Was Ayn Rand Really a Genius?

Provocative title, no?  Got your attention anyway.

Before we get any further, I want to let you know that my aim is not to offend.  I’ve read several of her books and enjoyed them well enough (although I will admit to being much more of a Tolkeiniac).  However, if you are a “true believer” in her “philosophy” I really recommend that you read a little more philosophy and biology and, maybe, get over yourself a little.  But, really, I’m more in awe of the results of her writing than anything else.  That’s why while I don’t consider her a philosopher and think that following the prescriptions in her books leads to destruction and misery (for all even, maybe especially, “Gault” – a funny – though not “ha, ha” funny aside, interesting how many “Gauliacs” are feeding at the public trough), that she was one of the important people of the 20th century.  Her, Schmitt, Hyack all put a gloss on selfishness and lying that truly was/is indicative of the age.  Unbelievably destructive (and really against our natures as social animals) but popular in times of change and fear.

Let’s start with a definition of terms.  I’ve found that’s usually the main cause of disagreements.  People associate different values (either quantitative or qualitative) to a term and assume that others associate the same value to the term.  So, let’s be careful here.  As you may have been able to tell, I don’t think much of Ayn Rand’s “philosophy”, but merely saying that she sold a bunch of juvenile drivel as a “philosophy” is to assume that’s what her goal was: to be a “serious philosopher”.  I contend that wasn’t her goal.

Think about her.  Her writing reflects, accurately, I think, a bitter dispossessed spoiled rich girl with a daddy complex.  So, why was she a genius?  She had the ability to recognize this and to make it work for her.  Made it work for her in a couple of interesting ways.  She got money, fame, sycophants, power, and revenge.  Was she a genius as a philosopher? No, of course not.  But, she wrote some simplistic books designed to feed on bookish (her format), hard working (length), members of the in-crowd (white males), who feel alienated (her “characters” are “great men who are taken advantage of by “lessers”). By using these books, she became the grand dame of a circle that came to worship and fuck her (not metaphorically, but actually and physically – check out her biography, pretty wild) and take over and destroy the world financial system.

I am not contending that the destruction of the financial system was her goal, I don’t think that she cared about the result of the adoption of her stories.  No, I think that was the result of people actually taking her seriously and following her advice.  Her goal, or result anyway, was to feed the ego of the white boys and get love, money, and fuck over the commies.  I don’t think that she was able to view the result of the adoption of her stories by the financial “elite”.  I could well be wrong.  I may not be giving her enough credit.  Maybe she knew that following the advice that her books gave would lead to destruction, maybe it was another final way that she could fuck over the men she used.  I don’t really know enough about her to make that decisions, and I’m not interested enough to learn enough about her to get there.  But, it is interesting to watch her greatest disciple and sycophant and fuck-buddy (literally) twisting in the wind in the ruins of the destruction that he wrought.  What is hysterical (and what shows the amazing power of the mind not to accept what it doesn’t want to learn) is that the people who are designed to be made to feel better by her books are still unable to learn anything and are still “going Gault”.

By these books, she was able to attain her goals (revenge on the proletariat who took away her “right” to her daddy’s rich Russian existence, money, fame, accollates (see Alan Greenspan), and weird sex.  Pretty fucking genius to recognize what would turn on disgruntled white boys who, while not super-geniuses (or at least not very self-aware), were smart enough to get ahead, and hard working enough as well and feed them some drivel and keep it going for generations.

She is sometimes compared to Tolkein because they both appealed to a similar group: somewhat alienated white male teens.  But, Rand was much more of a genius.  Tolkein merely updated, and told fairly well, the types of stories that have been popular with people for thousands of years.  You can see homages to Beowulf and other stories throughout his stories as well as the basic battles with good and evil.  Rand, though, appeals not to the near universal good/evil, hero ethos, but rather to a sense of entitlement and superiority that has rarely been tapped in such “popular” fora.  Christ, they made Hollywood movies of her stuff within years of publication.  It took half a century for Tolkein to really make it to the silver screen and Beowulf hasn’t (successfully) yet.

No, Ayn Rand was the result of the 20th century as well as one of it’s most important and destructive figures.  Not bad for a nasty spoiled rich girl.

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3 responses to “Was Ayn Rand Really a Genius?

  1. Let me start by picking nits. You may want to check your spelling; you misspelled Galt, Hayek, Smith. You also intimate that Rand had sex with Greenspan. She did not – the acolyte she slept with was Nathaniel Branden, who later became one of the leading founders of the self-esteem movement. For what it’s worth, she disagreed vehemently with Hayek on a number of issues, most pointedly on the issue of altruism.

