Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand Quotes Are More Despicable Than Bill Cosby Rape Memes?


Forever 21

Last year, Nick Gillespie clued us in to Forever 21's "Unstoppable Muscle Tee," which allowed purchasers to boast to the world with (a variant of) Ayn Rand's words: "The question isn't who is going to let me, it's who is going to stop me."

That shirt may have hit a chord, because it's sold out even as New York magazine belatedly discovers the phenomenon after returning from an extended wait for Sunday brunch. The garments apparently sent bloody marys a-churning among compilers of that magazine's Approval Matrix, which plots current happenings prominent and obscure along a Despicable/Brilliant axis and a Highbrow/Lowbrow axis. They found "Ayn Rand, misquoted as a feminist, now featured on belly t-shirts for teenage girls" more highbrow, but also more despicable, then "Bill Cosby rape-as-meme," referring to graphics passing through social media referencing the controversy-dogged funnyman who faces a laundy list of accusations of very bad behavior.

Perusing New York media really can be an enlightening peek into a very strange world.

If you want to see the full approval matrix and find out what qualifies as Brilliant and Highbrow, see here. You can still find the Rand sort-of-quote on the apparel of your choice from other vendors.

Approval matrix
NY Mag

NEXT: Jacob Sullum on the Contraction of a Cannabis Crackdown

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.


  2. Bill Cosby was a rich powerful man and was able to get people to cover up for his raping and sexual harassment. We all know that is true. We also know that it is impossible that Bill Clinton could have used his position and power to do the same thing. That is like totally different and only ignorant right wingers think differently

  3. Air kiss, darlings. Did you hear that there’s a shirt that quotes Ayn “Most Evil Person Who Ever Lived” Rand? Never mind what we actually think about the thought expressed; capital-T Truth has nothing to do with what’s said and everything to do with who’s saying it. I suppose that next, people will come out with shirts quoting Rand on abortion and the religious right.

    1. I wish they would. It would be funny to watch Progs twist themselves in a knots explaining why the quotes are still evil. Remember the political conscience and the class of the speaker is what matters not the content of the speech. So someone like Rand is always wrong no matter what she says. This is what they actually believe.


      The question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me. – Ayn Rand


      The question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me. – Lena Dunham

      1. When Dunham says it, she’s only talking about what she’s going to do with her vag.

        When Rand says it, she’s talking about what she’s going to do with her brain.

        1. Her brain and her vag.

          Based on the legendary insults she seemingly conjured out of thin air, I can only imagine what kind of dirty talk she used on Frank and Nathaniel.

  4. I don’t think any of the people involved with the production, marketing, or wearing of that shit actually understand the quote. You can throw the magazine into that group too.

    1. If it were a Venn diagram, “people who criticize Atlas Shrugged” and “people who have actually read Atlas Shrugged” have very little overlap.

      1. I would disagree. Almost everyone I know who has read Atlas Shrugged does criticize aspects of the book.

        Their criticisms tend to be more apt than the people who are ignorant that its protagonist is a woman who is trying TO BREAK THROUGH THE FUCKING GLASS CEILING!!!!!

        1. I don’t think he’s counting “constructive criticism” as criticism, just the strawmen that you tend to find in Salon, New York, or any fashion tastemaking magazine. Yes, I’m elitist.

          1. Atlas Constructive Criticism:


            Here endeth the lesson.

    2. Call me a corporatist, but I’m always a tad bit more confident on the abilities and intellect of the producers and marketers to grasp it, albeit if just from a superficial, “ironic/kitchy” POV. The people wearing it though? The kind that shop at 21 and not at thrift shops? LMFAO!!!!

      1. That’s not corporatism? corporatism is the idea that society is a body where the government is the brain and other parts of society are cells in that body and a form of government to implement it.

        I suggest reading The Coming Corporate State.

  5. How do you misquote someone “as a feminist”? That doesn’t even make any sense.

    1. That doesn’t even make any sense.

      I think I see your difficulty in understanding their mindset.

    2. I take it that they’re trying to say that the shirt implies that Rand was a feminist and/or that her ideas are congenial to feminism.

      Since I understand feminism to be the belief that women are people with the same rights as men, I infer that the NYT thinks that Rand did not actually believe that women are people, and/or that her philosophy is incompatible with that opinion.

    3. Clearly the heteropatriarchy has clouded your mind.

  6. I guess we could go for quotes by, somewhat, less evil women:

    “I would like to see every woman know how to handle [firearms] as naturally as they know how to handle babies.”
    -Annie Oakley

    1. Annie Get Your Walkie-Talkie


  7. It’s funny – Rand, and Heinlein for that matter, wrote stuff in the 50’s that the counterculture would only catch up to in the 60’s.

    Rand wrote about women who stepped out of their assigned economic and sexual roles. In the 40’s and 50’s.

    In Stranger in a Strange Land, Heinlein wrote approvingly about post-Christian pan-sexual commune hippies who defied the corrupt political and religious establishment. In the 50’s.

    They were ahead of the avant garde in just about every way, and it’s very clear if you look at the copyright plates at the beginnings of their books and think it through.

    So naturally the New Yorker would consider both of them disreputable hacks, I’m sure.

    1. To be fair, I know next to nothing about Ayn Rand except the fact that she’s the subject of much infighting with certain libertarian types and that she’s the Hester Prynne of Team Blue. What are the books or articles from her that would be a good introduction to a guy like me?

      1. It depends on what you like.

        The Fountainhead is the work that probably has the most literary merit of anything she wrote. It’s clearly a libertarian work, but it’s the “early Rush album” flavor of that – an ode to the value of individual creativity.

        Atlas is the best way to get the whole deal at once. But many people find it to be didactic and written in a cardboard style. Personally, I find it ever more true to life as time goes on and all of its caricatures come true, but that’s the general critique. It’s also incredibly long, and speech-y.

        I’m going to come out of left field here and suggest We the Living.

        It’s her novel about postrevolutionary Russia.

        Written in 1936, it essentially lays out exactly why the revolution will ultimately fail…again, while the supposed avant garde was still way behind the curve.

        For something you can read in two hours, there’s always Anthem. It’s short and allegorical, and it’s not uncommon for it to be a high school freshman reading assignment (maybe not so much any more, what with the progs and all).

        1. Personally, I find it ever more true to life as time goes on and all of its caricatures come true, but that’s the general critique. It’s also incredibly long, and speech-y.

          That’s the scary thing! It’s one thing to read a book and see it as a sort of theoretical dialogue. It’s quite another to see people behaving like the cartoonish villains in real life!

          1. I hear that!

            I only read “Atlas Shrugged” 2 or 3 years ago – recently turned 50, btw – and the more I read, the more I discovered real people “behaving like the cartoonish villains in real life,” as you say.

            Case in point: Protests and media circuses and sham “votes” over raising the minimum wage. . .

        2. I haven’t read We the Living, but between Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, I would definitely recommend the Fountainhead. It’s subtler and, I think, a better story. It also really changed the way I think about architecture, which was an interesting and unexpected result. You do have to get past the rape-but-not-rape thing, which might put some people off.

          If the general theme of The Fountainhead intrigues you, you can either read Atlas Shrugged or the Wikipedia page on Objectivism. Which is basically Atlas Shrugged with a better plot. Hey oh!

          Actually, I thought Atlas was still a worthwhile read. But it can be a tough slog, at times.

        3. I think We the Living is better from a literary standpoint, too.

          It also kind of illustrates the way that Rand separated herself from the right as well as the left. With Leo representing the decaying, corrupt aristocracy, and Andrei representing the honest, idealistic aspect of the communist revolution.

          It is Andrei who delivers the core philosophical message of the book.

          1. “We the Living” is a great novel, I know some think it’s her best work.

            Rand’s collection of essays are also worth checking out.

          2. Continuing on that thought …

            The fact that it’s Andrei who delivers the philosophical message is pretty significant. If it had been Leo, then people could easily condemn Rand as a reactionary supporter of the old regime. There’s obviously some positive aspects of Leo’s character as well, but in the end, in spite of all those noble qualities, he chooses this route of corruption.

            By contrast, with Andrei you can see how in spite of his commitment to communism in the beginning, even in spite of his commitment to violent revolution, he’s still a good and noble person. Which shows that Rand recognized that there were individual communists who were noble and that she recognized the good in the idealism of those people. It wasn’t individual communists that she hated, it was communism and what it did to people, what it inevitably led to.

            The fact that it’s Andrei not Leo who ultimately sees what’s wrong with the system shows that she wasn’t advocating going back to some preexisting classist system. She was pushing people to recognize the fatal flaws in communism and move beyond it.

        4. I am going to second Anthem. I argue, literately, that it is word for word her best work. Next would be Fountainhead and yeah, I learned a LOT about architecture that I never would have considered looking up before. Plus I like Roark. Atlas is a decent story (for its time) but has been outplayed by reality and is too long. And the lack of subtlety is almost insulting and definitely patronizing. Dagny is a fascinating character however.

          If you read atlas, and you are not a moron, when John Galt starts his speach skip ahead about 28 pages (depends on edition). No this isn’t a joke. Yes you will ignore this for the first 5 pages. Yes you are welcome and I am sorry you didn’t listen 4 pages ago.

        5. “I’m going to come out of left field here and suggest We the Living.”

          Best and most human fiction from Rand. I know of a number of Rand sympathizers who feel that way.

          I’d recommend Atlas Shrugged as fiction, but more so as ideological canon, like the Bible or the Koran.

      2. The only work I really liked by Rand is We The Living. It’s got a passion to it that I find the others lack and she’s less inclined to randomly lecture. That being said, I do tend to notice how many of today’s ‘villains’ are just as cartoonishly stupid as Rand’s villains in Atlas Shrugged. But that book is a slog.

        1. You lie! Boomers are responsible for everything good and wonderful!

          1. Damned straight! 🙂

      3. Instead of her novels I would recommend various nonfiction works by Ayn Rand, if you want to quickly get a more accurate grasp of her ideas. She published a number of collections of essays taken from her newsletters and periodicals throughout the 60’s. There are The Virtue of Selfishness; Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal; For the New Intellectual; The Romantic Manifesto; and An Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology among others.

        1. Instead of her novels I would recommend various nonfiction works by Ayn Rand, if you want to quickly get a more accurate grasp of her ideas. She published a number of collections of essays taken from her newsletters and periodicals throughout the 60’s. There are The Virtue of Selfishness; Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal; For the New Intellectual; The Romantic Manifesto; and An Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology among others.

          Exactly. Skip trying to wade through 900 pages of 2 dimensional characters and chapters of monologue and go straight to a succinct exposition of her ideas.

          1. That’s if you think her explicit philosophy is better than her implicit sense of life.

            I think the best of her sense of life shows in We the Living, and from the comments, and number here would probably agree.

      4. The first thing I read by Rand was Anthem for an essay contest in 7th grade. I wasn’t really politically aware at the time. If I knew then what I knew now, I’d really write the shit out of that essay.

        It’s a really quick read (you can knock it out in a few hours, more like a short story really). It’s the typical dystopian tale about a government assigning people jobs for the rest of their lives, etc. Seems a little derivative now, but it was probably one of the first stories of its kind.

        1. The interesting thing about Anthem was the sort of dystopian future in which it was set. Instead of a statist civilization of the future with advanced technology – such as say, Huxley’s Brave New World – it was a world where humankind had regressed technologically. Candles were what they used for light and it had taken centuries to rediscover those. No electricity or electronics. No motorized vehicles, etc.

          1. Henry Hazlitt’s Time Will Run Back predicted that a socialist society would revert back technologically.

            I believe the reason was because technology saves labor and the labor saved would result in jobs lost but it’s been a while since I’ve read it.

      5. Without any doubt the first thing of Rand’s people should read is “The Virtue of Selfishness”.

        1. Rand’s people should read “The Ego and His Own” by Max Stirner to see what real egoism looks like.

    2. Yes they did. Here is the dirty secret that Boomers ignore; most of the real cutlural change and interesting shit that Boomers like to think happened in the 60s, really started in the 50s. And the important people in the 60s were not Boomers. They were all people who came of age in the 1950s.

    3. Well, neither Heinlein or Rand were ever communists, so it doesn’t count.

      It only counts if you quote Marx and spew anti-capitalist invective.

      People like those at the New Yorker imagine that they OWNED the counter culture, that there never was any counter culture except the communist-aligned, communist-inspired one, and that anyone who appears to be part of such is a BIG FAKE, sent by the evil capitalist enemy to TRICK YOU. (Even if they were doing it 20 years before the communist hippies came along.)

      1. Yeah, there’s a reason the communist hippies were considered part of the New Left.

  8. If someone whose driving philosophy demands to judging people on merit not a feminist given how feminists supposedly define themselves? Unless femininism means judging people by other criteria.

  9. I’m such a newcomer to these boards, and I’m realizing that reading and laughing at the cynicism and sarcasm is different from conversing in it. Damn, it’s hard.

    1. I’m giving you a pass on that comment since you’re new, and all.

  10. The Approval Matrix. It sounds like something an Ayn Rand villain would come up with!

    1. I shudder to think what they actually approve of.

  11. At least Ayn Rand on a T-shirt isn’t the most despicable thing that happened this week. That would be those Manhattanites buying $4M+ apartments on PLANS ALONE.

    1. is this 432 Park Avenue or some new luxury condo project?

  12. So, for the record, Che Guevara, mass murderer, is perfectly acceptable for a t-shirt, but Rand, illegal Jewish immigrant/refugee of an oppressive regime is not?

    1. Silly comment…Che Guevara’s humanity required him to kill…out of love!

      1. Love to Kill: the Che Guevara Story, now showing on Lifetime.

  13. Ayn Rand makes an excellent feminist icon. She’s more of feminist than many feminists are. She was an early engager in the idea of “open” marriages (had an affair with her husband’s knowledge and consent). She pursued her goals regardless of whether they were consiered appropriate for a woman, and stood up for what she believed in. Never mind that all her books have strong female characters. And unlike (say) Lena Dunham, she was interested in issues that extend beyond her vagina.

    1. Her ideas on sexuality would get her shouted down by modern feminists in an instant.

      1. She was into BDSM before it was cool.
        And before she knew what it was.

        1. Funny…and probably spot on!

          Watched a recording of a TV interview she did, Donahue I think. Rand is coming across to the audience as believing woman are every bit the equal of men. She gets asked..”what do you think of the possiblity of a female POTUS.

          Rand’s reply, “I think it’s a monstrous idea”

          Collective gasp from the audience.

          She did back track the comment somewhat, but clearly there was some male dominance thing going on with her at some level.

          1. I think Rand just hated saying the approved thing in that case.

            I can relate very well, I get very uncomfortable when I’m saying things that are too broadly accepted, too agreeable to mainstream popular opinion. I feel a compulsion to say something scandalously unpopular.

            My bet is that Rand was the same way and she just had a moment where she just had to blurt out something plotically incorrect.

            1. You may be onto something. I admire Rand enormously, she set out to defend a philosophical position that at the time, and still is in some quarters, not popular.

              I’m not uncritical of her, to my mind she sometimes behaved badly and think there was a lot of rationalization going on.

              I think by nature she was a prickly character but part of that was due to her managing to escape from a regime she regarded as the epitome of evil only to find her fellow intellectuals in the west defnding and holding up that very same regime as some kind of ideal.

              Ironically I dont think she ever got respect from other intellectuals in the west but has had a significant and positive effect on US culure and politics. A while back USA Today did a piece on her that was actually quite accurate, the piece cited many in the business world and entrepeneurs that had read her work and were inspired to go on and create successful companies. So, screw the academy, she was influential where it mattered and made a positive differenece in very real and tangible ways.

        2. I don’t know if she was into BDSM, but her characters were definitely into being exploited, i.e. being used by men for pleasure, without regard to their own.

          I remember her describing pretty clearly male orgasms, but I don’t remember her ever describing female orgasms. Did she? If not, I wonder if that has something to do with it…

          1. Well, if you are female, and you’re into being dominated and exploited sexually, then you’re going to be more aroused by descriptions of the male orgasm than the female one. You get off on the other person getting off, not yourself, get it?

  14. My best friend’s mother-in-law makes $85 /hour on the internet . She has been out of work for 5 months but last month her pay was $16453 just working on the internet for a few hours.
    Visit this website ????? http://www.jobsfish.com

  15. Apparently they find Eminem threatening to punch Lana Del Rey not very despicable at all.

    1. I think you may have transposed the axes.

      1. Ah, so it’s slightly more despicable. Showing only one corner of the chart makes the vertical label “Despicable” look like it’s the vertical axis.

  16. The Ayn Rand Derangement Syndrome never fails to entertain.

  17. Clearly J.D. Tuccille is an impotent mangina who might want to get a DNA test on his “son” because he clearly doesn’t know how to properly prioritize his levels of emotional horror.

    Bill Cosby is a rapist. Ayn Rand was a purveyor of aggressive yet CONSENSUAL sex.

    These two are not even close to being on the same level or in the order in which you implied.

    Please walk deep into an Arizona desert and die. Then finally your wife can go back to a real man. Your “son” deserves to have a human male presence in the house.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.