Consequentialism, Left-libertarianism

Ayn Rand Thinks Rich People are Evil

Well a good number of them anyway.  Allow me to explain…

In response to a recent Facebook status of mine that quoted Rand, one commenter expressed his surprise that someone associated with bleeding heart libertarianism would have anything nice to say about Rand.  Aside from the fact that many of us were heavily influenced by Rand at younger ages (one day, I’ll tell you about little Matty Zwolinski in 1995…), there remain things of value in her work even if one finds major pieces of her system to be highly flawed.  For example, I find the idea of “the sanction of the victim” to be a really powerful piece of social-psychological analysis that is useful for understanding my own choices and those of others.

One of the other valuable pieces of Rand’s work is also one of the most frequently misunderstood by her critics.  And it’s misunderstood in a way that paints her to be more of an enemy of the BHL concern with the least well off than she actually was.

This misunderstanding was on display Sunday night on an episode of the otherwise excellent TV show The Good Wife.  The lead character is a lawyer working with a very conservative businessman.  In the course of a conversation about why he, as part of the 1%, feels so embattled, he asks her if she’s read Rand.  The lead’s response was something like:  “Have you actually read her books?   A guy blows up a building and the rich go on strike?  It’s like a 12 year old’s vision of the universe.”  I leave aside for the moment whether the writers believe that themselves, or believe that’s how a liberal professional would interpret Rand.  The point is that the character’s summary of Atlas Shrugged as being about “the rich” going on strike is a line of argument frequently found among public intellectuals being critical of Rand.  More generally, the view is that Rand supposedly loved the rich and hated the poor, and that Atlas Shrugged is a story of the rich as Nietzschean heroes who should be freed to save the world from the mooching poor and middle class.

This, of course, is simply wrong.  It’s not “the rich” who go on strike, but the producers. The good and evil divide for Rand is not between rich and poor, but between producers and takers.  There is no remotely plausible reading of Atlas Shrugged where the “1%” are unambiguously heroes and where everyone else is a “moocher.”   One can simply list off various characters who don’t fit this reading.  Most obvious is John Galt himself.  None of the descriptions of him that Rand offers suggest that he is rich.  Comfortable?  Yes.  But rich?  Nope.  Francisco D’Anconia and Hank Rearden are arguably rich, but Hugh Akston?  He doesn’t seem to be particularly so.  On the other side of the ledger we have Jim Taggart.  Clearly rich, but clearly a villain.   Wesley Mouch has clearly done well for himself and is arguably rich, as are many of the other villains who associate with him.  They are the ones attending the fancy parties and living the high life while the producers are, for the most part, out running railroads, extracting oil, and inventing new useful metals.

Rand’s portrayal of the middle class and poor also does not fit the caricature offered by the critics.  The most obvious case is Eddie Willers, Dagny’s right-hand man.  He is clearly portrayed as a good guy, but he is also clearly a very middle-class, hard-working administrator.  For Rand, the fact that he’s not a producer at the level of Dagny or Hank, or that he hasn’t made himself rich, are not reasons to treat him as a “moocher.”  What matters to Rand are his values:  Eddie understands that it is morally superior to produce than to take, and he has a deep integrity about his work and his life that is more important to Rand than is his ability to produce or his wealth.  Even if he is incapable of producing value to the degree Dagny does, he is still capable of producing other kinds (and amounts) of value and refusing to live off that produced by others.  It is worth noting Rand’s implicit understanding of how comparative advantage enables markets to reward anyone who is capable of producing positive value for others, regardless of their intelligence or physical strength.  What matters are their values, and there are plenty of other minor characters in the book who are people of high integrity and good values, yet modest abilities.  They are morally praiseworthy for Rand, even though they aren’t rich.

By contrast, there a number of minor characters who are explicitly noted as wealthy but also treated as villains.  Consider the famous train tunnel scene, where the doomed Comet heads toward disaster and Rand catalogues the intellectual “sins” of those about to die, suggesting they somehow deserve it.  I don’t wish to argue whether their deaths are somehow deserved, but I do wish to point that among the “bad guys” on the Comet are:  a newspaper publisher, a businessman who acquired his business through a government program, a financier who “made a fortune” manipulating regulations, and a man who had inherited a fortune “and who had kept repeating, ‘Why should Rearden be the only one permitted to manufacture Rearden Metal?'”  These are the evil rich.  There are also people of modest means on the train who are portrayed as morally wrong, not because they are of modest means, but because of their values.  Again, I don’t wish to debate the ethical theory here.  The issue is only is that there are plenty of characters in the novel who are rich but seen as evil, and poor folks who are seen as good.  (There are also rich bad guys in The Fountainhead, but that’s for another day.)

What the (usually leftist) critics of the book are missing in their simplification of the “good rich and evil poor” is that Rand understood the difference between a genuinely free market and what is now known as “crony capitalism.” The latter defines both the world of both the novel and early 21st century western economies.  Many of the wealthy bad guys, as the Comet scene illustrates, were rent-seekers and crony capitalists.  They were people whose wealth was not acquired as a payment for value created for consumers (i.e., the 99%), but as redistribution of property taken from others.  In some cases, they acquired wealth through their connections with political functionaries, which has no necessary connection with having produced anything of value.  Rand’s chapter on “The Aristocracy of Pull” is an outstanding representation of this sort of crony capitalism and the problems it causes for the people it purports to help.  It is also an excellent implicit primer on public choice theory.

Understanding that Rand is not arguing that rich people are always morally good and that poor people are either morally evil or lacking morality has important implications for bleeding heart libertarians.  It is tempting for BHL types to engage in wholesale rejection of Rand, but I don’t think we should.  Criticisms of crony capitalism is one of the places where we might look to work with our friends on the left.  Many on the left happily use their Apple products to engage in political organization and protest, and perhaps they are just fine with the wealth accumulated by Steve Jobs and others because they implicitly understand the value-for-value involved. If, as they claim, they really do object to crony capitalism and a world where bankers, auto executives, and other members of the 1% earn their incomes not through the production of value and the exchange of that value with the 99%, but rather through political privilege and connection, then that is a place to start a conversation. It’s also a place, we might point out, that is consistent with the message so powerfully portrayed in Atlas Shrugged.

My point is not to turn leftist critics of crony capitalism into fans of Rand.  Rather it’s simply to point out that 1)  the “rich=good; poor=evil” reading of Rand is wrong on the facts of what is in the novel; 2) the relevant moral distinction is between “producers” and “takers,” each of whom might be rich or poor depending on other circumstances; and 3) when read correctly, Atlas Shrugged is an extended criticism of the sort of “crony capitalism” that characterizes the current US political economy.  Rand is arguing against unearned political privileges, and arguments against unearned privilege are often found on the left.  If all of the above is correct, then leftists should, at the very least, get their facts straight and stop arguing the novel says something it doesn’t.  Beyond that, actually reading the novel (which I suspect not all of the critics have) might cause them to agree with aspects of it, to the extent their complaints about the 1% really are based on their use of political privilege and connections to enhance their wealth at the expense of the 99% rather than their wealth per se.

