Video: The Depth of Ayn Rand’s Fictional Characters

Mar 082012

In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed the depth of Ayn Rand’s fictional characters. The question was:

Are the characters in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged flat due to philosophic consistency? I’m reading the novel currently, and rather enjoying it. However, I’ve heard many people claim her characters are flat, one-dimensional, etc. I usually respond to this by saying that Ayn Rand’s characters are the incarnation of her ideas, the physical embodiment of her ideas: an individual is consumed with this philosophy, so much so that they are entirely logically consistent (or at least as much as humanly possible, they are human, and do make mistakes, e.g. Rearden’s marriage), thus, because of their abnormally extensive logical consistency within their philosophy, these characters merely appear to be ‘one-dimensional’. Is this an accurate understanding of Rand’s characters?

My answer, in brief:

The criticism that Ayn Rand’s characters are flat is dead wrong, as is the response that they embody ideas.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

If you enjoy the video, please “like” it on YouTube and share it with friends via social media, forums, and e-mail! You can also throw a bit of extra love in our tip jar.

Join the next Philosophy in Action Webcast on Sunday at 8 am PT / 9 am MT / 10 am CT / 11 am ET at

In the meantime, Connect with Us via social media, e-mail, RSS feeds, and more. Check out the Webcast Archives, where you can listen to the full webcast or just selected questions from any past episode, and our my YouTube channel. And go to the Question Queue to submit and vote on questions for upcoming webcast episodes.

Clemson Institute: Summer Conference for Students

Feb 212012

Attention, students!

The Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism is happy to announce its sixth annual Summer Conference for Students, titled Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and the Moral Foundations of Capitalism. We’re accepting applications now. The conference will feature an in-depth analysis of Rand’s magnum opus and explore the following questions:
  • What is the moral basis for a free market?
  • How to individual rights function in a capitalist society?
  • What does the history of capitalism teach us about its moral basis?
  • How is Ayn Rand’s view of capitalism unique?

The conference features lectures by Craig Biddle, Eric Daniels, Richard Ebeling, and Andrew Bernstein as well as special guest to be announced soon.

The conference will take place on the Clemson University campus from May 24 – 28th. Scholarships are available to qualified undergraduate and graduate students, including housing, meals, and a travel stipend. For more information and to apply, visit the 2012 conference website or use the contact form. Testimony from conference alumni, video highlights, and an FAQ are also available.

The deadline to apply is March 1, 2012.

Here is the web site for the conference and the form to apply. It’s free, and travel stipends are available.

How To Celebrate Randsday in Three Easy Steps

Feb 022012

How to Celebrate Randsday in Three Easy Steps:

Step 1: Buy up all the delicious uncured bacon at the grocery store.
Step 2: Take it home.
Step 3: Go wild. (This may take a few days.)

Happily, Steps 1 and 2 eased the pain of seven (!!) hours of errands today! (Due to the impending blizzard, I had to mush all my errands into one day.) Plus, the bacon was on sale! Score!

Video: Ayn Rand’s Alleged Admiration for William Hickman

Oct 122011

In Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast, I discussed Ayn Rand alleged admiration for William Hickman. The question was:

Did Ayn Rand draw inspiration from the serial-killer William Hickman? I ask due to this article by Mark Ames on Alternet: “Ayn Rand, Hugely Popular Author and Inspiration to Right-Wing Leaders, Was a Big Admirer of Serial Killer.” According to the article, Rand idolized the serial killer William Hickman and used him as inspiration for the leads male characters in her books, notably Howard Roark. Also, Rand is said to seek an environment in which sociopaths like Hickman can thrive. Are these claims true or not? If so, would they affect the validity of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism?

Due to a hiccup in the internet, the beginning of the webcast recording for this question was missing. So I decided to re-record it. After a few painful trials, I was able to do so in one take, and then add some slides with the quotes in them. That took me a few extra hours, so if you think the video worthwhile, I’d be most grateful if you’d throw a bit of extra love in our tip jar.

Without further ado, here’s the video:

If you enjoy the video, please “like” it on YouTube and share it with friends in e-mail and social media! Also, all my webcast and other videos can be found on my YouTube channel.

The Trouble with First Things

Apr 212011

Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged saw a fitting spike in mindshare with the shift in our political landscape and the subsequent emergence of the Tea Party. Now with the release of the movie Atlas Shrugged: Part I, there is an even bigger spike in interest. So of course the knives are really coming out — not just from the Left, who see Rand’s rejection of collectivism as a signal she is on the Right, but from the Right who see Rand’s rejection of religion and altruism as odious as well.

