The inspiration for writing this text was the relatively recent publications of Ayn Rand’s works in Russia over the last ten years, where previously she was almost unknown. Historically in the United States, there were not many immigrant women who have had such a tremendous intellectual career as Ayn Rand (born Alice Rosenbaum). She was the author of books which sold millions of copies, and created an entire philosophical movement and institution. The most famous of journalists in the country were eager to speak with her. Of course, Rand admirers greatly exaggerate her popularity, but it is plausible evidence to suggest that 8% of American adults have read some of Rand’s works.
Rand became known as the most ardent supporter of capitalism and laissez-faire in society, and, of course, as a fierce advocate of individualism and an enemy of collectivism. I will try to prove that the prevailing view that Rand was a passionate advocate of liberal capitalism is false. In fact, she has led a fight on two fronts – against collectivism and against democracy. Fundamentally, she was an apologist for the aristocratic (oligarchic or feudal) capitalism, in which a society is commanded by talented and noble people. I will also try to show that the original philosophy of Ayn Rand is exaggerated, and that many of her ideas she owes to Marx, as well as the practice and ideology of the Russian Bolsheviks. For Rand it is most appropriate to apply the famous line of German historian Leopold Ranke, who, appreciating the world of his colleagues, said that “what is new there – is wrong, what is right – is not new.”
The disregard of Ayn Rand in the USSR is in itself an interesting fact, though it is unlikely a case of simple censorship. Despite the fact that the level of anti-Soviet views by Orwell is clearly much greater than Rand’s, his novel 1984 entered the USSR in the late 1950s (I read the English text of this book in Novosibirsk Akademgorodok in 1963). In Atlas Shrugged there is no mention of communism or socialism, nor Stalin or terror. Samizdat distributed all books released in the West, from Lady Chatterley’s Lover to For Whom the Bell Tolls. If censorship was not involved in these cases, then maybe the problem was rooted in other causes. The Western intellectuals, who were the enemies of the Soviet system and supplied us with books, could have hardly been fans of Rand. As it is now clear to me, even those who read her in their youth did not believe that Rand’s books would help to fight the totalitarian regime.
If the Russian reader was not, until recently, familiar with Rand’s novels, Rand in turn ignored her homeland. She witnessed the Russian revolution and left Russia in 1926 at the age of 21. In the 1990s, those who began to translate and publish Rand in Russia decided that the perfect time for Rand to be introduced to the Russian public had come. D. Kostygin, translator and publisher of her books in Russia, believed that Rand would be useful to Russian readers because she would enable them to cast off the control of the Kremlin and “finally acknowledge themselves as grown and independent, to accept autonomy for the most important decisions.” A. Etkind saw the usefulness of Rand’s books for Russia in that they would enhance the prestige of liberalism in the country and would be able to persuade the Russians to the correctness of “moral values, political economy, which is based on mutual freedom of choice of the seller and buyer, and only on it.”
Thinking about how Rand interacts with her homeland after many years since her death, it is necessary to look at how her domestic experience affected her work – which is something that nearly all Rand analysts have neglected to do. It is absurd to believe that nine years after the revolution in Russia was not enough for Alice Rosenbaum to garner enough experiences for the rest of her life. In fact, the formation of her ideology took place in Soviet Russia, where she graduated from Petrograd University with a degree in “social pedagogy,” a combination of history, philosophy and law. Almost all humanities were taught at the university in the spirit of the Bolshevik ideology. Rand never graduated from any schools in America. There is no need to appeal to Freudian views on the deciding role that the early years of life played to refute the desire to minimize the importance of the Soviet years to Rand.