The parallels between the world of Atlas Shrugged and the US today are part of what has brought it back into intellectual discussion in the last few years.  Libertarians are not talking about it because we wish to defend the wealth of all of the 1%.  Rather we see in all of the current crony capitalism exactly the sort of issues that the novel raises:  people are getting and staying rich through privilege and connections, creating the aristocracy of pull Rand warned about.  For bleeding heart libertarians this is a real problem. Rand’s distinction between wealth created by production in a free market and wealth acquired (not produced!) through political privilege is one that matters because the former creates (often unintended) benefits for the least well-off, while the latter does not. Rand’s distinction also enables BHL types to both avoid the problem of so-called “vulgar libertarian” and conservative defenses of the status quo, and provides us with a more radical critique of the status quo that might resonate with our friends on the left.  Rand gives us reasons to criticize wealth earned by taking value from others rather than producing it for them, and that can be the basis for a very powerful criticism of sectors of corporate America and many among the 1%.

The effectiveness of the novel remains the way in which she puts largely correct political economy into narrative form to illustrate powerfully the undesirable unintended consequences of bad ideas and bad institutions. BHLers can take what’s good in that and highlight that many of those undesirable consequences fall on the least well-off.  Once we get the right reading of Atlas Shrugged on the table, we can enlist the good elements of Rand the novelist in the BHL project even if we think Rand the philosopher is not worth our time.

[Edited to clarify the “man who inherited a fortune” reference with the exact quote.]

  • This is more clearly spelled out in Rand’s nonfiction. Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal is a good place to start

  • Cory Massimino

    Awesome stuff Steve. Definitely one of the more frustrating straw mans I see all the time. However her work as a philosopher IS worth our time! 😀

  • TheBrett

    Rand’s chapter on “The Aristocracy of Pull” is an outstanding
    representation of this sort of crony capitalism and the problems it
    causes for the people it purports to help. It is also an excellent
    implicit primer on public choice theory.

    Reading it, you also get the impression that Rand might have been feeling her way towards something like Darren Acemoglu’s concept of “extractive” states vs “inclusive” states, although I haven’t read enough of her other works to get a feel for that. I think D’Anconia mentions at some point in it that looters who establish their dominance through guns and force tend to face being overthrown by other looters, which is what ultimately does happen in the end-game when everything is falling apart.

    There’s a lot I still don’t like about that book, but I always find it fascinating how Rand flips some of the ideology she’s criticizing. The producers – Galt, Rearden, Dagny Taggart – are valuable because of the labor and thought they invest in their work, and the ultimate value of what they create comes from that and what others are willing to give them for it. Without Hank Rearden, his steel mills are ultimately just another pile of scrap. It’s very much a “labor”-centered theory of value, except that she’s including the labor of producers, management, and entrepreneurs.

    Even if he is incapable of producing value to the degree Dagny does, he
    is still capable of producing other kinds (and amounts) of value and
    refusing to live off that produced by others.

    That does raise an issue with how you measure his value. Is the value he creates equal to what Taggart Transcontinental chooses to pay him? If he took a 30% pay-cut while still doing the same amount of work, did his value change?

    • adrianratnapala

      Re the labour theory of value, like Marx, Rand saw the goal of human existence as taking raw matter and applying reason to it in order to transform it. But both Marx and Adam Smith had some idea that value was roughly proportional to hours of useful work. Rand would have dismissed the notion.

      Re Eddie’s pay: I have no idea what it might have been. But it need not have had much to do with supply-demand. Dagny leaned on him and would have been willing to pay him huge amounts of Taggart money except that she would have been offended if she thought his pay demands were taking the piss. For his part Eddie would have been mortified at the thought of taking the piss and thus perhaps demanded less than he was worth.

      • TheBrett

        That was my point on Eddie, though – how do you measure the value such a person would create? It’s easier to get a rough guess of the value of, say, Henry Rearden, since Rearden Steel wouldn’t exist without him.

        • adrianratnapala

          My opinion, and I suspect Rand would have agreed, is that this is a non-issue. Dangy and Eddie found they were able to provide value to each other, and freely went ahead and did so. The details of who gave what and how much of that was money are epiphenomena.

          I say that shows how subjective value is. Rand would have used the word objective to mean much the same thing: the two parties were of objective — that is real — value to each other.

          • John Dawson

            Read the first chapter of Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.

          • adrianratnapala

            Thank you for this recommendation, I have started on it. It is much better than her short form non-fiction. I haven’t yet got to anything relevant to a theory of value though.

      • Theresa Klein

        I can’t remember whether Eddie Willers was more of a personal assistant or a vice-president of operations, but in today’s economy, either way he’d probably be getting a six figure salary.

  • Aeon Skoble

    Right on, Steve. You’re correct that most people who criticize her are mostly unfamiliar with what she’s saying. Indeed, this is a case in point: some large number of people now have Alicia Florrick as the source of their view that Rand loves the rich and hates the poor, and indeed their only source on Rand. (Quibble: It’s too generous by half to think that writers of the show get Rand, and are deliberately making Alicia spout caricatures to satirize progressive professionals. That reading would only be plausible if later in the episode she realizes she’s had it all wrong. More plausible is that the writers are guilty of exactly the error Alicia makes.) Rand is plainly and unambiguously critical of crony capitalism, and her praise of the c-word is always and only for actual free markets and laissez-faire, not the bailouts/too-big-to-fail/protectionist/subsidies regime we have now, which is sometimes referred to by the same c-word. While I think some folks in the movement overrate her, the fact of the matter is that the majority vastly underrate her. And the relentless caricatures of her are part of the reason. (See also: Dirty Dancing)

    • Aeon Skoble

      Also: The Fountainhead is even more unflattering in its portrayl of the rich, almost all of whom are horrible, where most of the integrity is found in artists and tradesmen, only a handful rich people. And in We the Living, the hero, Kira, is nothing remotely like rich. “Rand valorizes rich people” = “I don’t know what I’m talking about so you need not take anything I am saying about her at all seriously.”

      • jdkolassa

        I guess I’lll have to read those two; Atlas was just too much for me.

        • Les Kyle Nearhood

          Jeremy, Atlas was poorly written, The Fountainhead is better but still a bit preachy, We the Living though, is partly autobiographical and it is by far her best writing. The people seem real and not constructs as in some other books.

          • JohnDonohue

            You do understand, I hope, that the style of the AS deliberately rejects naturalism and the typical slice of life that constitutes modern fiction? Rand did this on purpose. As such, it is brilliantly written.

