Today on Blogcritics
Home » Culture and Society » Ayn Rand, Intellectual Powerhouse: An American Story:

Ayn Rand, Intellectual Powerhouse: An American Story:

Please Share...Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Facebook0Share on Google+0Share on LinkedIn0Pin on Pinterest0Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

Few names can stir passions, elicit anger, cause smiles, and summon deep interest more than Ayn Rand. Born in 1905, into a wealthy family of Jewish merchants in St. Petersburg, Russia, she grew up as the Tsar’s harsh, sterile rule succumbed to the grueling, hardscrabble tenure of Vladimir Lenin. After communism became the law of the land, Rand’s family lost everything and she was left with little future. In college, Rand read the works of Aristotle and other great Western thinkers. Her scholarship developed in her a burning desire to escape from the Soviet Union. Eventually she got her chance.

On her arrival in the United States in 1926, she is said to have wept at the sight of New York’s skyline. She settled in Hollywood, where she was able to continue her philosophical studies while working as a screenwriter. As time passed, her interest in film waned, and she turned her talents to writing novels, in which she developed and exposed to the world her core political philosophy: Objectivism. In 1943, she published The Fountainhead, a spectacular bestseller which detailed the story of a forward thinking architect frustrated by a persistent stream of small minds, and which gave the world its first widely read taste of Objectivism.

Soon after that success, in an effort to further develop and articulate her Objectivist principles, Rand began to work on the book which was to become her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. Published in 1957, the book outsold  The Fountainhead, and was to become one of the most influential 20th century works of American fiction. The dystopian tale of America after the small percentage of its movers and shakers go into hiding, the novel clearly articulates Objectivism’s bedrock principle: rational, non-aggressive individualism. Both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged became so widely read that the Modern Library listed the latter first and former second on its list of the twentieth century’s best novels.

Rand’s literary success allowed her to promote Objectivism full time until her death at the age of 77, in 1982. Boiled down to a single sentence, Objectivism can be described as utilizing reason to achieve maximum personal and professional productivity. One of the few contemporary philosophies solidly rooted in classical principles, it stands as a compelling alternative for many who are disenchanted with other dominant belief structures, such as existentialism and postmodernism. After the dawn of the new millennium, Objectivism gained a considerable amount of mass interest and shows no sign of losing it.

Ayn Rand is frequently called selfish, greedy, sophomoric, and far worse for her strong emphasis on pure reason and enlightened self-interest. However, it is undeniable that she stands as one of the most pivotal authors in the history of American philosophy. Her writings have had great impact on subjects ranging from romance to economics. Few can lay claim such a feat, and her legacy as a steadfast public intellectual is secure.

About Joseph F. Cotto

  • Glenn Contrarian

    “Pure reason”? “Enlightened self-interest”? Really? There’s a bit more to the story, Joseph.

    There was a man Ayn Rand admired. He said “What is good for me is right.” Ayn Rand’s opinion of the statement was “The best and strongest expression of a real man’s psychology I have heard.”

    She so admired – admired – the man’s “pure reason and enlightened self-interest” that in her novel the Little Street, she deliberately modeled the hero ‘Danny Renahan’ after him. According to Rand scholar Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Renahan was intended to be her first sketch of her ideal man. Renahan, she enthuses in another journal entry, “is born with a wonderful, free, light consciousness — [resulting from] the absolute lack of social instinct or herd feeling. He does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people … Other people do not exist for him and he does not understand why they should.” (Journals, pp. 27, 21-22; emphasis hers.)

    Much has been made of the influence of Nietzsche on Rand’s writing, but while much of the attitude of her writing could be attributed to Nietzsche, one must wonder how much influence actually came from the man referred to above who so influenced her novel “The Little Street”. Of The Fountainhead’s hero, Howard Roark: He “has learned long ago, with his first consciousness, two things which dominate his entire attitude toward life: his own superiority and the utter worthlessness of the world.”

    “What are your masses [of humanity] but mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it?” (This declaration is made by the heroine Kira, Rand’s stand-in; it is quoted in The Ideas of Ayn Rand by Ronald Merrill, pp. 38 – 39; the passage was altered when the book was reissued years after its original publication.)

    On the value of human life: Man “is man only so long as he functions in accordance with the nature of a rational being. When he chooses to function otherwise, he is no longer man. There is no proper name for the thing which he then becomes … When a man chooses to act in a sub-human manner, it is no longer proper for him to survive nor to be happy.” (Journals, pp. 253-254, 288.)

    So who is this mystery man who so influenced Ayn Rand, who gave “The best and strongest expression of a real man’s psychology I have heard”?

