from others by physical force–and I consider such ideas wrong, evil and socially dangerous."

NEXT: A Garden Noam For Your Killing Fields

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  1. Speaking of freedom….

    Guys, you should see what this guy Chad thinks about labor and society:

    Re: Chad,

    No, I am saying the “fruits” that you collect[…]

    I don’t collect anything. The “fruits of my labor” are my creation, not something I took.

    […]are magnified a hundred-fold by the tools we have lent you.

    What’s with this “we” business, Kimosabe? Who’s “we”? When did you “lend” me anything?

    If we take a third as compensation, you have nothing to whine about.

    Why not half, while you are at it. How about 100%?

    There is no threat that we would ever take more than the share which we have earned, because long before that, the Laffer effect would set in and make us both worse off.

    You’re citing the Laffer curve?

    Are you suggesting you want to live off my labor, at least one third of it?

    Government is just one manification of society.

    Did you mean “manifestation”?

    What would be another “manification” of society? I mean, I would like to know, you know, for comparison purposes.

    1. The share Chad has earned of my pay is 0%, so any tax rate above that would refute his statement.

  2. Go to Youtube and find her interview with Mike Wallace. That is why Ayn Rand is important.

  3. Of which Chad do you speak? Ochocinco?

  4. Rand does bring a lot of people into libertarianism. Then again, I’m not totally convinced of the argument that she doesn’t turn anyone off of the movement, who wouldn’t be turned off anyway (especially if we are talking about teenage readers). I also wonder how many people recant their libertarianism later in life, largely due to her negative influence. Which is greater, how many she brings in or how many run the other way because of her (or, if not all the way, at least run to modern ACLU liberalism on the one hand, or conservatism on the other)?

    1. I also wonder how many people recant their libertarianism later in life

      Most people have betrayed the values of their youth by the time they reach middle age, regardless of their respective ideologies.

      1. I would agree, but it would be well to remember that that betrayal is not necessarily a permanent condition. Just because most of us “let ourselves down” in Life, does not mean we have to stay there or that we cannot forgive ourselves and try to do better. Even should one give up attempting to be the person one wishes to be, one can always try to make a new start.

      2. Thank the FSM that I was a pinko hippie in HS. Otherwise I might have ended up turning into a total douche once I became and adult, instead of the libertarian before you.

    2. I’m a middle-aged libertarian.

  5. If people are so dull that they will be turned off of an idea because they don’t like a few exponents of the idea, fuck them. Libertarianism is just one belief among many a person can simultaneously hold, it isn’t a religion, a lifestyle, and it needn’t even be a movement. It is an intellectual and/or ethical belief about the relationship of the state to the individual. If one is turned away from what is so obviously true because Ayn Rand seemed like she might have been a bitch, then that person is not likely to hold any idea firmly, because there are few political philosophies that haven’t been backed by absolute monsters.

    1. If people are so dull that they will be turned off of an idea because they don’t like a few exponents of the idea, fuck them.

      That’s the 0.5% spirit!

      1. at least it’s the top .5%

    2. “Check your premises.” It might not be, not always or even most of the time, that potential libertarians are turned off simply because Rand was a bitch. They could just as easily or more likely be turned off because she seemed to happily suggest that people who didn’t matter could be sacrificed in a train wreck for not embracing her moral universe. It’s not just her personality; her ideas themselves, or what’s implied, could be the turn-off. I remember discussing her ideas with a fellow libertarian once, a rabid Rand fan, who said that if he could pull a switch to suddenly turn the world into a libertarian one, he would do it, no matter how many people would die in the sudden change. Whether or not you would agree that a lot of people might die, or to what extent you think the would die, the total lack of concern for the consequences to individuals present in this extremism – whether it’s Rand or Mao we’re talking about – is bound to turn away anyone with something resembling human emotions like empathy.

      1. Obviously one shouldn’t seek to advance an idea no matter what the cost. I’m sure you could find people who believe a lot of good things that would be willing to sacrifice millions of people to attain them, and I’d be willing to bet that the majority of them belong to statist ideologies. My point is that ideas, like art, are best judged on their own merits, independent of those who advocated them. The rightness of libertarianism isn’t dependent on its main advocates being exemplars of kindness anymore than the truth of physics or calculus are dependent on Newton not being a douche nozzle.

        I certainly agree that libertarians can do a better job of making people understand that trying to attain any good thing through anti-libertarian means is usually self defeating and often results in real evil. I also think we would do better to embrace the free wheeling cosmotarian position now, as, in my estimation, it is more compatible with the ideas of libertarianism, and it would be better for us in the future as well if we are ahead of the societal evolution curve.

