Tuesday, April 12th, 2011
157

When Alan Met Ayn: "Atlas Shrugged" And Our Tanked Economy

That pill-popping, boy-crazy nincompoop Ayn Rand has got a lot to answer for. Indeed, it's not too much of a stretch to say that we owe at least part of the recent economic crisis to her and her philosophy of Objectivism, since former Fed chief Alan Greenspan was a lifelong disciple of both.

The two first met in the '50s. Back then, a gang of acolytes, calling themselves the Collective, used to gather at Rand's apartment on East 36th Street every Saturday night so they could tell each other how smart they all were. Along came Greenspan one evening, shy and somber.

It took a while for Greenspan and Rand to warm to one another. She nicknamed him "the undertaker," owing to his dark clothes and mournful air, and he, a self-avowed logical positivist, required a certain amount of wooing on the philosophical side. But in time he became fiercely devoted to Rand, one of her most trusted confidants; he taught her something of the economics she shoehorned into Atlas Shrugged. He wrote for The Objectivist magazine, and stayed a close friend until her death in 1982.

Though the schemes of both these idealists crashed mightily and catastrophically to earth, both steadfastly refused ever to regret or repudiate the follies of Objectivism. The shocking thing is that despite all the evidence—which could not possibly be more damning—many on Wall Street and on the right continue to insist that Ayn Rand is a genius and that Objectivism is the answer to all mankind's problems.

If that were so, doesn't it stand to reason that the top genius's own life would demonstrate at least a few of the benefits of being an Objectivist? Which, sadly, it really, really does not.

Greenspan's tenure of nearly two decades as the chairman of the Federal Reserve is the second longest in history. Shouldn't he have bestowed on a grateful public a legacy demonstrating the wisdom of Objectivist laissez-faire policies? We know how that turned out, too.

There's about to be a movie, ostensibly the first of a trilogy, of Atlas Shrugged, Rand's magnum opus. The trailer is absurd but mesmerizing, and it quickly gained over a million views on YouTube. Paul Johansson, an actor and neophyte director best known for his work on "One Tree Hill," seems to have done a fine job with a tiny budget of somewhere between $15 and $25 million; the production looks terrific, sparkling with evening gowns and champagne, like a hopped-up version of Dynasty (which, come to think of it, Atlas Shrugged really does kind of resemble.) "If you double-cross me, I will destroy you," the sleek blonde in the business suit informs her foe, with less conviction than an ordinary person would employ in ordering a salad. If the trailer is to be believed, this movie has a lot of campy pleasure in it. I kind of can't wait!

Atlas Shrugged is about the tender love of a beautiful girl for her railroad, and also for a heap of powerful, visionary men. Nietzsche meets Harlequin, basically. It is also intended as a manifesto and rallying-cry for Objectivism: an XXL-sized political pamphlet.

Okay, so what is Objectivism, exactly?

In 1959, Mike Wallace asked Rand to "capsulize" her philosophy, which she proceeded to do, in a Boris Badenov accent and a comically self-satisfied manner.

I am primarily the creator of a new code of morality which has so far been believed impossible, namely a morality not based on faith, not on arbitrary whim, not on emotion, not on arbitrary edict, mystical or social, but on reason; a morality that can be proved by means of logic which can be demonstrated to be true and necessary.

Now may I define what my morality is? [I guess.] Since man's mind is his basic means of survival [...] he has to hold reason as an absolute, by which I mean that he has to hold reason as his only guide to action, and that he must live by the independent judgment of his own mind; that his highest moral purpose is the achievement of his own happiness [...] that each man must live as an end in himself, and follow his own rational self-interest.

Mike Wallace could scarcely believe his ears. His pop-eyed astonishment is a big part of what made this interview such great television.

Nietzsche Was Her Homeboy
Rand's commitment to egoism as the basis for morality began as a reaction against the "collectivist" impulses she reckoned to be responsible for the collapse of Russia, where she was born in 1905. Her family's wealth had been grabbed in the Revolution, so it's no surprise that Rand would be anti-Communist. What is a surprise is that she would suppose as she did that the "altruistic" motives of Communism were to blame for everything that went wrong in her native country.

Objectivism is 100% pro-individualism and anti-altruism. Rand believed that altruism is literally wrong, that it weakens the all-important Individual and his chances of finding happiness. She took most of her shtick (enthronement of the Will, super-individualism, exaltation of "artists," atheism, the Übermensch who is superior to the regular kind, etc. etc.) straight from Nietzsche, although she later denied his influence, claiming only Aristotle (!) as a philosophical forebear. But according to Rand biographer Jennifer Burns (whose book Goddess of the Market: Ayn Randand the American Right is really good), Rand's early notebooks and journals all but feature little hearts drawn around Nietzsche's name: "Nietzsche and I think," "as Nietzsche says," and so on.

The possibility that the unfettered egoism of guys like Stalin was the main problem with the Russian government, rather than too much altruism, escaped Rand entirely. As someone whose family likewise hails from a Communist country, I find it bizarre that this was not obvious to her. When all the big houses, all the money and privileges in a society accrue to just one class of people, it is safe to conclude that those people are acting out of self-interest and not altruism or whatever other bogus virtues they are ascribing to themselves. Just watch who gets richer, if you want to know what the real motivation is. Not to put too fine a point on it, Stalin was probably about the greatest Objectivist who ever lived, with a few possible exceptions like Mao Tse-Tung, Hitler and Pol Pot.

After the 1929 crash, many in the West believed that some form of Communism was inevitable in the developed world. For a long time American (and Knifecrime Island) intellectuals generally believed that Stalin was a fine man who was just trying to do the best he could for his people; that enraged Rand, who'd arrived in the U.S. in 1926 and knew the score. It wasn't until the Non-Aggression Pact between Stalin and Hitler became public in 1939 that Americans really turned conclusively and permanently against Communism.

The Fountainhead, Rand's first real go at a manifesto, was published in 1943. Though reviews were mixed, the book was a runaway success both as a publishing phenomenon and as a calling card for Objectivism. A movie was made in 1949, directed by King Vidor and starring Patricia Neal and Gary Cooper. Rand was at the zenith of her success with the public, celebrated and admired in New York, Ginger Rogers and Ira Levin wrote her fan letters, and the Collective began to collect around her.

Atlas Heaves into View
Into this milieu came Greenspan, age 26, dragged along by his first wife, Joan Mitchell.

Although very young, Greenspan was already a successful economic analyst whose consulting firm, Townsend-Greenspan & Co., Inc., was paid hefty sums to figure out what the hell was being said in government reports and things. Unlike most of the other Collectivists, who were students, Greenspan had something concrete to contribute to Rand's work. She asked him all sorts of questions about the steel and railroad industries relating to her new novel. He, for his part, thought she was the smartest person ever, saying, "talking to Rand was like starting a game of chess thinking I was good, and suddenly finding myself in checkmate."

The Collective was convinced that all mankind would rush to become Objectivists the moment Rand's next novel was published. It was called Atlas Shrugged, and for once the words “eagerly awaited” were for real. A gap of 14 years separated the first blockbuster and the second. But there was an anger, contempt and malevolence toward the common man in the second book that had not been present in the first one. This time the reviews were scathing.

In Atlas Shrugged Rand creates a world where there are people who deserve to live because they are "intelligent" and "creative," and those who do not. The former set out to rid themselves of the latter. These "men of the mind," whom their author clearly worships, go "on strike" and refuse to be creative any more, which means that everybody else must perish. And because it's a work of fantasy entirely under Rand's control, they all go ahead and obediently perish. (IRL, people were not quite so obedient, as we shall see.)

For those who are inclined to find such ideas ludicrous, the book will fail, and utterly; its premises betray a bottomless ignorance of the deep interconnectedness of humankind, and the needs—economic, social, emotional, intellectual—of one human being for another. In the real world, someone is growing lettuce, someone else is writing a book or feeding a baby, yet another is designing the rails of a high-speed train. Someone else is teaching six-year-olds to read. All of us benefit from all of these activities—sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. Each life can and does touch many thousands of others. The idea of the Nietszchean Superman who acts against his fellows (whom Rand called "the mob" and "looters" and whatnot) is consequently fatally flawed. Not even the Superest Superman can grow all his own food, make all his own paper, design and build his own cars and airplanes, etc. (Hadn't Rand ever read Robinson Crusoe?) Humanity is a collaborative project, as well as a project of individuals.

This is to say nothing of the flatness of the book's characters, its clanking exposition, its interminable speechifying or the woodenness of its dialogue. On the upside, there is a character named Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastian d'Anconia. Not even Baroness Orczy had that kind of nerve.

Atlas Shrugged burst onto the scene in 1957 and was promptly and categorically reviled from both right and left, as it has continued to be. It also sold like hotcakes, as it still does.

Whittaker Chambers's famous takedown of Atlas Shrugged, "Big Sister is Watching You" appeared in The National Review in December of 1957. Rand claimed never to have read it (mmmhmm) but refused to let anyone so much as mention Chambers in her presence.

He wrote, "Out of a lifetime of reading I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal. In addition, the mind which finds this tone natural to it shares other characteristics of its type. 1) It consistently mistakes raw force for strength, and the rawer the force, the more reverent the posture of the mind before it. 2) It supposes itself to be the bringer of a final revelation."

This essay and its message stood between many on the far right and a potentially fervent embrace of Objectivism. After all, Chambers was the pumpkin-growing former Communist who became a bona fide ferreter-out of real live Communists In Our Midst, having been responsible for sending Alger Hiss to jail; and if there is anything a hard-right conservative used to love more than putting Communists in jail, it was a former lefty who'd come over to the other side, like Ronald Reagan. That is, after all, what they hope is going to happen to all the lefties.

Other reviews were not so much negative as incendiary. In Esquire, Gore Vidal wrote that Objectivism was "nearly perfect in its immorality." Time's reviewer asked, "Is it a novel? Is it a nightmare?"

So the loyal Alan Greenspan, then around thirty years old and already a big shot in financial circles, wrote to the New York Times to defend the book as follows: "'Atlas Shrugged' is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should."

Note how human fulfillment is distributed here in Randian terms, to the "deserving", whereas the "parasites" are going to go up in flames "as they should." It is a little chilling to hear a grown man say that sort of stuff, particularly a grown man who will come to have that much influence over the fortunes of so many.

Greed Is So, So Good
So why have so many loved (and still love) this book so very much?

In addition to praising people for being selfish and money-worshiping, Atlas Shrugged has a second rare virtue—a real one, this time—a genuine fascination with business. Few novels of the twentieth century provide a halfway credible or interesting take on business, largely because the arcane details that go into running one are hard to dramatize well. (There are exceptions, of course. James Clavell is great at this, and so is Eric Ambler. Best of all, maybe, is Nevil Shute, whose A Town Like Alice is the novel Ayn Rand or anyone else should have wished she could write. It has got business, suspense, romance, exoticism and adventure, and is a pure delight to read.)

