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For Ayn Rand fans, there likely are a few here, the following might be interesting

Discussion in 'Legal' started by alan, Feb 2, 2005.

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  1. alan

    alan Member

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    Visit the Mises Economics Blog.
    Ayn Rand's Contribution to the Cause of Freedom
    by Roderick T. Long
    [Posted February 2, 2005]

    Today marks the centenary of Ayn Rand's birth. Born Alisa Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Russia, on February 2nd, 1905, Rand would go on to become one of the 20th century's foremost voices for human freedom.

    After living through the Russian Revolution, and the economic chaos and political repression that came in its wake—events she would later dramatize in her novel We the Living—Rand fled the Soviet Union for the United States in 1926 to begin her career as screenwriter, playwright, and novelist. Dividing her time between Hollywood and New York, the fiercely anticommunist Rand began to develop a philosophy of ethical and political individualism, and to make the acquaintance of such leaders of the libertarian "Old Right" as John Flynn, Henry Hazlitt, Rose Wilder Lane, H.L. Mencken, Isabel Paterson, Leonard Read, and a fellow refugee from European totalitarianism, Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises.

    Rand's chief popular success came from The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), two epic philosophical novels on the model of Dostoyevksy that quickly established her as one of the century's most controversial authors. The enthusiastic audience these works brought her enabled Rand to build a politico-philosophical movement based on the system of thought she would call "Objectivism," and Rand's attention accordingly turned thereafter to nonfiction; she would devote the remainder of her career to editing a series of Objectivist periodicals and to penning philosophical essays, political commentary, and cultural criticism.

    Rand always stressed the importance of placing political arguments in a wider philosophical context, insisting that she was "not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism," and "not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason."

    Rand's influence on the libertarian movement is incalculable; despite her own frequent antipathy toward that movement and even toward the word "libertarian," Rand played a crucial role in helping both to create new advocates of laissez-faire and to radicalize existing ones; Rand encouraged libertarians to view their standpoint as an alternative to, rather than a branch of, conservatism, and to base the case for liberty on moral principle and not on pragmatic economic benefits alone. Rand's influence on popular culture is likewise enormous; an oft-cited Library of Congress survey of "most influential books" placed Atlas Shrugged second only to the Bible.

    Rand owed much of her success to the power and directness of her writing style. She was a master at what one of my colleagues calls reductio ad claritatem, "reduction to clarity"— i.e., the method of refuting a position by stating it clearly—as when she wrote that "if some men are entitled by right to the products of the work of others, it means that those others are deprived of rights and condemned to slave labor," or when she summarized the view that human perception is unreliable because limited by the nature of our sensory organs as: "man is blind, because he has eyes—deaf, because he has ears."

    Upon the publication of Atlas Shrugged, Mises wrote to Rand praising both her "masterful construction of the plot" and her "cogent analysis of the evils that plague our society"; in another context he called her "the most courageous man in America." Rand in turn enthusiastically promoted Mises's writings in her periodicals, and declared that her ideal curriculum would be "Aristotle in philosophy, von Mises in economics, Montessori in education, Hugo in literature." Rand's biographer Barbara Branden notes that

    beginning in the late fifties and continuing for more than ten years, Ayn began a concerted campaign to have [Mises's ] work read and appreciated: she published reviews, she cited him in articles and in public speeches [and] recommended him to admirers of her philosophy. A number of economists have said that it was largely as a result of Ayn's efforts that the work of Von Mises began to reach its potential audience. (The Passion of Ayn Rand, p. 188.)
    A brief intellectual association with Mises's student Murray Rothbard was less successful, beginning in mutual appreciation but dissolving over ideological and personal differences—though Rand and Rothbard would nonetheless share the honor of being drummed out of the "respectable" Right by a statist-minded conservative establishment. (The forthcoming Spring 2005 issue of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is devoted to an exploration of the connections between Rand and the Austrian School, and includes contributions from a number of contemporary Austrians.)

    Because Rand called big business a "persecuted minority" and dismissed the military-industrial complex as "a myth or worse," she is often taken as a naïve apologist for the corporatist élite; but she also condemned the "type of businessmen who sought special advantages by government action" as the "actual war profiteers of all mixed economies"; and it's easy to forget that most of the businessmen characters in Rand's novels are statist villains.