It is a common misconception to think that this experience was limited to the fact that Rand developed a permanent hatred of collectivism and the totalitarian state. This is a strong simplification. In fact, the ideology of the Revolution, the Bolshevik ideology and practice and, of course, Marxism (it was unlikely even in America, that she could avoid direct contact with Marxist radicals) entered deeply into the fabric of Rand’s creativity. (Something similar happened with many immigrants of all three waves from Russia: to come to the West with a hatred of totalitarianism, they have kept a lifetime commitment to a number of dogmas of the ideology, which they despised. Several opinion polls, which questioned refugees of 1950s and emigrants of 1970s, showed this clearly.) In fact, Marxism and Bolshevism became the starting point for her many philosophical and social views. Only Nietzsche (along with the Social Darwinist Herbert Spencer) was able to compete with the influence of Marx and the Russian Revolution on the views of Rand.
In the endless monologues of Rand’s heroes about the most abstract topics, hardly any thinker is cited (not counting the aphorism of Descartes “I think, therefore I am,” and one quotation from Aristotle). In a theoretical essay on capitalism, Rand found it impossible to quote a single author whose views would have been close to her. The tendency to exaggerate her originality and ignore those from whom she borrowed certain provisions is typical of Rand.
Rand and Marx
Now we begin the process of the deconstruction of Rand’s views. The role of materialism in the philosophy of Marx and Rand can be used as a good starting point. Rand advocated in her writing as a materialist, not doing any less in that regard than Marx. The latter seems, however, by several orders of magnitude a more sophisticated philosopher, as he thoroughly knew the German philosophy, with its deep interest in the complexities of the process of cognition. The main principle of the philosophy of “objectivism” Rand formulated as: “Facts are facts and are independent of human feelings, desires, hopes or fears.” Adjacent to the other premise – a principle of the “identity” – “A is A”, meaning that “the fact is a fact” (the third part of “Atlas Shrugged” is subtitles “A is A”) strikes with primitivism, as well as her critique of Kant. Only Lenin, in his book Materialism and Empirico Criticism published in 1908, had a philosophy almost exactly like Rand’s which was formulated a half-century later: “Consciousness is the mirror image of reality.” Any further than Lenin, the layman in philosophy, though educated for those times, Rand did not go.
The complex mechanism of the formation of ideas about the world is profoundly alien to Rand, creator of the philosophy of objectivism, as many orthodox Marxists. Rand could, given her claim to the title of a philosopher, learn something about phenomenology, Husserl, or Schutz, his pupil, who published in America during the time that Rand published. And what did John Galt say in his most important (and very long speech) in Atlas Shrugged about human nature? Here are some excerpts: “thought is a weapon one uses in order to act”; “that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good”; or that the hardships of American citizens have “came from your leaders’ attempt to evade the fact that A is A,”; “force and mind are opposites”; and “the union of consciousness and matter.”
Equally naïve are the economic views of Rand. Her depiction of competition in the market system with complete disregard of monopolies is enough to discount Rand’s theories, let alone her simplistic glorification of the role of money in society: “money is your means of survival”; “the lovers of money are willing to work for it”; “money is the barometer of a society’s virtue” (see Atlas Shrugged Part Two). In the descriptions of the economic system (in her novels and theoretical essays), she almost ignores the basic economic institutions, such as finance and banks, stock exchanges and insurance companies.
Many admirers of Rand put an emphasis on the fact that in her novels and other publications, she acted as a big fan of common sense. Indeed, the enthusiastic words of reason and of its crucial importance in society are found everywhere in her works. But both Marx and the Soviet ideology acted the same way. Her militant atheism and contempt for all forms of mysticism are in full accordance with all of them.
As is well known, Marx entered the history of every consciousness as a thinker who insisted on the fact that in a contemporary capitalist society, greed is the main incentive of people in all walks of life, including the relationship between a man and a woman. Human greed owns some of the brightest lines in the “Communist Manifesto.” Describing the relationship between Hank and his wife, Rand is close to the pathos of the Manifesto. She puts into the mouth of her favorite hero allegations against his wife that she is guided only by brute selfishness. Rand sees the same greed in the behavior of most people in novels. Almost with a bright Marxian sarcasm, she refers to his philosophy of objectivism which exposes the attempts of the citizens to disguise material motives by talking about people’s welfare, the sympathy of others, or of God.