Even today, financial and business types are drawn to Atlas Shrugged for its unusual preoccupation with industry and economics. Plus, it's not just that literature does not ordinarily occupy itself much with business; literary sophistication is not a prized quality on Wall Street or in business circles generally. Across the table from you, a VC or Wall Street guy will wax all lyrical about Atlas Shrugged and you'll say wow, you read novels? If you ask what other books they like, though, they might mention The Art of War, which has been a big deal with them since the '80s, or maybeThe Big Short, or a biography of Warren Buffett. (But not Griftopia! Heh.)

Then there's the matter of egoism, which is where the Libertarian or far-right angle comes in. Rand is all about the Self-Sufficiency. This is why there are no children in her books. In a Rand novel, no one ever helps anyone or even concerns himself much with anyone else. Pitilessness is the highest virtue there is, it signifies Will and Strength and stuff. The weak are "lice" and "parasites". Atlas Shrugged is almost a caricature of social Darwinism. Gore Vidal explained it this way: "She has a great attraction for simple people who are puzzled by organized society, who object to paying taxes, who dislike the welfare state, who feel guilt at the thought of the suffering of others but who would like to harden their hearts."

But the self-interest thing really has a nice ring to it, recalling as it does the elegance of Satanism's single commandment: "Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." Rand's books have sold nonstop from the moment they were published because people love hearing how not only can they get away with being totally selfish, it's absolutely the right way to be. The best way to be, as in, morally the best. EST and the Prosperity Gospel have much the same appeal. And sure, that all sounds fine when you are home reading a book, by yourself, but just go out there and try it. As Rand herself did.

Love Is An Objectivism Battlefield
1968 was the year of doom for the Objectivist cult's first wave. Rand had been having an on-again, off-again affair for over a decade with her prime minister and heir, the handsome wacko Nathaniel Branden (born Nathan Blumenthal), 25 years her junior.

Both of them were married when the affair began—he, 24; she, 49—but they rounded up the spouses and talked all four together about how Branden and Rand were going to be lovers, because, yeah, that always works out so well.

Fourteen years into the affair and Branden, now 38, was done with the whole thing. But every time he tried to break up with Rand, she would fly into torrents of rage and yell at him that he had "no right to sex with some inferior woman!" "The man to whom I dedicated Atlas Shrugged would never want anything less than me!" she shrieked. This went on for ages.

Meanwhile, Rand's husband, Frank O'Connor, was off drinking himself into a stupor, and Branden's wife Barbara was slowly losing what was left of her marbles.

Finally, unable to put up with any more scenes, Branden informed Rand by letter that their age difference "now made sex with her impossible" for him. She was devastated. But there was worse to come, because Branden had decided not to mention a secret affair he was having with one of his students, a beautiful young model named Patrecia Gullison. Because even though Branden was an Objectivist expressing his Highest Moral Purpose by Achieving his Own Happiness and all, he was also terrified of what would happen when Rand found out about it.

And for very good reason. When Rand did find out about it, she hit the ceiling and summoned Branden to her apartment and fired him and called the spouses in for another group powwow and screamed and slapped Branden's face multiple times, in the foyer, because she wouldn't let him in the living room. This, even though Branden had been Mr. Objectivism for years and years, and the Nathaniel Branden Institute had grown into a huge organization for the spread of Objectivism.

Reason, you would think, demanded restraint, and Rand had for decades styled herself the high priestess of Reason. There were relationships, reputations and institutions to protect on all sides, a thriving business, as well as the propagation of a mankind-saving philosophy to see to.

So what! She was a woman scorned.

Which meant that no sensible, rational considerations prevented Rand from publishing a letter addressed "To Whom It May Concern" in The Objectivist that accused Branden and his wife of deception, and (falsely, it appears) of financial hi-jinks—and of generally being bad Objectivists. "I repudiate both of them, totally and permanently," she wrote, "as spokesmen for me or Objectivism." A few prominent Objectivists signed this incoherent breakup letter along with Rand, among them—yes!—Alan Greenspan, the future Fed chairman.

The scandal caused lasting damage to Rand's reputation, and to her organization. Nathaniel Branden would eventually move to California, found new organizations and therapeutic practices, and marry three times more; the beautiful Patrecia, sadly, drowned in a swimming pool after suffering an epileptic seizure in 1977. (Branden's memoir My Years with Ayn Rand is hot as a pistol, absolutely riveting and danged scary, btw.)

Greenspan Frees The Market
Although the Collective never really recovered from the events of 1968, Alan Greenspan never broke with Ayn Rand. In his 2008 memoir, The Age of Turbulence, he writes, "[o]f all my teachers, Arthur Burns and Ayn Rand had the greatest impact on my life… Ayn Rand expanded my intellectual horizons, challenging me to look beyond economics to understand the behavior of individuals and societies." He speaks warmly of her throughout the book, even knowing all that he did about her skeleton-packed closet; his loyalty elicits both sympathy and exasperation.

In his own way, Greenspan had inherited in toto Rand's short-sightedness, egocentrism and complete lack of understanding of "the behavior of individuals and societies." Though he would play his delusions out in a very different arena and not, so far as is generally known, be going around slapping anybody in the foyer. His big scene would come forty years later, in a Congressional hearing room.

Greenspan was no mere theorist when it came to Objectivism and was, in time, in a position to put its theories into practice on a massive scale. He believed fervently that business should not be regulated by us parasitic consumers, and had written to that effect from the '60s onward. In 1987, he became Fed Chairman, succeeding the towering (and wholly unobjectivist) Paul Volcker. The results of his Objectivist convictions, made manifest in that role, were far-reaching. It has been argued in many quarters that Greenspan's rock-ribbed laissez-faire policies resulted in a succession of bubbles—first in the dot-com boom, then in real estate and credit—that led directly to the 2008 crisis.

Part of the blame lies in his attitude toward derivatives. The efforts of the CFTC's Brooksley Born to compel the regulation of derivatives trading began in 1994, but came to nothing owing largely to Greenspan's objections. After the Enron debacle, which, thanks to "the smartest guys in the room," left California holding the bag on about $9 billion of natural gas bills, Senator Diane Feinstein made herself very busy pestering Greenspan about the need to regulate derivatives. In 2004, Alan shrugged: he wrote to Congress in response to Senator Feinstein in what had by then become the signature Greenspan style of floaty, oracular, narcoleptic polysyllables:

Businesses, financial institutions, and investors throughout the economy rely upon derivatives to protect themselves from market volatility triggered by unexpected economic events. This ability to manage risks makes the economy more resilient and its importance cannot be underestimated. In our judgment, the ability of private counterparty surveillance to effectively regulate these markets can be undermined by inappropriate extensions of government regulations.

If the Enron disaster had not already made the hollowness of this argument horribly apparent, the financial crisis four years later could leave no doubt. And so it was that in October 2008, the mother of all Objectivist reckonings came to pass: The Span had to defend his disastrous policies to Congress one Thursday afternoon and explain why the U.S. economy, for decades under his stewardship, had gone kablooey. Here is what he said to that mob of furious congressmen who made up the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

"I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms [...]

"Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief."

Never mind that for years Greenspan had had a bunch of regulators and congressmen all but coming after him with baseball bats trying to get him to see that "the self-interest of lending institutions" was no match for the greed of unscrupulous individuals.

For Communist "altruism," read "SEC regulation." For Stalin, read Lloyd Blankfein et so many al. Just follow the money. How much does it cost such guys to pay lip service to the glories of the free market, Communism, whatever, while they grab everything that isn't nailed down for themselves? Not too much, if all you care about is your own, um. Individualism.

“You had the authority to prevent irresponsible lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others,” said Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, chairman of the committee. “Do you feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?”

Mr. Greenspan conceded: “Yes, I’ve found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I’ve been very distressed by that fact.”

He found a flaw! I bet Diane Feinstein popped an aneurysm right then and there.

If Alan Greenspan had had a lick of sense he would have known that the jig was up and it was time for him to say, Ayn Rand was the biggest dope on record, except for me, because I listened to her. But guys like Greenspan don't ever seem to say that sort of thing. I suspect that it's because they have gotten so completely used to thinking of themselves as the "elite" who needn't reckon with the "weak" objections of lesser men.

So Greenspan maintained his convictions to the last. Even in 2008 with the shit engulfing the fan, he was still trying to prevent more stringent securities regulation. Why?

"Whatever regulatory changes are made, they will pale in comparison to the change already evident in today’s markets,” he said. “Those markets for an indefinite future will be far more restrained than would any currently contemplated new regulatory regime."

Using the exact same reasoning he'd just admitted to be erroneous, he was still claiming that the market would take care of itself. He found a flaw and then he lost it again pretty much instantly. The remains of the market are sitting right in front of him in a smoking ruin and what is his prescription? More of the same!

And what is the result, three years later? The markets in unregulated derivatives, Warren Buffett's "financial weapons of mass destruction," were never outlawed and are alive and well. Nobody went to jail or even really had his hand slapped, except for Bernie Madoff. Nearly all the destructive forces Greenspan set in motion came roaring right back, along with Wall Street bonuses, despite his claims of the enormous restraint certain to follow the debacle of 2008, for "an indefinite future" that didn't last for even one year.

So here we return to the "looters" who don't create anything, and the policy of cherchez l'argent. Greenspan and all these free marketers and bankers and Wall Street guys who generally just love Ayn Rand, self-sufficiency and individualism, and so they would never see themselves as the looters. But the question is just so there, because while the financial services sector provides some valuable services to a society, it is very questionable indeed whether those services are worth 12% of GDP, which is, by the way, about what we're all paying now, or roughly triple what they used to cost before the publication of Atlas Shrugged.

The real parasites, it turns out, are not the looting masses but the Objectivist elites (what is it that these hedge fund managers "create" again?), rabidly pursuing their own "happiness" at the cost of our social safety net, our environment and the prosperity and well-being of the world's people. So much for the triumph of individualism.



Maria Bustillos is the author of Dorkismo and Act Like A Gentleman, Think Like A Woman.

Alan Greenspan's Federal Reserve portrait and photo of Greenspan testifying before Congress both via Wikimedia commons.

157 Comments / Post A Comment

max bread (#5,970)

It's always nice to read about how much Ayn Rand has fucked, and continues to fuck–everyone's new Republican boyfriend Paul Ryan apparently requires his staff members to read Rand–our economy.

