The biggest authors, thinkers and philosophers, often commit the biggest mistakes. A vast section of their followers, ardent admirers suffer on account of such mistakes. Ayn Rand is a gifted novelist, but she is a half-baked philosopher. From an imperfect philosophy, perfect characters can not emerge.
The reason is not far to seek. Ayn Rand says, “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” Her assertion in the concluding part of the statement is not only fallacious, but it is dangerous. She is hundred percent wrong. It is her biggest undoing. When the foundation is weak, less said the better about the strength and durability of the superstructure.
Read many historical examples about the doomed mass- philosophies. Communism in Russia and Fascism in Germany are the recent ones. The Objectivism of Ayn Rand awaits the same fate. For a gifted writer, it is easy to pick controversial themes and achieve circulation-success. The same happened with Atlas Shrugged when it was published in 1957. It immediately established as a highly controversial literary work. Her arguments on any issues including justice are melodramic and unconvincing.
The character in the novel, Dagny Taggart, credited with three of sexual relationships, is supposed to be the epitome of love. Sacrifice has no value in her love-relationships. Lovers that deny the division between body and soul are the heroes/heroines in the novel and they are supposed to get justice and guide the emancipation for the female section of the society. Does Ayn Rand try to say that the more the sexual relationships, the merrier are the women? With that yardstick, a prostitute needs to be the most happy and progressive woman. While giving a strong idea to the society, an author needs to imagine the long term implications and consequences of that concept on various sections of the society. It is no use to pretend ignorance on this account.
“My most important job,” she wrote in a journal entry, “is the formulation of a rational morality of and for man, of and for his life, of and for this earth… I know that I am challenging the cultural tradition of two and a half thousand years…” With this statement Ayn Rand makes a frank admission of her limitations and shortcomings. Why ‘for this Earth’ only? Can’t she experience the beauty for the cosmic functioning? The Sun, Moon and the Galaxy of Stars! Why one? Hundreds of Ayn Rands are no challenge to the cultural traditions of humanity. Cultural traditions too have their own status—pertaining to reason and beyond the reason. Those who believe reason only as absolute possess poor understanding. The beauty of the real life begins, when one breaks the mind and reason barrier.
Moral inconsistencies and betrayals are on account of the pursuit of ideals that are irrational, consequently impractical. She is the enemy of traditions. Great and fundamental virtues like self-sacrifice, humility, faith are not necessary for human life and happiness according to her. This is the cause of horrible dilemma of men, she argues. She gives more marks to virtue than to happiness. While admitting about her passion for reason, her firm commitment to justice, her uncompromising defense of capitalism,-she needs to pose a question for herself—a sort of self-enquiry.
From where does the ability to think and achieve the productive capacity arrive? Why it is the not the same for all? Why Ayn Rand can only write novels like Atlas Shrugged, and not other thinking authors–the authors who also strongly believe in reason? Unless she is able to answer these fundamental justice-establishing questions, her writings can never sustain permanent value for human beings and the society. Time will teach her a lesson and to her half-baked philosophy.
Ayn Rand is crazy after reason and surprisingly she is the staunch defender of capitalism. Another great votary of reason, rationalism and materialism must be shifting in the grave, due to the utter doom of Communism in one country after another. Worship of reason seems to be one of the rare agreements between these two votaries of reason. Otherwise, philosophy of Rand and Marx’s do not see eye to eye with each other. Rather, they are the opposing and contending forces.
Ayn Rand dismisses the notion of the supernatural. That which is not practical is not moral to her. She expects that man should act perfectly on all occasions. Her code of morality is just for living on Earth. But when Ayan Rand says man, mind and body, consciousness and matter are indivisible—she in fact stands on the threshold of spirituality, without actually conceding it.
She also rejects the traditional work theory, ‘Do your duty; and do not ask for the reward.’ Work is no punishment; it is a source of pleasure and profit. It is one for self-interest and self-expression. Ultimate purpose of virtue is to secure personal happiness, according to her. She puts it in her cryptic style, “Man doesn’t live in order to work; he works in order to live.”
