Ayn Rand’s Totalitarian Sense of Life

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A person’s sense of life . . . is involved in everything about that person, in his every thought, emotion, action . . . in his manner of moving, talking, smiling . . . It is that which makes him a “personality.” (Ayn Rand 1975: 31)

This article complements an article by me that Liberty published on July 26, 2012, entitled “Defending Capitalism against Ayn Rand.” In that article I showed that, although Rand used the titles of the three parts of Atlas Shrugged (“Non-Contradiction,” ‘Either-Or,” “A Is A”) to proclaim her insistence on logical consistency, nevertheless, there is a glaring inconsistency in her novels between her intellectual support for capitalism and her emotional anticapitalist sense of life. I used this inconsistency to illuminate why capitalism is economically the most efficient and democratic economic system.

In this article, I will demonstrate that Rand’s sense of life was totalitarian; and I will use her totalitarian sense of life to illuminate the wonderful social and psychological benefits of capitalism’s sense of life.

The Problem

The slaughter committed by 20th-century totalitarians is unique. The ancient Roman emperor Caligula is a byword for brutal tyranny, but he murdered fewer than 260 people. The Spanish Inquisition operated everywhere the Spanish government controlled, from Chile to the Philippines. During its entire duration (1478–1834), it murdered between 3,000 and 5,000 people. Twentieth-century totalitarians — Marxist-Leninist socialists and German National Socialists — murdered more than 100 million people.

What was the totalitarian sense of life that caused these horrors? First let us look at its opposite: the capitalist sense of life.

The Sense of Life of Capitalism (Catallaxy)[1]

In the beginning of Julius Caesar’s history of his conquest of Gaul (roughly modern France and Belgium), he observed that of the peoples of Gaul, the Belgae were the most distant from the humanitas and cultus of the Roman Empire, and that they were the Gallic people to whom merchants came least often “bringing imports that soften character (ad effeminandos animos).” The Latin words humanitas and cultus do not need translation. They are what distinguish civilization from barbarism. Merchants play a crucial role in the civilizing process by softening temperament.

How much suffering would have been avoided if Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, and Kim Il Sung had devoted their lives to making money!

In the 18th century, Montesquieu (De L’Esprit des lois, Book XX) pointed out, “Commerce cures destructive prejudices . . . wherever lifestyles [moeurs] are gentle [douces], there is commerce; and wherever there is commerce, lifestyles are gentle.” As venomous a critic of capitalism as Fernand Braudel (1984: 30–31) pointed out that the commercial and financial centers of Europe — Venice in the 16th century, the Dutch republic in the 17th century, and Britain in the 18th century — were remarkable for their religious tolerance. He observed (1984: 185), “It is hard . . . to imagine the center of a world-economy as anything but tolerant; it was compelled to be tolerant.” The eminent economic historian Carlo Cipolla (1994: 210) pointed out that “a telling symptom of the European ‘capitalist spirit’ . . . was the fact that [in the 15th century] Venetians manufactured mosque lamps for the Near Eastern market and decorated them with . . . pious koranic [sic] inscriptions.” Voltaire (Letter 6 of Lettres philosophiques) and Joseph Addison (The Spectator, number 69, May 19, 1711) described with awe the way in which, in the London stock exchange, members of different religions and different nationalities mingled without awareness of their differences. Voltaire identified (Letter 10 of Lettres philosophiques) the causal connection: “The commerce that has enriched the citizens of England has helped to make them free, and that freedom in turn has encouraged commerce.” That is why Dr. Johnson observed, “There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money.”[2] The wisdom of this observation is much more apparent now than when Johnson made it. How much suffering would have been avoided if Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, and Kim Il Sung had devoted their lives to making money!

The Totalitarian Sense of Life

Ayn Rand’s novels and plays provide an excellent illustration of the totalitarian sense of life. They will substantiate my statement that it is the opposite of the capitalist sense of life.

At the beginning of Part II of We the Living, Rand explained why she admired the city of Petrograd (Saint Petersburg). I quote what she wrote below. The italics are mine. One of their purposes is to show how Rand merged “a man” (Peter the Great) into the abstract noun “man.” Every reader of Rand’s works knows the reverential importance she attached to the word “man.” She said, “If you would put a title over everything I have written, it would be, ‘To The Glory of Man’” (Branden 1999: 46).

