Libertarians are often derided for being unapologetically selfish. I don’t think that’s a fair criticism of libertarian thinking. It is a fair criticism of Randianism/Objectivism. But the two aren’t the same. (I will concede that too many libertarians don’t make enough of an effort to distinguish the two.)
Libertarianism is a philosophy of governing, and only of governing. Ayn Rand’s politics were also her personal creed and ethos. Her political beliefs dictated her taste in art, friends, music, food, and men. I find all of that rather horrifying. One of the main reasons I’m a libertarian is that I loathe politics, and I want politics to play as diminished a role in my day-to-day life as possible. Letting politics dictate my friends, loves, and interests to me sounds like a pretty miserable existence.
When it comes to “the virtue of selfishness” I think the difference between Randianism and libertarianism is best explained this way: Randianism is a celebration of self-interest. Libertarianism is merely the recognition of it.
Radley Balko, “James Buchanan, RIP”, Huffington Post, 2013-01-09
January 26, 2013
April 7, 2011
The victim of Objectivist intimidation is poor little P.J. O’Rourke, who has to be very careful how he reviews Atlas Shrugged:
Atlas shrugged. And so did I.
The movie version of Ayn Rand’s novel treats its source material with such formal, reverent ceremoniousness that the uninitiated will feel they’ve wandered without a guide into the midst of the elaborate and interminable rituals of some obscure exotic tribe.
Meanwhile, members of that tribe of “Atlas Shrugged” fans will be wondering why director Paul Johansson doesn’t knock it off with the incantations, sacraments and recitations of liturgy and cut to the human sacrifice.
But that’s about as far as he dares to go, risking retribution from Randian cultists. Oh, wait . . . he does go a tiny bit further towards martyrdom after all:
But I will not pan “Atlas Shrugged.” I don’t have the guts. If you associate with Randians — and I do — saying anything critical about Ayn Rand is almost as scary as saying anything critical to Ayn Rand. What’s more, given how protective Randians are of Rand, I’m not sure she’s dead.
The woman is a force. But, let us not forget, she’s a force for good. Millions of people have read “Atlas Shruggged” and been brought around to common sense, never mind that the author and her characters don’t exhibit much of it. Ayn Rand, perhaps better than anyone in the 20th century, understood that the individual self-seeking we call an evil actually stands in noble contrast to the real evil of self-seeking collectives. (A rather Randian sentence.) It’s easy to make fun of Rand for being a simplistic philosopher, bombastic writer and — I’m just saying — crazy old bat. But the 20th century was no joke. A hundred years, from Bolsheviks to Al Qaeda, were spent proving Ayn Rand right.
February 12, 2011
More information at http://www.atlasshruggedpart1.com/.
April 1, 2010
February 5, 2010
Theodore Dalrymple, in his mundane disguise, looks at the founding deity of Objectivism:
Rand’s virtues were as follows: she was highly intelligent; she was brave and uncompromising in defense of her ideas; she had a kind of iron integrity; and, though a fierce defender of capitalism, she was by no means avid for money herself. The propagation of truth as she saw it was far more important to her than her own material ease. Her vices, of course, were the mirror-image of her virtues, but, in my opinion, the mirror was a magnifying one. Her intelligence was narrow rather than broad. Though in theory a defender of freedom of thought and action, she was dogmatic, inflexible, and intolerant, not only in opinion but in behavior, and it led her to personal cruelty. In the name of her ideas, she was prepared to be deeply unpleasant. She hardened her ideas into ideology. Her integrity led to a lack of self-criticism; she frequently wrote twenty thousand words where one would do.
Rand believed all people to be possessed of equal rights, but she found relations of equality with others insupportable. Though she could be charming, it was not something she could keep up for long. She was deeply ungrateful to those who had helped her and many of her friendships ended in acrimony. Her biographer tells us that she sometimes told jokes, but, in the absence of any supportive evidence, I treat reports of her sense of humor much as I treat reports of sightings of the Loch Ness monster: apocryphal at best.
