Biographical noteAlisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum, later Ayn Rand, was born in 1905 in St. Petersburg. She died in 1982 in New York. She was a Russian Jewish descent. His father was a prosperous pharmacist. After the Bolshevik Revolution, the family fortune was confiscated. Rand studied at the University of St. Petersburg, which, however, could not officially complete due to her bourgeois origins. She received a visa to America in 1925 where she undertook odd jobs in order to remain in the United States. Initially, she lived in Chicago, later in California. She was married in 1931. In 1932 Hollywood purchased her first script. But it was a novel “The Source”, issued in 1943, which brought her popularity and recognition. In the 50’s she moved to New York. Her magnum opus, the novel “Atlas Shrugged” released in 1957 was initially poorly received by critics. Over time the book became one of the most widely read novels in the United States, despite its considerable volume (over 1000 pages in standard edition). Among her followers were Nathaniel Branden, who later became her husband and main promoter of her political and philosophical ideas, and Alan Greenspan.
Subjective Viewpoint: Against Altruism
- John Galt’s speech, the culmination of “Atlas Shrugged”, remains for me one of the most important and surprising speeches of ethics ever written. While first reading Ayn Rand’s condemnation of altruism and praise of selfishness one feels an intellectual impulse that begins as disbelief and turns into astonishment. As it is understood, it becomes a kind of revelation.
- From Nietzsche’s ideas, an Ayn Rand or a Hitler could be derived. From the Big Bang theory, a Jesus or a Stalin could be the consequence. If my brother is a murderer, I am not guilty by virtue of having the same father.
- The concept of selfishness, proposed by Ayn Rand, is a notion only fitting amongst Knights of the Round Table. Men without an elementary sense of nobility won’t understand it. Misunderstanding lofty ideas results in carnage. Was Pol Pot a common thug or a dim-witted interpreter of Enlightenment?
- Full realization of capitalism, the world of utterly honest men, proud and noble, selfish in the way Ayn Rand understood it, is similar to the left-wing and Christian utopias based on altruism and cooperation. But, there is a fundamental difference: the world has seen the realization of left-wing and religious utopias many times. The results are known. Pure capitalism, based solely on selfishness, individual freedom and autonomy has never been tested.
- Ayn Rand is one of the bravest and riskiest thinkers of the twentieth century. Even Christopher Hitchens, a man who can be accused (albeit slanderously) of many things, but certainly not of a lack of personal and intellectual courage, avoided aligning himself with Rand’s conclusions. Could it be that he didn’t want to divulge such potentially volatile concepts amongst the nameless masses who undoubtedly would miss the point?
- In the end, it’s evolution that resolves the problem of finding balance between selfishness and altruism. John Maynard Smith showed, using mathematical models, that either extremes are impossible to maintain in the long run. A stable and cost effective evolutionary strategy boils down to maintaining a balance between the two; and that balance constitutes morality. It’s no longer a mystery.
- From the literary point of view, “Atlas Shrugged” is a fragile book, a kind of thesis-novel. Black and white characters seem to have emerged from the pages of King Arthur stories. It retains the vestiges of gallant romantic impulses, of rebellion and the longing for knights who extol justice. Its philosophical content is dubious. However, the book has immense value as a moral treatise, however precarious.
- The danger of Rand’s philosophy, which she pompously called objectivism – a trap she herself fell into through authoritarianism and excessive self-confidence – is that it reached cult status. Ayn Rand hated, and oftentimes, didn’t understand or accept criticism. Her concept was too rigid to be capable of evolving. It was both the beginning, and the strength of her “doctrine”, yet simultaneously, its demise.
- Maybe every great thinker who drills down through the Unknown questing after a great discovery is bound to commit some tragic mistakes. Restoring a value to selfishness and condemning altruism wasn’t her mistake (she understood these terms in a way, that was partially contrary to their common usage), but instead it was her excessive self-confidence and peremptoriness – an imperative refusal to an open dialogue – that put an end to the possibility of debate. The right of ownership isn’t, and can’t be, a moral Absolute. After all it’s just an abstract, like many other concepts. The strategy of building a society on the basis of a doctrine directed against other doctrines will inevitably cause rejection that’s as sharp and as fierce as the dogma itself. For a social structure to endure, and continue to grow, it requires a significant degree of anarchy, uncertainty, ambiguity.