Her praise of Petrograd and Peter the Great was absolute and unreserved:

The will of a man [Peter the Great] raised it [St. Petersburg] where men did not choose to settle. An implacable emperor commanded [it] into being . . . [The men who built it] died and fell into the grunting mire. No willing hands came to build [it] . . . “Petrograd,” its residents say, “stands on skeletons.” . . . Cities grow like forests, like weeds. . . . [Petrograd] was the work of man . . . [It] is the work of man [not “a man”] who knows what he wants. . . . It was a monument to the spirit of man. Peoples know nothing of the spirit of man, for peoples are only nature, and man is a word that has no plural. Petrograd is not of the people. . . . The gates [of Petrograd] had never been opened in warm compassion to the meek, the hurt, and the maimed, like the doors of the kindly Moscow. Petrograd did not need a soul; it had a mind. . . . [P]erhaps it is only a coincidence that those who seized power in the name of the people transferred their capital to the meek Moscow from the haughty aristocrat of cities.

In fact, from the beginning of their rule, the Soviet Communists praised Peter the Great as “the first Bolshevik” (i.e., Communist) and regarded him as a model (Tucker 1990: 61–5, 70, 144).

Rand wrote her Foreword to the 1959 edition of We the Living after the publication of Atlas Shrugged. At its end, she stated about its heroine, Kira, “The specific events of Kira’s life were not mine; her ideas, her convictions, her values were and are.” In Part I, Chapter 3, Rand outlines Kira’s character: “The only hero she had known was a Viking . . . whose eyes never looked farther than the point of his sword, but there was no boundary for the point of his sword.” What Vikings did with their swords is illustrated by an Icelandic saga, in which a Viking was surnamed “the children’s man” because he did not impale children on his lance, “as was the custom among his companions” (Bloch 1962: 19).

In the same chapter, when Rand compares Kira with her contemptible, soft-hearted sister Lydia, she describes their reactions to a “play depicting the sorrow of the serfs”: “Lydia sobbed over the plight of the humble, kindly peasants cringing under a whip, while Kira sat tense, erect, eyes dark in ecstasy [italics added] watching the whip cracking expertly in the hand of a tall, young overseer.” Rand repeatedly used the whip to define her heroes. Just before this passage, she says that Kira “strode down the streets swinging a twig like a whip.” In Part I, Chapter 11, she describes Kira’s lover Leo as having “a slow, contemptuous smile, and a swift gait, and in his hand a lost whip he had been born to carry.”

There can be no more vicious misrepresentation of business success than to describe it as a whip.

Similarly, in her introduction to the 1968 publication of her play The Night of January 16th, Rand said that it is a “sense-of-life play” and Bjorn Faulkner is its hero. In the beginning of the play, District Attorney Flint introduces Faulkner to the audience: “A great man unwilling to bend . . . young, tall, with an arrogant smile, with kingdoms and nations in the palm of one hand — and a whip in the other.” Later (still in Act I), Police Inspector Sweeney reads Faulkner’s suicide note: “I found only two enjoyable things on this earth . . . my whip over the world and Karen Andre.”

In The Fountainhead (Part II, Chapter 1), Dominique Francon asks the superintendent of the quarry in which Howard Roark works if Roark has a prison record. “She hoped he had. She wondered whether they whipped convicts nowadays. She hoped they did.”

Atlas Shrugged was Rand’s only fictional defense of capitalism. In it, she has Ragnar Danneskjöld (Part II, Chapter 7), John Galt (Part III, Chapter 7), and Francisco d’Anconia (Part II, Chapter 2) mention the whip, correctly, as a symbol of the antithesis of capitalism. In the last two paragraphs of Francisco’s long speech on the nature of money (Part II, Chapter 2), to which Rand obviously attached great importance, he says, “the looters’ credo has brought you to regard . . . your magnificent factories as the product [of] . . . the labor of whip-driven slaves, like the pyramids of Egypt.” “Blood, whips and guns — or dollars. Take your choice — there is no other.”