Wherever there is injustice, there is a victim who makes it possible. The rule of the brute exists because there is the man of reason. The opposing pairs do not work in tandem, jeopardizing the mutual interests. To Ayn Rand, each individual’s life and happiness is an end in itself. She strongly condemns the situation where one individual has to sacrifice his interests for the sake of group justice; obviously, she has a dig at the Communism.
Truly speaking, Ayn Rand is involved in the game of Musical Chair. She is spiritual; she is very much interested in creating a spiritual society, either without being aware of it or admitting it. She wishes and seeks justice for all segments of the society. Rand says, all social relationships must be based on reason, not force. She advocates the ban of force in the society. Fraud and threats of force are also variations of force according to her. Immediately she hastens to add that proper use of force in self-defense or to retaliate against the person who first initiated the use of force is perfect. She doesn’t spare the government as well. Force should be used to protect people’s rights and only for defensive purpose, she says.
Well said, but the question is how to achieve it. All mass philosophies have failed, and therefore, we need to revert to transforming the individual again. To achieve real happiness, the thought process of an individual has to change. And as the wise spiritual saying goes, when the thoughts are changed, the mind is changed; when the min d is changed, the man is changed; when the man is changed, the society is changed; when the society is changed, the nation is changed; when the nations change for the better, the world order will also change. But unfortunately, Ayn’s Rand’s reason can not change the world. Reason –PLUS, can only change the individual…
Before elaborating the issue of justice as advocated by Ayn Rand, one needs to review the construction part of the psyche of Ayn Rand. If the frog in the well has not seen the ocean, it is no fault of the ocean. To that frog, the well is the be all and end all of life. Ocean is an ‘unthinkable’ reality. During her high school, Ayn Rand observed from close range both the Kerensky revolution (she supported this) and in 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution, which she denounced. To be away from the scene of fighting, her family moved to the Crimea, and there she finished high school. When the Communists won, her father’s property was confiscated, and the family nearly starved. The American History which she read during the last year of the school fascinated her and she adopted that model. The systems in America are more justice-giving to human beings, according to her.
The experience of starvation must have created a deep impact on her impressionable mind, which reflected in the shaping of her philosophy. Her dispositions became tough. Conciliation was not part of her approach. She did not love the society and did not expect to be loved back. She reveled more in destruction than in construction. Her starvation time left scars on the inner layers of her personality. Therefore, one of her important characters in ‘Atlas Shrugged’ makes a curt statement, “I’m not interested in helping anybody. I want to make money.”(29)-Dagny Taggart.
Apart from the Church which has been doing what it has always been doing all over the world, for the inner reconstruction of an individual, no major philosopher has taken the American spiritual citadel by storm. Some intellectuals have created piece-meal impact. Her vision of man and her philosophy for living on earth have made a few dents here and there. Any philosophy that stops at the mind and reason level will face the insurmountable roadblocks ahead. Her thoughts may appeal to the combustible younger generation for some time. The roaming elephant, whose fodder is reason, is not aware of the deep trench ahead, where it will fall and the trench has no escape routes. Those who walk forward are admired. Those who walk backward are also admired for their skill—but they do not progress.
“Rationality is the recognition of the fact that nothing can alter the truth and nothing can take precedence over that act of perceiving it” says Ayn Rand. Undoubtedly so! But which truth she is referring to? Well, it is her individual truth; because she stops believing further to the mind level. Mind is the final frontier for her on this Planet Earth. The act of experiencing (entirely different from believing) the eternal truth is not a continuous process. Such an experience is instant, and one can experience that state, only when one crosses the mind-barrier.
Because reason is the terminal point of her philosophy, Ayn Rand fails in spite of her great strides in the world of literature. For the caravan marching behind her, it will be sand, sand, and sand dunes again, with no hope of oases!
- Bidinotto, Robert. Article: The Revolutionary Philosophy of Atlas Shrugged Excerpted from ‘The World of Atlas Shrugged,’ an audio recording. www.objectivistcenter.org/cth-22-1723-the_revolutionary_philosophy_of_atlas_shrugged.aspx – 54k