        1. Hopefully I haven’t given anyone the wrong impression, I’ve read a lot of Rand, found it somewhat entertaining, but I’ve never considered myself an objectivist, and as an anarchist Rand would have hated me more than a communist. I am a libertarian for a number of reasons, but I suppose my commitment to ideas of justice and compassion are the most important. There is no justice or compassion to be found in the state or in the ideologies which uphold it. There are other, probably better reasons to be a libertarian, and I am a libertarian for many of those reasons too. I resent the idea that we should have to worry about people being scared off by Ayn Rand’s personality when Progressives don’t have to worry about the warmongering racist roots of their ideology, not to mention its overtly authoritarian nature; and conservatives are able to get over the cowboy hat and belt buckle associations (along with the millions of more glaring problems with their ideology.) That’s why I wrote “Fuck them.”

      2. she seemed to happily suggest that people who didn’t matter could be sacrificed in a train wreck for not embracing her moral universe

        Well, it’s the writer’s prerogative to do what she pleases with her characters, but if by “sacrifice” you mean the consequences of having or condoning a destructive philosophy, then yes. Just as a culture that embraces welfare statism will be “sacrificed,” eventually. The train wreck was a dramatic device, obviously; a metaphor, and an effective one. Ayn Rand herself never killed anyone, as far as I know, and in the purest “libertarian” sense advocated the use of force only in self defense. Just like Mao! Fool.

        1. It wasn’t a wreck, it was a mass suffocation. I prefer to feel those who died did so not because she killed them but because their beliefs led to a system that eventually resulted in mass suicide.

          1. It was actually both, since the Army train crashed into it inside the tunnel.

        2. I think the jarring part of that story is that Rand implicitly states that the deaths of people who hold the wrong ideas are not tragic:

          It is said that catastrophes are a matter of pure chance, and there were those who would have said that the passengers of the Comet were in no way guilty or responsible for the thing that happened to them…

          …there was not a passenger aboard the train that did not share one or more of their ideas.

          1. I’ll also note that Obama seems to have picked up Rand’s “there are those who say” phraseology.

          2. What she was trying to point out was that holding the wrong ideas, holding them consistently and fully and completely, is essentially the same thing as holding a gun to your head and pulling the trigger. Sooner or later it will kill you. That is not an opinion, it is a fact, and as such elicits no particular emotion of any stripe.

            Why was there no spare Diesel at the tunnel mouth? It had been removed for some politician’s special. Why was the old superintendent of the Colorado gone? Because the Diesel had been removed. Why was the new superintendent, the one who said to use the coal burning engine in place? Because of a political deal. Why was his subordinate not able to do anything about the impending catastrophe? Because Ms. Taggart had quit. Why had Ms. Taggart quit? Because the politicians had attempted to chain her to her desk with 10-289. Why did they send the train through despite not having a Diesel? Because the politician on the train needed to be in CA by tomorrow morning; the “how” of that request was unimportant to him. Who ultimately let it all happen? The people who voted the idiot politicians into office. Why did they do it? Because they believed that man is his brothers’ keeper and that government had the right to legislate some men into slavery for the good of others.

            1. holding the wrong ideas, holding them consistently and fully and completely, is essentially the same thing as holding a gun to your head and pulling the trigger. Sooner or later it will kill you. That is not an opinion, it is a fact

              You’re right that it’s not an opinion. It is a falsehood.

              There are plenty of people who hold terrible ideas for their entire lives without meeting a grisly end because of those ideas.

        3. I was speaking of the ideologically concept of a total lack of concern for the consequences as long as one’s goals are advanced. But being a literal-minded, randroid nano-bot, it’s not surprising you wouldn’t get that.

        4. I think Rand was trying to show that ideas have consequences – that ideas sometimes come back in a round about way to bite one on the ass.

      3. Check YOUR premises.

        And by that I mean go back and learn how to read.

        The train passage is explicitly about self-defense against those who initiate force. The teacher, the lawyer, the businessman, they and their corrupt morality are all guilty.

  6. I also wonder how many people recant their libertarianism later in life

    From what I’ve seen, most people who come to libertarianism stay there. The ones who “leave” were never there in the first place (like DONDEERROOOO).

    1. This reminds me of the argument Evangelicals like to use when you point out the horrific sins committed by certain people after being “saved”. The problem is, it brings up the question of how anyone can be sure that their salvation was real rather than the fake kind those awful sinners got.

    2. I think most of us came to be libertarians because we hate most other people, right? There’s not much chance of our essential hatred going away once we hit middle age and our dicks don’t work like they used to.