These passages show that Rand knew in her intellect that capitalism and brutality are antithetical. But in her sense of life, the feeling that whips define heroes was so irrepressible that she had Rearden say to Francisco (Part I, Chapter 6), “A battle. What battle? I hold the whip hand.” There can be no more vicious misrepresentation of business success than to describe it as a whip. (Nor has any battle ever been fought with whips.). Even in Francisco’s speech on the nature of money, he says, “The rotter who simpers that he sees no difference between the power of the dollar and the power of the whip, ought to learn the difference on his own hide — as, I think, he will.” Rotters are so subhuman that they have animal hides instead of human skin. In fact, Ragnar Danneskjöld calls them “subhuman creatures” (Part II, Chapter 7). Francisco tells Dagny (Part III, Chapter 2) that he could not bear to continue seeing her as “the means for the subhuman.” In Part III, Chapter 9, Dagny “grasped that the objects [i.e., people] she had thought to be human were not . . . [they were] subhuman.” But even “subhuman” is too generous a characterization: “Wesley Mouch and Directive 10-289 and sub-animal creatures who crawl on their bellies” (Part III, Chapter 1).

Who are these sub-animal creatures? In We the Living, Andrei Taganov is a militant Communist, who learns the tragic mistake he has made. But the villains in Atlas Shrugged support the private-enterprise system. Sub-animals are everyone who supports government intervention in privately-owned businesses. Francisco tells Rearden that the definition of “whining rotters” is “any man who proclaims his right to a single penny of another man’s effort” (Part II, Chapter 3).[3]

This assertion betrays two of the many glaring inconsistencies in Rand’s thought. First, in John Galt’s long speech (Part III, Chapter 7), he says, “The vilest form of self-abasement and self-destruction is the subordination of your mind to the mind of another.” However, if someone thinks independently and comes to a conclusion that differs from Rand’s conclusions in the slightest degree, by supporting a government program that takes a single penny of another man’s effort, he is a sub-animal creature who deserves to be whipped. In fact, he deserves even worse.

All the men and women on the train that is blown up at the end of Part II, Chapter 7 deserved to die because they espoused ideas that differed from Rand’s. “There were those who would have said that the passengers of the Comet were not guilty or responsible for the thing that happened to them . . . There was not a man aboard the train who did not share one or more of these ideas.” In addition to the adult passengers, who were responsible for their deaths, Rand gratuitously added children:

The woman in Bedroom D, Car 10 was a mother who had put her two children to bed in the berth above, carefully tucking them in, protecting them from drafts and jolts; a mother whose husband held a government job enforcing directives, which she defended by saying . . . “I must think of my children.”

At least Rand allowed the villains on the train and their children to die a painless death. The just punishment that Dr. Robert Stadler suffers is a horribly agonizing death (Part III, Chapter 9). When the nefarious Project X (Thompson Harmonizer) explodes, it obliterates everything within a hundred-mile radius; but incredibly, Stalder, at the center of the explosion, remains alive “for some endless minutes longer, a huddle of torn flesh and screaming pain.”

So, Ayn Rand, like Stalin, Mao Zedong, Kim Il Sung, and Pol Pot felt that agonizing death is an appropriate punishment for incorrect ideas.

I will discuss one more death. Rand’s conclusion of the narrative of Atlas Shrugged proper (before the strikers return) illustrates her mastery of plot construction. It ends as it began, with Eddie Willers, who represents common, decent people, who need productive superstars to survive. Before that, we see representatives of all three types of archvillains — the bureaucrat (Mouch), the businessman who seeks government aid (Taggart), and the scientist who serves the state (Ferris) — leave the novel in terror when they realize that they need the help of creative, productive people even to torture them. One of the most basic motifs of Atlas Shrugged — evil on its own is powerless; it needs the sanction of the victim — has been illustrated so dramatically and concretely that even the villains can no longer evade it.

At least Rand allowed the villains on the train and their children to die a painless death.

However, at the beginning of the final chapter, Rand intrudes an incongruous, Mickey Spillanesque episode, which begins with Dagny encountering a guard who cannot decide whether to let her enter. “Calmly and impersonally, she [Dagny], who would have hesitated to fire at an animal, pulled the trigger and fired straight at the heart of a man who had wanted to exist without the responsibility of consciousness.” According to Ayn Rand, a person who cannot make a decision in a few seconds during a crisis situation deserves immediate execution.

