Perhaps it was fate that would compel my parents to bestow me with a name with initials that reverse those of Ayn Rand. I can attribute my smug satisfaction with this fact to my evolving opinion of Ayn Rand.
Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism,” as she referred to it, is a philosophy that has been widely accepted in the corporate world and in the far-right wing of the political spectrum. Many companies make Rand’s writings a required reading for all employees and the current vice presidential candidate for the Republicans (Paul Ryan) cites Ayn Rand as his inspiration in economics.
Yet the philosophy that Ayn Rand coined goes contrary to all previous advancement of the human race and reduces the importance of a cooperative society. Objectivism in its own name asserts its superiority over all other human perceptions. In the realm of ethics, Rand focused on the concept of rational self-interest. She made the argument that all human beings ought to work for their own self-interest first and foremost. In her opinion a man who loved others before himself would be considered immoral.
“If society is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.” -Ayn Rand
Rand’s heroic characters portrayed in her novels are entrepreneurs who climb their way to the top of their respective industries by hard work, tenacity and their disregard for other human beings’ dignity (though this last point is more muted than the first two). Both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are fiction novels that follow this pattern because an example of a person that achieves greatness without any help is a fictional concept.
Rand’s vision of an ideal society is one in which everyone is on their own and they are only limited by their own will to achieve. The problem with this vision is that it simply isn’t realistic. Firstly, Rand discounts the existence of people who have crippling disabilities such as those with severe autism or significant mental disorders. These people may have the greatest willpower, but their disabilities may make it impossible for them to achieve their dreams because of the advantages of the other people that are pursuing the same dream.
The second major flaw is that she doesn’t take into account the fact that people without limits will compete without rules. If employers didn’t have a minimum wage that they had to give, then they would give the lowest possible wage they could get away with while still retaining their employees.
But Rand is not concerned with these things, all she cares about is the idea that all people should work for themselves with disregard for other people, social norms, and even laws.
In The Fountainhead Rand’s “heroic” main character goes to the residence of a young woman and rapes her. Somehow Rand justifies this rape because, in the end, the woman accepted the man. This is easily the most straight-forward example of Rand’s greed-driven ideals. The idea that rape can be glorified as a man reaching his higher purpose is a dangerous one.
Rand’s writing is nothing special. Her main characters make you feel as miserable as J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caufield, but with none of the literary flare. He stories are long winded and over-detailed with many pages devoted to nothing but an attempt to make normal people look like a waste of breath while making entrepreneurs gods-among-men.
So why has her writing been so influential and popular?
Because her writing is a greedy, ambitious person’s excuse. Somewhere along the line some business-owner read Ayn Rand’s books and said, “Hey, I’ve always thought I was better than all my employees, now there is a book that establishes that I am right to think so!” Across the country employers make Rand’s books required readings for their employees. From the private sector to the public sector, Rand’s books are used like the divine rights of kings during the feudal era.
Expanding a business is no excuse for treating employees like cattle. The ends do not always justify the means in this world. Vicious ambition with disregard for human life around you is not holy. Yet Rand’s books attempt to establish all these things as true.
It is true that men generally act in their own self-interest, but it is also true that mankind would not be where it is today if cooperation was not part of the equation. Henry Ford revolutionized a industry, made his business lucrative and changed America by recognizing that he needed to treat his employees with respect. He realized that they all deserved a living that could buy them the products they were making. He knew that he would be nothing without the people below him. Every wise person is humble enough to recognize that they are nothing without help.
No matter how successful I become when I get older I won’t forget that the government invested in me, my parents invested in me and I got a lot of help along the way. Rand would have me discount all of that and claim that all that I am and hope to be is thanks to me. This is not accurate and would only give me a false sense of importance.
Greed may exist, but that doesn’t mean that it is good. Rand’s books have been used as an excuse by selfish people to do selfish things. As compelling as her argument may be, it is not enough for people to abandon cooperation in favor of greed. If her philosophy is to be accepted, it will be at the loss of progress in society.