- Rand’s idea faltered where she herself stumbled – when she accused her husband of dishonesty and irrationality when his affair with an actress came to light. The world doesn’t bend under the pressure of one mind’s thoughts; it follows its own rationality. It would be difficult to demonstrate something more irrational than rolling out a moral cannon to thwart the impulses of love.
- Why do I prefer Ayn Rand, Emil Cioran and Timothy Leary above John Paul II? It’s easier to recognize oneself among crazy romantics than amongst monuments of so-called perfection. The mistakes of Catholicism are so colossal that to see them one has to stand back. From within its self-created bubble it’s difficult to perceive the scale of its errors. The rise and fall of Cioran is something human measurable. John Paul II’s insanity is of a completely different caliber, though also sufficient lunacy to fill a book.
- In the final analysis, Ayn Rand was a visionary. Literature, philosophy, ethics, capitalism were merely colorful packaging for a somewhat melodramatic vision.
- It’s interesting that the American right wing boasts affinity with Ayn Rand’s ideals despite her overt atheism; while the American left wing doesn’t concur whilst being atheist.
- Jesus, Karl Marx, Ayn Rand – why do so many instigators of major socio-political ideologies have Jewish roots or were Jews themselves? Are fascism and Confucianism the only non-Jewish doctrines? Did Hitler carefully hide his Jewish ancestry? Was Confucius the first wandering Jew in China?
- Here’s my attempt to answer. Being a Jew is not strictly a national or religious categorization. Being Jewish is to be part of an excluded social group or to be at risk of exclusion. The establishment of a just and humanistic society is in the interest of every Jew – hence, the desire to create social utopias. Outcasts invent societies. From this perspective, when Jewish people achieve their own state, they cease being rootless Jews and become just like any other nation; like Hungarians.
- I drill down into the thoughts and lives of my heroes, the people I appreciate and admire. And I ask: is discovering their mistakes an excuse for my failures? Mightn’t it be better to write about the gods? To pull oneself from the mud a man needs something loftier than a companion in misery.
- The rules governing the world of Rand’s books are valid in the books of Ayn Rand. It’s not an accusation against literature itself. Does anyone accuse Tolkien of being responsible for the immorality of his elves? Ayn Rand made the same mistake Bible apologists make, equally devoid of irony, claiming that their book is the world.
- I understand why on the Rand’s tombstone there’s no cross, but why is there no dollar symbol?
- It’s possible to criticize everyone for almost anything, even Ayn Rand, so long as the critique makes sense. What I can’t abide is criticism from some socialists or do-gooder crybabies motivated by envy, screaming “money is evil”, “capitalism is evil”, “wealth is immoral”; parasites devoid of honor, converting envy into a banner to flaunt righteous and their own just morality.
Ayn Rand - quotes & fragments
Quotes from the John Galt Speech
Honesty is the recognition of the fact that the unreal is unreal and can have no value, that neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud-that an attempt to gain a value by deceiving the mind of others is an act of raising your victims to a position higher than reality, where you become a pawn of their blindness, a slave of their non-thinking and their evasions, while their intelligence, their rationality, their perceptiveness become the enemies you have to dread and flee-that you do not care to live as a dependent, least of all a dependent on the stupidity of others, or as a fool whose source of values is the fools he succeeds in fooling-that honesty is not a social duty, not a sacrifice for the sake of others, but the most profoundly selfish virtue man can practice: his refusal to sacrifice the reality of his own existence to the deluded consciousness of others.
I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.
We’re on strike against your creed of unearned rewards and unrewarded duties. If you want to know how I made them quit, I told them exactly what I’m telling you tonight. I taught them the morality of Reason – that it was right to pursue one’s own happiness as one’s principal goal in life. I don’t consider the pleasure of others my goal in life, nor do I consider my pleasure the goal of anyone else’s life.
My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.
The good, say the mystics of spirit, is God, a being whose only definition is that he is beyond man’s power to conceive- a definition that invalidates man’s consciousness and nullifies his concepts of existence...Man’s mind, say the mystics of spirit, must be subordinated to the will of God... Man’s standard of value, say the mystics of spirit, is the pleasure of God, whose standards are beyond man’s power of comprehension and must be accepted on faith....The purpose of man’s life...is to become an abject zombie who serves a purpose he does not know, for reasons he is not to question.
If I were to speak your kind of language, I would say that man’s only moral commandment is: thou shall think. But a “moral commandment” is a contradiction in terms. The moral is the chosen, not the forced; the understood, not the obeyed. The moral is the rational, and reason accepts no commandments.