Ratarsed, why don't you read one of the novels? They're long, but easy reading. It would help you get an idea of her POV through the main characters. I'd like to read your opinion. If you decide to, post which one (Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead) and I'll pick up a copy and follow along. Maybe others would also be interested.
I've only read Rand's non-fiction books. (not all of them, either!)
Her basic philosophy is (OK, I guess I'll need to get Mike to put it in more technical terms) that the whole basis of a good life is the following things:
1 The use of reason 2 Rejection of religion 3 The government should do almost nothing or at least as little as is possible beyond protecting the citizens 4 America was founded on the ideals of the Enlightenment and any attempt to create a society based on religious values is not only irrational but almost certain to end in dictatorship 5 The greatest possible individual freedom, to the point where her 'egoism' - which she seriously argues is a moral 'good' as opposed to 'altruism' which she claims is evil - is more or less indistinguishable from personal selfishness and any attempts by government to regulate that should ONLY be made if and ONLY if one person's rights intrude upon those of other people.
I basically agree with point 1 and partly with points 3 and 4.
Point 2 depends on your attitude towards religion (Rand described it as 'mystic fantasy') and point 5 is not only crazy but completely at odds with almost every moral philosophy that has ever existed.
She has a lot of good ideas but she suffers from two fatal flaws.
In the first place, she can't see that the individual can't be the supreme and sovereign unit unless you're living on a desert island or something like that. As long as people live in societies where they have to interact, there has to be mutual give and take and any attempt at an egoistic philosophy only leads to the likes of Richard Ramirez taking control.
Secondly, she can't see that individuals - even acting together collectively - aren't generally strong enough to stop corporations and similar bodies from oppressing them which is where it's the job of government to step in and 'hold the ring.'
In many ways she has a lot of virtues. She quite rightly, for instance, draws attention to the fact that Herbert Hoover began the public works programmes that laid the foundations of the slow US economic recovery for which Roosevelt's New Deal is always given credit. Unfortunately, in her eyes that makes Hoover a socialist and his programmes bad ideas.
In mine it makes him a pioneer of modern economics and one of the most underrated Republican Presidents of all time.
Whatever else she is, Rand is NOT remotely near the same kind of ideology as Fascism, Nazism or Communism. She is basically a right-wing anarchist who hasn't quite got the courage of her convictions or perhaps the intellectual consistency to take the final step and BE a full-blown Stirnerite anarchist.
She would also hate, despise and campaign like mad AGAINST the lunatic neo-cons who are ruining the Republican Party. It's hard to believe that the party of Lincoln, Grant, McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Hoover, Dewey, Goldwater and Ford (also a very underrated President) has deteriorated into a theatre group straight out of a lunatic asylum.
McCain was so much better than the idiots he was forced to appease at the convention.
Goldwater, by the way, was probably the only Presidential nominee who tried to campaign on pretty much a Randist-type of programme.
Like Dewey, he would have been a very good (possibly even great) President.
Ayn Rand is full of challenging ideas and often makes you at least LOOK at the alternatives to your beliefs because she IS a good critic most of the time.
There's far more substance to her (and to the completely different but equally intellectual conservatives Russell Kirk and Peter Viereck. Both men are different class from William Buckley though even he is preferable to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Glen Beck!) than she's been given credit for.
People who only know her by her novels are missing out on one of the most interesting and original thinkers of the last fifty or sixty years.
Am I a fan? Not exactly, but I do think she's well worth a read, if only to challenge my own prejudices.
At least you can take her seriously which is more than you can say for Limbaugh, Coulter and Beck.
About Ayn Rand Novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand was born Alissa Rosenbaum on February 2, 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia. Her family lived in a large, comfortable apartment above the chemist shop owned by her father.
From her earliest years, the girl felt alienated from the dark, brooding atmosphere of Russia, but loved the bright world projected in stories appearing in foreign magazines. At age nine she made the conscious decision to become a writer.
In her teens, she discovered the works of great romantic writers such as Victor Hugo and Edmond Rostand. But as her private vision of human potential expanded, the social horizons of human possibility were shrinking around her. In February 1917 she witnessed the first shots of the Russian Revolution from her balcony. Soon, a communist gang nationalized her father’s shop. Almost overnight, her family was reduced to crushing poverty.
Against the growing squalor of Soviet life, the young woman nurtured a burning desire to abandon Russia for the West. She obtained a passport to visit relatives in Chicago, and left Russia and her family in January 1926, never to return. She arrived in New York City weeks later, with only $50 in her purse.
After a brief stay with her Chicago relatives – where she selected the pen name of Ayn Rand – she moved to Hollywood. The day after she arrived, she was given a car ride, and a job as a movie extra, by film director Cecil B. DeMille. Soon after, on the set of DeMille’s film King of Kings, she literally stumbled into the actor who would eventually become her husband, Frank O’Connor.
