Ayn Rand: Her detractors miss her stellar vision

Ayn Rand, the Russian-born writer and self-styled philosopher who died three decades ago, is back in the news as a favorite author of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

 In recent years, the passionately individualist, pro-capitalist Rand has been embraced as a champion of freedom by many conservatives and libertarians, and denounced as a prophet of greed and narcissism by many liberals.

 Yet, if Rand admirers tend to ignore the flaws of her vision, her detractors reduce her to grotesque caricature – and invoke her popularity as proof of right-wing nuttiness.

One major misconception is that Rand worshipped the rich and saw moneymaking as life's highest goal.

 In fact, most wealthy characters in her novels are pathetic, repulsive, or both: businessmen fattened on shady deals or government perks, society people who fill their empty lives with luxury.

 (There are also sympathetic poor and working-class characters.


In The Fountainhead, Rand's first bestseller (and best novel), the hero, architect Howard Roark, describes "the man whose sole aim is to make money" as a variety of "the second-hander" who lives through others, seeking only to impress with his wealth.

 Roark himself turns down lucrative jobs rather than sacrifice his artistic integrity, at one point finding himself penniless.

Rand extolled "selfishness," but not quite in its common meaning.

 (To some extent, she was using the now-familiar confrontational tactic of turning a slur against a stigmatized group– in this case, true individualists– into a badge of pride.

) Roark's foil, the social-climbing opportunist Peter Keating, gives up both the work and the woman he truly loves for career advancement.

 Most people, Rand says, would condemn Keating as "selfish"; yet his real problem is lack of self.

To Rand, being "selfish" meant being true to oneself, neither sacrificing one's own desires nor trampling on others.

 Likewise, Rand's stance against altruism was not an assault on compassion so much as a critique of doctrines that subordinate the individual to a collective– state, church, community, or family.

Was Rand's individualism too radical? Yes.

 Her hostility to the idea of any moral obligation to others led her to argue that, while helping a friend in need is fine, doing so at the expense of something it hurts you to give up is "immoral.

" In her fiction, even private charity as a vocation is despised; so, mostly, is family.

 Rand made little allowance for the fact that some people cannot help themselves through no fault of theirs, or that much individual achievement is enabled by support networks.

Yet great insights can come from flawed thinkers.

 Rand's anti-altruism tirades often turn their target into a straw man, but she is right that the knee-jerk habit of treating altruistic goals as noble has aided evil– for instance, blinding well-meaning Westerners to communism's monstrosity.

When pundits alarmed by Rand-style individualism scoff at the "myth" of individual autonomy, we should remember that this "myth" gave us freedom and human rights, and unleashed creative energies that raised humanity's welfare to once-unthinkable levels.

 Rand's work offers a powerful defense of freedom's moral foundation– and a perceptive analysis of the kinship between "progressive" and "traditionalist" anti-freedom ideologies.

Rand's ideas apply to the personal as well as the political.

 One needn't go to Randian extremes to agree that the valorization of "sacrifice" and the accusation of "selfishness" can be potent weapons for users, manipulators, and family despots– or that dependency is not the path to healthy relationships.

 (In Rand's words, "To say 'I love you,' one must first know how to say the 'I.'")

A common critique is that Rand appeals to adolescents who think they're self-sufficient, special, and destined for great achievement. Yet surely the world would be poorer– materially and spiritually– without people who carry some of that "spirit of youth," as Rand called it, into adulthood.

Attacks on Rand have also focused on her person, from her disastrous extramarital affair with a much younger protégé to her brief infatuation, at 23, with a notorious killer she described as an "exceptional boy" warped by conformist society.

 Ugly stuff, to be sure; but plenty of other intellectuals had a sordid personal lives and romanticized murderers as rebels.

Rand is best viewed as a brilliant maverick.

 But there are reasons this woman attracted hordes of followers, influenced many others, and impressed smart people from journalist Mike Wallace to philosopher John Hospers.

 Those who treat Rand as a liberal bogeyman will forever be blindsided by her appeal.


Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine and a columnist at The Boston Globe, where this essay first appeared. She is the author of "Growing Up in Moscow: Memories of a Soviet Girlhood.