In fact, according to Atlas Shrugged, anyone who does not agree with Rand’s philosophy with absolute certainty is physically repulsive: “mean, rancorous, suspicious faces that bore the one mark incompatible with a standard bearer of the intellect: the mark of uncertainty” (Part III, Chapter 3).[4]

The second related inconsistency in Atlas Shrugged is that Rand constantly emphasizes the importance of teachers of correct moral conduct, such as Hugh Akston (i.e., Ayn Rand). Her insistence on education was based on the most fundamental principle of Objectivist psychology: “man’s character is a product of his premises” (Introduction to the 1968 edition of The Fountainhead); “At birth man’s mind is tabula rasa.” The cause of “anxiety, compulsions, masochism, homosexuality . . . lies in conscious or unconscious premises that . . . were acquired, not innate . . . Irrational or mistaken premises can be corrected.”[5]

Then why did Rand have her heroes say that anyone who believes in the slightest government economic intervention is a sub-animal? In fact, in Atlas Shrugged, Rand seemed to go out of her way to emphasize that good and evil are completely innate and unalterable in the human character. Hank Rearden and his brother Philip were raised in the same family and must have been exposed to the same ideas. James Taggart, Dagny Taggart, and Eddie Willers were not only raised together, but were exactly the same types of people when they were children as when they were adults. Cherryl Brooks was raised by bums. She was never exposed to any correct teaching. But she knew with certainty that the people around her were rotten, that the person who built the John Galt Line was a hero, and that Simon Pritchett was “a mean, scared old phony” (Part III, Chapter 4). On the other hand, the brilliant Robert Stadler was Akston’s colleague for years; and he knew that Pritchett was a “disreputable mediocrity” (Part II, Chapter 1). But this knowledge did not improve him. In fact, in the penultimate chapter, James Taggart finally realizes that the motive of all his actions was “in order not to discover his own irredeemable evil [emphasis added].”[6]

Ayn Rand’s Naked Soul

Art . . . is the voice of [a person’s] sense of life.

Nothing is as potent as art in exposing the essence of a man’s character. An artist reveals his naked soul in his work — and so, gentle reader, do you when you respond to it. (Ayn Rand 1975: 33, 44)

Nathaniel Branden (1999: 307) recorded how seriously Rand took these precepts: “If someone failed to enjoy Victor Hugo, or Dostoevsky, or even Mickey Spillane, that person would be watched carefully [by Rand] for other signs of deficiency.”

So, now let us look at Rand’s naked soul, as revealed by her response to art. In her introduction to the Bantam Book edition of Victor Hugo’s Ninety-Three, which she reprinted in The Romantic Manifesto (1975: 153–61), she wrote, “Victor Hugo is the greatest novelist in world literature.” His characters are “a race of giants . . . [who] are heroic, noble, intelligent, beautiful.”

According to Atlas Shrugged, anyone who does not agree with Rand’s philosophy with absolute certainty is physically repulsive.

Hugo’s Ninety-Three takes place in 1793 amidst the royalist-clerical revolt in the Vendée (a region on the Atlantic coast of France) against the French revolutionary-republican government. The novel’s two protagonists are the leader of the anti-republican revolt and the leader of the republican forces that are sent to crush the revolt. Both are passionately dedicated to their cause.

Rand wrote, “The theme of Ninety-Three . . . is: man’s loyalty to values [Rand’s italics] . . . The emphasis [Hugo] projects is not: ‘What great values men are fighting for!’ but: ‘What greatness men are capable of when they fight for their values!’” She observed that because of this emphasis, even though Hugo sided with the republicans, he drew the anti-republican leader as an equal to the republican leader “in spiritual grandeur, intransigent integrity, unflinching courage and ruthless dedication to his cause.”

In fact, both the characters whom Rand extolled as heroes are mass-murderers. Ninety-Three begins by describing the landing of the royalist leader, the Marquis de Lantenac, on the coast of the Vendée. He comes upon a band of royalists who have just defeated a republican battalion. They immediately acknowledge him as their leader. His first order to them (Part I, Book IV, Chapter 6) is to burn the hamlet where they encountered the republican battalion. The man who had led the royalist band asks, “What is to be done with the wounded?” The Marquis answers, “Put an end to them.” The former leader asks, “What is to be done with the prisoners?” The Marquis answers, “Shoot them.” The former leader points out, “There are about eighty.” The Marquis says, “Shoot them all.” The former leader says, “There are two women.” The Marquis says, “Shoot them also.” I will add that one of the two women is a poor, ignorant peasant woman whom the republican battalion found wandering in the forest with her three small children and compassionately took under its protection. This is the character whom Rand so admired for his “spiritual grandeur, intransigent integrity, unflinching courage and ruthless dedication to his cause.”