However, unlike Marx, who dreamed of a society with other, nobler motives, Rand believes that selfishness was, is, and will always be a major incentive for people of all types, not just her adored captains of industry, but also creative people. The dollar, to which the praising in the last phrase of Atlas was devoted, is the symbol of the meaning of life for Rand; she just wants the money to be earned honestly. Through the words of her character Galt, she takes up arms against fraud as an essential element of American society, which provides income to those who do not deserve it. Rand surpassed in her critique of contemporary American society, even the most left-winged radicals, who never descended to the interpretation of social problems in such a primitive psychological level.
However, everyday psychology is in general the main tool of Rand’s analysis. The closing remarks of Galt are full of such maxims as: “achieving one’s happiness was the purpose,” and “pleasure and pain, happiness and suffering oppose each other.” (Incidentally, in the reasoning of happiness, Rand enjoys abundant reflections of Plato and Aristotle on this subject, and of course with no citations.)
One of Rand’s challenges, apparently, was to confirm that the vulgar Marxist image of the capitalist, as described by the great proletarian writer Gorki in The Land of the Yellow Devil, or famous Russian poet Marshak in “Mister Twister,” is truly just. Rand’s heroes celebrate what Marxists charged capitalists with being – selfish, with a lack of interest in the public good and an indifference to the suffering of others. According the Rand, a different behavior undermines the promotion of human activities; humans should not be wasting emotion on anything other than augmenting their number of dollars – a clear criterion for the success of human activity.
Perhaps our Western friends from the Cold War period, all of whom with admiration read Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and watched in the theatre productions by Chekhov, could not imagine that Russian readers may perceive the lines without a shudder, deriding sacrifice and sympathy for the “fallen and beggars.”
However, not only did Russian classical literature treat Akaky Akakievich, of Gogol personage, or Sonya Marmeladova from Dostoyevsky with deep sympathy, nearly all prominent Western writers, which were well known to Russian readers, did not glorify the power of money or held contempt for the weak and humiliated. Neither Balzac’s Rastignac, nor Dreiser’s Cowperwood are objects of admiration and Dickens made history as a great defender of the poor and an enemy of the workhouses, whose existence was well within the ethics of Ayn Rand.
Rand finds work, production, and creativity as the foundation of a society. This significant postulate of hers is essentially deeply Marxist. Marx wrote a few lines extolling the spirit of capitalism and entrepreneurship. Soviet creations of the 1920s-1930s such as Yakov Ilyin’s Great Assembly Line or Il’a Ehrenburg’s Second Day, where creative works are poeticized, are direct analogs of the chanting of creativity in the The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Innovators in science, industry, agriculture, and the daring directors of Soviet enterprises, are not afraid of risk – the main theme of Soviet industrial novels such as Far From Moscow by Boris Azhaev or Kruzhilikha by Vera Panova. We must also mention the book by Schumpeter, who, with the influence of Marx, sang hymns to the capitalist entrepreneurs, and was a pioneer in the development of new technology (for example, the 1942 Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy). Moreover, Schumpeter was quite popular during the time of Rand. However, we will not find a single reference to this significant singer of entrepreneurship in any of Rand’s works, although many authors point to the direct proximity of Atlas Shrugged and the works of Schumpeter.