The religious journal First Things just put out an article on Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand: “The Trouble with Ayn Rand“. Here’s a little taste of a big, wandering rant:

And, really, what can one say about Objectivism? It isn’t so much a philosophy as what someone who has never actually encountered philosophy imagines a philosophy might look like: good hard axiomatic absolutes, a bluff attitude of intellectual superiority, lots of simple atomic premises supposedly immune to doubt, immense and inflexible conclusions, and plenty of assertions about what is “rational” or “objective” or “real.” Oh, and of course an imposing brand name ending with an “-ism.” Rand was so eerily ignorant of all the interesting problems of ontology, epistemology, or logic that she believed she could construct an irrefutable system around a collection of simple maxims like “existence is identity” and “consciousness is identification,” all gathered from the damp fenlands between vacuous tautology and catastrophic category error. She was simply unaware that there were any genuine philosophical problems that could not be summarily solved by flatly proclaiming that this is objectivity, this is rational, this is scientific, in the peremptory tones of an Obersturmführer drilling his commandoes.

Since there weren’t that many comments yet, I chimed in with what is becoming almost a stock analysis:

There is a clear pattern in criticism of Ayn Rand, her novel Atlas Shrugged, and the philosophy of Objectivism: (1) Most critics opt for the ad-hominem route, calling Rand nasty names while trying to attack her character and painting those who do find merit in her philosophy as simpletons and sociopaths. A little investigation into the matter reveals that (2) the overwhelming majority of Rand’s critics haven’t bothered to acquaint themselves with what she actually advocated, much less why — and their level of vitriol often betrays their degree of ignorance. Finally, and most unfortunate of all, (3) on those rare occasions that Rand’s critics appear to take up her ideas, closer inspection invariably reveals that they are only knocking around a strawman and not genuinely addressing anything from her philosophy.

The present article only confirms this pattern. The ad-hominem flows as if a dam burst. And dire charges arrive in a barrage of assertions so consistently groundless that it would make any decent editor blush to have allowed it. Assertions about Rand’s supposedly atrociously horrible writings (which somehow endure as blockbusting bestsellers); about Rand having “no concept of” the existence and powers we do not give ourselves (when in fact this distinction between what she would call “the metaphysically-given” and “the man-made” is so fundamental to her thought that it plays a critical role throughout her philosophical system); about what Rand supposedly thinks “virtue” consists primarily in (when in fact the author is not merely mistaken, but categorically wrong about what Rand understood virtue to be); about what the “only important question” was to Rand (which anyone with a passing knowledge of her ethics would recognize as so wrong as to constitute an outright reversal of a cardinal virtue in her morality); her being “eerily ignorant of all the interesting problems in ontology, epistemology, or logic” (when ever-growing serious academic attention to her work in such areas doubly belies the author’s belligerent ignorance). On and on, you get the idea.

Did Ayn Rand Have Something Against Children?

Oct 192010

The new site Objectivist Answers has really taken off since its launch: it now has over 120 questions, over 230 answers, and countless comments and votes from a steady stream of visitors!

One of the questions is asked by “seehafer“:

Did Ayn Rand have something against children?

They aren’t mentioned, except in passing, in Atlas Shrugged.

Objectivist Answers user “rationaljenn” offers the following answer:

Though children did not figure prominently in any of her novels, that does not imply that Ayn Rand was hostile toward children or family.

Consider this passage from Atlas Shrugged, referring to two children being raised in the Gulch, by a woman who has chosen to move her family to a place so that she can raise her children as she wants to:

The recaptured sense of her [Dagny's] own childhood kept coming back to her whenever she met the two sons of the young woman who owned the bakery shop. . . . They did not have the look she had seen in the children of the outer world–a look of fear, half- secretive, half-sneering, the look of a child’s defense against an adult, the look of a being in the process of discovering that he is hearing lies and of learning to feel hatred. The two boys had the open, joyous, friendly confidence of kittens who do not expect to get hurt, they had an innocently natural, non-boastful sense of their own value and as innocent a trust in any stranger’s ability to recognize it, they had the eager curiosity that would venture anywhere with the certainty that life held nothing unworthy of or closed to discovery, and they looked as if, should they encounter malevolence, they would reject it contemptuously, not as dangerous, but as stupid, they would not accept it in bruised resignation as the law of existence.

