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Refuting Ayn Rand, Part 1

October 17, 2012

It has been over 50 years since the publication of Ayn Rand’s best-selling novel, Atlas Shrugged. Rand has been rediscovered in the past few years with sales of her books climbing. Two of the three parts of a film trilogy based on Atlas Shrugged have reached theaters. One poll ranked the novel as second only to the Bible among influential books of the 20th Century.

Whether the films succeed commercially or not, a new generation is being exposed to Rand’s philosophy of self-interest as the highest good. Worse, Ayn Rand is developing a growing popularity with the Tea Party, NeoConservatives (NeoCons), and Conservatives, in general.

This essay is an attempt to expose the fallacies in Rand’s position, and warn that her pernicious philosophy is rapidly being translated into a dangerous political reality.

Pride:  A Skewed Viewpoint

From the outset, Rand appeals to the pride in her readers, few of whom would consider themselves anything less than exceptional. Since we all have a sin nature, i.e. a natural inclination to choose evil over good, pride is always a temptation. But pride always presents us with a skewed view of existence.

Rand assumes – erroneously – that men and women with exceptional ability somehow merited that quality which, in fact, was a free gift of God, bestowed for His purposes. Rand argues not only for a sense of superiority by those so blessed, but entitlement (that entitlement deriving solely from an accident of birth, if one does not choose to believe in a Divine Being).

Many of Rand’s supporters argue that she could not have meant what she said or advocated what she did; that “selfishness” as Rand used the term meant nothing more than being true to one’s own values; that, in her view, the challenge was to adopt rational values. These supporters would, themselves, include in such values a concern for those in need of help through no fault of their own. Rand, herself, never conceded that point.

Quite to the contrary:  Rand said what she believed, i.e. that “[i]f [people] place such things as friendship and family ties above their own productive work, yes, then they are immoral. Friendship, family life and human relationships are not primary in a man’s life. A man who places others first, above his own creative work, is an emotional parasite.”

Supermen

Ayn Rand makes the Nazi argument that there are “superior” men and women who owe it to themselves (and other such exalted beings) to advance their own interests, regardless of the impact of their actions on lesser beings. Rand couches this argument in lofty and seductive language about pursuing excellence and driving civilization ever upward.

Any restrictions lesser beings like the rest of us might place on those actions are merely interference, arising out of jealousy on our part. So she sees it.

But Rand’s supermen are not the comic book heroes of our childhood. They do not fight for truth, justice, and the American way. Truth for the supermen of Ayn Rand’s warped imagination is wholly subjective; justice without meaning, since it would require some degree of objective “fairness” even toward lesser beings; the “American way” grossly misinterpreted, its ideals abandoned, its logic twisted, and its language misappropriated.

Ayn Rand actually patterned John Galt, the hero of her novel, Atlas Shrugged, on a serial killer. William Hickman kidnapped, murdered, and dismembered a 12 year old girl named Marion Parker in 1927. Pieces of the child’s body were scattered throughout Los Angeles. Few would admire such heinous behavior. But Rand did.

In 1928, she began formulating a novel titled The Little Street with a hero, Danny Renahan, modeled on Hickman. Though that novel was never completed, Rand’s notes on the book were published posthumously in the Journals of Ayn Rand. She wrote about society’s revulsion toward the murderous Hickman:

“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…”

Rand praised Hickman for qualities that can only be termed sociopathic. “Other people do not exist for  him, and he does not see why they should.” Rand wrote that Hickman had “no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel ‘other people.’ ” This description parallels Rand’s portrayal of architect, Howard Roark, the hero of her novel, The Fountainhead.   She wrote of Roark:  “He was born without the ability to consider others.”

Rand scholars Jennifer Burns and Chris Sciabarra interpret Rand’s interest in Hickman as admiration of Nazi favorite, Friedrich Nietzsche, on her part. Michael Prescott in Romancing the Stone Cold Blooded Killer:  Ayn Rand and William Hickman goes further. He questions the sanity of anyone idolizing a sadistic child murderer.

Interestingly, the biography of Ayn Rand posted by the Ayn Rand Institute on its website makes no mention of her fascination with William Hickman.

Lesser Beings:  The Rest of Us

Many of Rand’s supporters mistake her for a champion of individuality. She is far from that. Rand advocates only for the superior few. By her estimate, the vast majority of mankind would, in effect, be relegated to a slave class. The Nazis, we know, subjected millions to slave labor under the most brutal of conditions.

Rand assumes what does not necessarily follow, i.e. that men and women without a talent or ability that can be quantified are necessarily inferior or lesser beings. This is not God’s view of the matter. In a spiritual sense, we are all equal. It is the equality of which the Founding Fathers spoke.

This is the very reason Christians value the unborn, aged, and infirm. How we treat the weak and those without a voice is a measure of our humanity…or lack thereof. It is worth remembering that when politicians and shock commentators like Bill Maher, Rush Limbaugh, or Glenn Beck toss around the Rand labels “producers” and “collectivism.”

Effort

Rand intentionally confuses the issue by pointing to the effort by talented men and women, as another illustration of their superiority.

Again, this reasoning is flawed. It proceeds backward from effect to cause.

The ability, the talent of these men and women was a condition precedent to their effort and ultimate success, not the reverse. The nation of their birth, their parentage, their wealth, their health and strength, their education, the color of their skin, the culture and economy that nurtured their rise, and the opportunities presented to them (even the opportunities this elite may believe they “made” for themselves) were, in a larger sense, gifts from God.

The list of such gifts is virtually endless.

The effort by men and women of exceptional ability should be applauded. It is perfectly acceptable that they benefit from it. No one is suggesting that men and women of ability support shirkers. That idea is a straw man Rand uses to raise ire, her aim being to undermine the quality she despises most:  compassion.

We will pick up our discussion next time with the subject of compassion.

READERS CAN FIND MY VIEWS ON ABUSE AND ABUSE-RELATED ISSUES AT ANNA WALDHERR A Voice Reclaimed, Surviving Child Abuse  http://www.avoicereclaimed

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