Saturday, April 16, 2011

My Ambivalence Towards Ayn Rand

With the opening of the movie Atlas Shrugged this weekend, it seemed appropriate to discuss my personal feelings on the subject. I admit to some ambivalence towards Ayn Rand and Objectivism. I first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged when I was 13. I re-read the latter book at least two more times, so it had huge influence on me in my formative years. To this day, I view her works not so much as political tomes, but as a personal philosophy that happens to have political implications.

For myself, I lost belief in the religion of my upbringing and thought that through rationality and my own will, I could fashion the success in life I so deeply craved. And indeed I had a measure of success. I graduated high in my class with a physics degree, I had a career in the Navy, which saw fit to send me to graduate school. But I was never satisfied or joyous, nor was I treating those I loved well. It was only after admitting that my own behavior was the cause of these problems and that my own heart was not right, could I look for the answer. That answer was the person of Jesus, whose power allowed my heart to change, which changed everything else.

My complaint about objectivism is that it puts faith in the power of man to change him or herself. Further, it fails to adequately address the ultimate questions of one's purpose on this earth. Finally, it fails to acknowledge the spiritual life necessary to a sense of fulfillment. Further, Ayn Rand's personal story is a rebuke to her philosophy. Her affair with Nathaniel Branden wrecked his marriage and clearly deeply pained her husband. It is said of man that he is not so much a rational creature but a rationalizing one. But, Ayn Rand maintained that rationality was the highest virtue. Ultimately, she rationalized her affair on the flimsiest of excuses, that she desired it, and to hell with any obligation that accrued to marriage. Some would argue that I shouldn't criticize the philosophy due to the failings of the human being behind it. But I believe the criticism is valid, because it shows the weakness and blind spots in her work.

I have focused on the negative, because I believe that most of my readers are fans of the author. There is much to admire in what she wrote. She spoke truths that needed speaking. The fact that human progress is dependent on a highly talented minority, that government stifles both progress and the human spirit, that religion can be a tool of oppression and statism are all key issues that persist over 50 years after the publication of Atlas Shrugged. These truths persist and deserve opposition, and for that I am glad that Atlas Shrugged was made into a movie. Perhaps I just took it too seriously, but I can never be a wholehearted fan.


  1. B-Daddy, great write-up. There is a lot here upon which to comment, so I'll try to keep them short.

    Because I can, I've always made objectivity a bit more malleable than perhaps most objectivists would care for.

    Re: Salvation through Christ vs. your own being. Even if you decided to seek salvation through Christ that was your choice. You owned it lock, stock and barrel. And every day, even though you seek counsel and guidance from teachings and life of Christ, those decisions are your own and you blame no one else, Christ included, for any such negative consequences for your actions.

    It's all about ownership and whether you are a Christian or an atheist objectivist, from a political standpoint, you own the decsions you make as well as the consequences of those decisions.

  2. I give you points for even being able to read Rand. I can never get past page 15 or so. Something about her voice just leaves me drifting and unable to stay engages. A mortal sin amongst the like-minded, I know.

  3. Dean,
    Agree on the ownership issue, that is important. As a Christian I should never blame anyone else for my behavior, but I get the strength to make changes.

    Everyone has different affinities and talents. I could never do the great job of organizing that you do.