When I think of how I want to raise my own children, I always think of creating an environment and parenting them in a way so that they can recognize their own value, and have the “open, joyous and friendly confidence of kittens” that these two fictional children described above possess. I think this passage shows Ayn Rand’s benevolence toward children and family. Though she did not choose to have children of her own (lots of people don’t!) and didn’t choose to write books about or for children (lots of authors don’t!), I have never viewed her as hostile to children and family.

For more on this subject, see my posts Mythbusting: Ayn Rand, Mommies and Children and More from Ayn Rand about Childhood.

If you liked that answer, please go vote for it to make it more visible to the world while sending rationaljenn some well-deserved OA “karma.” (And if you think she has missed something important, that’s fine too: you can add a comment to that effect, or contribute a whole new answer of your own!)

Objectivist Answers is an exciting new online resource where anybody can ask questions of Objectivists, and any Objectivist can answer! Please visit with your questions, answers, or both!

Ayn Rand on Auction

Jun 112010

An announcement perhaps of interest:

I’m writing to let you know that an original Ayn Rand manuscript will be up for auction at the Fine Books & Manuscripts Auction at Sotheby’s on Friday, June 18 at 10:00 AM.

This work is the first Ford Hall Forum speech, “The Intellectual Bankruptcy of Our Age,” all handwritten and extensively edited by Ayn Rand. Rand delivered the speech on March 26,1961, just two days after the publication of For the New Intellectual. The speech is 52 pages in length, and one of the most substantial Ayn Rand manuscripts at auction in many yea rs. The Sotheby’s estimate is $60,000 to 80,000.

This is a milestone for Ayn Rand, since it is the first time an original Rand work will auctioned at Sotheby’s. They are also seeing considerable interest after it was featured in the Sotheby’s “At Auction” publication earlier this month.

Details on the auction are here.

Turn to pages 114-115 of the pdf to examine several pages.

Interested bidders need to register in advance.

The manuscript will displayed at Sotheby’s during the week prior to the auction, opening Saturday, June 12 at 10 AM and closing Thursday, June 17 at 1 PM:

Saturday June 12: 10 AM – 5 PM
Sunday June 13: 1 PM – 5 PM
Monday June 14: 10 AM – 5 PM
Tuesday June 15: 10 AM – 5 PM
Wednesday June 16: 10 AM – 5 PM
Thursday June 17: 10 AM – 1 PM

Robert Mayhew Reviews Jennifer Burns

Dec 112009

Dr. Robert Mayhew reviews Jennifer Burns’ new book Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right in the latest issue of The Objective Standard

Regarding the book, Mayhew writes:

What readers might have expected–what such a book could have been–is a presentation of the development of Ayn Rand’s political thought and its basis in her more fundamental philosophy, a history of her political activities and interactions with others on the right explained largely in terms of her philosophy, and a discussion of how she compares to others on the right in terms of essentials. The successful execution of such a project would not require agreement with Rand’s philosophy or political views; but it would require at least a basic understanding of, and interest in, her philosophical fundamentals and her arguments for her political ideas. Burns, however, has no grasp of or interest in Rand’s philosophical ideas or arguments, and chose to write a different sort of biography.

Mayhew then details a variety of major problems with the book stemming from that lack of serious interest in and understanding of Ayn Rand’s ideas. Go read the whole thing for free.

Ayn Rand on The Daily Show

Oct 162009

Last night, Jennifer Burns — author of the new book Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right — was interviewed on The Daily Show. Honestly, I was expecting something awful, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Jennifer Burns
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor  

The interview was remarkably good until Jon Stewart said, “it’s almost as if [Ayn Rand] would have a totalitarian state of individualists.” Sigh. However, that was the worst of it. Stewart was seriously interested in the right’s appropriation of Ayn Rand when convenient, then ignoring other ideas like her atheism. (I’m glad he pointed that out!) In attempting to critique the philosophy as elitist, Stewart said, “Objectivism works really well for extraordinary people.” While Objectivism is not elitist — and Burns did a reasonably good job of defending Ayn Rand against that charge — that strikes me as praising with faint damnation. At least, it’s great PR. If more extraordinary people read Ayn Rand and become advocates of her ideas, I won’t complain!

More of all though, Jon Stewart took Ayn Rand seriously — far more so than I expected. He knew something about her ideas, and he did not treat her as an object of ridicule.

Consider this near-final exchange:

Stewart: “[Ayn Rand was] an incredibly impressive person. Sheer force of will to drive this entire framework. But in some ways, her body of work is a refutation of the society that she wants. Because I don’t think everyone, no matter what, could attain and accomplish what she did.”