Read more on: Ayn Rand


I believe I saw somewhere that Led Zeppelin is Paul Ryan's favorite band which surprised me at the time. Certainly it can't be Romney's favorite band.

Honestly, I thought most people drank the Ayn Rand kool-aid while in high school or college & then got past that stage. Didn't expect a reporter to still be in it.

@WoolenMillie...Actually, I always thought the Kool-Aid drinkers in college and high school fed at the trough of the "communal, it takes a village, you didn't build that on your own" elexir. Didn't I see them at Capshaw's Pup Tent last Wednesday?
As they say, a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged.

Like her or not, Rand just fans the flames of the battle of individuality versus communal thinking. Radicals on the left are the ones who see no middle line (except for taxing me out the wazoo once I become successful)...and it seems they are the mainstream of the Dems now. Individuality is not equal to greed, even though Dems would like us to believe that.

BTW, I was interested to hear Obama being interviewed on a Richmond (syndicated) radio show on 106.5 (a hip hop station). I am glad to hear he finds time to spout his garbage in venues that routinely play misogynistic, curse-filled, gimme-my-money-now messages. Can you say "core constituency?"

R.I.P.: Peter Grant

I'm curious how this explains her weird rape fascination. I don't think Ayn Rand is misunderstood. Saw this wonderful poem on twitter the other day:

Roses Are Red
Violets Are Blue
Objectivism Is A Morally Bankrupt Ideology
Ayn Rand Sucked As A Writer And Person Too

"Rand's anti-altruism tirades often turn their target into a straw man, but she is right that the knee-jerk habit of treating altruistic goals as noble has aided evil– for instance, blinding well-meaning Westerners to communism's monstrosity."

GREAT use of a straw man here, and in the same sentence where the writer decries the use of straw men. Kudos for the chutzpah!

Atlas Shrugged is Ayn Rand's greatest novel and outlines her philosophy in great detail though probably too much reading for the above author. Ayn Rand's objectivism philosophy is appropriate for a democratic society that should embrace individual achievement unlike a communistic society into which she was born. This author apparently is taking Rand's hard to miss examples of individualistic actions as reality rather than fiction. I think I know who this author favors for president. As far as personal behavior goes, let's not forget Bill Clinton's Monica Lewinsky fiasco. I doubt if todays adolescents have ever heard of Ayn Rand, favoring violent computer games over reflective reading. There would be less violence today if these same adolescents were given the lesson to expect real punishment for unacceptable behavior during their childhood rather than time out. I think this author was over her head in her attempt to critique Ayn Rand. Who is John Galt?

Most of Cville is open minded, acceptance and understanding...as long as you agreed with them and Mao.

Ever hear a loser say anything good about Ayn Rand?

The line that killed me was "Those who treat Rand as a liberal bogeyman will forever be blindsided by her appeal"...she's not a Liberal bogeyman - she's a Libertarian bogeyman.

Whatevs...a puff piece from a libertarian magazine. I don't know if Objectivism is "morally bankrupt" - to me that implies a degree of morality in the first place. Science and Capitalism - systems which operate on intrinsic Natural Laws - have no morality - they are amoral. Objectivism - an appeal to the notion that humans are 'rational econs' whose behavior is perfectly predictable according to rules derived from some fundamental first principles - is inherently amoral.

Of course, we all know this is a load of road apples - even if we didn't have real economists like Dan Ariely - the author of Predictably Irrational - telling us that people aren't particles governed by particle physics.

To call Ayn Rand's work novels is quite generous, to call them great is to reveal a shallow basis in literature. I read The Foutainhead and Atlas Shrugged in my early twenties and enjoyed them at the time. But these are such empty thesis novels with cardboard cutouts as characters. Atlas Shrugged may be her greatest, but that's not saying much, as it's probably below Mickey Spillane's worst.

Deconstruction of altruism and its ulterior motives was done with far more acuity and subtlety by Nietsche.

The Ayn Rand championed by self-styled libertarians and the Ayn Rand derided by so-called liberals are both caricatures. In reality, her works don't deserve nearly so much attention as they get from either camp.