    As Chris Sciabarra reminds us, Rand likewise grasped the symbiotic relationship between militarism abroad and neo-fascist politics at home; in an era when many of her followers are enthusiastic supporters of American military intervention overseas, it's worth remembering that Rand herself opposed U.S. involvement in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

    Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Rand's philosophy—her rejection of altruism and her embrace of ethical egoism—is also one of the most misunderstood. Despite her sometimes misleading rhetoric about "the virtue of selfishness," the point of her egoism was not to advocate the pursuit of one's own interests at the expense of others', but rather to reject the entire conflictual model of interests according to which "the happiness of one man necessitates the injury of another," in favor of an older, more Aristotelean conception of self-interest as excellent human functioning.

    It was on such Aristotelean grounds that she rejected not only the subordination of one's own interests to those of others (and it is this, rather than mere benevolence, that she labeled "altruism") but also the subordination of others' interests to one's own (which she labeled "selfishness without a self"). For Rand, the Aristotelean recognition of properly understood human interests as rationally harmonious was the essential foundation for a free society.

    Discussion of Rand since her death in 1982 has often focused on her dogmatic tone and personal eccentricities—traits sometimes imitated by her followers, and effectively satirized by Rothbard in his one-act play Mozart Was a Red. But as David Kelley argues in his book The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand, Rand's intellectual contribution, like anyone else's, can and should be disentangled from the vagaries of her personality.

    In an era when libertarianism and Aristoteleanism were unfashionable enough separately, Rand had the audacity to defend their systematic fusion, and identified Enlightenment liberalism's roots in the Thomistic recovery of Aristotle at a time when this connection was less widely recognized than it is today. (Though Rand's followers have sometimes intemperately proclaimed her the greatest philosopher of all time, Rand always firmly insisted that Aristotle was the greatest and that Thomas Aquinas was the second greatest—her own atheism notwithstanding.) Whether her specific versions of libertarianism and Aristoteleanism, and the specific terms on which she attempted to unite them, were ultimately the most philosophically defensible ones is perhaps less important than the example she set in making the attempt.

    In the decades since Rand first began constructing her maverick philosophical system, the philosophical mainstream has moved in Rand's direction. Professional philosophers are far more likely today than they were in the 1960s to agree with Rand about the directness of sense-perception, the relation between meaning and reference, the incompatibility of utilitarianism with individual rights, or the prospects for a neo-Aristotelean ethical theory (or indeed a neo-Aristotelean philosophical approach generally); and many of the dichotomies she rejected—between empiricism and rationalism, analytic and synthetic statements, dualism and materialism, nominalism and conceptual realism, fact and value, liberalism and an ethics of virtue—have fallen into increasing disfavor.

    These developments are largely independent of Rand's own influence (and, ironically, stem in part from the recent resurgence of Rand's philosophical nemesis Immanuel Kant—who, despite Rand's impassioned denunciations, is actually her ally on most of these points), but they are not entirely so; I can testify, from two decades' experience in the profession, that the number of academic philosophers who will privately admit having been decisively influenced by Rand is far greater than the number who can be found citing her in print.

    It's a mistake, though, to think that the validation of Rand's legacy depends on academic approval. Human progress is often driven by people either outside or on the margins of the academic establishment, as for example the philosophes of the 18th century or the Austrian revival of the 20th. Whether or not the academy understands or acknowledges her achievements, Rand's inspiring vision of the grandeur of human reason and human liberty has made its mark on modern thought.

    Still, for what it's worth, scholarly recognition of Rand's work is currently at an all-time high. The days when nearly all discussion of Rand was either slavishly adulatory or sneeringly dismissive seem to be passing, and the new century is likely to see a just assessment of Rand's place in the history of philosophy and the cause of liberty.

    Happy Birthday, Ayn Rand.
    _____________________________

    Roderick T. Long (email) is senior fellow of the Mises Institute, professor of philosophy at Auburn University, and the new editor of the Journal of Libertarian Studies. See his website. Subscribe to the Journal today. Post your comments on the blog.

    Additionally, see the following.

    http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=3661
     
  2. MrTuffPaws

    MrTuffPaws Member

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    Ah, Rand. The philosophy of self. I don't really agree with it, but it does have it's merits.
     
  3. Standing Wolf

    Standing Wolf Member in memoriam

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    The difference is that Dostoyevsky could actually write fiction. I doubt I'll ever understand how such a brilliant thinker as Ayn Rand could be such an abominable writer of fiction.
     
  4. Matthew Gross

    Matthew Gross Member

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    Best selling novels...

    Multiple movie scripts...

    TWO Broadway plays...