          • jdkolassa


          • JohnDonohue

            Nope you don’t understand it?

          • jdkolassa

            Nope it is not brilliantly written. It is painfully bad.

          • JohnDonohue

            For you. Also, I am aware, for many other opinion-givers over the years. Meanwhile, for millions, it is ravishingly expressed, startlingly plotted and a lifetime-inspiring masterpiece.
            Thank you for sharing, anyway.

          • jdkolassa

            Well, art and taste are subjective, after all…

          • Aeon Skoble

            Then stop saying “it’s painfully bad” – just say “I didn’t like it” or “that style of fiction is not to my liking.”

          • jdkolassa

            I fail to see how saying “It is painfully bad” is somehow wrong. I mean, it is my opinion, is it not? I am free to voice my opinion, am I not?

            And seriously, come on dude. It’s like running over the wake up strips on the side of the thruway.

          • Sean II

            Old friend, I have to take sides against you here.

            Bryan Caplan said it very well a long time ago: if you compare Rand to the genre of her choice – namely, big romantic and Russian epic novels – she is at least a major talent and arguably a superior one.

            If that’s not your thing…if, say, you prefer naturalism or post-whateverism laced with irony…then obviously you’re not going to like her. But it would be the height of Randian arrogance to confuse that bit of personal taste with an objective verdict from the gods of drama.

            I mean, I don’t like Baroque oil paintings. Something to do with the way they remind me of the decor inside a tacky, 1970s five-star steakhouse. But even with that, you won’t catch me saying: “You know that guy Caravaggio? Yeah, well fuck that artless hack!”

          • good_in_theory

            Rand’s writing is shitty regardless of which genre you compare it against.

          • Sean II

            I finally figured out what’s changed in your trolling style. You used to thrown down some pretty elaborate provocations of the kind that, you know, actually provoked and required thought.

            Lately your comments feel like down-votes with words. A few more steps in this direction and you’ll just be typing “is not” or “is so” as the situation requires.

            (Take note, JD. If my disagreement fails to move you, perhaps GiT’s agreement will!)

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Have some sympathy, my man. The life of a troll is very hard, living under bridges, scavenging for food, wearing rags, etc. I think this is finally getting him down.

          • good_in_theory

            When there’s something worth provoking thought and elaboration, I’ll elaborate. Haven’t seen much in the way of that recently. And really, what’s there to say about Rand’s crappy writing? I read Anthem and Fountainhead; I started Atlas Shrugged. But then you get a few pages in and realize you’ve just trudged through the Fountainhead and this isn’t going to get any better so you use it as a doorstop.

          • Bruce Dalcher

            Ah. So you have NOT read Atlas Shrugged (beyond “a few pages”), yet want to insist on the validity of your opinion? GONG!
            Perhaps you’d like to support your “crappy writing” claim with some evidence, such as examples and analysis.

          • Tom von Mises

            Given your adolescent comment, you might look in the mirror…

          • good_in_theory

            Look in the mirror to see what? The quality of my literary prose? I wasn’t aware I was presenting a novel.

          • jdkolassa

            I love all these guys coming to defend Rand’s fiction as if it is the fruit of the gods while I, saying I don’t find her stuff to be good, is somehow guilty of “Randian arrogance.”

            You can’t make this shit up.

          • Sean II

            C’mon, man. Two comments down you yourself can be found pointing out that art is subjective. And so it is, to a certain extent (i.e. art’s not entirely subjective – even people who don’t like Paths of Glory will tell you that it’s a better film than Attack of the Clones…but to say the opposite is clearly absurd).

            But if you know that, and if you can say here that art is subjective, then why insist Rand is “painfully bad” as if it were some plain matter of fact?

          • Bongstar420

            Objectivists have official “objecetively better” art.


          • Puzzled

            Umhm. Rand admired Hugo. I’ll take Les Mis over AS any day. Similarly, I find it rather laughable to argue that AS is artistically superior to Anna Karenina or The Brothers Karamazov.

          • Tom von Mises

            Really? Read “Romantic Manifesto”.

            Sound’s like you fallen for the current BS analysis of modern literature.

          • jdkolassa

            Art is subjective and always has been. Rand was wrong on this issue as she was on others.

          • Tom von Mises

            It’s written a high literature. If you can’t grasp it, that’s your problem.

          • jdkolassa

            If “high literature” means wooden dialogue, overly long prose, and characters who are less, well, *characters*, and more just stand-ins for her own mouth, than yes, I can’t grasp it.

          • Bongstar420

            I read Science magazine for fun. I seriously doubt that my distaste for her work has to do with a lack of ability or desire to understand.

        • Bongstar420

          Why didn’t she produce any science?

          That is the only stuff worth reading

    • Sean II

      Right on to both you and Steve. Being able to sanely and soberly engage with Rand is an important test, and most members of the chattering class fail it. As an institution, nearly the whole of academia fails it. Hell, even a good half of the residents and denizens here fail that test.

      Among libertarians, you see a lot of this:

      a) Right or wrong, the Dirty Dancing interpretation is out there.

      b) If I fight that, I’ll probably lose and be taken for a crazy man.

      c) But I don’t fight it maybe people won’t hate me, and maybe that’s really the best thing I can do for reason and freedom, after all.

      After a few years of practice, this often leads to:

      d) Just to be safe, I better go out of my way to be the first and worst when it comes to trashing that crazy Russian bitch.

    • Bongstar420

      Since when does free market capitalism value anything above capital?

    • Ted_Levy

      The counter-argument is not that the writers “get Rand”, Aeon. The counter-argument is that they keep their character true to her modern liberal beliefs, independent of their own views (which we don’t know) as writers. It IS true that they do NOT show her client, the wealthy businessman, as a bad person. It IS true they show her suffering the same fate of having one’s position misunderstood and distorted by journalists. Steve is correct that Rand is grossly misunderstood by today’s culture. But perhaps it’s also true that–maybe as result–many of us can be a tad defensive, even when it’s not necessary.

      Do you think Diane’s husband, the gun expert and strong second amendment defender, is portrayed as lampoonish, or is that the fate of her overly judgmental friends who can’t believe she’d marry such a person?

  • AP²

    I’ve never read any of Rand’s works, but forums about Objectivism all around the Internet have fans of her work lamenting the end given to Eddie Willers, how he’s cast out from the rest of the “good people”. That doesn’t fit with your description that what matters are his values.

    Not that this contradicts the main point, of course.

    • Guest

      The consensus on the fate of Eddie Willers is that he is an example of an unfortunate victim of the the failed state created by the takers. Sometimes no matter how virtuous you are, you can still fall to evil forces.