“One who does not work, does not eat” is a pervasive idea found among the Bolsheviks and in Rand’s works. There is no doubt that this slogan was one of the most popular after the revolution in Russia, as was well known to Alice Rosenbaum. In fact, the main pathos of Rand’s major books is an echo of this slogan in the form of the uncompromising condemnation of “unearned income” and parasites of all kind. But it was the Bolsheviks who, for the first time in the history of law, had introduced the concept of “parasite” and severely persecuted those who did not get a salary. Rand definitely knew this. The Bolsheviks did not recognize the revenue from those activities that are condemned. The concept of social parasites is widely used by both Rand’s heroes and the Soviet people (incidentally, the poet Brodsky was declared a parasite). The character Rearden in Atlas sternly condemns her brother Philip for not working. Likewise, the Soviet government did not allow women to “sit at home” unless she had children under the age of three. No amount of “sacrifice” on behalf of the relatives was taken into account by the authorities.
The ideological affinity of Rand and Marx is amazing when it comes to the categorical division of production into material and non-material goods, the distinction from one another as manufacturing branches of economy and services was one of the weakest postulates of the Marxist political economy to be adopted by the Soviet economic doctrine, and then rejected after the Soviet collapse. Western economic science, it should be noted, never really accepted this division.
In fact, Rand shares Marx’s idea of “added value,” where the real benefits are only in material production. All of Rand’s characters represent tangible creations in the Marxist sense – metal (Rearden), coal (Denegger), oil (Wyeth), cars (Hammond), construction (Roark) and railways (Dagny). None of Rand’s major heroes is a banker (like Cowperwood in The Financier Dreiser), or even the owner of a business in commerce. (The single banker in Atlas Shrugged, Midas Mulligan. is a second tier character in the novel.) The owner of the company’s real estate and media, Wigand in The Fountainhead is a blatant scoundrel.
Marxist and Rand’s heroes firmly believe that the capitalist society should not and can not be concerned about national problems, social benefits, and collective values. They are confident that those leaders who talk about these values are pure demagogues, because everywhere only the individual interest prevails. “People with ideals” in a bourgeois society, (such as Holcomb and Toohey in The Fountainhead), are for Rand as well as for Marxists (excluding socialists), net fraudsters. Rand has no positive characters with national ideals. The term “social responsibility” for Rand, is an oxymoron.
Marxists and Rand are very close in their criticism of modern capitalism (true capitalism, as Rand claimed, has not yet been created). They believe that the main flaw of this society is its opposition to technological progress and development of science. However, the modern capitalistic society is the best environment for technological progress than any other social system. In his speech, the hero of Atlas Shrugged, Galt, (and then the “traitor of the mind,” great philosopher and physicist Robert Stadler) claims that contemporary American society is in the hands of the believers, mystics, and the government officials who are working tirelessly against reason and science. Marxists, however, lay the blame not on the mystics, but on the “capitalist relations of production,” which looks to be a bit more serious, though equally far-fetched.
Rand and her fans seriously argue that she was the first person who managed to find a moral justification of capitalism, which before had only been subjected to continuous criticism. For those who are familiar with the Protestant ethic, this argument is preposterous.
In her description of the American state, Rand nearly reiterates the Marxist interpretation: It is not a body representing the interests of the majority which selects the leaders of the state and the legislature, but a tool in the hands of evil forces. Orthodox Marxists consider it to be the capitalists; Rand considers it to be all sorts of demagogues and “robbers.” The arguments about “bandits,” as she calls the state apparatus, even during a “normal period” (until the formation of a utopian society in the valley) overwhelm both of her major novels, especially Atlas Shrugged. The main accusations against the state by Rand, as with the Marxists, are pure invention because it completely ignores the many vital functions for the society of the Western state. While recognizing the need to address internal and external security, Rand still manages to ignore many other functions of control, from driving transport and quality of medicines, to the activities of the Federal Reserve Fund and the Agency of Aviation Safety. She is infinitely far from understanding the importance of finding an effective balance of market and state in society.
Rand condemns the state for its interest in science. In fact, the state has made science, according to Stadler of Atlas Shrugged, into a “continuous fraud.” But basic science can develop only under the control of the market, as well as projects of national significance. Strikingly, the Manhattan Project, created by the U.S. government to obtain nuclear weapons necessary for the salvation of the Western civilization, which was a contemporary of Rand, has not stopped her accusations of science which are funded by the government. Moreover, it is not hard make fun of a government defense project called “K”.