    But yeah, she couldn't write fiction. :confused: Read "We the Living" if you want a lesson in drama, pace, and character development.
     
  5. Justin

    Justin Moderator Emeritus

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    To be completely honest, "The Fountainhead" didn't hold my interest. I loved AS, "Anthem," and "The Virtue of Selfishness" though.

    I will note that the movie version of "The Fountainhead" is really very well done, and IMHO better than the novel.
     
  6. Joe Demko

    Joe Demko Member

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    Ms. Rand borrowed one or two thought provoking ideas from previous philosophers. She was also an appallingly bad novelist. Everything she had to say in the bloated "Atlas Shrugged" could have been presented in a Jack Chick-style tract.
     
  7. Matthew Gross

    Matthew Gross Member

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    Ms. Rand did borrow a few thought proviking ideas from previous philosophers, just like today's scientist borrow some thought proviking ideas from previous scientists. In most cases (Aristotle, Nietzche) she points out what she borrowed.

    Ms. Rand also borrowed most of her stlye cues from Victor Hugo.
     
  8. Treylis

    Treylis Member

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    Why do people always bring this up like it's an attack on Rand? Virtually all philosophers do is respond to other philosophers, it's not some shocking new development.
     
  9. Joe Demko

    Joe Demko Member

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    Rand claimed she owed nothing to any other philosopher, save Aristotle. That was patently untrue and that is why it is so frequently brought up by people who either haven't bought into Objectivism or who have recovered from it.
     
  10. Werewolf

    Werewolf Member

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    Which begs the question from a degreed professional that never had to endure a philosophy course: what the heck is OBJECTIVISM? AND why would anyone need to recover from it?
     
  11. Ginger

    Ginger Member

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    Here ya go, Werewolf:

    "My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that:

    Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man's feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.
    Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses) is man's only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.

    Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.

    The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others.

    The government acts only as a policeman that protects man's rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church."

    There are worthwhile ideas in Rand's philosophy but some parts of it don't work for me as a Christian (or for anybody that believes in a creator).
     
  12. Werewolf

    Werewolf Member

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    Hmmmm...
    Thanks for the summary of Objectivism Ginger...

    On the surface that sounds a great deal like what I believe: Unfortunately even though a fact is a fact and society would be better off if folks attended to their own well being without harming the well being of others most people don't see it that way. For most, facts don't mean a thing - perception is what counts - and PC has killed the idea of self interest being priority one.

    The notion of government as the policeman that protects is a pipe dream. Government never has been, isn't and never will be that. All governments are institutions that set themselves above the people - it's what they do - it's who they are.

    Until PC dies and folks get a little more pragmatic it seems that Objectivism as a social philosophy is doomed to be little more than an object of study by Letters majors at University
     
  13. Matthew Gross

    Matthew Gross Member

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    Werewolf,

    The idea of political philosophy isn't to tell you how things are, but how they ought to be.

    You think Sam Adams and Thomas Jefferson should have dimissed Locke as a "pipedream" because George III would never allow political freedom?
     
  14. P95Carry

    P95Carry Moderator Emeritus

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    This is the Ayn Rand I remember - and what sticks most in my mind. Much as anything because of its deep significance.
     
  15. alan

    alan Member

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    P95Carry:

    I'm in the midst of a couple of books at the moment, however re the excerpt you posted, Atlas Shrugged is likely next.
     
  16. wasrjoe

    wasrjoe Member

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    I am a huge fan of Rand, but IMO you would do yourself fine by just reading all the good quotes from "Atlas Shrugged", read "The Virtue of Selfishness" and call it a day. "Atlas Shrugged" is a horrible novel.
     
  17. PaleRyder

    PaleRyder Member

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    I don't like her books, but I do agree with Objectivism. Facts are facts, regardless of what people would like to believe.

    Just my opinion.
     
  18. armedcitizen

    armedcitizen Member

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    Rand Rocks!

    Love her novels but I could never get into her non-fiction. Not smart enough I guess.

    Did anyone else see the Italian "We the Living" that made the arthouse theater rounds a few years ago? Mussilini had it made as an anti-communist film and then figured out that it was anti-Fascist as well so it sat in a vault somewhere for forty years or so. The same guy that starred in South Pacific was the lead. Pretty good film if you can handle subtitles.
     
  19. DRZinn

    DRZinn Member

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    Sounds interesting. You wouldn't happen to know where I could get my hands on a copy, would you?
     