"Deconstruction of altruism and its ulterior motives was done with far more acuity and subtlety by Nietsche."

Or E. O. Wilson.

The Rand Corporation has some dirty secrets that even the folks at the Hook don't want you to know because they deleted this link, and any evidence that it was ever posted, within minutes of it's posting. http://www.infowars.com/secrets-of-the-rand-corp-exposed/

The actions of a person going through life may have more to tell us about who they really were than any turgid vaporings put on paper....

Now that Paul Ryan is the Veep nominee and must appeal to social conservatives in addition to fiscal conservatives, it would appear that he has "shaken the etch-a-sketch" on his earlier gushing assessments of Ayn Rand. He must have figured out that Rand's atheism and her loud pro-choice leanings (among other inconvenient aspects of her philosophy) would not sit well with many of the right-wing social conservatives on whom he must depend for electoral victory in November.

No longer is Rand “the reason I got into public service”, as Ryan once told a a gathering of the Atlas Society. Nor does he require his interns to read "Atlas Shrugged" or give out copies of the book at Christmas (as he earlier claimed.) Apparently, Ryan is now all about Thomas Aquinas and whoever is least offensive to the Pope.

Yes, all hail the woman that thought the dollar sign is high fashion:


It isn't uncommon for adolescents who read Ayn Rand to begin behaving like utter, selfish idiots, using "reason" as a masquerade for their self-absorption. Most of them grow out of it fairly quickly, realizing the stupidity of Rand's ideas.

It's clear that this intellectual and moral development have escaped Cathy Young, who authored this piece and writes for conservative Reason (wink) magazine, and Paul Ryan, a Rand acolyte and Republican vice-presidential nominee. Young calls Rand "brilliant (cough). Yet even conservative stalwart William F. Buckley condemned Rand for her "desiccated philosophy" and her "unyielding dogmatism.” When asked for the single most important source of his ideas, Ryan –– rather than citing the U.S. Constitution and its embedded values and principles –– says that "if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand." Wow. Ryan even tries to pretzel the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church into Rand's weird I-me-mine testimonial to laissez-faire capitalism.

Of course, like the Tea Party and Christian right-wingers who idolize her, Rand was a hypocrite, She whined and complained about social welfare and "moochers," but she took Social Security and Medicare benefits. Rand advocated a "separation of the state and economics," but apparently she failed to read Article I, Section 8 (and clause 18) of the Constitution that very specifically gives the Congress broad economic powers.

Ayn Rand is the perfect emblem of the Republican Party. She was abrasive, rude, contradictory and controlling, and she never failed to blame others for her own mistakes and failures. Her ideas are throughly discredited, but the Republicans cling to her dogma that "no good will is necessary" to promote the general welfare of society, "only self interest." This IS the ethos of the Republican Party and its members.

Linked below is part of a Mike Wallace interview with Ayn Rand. Watch it and see just how scary this woman really was .


P.S. It's interesting to see County Farmer make the claim that "Ayn Rand's objectivism philosophy is appropriate for a democratic society that should embrace individual achievement." Uh-huh. This from a guy who has property in Albemarle county's land use tax subsidy program and receives a huge discount courtesy of the taxpayers. Farmer, like Rand, thinks that a government of the people, by the people and for the people –– one that stands for equality and justice and promoting the general welfare of society –– is "radical." The Framers called it democracy.

"P.S. It's interesting to see County Farmer make the claim that "Ayn Rand's objectivism philosophy is appropriate for a democratic society that should embrace individual achievement." Uh-huh. This from a guy who has property in Albemarle county's land use tax subsidy program and receives a huge discount courtesy of the taxpayers."

This is a perfect example of selfishness of the left..... the left wants those tax dollars to give to some bums with able bodies so they won't have to go work on a farm and do jobs that "americans won't do" The part the left does not understand is that if "country farmer" developed his land BY RIGHT and built a housing development then the rest of the taxpayers would be on the hook for the new schools firehouse and Police officers.... All of which would cost more than the property taxes collected on the finished project.