Burns: “Right, well she was creating ideals, things to aspire to. That’s really what people take from her — this vision of ‘I can be the hero of my own life. I can aspire to be like John Galt or Howard Roark or Dagny Taggart.’ That’s what she wanted.

Stewart: She wrote “The Secret”!

Burns: “She sort of did. There is a lot of self-help and spiritual energy in these books, and a lot of people take that from her.”

Stewart: “And a lot of dirty, dirty, dirty sex.”

Burns: “This is true.”

Stewart (slyly): “Oh, I’ve read.”

That’s the kind of interview that will intrigue people about Ayn Rand’s ideas. Given what might have happened in that interview, I count it as a huge win.

The New Biographies of Ayn Rand

Oct 062009

As you might know, two new biographies of Ayn Rand are on the horizon. Or rather, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right by Jennifer Burns is just now available, while Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne Heller will be released later this month. I’d like to read them both, but I’m not sure when I’ll be able to find the time. Particularly in light of the wild popularity of Ayn Rand at present, I’d love to see knowledgeable Objectivists read and comment on these books — praising and criticizing them as they deserve.

Happily, Ari Armstrong recently wrote a lengthy blog post on the introduction in Jennifer Burns’ book, particularly on some misunderstandings that Burns seems to have about Ayn Rand’s ideas. He was kind enough to allow me to reproduce it in its entirety here:

Jennifer Burns, a history professor with the University of Virginia, has a new book out called Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right. I don’t have time to review the entire book at this time, so for now I’ll merely make a few notes about Burns’s introduction.

The first thing to note about Burns’s book is that it is a thoroughly researched, scholarly book. It was published by Oxford University Press, among the most respected academic publishers in the world. Burns includes an eight-page “Essay on Sources” (pp. 291-298). Her notes consume another 45 pages, and her bibliography takes another fifteen pages. Clearly she’s worked hard on it.

Unfortunately, Burns seems to have a superficial understanding of some of Rand’s main ideas. However exhaustive her historical research, Burns is not likely to shed as much light on Rand as she might with a better understanding of what Rand was about. I’ll address a few quotations from Burns’s introduction in the order they appear. Please note that my purpose here is to point out some of Burns’s missteps, so I don’t review the great lines from the introduction. And of course I readily acknowledge that Burns may fill in some of the needed context further in her book. Again, this is only a first and limited take.

“Ideas were the only thing that truly mattered, [Rand] believed, both in a person’s life and in the course of history,” Burns writes (p. 1).

Rand certainly believed that one’s explicit and implicit ideas basically set the course of one’s life, and that similarly the dominant ideas of a culture basically set the course of a society. Yet Burns overstates the point. One’s friends, one’s romantic love, one’s career — these are not ideas, they are values. And they are of central importance to a person’s life. Ultimately, for Rand, the entire point of developing sound ideas is to help us achieve the values we need to live successfully. Burns’s comment on the point is not wildly misleading, but neither is it a careful summary of Rand’s beliefs.

On the second page, Burns writes:

Along with her most avid fans, she saw herself as a genius who transcended time. Like her creation Howard Roark, Rand believed, “I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one.” … The only philosopher she acknowledged as an influence was Aristotle. Beyond his works, Rand insisted that she was unaffected by external influences or ideas. According to Rand and her latter-day followers, Objectivism sprang, Athena-like, fully formed from the brow of its creator.

While again Burns’s comments reveal grains of truth, on the whole they mislead. Rand correctly thought that she made important and original contributions to philosophy. But the notion that she thought she “transcended time” in the sense intended is silliness. She thought no such thing. All Burns is doing here is parroting unfounded smears she’s heard others make.

Now, there is a sense in which Rand saw any authentic, consistent creator as timeless. Steven Mallory says of The Fountainhead’s Howard Roark:

I often think that he’s the only one of us who’s achieved immortality. I don’t mean in the sense of fame and I don’t mean that he won’t die some day. But he’s living it. I think he’s what the conception really means. You know how people long to be eternal. But they die with every day that passes. When you meet them, they’re not what you met last. In any given hour, they kill some part of themselves. They change, they deny, they contradict – and they call it growth. At the end there’s nothing left, nothing unreversed or unbetrayed; as if there had never been an entity, only a succession of adjectives fading in and out on an unformed mass. How do they expect a permanence which they have never held for a single moment? But Howard -– one can imagine him existing forever. (page 452 of the small paperback)

However, we should also remember here that Roark purposefully entered the tutelage of architect Henry Cameron, and Rand herself found inspiration for the novel in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Rand makes a similar comment regarding her own literary timelessness in her introduction to The Fountainhead. She quotes Victor Hugo: “If a writer wrote merely for his time, I would have to break my pen and throw it away.” She writes that Romantic art “deals, not with the random trivia of the day, but with the timeless, fundamental, universal problems and values of human existence.” Rand then paraphrases Aristotle that art properly concerns itself “not with things as they are, but with things as they might be and ought to be.” Notice here that, in a single page, Rand acknowledges three of her influences, Aristotle, Hugo, and the Romantic school generally.