    William Edward Hickman

    From the article concerning Rand’s fascination with Hickman:

    In December of 1927, Hickman, nineteen years old, showed up at a Los Angeles public school and managed to get custody of a twelve-year-old girl, Marian (sometimes Marion) Parker. He was able to convince Marian’s teacher that the girl’s father, a well-known banker, had been seriously injured in a car accident and that the girl had to go to the hospital immediately. The story was a lie. Hickman disappeared with Marian, and over the next few days Mr. and Mrs. Parker received a series of ransom notes. The notes were cruel and taunting and were sometimes signed “Death” or “Fate.” The sum of $1,500 was demanded for the child’s safe release. (Hickman needed this sum, he later claimed, because he wanted to go to Bible college!) The father raised the payment in gold certificates and delivered it to Hickman. As told by the article “Fate, Death and the Fox” in crimelibrary.com:

    “At the rendezvous, Mr. Parker handed over the money to a young man who was waiting for him in a parked car. When Mr. Parker paid the ransom, he could see his daughter, Marion, sitting in the passenger seat next to the suspect. As soon as the money was exchanged, the suspect drove off with the victim still in the car. At the end of the street, Marion’s corpse was dumped onto the pavement. She was dead. Her legs had been chopped off and her eyes had been wired open to appear as if she was still alive. Her internal organs had been cut out and pieces of her body were later found strewn all over the Los Angeles area.”

    In her notes concerning the social outrage against Hickman, Rand complains that poor Hickman has become the target of irrational and ugly mob psychology:

    “The first thing that impresses me about the case is the ferocious rage of a whole society against one man. No matter what the man did, there is always something loathsome in the ‘virtuous’ indignation and mass-hatred of the ‘majority.’… It is repulsive to see all these beings with worse sins and crimes in their own lives, virtuously condemning a criminal…

    “This is not just the case of a terrible crime. It is not the crime alone that has raised the fury of public hatred. It is the case of a daring challenge to society. It is the fact that a crime has been committed by one man, alone; that this man knew it was against all laws of humanity and intended that way; that he does not want to recognize it as a crime and that he feels superior to all. It is the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul.”

    Ayn Rand’s description of the jury:

    “Average, everyday, rather stupid looking citizens. Shabbily dressed, dried, worn looking little men. Fat, overdressed, very average, ‘dignified’ housewives. How can they decide the fate of that boy? Or anyone’s fate?”

    And her words concerning Hickman himself:

    “And when we look at the other side of it — there is a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy turned into a purposeless monster. By whom? By what? Is it not by that very society that is now yelling so virtuously in its role of innocent victim? He had a brilliant mind, a romantic, adventurous, impatient soul and a straight, uncompromising, proud character. What had society to offer him? A wretched, insane family as the ideal home, a Y.M.C.A. club as social honor, and a bank-page job as ambition and career…

    “If he had any desires and ambitions — what was the way before him? A long, slow, soul-eating, heart-wrecking toil and struggle; the degrading, ignoble road of silent pain and loud compromises….

    “A strong man can eventually trample society under his feet. That boy was not strong enough. But is that his crime? Is it his crime that he was too impatient, fiery and proud to go that slow way? That he was not able to serve, when he felt worthy to rule; to obey, when he wanted to command?…

    “He was given [nothing with which] to fill his life. What was he offered to fill his soul? The petty, narrow, inconsistent, hypocritical ideology of present-day humanity. All the criminal, ludicrous, tragic nonsense of Christianity and its morals, virtues, and consequences. Is it any wonder that he didn’t accept it?”

    Ayn Rand was brilliant – that much is not in dispute – but her brilliance was poisoned by her own sociopathy that she disguised as ‘pure reason’ and ‘enlightened self-interest’. I read her writing when I was a teenager, and I knew even then that hers was an impossible fantasy, that a world made in her image would be terrible. But that was long before I ever heard of her fascination with Hickman; indeed, I only heard about this last year on The Thom Hartmann Show – who, btw, has also interviewed BC’s own Dave Nalle before (I was listening).

    The most troubling thing to me about the story of Ayn Rand and her poisoned mind is the ongoing fascination that much of the Right has with her today – Alan Greenspan was one of her early devotees. Even now there are ‘charitable’ institutions that will donate big bucks to universities on the condition that Ayn Rand’s writings will be required reading.

    Ayn Rand was brilliant – but she was damaged goods. The poison that infected her mind poisoned her writing as well, and her ‘pure reason’ was nothing more than pure sociopathy.

  • Igor

    One little historical correction: The commies (Reds) didn’t take over Russia until Oct. 1917 by seizing power from the White Kerensky presidency:

    Kerensky

    Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky (1881-1970) was the last President of Russia before the Bolshevik coup d’état of October 1917 (often referred as ‘old’ Russia or ‘that’ Russia to distinguish it from Russia of the Soviet and Post-Soviet times).

    Kerensky governed the State for only 109 days (from July 8 to October 25, 1917), often associated with the same Hundred Days of Napoleon in 1815.

    It is still believed that Kerensky would lead Russia to the era of freedom and justice, something of a golden age, which would be a breakthrough into the civilized world – that has been destroyed by the Soviet regime and never recovered again.

    I only bring this up to brag about my own little social triumph in having dinner with Kerensky in, IIRC, Summer 1966 at Stanford. My Mother-in-law was his neighbor at Kingscote Gardens at Stanford and invited Kerensky to dinner in her flat, which was the typical little European style flat in a gorgeous English garden setting. The four of us sat around the rickety little folding table and discussed not one word of politics (he was then employed at the Hoover Institute) but rather a European conversation around Monet, Romain Gary, Stravinski and especially “Firebird”, a great favorite of mine as well as his.