Russian publishers apparently believed that since communism was a thing of the past, readers will appreciate the endless hatred of Rand toward the state. The heated talks of Russian liberals during the late 1980s into the early 1990s, like Larissa Piyashva, who offered to eradicate not only the economy but also science, education, and the police force. Like Piyasheva and many other American liberals, Rand identified any state with totalitarianism, and makes no distinction between the activities of the states in America and the Soviet state.
Rand and Bolshevism
Rand’s views were formed under the influence of Bolshevism, its ideology, and its practice. Many of Rand’s admirers are delighted with how she has consistently opposed the sympathy and assistance to people who were not contributing to the “industrial production.” The denial of compassion, as the main enemy of progress, Rand could have learned not so much from Nietzsche as from the Bolsheviks, who taught the people of Petrograd in the early 1920s many lessons of ruthlessness toward people. Bolshevik texts such as Lenin’s speeches before the publication advocates of the 1920s and 1930s were filled with hatred for the internal and external enemies, parasites evading “socially useful work.” The oath of the pioneer, which I solemnly gave at the pioneer lineup on Nov. 5, 1936, focused on the promise to be “ruthless” to the enemies of the revolution.
The same hatred of the weak fills Rand’s novels. To some extent it goes beyond this hatred of the Bolsheviks. After all, the hate of the opposite class opposed the solidarity of the workers. Rand did not write a word about the benefits of solidarity and collectivism. These are her worst enemies, although in the end of Atlas Shrugged we still see some elements of solidarity among its heroes, of which they are ashamed.
In fact, Rand’s call to abandon feelings of compassion and care are a rejection of the norms of civilization which mankind has concentrated on with great difficulty. In the 1960s in the Moscow Sovremennik theater, was a play by Chingiz Aitmatov, “Ascent of Mount Fuji.” It explains how in Japan, according to custom, old people after they have ceased to “produce” (to use Rand’s favorite verb), are taken to the mountain and are left to die. In the play the son, despite the entreaties of his father to observe the custom, refused to do so and returned to the mountain home with his father. The famous book of Norbert Elias, The Civilized Process (1939) was devoted to this slow movement of people from barbarism and cruelty to “civilized behavior.” Yet, Rearden’s treatment of his mother in Atlas Shrugged does not fit, no matter how terrible she may have been.
The readiness to destroy brings the Bolsheviks and Rand’s heroes particularly close. Heroes of Rand knowingly create complete ruin in the utopian parts of her novels. It is sufficient to recall that Rand’s dear hero of Atlas Shrugged, Ragnar Danneskjold, who regularly blew up ships’“looters” (the subservient entrepreneurs). No less energetic in his destructive activities is Francisco D’Ankoniya who, with the explicit approval of friend and the author herself, blew up the copper mines all over the world. Owners of many businesses destroyed the mines before running, in spite of the authorities and the population of the country. In the second part of Atlas Shrugged, fire and explosions are heard and can be found on almost every page. Petrograd, when the heroine of Rand’s semibiographical novel We the Living lived there, looks much better than New York at the finale of Atlas, with all the lights dimmed in. Roark in The Fountainhead, with the full approval of his beloved and Rand herself, did not hesitate to destroy his building during its construction where his architectural designs were violated. In the same novel, a man who shot the dishonorable demagogue, Mallory, aroused the warmest of feelings in Roark. The Bolsheviks viewed the heroes of their people similarly, such as those who shot at the czar, even if they did not consider those acts to be the best. It is noteworthy that the heroes of Rand – Roark, Galt, Rearden and D’Ankoniya – are the same flawless knights in defending their ideals as revolutionaries like Gorky’s Vlasov, Fadeev’s Levinson, and Ostrovsky’s Korchagin. Rand’s and the Soviet authors’ heroes opposed absolute villains, such as the industrialist traitor Haggart and the evil henchman of the State of Ferris and Mouch.