      1. I don’t hate other people, I just hate them telling me what I can or can’t do. I hate politicians, but they’re not people. They’re probably Irish.

      2. That’s right, it’s not about hating other people. It’s just that none of us have an ounce of compassion in us. We’d rather see a beggar starve than give him a quarter, right?

        1. fuckin’ a

  7. Branden was noting that Rand’s detractors rarely deign “publicly to name the essential ideas of Atlas Shrugged and to attempt to refute them.

    So? Having decent “essential ideas” doesn’t prevent the book from being written in a brutal, ossified ideological style which shows not the slightest hint of concern for the individual human beings who aren’t on the ‘right’ side. People hate Atlas Shrugged for stylistic and thematic reasons (such as the well-placed didactic rapes, trains full of passengers crashed just to make a point, etc). Associating it with libertarianism in their minds is going to turn them against libertarianism if anything. No, it’s not logical, but that’s the way humanity is.

    1. well-placed didactic rapes

      Um, you’re thinking of the other book.

      1. He isn’t thinking at all. He’s merely parroting other nonthinkers. Using code words like “rape” and “kinky sex” to define Rand’s fiction betrays his ignorance.

        1. I didn’t realize the dictionary was a secret code book. The word “rape” is often used to describe the forcible penetration of a woman who’s giving quite visible indications that she doesn’t want you to penetrate her — right?

        2. She was not unresponsive.

    2. trains full of passengers crashed just to make a point

      Just out of curiosity, could you suggest a better, “nicer” way to make Rand’s point without losing the impact that comes from demonstrating how bad ideas and bad politics can get people killed?

      1. I would imagine he must be pissing himself that people use the horrors and death in Afghanistan to point out how how bad ideas and bad politics can get people killed….

      2. It wasn’t presented as a tragedy where innocent people died because of the negligence of those in charge. Rand made a point of writing that it was their own fault that they got killed, because they held the same ideas as those responsible for the Taggart Tunnel disaster. Read the passage I quote above.

        1. And ceded the responsible the power and sanction to take control of the railroad away from the competent and run it themselves.

          1. As if most of those people had the ability to stop that from happening. I suppose I deserve a fiery death for going to college on federal student loans, too.

  8. Why is the word “converted” used over and over again? How can someone be “converted” to Objectivism.

  9. Heed,

    I feel the same way. Rand did set me on the course of libertarianism, along with discussions with my friend who gave me his copy of “Atlas Shrugged” back in 1998. Since then, both of us have significantly changed our viewpoints (not always in the same direction) about a lot of things, but both of us still definitely remain at least small “l” libertarians in many ways, and I don’t think either of us are afraid to admit her influence.
    Aside from “Atlas,” all I’ve read are some of her non-fiction essays. I still haven’t gotten around to “The Fountainhead.” And at this point, it’s definitely not on my priority list. And the reason is b/c of what you mentioned — she does turn people off who might not be turned off anyway. Her bizarre cult, her vitriolic invective — there are friends of mine that lean left whom I’ve gotten to at least consider and appreciate ‘libertarian’ ideas. If I had tried to use Rand to do so, I KNOW it would have turned them off immediately. And, I’m sorry, the people I’ve met and/or read who call themselves “Objectivists” have generally been extremely creepy.
    There are other thinkers/writers that I think are much more effective in spreading libertarian ideas to the average person (and, lest I sound condescending, I don’t mean “average” as “unintelligent” or “plebian.” I mean average in the sense that a lot of people are automatically turned-off by Rand’s style).
    That said, I will reiterate that I still can’t deny her influence.

    1. What people does she turn off who might not be turned off anyway? Lefties would eventually get turned off if Noam Chomsky spouted Rand’s ideas. That’s why they’re lefteis.

  10. No one has been willing to declare: ‘Ayn Rand holds that man must choose his values and actions exclusively by reason, that man has the right to exist for his own sake, that no one has the right to seek values from others by physical force–and I consider such ideas wrong, evil and socially dangerous.

    Well, the first point sure sounds wrong to me. Why must I choose my values and actions exclusively by reason? Is it even possible to choose all your values and actions by reason? Most of my actions are autonomic, and I doubt I (or anyone) could articulate all my values, let alone rationally conceive them.

    1. So then, you choose your values how?

      1. a mixture of background, incident, accident, wants, needs, beliefs, creeds and reason, probably.

      2. I choose Empathy over Greed on a 4d18 or above. But if I’m playing the Speculator card it’s more like a 4d22.

        1. Tulpa values looking like a colossal nerd.

          Wait, there aren’t any d22 or d18…oh shit now I look like a nerd.