But! As a card-carrying member of the Guy Who Embarrassingly Quoted Nietzsche At College Parties club, I feel honor-bound to say that Rand's "philosophy" is no more "straight from Nietzsche" than it is straight from Aristotle. It certainly resembles a reductive gloss on certain bits and pieces of The Genealogy of Morality and (the posthumously published and heavily-edited) Will to Power, but Nietzsche was a (deceptively?) complex and frequently self-contradictory thinker (who in certain important ways laid the groundwork for late-20th/early-21st century thinking on what I think we now call "social justice"!) and (despite his many significant flaws both personal and philosophical) he deserves better than to be thought of as the guy responsible for a jerk like Ayn Rand.

sharilyn (#4,599)

@max bread: WELL SAID MAX BREAD. Also, Nietzche was a FAR more talented writer than Ms Rand.

Aatom (#74)

@max bread COULD NOT AGREE MORE. You may also recall how Friedrich's own sister perverted his work to suit the Führers's needs at the time. http://bit.ly/dWOH2Q

Nietzsche remains one of the least understood philosophers, but most worthy of the attempt. sharilyn is also correct that he was one hell of a writer as well. Rand wrote a few decent novels based on her absurd, strident idealism. Why anyone would take her seriously as an economist is beyond me.

Taiwan Tracker (#11,185)

@max bread — Word.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

his first wife, the AMAZING AMAZING PAINTER Joan Mitchell

Fixed.

sharilyn (#4,599)

@dntsqzthchrmn OMG thank you a million times. Rand's husband O'Connor was a not-terrible painter also, whose arguably best work appeared on the cover of many editions of 'The Fountainhead'.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@dntsqzthchrmn It's not the same Joan Mitchell!!

gumplr (#66)
DMcK (#5,027)

@gumplr Hey, I'm guilty as charged of feeding the troll down there, but giving him beat-off material is a bit over the top.

Keith Kisser (#9,714)

On the sliding scale of dickishness, Objectivists are worse than Satanists. I've known Satanists who acknowledged that cooperation and compromise was essential to getting what you want (they were still blunt about the fact that they were cooperating out of self interest but still willing to do so). Objectivists are the stubborn cry babies who throw a tantrum if people don't give them what they want, when they want it and loose their shit when you suggest a compromise.

eyebeam@twitter (#11,239)

@Keith Kisser Objectivists are more properly Mammonists, who differ from Satanists, in that the latter understand that Satan is not real; while Mammonists, whose idol is money, do not know that the same is true about their own object of worship.

Leon (#6,596)

I would not have used up all of my objectivist jokes yesterday if I knew I was going to get this chance today!!!

Abe Sauer (#148)

The greatest tragedy of Shrugged is that it gave a justifying theology to all those, like Ron Johnson and the Koch Brothers, who largely inherited or were handed their wealth. More than anything objectivism has been the enabler of pulled-up-by-the-bootstrap fantasies of the accidentally powerful.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Guilt does tend to make people a) aggressive and b) open to every rationalization available.

brad (#1,678)

@Abe Sauer – i haven't read much ayn rand, but this has always troubled me when speaking to devotees. the horatio alger-esque self-made stuff seems counter intuitive to how lucky most of these people are to have been born who they are.

BirdNerd (#4,196)

@Abe Sauer: But remember, all poor Repubs. are just millionaires waiting in the wings.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

Thank you for writing this! I hope some young hoarders of wealth read it and heed it.

brent_cox (#40)

I would go so far to say that the Objectivist absence of empathy equals sociopathy (which I guess only gets diagnosed in the non-wealthy).

@brent_cox I certainly would. A 'sociopath' is one who exhibits the symptoms of antisocial personality disorder, which in turn is defined by what it means to be antisocial: antisocial is defined as:

1. Unwilling or unable to associate normally with other people
2. antagonistic, hostile, or unfriendly toward others; menacing
3. Opposed to social order or the principles of society

This seems to me to encapsulate Objectivist 'philosophy' perfectly.

City_Dater (#2,500)

Objectivists just HATE it when someone else gets all Objectivist right back at them.

PDXer (#11,082)

Objectivism. A ridiculous idea turned dangerous in the hands of the stupid. Kind of like Scientology.

Pacwoob (#11,240)

@PDXer 1 big difference: L.Ron didn't believe what he preached. At the outset he admitted openly it was a tool to get wealth and power.

Suze (#241,698)

@PDXer Yes, and historically to date like socialism which inevitably becomes facism.what she was warning against in this country..which unfortunately was prophetic on her part.

cherrispryte (#444)

So when I read these a decade ago, my interpretation was WAY DIFFERENT than the common (prehaps correct) interpretation. I first saw Ayn Rand as "don't let The Man or Society get you down, know you are awesome, and that people will constantly be trying to bring you down from your awesomeness." Which, I guess, is what teenaged-me was looking for. I think the problem is when The Man (let's call him Greenspan) and Society (let's say that's the Tea Party) think they are the awesome ones, rather than being part of the problem.

::Standard disclaimer that I now know she's a total fucking idiot and I would be repulsed were I to read them today, but they seemed like a good idea when I was in High School.::

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

@cherrispryte That's the basis of its appeal, I think. The problem is that you can have an elite without an underclass, and no Rand fan wants to believe that they belong to the latter.

HiredGoons (#603)

@cherrispryte: this is why people like Sarah Palin have the intelligence and worldview of a teenager.

Abe Sauer (#148)

@cherrispryte Great point re: high school. Atlas appeals to teens for (some of) the same reasons that Harry Potter does: "You are exceptional and are being held back by others." Yes, this seemed like a totally rational life philosophy when I was a healthy, single, 17 year old white male. And the teens that love Atlas never grow out of it the same way teen malcontents that read Catcher in the Rye never grow out of it.

One thing I've found is that the venn diagram crossover of people who have traveled the world and experienced and come to know other cultures and nations and Atlas Shrugged fans is practically nonexistent.

sharilyn (#4,599)

@Abe Sauer: I definitely read 'Shrugged' in high school and YES it made me feel special! But like most teenagers, I grew out of it. Partly by travelling the world and people who think American Exceptionalism is laughable.

@cherrispryte I fall squarely in this category as well. As an angst-y teen 'artistic type' looking for a direction, The Fountainhead spoke right to me. All it took was one cool college professor to point out the obvious flaws, and I instantly realized it was a bunch of nonsense. Actual adults who swear by her philosophy are silly.

SomewhatAmused (#11,137)

@sharilyn >> I read the book when I was a teenager (because I had to for school, of course) and I almost got tossed out of class for telling the teacher it was a load of horse schit. Of course, I did grow up in Europe and already knew the idea of "American Exceptionalism" was also a load.

@Somewhatamused – They made you read that crap in school? That's bordering on child abuse! LOL

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

The more I learn about Ayn Rand, the closer my mental picture of her gets to the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland.

HiredGoons (#603)

Nietzsche would categorically hate everyone who likes Nietzsche.

Aatom (#74)

@HiredGoons heh. you're probably right.

Aatom (#74)

@HiredGoons in fairness, though, Rand may not have been terribly fond of her current acolytes either.

KarenUhOh (#19)

Why wouldn't they have hit it off? They both got paid by the word.

Anyone else reading this think that Charlie Sheen is the pitch-perfect spokesperson for 21st century Objectivism? There are probably definitely holes in that line of thinking, but something about it seems dead on accurate.

I wouldn't want a Friend of Friedrich in charge of the Fed either, but Rand's take on Nietzsche is desperately dumb.

riotnrrd (#840)

"There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs." –John Rogers

@riotnrrd Thanks for that! I just laughed out loud.

sharilyn (#4,599)

I, too, was a baby Libertarian and read nearly all of Rand's work before the end of high school (sad, but true!). It can't be overstated how much 'Atlas Shrugged' could have benefited from a good strong editing. There are many compelling characters and plot twists in the book (including an immoral but fascinating female lead) which are almost wholly obscured by dogmatic monologues (one is more than 50 pages long!)and plodding exposition throughout. 'The Fountainhead' seems to succeed by virtue of what was excluded, as it zips along with comparative speed despite a solipsistic (autism spectrum disorder? modern readers may wonder) main character. She manages to make stone quarrying super-romantic in that book, as she does with metallurgy in 'Atlas Shrugged'.

Ayn Rand IS a fascinating character – and a powerful feminine personality in a time when few women had access to power. I'm sure for reasons of sheer length you could not also reference the excellent 'Passion of Ayn Rand' by scorned wife/cult member Barbara Branden, it's at least as thrilling and deranged as her then-husband's account of the same chapter in history.

Craig Brownson (#4,257)

LOVES Passion of Ayn Rand. So delightfully camp.

but (#11,106)

I am unsure the author read Atlas Shrugged. If the author did read it, the take on it may be a bit biased. The parasites and looters are not equal to the masses. In the book, and oftentimes in life it turns out that way, but was never the definition of the looter or parasite. The looter and parasite are those that only take from the economy without working to put back into it. They are the people who don't care to become their best and merely do the minimum or less. One reason many find the book inspiring is that it shows the power of one. One person who works hard to create can have a massive impact and yes, make a massive amount of money. As to the anti-altruism aspect of the book, I think this is being poorly portrayed as well. The book says you don't give a man a bucket of fish. The argument is that by just giving things away, you are really just spoiling the recipient (as I think we can see with the many unfunded entitlement programs in our country). Rather the idea of teaching the man to fish, or inspiring the man to seek out instruction on how to fish is encouraged. The book is not saying that you shouldn't be a stay-at-home mother or a teacher and that anything less than a railroad tycoon is unacceptable. It is saying that teachers that suck and don't work to help produce the best and brightest (that is their job) should not be paid more and more money and given more and more secure jobs. If you are excellent at what you do and work you very hardest then you are rewarded. Note that teachers and a railroad tycoon may not make the same amount of money when performing at their highest level, but they are not the same job level. Maybe a train conductor and a teacher would make the same amount of money at the same job. Maybe someone who has successfully moved from teaching into forming the best schools around and a railroad tycoon could be making the same amount of money. D'anconio's whole story is about a man that could have inherited his wealth from family but worked through school starting out as a miner in a copper mine and aspiring to something higher. He worked hard enough and educated himself to succeed. There is no problem with being a great miner, farmer, or train operator. In fact, many of the respected characters were not the elite but the hard working honest individuals that worked in these companies. The book states that money is man's worth. Since we do not operate on a barter system typically these days, then there needs to be a universal trading system which happens to be dollars. Thus we should only be paid dollars based on the value of the service we are providing. There are characters in the book that Ayn shows were heirs of vast fortunes, but she shows that the ones that were unworthy of their inheritance (not really worth what they had received) would ultimately lose it all (I think we can see this in people who win the lotto and go bankrupt). True, Ayn may not have lived up to all her ideals and may or may not have been a little crazy at times. Is there anyone who writes a book of ideology and theory that lives up to it? I would argue that there is no person that really does. But we can all try. I don't have time to discuss more but I think this was a poorly written and very biased article due to the fact that the author either did not read or did not understand the book and based on the, loose at most, connections drawn between the last 20 years of economics and our current situation. It would be easy to pull ideology and theory from any book and draw parallels to the current situation. Less bias and more focus on understanding the subject matter.