The Marquis’ antagonist is Cimourdain, the leader of the republican forces in the Vendée. When he is put in charge (Part II, Book II, Chapter 3), he is told that the present republican commander “has distinguished himself by his bravery and intelligence . . . but [he has] one fault:” “After he wins a victory, he protects religious people [religieuses] and nuns, saves the wives and daughters of the aristocrats, releases prisoners.” Cimourdain replies that this is a “serious fault.”

Rand certainly exposed her “naked soul” by her response to these exemplars of “a race of giants . . . [who] are heroic, noble, intelligent, beautiful.”

The Sense of Life of Capitalism (Catallaxy), Again

Rand’s glorification of Lantenac and Cimourdain illuminates more clearly her own characters. For example, in We the Living, when Kira first meets her future lover Leo (I.4), she is immediately and irresistibly attracted to him by the only facial features Rand chooses to mention: “His mouth . . . was that of an ancient chieftain who could order men to die, and his eyes were such as could watch it.” However, Leo says to Kira, with bitter humor, “I’m nothing like what you think I am. I’ve always wanted to be a Soviet clerk who sells soap and smiles at customers.”

Both the characters whom Rand extolled as heroes are mass-murderers.

Typically, Rand reversed the sense of life of communism and capitalism. Political leaders who order men to die and watch their death calmly characterize communism. Smiling clerks who sell unimpressive products characterize capitalism. When McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in Moscow, a small notice in a Soviet newspaper drew 27,000 applicants for jobs as counter clerks, even though the anticipated salary was only average by Soviet standards. Those who were chosen had to be trained to smile at customers and speak politely to them. Their training was so successful that customers could not believe that the clerks were Soviet-raised Russians (Blackman 1990; Goldman 1991: 166–7).

Again, Ayn Rand’s totalitarian sense of life highlights the wonderful social and psychological benefits of its opposite: the pacific, tolerant, and conciliatory capitalist sense of life.

Palinode

Ayn Rand was one of the greatest benefactors the human race has ever had. She bequeathed to humanity two marvelous gifts.

First, she added to the corpus of world literature three of the greatest works of narrative fiction ever composed. Their plot structures are totally different from each other. Yet, each plot is brilliantly developed and leads to a stunning climax. They achieve the seemingly impossible combination of building and maintaining suspense while illuminating a wide range of conflicting, crucially important ideas.

Equally miraculous are her characters. They are fascinating and memorable, while they bring to life basic ideas, values, and goals and implant them vividly in readers’ memories. She was also a master of mood (atmosphere, ambience). That is most apparent in We the Living, in which she used mood to show how the “stifling, sordid ugliness of Soviet Russia” (Rand 1975: 160) gradually wears down the spirit of anyone who wants a life of joy, love, integrity, and achievement.

At the other extreme from mood, she wrote passages of pulse-throbbing exhilaration. When Bennett Cerf, one of the foremost publishers of the 20th century, read Dagny’s ride on the John Galt Line (Part I, Chapter 8), he ran out of his office, down the hall waving the typescript, shouting, “It’s magnificent” (Branden 1986: 288).

Rand even occasionally excelled in the two attributes of a novelist that she is usually regarded as lacking: psychological insight and humor.[7]

Ayn Rand infused into capitalism a different type of anticapitalist idealism: heroism.

Most importantly, her novels surpass by a wide margin the ultimate criterion of great literature: they force us to question assumptions we have taken for granted, and they change our perception of ourselves, the people around us, and society.

Ayn Rand’s second marvelous contribution to humanity is that she undoubtedly converted more people to free-market capitalism than anyone else in history. In doing so, she had to overcome capitalism’s total lack of emotional appeal.