          1. Apparently I value attempting to look like a nerd, and screwing it up. Not sure what that makes me look like.

            What I meant to say was 18 on 4d6 and 22 on 4d6.

    2. OK everyone, let’s try and articulate Jesse’s values. I’ll start:

      Jesse values not punching old ladies unless they refuse to give him their purses, and he feels very good about that.

      1. Jesse values punk rock, I think.

        1. Warty values rape. And buggery.

          1. Rand valued rape.

            1. Good. Fucking. Point. So what you’re saying is that Warty is Ayn Rand?

            2. No. What Rand, or rather some of her female protagonists, actually valued was rough sex – and the idea of being so attractive or hot that the male protagonists could not control themselves. In other words they valued a “conquest” – and the more difficult it was to make the male crack, the more of a charge to their own egos. Ever notice that in most of her books, the heroine has more than one lover throughout the course of the story – whereas the various male lovers seem to have only one?

    3. Sounds like you’re working for the wrong magazine.

      1. Sounds like you’re working for the wrong magazine.

        Hey, if she said we choose all our values by Reason: Free Minds and Free Markets, I’d have nothing to complain about…

        But anyway, answering Ebeneezer above, I don’t think people consciously, rationally choose their own values. Not all the time, anyway. When Objectivists start talking as though we do, it hits home that I’m not an Objectivist, even if I frequently agree with the Objectivists on political topics.

        1. You’re almost correct; Objectivists/ Rand didn’t say we DO rationally choose our values; only that we SHOULD.

          1. Very good point.

        2. Some people do consciously, rationally choose their own values. It’s what Objectivism is about.

          The alternative is to irrationally choose values, or just accept whatever values you’ve been taught without questioning them.

    4. I can’t say for sure that I know what Jesse Walker is getting at, and he can correct me if I’m wrong. But I think I may have an inkling …
      I’m not going to go so far as saying all my actions are “autonomic,” but I think it’s fair to say that none of us, as inherently flawed human beings, are able to base all of our values and — especially — actions, on pure reason alone all the time. I think, say and do unreasonable things quite often.
      But I think this is my general approach to libertarianism as a ‘political’ philosophy. The whole, um, reason why human beings should be free is because human beings are, without exception, not and never will be the “perfect” men and women that Rand fantasized about. There are no Dagny Taggerts, John Galts, etc. in real life. We’re all a bunch of often irrational animals when it comes down to it, and realizing that leads me to the conclusion that freedom (constrained by the “non-aggression” principle and alla dat, which I’m sure I don’t have to go into) is the best bet for us as a framework for any kind of society. Because, yeah, I might be an irrational animal, but so are you, and you are no better equipped or more trustworthy to control my life than I am.

      1. Objectivists choose their values consciously, based on pure reason. Or on Rand’s dictates, whichever. The rest of us are irrational.

        Enough about her writings did make enough sense to convert me to libertarianism, though. I appreciate that.

      2. The whole, um, reason why human beings should be free is because human beings are, without exception, not and never will be the “perfect” men and women that Rand fantasized about.

        Yes, for example, most of us unlike Howard Roark are incapable of knowing when the woman really wants to be raped, and when no means no.

        More seriously, your point is excellent here, and it’s exactly why I think Rand is not necessarily a friend of libertarianism. She portrays perfect people– and I think that it inevitably leads to technocratic rule by experts.

        Even though she disclaims such an idea, by constantly providing examples of such ubermensch in her novels, I think she encourages the Romantic dream of perfect people ruling over us. I think that a lot of people can read her books and come away not with the idea that government ruling over individuals is bad, but that “the little people” and the inferiors ruling over true genius is the bad thing.

        1. I don’t think you know many women.

          A good portion of them think that virtue consists of vigorously claiming they are not a whore, then being convinced or romanced or worn down into being one.

        2. Yes, for example, most of us unlike Howard Roark are incapable of knowing when the woman really wants to be raped, and when no means no.

          That’s because some women, themselves don’t seem to know until afterwards.

          1. If he’s ugly or they regret it, then it’s ‘rape’.

    5. Is it even possible to choose all your values and actions by reason?

      No! That’s why criminals are not culpable for their crimes.
      Their choices and actions are “automatic”!

    6. For heaven’s sake, Ed. Crooks might not choose their values, but they certainly do choose their criminal actions. I’ve never heard of the autonomic (not “automatic”) nervous system robbing a bank.