A passionate hater of religion, Rand founded a cult around her own person, complete with rituals of excommunication; a passionate believer in rationality and logic, she was incapable of seeing the contradictions in her own work. She was a rationalist who was not entirely rational; she could not distinguish between rationalism and rationality. Of narrow aesthetic sympathies, she laid down the law in matters of artistic judgment like a panjandrum; a believer in honesty, she was adept at self-deception and special pleading. I have rarely read a biography of a writer I should have cared so little to meet.
I’ve read a fair bit of Ayn Rand’s non-fiction, but I’ve always found her fiction to be a tough slog: as Daniels says, “[h]er work properly belongs to the history of Russian, not American, literature — and nineteenth-century Russian literature at that.”
Update, 8 February: Publius always found that Frederic Bastiat’s dictum “The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended” really was correct for Objectivism:
Having met a very large number [of Objectivists], my own anecdotal assessment is that about three-quarters are high-functioning neurotics. Highly intelligent, quite disciplined, but utter social misfits with low self-confidence. They are walking, and sadly talking, liabilities to the philosophy. Now this will seem like an admission of guilt. Wacky people adhere to wacky ideas. Hardly. Some of the most wacky ideas in history were adhered to by perfectly ordinary and decent people. Take socialism as a modern example. Some very important ideas, like representative government, were early on advocated by people who were certifiable flakes. I don’t think the wall between personal philosophy and personal psychology is an iron one. There is some overlap. Jean Jacques Rousseau, for example, was the embodiment of his beliefs. An emotional mess of a man advocating an emotional mess of a philosophy.
But new and radical philosophies tend to attract marginal people, those somehow discontented with life as it is.
October 29, 2009
Andrew Corsello tries to exorcise the ghost of Ayn Rand:
A weirdly specific thing happens with the books of Ayn Rand. It’s not just the what of the books, but when a reader discovers them — almost always during the first or second year of college. Rand grabs a reader at a time of maximum vulnerability and malleability, when he’s getting his first accurate sense of how he measures up in the world in terms of intellect and talent. The longing to regard oneself as misunderstood and underrated can be powerful; the temptation to project oneself as such, irresistible. But how? How to stand above and apart?
Enter Howard Roark, the heroic and misunderstood architect, square of jaw and Asperger-ish of mien, who at the end of The Fountainhead blows up his own masterpiece after a bunch of sniveling “parasites” and “second-handers” tinker with the blueprints.
Then enter Atlas Shrugged‘s John Galt, the heroic and misunderstood engineer, square of jaw and Asperger-ish of mien, who, after persuading “men of talent” to retreat to his Colorado aerie while the country goes to seed (in order to show the “mediocrities” left behind what life is like without their betters), delivers a 35,000-word speech decrying bureaucrats and regulators.
SIXTY PAGES, BITCHES!
Finally, enter Objectivism, the name Rand gave to her moral defense of “reason,” individualism, and unfettered capitalism.
And hats off to Nick Gillespie for the best quote in the article:
“In terms of literary influence, only Kerouac compares,” says Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv (offshoots of Reason, the libertarian magazine founded in 1968 by a Randian). Pointing out that Atlas Shrugged and On the Road were both published in 1957, he adds, “Kerouac has had a more diffuse influence on American culture. He created a broad-based conception of what was cool and hip. Rand hasn’t brushed the culture as widely. She touches individuals — immensely and deeply. It’s useful to think about her impact in terms of Catcher in the Rye, another novel of individuation. Everyone agrees it’s beautifully written, but it’s losing its grasp on the public imagination. Same with Catch-22. Yossarian was a perfect antihero for the ’60s generation, but does anybody give a shit about him now? Or about Portnoy? A few days ago, I was watching an old clip of Andrew Dice Clay’s stand-up act from 1987. He made a joke about jerking off into a liver, and no one in the audience knew what he was talking about. Think about that. You can still make Howard Roark jokes that play, but it’s been at least twenty years since you could do that with Portnoy. Portnoy’s dead. Philip Roth is a great writer, but his signature character has had far less purchase on the collective imagination than Galt or Roark. No matter what you think of Rand, there’s no denying that the woman just swings a really big dick.”