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Archive for the ‘Ayn Rand’ Category

The Cult of Ayn Rand

In Ayn Rand, Free Market, From the Vaults, Libertarianism on December 3, 2014 at 6:02 PM

An extract from a letter published in a newspaper

Ayn Rand

A thousand years from today…one 20th Century name will stand out as being unique in the most startling and positive way – the name, that is, of the only original thinker of this century: Ayn Rand.

When all the government-manipulating looters of our time, in company with all the left-wing, state-worshipping reactionaries – the blind followers of the ever-running gospel of Plato, Augustine, Ambrose, Aquinas, Luther, Kant, Hegel, Saint Simon, Proudhon, Marx and Marcuse – who have turned so much of the world into a collectivist cesspool, are rotten and forgotten in their graves, one name will still be as bright as the brightest star: Ayn Rand.


Palm Desert


Los Angeles Times, March 17, 1982, p.C6.

Racism at the Libertarian Alliance

In Ayn Rand, Libertarianism, Racism on May 26, 2014 at 4:20 PM

This is a cross post. It was originally posted at Harry’s Place on May 23rd 2014, 1:45 pm

On Tuesday evening I attended a talk by Dr. Jan Lester entitled “A Critical Commentary on the Zwolinski 2013 ‘Libertarianism and Liberty’ Essays on libertarianism.org.” It was hosted by the Libertarian Alliance at the Institute of Education in London. In itself it was an interesting talk, although it was largely an argument by one self-declared libertarian that another self-declared libertarian does not have a theory of freedom or liberty. (This could be compared to a lecture by a member of Workers’ Power claiming that the Socialist Workers Party does not understand Marxism.)  A video of the talk can be seen here.

Like many political meetings across the political spectrum – and I have attended many such gatherings – the evening ended with a visit to the bar.  In the last year I have attended a few meetings by the Libertarian Alliance and the same faces turn up.

I was quite shocked by the brazenly racist comments made by some of the people in the bar.

As examples, I heard black people referred to as “macaroons” – where the term macaroons was explained as a derivative of “coons.” One of the attendees (who is white) mentioned that he was once, physically assaulted for no reason by a black man. He concluded from this that this was evidence of “a race war.”

Libertarians would view it as a violation of the liberty of a racist to prevent him from expressing racist views. People have the right, in libertarian theory, to be racist.  Libertarians are in favour of free speech and would be against any laws that would make the expression of a racist view illegal. A libertarian would also permit a company to have a sign on its door saying “No black people admitted.” Likewise a company would be permitted to advertise for jobs saying “It is our company policy not to employ black people.”

This might be shocking to some but it is important to understand what libertarianism is about. And what it is about is liberty. According to the libertarian conception of justice, there is justice if everyone acts within his rights. As a black person has no right to be employed by a company, he has not been wronged if a company will not offer him a job. A black person might be offended if a company does not offer him a job – but he has no right not to be offended. This is what libertarians think.

But just because libertarians would permit racist views  and racist employment practices in the private sector, it does not necessarily follow that they either approve of or encourage racism. As a comparison, libertarians are also in favour of repealing any laws that make drugs or guns illegal – but that does not mean to say that they wish to start injecting heroin or shooting people. In fact, racism as a concept would be an anathema to many libertarians qua libertarians for the following reason: libertarians champion the individual, not the collective. Ayn Rand (The Virtue of Selfishness, [Signet, 1964], pp.147-48) expressed it as follows:

Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to man’s genetic lineage – the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors…..

Just as there is no such thing as a collective or racial mind, so there is no such thing as a collective or racial achievement. There are only individual minds and individual achievements – and aculture is not the anonymous product of undifferentiated masses, but the sum of the intellectual achievements of individual men.

Tuesday night’s meeting was not the first Libertarian Alliance meeting I have attended where I joined people in the bar after the talk and heard racist views expressed. And quite frankly I find it disgusting.