      1. Jesse Walker, I am trying to make it through my first Rand book, The Virtue of Selfishness . She addresses at great length the necessity of using reason alone to arrive at values. At very great length. The more I read, the more I think her mind was very similar to that of Ted Kaszinski, a brilliant sociopath.

        1. Also, anyone reading Rand should consider the context of her development.

          “We The Living” is a good start.

    7. I’d suggest that as a conditional.

      To be more than an automatic creature of animal impulses, then you must choose values rationally.

      You may have no inherent inclination to thievery, but that may leave you subject to temptation.

      If you knowingly choose to reject thievery as part of the value system that renders your participation in the world, then you will reject such temptations as offensive to your value system.

  11. Well said Brian.

  12. Tulpa,

    People hate Atlas Shrugged for stylistic and thematic reasons

    Yeah. You summed up what I was trying to say, basically. Even while reading “Atlas,” I thought it was ridiculous and heavy-handed at times. And her intolerance for anybody with (even slightly) different views was hard to take. But I did manage to get past that and appreciate the underlying “essential ideas” enough that it prompted me to investigate libertarianism further. Many intelligent, thoughtful people — a lot of my friends and family among them — wouldn’t have gotten past that, however. They would have written off her writing as overblown and her worldview as just plain mean.

    1. The truth is often mean.

      The truth often makes people’s vaginas hurt.

  13. Gertrude Stein about Ayn Rand:

    A dogma is a dogma is a dogma is a dogma.

  14. My wife picked up most of her libertarian values from L.Neal Smith’s “Broach” series.

  15. I was a libertarian way before I read any Rand. Frankly, I don’t get how people who are part of our culture are anything other than some variety of libertarian. It’s more American than apple strudel.

  16. I often wondered why Ayn Rand never went into business to invent, produce, or build.
    Philosophers aren’t exactly captains of industry material.

    1. She produced one of the best selling books of all time. Is that enough for you? There are thousands of people who put food on the table because of this book. From the lumberjack who felled the trees to make the paper to the one who sold it in the book store. What have you done lately?

      1. Yeah, but a philosopher is, by definition, someone who who produces nothing.

        And there are thousands of people who put food on the table because of herpes, so that doesn’t mean anything.

        1. Yeah, but a philosopher is, by definition, someone who who produces nothing.

          Wow. RTFB.

          1. I did read “Atlas Shrugged” and was thoroughly unimpressed.

            It’s a fairy tale of capitalism.

            1. Barry calls, and wants you home by 8pm.

              1. Barry White is dead, you insensitive clod!

              2. How sweet it must be to have Berry Manilow on the speed dial; )

            2. Your existence is a fairly tale of a human life.

              Fix that for me.

        2. Ideas are not nothing. They are the one thing you can hold within your mind which should be the one place you can be certain absolutely exists.

          1. Ideas are overrated and your mind cannot make any sense of the world anyway.

            The existence of an objective universe outside of the mind cannot be proven, since the senses we rely upon to prove its existence are subjective and unreliable.

            1. Exactly. You experience is what you know.

              Ideas are directly apprehensible to the mind, whereas the physical world is delivered to the mind only through the senses.

            2. “The existence of an objective universe outside of the mind cannot be proven”

              Go to the roof of a tall building tell yourself gravity is all in your mind and jump.

            3. The existence of an objective universe outside of the mind cannot be proven, since the senses we rely upon to prove its existence are subjective and unreliable.

              And just how do you know that – by relying on those very senses that you claim to be unreliable? For a consciousness to identify itself as such it must be conscious of something other than itself. Furthermore, any statement to the effect that “Truth” or knowledge of reality is impossible simply ignores the fact that a claim to such knowledge is being made by such a statement. One can not have it both ways – either it is possible to know reality or else one should just keep quiet.

        3. Yeah, but a philosopher is, by definition, someone who who produces nothing.

          Uh, no, that is not the definition of a philosopher. Besides, there are too many other occupations which fit that description for it to be of any use as a definition; lawyers, politicians, and bureaucrats come to mind.

  17. Thales of Miletus was.

  18. There’s not one CGI video of Ayn Rand slapping around Bella Abzug with a strap-on on the whole internet.

    World fail.

  19. This again? lol. What turns me off to Rand is not her ideas. Some are good, others aren’t but that’s life sometimes. Even the fact that the heroes of “Atlas” are happy to watch the world go to hell doesn’t bother me because that can be taken as a warning about inaction.

    No, what the turn off really is they way her most enthusiastic fans (at least the ones that I’ve met) use her work to be apathetic, self-aggrandizing assholes. That in itself is bad enough but these people are such pathetic mediocrities (who have only skimmed through the big paragraphs) who need some pseudo-intellectual veneer to make themselves feel important.