    While I agree with you that adoption of her philosophy would be extremely bad for society, I disagree with you on why that is. For starters, Greenspan went against most of the financial ideas that Rand suggested merely by taking the job as Chairman of the Federal Reserve – she advocated laissez-faire capitalism, meaning there should be no governmental involvement at all in the economy, especially by an entity as powerful as the fed. She was also an ardent fan of the gold standard. All in all, it wasn’t the fact that Greenspan followed her prescriptions that led to our current financial situation, we managed that on our own. Following Rand’s philosophy would lead us to a different rung of hell, one that sees everything as black or white and one that lacks compassion.

    • Thank you very much for your response! I really wasn’t expecting anyone to read this. I’d written it for my 250 words a day writing blog and then decided to put it over here. Forgot that people got notice about posts.

      Thank you for the spelling corrections. Details (and spelling) are clearly not my strong suit. I did misspell Galt and Hayek, but I was referring to Carl Schmitt. So, I think that I spelled it right, but didn’t actually mean him, but Leo Strauss. More, a little later by what I meant in lumping this disparate group together.

      About the sex thing. I’d thought, and maybe I’d read too much into things, that Rand used sex or the temptation or hint of sex as a tool among her circle. I didn’t mean that they did it (though I could have said so and if so, I apologize) but that the circle was controlled to some extent by the promise of sex. Not that it’s necessarily wrong, but that gets, I think, to the ruthlessness of the characters.

      By throwing these disparate people together, I think that I was trying to get at something that I hadn’t really thought through, but as I do, I think that there might be some small bit of truth in it.

      I think that in their daily lives, people do not adhere to any one particular philosophy. People behave as they feel compelled/want to behave and either later or an outsider ascribes a philosophy or way of being to their actions. Even people who claim to adhere to a particular philosophy often have to go through contortions to attempt to get their actions within their stated way of being (look at how judges often struggle to mask results-oriented jurisprudence into some legal justification).

      At different historical time, different ethos’ become more dominant or more persuasive or more obvious. It’s not that these ideas don’t always exist or that people don’t always use them or follow them or feel that they are the truth. But at different times, different sets of ideas become the norm.

      These ideas need not be entirely intellectually consistent, indeed, they never (?) are. These ideas are also not the only ideas in the air at whatever time we think about, but they seem to carry the most weight at a time. They are the ideas that politicians are able to use to convince the people, they are the ideas that to a large extent are “obvious” at that time. Since people aren’t philosophically consistent in their lives, it seems true that societies need not be either.

      I think that the ideas that are “obvious” to a large extent in the minds of the powerful in the USA (I’m not sure to what extent they are outside the USA) are drawn from threads represented by Rand, Hayek, and Strauss. The anti-altruism, unthinking adherence to the market above all logic or evidence, and abuse of information seem to me to encapsulate the dominant vision in our society. I used Rand, Hayek, and Schmitt (meaning Strauss) as a shorthand for what I should have thought through.

      Still, while I think that what she stood for is really bad and dangerous, I think that Rand played a huge part (as both a popularizer and a molder of individual future movers and shakers) in the acceptance of the selfishness of today. She was clearly not alone and it’s a bit of a chicken and the egg thing. As society changes and gets bigger we know those we help less. We get scared as things change and get jealous when we are asked to help someone we don’t know. She saw to feed on that. Add that to the American mythology of rugged individualism that was especially revived in the mid-20th century in popular culture (pulp and movies and comics) and you begin to pull it together.

      I understand that Rand saw that Greenspan working for the government was a betrayal, but I had always thought that he felt that he was “undercover” trying to bring it down from within. If I’m wrong, it’s good to learn that. Was he merely a market never makes a mistake believer? Although I can’t imagine that anyone can think that who has looked at the history of the bubbles.

      Maybe, thought they are too afraid to say it out loud, that the frequent bubbles and crashes and, therefore, market irrationality are a good thing demonstrating what? Market rationality through the irrationality of crowds? The increased opportunity available when the financial world is decimated? Don’t know, don’t understand.

      Really just trying to make sense of what I see. Of the celebration of selfishness and dislike (to put it mildly of others) is just disconcerting. I see threads of this throughout history and I just thought that the three I mentioned played a large part in mid-century America to make that ethos as important as it is.

      Thank you.

  2. One of the reasons this post jumped out at me on Facebook is that I became a libertarian through Ayn Rand over 30 years ago and just within the past year came to the realization that I no longer ‘believed,’ so much of what you are saying makes sense to me, especially when you talk about the contortions people go through. You could even see it among Rand’s followers, as both sides of the Objectivist schism supported Obama during the last presidential election. 🙂

    My break came over the issues of health care reform (I’m in favor of German-style universal health care) and global warming (I think it’s real), as well as thinkers like Stephen Pinker, who note that Libertarians look much more like liberals than like conservatives on most measures, EXCEPT those that have anything to do with compassion, on which libertarians are lower than liberals AND conservatives…. “libertarianism essentially amounts to is the political expression of autism.”

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