    Kerensky was a fine gentleman with a keen mind, and had he been able to continue as President of Russia everything would be different.

  • Igor

    Glenn, excellent comment, maybe your best ever.

    IMO Rand is only mildly interesting. By the time I read her books (which I had anticipated greatly) I’d read enough of the worlds good literature to be disappointed at how flat and lifeless her writing is.

    In fact, it’s amazing that anyone takes her seriously. Nevertheless, her crazy naive ideas, as implemented by Alan Greenspan, have lead us into a depression that may yet destroy America.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Dinner with Kerensky – cool! And as much as I love history, I’m more than a little jealous! But I well understand why y’all didn’t discuss history or politics – he’d had enough of that and had had to watch his people suffer so greatly from afar.

    I’ve often told myself that if I ever got a chance to dine with a president, I’d never discuss politics – there’s a part of me that would see that as rude.

  • Michael M

    Glenn Contrarian is yet another commenter who has leapt before looking and pontificated over his discovery of a dark side of Rand without bothering to check his facts. It clearly did not occur to him to see if there were any mitigating passages in Rand’s journal from which the comments came.

    If he really did read her works before, why does he not note (and explain) the fact that the accusations he is leveling directly contradict every word, idea and principle Rand ever wrote in her novels and her philosophy of Objectivism. How did he miss the fact that in the Objectivist ethics, the fundamental principle of social interrelationship among men is that the initiation of force against another is the ultimate immoral act. Could be that “I read her writing as a teenager” was referring to a couple of her novels. Did he read her essay on the Objectivist ethics? Is it’s advocacy of the virtues of Rationality, Independence, Integrity, Honesty, Justice, Productiveness, and Pride what makes her “damaged goods”?

    Ayn Rand was a writer with a classical education, and hence way more aware than Glenn Contrarian of the longstanding and oft utilized literary convention of writers with moral themes—the virtuous villain… the noble thief … the criminal who is utterly despicable yet, impossibly, has one shining quality that cannot be ignored. It is the very embodied contradiction that highlights the one virtue by the extreme contrast. That this was the case with Hickman can be seen in other notes by Rand Contrarian failed to quote:

    ”Yes, he is a monster—now. But the worse he is, the worst must be the cause that drove him to this.” and ”The model for the boy is Hickman. Very far from him, of course. The outside of Hickman, but not the inside. Much deeper and much more. A Hickman with a purpose. And without the degeneracy. It is more exact to say that the model is not Hickman, but what Hickman suggested to me.” (Notes circa February 1928, Journals of Ayn Rand, p. 27)

    There is no excuse for not knowing that there was more to the story than Rand’s critics let on. The Journals revealing this story were published years ago by the Ayn Rand Institute itself. Jennifer Burns raised public awareness of it in her biography of Rand (also years ago) and when the dogs attacked, a number of Objectivists set the record straight in online articles.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Michael –

    I’ve heard the same kind of justifications for those who committed genocide. And the same kind of justification for certain Biblical stories, too.

    There is no moral justification for what Ayn Rand wrote concerning Hickman. All her writings have done is to give certain people an excuse to do that which hurt others – Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” line would have been right up her alley. The proof lay in human history – for in all our thousands of years of civilization on this planet, there is NO example of a successful society that functioned in the manner Ayn Rand suggested…

    …and just in case you wanted to say that “it’s because no one’s tried it before”, let me remind you that when it comes to human nature, there is nothing new under the sun. There is nothing about human nature that wasn’t there five thousand years ago.

    Let me ask you something, Michael – a socialized nation that takes care of its weakest, that gives advantages to the disadvantaged, would have been in many ways the antithesis to what Ayn Rand believed. So why is it that when it comes to the only real standard by which the success of a nation can be judged – the sustainable standard of living of its population – ALL the top nations are oh-so-socialized First-World nations? Why is that, Michael?

  • JurinalsVersusOeuvre

    “..if you dig far enough into anyone’s past – and if you can stand the revulsion of what’s smeared on it – it all becomes just diggin’ up dirty diapers.” J.V.Oeuvre

    Hartmann & fans like GlennContrarian don’t really have anything clean and honest to offer – as proof, he can only close with:
    “…So why is it that when it comes to the only real standard by which the success of a nation can be judged – the sustainable standard of living of its population – ALL the top nations are oh-so-socialized First-World nations?…”

    In the Ayn Rand Oeuvre, (not her naturalistic daily diaries) her ultimate response to that would be – your moral and economic deficit – best illustrated here: US Debt Clock. Of course you’ll ignore that too.

    All in all the lesson of her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged identifies that; what we’ve created and what we’re going through is a moral crisis. But unlike any philosophers of the past, Miss Rand actually completes her analysis by actually projecting the correct solution:

    ie)Recognition of the primacy of man’s mind as it applies to his role in the universe.

    Conclusion!? you can spend your lives smearing stained old diapers and swishing the sieve through a septic system OR you can leave it all to Glenn & Thomm-types, withdraw your moral sanction – then move to the Atlantis that Ayn Rand proposed – which does exist along with the motor and its inventor. Come and see it for yourSelf.
    We meet every year during the month of June (yes, just like in the novel) And here’s where you can inform yourSelf: Galts Gulch Portal [Personal contact info deleted]
    And I mean it.