  20. Using so many words to say so little about a talentless crackpot novelist of no consequence is symptomatic of someone in thrall to a marginal political cult.

    1. Obviously if so many people are obsessed with that novelist, favorably or otherwise, it suggests she isn’t “of no consequence”.

    2. Whereas Morris just loves the taste of that Obama cock.

    3. Edddddddward. Eddddddddward

  21. What’s that smell?

    1. Whatever it is, it doesn’t know what a cult is.

  22. “or find her tone always congenial, or find aspects of her personality or her fans salubrious.” In other words, she was a bitch. I like her more for it.

  23. Oh yeah the science of climate change has nothing to do with politics.

    From here:…..945445.ece

    The Met Office plans to re-examine 160 years of temperature data after admitting that public confidence in the science on man-made global warming has been shattered by leaked e-mails.

    The Government is attempting to stop the Met Office from carrying out the re-examination, arguing that it would be seized upon by climate change sceptics.

    1. damnit!! wrong thread

  24. “Choosing values and actions exclusively by reason.” This is a part I find annoying about Rand and some of her more anal retentive followers. The fact that you necessarily have to like the waltz better than flailing your arms to r and b while biting your lower lip. Now maybe you look like a fool doing the latter but it doesn’t make you a fascist or communist to do that (and some of them probably dance a lot worse to anything other than ballroom dancing). But for Rand, it was all or nothing. There is no appreciation for the ecstatic, for spontaneity, for the phantasmorgia of the imagination, in her work. This is why she sometimes got labeled (unfairly) a fascist by some. Of course, her political philosophy was limited government but if it anyone were to take the totality of her ideas to the logical extreme, it leads to a robotically conformist world.

    1. Precisely. Rand’s ideal society would allow individuals to live as they chose, but would only be populated by people who made the same choices she did.

  25. Brian, were you drunk or really tired when you wrote this?

  26. intrigued by how a dead and supposedly terrible novelist could so captivate and infuriate journalists and editors today,

    This reminded me of Sarah Palin for some reason.

  27. OK now that actually makes sense dude, I like it.


  28. In addition to discussing the influence of Ayn Rand on the general public, let us discuss her influence on her avowed followers.

    The President/Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights is opposed to the Just War doctrine, saying that such a doctrine is evil and altruistic (terms which are all but synonymous in Randian doctrina), and that the USA should renounce Just War limitations and fight wars based solely on the criterion of self-interest, without being constrained by worries about the deaths of non-Americans.

    The fact that a person claims that his ideas are derived from some philosopher or prophet doesn’t make him right, of course. Maybe this guy is misinterpreting Rand – it wouldn’t be the first time that a philosopher or prophet was misinterpreted by his or her followers.

    But if anyone believes that the head of the Ayn Rand Center is wrong about the implications of Rand’s ideas, they should provide some evidence about *why* he’s wrong.

    True Scotsman-ism – simply declaring that Rand only held good doctrines and anyone who claims otherwise is not a true Randian – will not cut it.

    1. Is that Leonard Peikoff?
      He is a complete (insert pejorative descriptor here).

      1. He is a complete (Ass-munching Dicksnot).

    2. It’s Yaron Brook. Peikoff is too easy a target.

  29. Ah, the anonymity guy stopped by!

  30. You can’t choose any values without some nonrational inputs for reason to work on. Can one rationally justify — without using any principles or axioms or “self-evident truths” of nonrational origin — the value of one’s own survival? I don’t think so, and if you can’t do that, you can’t rationally justify ANYTHING.

    1. The value of one’s survival? Of value to whom? And for what? Why should anyone have to justify one’s existence to anyone other than oneself – if even that?

      One either wishes to continue living or one does not – for whatever reasons or purposes one consciouslessly or unconsciously chooses. If one does, one must esteem oneself enough to put forth the effort to preserve one’s life. If one esteems or holds oneself to be of value (to oneself), then one must make that judgement according to some sort of standard, either explicitly or implicitly chosen or accepted. What that standard will be is probably going to depend on the individual and his or her circumstances; some standards are going to be more valid, realistic, or useful than others. And how valid or useful those standards are depends on reality and on one’s purpose. I’m not saying that people necessarily do all or any of this consciously, but it’s still there, in everything they think and do; they can be conscious of it, if they so choose.

      How can there be principles or axioms or self-evident truths of “non-rational origin”? How can axioms and truths be legitimately such unless they are rational? And how could such be perceived or conceived by other than a rational being?