What of Roark’s comment that he inherited nothing? It is useful here to consider the context of that quote. Roark has just been kicked out of architecture school. The dean of the school is trying to talk (what he regards as) sense into Roark. The dean says (page 24), “Nothing has ever been invented by one man in architecture. The proper creative process is a slow, gradual, anonymous, collective one, in which each man collaborates with all the others and subordinates himself to the standards of the majority.”

To this, Roark replies, “But the best is a matter of standards — and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of a new one.”

Here Roark is saying that, rather than subordinate one’s judgment to the standards of the majority, one should develop and stand on one’s own judgment. He is further saying that, in architecture, he does not wish to follow in any established architectural tradition, but rather create buildings of his own, unique and fitted to their site. Notably, by this time, Roark has already found inspiration in the work of Cameron, who holds similar views on the importance of independent judgment.

If we wish to adapt Roark’s insight to the realm of philosophy, we can say that one should not just blindly follow in some philosophical tradition just for the sake of belonging to that school. But, if by one’s own judgment, one finds value in the insight of some school, then obviously one should integrate that insight into one’s body of knowledge. Roark happily learned from the engineering tradition and adapted that knowledge to his own work.

The mere fact that Roark says he might “stand at the beginning of a new” tradition shows that Roark has nothing against tradition per se. In philosophy I can learn from Rand and other philosophers in the same way that in architecture Roark learned from Cameron and his engineering professors.

What about Burns’s claim that the “only philosopher she acknowledged as an influence was Aristotle?” This has better grounding: in her “About the Author” note for Atlas Shrugged, Rand writes, “The only philosophical debt I can acknowledge is to Aristotle.” Rand particularly praises Aristotle’s “definition of the laws of logic and of the means of human knowledge.” However, it is important to understand just how profoundly important Rand thought Aristotle was. Rand also appreciated and learned from thinkers like Aquinas, Locke, and Thomas Jefferson — whom she counted as essentially in the Aristotelean line. So, by acknowledging a debt to Aristotle, Rand is not cutting herself off from all subsequent thinkers; she is acknowledging Aristotle’s influence on those thinkers.

Notably, Burns here overlooks Rand’s further acknowledgment in the next paragraph to her husband, Frank O’Connor.

Beyond the realm of philosophy, Rand acknowledged the American movies of her childhood, the economist Ludwig von Mises, the authors Hugo and Dostoevsky, and many others. In her introduction to The Fountainhead, Rand blasts Nietzsche’s ideas but finds value in him “as a poet” who “projects at times (not consistently) a magnificent feeling for man’s greatness.”

Is Burns correct that Rand thought of herself as a genius? She denied it when her student and heir Leonard Peikoff called her a genius. Peikoff recounts her words on page 350 of The Voice of Reason: “My distinctive attribute is not genius, but intellectual honesty.” In answer to Peikoff’s persistence, Rand added, “One can’t look at oneself that way. No one can say: ‘Ah me! the genius of the ages.’ My perspective as a creator has to be not ‘How great I am’ but ‘How true this idea is and how clear, if only men were honest enough to face the truth.’”

Granting Rand’s penchant for dramatic statements, Burns’s talk about Rand thinking she was a genius who “transcended time” is, in the sense intended, untrue.

Next consider a strange paragraph from Burns on page 3:

[Rand's] indictment of altruism, social welfare, and service to others sprang from her belief that these ideals underlay Communism [etc.] … Rand’s solution, characteristically, was extreme: to eliminate all virtues that could possibly be used in the service of totalitarianism. It was also simplistic. If Rand’s great strength as a thinker was to grasp interrelated underlying principles and weave them into an impenetrable logical edifice, it was also her greatest weakness. In her effort to find a unifying cause for all the trauma and bloodshed of the twentieth century, Rand was attempting the impossible.