    A $ A

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Jurinal –

    You do know, of course, that when Bush 43 took the oath of office, our national surplus was such that we were on track to have the ENTIRE national debt paid off by 2012?

    Why is that important? Because what’s important to remember is that having our books balanced is quite doable, that the only reason we don’t have our entire debt already paid off is NOT because we’re not bowing at the feet of Ayn Rand, but because Bush screwed the pooch. Badly. THAT, sir, is laying the blame where it belongs.

    So you need to go check your assumptions at the door, because we’re not going to let you get away with making off-the-cuff snide assumptions like you did in your comment.

  • Michael M

    @Glenn
    “I’ve heard the same kind of justifications for those who committed genocide. And the same kind of justification for certain Biblical stories, too.”

    This statement has no relevance or value to the issue at hand. It’s intent is sole to intimidate the reader into feeling like it does.
    ————-

    “There is no moral justification for what Ayn Rand wrote concerning Hickman.”

    This statement is based entirely on your reading into her comments something that was not there. You have attempted to insinuate a justification of violent criminal behavior. Not only is there not a single phrase in her comments that can be interpreted as such a justification, redacted comments from the same journal explicitly deny it. Your accusations are as dishonest as they come.
    ————-

    “Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” line would have been right up her alley.”

    Once again you show an inability to recognize contexts and aspects and are thus prone to connotation laden slurs. If you had read enough of Rand to make a difference, you would have learned that the meanings of words are contextual—i.e. the same word has different meanings in different contexts. Greed is such a word. In its broadest sense it merely means the desire to amass great amounts of some value. There are no moral implications to that meaning whatsoever. Such implications are contextual, and the context that distinguishes the virtue of greed from the vice of greed is whether or not the values sought are earned values or not. To condemn as evil a quest to maximize earned values by labeling it “greed” with a sneer is itself profoundly evil.

    Nowhere in anything Ayn Rand ever wrote or said can you find any words that can be interpreted as advocacy of a quest for unearned values. So Gordon Gekko’s greed would be “right up her alley” to the extent his quest was for earned wealth (value produced and traded in a voluntary exchange with others) and it would earn her condemnation to the extent that it wasn’t. We await your apology.
    ————–

    “The proof lay in human history – for in all our thousands of years of civilization on this planet, there is NO example of a successful society that functioned in the manner Ayn Rand suggested…”
    and
    “…and just in case you wanted to say that “it’s because no one’s tried it before”, let me remind you that when it comes to human nature, there is nothing new under the sun. There is nothing about human nature that wasn’t there five thousand years ago.”

    So many errors, … so little time.

    The phrase “human nature” does not describe the actions men take nor any propensity thereto. Men are volitional. “Human nature” refers rather to the fundamental facts that distinguish man from all other existents in the universe. Such facts as, man is a living entity (capable of self-sustained, self-generated action) as opposed to rocks and dirt. Man is an animal, as opposed to plant matter. Man is a rational animal having the capacity for conceptual thought. Man is a volitional animal capable of acting for his life in accordance with his nature or contrary to his life, as opposed to all other animals that are preprogrammed to solely respond to stimuli.

    The nature of man is by definition universal and identical in principle for all men who are, were, or ever will be. That in no way establishes how men will choose to act—only that they will and that their choices are inherently fallible. So it is possible for all the men in human history to err in respect to the systems by which they manage socio-economic interrelationships and still possible that one day in part or completely to be able to choose to act the opposite way.
    ————

    “Let me ask you something, Michael – a socialized nation that takes care of its weakest, that gives advantages to the disadvantaged, would have been in many ways the antithesis to what Ayn Rand
    believed. So why is it that when it comes to the only real standard by which the success of a nation can be judged – the sustainable standard of living of its population – ALL the top nations are oh-so-socialized First-World nations? Why is that, Michael?”

    Because all nations are socialistic, from top to bottom. Name for me one laissez-faire capitalist nation of the Ayn Rand mold (all human interactions shall be voluntary) that has failed. Oh! that’s right … there are not any nor have there ever been. So forget that question, and tell me why a nation would fail if its government would do nothing but guarantee this principle:

    No person shall initiate the use of physical force or threat thereof to take, withhold, damage or destroy any tangible or intangible value of another person who either created it or acquired it in a voluntary exchange, nor impede any other person’s non-coercive actions.

    Just as you did in the Gekko slur, you are attempting to make judgements on human behavior without any reference to a human ethics. Politics is a normative science. There is an “ought” underlying every position and policy. But the validation of an ought in the social context of politics must rest on a more fundamental ought in the individual context of man’s nature. Your politics evades that responsibility and allows the biggest gang in any nation to coerce the rest to act as they prefer in order to get what they want whether it is good or not for themselves or the rest. That is to say that your politics condones the imposition of the fallibility of some on the lives of others.

    Man survives and thrives, however, solely from the application of the product of his mind to his actions in the production and exchange of values. Being volitional and therefore fallible, each individual human being requires the absolute right to choose what he produces and how he consumes or exchanges it so long as he sustains the responsibility implicit therein to grant that same right to others. Consequently, there is only one single fundamental alternative in every possible political position: freedom or force.