  31. You know, Hitler captivates and infuriates people today too.

  32. Despite her political philosophy, Rand’s literature reads like a paean to the ultra-talented, to the top 0.5%. Many people who read them, in my experience, end up being the sort of pseudo-libertarian who doesn’t think that government or anything else should interfere with their plans, but that they should be allowed to interfere in the plans of all those self-evident morons out there. Her novels don’t address the temptation of “libertarianism for me but not for thee,” and, if anything, encourage it. The conceit that it’s about having the “wrong people” in charge, not having the heroes in charge, instead of the system.

    There’s no acceptance of the idea that capitalism is built around aggregating choice, that failure and experimentation is part of capitalism. No, genius would always be inevitably successful, unless petty government interferes– or even the petty tastes of small minded lumpen-proletariat or bourgeoisie who don’t fully recognize genius.

    It’s also, for me, impossible to read We the Living without seeing how she despises the democratic capitalists far more than the Bolsheviks in the novel.

    1. A good analysis.

      And most people see themselves as extraordinary, even though the Bell curve says otherwise.

      A neat trick by Ayn Rand.

      It’s kinda like how the people who believe in reincarnation somehow always turn out to have interesting past lives when psychics tell them about their past lives.

      It’s always “General of the Pharaoh” and never “Shit-eater during the Plague.”

      1. claymore – you’re a pretty boring, superficial individual as well. Try some more inventive criticisms of Ayn Rand other than what you read on the internets sometime, huh?

        Now, run along little boy…

    2. I think you need to go back and read her work.

      Freedom is all about the freedom to fail and for someone else to drive you to fail by competing with better ideas and products.

      She hates the crony-capitalists because they use government as a club to beat their competitors. It makes sense to detest those hypocrites.

    3. what a boring, trite ‘criticism’. Clearly, reading comprehension is beyond your basic abilities.

  33. I have a question – probably a dumb question and for that I apologize (my question is genuine). Ayn Rand is often help up as a Libertarian, yet the quote that I pasted in below has always made me curious. Was this just Rand’s anger at faux libertarians or are Libertarians incorrect in claiming Rand? Something else?

    Q: Libertarians advocate the politics you advocate. So why are you opposed to the Libertarian Party? [FHF: “Egalitarianism and Inflation,” 1974]

    AR:They are not defenders of capitalism. They’re a group of publicity seekers who rush into politics prematurely, because they allegedly want to educate people through a political campaign, which can’t be done. Further, their leadership consists of men of every of persuasion, from religious conservatives to anarchists. Moreover, most of them are my enemies: they spend their time denouncing me, while plagiarizing my ideas. Now, I think it’s a bad beginning for an allegedly pro-capitalist party to start by stealing ideas.

    Link to this quote:…..bertarians

    1. It sounds like she was talking about the Libertarian Party rather than libertarians in general. There are plenty of libertarians who dislike the LP as well.

      It’s also worth keeping in mind that Rand was an egocentric intolerant bitch in her personal life. Note how she speaks of “plagiarizing my ideas”, as if she was the first person to conceive of limited government.

    2. Many, many libertarians don’t have much to do with the LP. For a laundry list of reasons.

    3. “Further, their leadership consists of men of every of persuasion, from religious conservatives to anarchists.”

      How is that a bad thing?

      The way I see it, that guarantees that the only thing holding their party together is the strength of the shared ideology. What happened to the Republican party was there was too much religious conservatism and not enough of other people who would say “no” to that, and the Repubs lost their original vision because of that.

      As long as the diverse body of the LP is agreeing with each other entirely on Libertarian principles, they can disagree on irrelevant things all they want, because it only means they won’t force those irrelevant policies on others when they’re in office. Well, that’s just my theory at least.

      1. What kind of name is that?

    4. This had nothing to do with specifically the LP.

      Rand felt that to be a “libertarian” you HAD to be an Objectivist. Since many libertarians came to l’ism from other philosophies, they were unacceptable to her.

      She seemed to think that she originated these ideas and not recognize that she was part of a tradition that went back decades. Heck, there are 2 contemporaries of hers that wrote similiar books: “God of the Machine” and “Discovery of Freedom”.

      Sadly, all Orthodox O’ist continue with this attitude.

  34. Note how she speaks of “plagiarizing my ideas”, as if she was the first person to conceive of limited government.

    To be fair, she was speaking about the “non-initiation of force” pledge the LP had. She got into a big fight with Rothbard about that, and viewed him as an apostate.

  35. Ayn Rand was the dark guru of libertarianism. Or the Magneto. I wouldn’t mind so much if it weren’t for the fact there is so much attention given to her to the point of obsession. She had some good ideas, but she took her position to a chilling, ideological extreme. Where is the Gandalf in our movement?