"country farmer" is not receivng a tax subsidy on his home... he pays full price like anyone else.... what he does receive is a DIFFERENT tax rate in exchange for not turning his land into townhole hell.

His cows don't go to public schools at 16k per student..... but then again they ALREADY know you need to forage for food, protect your young, and share the milk...

The commenter Ponce de Leon tries to make the case for Ayn Rand-style economic policy, claiming that big (and mostly wealthy) landowners in Albemarle county deserve the hefty tax breaks they receive through the county's land use subsidy program. Ponce makes the laughable assertion that cows –– often placed on land to merely to get the tax subsidy –– don't go to school. And he says that if these big landowners decide to "develop" their land, then taxpayers would be "on the hook" for new schools and firehouses. A typical conservative Randian ruse.

First, many big landowners do NOT want to develop their land. Their land is part of their "estate." Real estate vendors call them "preservation tracts," and market them for their exclusive and "superior privacy and protection." And for their tax subsidies. These subsidies often occur simultaneously at the local, state or federal level. For example, a property with a conservation easement in a locality that implements the land use subsidy (like Albemarle does), "must be allowed to enroll in land use." So, the subsidy is three-fold (from local, state and federal taxpayers), and it is substantial. Virginia spends more than $100 million a year on such subsidies, and the county about $20 million.

Second, many big landowners cannot develop their land due to county zoning requirements and limitations, or to restrictions generated from easements. A small, pricey Ragged Mountain subdivision with "preservation tracts range in size from 92 to 106 acres" stipulates that "each allows one primary residence."

And while cows don't go to school (chuckle), they sure can get burned to a crisp. So can horses and timber. A fairly recent wildfire in the Ragged Mountain area proved the veracity of this. That fire threatened both big and modest houses, large land parcels and smaller ones, and it demonstrated that “fire doesn't discriminate.” But the county’s land use tax subsidy program sure does. A smaller 1.84 acre parcel near the fire is assessed at more than $65,000 an acre for the land. But a nearby 21-acre home parcel in Blandemar Farm Estates is assessed at only about $11,000 an acre. Why does the little guy pay six times as much? Oh...maybe it's cows.

Third, even though those who reap land use tax reductions (and lower tax bills) are subsidized by the general public, and even though they often tout the public "benefit" of such subsidies, the public generally has no access to or use of the land. Ironically, those who pitch the "public benefit" argument the loudest are also the ones who so often fail to argue the same for public education or extending affordable health care to more people (and vote against such measures).

Fourth, the "cow" argument has little or no economic substantiation. Albemarle is not known as an agricultural behemoth. The county’s own reports show that agricultural jobs and production have steadily decreased and make up only a very small percentage of local economic activity.

Finally, the Biscuit Run debacle illuminated the tax subsidy charade. To recap, wealthy developer and conservative Republican Hunter Craig sought big state (and taxpayer subsidized) tax credits for his failed real estate venture. Like Ayn Rand, Craig and his conservative brethren push laissez-faire "free market" approaches to almost everything, except of course when the market doesn't work in their favor. Then they seek taxpayer-supported "incentives," and give-aways, and assistance and support...and they invoke the "public good" masquerade..

Meanwhile, at every turn, they push for private gain (theirs) over promoting the general welfare. For them it really is all about "the money," and the public be damned.

Like Ayn Rand (and Ponce de Leon), their hypocrisy seems to have no limitation.

Ms Rand was short sighted and lacked the ability to see the entire picture in context.... kind of like Democracy.

The wealthy are supposed to take care of the poor, subsidize the infrastucture and step up to the plate when the government runs short of cash in a crisis... like a war.... they are not obligated to pay the freight for the middle classes day to day wants and desires.

The middle class gave away the riches money to give the poor an easier life than the middle class has in 90% of the world. Then they demanded that public universities compete with private Universities and voted for pell grants and student loans to anybody that could get in to the lowered bar for college. Then they lobbied for easier credit, public indoor sports arenas and pools, bike paths, cost be damned, demanded everybody go "green" whether the numbers crunched or not and passed consumer protections that make it so that a business has to jackup their prices because of whiny entitled consumers who demand that the same business give their unskilled employees a better standard of living than skilled tradesman had a generation ago.