MichelleDean (#7,041)

Oh, I don't really think understanding Ayn Rand requires much focus.

roboloki (#1,724)

so you're saying that jesus does hate the mets?

but (#11,106)

@MichelleDean Read the book Michelle?

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

One reason many find the book inspiring is that they like long, unstructured rants justifying their own privilege.

sharilyn (#4,599)

@but: I for one HAVE READ the (super-long!) book in question, and more than once. Your synopsis of the Objectivism in the book is certainly accurate, but is also just as morally bankrupt as described by the author of this article. Anyone who really thinks the people who work the hardest in American society are paid equitably for their hard work has never met an inner city teacher or rural doctor. This is a simplistic myth perpetrated by a class of people who were born on third and want everyone to believe they hit a triple (and also by all the people eyeing third base who are never even going have a turn at bat).

scrooge (#2,697)

But you do understand, don't you, @but, that the book is fiction? I think the author has made a persuasive case that in real life these theories haven't worked very well.

"The looter and parasite are those that only take from the economy without working to put back into it." Like bankers, right?

but (#11,106)

@DoctorDisaster Although I like thinking that I enjoy the book because I'm rich, powerful, elite, and brilliant, I know that the above are untrue.

Craig Brownson (#4,257)

@but you do sound like you've got a great personality though, so don't be too bummed out about being poor and stuff. :(

MaggieL (#3,424)

@but You say: "There are characters in the book that Ayn shows were heirs of vast fortunes, but she shows that the ones that were unworthy of their inheritance (not really worth what they had received) would ultimately lose it all (I think we can see this in people who win the lotto and go bankrupt)."

So the poor deserve to be poor and the rich deserve to be rich? That's exactly the core self-serving philosophy that Maria accurately points out in her article. It's appealing to the guilty consciences of the already rich.

I don't see how your comment refutes anything in the article, except for a very minor difference in terminology.

MichelleDean (#7,041)

@but Regrettably, to impress a boy in high school. We all have our crosses to bear.

but (#11,106)

@MaggieL Maggie, when I say poor I mean decreased dollars. The man that inherited the fortune grew up rich. The point is that the man lost his fortune because he was not worthy of the inheritance. That does not mean that his worth as a human being was not high, it means that his family worked hard and saved their money and that the son squandered it. The son was not hard working or industrious so he lost his money. The poor that win the lottery and then become bankrupt have a great opportunity to no longer be poor. BUT, as the trends show, we see that they most often go bankrupt. If they were poor (dollar-wise) but were working hard to educate and become their best, then the chances of going bankrupt upon being handed 25 million dollars are much smaller. It has to do with the individual working hard and bettering themself, not the intrinsic value of the individual. If you have read the book, you may remember the young girl who worked hard at a thrift store and resolved to educate herself and work as hard as it took for her to achieve success. She came from a family who in this book were exceedingly poor and simultaneously lazy to a flaw. She realized the error of her family's ways and decided to change the outcome. The book in no way brings her down. The people without money do not deserve to be without money. The people without money that are lazy and choose not to educate themselves DO deserve to be poor. Why should they receive what they have not and more importantly ARE not willing to work for? The other part of your question is whether the rich deserve to be rich. The answer in Atlas Shrugged is a resounding no. The book doesn't state whether you deserve money or not. The book is not about deserving but more about the outcomes when diligence, discipline, and persistence are brought into the picture. It states that if you develop something of worth and work hard, then you may very well find success. If you do not, then you should not expect more (although yes, sometimes people do get more but in the end it oftentimes evens out over time).

but (#11,106)

@sharilyn Sharilyn, you might think you know me by my comment but you do not (based on your baseball analogy). The point of the book isn't to ensure that everyone is paid equitably for their work. Just because you have great knowledge, or work hard does not mean you will be paid the same as everyone else. The book would probably support the idea that society will determine the worth of your work. Good teachers are definitely important parts of a society/community. Bad teachers are not. The book would argue that a good teacher would be of more worth than a bad teacher. Unfortunately, the bad teachers are paid the exact same as the good teachers. Atlas Shrugged would say not all teachers should be paid the same regardless of their outcomes. Atlas Shrugged would not argue that a savvy railroad tycoon and good teacher should be paid the same. That is not based on Ayn's ideology, but based on the fact that society intrinsically places a higher value on certain things. Ayn does not specify what is of value. Only that those that are the best and hardest working in what they do should be of higher value than those that are idol and overly secure. If you think that a fabulous inner city school teacher should be paid more than a teacher that does not work as hard and is not interested in turning out the best students, then Ayn would agree with you. If you think that a fabulous inner-city school teacher should be paid the same as a lazy disengaged teacher, then Ayn would disagree with you. Also, rural doctors make much much more than you might think (but they are supplying a very important need and so their worth compared to other doctors may be higher in the area they are serving).

but (#11,106)

@scrooge I don't think Atlas Shrugged would necessarily support our current banking practices. From my reading of the book, the point of the book isn't to take as much as you can from others no matter the cost and no matter the danger (our banks made and continue to make very costly and dangerous gambles for a profit). I don't think that view is ever taken. Actually, I think the book would support the idea that the banks should be stuck with the damages they've caused. The book is a strong proponent of the idea that if you take risk or use poor business (or banking practices in this case), then you should fail. These are a couple reasons I do not think the parallels the author draws are very strong. However, the book does support the idea that if you are INVESTING your money in a company/bank then you are putting your funds in their hands and trusting them. The book would hold that you are taking a risk in relinquishing control of your funds in the hands of another person. By taking this risk, you are giving yourself a chance to make a lot of money without having to do the work but ALSO you are inherently subject to the risk of losing your money. The book supports taking responsibility for your risks either way. Greenspan may have read Atlas Shrugged and then made some poor decisions but Greenspan was at no point in time a spokesperson for Atlas Shrugged. Maybe a supporter, but it was not his constant playbook.

roboloki (#1,724)

so greenspan hates the mets!!

scrooge (#2,697)

@but But, but… Alan Greenspan was a devoted follower of Ayn Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged, and a putter-into-practice of her theories. Alan Greenspan, a banker, trashed the economy. Therefore Ayn Rand's theories don't work in the real world.

Oh, and Ayn Rand's life kind of illustrates the same point.

sharilyn (#4,599)

@but: Clearly I do not know you nor do I claim to know you or anything about you. My claim is that teachers are among the hardest working people in our society, but are paid very low wages. I make absolutely no discrepancy between 'good' and 'bad' teachers. I am suggesting that teachers (for example) are more important to society than hedge fund managers, yet our society "intrisically values" those professions very differently.

I wasn't aware that there was such risk involved in distributing line breaks.

sharilyn (#4,599)

@but: Using money/wealth as the measure of intrinsic human worth is a problematic proposition at best, and extremely cruel at worst. Are you worth only as much as your bottom line? Only rich people think so!

but (#11,106)

@sharilyn Sharilyn, I think your point about teachers' wages needing to be better is correct (assuming we are talking about good teachers here, because I don't like the idea of raising wages for lazy disengaged teachers. I hope we can agree that they exist.) and I was not arguing against you. Only debating the fact that the book gives support for developing things that are of value and compensating that which contains great value. It is society, and not Atlas Shrugged, which sets the intrinsic worth of things. Atlas Shrugged does not attempt to tell us what is of intrinsic worth besides discipline, hard work, and persistance. I think we can agree that those traits are what help develop anything that has worth regardless of the worth set by society. For this reason, my point is that Atlas Shrugged is really not the issue here.

roboloki (#1,724)

does this mean that alan greenspan is jesus?

but (#11,106)

@sharilyn Individual worth is not set by money nor is it proclaimed to be so by Atlas Shrugged. Your compensation in dollars however is set by the worth of your product, service, etc… That product, service, etc… is given an intrinsic value by society. Atlas Shrugged argues that it is the man/woman within that is most important, not the social or economic class of the individual. The book shows that anyone rich or poor that decides to become their very best through education, work, and even failure can have great impact and attain the success they seek. Does a poor person (dollar-wise) that does not educate themselves, work hard, or pursue their full potential deserve greater compensation than their product? Atlas Shrugged says no, and I agree. Likewise, does a rich person who exhibits the same lack of quality deserve to be compensated more for their worthless product? Atlas Shrugged says no, and I agree. Money isn't everything and Atlas Shrugged lets us know that it is a measure of our product and service and that by improving that product/service we increase the money (used as a middle-man instead of bartering) that our product/service is worth (which will also depend on the intrinsic value given by society, which is not treated by Atlas Shrugged).

sharilyn (#4,599)

@but: I think we agree on what 'Atlas Shrugged' is about! Where we disagree is that I think that the philosophy espoused in 'Shrugged' and Rand's other writings is amoral, impractical, and (carried to its 'logical' extreme) very damaging. That also seems to be the point Ms Bustillos is making, rather than a close reading of 'Shrugged' — which has been made into a new film premiering on Friday, providing the news peg for this post.

sharilyn (#4,599)

@MichelleDean: Or bias!

cherrispryte (#444)

@but So I nearly broke The Awl the last time I made this request, but holy hell, maybe try to break things into paragraphs sometimes?

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Thinking that the only people who are privileged are the rich is itself a product of privilege. "I'm not privileged! I'm just a lowly straight white male with college-educated parents who is doing well only by dint of effort!" Ahem.

saythatscool (#101)

@roboloki you're just killing me.

Taggart (#12,054)

@but Thank you for defending the book as a work of fiction. I think the thing that people lose track of is that Atlas Shrugged isn't saying that society will always reward those who work hard and punish those who refuse to contribute, nor is it saying that people have value because they have money. Note that the society in Atlas Shrugged rewarded the looters and punished those who were productive, and James Taggart though wealthy was the epitome of the depraved. Rather what the book was saying is that those who work hard and are creative *should* be rewarded and those who take without producing anything (like Wall Street bankers) *should* be scorned.

It is this reading of the book that makes me think that regulation is not incompatible with Atlas Shrugged: we should put regulations in place that help capitalism to work better – to reward those who are willing to work (whether the head of a rail road or an inner city school teacher).

erikonymous (#3,231)

Christ, what an asshole.

but (#11,106)

@erikonymous I didn't know disagreeing made someone an asshole. Lots of support for name-calling and one-liners from a site that professes to be about helping people 'be less stupid'. Or maybe it's more of a center/program that requires time to ascertain the 'be less stupid' status. If you are still early in the process, then I apologize.