But what is simplistic here is Burns’s reading of Rand. First simply notice Burns’s bias: she presumes at the outset that Rand’s entire approach is basically wrong (“extreme,” “simplistic,” “impossible”). But Burns doesn’t really illuminate Rand’s basic approach. To begin with, we must know what Rand meant by “altruism” — and what she thought about mutually beneficial human relationships — to get any idea of where Rand was headed.

The deeper point is that altruism is an ethical doctrine (growing from certain metaphysical premises), and as such it is much broader than any political system. For instance, the altruism that Roark fights in The Fountainhead lies outside of the political system. Similarly, the altruism enacted at the manufacturing plant in Starnesville in Atlas Shrugged arises outside of any political program. While certainly Rand saw altruism as a central driving force of any collectivist political system, she attacked altruism (which she saw as inherently self-sacrificial) broadly, not merely as it pertained to politics.

Certainly Rand was influenced by her childhood experiences in Russia. But Rand’s moral theories are not merely a product of her personal experiences or the historical era in which she lived, as Burns seems to suggest. Rand’s unique moral theory of ethical egoism must be evaluated on its own terms as philosophy, not blithely dismissed as some rationalistic coping mechanism for childhood trauma.

Next, on the same page, Burns writes, “… Rand advanced a deeply negative portrait of government action. In her work, the state is always a destroyer, acting to frustrate and inhibit the natural ingenuity and drive of individuals.”

Burns’s statement here is simply false. Rand advanced a deeply positive portrait of government action that protects individual rights. She loudly praised the Founding Fathers of the United States. She vociferously denounced the anarchism of Murray Rothbard. She wrote an essay titled “The Nature of Government” in which she passionately defended the need of a rights-protecting government.

True, of her three main novels, two are set in periods in which the government has become corrupt and thus antagonistic to the requirements of human life. Yet Atlas Shrugged also features Judge Naragansett, who justly oversees the courtroom and studies constitutional law. In the Fountainhead, Roark’s enemy is not a government bureaucrat but rather villains out to destroy his reputation and career. In the end Roark is vindicated by the government-run court.

On page 5, Burns writes, “Although [Rand] preached unfettered individualism, the story I tell is one of Rand in relationship…” This statement misrepresents Rand’s theory of individualism, which has nothing to do with being a loner or avoiding relationships. Indeed, Rand’s works are filled with deep friendships, passionate romances, and respectful business alliances. By individualism Rand means that the individual is the fundamental basis of moral value, not to be sacrificed to the collective. This sort of individualism incorporates healthy relationships with others.

Burns also writes, “For all her fealty to reason, Rand was a woman subject to powerful, even overwhelming emotions.” But “fealty to reason,” despite the common stereotypes of Star Trek, does not imply that one is cut off from emotion or experiences muted emotions. Indeed, Rand believed that only a devotion to reason as the means of cognition can give rise to a life of passion and joy. I think Burns’s point here is that Rand could sometimes let her emotions get the best of her. Having watched some of her interviews, I agree that Rand could have a fiery temper. (While I share that tendency, I’m trying to overcome it.) But that’s a different issue than whether “fealty to reason” conflicts with “powerful emotions.”

Burns writes onto page 6 about Rand’s system: “… Objectivism as a philosophy left no room for elaboration, extension, or interpetation…” Yet Burns’s own bibliography disproves her statement here.

Burns correctly suggests that the social group surrounding Rand, led by the vicious and deceitful Nathaniel Branden, grew strange, unfriendly, and stultifying. I suppose that Rand would acknowledge as her greatest mistake getting tanged up with that catastrophe. The tendency Burns describes was deeply unfortunate. But it did not define Rand’s broader social relations or her ideas. Thus, Burns is unfair to claim that Rand’s “system” was “oppressive to individual variety.” (And Rand did not advocate variety as such, but variety in the context of an individual’s rational goals.)

Burns reveals her fundamental misunderstanding of Rand in the closing sentence of her introduction, which posits a “clash between [Rand's] romantic and rational sides.” If Burns had any serious understanding of Rand’s ideas, she would understand that no such clash is possible. Rand made some mistakes, but Burns doesn’t capture their nature here.

If the introduction to her book is any indicator, Burns may have captured many important details about Rand’s life, but she doesn’t capture Rand the woman or the thinker.

Thank you, Ari!

Home | Live Webcast | Archives | Blog | Question Queue | Connect | Support Us | About Us
Copyright 2012 Diana Hsieh | Email | Twitter | Facebook | Blog
Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha