Ayn Rand: An Examination of Her Philosophy and its Consequences
Few people are as thoroughly brain washed as those who have found the truth in someone else's beliefs. Such is the case with Ayn Rand and her devotees. Ayn Rand died in 1982, so unless those members of her flock are now at least 50 years of age, they really don't know much about her. She was a self-centered, chain-smoking atheist, with a limited education, who thought she was a genius, and who loved to bed down at least one of her married male devotees while her husband first greeted her lover warmly, then left the premises while she seduced him and then jumped his bones. He was some 25 years her junior. That's just the start of a long list of characteristics and activities that portray her views of reality, and her personal peccadillos. Her list of admirers—if not actual disciples—include Alan Greenspan, Ronald Reagan, Clarence Thomas, Paul Ryan, Ron and Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and large elements of those who call themselves Libertarians, Conservatives, and Tea Party adherents. A more complete list might be found in the membership files of the Ayn Rand Institute, a so-called think tank that purports to seek truth while it propagates an ideology. In reading about her, in recalling several of her television appearances, and from her movies, the only thing I can find that distinguishes her in a significant way from such luminaries as Jim Jones, Father Divine, or David Koresh, is her gender.
Ayn Rand arrived in the U.S. from Russia, when she was 21, c. 1926. She claims she was too bright for the Russian education system, and she was so bored by it that she resorted to writing instead of doing her assigned work. She claims to have written short stories at age 8, and novels by age 10. Her father owned a pharmacy in Russia that was taken by the Lenin regime, which probably accounts for her hatred of collectivism in all its forms. Nevertheless, she and I would move about today in very different circles: She turned to novel writing out of boredom, while I turned away from it because it bores me. I have serious doubts about the quality of her youthful scribblings, but no doubts at all about my boredom should I ever be forced to read one of them. I do not agree with many parts of her personal philosophy, although parts of it are consistent with the scientific method that I do agree with and support.
Rand wrote two novels that I have been unable to read: The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Fiction is difficult enough for me to assimilate, but a personal philosophy that is embedded in fiction is completely beyond my desires or my inclinations. I am aware that her novels feature an architect by the name of Galt who embodies her philosophy that she labels objectivism. It is this philosophy that her devotees devote such an inordinate faith in and allegiance to. Let's examine it further.
Objectivism embodies the concepts that 1) objective reality is acquired via the senses; 2) knowledge is acquired through reason (inductive logic); that rational self-interest is the only moral purpose of life; 4) it is attained only by laissez faire capitalism; and, 5) the role of art in human life is to transform humans' metaphysical ideas by selective reproduction of reality into a physical form—a work of art—that one can comprehend and to which one can respond emotionally. The antitheses to these pursuits are collectivism, altruism, and a belief in the supernatural.
While this group of ideas does indeed constitute a personal philosophy of life, philosophers are in general agreement that they do not constitute a philosophical sub-field such as epistemology, logic, metaphysics, ethics, or aesthetics. These branches are further broken down into periods, traditions, and practitioners. Each of these sub-fields is also expanded upon in scores of texts sufficient to fill entire libraries by a long list of books and practitioners. Rand's philosophical elements, in contrast, are more like a collection of principles that need to be refined, explained, and reinterpreted as it is applies to different aspects of a changing society.
But let's look at the elements in her philosophy individually. Objective reality is best observed, measured, and reported on as the most reliable pathway to knowledge. It is supported by the scientific method. It is not the only pathway to knowledge, but it is the most reliable. It is fact-based as opposed to authority-, or intuition-, or principle-based. On that part of her philosophy, I have no quarrel. Similarly, we can expand our knowledge base via analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of our facts. And the main tool in that process is mathematics. Logic, however, is comprised of both inductive and deductive components, and they are circumscribed by limits, coherency, consistency, and other rules that Rand seems to have known little about. They are part of critical analysis.
Where I depart with her profoundly is in her notion that personal self-interest is the sole purpose of life, and it is achievable only by laissez faire capitalism.. That position is at odds with virtually all religions, with the philosophies of equal opportunity seekers, with the concepts of equal chances to pursue life, liberty, and happiness espoused by Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, even with Aristotle and Socrates. In our times, her philosophy stands in stark contrast with John Rawls, a philosopher with substantial credentials, and who is generally acknowledged as our leading thinker on the subject of justice. Collectively, these men, as do I, support the principles of laissez faire capitalism and self-interest, but not to the exclusion of all other political and economic philosophies. Rand could point to her personal experiences in Russia as justification for her beliefs. But western economies are basically the results of 238 years of unbridled laissez faire economics that has given us gross inequalities in incomes, wealth, limited access to education, health care, military conscription, poverty, and all of the social ills that poverty breeds (life expectancies, incarcerations, suicides, hunger, illiteracy, drug usage, mental health issues, and more). Her supporters today tend to ignore all of these outcomes as if they do not exist. Alternatively, they point to them as the cause, rather than the consequence, of poverty. Consider that silly assertion for a moment: “You are not hungry because you have no food; you have no food because you are hungry.”
In so far as I can tell, her fictional character John Galt epitomizes all that is good about unfettered industrialism, and then she applies that fiction to the reality that she believed ought to be. That is a strange twist of logic that mixes positive and normative economics in a new way. David Hume would be flabbergasted. A fictional mental construct cannot stand in for a real person. He never ages, never lies, and never dies. He doesn't even stink, spit, or fart. Real people do all those things. Her devotees have carried on with her fictional dream, and they use it as the basis for all political and economic acts, policies, and models for the future in their efforts to overlay that assertion of a sole “good” morality onto everyone. Why? Because a dead adulteress said so. I suppose there are flimsier reasons. I just can't think of one.
Perhaps more intimate knowledge of her sex life would enlighten us. Or entertain us. Her deep thoughts, however, need to be buried deep with her bones.