DMcK (#5,027)

@but Sorry dude, but turning a blind eye to the disastrous real-life, long-term consequences for millions of people resulting directly from policies derived from the writings of a pathological fantasist? Kind of a dick move!

but (#11,106)

@DMcK I'm not sure if you took the time to read the above, but my point is that the book is not the cause of the calamities of the world. If it was the cause (which I do not think is true), then Ayn was an incredible writer regardless of the result. Would you say she is a horrible writer and her book is not the cause of disastrous real-life, long-term consequences for millions OR that she is an incredible writer who is the source of disastrous real-life, long-term consequences for millions. She's got to be one or the other from what I'm reading here. Personally I think she wrote a great book that has some very inspiring messages for anyone that wants to attempt to self-sustain and better themselves. From reading the book, it is apparent that the current actions and decisions causing many of our current problems are not supported by the themes of the book. This book should not be connected with causing the cause of the problems. And asshole really doesn't mean much except 5 minutes in the corner.

sharilyn (#4,599)

@but: Um, Rand was an awful writer. Seriously. Poorly-written books can be just as powerful as well-written books. Books don't cause economic collapses, people cause economic collapses. Sometimes after reading poorly-written, ideologically strident works of fiction.

@sharilyn Like the Bible.

Heh…

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@but I censor my name calling, and respectfully disagree with all your blabbering posts that I started to read and then selectively skimmed just to "know thine enemy". Back to work.

but (#11,106)

@sharilyn I agree that it is the people and their decisions that cause problems or solve them (that happens sometimes too). I guess it just matters what you do with what you read. I've used the principles in Atlas Shrugged ever since I read it and have yet to cause a financial crisis in my own home. Rather, it has encouraged greater financial security and stability. Similarly to the bible (per the remark below). I've only become a better person from reading it. That's another book that people say is evil or awful that I have only become better from. I suppose that's why I don't think Atlas Shrugged really has anything to do with our current problems. This article if anything should be about Greenspan and his decisions. Not a book that could be used for good or apparently evil (although I have yet to see that).

sharilyn (#4,599)

@but: Thank heavens you are free from financial crisis. So many in this country are not, and through no fault of their own! Objectivism seems to conveniently ignore the inevitable body count, as has Greenspan and as did Rand in her time on earth.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

No offense, but, but it wouldn't hurt your writing style to learn the value of a thoughtful one-liner.

erikonymous (#3,231)

@but Wow! My initial comment was actually pointed at Rand herself, because [everything Bustillos wrote]. I hadn't even read your comments when I posted. But you, "but," deemed that I was referring to you? You personally? Because you're so used to being called an asshole that I must have been talking about you?
For the record, disagreeing with someone doesn't make you an asshole, but calling me stupid without provocation or evidence certainly does.
Just leave it to an "objectivist" to believe everything written is about them, and to go around like a pot calling every kettle black.

Neil O'Neil (#11,112)

@Maria Bustillos

Excellent article, thank you. I learned quite a bit, not least the fact that Whitaker Chambers was actually a very good writer (I only knew of him, and thought he was a mouth-breathing McCarthey-ite; had no idea he was a senior writer for Time Magazine in the 50s). A small criticism: Chambers called 'Atlas' "a massive tract for the times," and you borrow this idea ("an XXL-sized political pamphlet") without attribution. Chambers also makes the point that Aristotle was the only philosophical influence Rand was willing to acknowledge later in her life, though this might have been common knowledge, more or less, when Chambers mentioned it, so perhaps attribution isn't necessary in that case. Also, when you quote the letter Greenspan wrote to the NYTimes in 1957 in defense of Rand, you don't mention that it was the Times reporter Harriet Rubin, 50 years later, who uncovered that nugget and put it in a 2007 story, "Ayn Rand’s Literature of Capitalism" (though you do link to the NYT story, which is better than nothing).

barnhouse (#1,326)

Hello Mr O'Neil (Maria here.) Thank you very much for your kind words. However, it's not true about Harriet Rubin "uncovering" Greenspan's 1957 letter to the NYT regarding Atlas Shrugged. This quote appeared in many, many newspapers before that (as a Google search will indicate) as well as in multiple biographies, including Jerome Tuccille's Alan Shrugged which was published in 2002. Rand's claiming Aristotle as her only philosophical forebear is a question gone into in so many sources that it, too, has become part of her whole mythology. As for Chambers's 'tract' remark and my 'XXL' one, I can't figure out how you think the two are related? (Anyhoo, I am very pleased that you made it to the end of my super long article! thx again.)

sharilyn (#4,599)

@barnhouse: your super long article is one of the most interesting things I've read in a while! I'm amazed at how many passions are still stirred by Ms Rand, so long after her physical death.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@sharilyn thanks, you! That is kind. Also YES it is fascinating how hot and bothered people still get over all this. Super excited to see what happens with the movie.

ianf (#11,118)

@barnhouse/ Maria – a truly masterful exposé (Ayn would disapprove! ;-))

In defense of teenage Alyssa Rosenbaum's superficial analysis of the ills of the two Russian revolutions that robbed her of secure middle-class life, these were highly chaotic, paradigmatic times, not easy to grasp but for the most devious politicos. Like Lenin, who gained the upper hand within half a year of his returning from exile (i.e. with no previous local base of his own) by fanning popular discontent, calling for speeding-up of the bourgeois Kerensky govt's reforms — as if that in itself would put bread and butter on the proletariat's tables. So it is not surprising that a doe-eyed adolescent bought wholesale into that shallow rhetoric.

What IS suprizing is that in her formative years she never appears to have had an Oliver Cromwell moment [http://goo.gl/zvDwD], or reflected upon potentially erronous base for her convictions – like, might feudal Tsarist excesses be in some way triggering what followed later? Nor that any one adult around her in the U.S. pointed that out to her until 1957.

I'll second the greatness of "The Passion of Ayn Rand," although in its other form – Helen Mirren playing Rand makes it one the better made-for-TV movies: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0140447/

That said, I've always wondered if the obvious appeal of Rand to artistic/ nerdy American boys could have something to do with their "inner Nathaniel Brandens," teenage longing for Older Female-Not-Mum Who'd Show Them The Ropes. After all, that exciting prose it isn't.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@ianf WOW that was a great comment, thank you. So interesting. I regret that I have but one thumb to bestow, there.

ianf (#11,118)

@barnhouse Thank you. I am not ashamed to admit of having only read some of "The Fountainhead" of Rand's when somebody gave it to me. The iconography of its cover reminded me then, as do the covers above, of socrealistic and/or "Kraft durch Freude" google.com/images?q=kraft+durch+freude posters – but what the hell, try anything once.

But now that you so eloquently put it in perspective, I had to shrug off the Atlas as well. I will draw flak for this, but, based on in-depth studies of capsule reviews and copycat-Cliff's Notes on the Internet, it appears to be a social unrest fantasy in which Rand wishes for disappearance of what she calls "the looters" — but which any two-bit businessman will immediately recognize as the RETAIL-BUYING CLASSES. Oh, and a blond heroine that has a hard-on for a locomotive or something.

Bittersweet (#765)

@ianf: Funny you should say that. I shrugged off Atlas Shrugged after 200 pages or so as well, partly because it was so poorly written and uncompelling as a story, partly because it got annoying that blonde heroine relied so much on alpha-objectivist-male for strength and reassurance. Girlfriend, you own a company and you Get Shit Done!

You know, on further consideration, that annoyed me about The Fountainhead, too.

Maria, this article was so awesome, thanks!

ianf (#11,118)

You have to hand it to the old girl, though… given how badly she wrote,
and utter preposterousness of her Objectivist theology (hardly mere
philosophy!), she must have been quite a personality, intellectual snake-
charmer and male-bimbo magnet. Otherwise I can not understand
the continuing cross-generational fascination with what can only be
termed pedestrian-greed logick. I keep thinking of "The Passion
of Ayn Rand" [imdb.com/title/tt0140447], how closely Helen Mirren
managed to "grep" her there. But then I don't need an excuse to wax
lyrical over Helen… had a thing for her since I don't know when,
fuck the age difference.

Maria's typewriter should be reclassified Weapon of Mass Distraction.

KarenUhOh (#19)

74 comments and nobody's said yet she looks exactly like Cesare from The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari.

Writes like him, too.

Dave Craft (#10,722)

…"You had the authority to prevent irresponsible lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others"… That's awesome. Something like Bill Clinton and Fannie/Freddie. Hey go make loans to folks who have shit credit and make a lot of em. Because altruism – unchecked – is so much better than greed – unregulated.

bluesuedeshoes (#8,610)

@Dave Craft Suprime mortgages are NOT altruistic, friend. They are also about unchecked greed.

Dave Craft (#10,722)

@bluesuedeshoes The banks made the loans because they knew the Fed's would buy them regardless of how awful they were. Greed? Yes. My point was WHY & HOW was there a system put in place to absorb all these bad loans? That the taxpayers were backing no less.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

This is an argument I've heard a million times before, and it just. makes. no. sense.

The mortgage-backed securities that caused the crash were invented by bankers to turn a system intended to provide affordable housing for the working poor into a magical money machine for bankers. This indicates a flaw in the system — an unintended vulnerability greedy people were only too happy to exploit. The existence of that vulnerability does not somehow absolve the guilty parties for their rapacious greed.

I hear the tired refrain already: "Oh, but they are capitalists; obviously they will do whatever is best for themselves! Surely we cannot punish them for that!" Well, we don't seem to have any problem punishing people whose profit motive drives them to theft or drug dealing or piracy, do we?

kpants (#719)

@DoctorDisaster Love you for this – "The existence of that vulnerability does not somehow absolve the guilty parties for their rapacious greed" paired with this (esp.) "we don't seem to have any problem punishing people whose profit motive drives them to theft or drug dealing or piracy, do we?" Most excellent.

Operalala (#10,518)

@ Maria
Thank you so much for this article.
I've never "read Ayn Rand", don't know anyone who has, and I can't imaging trying to slog through a ton of poorly written sci-fi.
But I come from (rural) eastern Wisconsin, currently live in Madison, and am just stunned at how these "leaders" can so brazenly flaunt such hypocrisy and simple stupidity. Ayn Rand, an enabler.

Advocating hubris by citing Aristotle?? Hubris in action, of course.

Bittersweet (#765)

@Operalala: Funnily enough, I'm in the middle of reading Practical Wisdom, a book written by 2 philosophy profs that borrows extensively from Aristotle's teachings and comes to the exact opposite conclusion ol' Ms. Rand did. Go figure.

