A Critical Look at Ayn Rand

“She was neither fully a philosopher, nor fully a novelist, but something in between the two—the characters in her novels are not creatures of flesh and blood but opinions on legs, and her expository prose has the quality of speechifying.” – Ayn Rand: engineer of souls

“Maybe one reason why free-marketeers idolise Ayn Rand is because they far prefer her imaginary heroic capitalists to the snivelling and mendacious capitalist class of today.” – ‘These rocks are here for me, waiting for the drill’

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  • http://go-galt.org/Galt_Pledge/ C. Jeffery Small

    Or maybe the reason why free-marketeers appreciate (not idolize) Rand is because she was actually both and excellent author and philosopher — something which cannot be negated by the simple gainsaying of someone else — and provided deep insights into the character (i.e. souls) of those who would tear down greatness, while providing a firm philosophical foundation for self-interest, grounded in human nature. But you will never know the truth without taking a careful look at Rand’s fiction and non-fiction writings.

    You correct that there are many “snivelling and mendacious” people positioned in high places in business these days. But you are wrong to classify them as capitalists. Those of whom you speak are not people of independent judgment who create wealth, but political creatures who operate in the darkened backrooms of Washington, or in State Capitals, seeking to acquire their fortunes through political pull and the use of force. If you look beyond them you would see the existence of the very real Randian heroes — the actual capitalists — who have created the real wealth that is today being plundered by the likes of Obama, Pelosi, Reid and Frank.

    • Jeff

      While I could write a dissertation trying to refute each point, I know from experience that it would be fruitless because we view the world in two completely different ways. I see the world as a set of socio-politico-historical forces that circumscribe our individual life chances though within that circumscribed area there is a lot of room for movement expressed as individualism. Your view (sorry to speak for you) ignores the role of history, etc., and focuses solely on the individual as if individuals were ahistoric creatures completely uninfluenced by the past. It is from such a perspective that you can completely ignore the vital and historical role (going back to at least the 1500′s) that the political system plays in making the entire capitalist system possible. Rand’s intense desire to escape her own history results in a narrow (almost naïve), ahistorical and distorted view of world and personal events.

  • http://go-galt.org/Galt_Pledge/ C. Jeffery Small

    You are correct that we see our place in the world quite differently. However, I do not concede you point that either Rand or I are historically naive, or that either of us held or hold a distorted view of reality. The fundamental difference is a psychological one, based in how we each gauge our own capacity for self-actualization in the world. Neither I, nor Rand, argue that individuals are isolated from the surrounding world. If you read Rand carefully, you would know that her entire philosophy is based upon a contextual view of one’s relationship to reality, and that a realist’s view of one’s circumstances requires not only a recognition of the current factors in play, but an historical view of the evolving forces leading up to them. You seem to imply that your capacity to act is in some way determined and constrained by sociological forces beyond your control. I find no such constraints on my actions other than the use of physical force by another person, and that is why the initiation of force must be prohibited in social interactions. Short of that form of interference, my actions, and the pursuits I am able to undertake, are limited only by the physical laws of nature.

    • Jeff

      You wrote “You seem to imply that your capacity to act is in some way determined and constrained by sociological forces beyond your control. I find no such constraints on my actions other than the use of physical force by another person…” Perhaps I am misinterpreting what you have written but it seems to me you did exactly what I said you do. You do not see the role that history plays in its affect on the general trajectory of your life. That is why you can say that the only limiting factor is “the physical laws of nature.” While this philosophical position may be quite rational (in the logical sense), it is extraordinarily narrow in its view and practically ignores the fact that every human being has a history that influences them and that history begins with their biological parents. Were human beings sprung ex nihilo through some sort of biological miracle, making them appear out of thin air and, further, through additional miracles, be able to raise themselves to adulthood without any external influences, perhaps then I could subscribe to your philosophy. Since that is not the case, I don’t see your philosophical position as having any real merit. However, it is the perfect philosophy of someone who has fled a brutal country and who wanted to desperately forget her own sociological/historical roots.

  • http://go-galt.org/Galt_Pledge/ C. Jeffery Small

    OK Jeff, we will simply have to agree to disagree.

    As best as I can understand your point, you see the condition of being born, having parents, growing up in a specific society, and being exposed to various other factors as absolute determinants in your ability to think, and thereby direct your actions. I agree that all of these things are influences, but do not see any of them as interfering with my free will. I am able to focus my mind upon any of these influencing factors, analyze them, and draw my own conclusion. I can judge all of these things in relationship to myself and determine whether they are good, neutral or bad for me. I can envision multiple possible alternatives for my life, select between them, and then choose actions that guide me towards the chosen course. If I find that I have made an error somewhere in that process, I can examine the relevant factors, reevaluate my options, and set off on a different and likely better course. I am able to do all this because my free will consists of the option to focus and think. And these mental processes are not something that my parents, teachers, friends, neighbors or politicians can control. Only I can decide to stop thinking, or give up and wallow in self-pity, or blame others for my failures, or remain fully rational, aligning my views with the facts of reality, and formulating realistic plans of action. Others can restrain me physically, but no one, other than myself, can make me think, or think in a particular way. This is the essential distinction between determinism and free will.

    You seem to argue that we are all the helpless end product of external influences, buffeted this way and that by proximity to our family, institutions, society and the world, arriving at our current state like a cork floating on the surface of a raging river, eventually being deposited at some unchosen location by the current and obstacles along the way. That does not describe my life, nor does it Rand’s. Rand didn’t develop the philosophy of Objectivism as some sort of pathological mental crutch to be used to “desperately forget her own sociological/historical roots” as you seem to imply. But you are correct that she was heavily influenced by here childhood in Communist Russia and the horrors that she witnesses there. This was her context. It was because of here awareness of those atrocities, and her ability to see that the same ideological factors were at play in America, that she devoted her life to identifying the essence of what made such evil possible, and then communicated her understanding to others through her fiction and non-fiction writing. She was following through on a goal that she set for herself as a young child while still in Russia, to honor and champion the greatness of mankind, and to fight against all those who would destroy it. Rand NEVER forgot her childhood roots, but she learned from them and then made a choice as to what was important to her and what she would do in response to that knowledge. She was fully conscious of her choices and probably one of the most self-directed people of the 20th century. You are really being disingenuous if you argue otherwise. Go ahead and disagree with the specifics of Objectivist philosophy if you wish, but since it is a philosophy grounded in a metaphysics of the primacy of existence, and an epistemology of free will, your views based upon a deterministic view of man’s mind simply hold so sway in undermining Rand’s great intellectual contributions for those of us who understand that we too, possess the free will to think independently.

    Thanks for your previous comments.

    • Jeff

      I want to clarify something. First, the “determinants” are not absolute. Second, we are not the “helpless end product of external influences.” HOWEVER, and this is the main point, we are circumscribed to various degrees by these determinants and external influences. These determinants and external influences are like a giant balloon that surrounds you (hang in there…I’ll explain the metaphor). You are inside of that balloon. You can stretch that balloon to an enormous degree. But, you cannot break the balloon. You are who you are as a result of the “determinants” and “external influences.” You are not simply a slave to those determinants and external influences but, most importantly, you also cannot exist outside of them. THAT is the basis of the primacy of existence and the balloon metaphor explains the limitations of your free will.

      And I thank you for engaging in this debate.

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