I’ve read a lot of her books: Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, Anthem, We The Living, and also a few of the non-fiction works.  I found them inspiring and they’ve had an influence on my life.  And…I think she is mostly wrong regarding what our relationship should be with other people (which is an extremely important question).

Her books are best thought of, not as philosophical statements, but as someone idealizing to the opposite of Lenin’s Russia after the Bolshevik revolution (which disrupted her previously bourgeois lifestyle).

Here are my thoughts on how Ayn Rand was mistaken:

She misunderstood human nature.  She left out compassion and love.

The heroes of her books are achievement oriented to a fault.  They do not help a fallen child (there are none written into the books); they do not reflect on their fortunate status as gifted individuals nor do they stop to consider how they can be of service to the rest of humanity unless it is through their own self-fulfillment.

Humans need each other.  We succeed together and fail alone. Love and compassion are our highest values; this is supported by the history of human philosophy/religion.  This question is often asked, especially when we are young (what is our obligation to others?)…however, the answer comes back the same each time:  We are all in this together.

People need help and it is our highest calling to serve  others if we are fortunate enough to do so.

There are no children in Rand’s books.  Any philosophy that fails to put that kind of love as central to interacting with people has missed the point.

She was elitest.

She wrote a book that might appeal to folks that are extremely gifted/powerful as it would give them a moral justification for what is, essentially,  megalomaniacal behavior.  (That is why her books are so popular with some, though certainly not all, CEOs and Wall Street types.  In the history of thought, there aren’t many philosophies that so deftly promote selfishness as a virtue.)

There is a particular passage in Atlas Shrugged where one of her heroes kills someone and it is glossed over as if it were just another sentence, because that is what she was promoting:  If you aren’t one of these prime movers then you don’t matter as much.

 You cannot derive a moral philosophy from reason.

The axioms must always be believed in.  Even in geometry you must essentially believe that two parallel lines never intersect.  If you don’t believe it, you can build up non-Euclidean geometry (which works as well).

Also, “you cannot derive an ought from an is”.  Objectivism, if it contributes something to the history of thought, contributes a re-examination of very basic premises…which is a neat thought experiment (even if it is wrong).

Rand uses the appeal to reason to give Objectivism a seemingly more objective basis.  It is the same though as other thought systems…not the same in a bad way, just the same in that all philosophical systems must start with basic premises…which need to be believed in.

 Achievement is not our noblest activity.

If Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, we wouldn’t all be sitting around in the dark.  Anything you do can be done by others.  It is a legitimate question to ask yourself if you want to be the one to do it; however, achievement is a by-product of other motivations, not an end in itself.

We stand on the shoulders of giants.  Rand writes about the achievements of her heroes as if they are a singular (can only be done by them), when really we are borrowing and learning from others that have come before us and adding a grain of sand to the mountain of human knowledge.

If there is anything to be had from achievement it is through what it offers to others in gaining it.  Achievement won’t fulfill the achiever, though how the achievement helps others might.

“Going Galt?”  I doubt it.

In Galt’s Gulch the “takers” of the world have asked for too much and the “makers” (her heroes)  secede from reality and move to Galt’s Gulch leaving the other 7 billion of us without our talented leaders.  What a complete miss on Rand’s part!

The prime movers (if there even are such people) of this world would never leave us, because they need us.  We enable their success, achievement and power.  They are only special in relation to us.  They would most certainly not secede from the world.  Rand misunderstands the psyche of the real world equivalent of her heroes.

Ayn Rand was a horrible economist.  She was dead wrong about the gold standard and laissez-faire capitalism.

Rand might, as a writer/philosopher, have been qualified to add good thought on human nature; however, she knew little to nothing about economics and was badly wrong on her glorification of the gold standard and laissez-faire capitalism.

The gold standard suffers from quantity issues, is subject to runs on the bank, prohibits flexibility in responding to crises/business cycle, can also be debased, and does not promote growth any better than other monetary systems (e.g. fiat money).  Economics, even as the dismal science, has settled this question.

And laissez-faire capitalism?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Do you want to eat food not cleared by the FDA (hello mad cow disease, e coli, etc.)?  Do you want an unregulated financial industry (that worked out great huh)?  Do you want privately owned roads (where would we be able to drive)?   What about a court system or police protection only accessible for those with money?  I could go on and on here; this is a TERRIBLE idea.

Government creates the playing field for the market economy that can often serve our needs.  The government is the market maker; if you leave it up to private industry to create something that benefits everyone….it does not work.

Everywhere in history you see a “market” you will see government.  To speak of  laissez-faire capitalism is largely just a thought experiment.

 So, there you go.  I think Ayn Rand was wrong about some very important issues, which makes discussion of her philosophy, except as a foil to something else, difficult for me to entertain.

There are some good things about Rand’s philosophy as well; I am just not going into them here because that isn’t the purpose of the post.  Maybe later.

One Response to “Why Ayn Rand was wrong”
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