      • Theresa Klein

        I’ve heard it argued that Eddie is really who the audience is meant to identify with. We’re not supposed to think of ourselves as the Galts and Taggarts. We’re supposed to be the honest responsible middle-class who are going to get screwed when the system collapses.
        Example: People who bought a house they could afford before the housing crisis.

        • Aeon Skoble

          Disagree. That’s the “Dirty Dancing” misread. We’re supposed to look at the heroic characters as aspirational. Her protagonists are supposed to represent what is best in humanity, so we’re supposed to be striving for that. We can choose integrity and use it to achieve. It’s not that we all have to be Dagny (or Roark), think of the guy cooking the burgers – what matters is that you don’t seek the unearned and live via rationality and integrity. The heroic characters embody _that_, and that’s what we’re supposed to aspiring to.

          • Bongstar420

            The best thing a person could do is blow up all “their stuff” (company assets) because you arn’t what they want? At least the current overlords are reasonable enough to not actually nuke the planet because we are ingrates in their perception.

        • Tom von Mises

          Quite so; she wasn’t writing a ‘fair tale’.

    • adrianratnapala

      Eddie Willers’ fate is a beautiful piece of operatic tragedy, and is one of the things that makes Atlas Shrugged such a good dramatic novel. And like all really good tragedy its disturbing.

      A perfectly good reading of it is that people like Eddie are the real victims of statism. The unusually gifted, like Dagny and her boyfriends, can rise above the world to find the good life among themselves, but Eddie was pathetically helpless.

      That reading is possible, but it is at odds with Rand’s philosophical hatred of pity. She cannot invite the reader to pity Eddie, and so she makes him a mad fool and the villain of his own story — even though he is heroic in everyone else’s stories.

      • Theresa Klein

        I like to think that if there was a sequel to Atlas Shrugged, and the Galt’s Gulch people eventually reemerge to reconstruct civilization, people like Eddie Willers would be the first ones they let back in.

  • Ted_Levy

    Well, I think slightly more must be said than Steve’s brief dismissal of an important issue with “I leave aside for the moment whether the writers believe that themselves, or believe that’s how a liberal professional would interpret Rand.”

    When analyzing what fictional characters say you have to take the whole story’s plot into account. The businessman saying one should read Rand was being falsely maligned for firing someone who was gay. He was portrayed as a man able to come back from adversity and create a second fortune after losing his first. He was not portrayed as evil or corrupt or unintelligent. He was portrayed as speaking what he saw as the truth in a blunt and politically unfashionable manner. This created problems for Alicia in court, and you saw her frustrations about a guy who doesn’t “get it.” The Rand comments fit into that. Yet by story’s end, we find Alicia herself, the prototypical liberal, being upended and misinterpreted badly and uncharitably for her statements misinterpreted as racist. In other words, she saw first hand the problems the businessman faced.

    So if you just want to use a recent mention of Rand on a popular TV show as a jumping off point for an attack on the popular misunderstanding of Rand by today’s pundits, fine. There’s much to be said on that, and you’ve said it well. But I believe you do an injustice to the context in which this was presented in The Good Wife.

    • Steven Horwitz

      I wasn’t dismissing it. It simply wasn’t central to my argument, so I left it aside. Those are two different things.

      • Ted_Levy

        Well, I appreciate the difference, Steve. But you were the one who chose The Good Wife as a jumping off point. Obviously you were well aware of contemporary pundits’ misunderstanding of Rand prior to Sunday night.

        If there were a passage in Atlas Shrugged where Kip Chalmers made a passionate argument for increasing the minimum wage and you used that as a jumping off point to attack misunderstandings about the effects of the minimum wage, you’d be correct that many pundits misunderstand it. But even by implication, even though it wasn’t central to your argument, it would be wrong to suggest Rand didn’t understand minimum wage law effects. She put the words of support in the mouth of a villainous character! My point here is not that the writer/producer duo that created The Good Wife have a deep appreciation of Rand. Merely that nothing in your piece would justify the implication they don’t understand her.

        To re-iterate my conclusion above: “if you just want to use a recent mention of Rand on a popular TV show as a jumping off point for an attack on the popular misunderstanding of Rand by today’s pundits, fine. There’s much to be said on that, and you’ve said it well.”

    • Bongstar420

      Find me actual people to talk about. Fiction is fiction

  • jdkolassa

    I honestly think Rand is a better philosopher than novelist. Reading *Atlas Shrugged*, for me, is like slamming my head against a concrete wall a dozen times in six minutes. It hurts. I prefer her nonfiction, especially “The Virtue of Selfishness” and “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.”

    That said, I’m glad for this post, not only because I can “use” it “against” lefties, but also because it shows me how Objectivism and BHL can work together, which is something that I’m interested in. (I’ve always wondered if “Bleeding Heart Objectivists” exist…)

    • Aeon Skoble

      Funny, for me it’s the other way around.

      • jdkolassa

        Well, I’m more of a sci fi writer than a philosopher, so that may have something to do with it.

    • adrianratnapala

      Like Aeon, I find it the other way around. As a philosopher she is slippery, and has no logical rigour. She just asserts her opinions boldly and moves on the the next assertion, giving only vague impression of a logical connection. It’s all the worse because she deifies Reason. It all leaves the faint impression that she wasn’t clever enough to notice her own love of Unreason.

      Some are repelled from her novels because she is so very angry and disdainful of almost everything. That’s an excellent reason to dislike the novels. But if you can get over that, and just take is part of the scenery, then the novels turn into cracking good yarns.

      • jdkolassa

        Well, I suppose I should say that I find her nonfiction books more tolerable to read than her fiction. *Atlas Shrugged* is far too long, with cardboard cutouts instead of characters, horribly dry dialogue, and just turgid prose all around. *Anthem* was a really bad book, almost worse than *Atlas*. Her fiction is terrible.

        • adrianratnapala

          All I can do is scratch my head.

          • jdkolassa

            To each his own, I suppose…but seriously, *Anthem* and *Atlas* are things I just cannot stand.

        • Aeon Skoble

          YMMV. I disagree with all of that.

          • Jeff Riggenbach

            And for the first time in recorded history, I agree with you, Aeon.

      • JohnDonohue

        Do you subscribe to Ayn Rand’s metaphysical axioms?

        • adrianratnapala

          I had to look them up just now. “Existence exists” and “Conciousness perceives existnce” seem harmless enough. “An existent in itself” seems might be OK, is more probably an Aristotlean folly. The real problem is that she can’t go from her Axioms to anywhere else by a logical path.

          • JohnDonohue

            Her axioms stand at the root. They do not need, in and of themselves, to “go anywhere.” Obversely, however, all reasoning, both inductive and deductive, must not contradict them, when carried back to the root or forward to deeper matters.

  • Alexander R. Cohen

    This is a good takedown of one of the most popular myths about Ayn Rand. That and other myths are addressed in The Atlas Society’s book “Myths about Ayn Rand.”

    For those interested in exploring Rand further, and learning why Rand the philosopher is very much worth your time, I encourage you to come to the Atlas Summit. We do offer student scholarships, and some may still be available.

  • The left’s entire edifice crumbles if the rich are broken into two groups: Today’s Entrepreneurs and Yesterday’s (their children).

    Note Jack Ma of Alibaba plainly calling Piketty an idiot:—break-ups-common-2014-13

    We see it again with Oculus Rift:

    No Libertarian runs from Rand.

    • Damien S.

      ‘The left’s entire edifice crumbles if the rich are broken into two
      groups: Today’s Entrepreneurs and Yesterday’s (their children).’

      Yesterday or Tomorrow?

      And yes, if you assume things that aren’t true, then various theories based on reality would crumble. But it’s absurd — idiotic, even — to say all rich people are the result solely of honest entrepreneurship.

      • Jack Ma is today’s entrepreneur.

        Tomorrow he (and his children) will be rent seekers.

        Fortunes age and as they do the cronyism increases.

        The left wants to group this together and say “rich / poor”

        • Libertymike

          How often has the following american story been told?
          Poor immigrant, who arrives at Staten Island, without a kopek in his pocket, embraces entrepreneurialism, working 18 hours a day, intent on getting ahead and living the American dream, employing himself and then others and then dozens, pinches and saves and before long begins to accumulate wealth, all the while dreaming his children become doctors or lawyers who won’t have to meet the challenges of the marketplace but who will instead learn how to seek some hefty rent.

        • JohnDonohue

          I asked above, but asking again: what is the moral failing in “rent seeker?” If I inherit and earn a fortune and invest it, and my money earns interest, what is my failing?

          • Morgan Warstler

            rent seeking is a moral failing. Inheritance does not necessarily = rent seeking.

            Inheritance is past consumption. The previous owner of capital BOUGHT the joy / happiness of giving it to you.

            Generally, from the whine of the left is asking what right a poodle has to being pampered. none. The owner has the right to pamper a dog.

            The larger point is that capital and finance guys tend to seek rent, like all others. But they have all the poodles capital to buy off govt. officials.

            And since poodles are not as good at being entrepreneurs, like their pit bull fathers, they tend to seek rent MORE.

            My point here is that Rent Seeking is bad. And sadly, perhaps only adding other rent seekers solves the problem.

            As such systems should FAVOR outright entrepreneurs vs. capital.

            We’re moving that way now, it is getting harder and harder for capital to find ROI, bc digital economies cannot handle debt, like atomic based economies.

            The phrase “software eats the world” has actual macro effects, bc investment moves to pure equity, and “safe” debt investments.

            But as an example, I’ve crafted GI/CYB as a replacement for the welfare / UI system. It functions to turn SMB owners into rent seekers, giving them a voice against the Fortune 1000, rich poodles etc.

  • RKevinHill
  • RKevinHill
  • Han Solo

    Um.. how about lesson #1:

    She was NOT a libertarian, and even hated vocally libertarians.

    • Aeon Skoble

      I hesitate to argue with someone posting pseudonymously, but here goes: what she hated was Libertarians – capital L – LP activists. She thought, falsely, that they were all relativists who had no moral basis for supporting liberty, so they were dangerous, possibly more so than commies. Through sloppiness and her friends’ unwillingness to (try to) correct her, this morphed into a false dichotomy. Her politics – minimal state, laissez-faire free market economics – are 100% small-l libertarian, regardless of her antipathy towards the LP.

  • Jerome Bigge

    The problem is that we have large numbers of people who earn incomes above the free market level because government has given them a legal monopoly which they can exploit to extort higher incomes than what would be possible otherwise. For example, prescription laws were “sold” to the general public on the basis that only doctors were competent to prescribe medicine. Whereas previously people relied upon their own knowledge or that of their neighborhood druggist to make these choices. The same principle applies with all the rest of the government licensed professions and occupations. In effect, the government grants them “protection”. Much as one time the USA had tariffs that applied to imported manufactures, therefore giving domestic manufacturers an economic advantage over their foreign competition. Also, at one time we had “fair trade” laws that forbade the discounting of products sold at retail. The major beneficiary of these laws were the “Main Street” businesses whose goods were sold at “full retail” markups. Again, an example of how government can “favor” some at the expense of everyone else.

    • Jeff Riggenbach

      Unfortunately, Ayn Rand was herself one of those “people who earn incomes above the free market level because government has given them a legal monopoly which they can exploit to extort higher incomes than what would be possible otherwise.”

      • Damien S.

        Yep. Anyone benefiting from patent or copyright.

      • JohnDonohue

        There is no such things as a “free market” without protection of intellectual property.

        • Robert Lepage

          There is no such thing as a “free market” with protection of intellectual property, as this creates an artificial monopoly. I can’t see any other mechanism more disrupting to a free market than government enforcing a monopoly.

          • JohnDonohue

            There is nothing artificial about one’s ownership of the product of one’s mind, and it must be an aboslute monopoly on that ownership. All property is intellectual property. Hatred of protection of property by proper government is a symptom of deep envy: you only want theft, destruction and chaos, aka anarchism. It equates to hatred of man. To repeat: anarchism is hatred of mankind.

          • Robert Lepage

            Intellectual property isn’t quite the same as physical property. Multiple people can independently develop the same ‘idea’ or ‘concept’ (which is functionally stifled by patent law and other IP), whereas there’s only one piece of physical property. I think the crux of my argument is that there is no such thing as a ‘free market’, Homo economicus is dead.

  • Guest

    Bravo Steve! One little nit: Rand certainly did *not* believe “a man who had inherited a fortune. These are the evil rich.” – witness Dagny and Francisco. The key is exactly as you said: producers vs. moochers. Dagny and Francisco worked very hard to expand (then contract for a very “constrictive” purpose, in Francisco’s case) their family fortunes.

  • Patrick T. Peterson

    Bravo Steve! One little nit: Rand certainly did *not* believe “a man who had inherited a fortune. These are the evil rich.” – witness Dagny and Francisco. The key is exactly as you said: producers vs. moochers. Dagny and Francisco worked very hard to expand (then contract for a very “constructive” purpose, in Francisco’s case) their family fortunes.

    • Guest

      Rand did not think that people who inherit money are the evil rich. There is nothing “unearned” about inheritance. Note that in AS, Dagny and her brother James were both inheritors of a fortune, but followed completely different moral paths.

      • Steven Horwitz

        Yes, the person in question inherited it and then complained about other people getting rich by producing, IIRC. That was the issue.

        • Steven Horwitz

          I’ve now edited the post to clarify this point Pat.

      • Farstrider

        “There is nothing “unearned” about inheritance.”

        It is hard to imagine receiving a sum of money that is possibly less earned, barring sacks of money actually falling in your lap from the sky, if the word is to have any meaning and any relationship to the recipient.

        • JohnDonohue

          What is the moral failing of receiving a gift?

          • brandonrg

            Whether or not something is earned doesn’t necessarily speak to it being a moral failing. But almost by definition, a gift isn’t earned.

          • Farstrider

            I didn’t say there was a moral failing. I said it was not earned. Indeed, “gift” is a fairly good working antonym for “something that is earned.”

          • Guest

            To say that something is “earned,” is to say that the recipient has a moral claim to it. In the case of an inheritance, a parent (or whoever) gifts their wealth to someone else upon death. Apparently, the dying person believed that the recipient was worthy of the inheritance and thus acted in his self-interest by granting it. Thus, by the judgement and action of the deceased, the recipient of the inheritance has a moral claim on the wealth. It is earned.

            Alternatively, literally everything we ever use in our entire lives until we are old enough to work is “unearned” and therefore we are born into perpetual moral debt. After all, by your standards babies don’t “earn” their food or clothing.

          • Farstrider

            The two concepts — earning and moral claim — are not synonymous at all. Earned means, according to,

            1. to gain or get in return for one’s labor or service: to earn one’s living.
            2. to merit as compensation, as for service; deserve: to receive more than one has earned.
            3. to acquire through merit: to earn a reputation for honesty.
            4. to gain as due return or profit: Savings accounts earn interest.
            5. to bring about or cause deservedly: His fair dealing earned our confidence.

            A gift — whether inherited or not — is not earned in any way. It does not satisfy any of these definitions. That does not necessarily mean that the recipient of a gift has no moral claim to it. He may. But not through “earning” it. Because if it was earned, it would not be a gift. That’s why neither wages are not gifts from your employer. (The converse is also true. A person might earn wages by, for example, killing for hire. That does not necessarily give the hitman a moral claim to his pay.)

            And I hardly think it is controversial that children owe a moral debt to their parents. Of course they do. Nor is it controversial that babies don’t “earn” food or clothing. Of course they do not.


          Right, but you have helped yourself to a quite dubious assumption, i.e. that it must be earned by the recipient. What about being earned by the testator? Please explain why individuals who earn great fortunes are entitled to dissipate them by crazy, wasteful spending, but not entitled to pass them on to their kids.

          • Farstrider

            The OP was talking about inheritors (recipients), not the testator. So was I. Whether the testator earned the money is a wholly different question. He may have, he may not have. But that has nothing to do with whether the inheritor “earned” it. He obviously did not.
            The rest of your post is similarly beside the point.

  • Damien S.

    ‘I do wish to point that among the “bad guys” on the Comet are: a
    newspaper publisher, a businessman who acquired his business through a
    government program, a financier who “made a fortune” manipulating
    regulations, and a man who had inherited a fortune. These are the evil

    A newspaper publisher? Is there missing info on the person in question? In general I would think a publisher is productive and not government-dependent.

    • adrianratnapala

      If Rand had been alive today, she would have been a Murdoch hater. Though she might have approved of his choice in wives. At least that seems to be the lesson of The Fountainhead.

    • Steven Horwitz

      Yes, she explains his views on human nature etc. My point was that he’s well-off but has the wrong values, therefore he’s a villain.

  • dfjdejulio

    I do think one of the problems is that a bunch of rich “takers” publicly argue that they’re not takers, and that they’re the sorts of people Rand considered heroic. Then, people take them at face value and draw their own conclusions.

    (Or: while many of the folks who criticize her don’t seem to have read her, it’s perhaps more of a problem that many of the folks who *praise* her don’t seem to have read her.)

  • Don Watkins

    Thanks Steve, excellent post. I would also like to see BHL engage more with Rand in the areas where they may part ways. For instance, she has a very subtle and unique view of the way moral ideas shape public policy (which I discuss in my book Free Market Revolution), not to mention her analysis of altruism, Rawls, and other relevant topics.

    • Irfan Khawaja

      I have a better idea, Don. I’d like to see you engage with your own claim that speaking at a libertarian function is like speaking at a function organized by Hamas or the Taliban. Remember when you used to spout views like that? I do. I was there, after all–as were a lot of other people.

      You have a very subtle and unique way of understanding libertarianism, not to mention Islamism and intellectual honesty.

      Here’s a question. If speaking at a libertarian function is like speaking at a Hamas function, is posting at BHL like posting at the website of the Taliban? In that case, I guess Steve Horwitz would be the moral equivalent of Mullah Omar. But you’re posting here, too–so what does it make you? The moral equivalent of Khaled Meshal?

      It would really be nice if people like you could take some responsibility for the shit that comes out of your mouths and off of your keypads. You may think that what you wrote in 2004 has been forgotten, but it hasn’t been–because it wasn’t a one-time thing. For twenty+ years, Objectivists like you defamed everyone who “trafficked” with libertarians. Now you have the gall to come here calling for Objectivist-libertarian “engagement,” and advertising your book at a libertarian website as though none of it had happened. Sorry, but it did happen. You were one of the most prominent people who MADE it happen.

      Sorry if I sound “increasingly long-winded, insulting, and conspiratorial” for bringing all this up. That’s what Matt Zwolinski tends to say when he finds my raising this subject “unpleasant.”

      But A is A, isn’t it? It’s a happy coincidence, Don, that “A” is for asshole as well.

      • rocinante

        On your link, he says

        “Speaking before libertarians was not his offense, but a symptom of his offense” about Kelly.

        You might have to go back before 2004 to find the evidence that speaking to libertarians alone was an offense.

        • Irfan Khawaja

          I guess that raises the question whether posting on a libertarian website is Don Watkins’s “offense,” or whether it’s merely a “symptom of his offense.” On a related subject: was 9/11 Osama bin Laden’s offense, or was it just a symptom of his offense? So many imponderables, so little time.

          Anyway, I find it comforting to read the sentence just prior to the one you’ve quoted:

          “I’ve maintained that he [David Kelley] was and should have been excommunicated because his philosophy is at odds with Objectivism, as should be evident from reading ‘A Question of Sanction.’ ”

          I have a similar view. I maintain that people like Don Watkins ought to be boycotted, ostracized, and publicly criticized until they own up to and make amends for their role in ARI’s decades-long campaign of excommunications, defamation, and intellectual fraud.

      • Don Watkins

        Irfan, without getting into a huge discussion, let me just note that you’re linking to comments I wrote when I was a college student. Some things I wrote back then I still agree with, some I don’t, a lot makes me cringe.