Over the next decade, Rand worked at odd jobs. In her spare time she mastered English, and churned out screenplays, short stories, and a novel. Her extraordinary perseverance and talent eventually paid off with two Broadway plays, and publication of her first novel, We The Living.
But the book that made her famous was The Fountainhead. Published in 1943, this great novel of American individualism presented Rand’s mature portrait of “Man as hero,” in the character of architect Howard Roark. Roark demands the right to design and build loyal only to his own ideals and principles. In his long struggle to succeed – a struggle not unlike Rand’s own – he eventually triumphs over every form of spiritual collectivism. This novel first presented Rand’s provocative morality of rational egoism, and later became a film starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. It has remained a bestseller for over half a century, selling millions of copies.
If The Fountainhead created controversy, Atlas Shrugged fomented a furor. In this gigantic Romantic epic, Rand dramatized the major elements of her challenging new philosophy of “reason, individualism, and capitalism,” which she called “Objectivism.” This novel was to be the capstone of her literary and philosophic career.
After publication of Atlas Shrugged in 1957, Rand turned to nonfiction, elaborating her philosophy in many essays, columns, and public appearances. Her colorful and tumultuous life ended on March 6, 1982 at her New York apartment.
But in the years since her death, interest in her ideas has only increased. Today, she and her philosophy are the focus of books, film documentaries, magazine and newspaper articles, and a growing intellectual movement of scholars, organizations, and publications.
It's been a long time since I've read her books and other material. The one novel I haven't read is Anthem, though it might possibly be the most interesting.
Trying to remember what about her ideas appealed to me so much, I suspect it was the glorification of individual accomplishment as opposed to productivity for the common good. That part was very easy to grasp; after all, it was a major part of the American ideal at the time (late '60s, early '70s), and it was certainly in opposition to the Russian way - from all as they can, to all as they need - it must have seemed rather wonderful to her.
Isn't this the same as the old, familiar, merit system, I doubt she saw it as greed and selfishness at all.
If she'd just been a total lunatic she wouldn't have had the influence she did.
In a way, when the so-called American right is dominated by intolerant fundamentalists from the Bible Belt who want to create a mirror image of the regimes in Iran and Somalia from a so-called Christian perspective, at least Rand needs respect for her fierce committment to reason, to freedom of speech and her total opposition to any element of religion being involved in the legal framework of the US.
I've been rereading a couple of Rand's books lately - one is significantly better than the other even though it includes the weird essay on racism - and I still have a lot of respect from her.
To begin with, she tries to be logical and argue on the basis of reason; secondly, she's totally against the 'thought-crime' nonsense of the political extremists of both left and right; thirdly, she's about as close to an anarchist as it's possible to get without being one which makes her libertarian views very necessary in a world where so-called conservatives in America are increasingly becoming so authoritarian that they might as well join Aryan Nations or the Communist Party for all the respect they have for the liberties guaranteed in the constitution.
Mike is rereading her book on epistemology which is a bit too tough for me and he'll post his own comments on it in a few days. He's said so far that she is an excellent arguer but that she often starts from false premisses and therefore her conclusions turn out wrong. He's said a lot else but some of it is almost beyond me (apparently it's Rand's most 'technical' book).
Lin, I used to think she was clear-eyed, brave and valiant - one of my heroes for a long time.
Then, I realized she was too black-white dogmatic, not enough gray in her scheme of things.
Apparently, the Russian revolution caused her family to lose the business from which they had, previous to that, earned a comfortable livelihood. I think she was at a very impressionable age when that happened, and it fed her obsession with personal achievement to the point that it morphed into a kind of decadent greed.
Logic is only a tool, not a complete form of reasoning. Totalitarian systems thrive on logic driven by emotions they won't admit and suppressing more unifying ones that get in their way. I'm always very wary of people who say they operate on pure reason, usually meaning 'pure logic' because underneath it is usually a fear of personal involvement and anything that might take that into account.
I think the psychology underlying her stated views and her personal life need to be taken into account. Then she sounds much more like rationalising a creed familiar enough to social Darwinists and criminals that life is a war of all against all and somebody has to come out on top. Rarely do such people have somebody else in mind. She reduces people to economic functions - as do most Industrial-based systems - where the personal 'animal' relationships and emotions are a hindrance.
I see life exactly the other way, where it is the personal that takes precedence, and all economic functions should be geared to allowing the greatest freedom to interact and relate to others as emotional (and 'spiritual') beings, not as commodities. I think that economic commitments should exist for and come from co-operation on a personal level for mutual benefit so I'll choose Trotsky over Rand any time and Gandhi over both.
Even my current identity had to find themselves working for mutual benefit to survive even though they would all originally have been quite happy to ditch the others and sell out to do their own thing!
It occurs to me that were we to put any credence in biblical prophecy, then Ayn Rand fulfills the image of the Antichrist perfectly. All she ultimately wants is to undo th whole of human civilisation and return us to the life of animals.