Friday, November 13, 2009

Ayn Rand: Was She A Nut?

Peter Wehner starts the, um, conversation:

"According to, Ayn Rand — the subject of two new biographies, one of which is titled Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right — is “having a mainstream moment,” including among conservatives. (Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina wrote a piece in Newsweek on Rand, saying, “This is a very good time for a Rand resurgence. She’s more relevant than ever.”).

I hope the moment passes. Ms. Rand may have been a popular novelist, but her philosophy is deeply problematic and morally indefensible.

Ayn Rand was, of course, the founder of Objectivism – whose ethic, she said in a 1964 interview, holds that “man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself.” She has argued that “friendship, family life and human relationships are not primary in a man’s life. A man who places others first, above his own creative work, is an emotional parasite; whereas, if he places his work first, there is no conflict between his work and his enjoyment of human relationships.”

My take, in short: Capitalism that is not first built upon a solid foundation of ethical and moral principles - whether Judeo-Christian, or some other significant "golden-rule" moral restraint - will, without doubt, tend to favor and encourage abhorrent excesses that will ultimately doom it to failure.  There is nothing "conservative" about Objectivism. And Ayn Rand was no "conservative."



  1. Gotta agree with you on Rand here. She was someone who ended up coming to a few seemingly correct conclusions from a largely indefensible manner of thinking. Most American political conservatives would do well to not be associated with her. Her stands on religion and morality are particularly difficult to resolve from a modern conservative perspective.

    I wouldn't say that capitalism is doomed to failure without a moral outlook. It's surprising how long immoral governmental systems and customs can function in some form. I mean feudalism lasted for a 1000+ years in Europe, and slavery lasted from the very beginning of recorded human history to its very recent near-cessation. Usually what happens is that the society builds some sort up "morality" around the "rightness" of the custom or system as justification and license-- the ideas of "divine rite" and the "eternal chain of being" as examples. I believe historical evidence suggests that a system that fails is one that cannot succeed on its own-- Marxism and socialism for instance-- not necessarily a system that is immoral or hypocritical. They may be nasty, ugly systems but they are not doomed to premature failure because of their ugliness.

    I would also hesitate to suggest that Rand's viewpoint was amoral. Rand's Objectivism does provide a moral outlook. It is an odd, backward thinking, liscense-promoting, selfishness-celebrating version of morality-- but it does maintain that there is a univeral right (selfishness, self-interest, etc.) and a universal wrong (pretty much anything that interferes with the Objectivist's right).

  2. Excellent comments. Thank you for posting them.

    One of the underlying assumptions I make about capitalism - as opposed to communism, fascism and socialism - is that it already operates within a type of moral framework, albeit a secular one. That framework respects and in fact maximizes individual choice, freedom, liberty, dignity, and the "pursuit of happiness."

    But greed and self-interest are such powerful motivating forces that they can, at times, overwhelm even the best of us. While other economic systems encourage their own forms of excess which ultimately lead to their failure (political corruption, unrestrained concentration of power, privileged classes), capitalism - if left unchecked - seems the most likely to produce unbridled monetary greed, thereby sowing the seeds of its own destruction as massive disparities of wealth are created. A solid foundation of ethical principles, emanating from outside of the economic system, may supply the necessary moral restraint that could prevent that from happening.

    I agree totally with your view of Rand. And Objectivism certainly does provide a moral outlook as you stated. - just not a "conservative" one.

    Great discussion. Thanks!