  • I think the Left would believe libertarians oppose crony capitalism if more libertarians simply spent more time thinking and working on the problem of crony capitalism. Most of the time, libertarians use it only as yet another argument to shrink the state and eliminate the favors that can be curried. Not only is this is solving a different problem that the Left doesn’t care about, but this also seems to forget that the state used to be a lot smaller, and yet we still ended up at crony capitalism.

    Shrinking the state, while desirable for a number of reasons, isn’t a solution to rent-seeking, and the continued existence of a channel where money can influence politics means that those who wish to tilt the playing field will find ways to do so, and it often grows the size and scope of the state, finding form in subsidies, tariffs, and preferential tax treatment.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      Shrinking the state might not eliminate cronyism, but it is the only way I can think of to diminish it. If the state were truly constrained in how much and how often it could interfere in both markets and people’s lives, then lobbyists and rent seekers would spend much less time and effort in trying to sway it.

      • Damien S.

        The only way? How about more transparency?

        • Les Kyle Nearhood

          Well I am for transparnecy but where money is involved I think those in charge will just do what they want no matter what it looks like. They have their media organs and can spin it the way they want.

      • But they could sway a minimalist state simply by lobbying to have the constraints removed. Note, even the Constitution has not really been a binding constraint, as the interstate commerce clause has been expanded to include all sorts of things (including intrastate production that never hits the market at all).

        • john s

          Its easier to vote out the crooks of a small govt. Try voting out our replacing unelected bureaucracies. Limited govt’s aren’t absolutely perfect. But then nothing is.

    • JohnDonohue

      Please explain why a “rent seeker” needs a solution. Who is a rent seeker and why does he/she offend?

      • Rent basically means artificially inflated profit. Rent-seeking is a term from the public choice school of economics referring to activity aimed towards artificially inflating profits by influencing the government. This is wasteful because the opportunity cost of that activity is competitive productivity.

        • JohnDonohue

          If it means gaining advantage by engaging government, then okay, I have always been against that, and Ayn Rand is the formost champion against it, ever.

          But why is it called “rent” seeking? Producing or inheriting a fortune, then investing it for profit on a purely value for value basis…is this “rent seeking?”

          • Investing for profit is not rent-seeking. Yes, I agree it’s a terrible term. I tend to still use it in forums like this one because public choice is a rather libertarian school of thought, essentially a “government failure” argument countering market failure as a reason to increase the size and scope of the state.

            But I also see this process as part of the problem. The Left argues market failure and doesn’t seek to improve the workings of the market but just “fix” it with more government. The Right argues government failure and doesn’t seek to improve the workings of the government but just “fix” it with less government.

            To me, the question of “how much/little government” isn’t the interesting one to ask. The details of interplay between government and state is where the action is, like how carbon taxes work better than environmental standards.

            In my mind, the polarizing two-party system is part of the problem. The Left and the Right face little incentive to cooperate to find real improvements because the ruling party gets all the credit.

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            Yes I agree with a lot of that. Having now gone the full spectrum in my life from slightly left wing to arch conservative, and now libertarian I see the folly in the false dichotomy of a two party system. At the same time I am not an anarchist or even close to it. I think there are things government can do to make life better, but we have to be a lot more clever than we have been, and the government must be strictly limited.

    • Theresa Klein

      The trouble is, the left doesn’t think it’s crony capitalism when it’s THEIR cronies. See green energy. Even when Solyndra blew up and it turned out to be mostly connected people who benefitted, the spin machine was in high gear attempting to justify why the government should give money to private for-profit businesses. And aren’t they nice people for investing in stuff we like?
      If we’re actually going to work on the problem of crony capitalism, it has to be based on a broad understanding that *any* kind of favoritism is unethical. But the left’s fundamental platform is that the government *should* favor some businesses, because they’s the whole point, they think the government should be controlling things and directing the economy. They only want to go after the favors to the other side’s cronies, and that only because they think it’s bad *policy*, not because they think it’s bad in *principle*.

      • The Left only thinks the government “needs” to control things because they think the free market will not arrive at a fair or desirable outcome. But they also equate the current situation where businesses can lobby government as part of the free market process.

        Agreed that many people on both sides of the aisle are very partisan who only care about their sports team winning. You can’t really work with those people other than to call them on it.

        • Theresa Klein

          But what is a fair or desirable outcome? How do you even decide that without engaging in the process of lobbying? And if you exclusively bar only “businesses” from the lobbying process are you not then automatically engaging in sports-team partisanship?
          Aren’t the two things inextricably intertwined? If you’re going to advocate government intervention, you either accept “crony capitalism” as a fact of life, or you go full hypocrite and become a sport team partisan.

          • What is fair or desirable is certainly different for everybody (liberals seem to care about equality of outcome whereas I value equality of opportunity). Different people also have different values. Liberty is only one of many, and I am perhaps an unusual libertarian in that I value both liberty and fairness/democracy about equally.

            But I think both liberals and libertarians agree that lobbying creates a result that is less fair, less free, and less efficient. The free market uses the price system and market competition to achieve allocative efficiency. For one, price competition creates incentives for firms to lower costs. When a company decides to eschew such competition by lobbying the government to tilt markets in their favor, this inefficiently increases costs.

            Also, democracy is supposed to be one person, one vote. When the political power of a vote can so easily be augmented with dollars, it makes a mockery of that process and becomes a rather Orwellian situation where all voters are equal, but some voters are more equal than others.

      • Farstrider

        Once again, this is not a problem unique to the left. The right has no problem with crony capitalism when it is agricultural subsidies or defense contractors, for example.

        • Theresa Klein

          It’s not a problem unique to the left, but the original comment “was why don’t libertarians spend more time working on crony capitalism?”
          Well, it’s pretty hard to work on a problem of people using money to buy favors, when nearly everyone agrees that government should be doing people favors.
          If all you care about is the money part and not the favoritism part, I don’t see any basis for collaboration.

  • Chris Cathcart

    You’d think that, 57 years after the novel was written, there wouldn’t be an astonishing number of people who STILL go out of their way to misunderstand her ideas, and with little to zero accountability for doing so. (This is no thanks to a complacent, left-biased academy which is quite effective at weeding-out a lot of the capitalist opposition, driving them into the business world instead.)

    • Damien S.

      Yeah, not like anyone mis-interprets or misuses _The Wealth of Nations_ (over 200 years old) or the Bible (variously almost or over 2000 years old.)

  • RedneckCryonicist

    A recent Salon article about Atlas Shrugged argues that it promotes the idea that we can’t run out natural resources. Funny, but I didn’t get that message from my reading of the novel. It states that many of Francisco d’Anconia’s mines had played out, but he pretended to run them at a loss anyway, kind of like the mining version of Potemkin Villages, as part of his strategy to deplete his fortune so that the socialist governments in Chile and Argentina would have nothing to confiscate when they nationalized his property. In fact if d’Anconia had foreseen the exhaustion of the mines which formed the basis of his wealth, that sheds new light on his behavior in the novel.