Tha fact of the matter is that if the land use taxes were rolled back there would be a lot of tracts split up that already have division rights and would not need to kiss the counties butt to build and they would not have to pay proffers for permission. The other taxpayers would be on thre hook for the new roads and schools and like it or not those are the facts.

As for Democracys comparison between an 11k acre of land and a small 1/3 acre lot at "six times" the amount it is a false comparison.... the farmers house and surrounding acre is assessed at fair market value just like the 1/3 acre lot so it may have an assessment at 200k or more. (there is no discout or loophole ) THe surrounding land is by Va law assessed at market value and you can look and see that that is what farms actually sell for. Democracy is a typical zealot who wants the rich to pay HIGHER than market value because he "can afford it".

The county theoretically "gives up" nearly 20 million a year in possible revenue. however, if they tried to recapture the money then the added costs would just cause more and more subdivisions, hasten growth, lower property values which would bring in less revenue and cause taxes to be higher on a house worth less. So the people who want tax relief at the expense of farmers would in fact pay more taxes, have more traffic and less open spaces.

If you don't believe this to be true then research louden county Va or better yet look at it on google maps satelite and compare it to Albemarle county and you will see your future if Democracy ran the show.

You can hate George Bush, and I fault him for sending anything but missles into Iraq or Afghanistan but what caused this was people borrowing easy money and defautlng on the loans. If the schools that have been controlled by progressivies since the early 70s had done their job and taught people about compound interest and basic economics instead of just giving everyone a trophy we wouldn't be in this mess.

George Bush never defaulted on nthe money he borrowed....

There is two trillion in cash on the sidlines waiting for Someone in the White House who does not want to grab the entire wallet as soon as it is cracked open.

So to paraphrase BM's line of reasoning (in Rand-speak)...
Rich moochers = good
Poor moochers = bad

Speaking of Dubya and "borrowed" money... I wonder what Ayn Rand would think of George W. Bush asking the taxpayers of Arlington, Texas to build him a stadium for his baseball team?

how can the "rich" be a "moocher? Isn't a "moocher" someone who walks away from the table with more than they came with without offering anything in return?

Did the stadium end up making money through job creation and tax revenue? Or would the city of arlington been better off if the team moved to cleveland?

My impression of Ayn Rand is that she considered anybody who "takes" at all to be a "moocher". But let’s go with your definition. So tell me again what the rich landowner leaves in return for the tax subsidy on the land that he never intended to develop in the first place?

And why do you discount that the poor kid who gets access to an education through government grants and/or low interest loans might be able to "offer anything in return" (general welfare, social good, yadda yadda...)?

As for Dubya's baseball stadium...
In a letter to the editor in today's Wall Street Journal, none other than Charles Koch argues that private investment is the proper conduit for such projects - not waste-prone government bureaucrats and their business cronies (I'm paraphrasing). He’s railing against the Federal government, of course, but I don’t see how this is any different.

You talk about job creation and tax revenues with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. But what if the Rangers had fared poorly after the stadium was built? What if tickets didn't sell and the team got a better offer to move to another city anyway (Cleveland already had a team, but they could have gone somewhere else)? The taxpayers of Arlington would have been on the hook for that ballpark, not George W. or the rest of his ownership group.

Ah, but that's the rub isn't it. If the cash goes to deep pocketed donors and "businessmen", you guys call it an "investment". If it goes to anybody else, it's a handout. If somebody can claim that they are trying to create jobs and build the tax base (even if those future jobs and tax revenues prove ultimately ethereal), it's all good. But help a single mother provide daycare for her children so she can get a job, and she's a leech on society.

I just want to make sure we're all clear on the hypocrisy.

Thanks Da Troof for making the hypocrisy clear, but I suspect your comment is lost on the hypocrites.

Bill Marshall thinks that taxing the little six times as much as the one who owns a landed estate is somehow fair. I don't.

By the way, the county's extensive land use subsidy program for big and mostly wealthy landowners is not only Randian, but also it contributes to the status of Albemarle County as one of the most unequal of the 818 largest counties in the nation (with Loudoun County, VA, one of the most affluent in the country, not even close).