There have been innumerable political parties called socialist. In the history of the world, there has never been a single political party called capitalist. There is not even a name for a supporter of capitalism. A socialist champions socialism; a democrat champions democracy. But a capitalist is someone who owns and manipulates capital.

As David Hume observed (“Of the Original Contract,” 1748):

All moral duties may be divided into two kinds. The first are those to which men are impelled by a natural instinct . . . Of this nature are love of children, gratitude to benefactors, pity to the unfortunate. . . . The second kind of moral duties are such as are not supported by any original instinct of nature, but are performed entirely . . . when we consider the necessities of human society. . . . It is thus [that] a regard to the property of others . . . become[s] obligatory.

Conservatives overcome this psychological obstacle by focusing on religion and nationalism, which are antithetical to capitalism. In fact, it is the very anticapitalist ethos of religion and nationalism that satisfies the innate human craving for community and idealism.

Ayn Rand infused into capitalism a different type of anticapitalist idealism: heroism.

For most readers of Ayn Rand, the initial mesmerizing enchantment wears off. However, most are left with an appreciation for technological progress, capitalism, and businesspeople that Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, and Friedrich Hayek could not possibly have created. Rand’s readers are also left with a lifetime of grappling with fundamental questions of economics, ethics, politics, and psychology, as well as the excitement of having engaged with an extraordinarily powerful, creative, and passionate intelligence.

I pity people who have not engaged with Ayn Rand. They do not know what they are missing.

* * *

Bibliography

  • Blackman, Ann 1990: “Moscow’s Big Mak Attack,” Time (February 5).
  • Bloch, Marc 1962: Feudal Society, Volume I, second Edition, translated by L.A. Manyon. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Branden, Barbara 1986: The Passion of Ayn Rand. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company.
  • Branden, Nathaniel 1999: My Years with Ayn Rand. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
  • Braudel, Fernand 1984: The Perspective of the World, translated by Siân Reynolds. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Cipolla, Carlo 1994: Before the Industrial Revolution: European Society and Economy 1000–1700, third edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
  • Cox, Stephen 1986: “Ayn Rand: Theory versus Creative Life.” The Journal of Libertarian Studies (Vol. 8, No. 1) pages 19–29.
  • Goldman, Marshall 1991: What Went Wrong with Perestroika. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
  • Rand, Ayn 1975: The Romantic Manifesto, revised edition. New York: Signet.
  • Tucker, Robert C. 1990: Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above 1928–1941. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

[1] Many free-market economists, including Von Mises and Hayek, have observed that the most accurate term for a free-market economy is “catallaxy,” because it comes from an ancient Greek verb that has three meanings: “to exchange,” “to receive into the community,” and “to turn from enemy to friend.”

[2] Quoted by James Boswell in The Life of Samuel Johnson L.L.D, Age 66 (1775). Boswell recorded that Johnson said this to a Mr. Strahan, who commented, “The more one thinks of this, the juster it will appear.”

[3] In fact, the distinctively capitalist sources of income are interest, dividends, and capital gains, which derive from owning the capital that other people’s effort makes valuable. That is why Lenin defined “the socialist principle” as “He who does not work, neither will he eat” (The State and Revolution, V, 3; quoting Saint Paul). Several times in We the Living (e.g., Part 1, Chapter 3), Rand has Communists state this socialist principle.

[4] The Objectivist Newsletter had a regular section entitled “From the Horror File,” containing horrific statements, sometimes by eminent people. In the Horror File of the June 1965 issue was this quotation: “I once asked Bertrand Russell if he was willing to die for his beliefs. ‘Of course not,’ he replied. ‘After all, I may be wrong.’”

[5] Nathaniel Branden, “Does Man Possess Instincts?” The Objectivist Newsletter, October 1962 (Branden’s italics). Incredibly, Rand even stated, “no one is born with any sort of ‘talent’” (Foreword to 1959 We the Living). In The Ayn Rand Letter of March 26, 1973, she denounced the harm caused by “the myth of ‘innate endowment’.”

[6] There is one exception, Hank Rearden’s “Wet Nurse.” Rand said about him, “One character is an exception in my whole writing career. Without my intention [he] seemed to write himself” (Branden 1986, 228).