Not surprisingly, the idea of death is an important part of the consciousness of the Bolsheviks and Rand’s heroes. Roark, Dagny, Galt, Rearden and others have repeatedly indicated, as true revolutionaries, the readiness to die for the cause at any time, some in the fight against the world and the domestic bourgeoisies, and others in the fight with the government and the mediocrities.
The revolutionary fervor of Soviet origin was a characteristic of Rand’s characters’ romantic relationships, as it was here that she followed the Bolshevik understanding of love and ideology. Indeed, one of her main characters who possessed a passion for reason, Francisco D’Ankoniya, says that “only the possession of a heroine will give him the sense of an achievement.” The heroine of The Fountainhead, Dominique Francon, could only love such a hero as Roark, rejecting the scoundrel Skitting. Moreover, love – inspired by the lofty ideal of creativity that literally pushes the heroine’s pathological actions – works only to strengthen the spirit of her lover.
The beautiful Dagny in Atlas bestows love on three lofty men with whom she had a deep ideological affinity. Rand often highlights the fact that with no ideological affinity, no romantic partner could expect sexual success. The ideological motives of heroes in the novel make it impossible for jealousy to emerge – in the bourgeois sense, which is sternly condemned by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s. Dagny was ecstatically in love with all three main characters of Atlas, which did not prevent them from maintaining good relations. Soviet writers in the 1920s vividly described the role of ideology in romantic relationships between men and women. Let us recall the story of Boris Lavrenev’s Forty first, in which a girl from the Red Army kills her beloved white officer. In the play “Lubov’ Yarovaya” written by Konstantine Trenyov, the character Lubov’ Yarovaya, after some hesitation, subordinates her love to the party’s business and betrays her husband. Subsequently, the love between people loyal to the Soviet government became a central theme (recall the movie by Ivan Pyr’ev “Pig-tender and the Shepherd”).
It is clear that Rand’s novels deserve the same criticism, as do most of the works of socialist realism, in which the heroes, either positive or negative, embody ideological concepts, which they declare in lengthy ideological speeches (even though hardly anyone can beat the record for the duration of the final speech of the hero of Atlas Shrugged, Galt, who was given 82 pages in the Russian edition. It was said that on the radio, Galt spoke for four hours); the greatest lovers of philosophic chatter in Soviet books pale in comparison to Galt. The behavior of the characters in works of socialist realism and Rand are completely devoid of any convincing psychological study. Edification of them does not disappear with any page. It is possible that those Americans who supplied us with books banned in Russia during the Cold war understood that the literary quality of Rand’s novels is very low. Soviet intellectuals, who hated socialist realism and propaganda pseudo-literature, would simply be unable to read novels full of philosophical and usually trivial maxims.
Rand’s deep contempt for the ordinary man was oddly combined with the cult of individualism. The Bolsheviks, unlike Rand, concealed their true feelings toward the masses. The heroine of Atlas, Dagny, was sad that for her whole life she was “imprisoned among people who were dull.” She and the other characters believed that people act only out of fear. However, they are all revealed by their opinion of democracy. Lenin created the unique theory of leadership to the Party and proletarian democracy, and a great contempt for the bourgeois democracy, describing the bourgeois politicians literally in the same satirical tone as Rand. However, Rand is even more outspoken in her lack of faith in democracy and public opinion, which cannot be a place where reason reigns. “I don’t give a damn about your opinion” said Rearden, one of the favorites of Rand (found in Atlas Shrugged, Part One).