    The novel’s advocacy of the gold standard also assumes Malthusian constraints on the gold supply to make it work as a stable store of value. It would create an awkward situation if some Man of the Mind figured out how to produce a cornucopia of gold so that this metal became a throwaway commodity, like we’ve seen in the history of aluminum production.

    If anything, Atlas Shrugged these days reads like Peak Oil survivalist porn. The strikers have to relocate to their doomstead in the Rockies to wait out a Malthusian collapse of America’s population so that they can rebuild a sustainable economy on the wiped slate of the former United States.

    • Libertymike

      Rand foreshadowed The Long Emergency?

    • Sean II

      “It would create an awkward situation if some Man of the Mind figured out how to produce a cornucopia of gold so that this metal became a throwaway commodity…”

      Not really. Even the worst case scenario would produce less monetary cranking than we have now, since no process could produce gold as quickly and easily as that which produces digital zeros.

  • Thanks for a great article, Steve. It was dead on. It never ceases to amaze me that otherwise intelligent people perpetuate the myth that Rand defended rich people as such. As my colleague Alexander R. Cohen points out, this is one of many myths people have about Rand’s views.
    The exposes of these myths are on our Web site, for those who want to sample them before getting the book Alexander mentioned. we wrote these essays in 2011, in connection with the release of the first of the Atlas Shrugged film trilogy, knowing what the critics were going to say–which they did.
    Film critics are at the bottom of the intellectual food chain, but the same myths are perpetuated by those at the top. during my career as a professional philosopher, I have heard peers giving voice to them,. Brian Leiter seems to have an obsession with denouncing Rand.

  • Brianna Aubin

    With the people in the Comet during the tunnel disaster, it’s not so much that they deserved their fate in the strict moral sense, as that their beliefs and actions in the past were the causes, direct and indirect, of their fate in the present. If you step off the edge of a tall building, you will fall to your death. If you create a world in which it’s more important to please Chick Morrison than it is to bow to unpalatable facts of physical reality, then eventually there’s going to be an accident. Rand was pointing out that every person on the train was living in exactly the sort of world that they had wanted and worked for, and that their fate in the Comet that night was the logical, inevitable consequence of their acts.

  • Roderick T. long
    • Chris Cathcart

      Thanks for sharing this. Also, while I know you’ve done some work in ‘libertarian class analysis’ (for SP&P some time back), I want to suggest that Rand wasn’t much for class analysis: she treated people as they are in their individual characters. I can’t make out any significant socioeconomic “class” status for Howard Roark. If she *classified* individuals into major categories my guess would be that they’re definitely not along socioeconomic lines, much less ones that are rigid. Individuals have free will. She would then most likely classify people according to their virtues of character or lack thereof, and perhaps according to their “sense of life” which she considered very (most?) fundamental to who and what a person is. Then again, she treats a person’s pscyho-epistemology as very fundamental, too. (And there we have a third possible basis of classification – but again, given free will, someone’s membership in this or that classification isn’t rigidly fixed.)

    • Irfan Khawaja

      I’d missed that essay before. It’s brilliant. Any interest in re-opening the comments on it? I’d rather comment at AAE than here.

  • Storewars News

    read! Very informative. Did you know that FMCG cos raise ad spend, slash budget
    for promotions. Full story here:

  • Sean II

    Excellent point about the sanction of the victim. A fine example of her at her best. Let me add…

    Like many extremely clever people, Rand misjudged her own strengths. She thought her destiny was to create the perfect hero, but really she was much better at drawing villains. In later life, she thought her purpose was to stack up airtight syllogisms on her way to building an unbreakable monolith of logic…but instead turned out to be much better at off-hand flashes of insight, turns of phrase, etc.

    One great rule of thumb for the mature Rand fan: the more central a concept is to her attempt at universal system-building, the more problematic the concept.

    Most of her intellectual malpractice was committed when she was operating in the murky space between “A is A” and “Do exactly what I say or you’re anti-life”.

    But when she wasn’t trying to force things into that unbreakable chain, she really could be quite amazing.

    • CiceroTheLatest

      I’ve always thought that most of her intellectual malpractice was committed in insisting that she was the only philosopher with anything worth considering. She had a lot of value, but the disparagement of every other philosopher of note was, frankly, childish.

      • Sean II

        I take that for a symptom of the problem I was describing. She set out to create an airtight system with no flaws, and indeed, no open questions…and to do that she had to ignore or defame just about every philosopher in history.

  • Tom von Mises

    It’s amazing how many people disparage her, and never performed more than a skimming of ANY of her work.

    A good example is Whitaker Chambers at ‘National Review’ wayyyy back, long ago.

    • RedneckCryonicist

      Take care in what you wish for. I’ve noticed odd things in Atlas Shrugged which I haven’t seen anyone address, like how Cherryl Taggart mysteriously disappears from Dagny’s awareness after she and Dagny make an emotional connection, then Cherryl commits suicide. I have to wonder if Rand did that because she couldn’t figure out what to do with the character. At the very least Dagny should have remembered Jim’s shabby treatment of Cherryl as an additional factor in her alienation from him.

      And then consider the hobo Jeff Allen’s story about the “mean, ugly little eight-year girl” who got braces under the car company’s new benefits plan, as if that description made her deserve the assault by another employee at the company. You have to wonder if that shows how Rand really felt about children.

  • RedneckCryonicist

    Rand cultism in general strikes me as really peculiar. You can like her novels without drinking the Kool-Aid and gushing that Rand revolutionized our understanding of philosophy! economics! politics! psychology! entrepreneurship! history! aesthetics! the potentials of the novel! even human sexuality!

    Fortunately this self-delusion stops short of claiming that Rand dispensed revolutionary insights into diet, fitness and health, even though cult founders tend to do that as part of their totalistic world view makeovers. The people who knew Rand could see, and smell, that she chain smoked, never exercised, ate a poor diet, seldom bathed, often wore ragged clothing and let her cats pee all over her apartments – despite Rand’s explicit philosophizing about mind/body integration and how your moral character manifests itself in your flesh.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      If Rand had been a little more like L. Ron Hubbard she could have had an army of fanatics.

  • Dan

    At least a segment of a person’s soul and behavior is mean-spirted
    or, in the extreme, evil. The source is our primal ancestry characterized by our
    native aggression. The only real question is how much of our aggressive evil
    will we permit to rise to the surface and vent.

    A desperate poor person may feel he or she has little choice
    in their position in life but to be overly aggressive just to survive. Strong-arm
    robbery is a useful example of the person’s potential behavior here. A very
    rich and/or powerful person may feel privilege and protected in freely making
    decisions that are illegal, immoral, or unethical, simply because he or she “can.”

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