See: http://www.propublica.org/article/income-inequality-near-you

Da Troof:
1) If a local government wants to partner with private business with gurantees that no taxpayer money is at risk that is an investment. So if there is a parcel of land that is currently generating 50k a year in taxes sitting empty and albemarle makes a deal to keep the taxes at 50k for ten years in exchange for a company spending 10 million dollars and creating 100 jobs that is a good thing because it provides a job for the person on welfare.

2) There is a daycare dilemma because it makes little sense for the taxpayers to pay someonese 400 dollar a week daycare bill so they can go to work earning 500 a week at a job. Perhaps the right thing to do would be for the woman to provide daycare to two others at 300 a week and make 600 a week and get to stay home with her kids. There is nothing wrong with some reasoable daycare subsidy but the subsidies out there often do not make economic sense and are an unjust burden on our grandchildren since they will be repaying the debt with interest.

3)The "rich" landowner is saving you from paying more taxes because if you remove the tax rate adjustment then even if a small percentage of the paticipants develop you are going to be the one suffering higher taxes for the newly required infrastructure and more traffic congestion from the development. Addittionally land in the land use program has very strict guidlines that are vigorously enforced and it is not just manicured estates with personal golf courses. Also.. horses don't countexcept under very limited and strict conditions.

4) I am all for a kid getting access to a decent education, I just think that the way to do it is to bring the costs down to meet the kids ability to afford it rather than give him a loan he can never repay or a grant that must be repaid with interest by his grandchildren. Why with all of the avialable tecjnology has education costs risen and not collapsed? It makes ZERO sense.

You are are being dishonest. , the Little guy does NOT pay 6 times as much on his home as the guy with the landed estate. The houses and 1 acre are taxed at FULL MARKET VALUE AT THE EXACT SAME RATE. The pastures and fields are taxed at a different rate because it is in the public interest to do so.

The reason Albemarle county has a lopsided income differental is because people with lots of money move here after they made thier money elswhere.... they are mostly older people with no kids in the school system who subsidize dramatically with thier spending here rather than lounden county or boca raton florida....

Your petty jealousy of people who are more succesful than you is sad.....

Not everyone who makes a lot of money is dishonest and not everyone who fails to make money is a "victim" Some people actually earn their money and some people actually sit at home and whine about how they can't find a job when their butt is glued to the couch watching netflix.

here is a dileemma for da troof and democracy

Teachers in Chicago who make 115k a year are on strike for money...

Rahn Emanuel (obamas for chief of staff) came out against the Unions

Paul Ryan came out aginst the Unions

Obama punted because he toughts education but the teachers union is one of his biggest donors

Here is some real "troof" for you


Just happened to return for comments and as usual Democracy does not let me down with their typical liberal hogwash. I know he will be checking for more replies. Democracy is an unhappy school teacher who feels they are not appreciated enough by society both in degree of admiration and financially. They want more tax provided income/school budget for teaching less students. He is consumed with the prospect that landowners get a break on property taxes for pasture but doesn't mind those of us paying school tax for education that have no kids to take advantage of the taxes paid. There should be a primary residence homestead deduction in Virginia and a cap on property tax increases as other states have. Democracy, thanks for the link to the Ayn Rand interview. Wallace was the complete smoking idiot reporter and Rand answered his questions prophetically. Who is John Galt?

This is why parents cannot affor college for their kids...(among many other examples of wasteful spending)


@democracy,The Occupiers are like the Democratic Party. They are abrasive, rude, contradictory and controlling, and they never fail to blame others for her own mistakes and failures. Article I Section 8 actually restricts the powers of Congress to those that are actually enumerated (spelled out). All other powers are retained by the States. If Congress' powers were unlimited then we would not have government of the people, by the people and for the people.

The comments by Bill Marshall (oh, Bill, if you could just grasp facts), and C'ville Eye (try reading Article I, Section 8, clause 18), and especially County Farmer (who takes a big land use subsidy, because, well, he thinks he "deserves" it) are , as usual, predictably laughable.

@democracy, I've been reading it off and own for decades.