    Ayn Rand is the first philosopher to demonstrate the ethical foundation for a politics of freedom. And to the contrary, there is you and all the others who still cling to the collectivist practice of using force to take what you want by force, thus exercising the same principles that Hickman indulged in when he took that girl’s life by force because he wanted to.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Michael –

    You have attempted to insinuate a justification of violent criminal behavior

    What Rand did was to essentially say that it wasn’t his fault that Hickman was the way he was, as she clearly shows below:

    “He was given [nothing with which] to fill his life. What was he offered to fill his soul? The petty, narrow, inconsistent, hypocritical ideology of present-day humanity. All the criminal, ludicrous, tragic nonsense of Christianity and its morals, virtues, and consequences. Is it any wonder that he didn’t accept it?”

    =================

    Nowhere in anything Ayn Rand ever wrote or said can you find any words that can be interpreted as advocacy of a quest for unearned values. So Gordon Gekko’s greed would be “right up her alley” to the extent his quest was for earned wealth (value produced and traded in a voluntary exchange with others) and it would earn her condemnation to the extent that it wasn’t. We await your apology

    Speaking of context, Michael, the character of Gordon Gekko – like most of his real-life counterparts – DO feel that they ‘earned’ their wealth. And exactly how is it that Hickman’s quote – “What is good for me is right.” – is really any different from how a hedge-fund manager thinks? He thinks he’s ‘earning’ his money, too – and if his actions destroy a company and put thousands of people out of work, that’s not his fault in his own eyes…which, if you’ll think about it, really is right up the alley of Rand’s writings (and Hickman’s actions). And as this article from the Wall Street Joural shows, I’m not the only one who sees it.

    (and on the ‘apology’ – when you show me I’ve said something wrong I’ll apologize…but you haven’t shown me any such thing. ‘We’ await your proof)

    ======================

    The nature of man is by definition universal and identical in principle for all men who are, were, or ever will be.

    You said nothing – absolutely nothing – in that section that disagreed in the least with what I wrote…except, perhaps, the line of “so many errors, so little time”. When it comes to human nature, there is nothing new under the sun. All your diatribe really did was to support that statement.

    ====================

    Because all nations are socialistic, from top to bottom. Name for me one laissez-faire capitalist nation of the Ayn Rand mold (all human interactions shall be voluntary) that has failed. Oh! that’s right … there are not any nor have there ever been. So forget that question, and tell me why a nation would fail if its government would do nothing but guarantee this principle:

    No person shall initiate the use of physical force or threat thereof to take, withhold, damage or destroy any tangible or intangible value of another person who either created it or acquired it in a voluntary exchange, nor impede any other person’s non-coercive actions.

    1 – Your conception of a nation that could exist with a ‘pure’ philosophy of ANY type – whether Rand’s, or Marx’s, or Ron Paul’s for that matter – is a fantasy and nothing more. People are too diverse. In order to have a functioning society and nation of the type that Ayn Rand suggested would require that a majority of the people think the same way…and you’re completely ignoring that particular section of the population who abuse the wealth and power (that they think they’ve ‘earned’). There are people who who enjoy having power, Michael – many of them are politicians. Many are CEO’s and hedge-fund managers. Many are cops. And the precious “one-size-fits-all” rule you gave above takes them into account not at all, for such would not sit idly eating lotus flowers in such a “Randian paradise”. “What is good for me is right”, remember?

    ============================

    No person shall initiate the use of physical force or threat thereof to take, withhold, damage or destroy any tangible or intangible value of another person

    Let’s address your “one-size-fits-all” rule.

    So what happens when you’re able to turn on your water faucet and you’re able to light it on fire from all the methane…which you couldn’t do before they started fracking for natural gas a few miles away? But in Rand World, one has nothing to do with the other.

    What happens when your child is one of dozens that are deathly ill from E.coli? But in Rand World there are no regulations to discover the common food they ate that gave them E.coli, much less to discover where that food was grown/processed/sold.

    What happens when your beachfront (or shrimping) business doesn’t have any customers because of some huge oil spill? BP didn’t try to take anything from you, so in Rand World you’ve no recourse but to suffer and go out of business because of what BP did.

    You complained “That is to say that your politics condones the imposition of the fallibility of some on the lives of others.” But it seems clear to me that such would be the inevitable and unavoidable result of living in Rand World.

    ====================

    Your politics evades that responsibility and allows the biggest gang in any nation to coerce the rest to act as they prefer in order to get what they want whether it is good or not for themselves or the rest.

    Really? Ever hear of “majority rule but minority rights”? That’s a basic democratic principle. But what you said there goes more along the line of “What is good for me is right.” And Ayn Rand’s opinion of the statement was “The best and strongest expression of a real man’s psychology I have heard.”

    ==================

    In summary, your “one-size-fits-all” rule is infinitely simplistic and evinces ignorance of a simple human fact: The greater the size of the population and level of technology, the greater the degree of regulation that will be needed to maintain order in the society.