[7] Psychological insight: “Knowing that he had to assert his authority, smothering the shameful realization of the sort of substitute he was choosing, Dr. Stadler said imperiously, in a tone of sarcastic rudeness, ‘The next time I call for you, you’d better do something about that car of yours.’” (Atlas Shrugged, Part II, Chapter 1).
Humor: Balph Eubank: “It is disgraceful that . . . art works have to be sold like soap.” Francisco: “You mean, your complaint is that they don’t sell like soap?”
Cherryl Brooks: “‘I’m the woman of the family now.’ ‘That’s quite all right,’ said Dagny. ‘I’m the man.’” (Atlas Shrugged, Part I, Chapter 6 and Part II, Chapter 2).
Of course, there are the names of type of novels and people she scorned: The Gallant Gallstone, The Heart Is a Milkman, Ellsworth Toohey, Balph Eubank, Wesley Mouch. For Rand’s humor, see also Cox 1986: 24.

7 Comments

  1. Ayn Rand was, admittedly, a very conflicted and complex person. What she was really, really good at, however, was providing spiritual reasons for allowing people to achieve their own dreams and goals un-managed by the state.

    Now, years and years after her passing, folks want to go back and micro-dissect every little bit of her writings. It’s as if they’re threatened by her success. Quit bitching and write your own “Atlas Shrugged.” I’m just so very certain you can show her what she should’ve written, had she been a perfect capitalist.

  2. STEVEN FARRON

    You could not have read my article to its end. There, I write that Rand instills in most of her reader “an appreciation for technological progress, capitalism, and businesspeople that Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, and Friedrich Hayek could not possibly have created.”
    You apparently number me among “folks want to go back and micro-dissect every little bit of her writings.” However, as I point out, Rand repeatedly emphasized the crucial importance of a person’s sense of life in evaluating him and his accomplishments.

  3. Chris Nelson

    Unlike the previous commenter, I don’t begrudge a word of this brilliant essay. I think it’s a perfectly fine—even necessary—thing to critique writers as well as their works, even though it is sometimes painful and awkward. No one is perfect, after all, and no times in human history have been perfect (not when humans are around, anyway). Still, I love humans in the abstract and I love some humans to distraction. I love Ayn Rand, too, despite her imperfections and apparent contradictions.

    I read a few years ago a somewhat similar critique by one who decided to criticize Rudyard Kipling and his famous poem “If—”. (It’s easy enough to find the essay; just search for “Iffy essay”; the link to the Poetry Foundation is the one you’ll want.) The writer there was critical throughout the piece: Kipling was a Bad Man in his essay, notwithstanding the times he lived in. He didn’t come around to end the critique with the least bit of compassion, understanding and forgiveness (as if Kipling needs that from us or from any critic a century after the poem’s publication), unlike the writer of this essay. I see no reason to decry one who points out flaws in the piece and in the author’s thinking and presentation, but comes around in the end to admit that on balance Ayn Rand is a hero, and we’re lucky to have read her. I agree.

    In my own response to Iffy I tried to do the same: Yes, let’s look carefully and critically at the work and examine the authors honestly, even with the benefit of our accumulated knowledge and awareness since then, and let’s point out flaws as learning opportunities—let’s learn, in other words, and not just condemn.

    Great essay. Thanks for it.

    1. STEVEN FARRON

      Both reviewers of my article – one negative, the other positive – seem to have missed one of its two purposes. The first purpose is to reveal Rand’s anti-capitalist sense of life and to show how it vitiates many passages in her novels. The second purpose is to use Rand’s sense of life to show how its opposite, the capitalist sense of life, is socially and psychologically fundamental to a truly civilized society.

      Similarly, in my previous article on Ayn Rand, “Defending Capitalism against Ayn Rand,” I used the contrast between Rand’s intellectual support for capitalism and her emotional anti-capitalist sense of life to illuminate why capitalism is economically the most efficient and democratic economic system.

    1. Robert

      Thankfully, this isn’t being published anywhere. The magazine formerly known as “Liberty” (to which I subscribed for nearly its entire run) was thought-provoking, thoroughly interesting, and Libertarian to its core. This internet incarnation of “Liberty” is no better than a blog of random mental masturbatory notions, run out of mommy and daddy’s basement, and not only can’t it hold a candle to the original “Liberty”, it’s an embarrassment that it even shares the name of the late and dearly missed magazine.

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