Parleyview (#7,337)

Ironic isn't it, that the word objective is a synonym for being fair, impartial.

It occurs to me after reading this article that if Alan Greenspan had "gone John Galt" a decade or so ago, we all might have been better off.

ianf (#11,118)

@Richard Hellinga@twitter :: what do you mean – gone on intellectual strike?

- to protest bonuses of banking moguls?
- against imaginary creeping encroachment of modern Looters?

Seems to me he pretty much went the whole hog on promoting
the excesses of his policies.

therealjanis (#11,138)

I am enraptured by this amazing article and almost willing (almost) to say that if Ayn Rand's turgid writing and brain-dead philosophy inspired such a witty piece, this justifies their existence. Having watched the trailer, I especially appreciate, "'If you double-cross me, I will destroy you,' the sleek blonde in the business suit informs her foe, with less conviction than an ordinary person would employ in ordering a salad."

Couple things no one else has mentioned. I too read the books in high school and loved them.

First, because I'm female and was raised to sacrifice my own interests, values and independent existence for others, and it was a real lifeline to read a book that emphasized the importance of pursuing one's own interests regardless of the feelings of others.
As a child, I was pretty much instructed that other peoples' feelings constituted marching orders.

Also, in many regards, Rand's female heroines are the shit. Really! An unmarried, childless woman who runs a railroad (at one point some guy she's in bed with asks her for the specific time a specific time departs, and she rattles it off without any need of a schedule. Now that's sangfroid) and, speaking of that, has sex with whomever she pleases. This was not at all the usual life of a woman in that time or any time, really.

Again, I do want to emphasize that this teenaged fling did not translate to a lifelong commitment.

Put Rand and Greenspan's friendship to one side for a moment. What Greenspan achieved at the Fed was _nowhere near_ laissez fair capitalism; he wouldn't even have the ability or authority to create a financial system congruent with Objectivist philosophy.

Everybody is all to happy to blame a 'lack of banking controls' for the recent downturn. Truth is, this all kicked off due to the 'subprime mortgage crisis' that was initiated DECADES ago when the US Government thought it would be a good idea to start competing with businesses by offering high-risk low-interest loans backed by the federal reserve (long before Greenspan).

I've got a massive problem with all this ill-informed dick swinging that's going on at the moment; people lambasting an entire philosophy that encourages people to be the best they can be, all because it doesn't correspond with their own inconsistent premises.

erikonymous (#3,231)

@Warren Seymour@twitter There are plenty of philosophies that encourage people to be the best they can be that don't also try to turn selfishness into a virtue, turn the highly subjective into "objectivism," or castigate the working poor as freeloaders.
As to the financial crisis, subprime mortgages certainly played a part, but acting like deregulation of the banking industry isn't at least partly to blame is disingenuous. And when Greenspan himself is willing to admit that his own financial philosophy was untenable, and the crisis proved his admission correct, why can't everyone do the same?
And I can't speak for everyone, but generally the comments section here usually falls into the "highly informed dick swinging" category.

revolvus (#11,151)

Let me get this straight: A "laissez-faire" system, to you, involves an unaccountable institution that sets interest rates? A free market, by your description, involves government price fixing (the price of borrowing money) that affects innumerable other prices? Perhaps Greenspan doesn't understand Objectivism. (Or, as writers other than you regularly state, he broke from it, despite latent admiration for it; you seem to think a line in his autobiography praising Rand means her philosophy dictated every action he took in his adult life before writing that line.)
Or perhaps you don't understand Objectivism. If you're really as well-read as you keep reminding us you are, you should know better than to conflate libertarianism with Objectivism, and rattle off numerous other mischaracterizations that would immediately be recognized as such by most of your readers if they cared more about the merit of Rand's ideas than how much of a bitch she may or may not have been. (On this note, I love how everybody's writing "I read her in high school – silly me! – but I'm over that now," not realizing that, by the definition of Rand's admirers this echo chamber has agreed upon, this amounts to "I used to be full of myself, but now I'm better.")
I'm no Objectivist, but to be fair to it, where did Rand say a person should "make all his own paper" or otherwise be 100 percent self-sufficient? Of course she understood the necessary interconnectedness of society and indeed reality. She just said society would function best if people fended for themselves, thus having the greatest chance to meet their full potential. By the ridiculous logic you foist onto Rand, she would hold that people must manufacture their own oxygen.
Arguments are most persuasive (and interesting) when they start by making the best possible case for the opposition. I understand the instinct to skip this step, as it is very difficult if you lean strongly in one direction, but at least stave off intellectual laziness long enough to represent your opposition fairly.

scrooge (#2,697)

@revolvus Or: Arguments are most persuasive when they are short and to the point.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@revolvus Arguments are most persuasive (and interesting) when they start by making the best possible case for the opposition. I understand the instinct to skip this step

You sure do! haha.

Pacwoob (#11,240)

@revolvus What exactly does it mean "people should fend for themselves"? How does that differ from the way society is now?

"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." I think your previously mentioned dictators didn't live according tho the second part of the creed. The inflationary policies of the fed tend to be altruistic towards business and not laissez-faire.

dougy9 (#11,157)

Get your facts straight. 1. Rand got rid of Greenspan well before she died. The man was dishonest then and still is, as far as I can tell. He once said that he could not prove that he existed. Enough said?
2. Rand liked Nietzsche's poetic use of language and admiration of ability, but renounced any philosophical tie to him when she read his notions of supermen who were above the law. To be accurate, know that Rand saw him as the other side of the fraudulent coin shared with the Kantians and Hegelians. Where there is sacrifice, there is somebody collecting the bounty, and Nietzsche took that side, as opposed to the Kantian/Hegelian axis of rationalism, which opted for being the sacrificial lambs (not possible, and a con game, for always somebody is there to collect the sacrifice).
It is time that it be recognized that Rand is neither a liberal nor a conservative, nor a libertarian. She was a radical for rationality (not rationalism) and laissez-faire with the limitation that nobody has a right to use force, threats of force or fraud to gain anything at all. Geez. Sounds sort of like the stuff in the Fedreralist papers, the Declaration and parts of the Constitution, doesn't it.
America is becoming a fascist place. Under laissez-faire crony capitalists would be properly called bureaucrats, for the instant that a business allies itself with the state, it loses its status as a business open to the challenge of competing without state help. Geez, everybody. It's easy to see. Either you are a producer or you are a parasite. Take your pick.

erikonymous (#3,231)

@dougy9 Why do some people get to be "producers" and others get to be "parasites"? Is it purely of one's own volition, or are there possibly other mitigating factors that prevent this country from being a meritocracy? Also, what happens if you work a 40-hour week, but still can't even modestly support your family or pay your medical bills? Does that make you a "parasite"?

dougy9 (#11,157)

@erikonymous Of course you're not a parasite just because you have trouble paying your bills. It's a matter of approach to your life. If you work, you are a producer. When the word parasite is used it refers to those whose primary way of living is to seek entitlements as a way of life. Some people are lazy, some work hard at getting their hands on every 'free' bit of cash possible. If you are a working person, and you are unfortunate or ill, then alone do you really have a right to seek help from others or to use your insurance or even unemployment and disability payments. By parasite one means someone who lives to see what can be had for nothing. Of course, nothing in life is truly free. Somebody has to pay. If you've been a worker, you have put money into social security and have a right to collect unemployment and other benefits. But, the parasite has not made any significant contributions and avoids being productive. You are productive if you work to gain value through voluntary exchanges. Maybe it can be put this way: If you do something honest to gain value and exchange value, you are a producer, whether you're a millionaire or barely getting by. If you are indolent and expect someone to take care of you with no effort to be fair to that person and help him to gain from your exchange, then you are a parasite. It's really simple. Volition is involved. There are millionaires who use lobbying and legislation to gain what they are unwilling to through honest trade and effort. They too, are among the parasites. Bernie Madoff comes to mind. He stole without an exchange of value to his victims. He is a parasite. Parasites think nothing of perpetrating fraud on their fellow human beings. Producers give value to get value. Emergencies and bad luck are not the normal state of things, and here is where kindness and benevolence come in when somebody needs help, but nobody has the right to force anybody to help. Charity is a private concern. Some can afford to be charitable, some cannot. If you are a working person or even a non-working person with good character and have been a trader of values when possible, you will be helped by those who know you. If you are strictly a taker, then things will be more difficult. You reap what you sow. This should not be hard to grasp. Enough said. Nobody should be sacrificed to anybody else. And yet, much of what goes on in Washington and the state capitals, is the government forcing some to take care of others or legislation being used to stealfrom others. I hope that this answers your good question.

dougy9 (#11,157)

@erikonymous Notice that as government involvement in our lives increases, so does destitution and destruction of the economy. All attempts to 'help' us stifle honest producers and undermine the ability of producers to create jobs and…produce. The government and the parasites who are in bed with the government (Yes, many of the banks are parasitical) have created this depression. No amount of printed money or bailouts (to be repayed by taxpayers in the future) can solve the crisis. We need to elect people who understand that the proper function of a government is to be tough on criminal activties and fraud, that is, acts that involve force, threats of force and fraud, for those are the ways in which human beings are hurt. A lot of fraud has been encouraged by or made possible by the people in office, through unconstitutional legislation, through acts by administrative agencies that do not have to justify anything that they do, and other bureaucratic trickery. The 'businesses' that lobby for this stuff cease to be traders, cease to be true businesses once the state is used to assist them in fraud. True traders do not go to Washington to gain advantage over their competitors. They fight the fair fight in the marketplace.

scrooge (#2,697)

@dougy9 He once said that he could not prove that he existed. Enough said?

Bertrand Russell apparently got very frustrated when he could not prove to Ludwig Wittgenstein that there was no rhinoceros in the room. Greenspan may be smarter than you think, dougy!

