Charles Murray on Ayn Rand


In The Claremont Review of Books, Charles Murray, who remains very impressed and influenced by Ayn Rand, reviews Anne Heller's and Jennifer Burns' recent bios of the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. A snippet:

There's no getting around it: taken as a whole, there is a dismaying discrepancy between the Ayn Rand of real life and Ayn Rand as she presented herself to the world. The discrepancy is important because Rand herself made such a big deal about living a life that was the embodiment of her philosophy. "My personal life is a postscript to my novels," she wrote in the afterword to Atlas Shrugged. "It consists of the sentence: 'And I mean it.' I have always lived by the philosophy I present in my books—and it has worked for me, as it works for my characters." As both books document, that statement was self-delusion on a grand scale.

After Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957, Rand and her chief disciple Nathaniel Branden converted the themes of her novels into a philosophy that they labeled "Objectivism." Objectivism takes as its metaphysical foundation the existence of reality that is unchanged by anything that an observer might think about it—"A is A," as Aristotle put it, and as Rand often repeated in her own work. Objectivism's epistemology is based on the capacity of the human mind to perceive reality through reason, and the adamant assertion that reason is the only way to perceive reality. In Rand's view, notions of intuition or spiritual insight were hokum.

One of the extensions of these premises to daily life is that "[o]ne must never attempt to fake reality in any manner," in words from The Virtue of Selfishness (1964) that appear in variations throughout Rand's work. To fake reality despoils that which makes human beings human. Wishful thinking, unrealistic hopes, duplicity, refusal to take responsibility for the consequences of one's actions—all these amount to faking reality and, to Rand, were despicable. But Rand herself faked reality throughout her life, beginning in small ways and ending with the construction of a delusional alternative reality that took over her life.

More here.

Several Reason staffers reviewed the Burns and Heller volumes. Check it out here.

And check out's "Radicals for Capitalism," a 10-part series analyzing the enduring influence of her work and ideas. First episode below and rest here.

NEXT: Friday Funnies

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  1. Release the rape jokes.

  2. They don’t want to be released. They want to be ravished.

    I own a factory that makes penis-shaped vehicles, so I know.

  3. taken as a whole, there is a dismaying discrepancy between the Ayn Rand of real life and Ayn Rand as she presented herself to the world.

    *clutches chest, falls to floor*

    1. “It’s the big one, Elizabeth!”

    2. Like many authors, she was a little tiny bit totally batshit fookin’ crazy.

      1. No, she wasn’t. Any yet, some people simply cannot separate her personal life from her professional achievements. That’s their problem, not hers.

        1. This must be the fake ed, because the only thing the read ed would have questioned is the “tiny bit”.

          1. There’s a fake me? This is intolerable.
            I get a job and look what happens.

            1. Ed, I didn’t mean it in a bad way. Lots of great, crazy authors out there. Hemmingway collected cats.

              1. And their ancestors are still roaming Key West.

        2. Not when she boasted that she lived her personal life exactly according to her philosophy, and expected everyone else to do the same.

          1. All you (or I) know about her personal life is what we get second-hand. Regardless, it’s her professional achievements that matter to me. I couldn’t care less about personal gossip.

          2. Having an affair doesn’t necessarily conflict with Objectivism.

  4. Well the amphetamine use/abuse most certainly leads to a palpable megalomania. In my more vainglorious days I too have felt it. It is awfully difficult to be truly honest with yourself when you are pumped on drugs that make everything you do seem like a stroke of genius.

    That isn’t to say that her work isn’t great, but it’s easy to get carried away by a meth, benny, dexedrine, cocaine, adderall, or any decent speed habit.

    1. Did Rand do speed? I never heard that, but if she had that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Kerouac wrote On the Road on amphetamines and Burroughs wrote on lots of goodies. For some writers, drugs help the creative process, for others, not so much. In these cases, if Rand like Kerouac and Burroughs used performance enhancing drugs, it appears it helped them write amazing literature, in my opinion.

  5. Where is the Rand Domme picture? I feel empty.

  6. So doess The Passion of Ayn Rand support or refute Murray’s view? Also, How does Eric Stoltz end up in these movies?

    1. Needed the $.

  7. According to some recent biography, she demanded that her followers smoke to show “man’s victory over fire”. Her books are boring as hell…. but this is one of the single greatest things I’ve ever heard.

    1. IIRC,

      “When a man is thinking, there is a point of fire alive in his mind, and it is appropriate that he have the burning point of a cigarette as his sole expression.”

      If not for that quote, I might have quit smoking sooner.

    2. The only reason she came up with that bullshit was because she was already a smoker and needed to show that all her actions were done because of Objectivism. Bridging the gap is a wonderful thing, ain’t it?

  8. This is just tiresome. Is this news to anyone at this point? Even granting that the books are an excuse to dredge this stuff up again, didn’t these books come out months ago?

    And on that note, when was the last time Charles Murray wrote anything interesting?

  9. I think his real problem with Rand is that she is an atheist. I admire Rand a lot because she is, what I consider to be, a true libertarian, and the best kind of libertarian, one who isn’t fooled by the delusion of religion/spirituality. If he is talking about her extramarital affairs, there is nothing in her philosophy that is against that. The only delusion is one that the writer of this article imagined.

    1. But she did keep the affair a secret, and lied when she told others that her marriage was doing well and that she loved her husband. She was extremely conscious of maintaining a certain image of herself that wasn’t accurate. She refused to acknowledge that anyone had helped her reach success, even though her family had sacrificed alot in order to send her to the US, and relatives loaned her money that she never payed back or mentioned.

  10. If I had read Rand’s work in a froth of hero worship and required my holy one to be spiritually pure, I imagine the tales of her mortality would have been dispiriting.

    However, I read her books for the ideas. I liked them.

    The muckraking and gossip are just sound and fury. And not much of that.

    1. The muckraking and gossip is all some people can comprehend. They enjoy salacious rumor and slander. Others comprehend too much about Rand for their own good, as her philosophy is ruthless in identifying the betrayal of values that most men succumb to. It’s easier to hate the messenger than to be introspective and honest with oneself.

    2. I totally agree. Although, I think Murray points out some interesting facts that cannot be ignored. An equivalent to many of them would be if Nietzche was discovered to have regularly attended church or something like that.

      Rand’s ideas as expressed in her novels and writings are extremely powerful and persuasive for the most part. But,…they are not the be all end all for free thought in a society. I read Rand after other thinkers, and other thinkers after Rand. She got a lot of things completely right and yet on some things she was completely off base or more accurately extremely “rationalistic” in a way that does not fit with her principles. Example: Most of her comments on art and music.

  11. Let me add that Murray’s What It Means To Be a Libertarian should be the starting point for libertarian thought in the modern world. He quickly and skillfully demolishes the most obvious opposing views and seriously grapples with the most challenging parts of applying libertarianism.

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