    One can run a family or a small village or commune with your “one-size-fits-all” rule, but no more than that – because your rule doesn’t take into consideration the breathtaking diversity we see in the world today – not just of people, but of what people are able to do: software privacy, fracking, derivatives, climate change (or even ozone-hole depletion), Ponzi schemes, E.coli outbreaks, care for abandoned medically-fragile children (I take care of one such – but only because the state enables me to be able to financially do so), the drinking water of people ruined (and many children born malformed) from miles-upstream drilling or mining….

    Just like Karl Marx’ “true communism” sounded so good in theory but turned out to be disastrous in practice, so it would be in Rand World.

  • Michael M

    @Glenn

    Pointing out the role of the culture in the consequence that was Hickman is NOT the same thing as excusing Hickman. Her interest in him was for traits and aspects that had nothing to do with the crime.

    ———-

    The morality of greed is not measured by whether anyone “feels” he has earned something, but rather whether or not he ACTUALLY has. The only moral principle for human interaction is the trader principle. When two individuals exchange values voluntarily, each gets something he values more than he gives up, and only they have the right to establish the relative values. When force enters the picture, whether an overt aggressive taking by force or a deceptive or fraudulent withholding of a value owed by indirect force, the value gained by the aggressor is not earned, even if he “feels” it is. Your assertion that Gekko exemplifies Rand’s moral code is still dishonest and you still owe the apology.

    ———-

    I did not contradict your statement that human nature was universal, but rather the implication of your statement that men can never choose to act differently from how they have historically… your assertion that no system of managing force in a society is or can be new …

    ———–

    I also did not offer you any conception of a nation operating with a homogeneous philosophy, even though, since all men are volitional, you are logically precluded from ruling that out. Philosophical unity is neither necessary nor even relevant. And look at this:

    “In order to have a functioning society and nation of the type that Ayn Rand suggested would require that a majority of the people think the same way…”

    And how is that not possible … a majority of the population think just like you that they can gang up on minorities by force “for their own good” (aka “the good of the public”). And I most certainly am not ignoring “that particular section of the population who abuse the wealth and power (that they think they’ve ‘earned’).” That section is you and the rest of that majority who give sanction to the government to abuse the wealth and power they think they have earned by “caring” for the lives of their victims.

    It is precisely Rand’s politics that protects and empowers each and every different individual, who happens to be the smallest of all minorities. It is only Rand who would protect universal diversity. It is you and yours who perpetually seek to mandate “one-size-fits-all” in health care, education, behavior, infrastructure, pleasure … it is your principles that power the evils wrought by the Democrats and Republicans every day. The only difference between those to factions is that one seeks to dictate the material values of all men and the other seeks to dictate their spiritual values. Rand seeks to dictate neither.

    ———-

    As for your list of catastrophes that you think would befall free men who might try to live without a dictator to tell them what to do when, you are only admitting to the world your own inability to think. You obviously did not even bother to stop and ask yourself what you would advocate doing to solve the problem if you were not able to use force in the process. You also did not bother to define which of those catastrophes could have involved an initiation of force anyway that would have made it criminal in a free society as well. It apparently did not occur to you that all violations of contracts (expressed or implied) are acts of force. It did not occur to you that a free society is strictly regulated in that force is prohibited in toto. Thus in a free society, much that is regulated by inept bureaucrats and people with a political axe to grind is regulated rather by free men contractually, and the strictness of those regulations are not limited by the need to compromise with the other political party. Note that all of your examples are actual, having happened in a regulated society.

    ———-

    “In summary, your “one-size-fits-all” rule is infinitely simplistic and evinces ignorance of a simple human fact: The greater the size of the population and level of technology, the greater the degree of regulation that will be needed to maintain order in the society.”

    The most fundamental need of every human individual living in a society of fallible men is autonomy in the application of his reason to his effort for the sake of his life. Thus it is that the absence of coercion is his highest political value, and that means that your statement is true only when the word “order” means the absence of force in human interrelationships … just as Ayn Rand prescribed.

  • Igor

    This statement reveals the foolishness of the Ayn Rand notions:

    The most fundamental need of every human individual living in a society of fallible men is autonomy in the application of his reason to his effort for the sake of his life. Thus it is that the absence of coercion is his highest political value,…

    Because it embodies the conflict that defeats Randism with anarchy.

    Obviously, as every organism expresses itself more forcefully it will create the coercion that it’s neighbor finds loathsome.

    No philosophy that is so easily defeated, even by a kindergarten argument, can have any value.

    Rand was a nut with a shallow education and no real aptitude for studying and learning.

  • Igor

    …and Rand was a LOUSY writer. Whether her fiction or her political writing, it was shallow superficial, pretentious and naive.

  • Michael M

    @Glenn: Addendum to my previous comment:

    Your use of the phrase “one-size-fits-all,” like your use of “greed,” is a moral equivocation. Both of these are morally neutral terms until they land in different contexts. With “greed”, you tried to smuggle the negative connotations of the word in the context of a quest for unearned values into the concept of a quest for earned values circumnavigating the fact that Rand’s greed is the opposite of Gekko’s.