Pacwoob (#11,240)

@dougy9 1: Have you ever met any of these 'parasites'? 2: Notice that as corporate businesses follow their own interests and needs without monitoring and restraint the result is corruption of the ecosphere and diminishment of the livlihoods of those who work for wages.

dougy9 (#11,157)

@dougy9 There are poor parasites and there are big business parasites. There are middle=class parastites…in other words, all kinds of people who do whatever possible not to EARN what they get but to find a way to have it given to them, to steal it, to embezzle it, etc. Charity is a private matter, and of course, most people are charitable, when they can afford to do so. But it is not right when someone in Washington makes that decision for you, leaving you with LESS with which to be charitable. The whole point of Atlas Shrugged is that we should all be traders of value for value; win-win. Of course, in emergencies, we then help. If you think that the market is unregulated, you've been lied to: the banks alone have some 52,000 rules to follow. It did not help, because a bureaucracy with that insane number of rules is open to fraud, because nobody has the brain power to keep up with that kind of number, nor the time. When a rule or two are removed, everyone yells, "Deregulation!" Hardly. And usually such removal is accompanied by a few new rules as part of a legislative compromise. A government should need few rules to enforce what it should, namely, that nobody has the right to initiate the use of force or fraud or threats of force upon anybody else. It's that simple, and not understood in the universities, the government and the schools.

dougy9 (#11,157)

@Pacwoob Which corporate businesses? Some are creepy fascistic, bureaucratic entities in cahoots with the congress or state governments. Some are honest and give value for value and are highly responsible. In fact a huge number of businesses are honest traders. Atlas Shrugged makes this clear. Jim Taggart, Orren Boyle are moochers, parasites despite the appearance that they are free market businessmen, when in fact they produce little and gain a lot from connections in Washington and pull everywhere. Think Skilling, Madoff, AIG, Citibank and most of the Congress today. The innovators, the producers have nothing to gain by wasting their time on politics. Some are forced out of business by the looter types, who saddle them with phony lawsuits coming from the FTC, the Anti-trust division, fraudulent class action suits (think of the Texas silica cases, and the asbestos cases, now known to have been 98% fraudulent) and suits such as the one against Rambus, which company was years ahead of the comptetition, but were stopped in their tracks through suits and legislation, which things allowed the comptetion time to catch up, to 'equalize' the playing field. Halting honest scientific progress does more damage than you realize, in terms of lost jobs and corruption of the ecosphere, however you define that. The Silica and Asbestos cases, fraud almost all, destroyed over twenty corporations. Away went thousands of jobs, lost tax revnues, etc. Johns Manville is an example, defrauded in court and attacked by the lawyers and the legislatures. THIS IS A NEW PARADIGM. STOP thinking in Marxist terms, take note that the only true monopolies come into being with the aid of the state, the government. Example: natural gas and oil extracted from shale. The legislators and creepy outfits like EXXON are lining up and loading legislative and legal guns to try to take a share of this amazing new technology away from the innovators, the pioneers of the new technology. I refer you to: http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/gas-revolution_557014.html?page=1 If you don't get it then, you won't and you may as well move to a country already destroyed by your immature notion that all business is fundamentally exploitative. Cuba, Ghana, Libya, Burma, Russia… go… you'll find comrades there, and you'll all lead impoverished lives. Cheers.

HParkerWillis (#11,174)

After parsing through all the disjointed personal attacks on Ayn Rand, it became clear to me that Maria Bustillos wanted to link Objectivism to Alan Greenspan, and Alan Greenspan to the 2007-current financial collapse. She misses a big point, and ultimately fails in her attempt. The Alan Greenspan->Financial Crisis connection is a strong one, and I agree. However, she claims it was his lifelong adherence to strict objectivism that resulted in the disaster. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact it was his rejection of objectivism that fueled the financial fires in the past decade.

When Alan Greenspan became a central banker, he conveniently abandoned all of his fervent opposition to a fiat currency system, and operated under the arrogant assumption that he could steer the economy without consequences.

This is wholly contradictory to Objectivisim, which you will find in the famous "Money" speech from Atlas Shrugged:
"Whenever destroyers appear among men, they start by destroying money, for money is men's protection and the base of a moral existence. Destroyers seize gold and leave to its owners a counterfeit pile of paper. This kills all objective standards and delivers men into the arbitrary power of an arbitrary setter of values. Gold was an objective value, an equivalent of wealth produced. Paper is a mortgage on wealth that does not exist, backed by a gun aimed at those who are expected to produce it. Paper is a check drawn by legal looters upon an account which is not theirs: upon the virtue of the victims. Watch for the day when it becomes, marked: 'Account overdrawn.'

I am not sure if Maria read Atlas Shrugged, appears to have based on some statements in the article, so it is curious why she conveniently left out this principle rule.

Still not convinced she is wrong about Greenspan? Take a look at this article, entitled "The Maestro Changes His Tune" written by Ron Paul after a particularly heated exchange in Congress in 2005:

Nearly 40 years ago, Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan wrote persuasively in favor of a gold monetary standard in an essay entitled Gold and Economic Freedom. In that essay he neatly summarized the fundamental problem with fiat currency in a few short sentences: “The abandonment of the gold standard made it possible for the welfare statists to use the banking system as a means to an unlimited expansion of credit… In the absence of the gold standard, there is no way to protect savings from confiscation through inflation. There is no safe store of value… Deficit spending is simply a scheme for the 'hidden' confiscation of wealth. Gold stands in the way of this insidious process. It stands as a protector of property rights. If one grasps this, one has no difficulty in understanding the statists' antagonism toward the gold standard.”
Today, however, Mr. Greenspan has become one of those central planners he once denounced, and his views on fiat currency have changed accordingly. As the ultimate insider, he cannot or will not challenge the status quo, no matter what the consequences to the American economy. To renounce the fiat system now would mean renouncing the Fed itself, and his entire public career with it. The only question is whether history will properly reflect the destructive nature of Mr. Greenspan's tenure.

Link here: http://www.lewrockwell.com/paul/paul236.html

History has properly reflected the destructive nature of Mr. Greenspan's tenure… Unfortunately, it is partisan hacks like Maria Bustillos who seek to conveniently rewrite history and distort facts in an effort to somehow score points for their own favored ideology. It should be clear now that this critical point was lost on the author, and for that reason the article is worthless.

-Paul

Max Clarke (#3,635)

@griffinpaulj "Gold was an objective value": Oh yes? And Ms. Rand determined this value how exactly?

I hate to break it to you, but all currency is "fiat" currency. Its value is determined by what people say it's worth — what you can trade it for on any given day in any given venue. Valuations of gold fluctuate, just like valuations of everything and anything else.

I do get the impression that some American gold bugs think of the "objective" value of gold as a quasi-divine standard (along with, I guess, the King James Bible and the Constitution), but of course we know that dear old Ayn was a committed atheist… so I don't know what her excuse was.

RFBT (#11,178)

Regarding Greenspan: the truth is that he has never been able to think for himself.

Ayn Rand was a girl who had lived a rough life. She was able to come to New York, was enthralled with what she saw and decided to make it here. She did make it here and I love her for it.

I read her novels in 1961 and met her and Nathaniel Branden a few months later in New York on a cold winter night. It was a 'lecture' with maybe 13-14 other people attending. Branden's presentation was a complete waste of time. Rand appeared insecure, frail, uncertain. Certainly not what I expected.

Her novels were a major influence on me for a while and continue to influence me to this day. But she had a grasp on only a small part of what is true and what everyone needs to know. It didn't take me long to understand this fact, thinking rationally of course.

Money? Money is nothing more or less than a medium of exchange. Its value is agreed upon by those involved in the exchange.

Gold is a metal and polished gold is prized as a trinket. Long before we had gold the natives here, in the United States, used sea shells from the West Coast as a medium of exchange throughout the various tribes and nations.

The idea of using gold as my foundation of exchange, mined at will by a few companies here and there, is just as ludicrous as using sea shells picked off the beach by Native Americans.

We've advanced beyond that. Now we base the value of money on the ability of a group of people to deliver products and services of value to others.

The value of the currencies utilized by these various groups rise and fall as their collective ability to produce value rises and falls.

Ayn Rand had beautiful eyes.

scrooge (#2,697)

To summarize, then:

Objectivists: Fuck everybody!
Non-Objectivists: Fuck me!

Taiwan Tracker (#11,185)

Greenspan's superficial morality was well-illustrated by his 60-Minutes interview after his "retirement" from the Fed. The creep even has a pretty little trophy wife just like Rand's toyboy.

Mikee99 (#11,190)

http://www.michaelprescott.net/hickman.htm

I've never been a fan of Rand, nor have I been a fan of her fans. But someone just gave me that link after I shared this story, and my former non existent opinion of Ms. Rand has profoundly dropped.

Is it possible that Objectivism is based on Ms. Rand's schoolgirl crush on and admiration of the morals of a bank robbing, kidnapping, child murderer?

Sounds plausible to me, based on the callous disregard for human life most of Rand's characters, stories, and fans display.

I'm half way through this highly entertaining and insightful review– excellent job! So funny, and revealing of this cooked up, half baked lopsided "philosophy" that our leaders have taken to heart to justify "uneven, unfair rewards", as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet recently stated.

Greenpan's were criminally negligent actions. And the idea that he can not be brought to some form of justice beyond mild criticism TV shows only speaks to the lopsided power that central banks have over our government, nation, and perhaps more.

Anyone defending Rand, Greenspan and or the gold standard viz. fiat money needs to address the nature of the gold market as just another commodity that can be cornered within 3 minutes. It's an absurd notion of money that favors moneyed banking interests no less than central banks, and perhaps makes for national security risks.

Milton Friedman's favorite documentary, "The Money Masters" (1996) fully explains what wrong with central banking, gold, silver and fractional reserve banking regulation, which is the real rub. The full video is on Youtube, and it's far better than a speech by Ron Paul, who may be good for Texas, but misses a few boats getting there.

It also explains why Ayn Rand earns another epic FAIL for being a gold bug, arguing against Ben Graham's work on Wall Street, getting us off gold and pricing things based on a basket of commodities people do actually use and eat rather than things kings have historically traded to keep working people under and shinning their shoes! The trouble is The Fed has not clue how money is working its way to the mouths of babes at this point, as David Stockman wrote this past week.

This review rocks, and I'm passing it around widely.

Thanks for a thorough exegesis of Rand, Objectivism, and the Rand-Greenspan connection. You've done an excellent job. The only thing missing is any discussion of Rand as an anachronism. Her ideas were formed in the teens and twenties, in the crucible of totalitarian communism. Her novels were written in the forties and fifties. She could not have experienced by that time (and later completely overlooked) the success of postwar European social democracies–prosperous, productive societies with the full array of civil liberties, which have only come into their full flower in the past several decades. See my post, Why We Should Shrug Off Atlas Shrugged, at my blog Euroconcerns.com, which is dedicated to the viability of Europe as a social model for the U.S. Having lived in Europe for 16 years, I have a great deal of personal experience and eyewitness testimony on the subject. Stephen Hill's book EUROPE'S PROMISE is a must-read on this topic and will be a revelation to most (even well-informed) Americans.

DennesHernandez (#11,234)

just saw the movie and considering the budget, it is good; If there was one thing I would mention is that I wished there was more hype re: the SSI…more so for dramatic/ foreshadowing purposes…thanks to all involved with this project.

Rhages (#11,251)

The writer of this piece does not understand the philosophy of Nietzsche, at all (I dare say that Rand did not, either).