Ayn Rand Worship

In Ayn Rand, Book Review, Libertarianism on April 24, 2013 at 11:40 AM

According to Jeff Walker, followers of Ayn Rand, who like to call themselves Objectivists, can revere their idol in an unhealthy cultish way. He comments (The Ayn Rand Cult [Open Court, 1999), p.145):

While not official doctrine, Objectivists were nonetheless expected to believe that (1) Ayn Rand is the greatest mind since Aristotle and the greatest human being who ever lived; (2) [Ayn Rand’s novel] Atlas Shrugged is not just the greatest novel of all time, but the greatest achievement in human history; (3) Rand is the ultimate authority on what thoughts, feelings, and aesthetic tastes are appropriate to human beings.

I have just finished reading Allan Gotthelf’s book, On Ayn Rand, published in 2000 as part of the Wadsworth Philosophers Series. Given that I enjoyed Edward Feser’s book, On Nozick, published in the same series, I had high hopes for this volume. How wrong I was. If there is anything that makes one think that Walker might not have been making up his claims, this book would be an example of something to read. Below I copy some extracts:

From page 1:

It is high time that academic philosophers accept the responsibility of understanding, thoroughly and with full, professional expertise, this highly original thinker and the scope and content of her often groundbreaking thought.

From page 2:

This book is dedicated to the memory of Ayn Rand, for her inspiration and her genius.

From pages 13-14:

On the course’s oral final exam she was disappointed to be asked only about Plato. Her answers earned her the highest grade possible, but her professor, discerning her lack of sympathy with Plato, asked her why she disagreed with him. “My philosophical views,” she said, “are not part of the history of philosophy yet. But they will be.

From page 18, note 6:

Her cousin’s remark is of some interest, suggesting (as one might well expect) that Nietzsche’s influence on Ayn Rand was not a matter of her absorbing whole a body of ideas new to her. Rather, Nietzsche articulated and expanded upon ideas she had already formulated and had been presenting to others–and indeed she was aware of important differences from the beginning.

From page 48:

I venture to suggest… that there is no thinker in the history of philosophy who has as profoundly developed and integrated a view of the harmony of mind and body as Ayn Rand.

It is not just the idolisation of Ayn Rand that makes this book worthless as an objective (in the true sense of the term) source to find out about Ayn Rand and her philosophical views, but the content. While the book is only 100 pages long, and it is therefore understandable that Gotthelf had to leave a lot out, it doesn’t mean to say that within the space available he should not have given fair weight to different aspects of Rand and why she is of interest.

After the preface and introduction, the next two chapters are devoted to biographical details of Rand. Excluded from what can only be called a hagiography is the fact that Rand had a long affair with her top student, but the much younger, Nathaniel Branden. When Gotthelf states that “in 1968 [Rand] terminated all relations with Branden,” (p.24) readers would not know that the reason she did so was because Branden informed Rand he no longer sexually desired her and that he was romantically attached to someone else. (Anne C. Heller, Ayn Rand and the World She Made, [Doubleday, 2009], pp.365-373.)

Gotthelf finds the space to mention that Leonard Peikoff was designated Rand’s heir (p.25), but not the space to mention that she had previously, in her dedication note at the end of Atlas Shrugged, dubbed Branden her “intellectual heir.” (Heller, p.277.)  I do not think it a coincidence that this is the case. Gotthelf is associated with the Ayn Rand Institute that was founded by Peikoff. Following Rand’s excommunication of Branden, Peikoff and others pledged loyalty to Rand and renounced any further contact with Branden. Moreover, Peikoff, who had unquestioning loyalty to Rand, made his own students sign a waiver promising that they would not contact Branden or purchase any of his books. (Heller, pp.381-382.)

It is not just the biographical detail that is poor, it is also the discussion about her views. A reason many people become interested in Ayn Rand is for her pro-capitalist political philosophy. Her ideal society would get rid of a welfare state and leave the government in control of the minimum things that she believed necessary: “the police, to protect men from criminals—the armed services, to protect men from foreign invaders—[and] the law courts, to settle disputes among men according to objective laws.” (Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, [Signet, 1964], p.131). According to this view, “taxation—or to be exact, payment for government services—would be voluntary.” (Ibid., p.135). As mentioned, Gotthelf’s book is 100 pages long. The complete discussion of Rand’s political views is no more than one page. (Gotthelf, pp.91-92).

If someone wants to understand what Ayn Rand was about, they are better off reading something other than Gotthelf’s book. I am surprised that Wadsworth published it.