  20. earthworm

    earthworm Member

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    I agree with wasrjoe:read 'For the New Intellectual' before you get swamped in 'Fountainhead' & 'Atlas Shrugged',& with Justin that the 'Fountainhead' movie is better than the book,altho "easier to understand" might be a better description.
    Rand's stated goal was "To provide a moral imperitive to capitalism",which she did by arguing that rational self-interest (not greed as she is often accused of advocating) is necessary to survival.One cannot be generous if one is destitute.
    I particularly liked Rand's definition of sacrifice:"Giving up what one values for what one does not",& her 'meaning of sex' from 'Atlas Shrugged'.
    Rand's philosophy is often attacked because of her personal life & I must agree that she was a tee-total bitch casting-out friends & associates that did not blindly agree with her & demanding that Nathanel Branded sleep with her while both Rand & Branden were married.However I never see socialism attacked because Marx lived high on the hog in Paris while his family died of starvation & tuberculosis in London,or communism denounced because Lenin was a womanizer & thief or Stalin was a mass murderer.
     
  21. St. Gunner

    St. Gunner Member

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    I'm the midst of my 7th trip through Atlas Shrugged, it isn't the easiest read in the world, but it is far from being a horrible novel. I've only digested Fountainhead three times so far, but it was my first Ayn Rand read. I had a friend the other day asking me to explain why I was as I was and I told her to go pick-up either book and read and then she'd understand... :) Alot of folks are intimidated by the size of the book, but she gives you enough detail to make you feel you are there.

    One of the worst reads I ever did was Homer's "The Odyssey" for a college class. People call that great literature, I say give me Rand anyday of the week.


    P95carry, That is one of the best quotes from the book.
     
  22. RaggedClaws

    RaggedClaws Member

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    I read The Fountainhead, We the Living, and Anthem in High School. I was enamored with her "philosophy" for a time, but I came out of the spell when I started taking real philosophy courses in college. In my opinion, for what it's worth, Ayn Rand is not a philosopher. A philosopher is one who "investigates the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods" (from The American Heritage Dictionary). Ms. Rand has a belief system, revolving around laissez-faire capitalism, which she tries to justify by sounding smart and summarizing Aristotle, but there are so many holes in her "reasoning". She never ties anything together or attempts to answer to criticism (and there's been tons of it).

    This may be true, though other philosophers have hypothesized that there's no way to even know whether objective reality exists since we are trapped in subjectively perceiving bodies. How does Ms. Rand answer this challenge? She doesn't. I guess we have to take it on faith (oh wait, she doesn't have any of that since it's not rational).
    Why exactly? Why is the pursuit of his own rational self-interest morally better than balancing the pursuit of rational self-interest with the interest of others? If you were late for a very important meeting and you saw a old woman with a cane fall into the street, would you stop and help her up, help her home even? Even if it made you miss your meeting? Where's the rational self-interest in helping the old lady? Which action do you think is more "moral" (stepping over her or helping her)? Something doesn't jive here.
    Hunh? Where does this come from? How the heck does this follow from accepting an objective reality? How does rational self-interest being the highest moral purpose of life follow from accepting an objective reality? They don't. Nothing is ever tied together. For someone that deifies reason, she's sorely lacking in formal logic.

    These sorts of criticisms are what push Rand into the "pop-philosophy" category. Her views are very alluring, especially to sheltered young people who haven't been exposed to many other views or actual fully-developed philosophical systems. I have absolutely no problem with someone who believes in laissez-faire capitalism as a social system, but I do have a problem with someone claiming their "philosophy" somehow proves it is the best system in the world when it clearly does nothing of the sort. Just my opinion.

    7 times??? :what: There are so many books in the world, you should check some of them out, since you obviously love to read (as do I).

    Please, flame on, but I'm just presenting my opinion. I am not a philosopher, nor did I stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night...
     
  23. BigG

    BigG Member

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    She has some worthwhile points, however she also uses a bushel of words where a few would do. I've seen Atlas Shrugged boiled down to one page, one side and it didn't lose much if any impact. :uhoh: JMTC :)
     
  24. publius

    publius Member

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    I almost never reread a book, but I've read Atlas Shrugged 3 times. I enjoy it, what can I say? Last time around, I did just skim over some of the long speeches.
     
  25. PaleRyder

    PaleRyder Member

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    I would have liked AS, but she kept saying the same things over and over and over.

    Although, I did not know her historical background at the time, so I can understand why she felt it was necessary.
     
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