Ayn Rand was a fervent advocate of liberty and individual rights; her celebration of free trade and mutual interaction stems from her first hand experience, and escape from, the very nightmares of which she wrote. She was a woman who dared to challenge the male dominated tradition of philosophy, and refused to back down from her ideals and fought for values. Her celebration of the ego, contrary to her critic’s complaints of its adolescent appeal, is actually a necessary part of the individuation process. But her version of the hero myth does not include the individual’s re-integration into the community that is a hallmark of the classical monomyth; instead, the hero maintains his separateness. And it is possible that Rand absorbed a hidden element of fascism from the literature of her adopted country, hidden even from the storytellers themselves. And although Rand’s commitment to freedom can be demonstrated, there is a very strong risk that her work can be used against her. If Objectivists want to counter the claims of fascism, the paradoxes of Rand’s ideas will have to be confronted.
Here are a few bits of the detailed claim:
(It is telling that Rand, the dialectic thinker, creates a dichotomy between the hero and the community.) Although Rand’s heroes don’t necessarily “ride off into the sunset,” neither do they reintegrate themselves into the community. Kira is left lying dead in the snow in a failed attempt to escape, Roark rises above the city in a ‘heavenly’ ascent, and although Galt retreats to his Gulch, he plans to return to a world created in his image. There is enough similarity to make a connection, as many already have, (most notoriously the attack by Whittaker Chambers in the National Review’s take on Atlas Shrugged) that Objectivism does display a hint of fascism. It may be, if the “medium is the message,” and Jewett and Lawrence then are right, then, by choosing this subtle form of fascism, Rand may have inadvertently undercut her message of freedom and individuality.
Though Objectivists deny the many accusations that their philosophy is a form of Fascism since she did not believe in initiating force, and opposed the politics behind Fascist political regimes, there still may be a connection. The authors do not explicitly define fascism in their book, assuming that the reader is familiar with the term. But the definition of fascism goes deeper than its political connotations. Fascism is defined as bundling, or centralized power. Rand did not believe in a central government with absolute control over the state. And yet she is said to have exhibited authoritarian behavior in the Objectivist movement, where she had absolute control over her ideas, leaving her followers as mere “students of Objectivism.” Rand insisted that Objectivism was not a cult, and encouraged people to think for themselves. Still she is painted as a fascist. How can this be? Usually Rand is defended from criticism because of her assertions that her philosophy is based on reason. How could Objectivism be a cult? It is a philosophy of individualism. How can Objectivism be a religion? It is a philosophy of atheism. How can Ayn Rand be unrational? She based her philosophy on reason. How can a thinker who rebelled against coercion and tyranny project such a shadow? Jung believed that
“…[t]he Human being has a great capacity for self-deception and denial of shadow aspects. Even persons who are otherwise giants from a moral point of view can have gaping lacunae of character in certain areas. Religious and political leaders who become famous for their far-reaching moral vision and ethical sensitivity are often known to fall in the hole of acting out. Instinctual (for example, sexual) strivings and desires without much apparent awareness of the moral issues involved. Their acting-out may be conveniently compartmentalized and hidden away from their otherwise scrupulous moral awareness.” (18)
Perhaps in order to comprehend the accusations of fascism, it is necessary to look past the political dimension of her ideas and concentrate on what she considered absolute. Although other aspects of her philosophy have been analyzed, it is usually assumed and unquestioned that she was a defender of rationality. But did she truly understand rationality?
The author later speaks of “Rand’s fascist-like emphasis of reason as an absolute” — and attributes it to “her over-identification with the masculine at the expense of the so-called feminine qualities.”
The article as a whole is quite an amazing synthesis of the methods and claims of those false friends of Objectivism who undermine the philosophy while pretending to defend and advance it. Those wondering about the proper alternative ought to pick up a copy of Essays on Ayn Rand’s We the Living. It’s Objectivist scholarship as it might and ought to be — and as it is amongst many ARI scholars.
Update: Wowowow, now I wish that I’d presented some substantive argument, rather than merely mocking this article! Still, The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics effectively persuaded yet another honest man. Check out the update posted on the index page of the web site:
9/25/05 I have decided to remove the contents of this site in light of the arguments regarding the biographies of Nathaniel and Barbara Branden in James Valliant’s book THE PASSION OF AYN RAND’S CRITICS. Though much of my content was based on the overlap of Jung’s ideas in Rand’s fiction, my attempts to reconcile Rand’s alleged negative aspects (authoritarianism, dogmatism,etc.) with her stated beliefs through Jungian concepts of shadow projections and such were based on the claims of the Brandens. Even though I prefaced my thoughts with such qualifiers as “IF the Branden’s or Rand’s critics are correct,” the truth is that I accepted their accusations on the basis of their relationship with Rand. After reading Valliant’s book, I feel that without having firsthand knowledge of Ayn Rand’s character, it was irresponsible for me to speculate as I did. Without blindly taking Valliant’s side as gospel, I think it is only fair to acknowledge that without objective knowledge, that any criticisms of Rand based solely on the Brandens’s account should be reconsidered.
The author of the article — and this update — is Joe Maurone. Good work, Joe.