Nietzsche's Superhuman (Uebermensch) does not yet exist, as Nietzsche well knew. It is, for now, merely a goal for the will. When/if it ever does arise, the Superhuman will essentially belong to a different species, altogether, and it will have as much relation to "humanity" as humans have to chimpanzees. Therefore, the comment regarding the "interrelatedness of humanity" is utterly irrelevant to the idea of the Superhuman.

Also, one needn't be a Randian to find the concept of "humanity" to be utterly fictitious, a mere convenience. It is a social concept, nothing more, and many individuals exist who have minimal or even non-existent needs for other humans.

Of course, such persons are now stigmatized, though once upon a time, hermits were actually considered to be wise individuals– which merely proves the existence of the social brainwashing to which the author of this otherwise worthwhile piece has obviously succumbed.

scrooge (#2,697)

@Rhages I guess Nietzsche hadn't read Darwin.

As for the concept of humanity being a convenient fiction, I don't know if you've been out of doors lately, Rhages, but there's a lot of other humans out there, and somehow we all have to get along, whether you call it brainwashing or not.

Suze (#241,698)

@Rhages It is one thing to understand a philosophy of a thinker like Nietzsche and to have survived the facism that Rand did when his thinking was warped by a corrupt government. She saw where that kind of idealism led and was warning us all here. What is interpretted by some socialists as a book full of hate is indeed Rand's outpourings against facism and because she valued America.

Mort Young (#9,769)

Did she have a baby by Qaddafi? Or is that just a rumor?
Must be. He's too good-looking.

thinkfull (#11,291)

Enjoying the article, but are you twatting this or something? We are literate adults, and can handle things spelled out all the way, even in parenthesis. "Btw" and its ilk have no place in an otherwise intelligent, coherent article. Sure, I don't object when I see it in a Cracked "article," but this is a little above that, in my opinion.

Sincerely, an educator.

erikonymous (#3,231)

@thinkfull ugh … prescriptivists …

sincerely, another educator

Very interesting article. Thanks for posting.

FYI – I mentioned it in a blog post of my own, here:
http://leftoflegal.com/2011/04/19/the-tea-partys-ayn-rand-obsession/

Chilles Deleuze (#2,731)

Excellent piece (almost) all around. As mentioned by some above, regardless of how much of Nietzsche Rand thought she understood, to reduce the former to the latter is a real philosophical mistake. The point about the Overman (a better translation that Superman, which doesn't capture all of the language of overcoming in texts like Zarathustra) not yet existing is a good one. I would also add that it is in fact a great love of human beings and of life in general that leads Nietzsche to many of his conclusions. This is certainly clear in Zarathustra and in earlier essays such as On the Uses and Disadvantages of History For Life.

I was surprised to learn here about Rand's alleged interest in Aristotle. I assume it is because in both the Nichomeachean Ethics and the Politics self-sufficiency is a cardinal virtue, though, needless to say, in a way completely at adds with anything in Objectivism.

Thanks for the great article, and may it lead to many more discovering just how fraudulent an intellectual Ayn Rand really is.

Ayn Rand always said when you see a contradiction in terms check your premises—here is a contradiction in terms if ever there was one by the author of this stupid article!
"When Atlas Shrugged burst onto the scene in 1957 and was promptly and categorically reviled from both right and left, as it has continued to be. It also sold like hotcakes, as it still does."

monetary jack (#11,303)

@Rajendra Lakhotia@twitter
Before you call an author's article stupid, you should first achieve a basic level of reading comprehension. There is no a "contradiciton in terms" here. Read it again and see if you can figure it out, genius.

Suze (#241,698)

@Rajendra Lakhotia@twitter I thought that was interesting too, but also a truth, because here we have on this blog those who hate her but are compelled to read her ..and those who understand her passion to warn America about how we were slipping into the evil of facism, and read her because this novel is such a prophetic parody for what we are watching play out before our eyes, even to the use of the phrase "fair share tax." Chilling.

blaming Ayn Rand for the mess we're in is being intellectually lazy – despite the number of words used to do so. seems to be a trend these days.

not that i'm defending the philosophy, mind you. all systems have flaws.

"Do not make the mistake of the ignorant who think that an individualist is a man who says: 'I’ll do as I please at everybody else’s expense.' An individualist is a man who recognizes the inalienable individual rights of man—his own and those of others."

I'm pretty sure even Nietzsche would have detested Rand, Nietzsche didn't deal in absolutes, that was more or less that point of his many writings, while Rand obviously does. Rand was exactly the kind of "philosopher" that Nietzsche criticized: she had a set of very specific points of view all predicate on some deeply felt grudge she had against collectivism and proceeded to build a philosophy intended to justify that grudge. Very poor form indeed.

Madlock (#11,311)

What utter claptrap.

Laying at the feet of Ayn Rand the consequences of both a handful of bad actors and people who've made victims of themselves after pursuing mortgages and credit without bothering themselves to as-much-as understand the responsibilities to which they were committing themselves is ludicrous.

Nobody cried at his mortgage closing when the check cleared. Demonizing banks for doing what banks were created to do is ludicrous and only further erodes whatever foundation prevents the rest of American society from collapse – by eliminating any burden whatsoever that so-called "rights" are predicated entirely upon responsibility.

To retard society to the potential of its least members is the most irrational act of all – and it's precisely what America has chosen to do. And to make sense of it all, so-called liberals and progressives decide for themselves what they want to believe and simply ignore what doesn't support their point of view.

Had the government not intervened to mitigate exposure it had no business undertaking in the first place, the economic "crisis" would have remained what caused it – a series of personal failures driven by ignorance, indifference and a false sense of entitlement.

Unfortunately, the response offered by politicians who are more eager to be re-elected than steward a nation chose to respond by absolving bad actors of their sins and transferring the consequences upon the shoulders of those who had nothing to do with it.

Worst of all, by preventing people from having to experience the full measure of responsibility for themselves (many of which would simply have to learn to "ask" for help rather than "expect" it), it's also eliminated ANY imperative and motivation for the only kind of change that would prevent the problem from recurring.

dp234 (#11,459)

A note on the quote, "Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." It is from the religion of Thelema, a kind of neopaganism based on an Egyptian pantheon created by Aleister Crowley. Although Mr. Crowley loved being villainized by Christians, he didnt even believe in hell or Satan. According to Crowley, every individual has a True Will (the will of a spiritual self), to be distinguished from the ordinary wants and desires of the ego. The True Will is essentially one's "calling" or "purpose" in life. So that phrase is opposite Objectivism because it is serving the higher will, not the ego.

Do as thou wilt also recognizes the requirement of not infringing on the will of others and to recognize that the True Will is a collective will. Your Duty to Others according to Thelema: An admonishment to eliminate the illusion of separateness between oneself and all others, to fight when necessary, to avoid interfering with the Wills of others, to enlighten others when needed, and to worship the divine nature of all other beings. Not at all Randian.

Even though some satanists groups repackaged the quote for selfish purposes, and it that sense is similar to Objectivism, it was meant to indicate serving your higher will was all that was necessary and because that higher will values the collective will, then it cannot by its nature dominate others.

mokkos (#21,833)

Thank a lot Maria,btw you are from Greece? megadroid

Dolmance (#232,031)

F. Nietzsche was addicted to making provocative leading statements, and in consequence has been used to justify bad behavior by more unhinged halfwits than just about any author in history. So please, DO NOT make the mistake of imagining that that unspeakable, pompous and pathologically narcissistic hag, Ayn Rand, had anything in common with him. She did not.

Suze (#241,698)

@Dolmance Try to stick to the issues and substance of her philosophy so we can debate with some integrity please.

RonSabo (#232,778)

I have never seen such a venomous outpouring of hate than the comments on this blog. Ayn beleived that the purpose of an individuals life is to strive for fulfillment and do it honestly
by their own virtues.

Suze (#241,698)

@RonSabo …I agree. It is significant of the hate of hearing the truth Rand prophesied would happen in this country. She is calling a spade a spade. Radical Progressives …the likes of which are now driving our current government are actually communists and here is this seer who prophesied that totalitarianism could happen here, and lo and behold …only a few decades later and here we are with haters of liberty wanting to demonize anyone who dares to honor their own life creative life force and belonging to them.

GeeSquared (#271,300)

@Suze The enemy from within is what we need to be worried about. Liberals will be the death of us all.

Lola Grace@facebook (#235,249)

Everyone of you can be a non-mystical god. Literally. Immortality is just a matter of shaping reality to conform to the highest moral virtue which is self-esteem. We're on the verge of crossing a technological threshold where matter and consciousness can interface seamlessly. Thus obviating the need to suffer on a material level.

In fact, were we at the point where consciousness could be moved from body A to body B it would literally mean the end of crime. A body would be of no more value than a t-shirt; i.e. inexpensive and replaceable. The necessities of life would be virtually free. The need to toil and suffer throughout a short and generally tragic existence would be no more than a bad memory.

I remember 20 years ago how NOBODY I knew believed we would be ordering pizza, books, clothes and movies on the internet. Most people are simply invested in believing negativity is the only mode of existence. Therefore they view themselves and their fellow humans as somehow evil. Nothing could be further from reality.

The absolute case in point is Nikola Tesla, Royal Rife, Ayn Rand and many other nameless heroes. They are not cold. They are not deceitful. These are moral and hence beautiful human beings who intuitively grasp the potential of infinity and simply love life. And when you love your own life then you can love others on a profound level indeed.

The dichotomy is someone who actually takes the time to write a book like Atlas Shrugged, or create alternating current & most likely wireless electricity and thereby revolutionize existence. The human condition will change when technology outmodes parasitism. The question is how long will it take? Every day someone is taxed to the point of being unable to engage in creative endeavors is another day everyone is cheated.

The masses are actually no more than large groups of individuals capable of godlike achievements that are as infinite as existence itself. On the other hand you can always let non-statesmen like politicians, small minded bureaucrats and other objectively non-productive "leaders" regulate your existence into oblivion.

Ironically those who twenty years ago viewed the internet with suspicion, disbelief and skepticism are the same people bumping into things while they walk because they are fixated on their iPhones.

Suze (#241,698)

All of you on this blog who are so passionately repelled by Rand's work have not experienced living under the oppression of a facist country the way she had and then had seen how this same socialism was already taking hold here…which it now is about to become a prophetic word for us now. Of course if you are leaning toward the communist state that she was warning us against in America, it isn't surprising that you would want to silence her. But you never will.

GeeSquared (#271,300)

@Suze I agree. Its easy to be a liberal when the government just keeps printing more money and the gravy train continues down the track. It's all going to come crashing down on us sooner than later.

GeeSquared (#271,300)

We are all entitled to our opinions about Rand. I found he book of fiction entertaining and very relatable to today's current economic situation. Was she as flawed individual, absolutely. Is our central government a joke, yes. Can we do better as a nation? Hell Yes

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