    With “one-size-fits-all” you tried to smuggle the negative connotations of applying one rule to a diversity of concretes into the application of one rule to the abstract principle that subsumes them.
    It is a fundamental prerequisite for survival that human beings utilize their conceptual capacity to identify the nature of reality and guide their actions accordingly. The process is one of abstracting essential characteristics from the infinity of concrete perceptions and holding them for their use as abstract principles. We hold in our minds the identity of the infinite number of different tables under the concept “table” that is the symbol for a supported flat surface that holds objects above the ground — an instance of “one-size-fits-all” without which you could not survive, let alone thrive as a human being.

    In your effort to diminish Rand’s thinking, you took the negative connotation the term would rightly have if one would seek to impose one rule valid in only some concrete cases to the whole diversity of concrete cases, and you tried to smuggle it onto the imposition of one rule valid in principle — that is to say valid in regard to the one aspect common to all instances of the problem. You are being handicapped by your failure to think in principles that dooms you to treat every problem as a unique one. Rand, on the other hand, identified the most fundamental prerequisite for a just society — in principle. Consequently, her politics can cope with all injustice no matter how diverse while simultaneously maximizing the individual autonomy that is the ultimate enabler of diversity.

    You started this with a statement on which we agree: that the nature of human beings is universal. The nature of human beings is “one-size-fits all.” And the one size that fits the nature of human beings, i.e. all is: man’s rational-volitional capacity to make diverse choices from the sequence of alternatives faced in life that will either contribute to or detract from the quality and quantity of one’s life. And since the corollary of that capacity is universal fallibility, the one rule in accordance with man’s one nature is that the ultimate arbiter of individual choices shall be the individual — autonomy. It is the only rule that can provide universal individual freedom to be diverse restrained by the universal responsibility to not violate that freedom of others. This enables regulation of harmful activity by the ability of the population to erect contractual barriers that will prevent it. That would in turn generate a competitive market of regulation that would enable men to seek out the places to live and the companies to patronize that fulfilled their individual standards for regulation. As in all market places, that also enables men to respond to new problems immediately, without waiting for a ponderous bureaucracy.

    Compare that (which you condemn as “untried”) to what has been tried throughout history: anarchy, monarchy, oligarchy, fascism, socialism, communism, and crony capitalism.

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    Glenn isn’t assigning any “connotations”, Michael, whether positive or negative. The word greed in modern usage, and in particular as a synonym for avarice, which is the context here, is unequivocally negative.

  • Clavos

    The word greed in modern usage, and in particular as a synonym for avarice, which is the context here, is unequivocally negative.

    True, but that doesn’t negate either Michael’s or Rand’s interpretations. In fact, on many matters, the masses are often horribly wrong – the Third Reich comes to mind; and of course, the election of Obama.

  • Igor

    #14 points to one of the problems of modern capitalistic societies:

    As in all market places, that also enables men to respond to new problems immediately, without waiting for a ponderous bureaucracy.

    Immediate response contributes to the basic instability of markets and increases the swings between extremes. Reflexive responsiveness replaces thought out planning as a value.

    High speed responsiveness is a bad thing, not a good thing.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Michael –

    I don’t have much time to spend responding to your points – the wife just flew in and I’m not going to be spending much time here at all for the next few days unless she has a serious case of jet lag.

    But I can tell you this – what you’re engaging in is ‘spin’, trying your level best to twist the meaning of Rand’s words into something postive, into what you and other like yourself want them to mean. After all, it’s only natural for one to spin the words of someone he or she holds as someone important in their lives.

    But Rand was a sociopath who understood (in her opinion) why a child murderer did what he did, and even sympathized with him – as far as a sociopath can sympathize. You, Michael, need to step outside yourself and see her words objectively – for you’re not doing so. If you did, you’d see just how far down the path to lunacy she really was.

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    Clav, I think you’re assigning a consciousness to the use of language which most people simply do not exercise.

    For example, if someone dislikes a new TV show and tells his friends that he thinks it’s “garbage”, he’s most likely not deliberately using imagery. He’s just using the word because it’s a common colloquial expression for something of poor quality.

  • Michael M

    Dr.Dreadful,

    What you just described is a variant, and a slight one at that, of arguing with connotations — using a word out of context for the connotations it has, good or bad, when in some other context. The modern usage of greed as having only one context is as “horribly wrong” as Clavos correctly pointed out, as their horribly wrong misuse of the word “selfish” sans context. It is the ubiquitous tactic of those who do not understand, because they do not define, and thence argue with connotations and characterizations, none of them supported by evidence, resulting in comments like that of Glenn at 10:58 above which is flush with slurs devoid of content. It is the intellectual equivalent of attempting to refute Rand’s ideas by throwing rocks at her gravestone.

  • Michael M

    Igor,
    “Immediate response contributes to the basic instability of markets and increases the swings between extremes. Reflexive responsiveness replaces thought out planning as a value.”

    This is a false alternative. Rational men pursue the definition of principles with long-term thought out planning so that their reflexive responses will be just as rational as the governing principles. It is only those who live on the perceptual level in the range of the moment who are ill equipped to act spontaneously without tested principles to guide them.