    1. Perhaps that’s why Rand gets so much public attention from the enemies of libertarianism; her shortcomings as a writer (and as a human being in general) provide an easy avenue of attack against libertarianism without actually engaging the ideas.

      Sort of like how the current administration loves to pick fights with Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, so that they are seen as the leaders of the anti-Obama movement.

  36. Is Rothbard our Gandalf? I guess that makes the Kochtopus Saruman??? Who’s Gollum?

    For me, Rand was one of a handful of people I read around the same time (I think the others were Harry Browne and Robert Ringer) which turned me to libertarianism. I guess I was fortunate to read her fiction then her non-fiction, begining with her earlier works. There were elements that turned me off from her (bitterness & strideness), but it turned me off from being an Objectivist, not from being a libertarian (thanks to the fact I was reading other l’ists).

    1. Who’s Gollum?
      Jean Bart?
      Gary Gunnels?

  37. Those with an absolute and passionate view serve as a reminder to those who are more apathetic. They serve their purpose as we age and bargain our way through life.

    1. Word…they serve alternately as warnings and as exemplars.

      1. And “To Serve Man” is a cookbook.

  38. *chanting*
    Oh great flying spaghetti monster of the internets. Summon pray the spirit of the Randian Who Knows Nose, Pilly Pecker. Oh great Pecker, grace us on this thread with thine knowledge of the Rand

    *ends chanting*

    1. Summon pray the spirit of the Randian Who Knows Nose, Pilly Pecker.

      Shouldn’t there be a comma before and after the word pray, Sherlock? 😉

      1. I thought it should be after summon.

  39. I think Rand’s writings do a very good job illustrating the dangers of government sticking their nose into everything.

    The issue I have the Objectivism is that no one has the same frame of reference of reality. We see reality through the lens of our personal experience. In order to be objective about reality, you would have to be omniscient and omnipresent – thus making yourself a god (by most definitions).

    The scientific method is the best attempt to objectify reality. Instead of relying on opinions and experience, science relies on data and repeatable experiments. However, even science is not exact. Science identifies models of reality and those models’ validity is determined by how well they reflect reality. No model is exact and completely understood – hence the margin of error between theoretical and measured values in any experiment and the constant search for a Grand Unified Theory. Another example is Heisenberg Uncertainty – the very act of observing an electron changes its state, Schrodinger’s Cat and such. On an atomic level, physics is reduced down to probabilities.

    Science, like religion, is only another tool human beings utilize to attempt to explain reality. What about the things in reality that can’t be measured?

    One major fault of science is that it can tell you precisely what it is that you’re doing, but it can’t tell you whether or not that action is moral. Walk into a bookstore, look at the science section, and count the number books that try to link science and morality. In order to do this, science reduces every emotion, thought, and idea into chemical reactions. This makes human beings simply a sum of parts. Essentially, this removes the soul – as well as free will.

    What kind of chemicals compose an idea? the mind? Where is the mind? Can you put your finger on it?

    As far as choosing all your values by “reason” – no one ever really defined the term. If you mean that every opinion you hold should be justified by some system of logic, I would agree with you. Assuming that if everyone chose their ideology based on reason, everyone’s ideology would be the same would be a mistake.

    I’m a theist. As such, Richard Dawkins would consider me an insane moron. Is my theistic position based on reason? I would say so, but I doubt I could convince Dawkins to see my point of view.

    I find it odd that the popular view of the world these days is that human beings are just dancing to the tune of their DNA , to paraphrase Dawkins, yet most people in the world want to solve world hunger, be compassionate, live as a society, etc.

    The result of Objectivism, when thoroughly applied, is that it reduces human beings to animals. It limits the influence of government by emphasizing the individual, but it comes full circle to nihilism.

  40. She has a reputation for being extraordinarily good at appealing to young people and spreading a strong appreciation for freedom, there. Does anyone have thoughts on whether that is true, and if so, why has her writing have that kind of appeal? I’m sure that there are a few people around here who have experienced that appeal. It would be a good thing to reproduce, if we can.

    1. I have always been libertarian leaning. My parents are very conservative. When I read Atlas Shrugged, it kind of brought everything together. You really see how people like Mouch slither their way into control and how they rationalize what they do.

  41. I agree with Denis: “Libertarianism is just one belief among many a person can simultaneously hold, it isn’t a religion, a lifestyle, and it needn’t even be a movement”.

  42. I think there should be a movement, though. People need to organize in order to succeed politically, unless their view is so overwhelmingly popular that they succeed without trying.

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