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    But the context here is created by Rand and her followers themselves, Michael. Greed is a negative word: that is why Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” speech in Wall Street resonates, because the character takes a common word with a well-understood meaning and redefines it to his own ends.

    If he’d led with, for example, “hunger is good”, then his words wouldn’t have been nearly so powerful.

  • Michael M

    Dr.D, Did he redefine it or did he correct an equivocation in the well-understood meaning as Rand did with her book “The Virtue of Selfishness.” Note this from her Introduction:
    —–
    The title of this book may evoke the kind of question that I hear once in a while: “Why do you use the word ‘selfishness’ to denote virtuous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people to whom it does not mean the things you mean?”

    To those who ask it, my answer is: “For the reason that makes you afraid of it.”

    But there are others, who would not ask that question, sensing the moral cowardice it implies, yet who are unable to formulate my actual reason or to identify the profound moral issue involved. It is to them that I will give a more explicit answer.

    It is not a mere semantic issue nor a matter of arbitrary choice. The meaning ascribed in popular usage to the word “selfishness” is not merely wrong: it represents a devastating intellectual “package-deal,” which is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind.

    In popular usage, the word “selfishness” is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.

    Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own interests.

    This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions. Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, 1961 p.b. vii, or http://tfasinternational.org/ila/Ayn_Rand-The_Virtue_of_Selfishness.pdf
    —–

    The same principle can apply to “greed.” In the case of Gekko, my ability to discuss him is limited, because I did neither seen the film nor read the speech elsewhere, and thus do not know exactly how good or evil a character he was. And I actually prefer that greed be a negative word meaning the quest for unearned values. But the public will not allow it. The colloquial attitude is that any quest for a large quantity of wealth is immoral, whether it is earned or not. As Rand said of their attitude toward selfishness: “it is a devastating intellectual package-deal.”

    Complicating this is the fact that Stossel has pursued for some time advocated for “good greed” with thorough explanations of the morality of pursuing wealth because ‘extra’ wealth harms no one and funds productivity. I don’t care who wins the semantic battle over which word is used where, but I do care about the conclusions reached using the concepts. I maintain and will substantiate on call that the moral battle is over and won by Ayn Rand, and no one can ever again get away with claiming that earned wealth of any amount is immoral.

    Any use of the word “greed” to equate Rand’s view that the pursuit of earned values in one’s own self interest with what I expect Gekko represents would necessarily involve a corruption of the language and the concept. I am not saying that masses may not feel that there is no distinction and use the word to mean that. I am saying only that anyone who does that is making a serious error with far reaching consequences to them and theirs. The quest for earned values is moral. The quest for unearned values is immoral. You may call them whatever you want, but you may not equate them.

  • Igor

    Rand toyed with rash ideas to create an air of boldness, and some impressionable people are attracted to that. We’ve all known people like that, right? At first they seem very charismatic, very attractive, but they usually succumb to some weakness.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Michael –

    resulting in comments like that of Glenn at 10:58 above which is flush with slurs devoid of content.

    You’re referring to my commment #18…and now I can see why you’re having a problem with the word “greed” – you somehow seem to think that my comment #18 is “flush with slurs devoid of content”. Since you obviously don’t know what a ‘slur’ is, it’s hard to expect you to have a strong grasp on the historical context of the word ‘greed’.

    There are some with whom debate is possible since there is a chance that a reasonable exchange of ideas may take place. If it’s apparent that no reasonable exchange of ideas is possible, then it would be foolish to continue the debate. This discussion with you falls into the second category.

    If you like, you can consider some statements in this comment a ‘slur’…but nothing in #18 is a slur. What has happened is that you took offense not at anything directed at you, but at the very idea that anyone would dare think so little of Ayn Rand. See that Kool-Aid in that glass beside your computer? You need to be more careful of its contents.

  • Igor

    Anyone who wants to read didactic moral stories would do better than Rand by reading Tolstoi, who’s a better writer and a better moralizer. I recommend the short stories rather than War And Peace (the entire bite of which is reserved for the epilogues). In fact, Tolstoi’s “How Much Land Does A Man Need?” and “Yardstick, The Story Of A Horse” are far more instructional than Rand. Also, “The Kreutzer Sonata”. I recommend the translations of B. G. Guerney.

  • Clavos

    Poor Kool-Aid. Thanks to one batshit insane preacher, its reputation is ruined forever.

    Ah well, perhaps someday humanity will take Shakespeare’s idea about lawyers and apply it to the preachers.

    The world will certainly be a better place afterwards.

  • Michael M

    Glenn: “But Rand was a sociopath” … and … ” how far down the path to lunacy she really was.”

    Dictionary: Slur: make damaging or insulting insinuations or allegations about

    Content in Rand’s oeuvre supporting allegations: Zilch

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Michael –

    When one preaches what is essentially sociopathy and makes excuses for the evil committed by another sociopath, that’s sufficiently far down the path to lunacy for me to call it such.

    And as I recall, you said my post was ‘flush’ with slurs – which is strange since even if you were right (you’re not) that I posted a slur, you were only able to show one. Gee, you wouldn’t be resorting to hyperbole too, now would you?

    Michael, you really need to learn the value of objectivity…because you’re not showing it.