Democracy and elections are almost completely ignored in Rand’s novels, and democratic institutions (the legislature and the president) are systematically derided. Galt in his closing speech candidly states that he cannot be assigned to selected policies which address problems facing the individual. All politicians, especially if they claim that they represent the interests of the general population, such as Toohey in The Fountainhead, are crooks and demagogues. The public opinion of a democratic institution in Rand’s novels is only ridiculed. Alisa Rosenbaum watched the same thing in Petrograd when the Bolsheviks swore their love to the people while at the same time they closed their unwanted newspapers and ignored what most thought about their government. Ruthless are the Bolsheviks and Rand’s heroes to the bourgeois court. Roark’s trial in February 1931, where he was convicted of creativity and the original construction of the temple, is an example of this hypocrisy.
Rand not only glorifies the destruction of the material base of American economy, but also calls for a revolution in America in order to build an ideal society. Elections are not used by the heroes of Atlas to change the social system; instead they use force and strikes. At the end of the novel, President Thompson is marginalized from communication with the people by violent means. Seizing illegal control over all stations of the country (think of Lenin’s famous condition for a successful coup to capture stations, post offices, telegraph and telephone), Galt says virtually the same words that are attributed to sailor Zheleznyakov that drove the Constituent Assembly in January 1918: “Mr. Thompson will not speak to you tonight. His time is up.”
What is also surprising is that Rand recreates in Atlas Shrugged the cult leader, whom she saw in Russia. In the equivalent of Lenin, Galt even has to his credit an underground life and an extensive 12 years hiding from the police. His name, like Lenin’s name, has become a legend and a hope to the creative minority of the country. When it was time, he rightly pointed out to the country how it should live, what the society’s shortcomings are, and how they correct themselves. Rand, an individualist, who at the same time requires the people to follow orders of the supreme leader in order to avoid the economic catastrophe, once again literally repeats the theses of Bolshevik propaganda.
As for the Bolsheviks, for Rand, a general worker’s strike was used as the main weapon during political strife to stop any economic activity in the country, rather than an election. A strike, coupled with the destruction of the economy, provided the conditions necessary for creating a new American society in Atlas. But were Marxists saw strikes as a weapon for the achievement of proletariat interests, Rand viewed strikes as serving the interests of capitalists and creative people – composers and philosophers.
What provoked sympathy for Rand by millions of Americans
As I have tried to show, the political and economic views of Rand borrowed from the Marxists and Bolsheviks, as well as Nietzsche and Spencer, are very primitive. But Rand’s position on two issues has been able to find a place in the minds of many Americans who believe that society as represented by their chiefs and government agencies do not appreciates their merit, and that many bottom feeders in society are trying to take advantage of the fruits of their labors.
Marxism and Bolshevism as viewed in Western society are deeply divided. The basis for this split was the division of society into capitalists and proletarians. Rand is also far from being able to see American society as fairly homogeneous with the middle class as its basis. She also treats American society as being torn by contradictions, as a society in which one group of people (the minority) opposes the other (the majority). But unlike the Marxists, she is under the influence of Nietzsche and social Darwinism, and sees in society a deep conflict between talent and mediocrity, between the working, and the idlers. The proletariat is replaced in her works by talented and hard working people and capitalists – other exploiters – the lazy, parasites and mediocrities.
Mocking descriptions of mediocrities with their envy of real talent filled the pages of both novels. Typically, the geniuses do not get recognition in American society. The plight of Roark, a genius architect, and his teacher Cameron, who were both workaholics in The Fountainhead, and the brilliant inventors Galt and Rearden in Atlas Shrugged, are one of the central themes of those novels. At the same time, in this society the mediocrities thrive, like Keating. The conflict between genius Roark and Keating, a mediocre and dishonest architect, is paramount to Fountainhead. At this crucial point – and here all my sympathies are with Rand – it provides real and important conflict. No less attractive is the Nietzschean glorification of heroes and innovators. Rand views self-expression as a great virtue by creative people who are absorbed by it, and her protagonist geniuses, who are nothing new in the world of literature, very clearly embody the Nietzschean glorification of this kind of hero and innovator. She probably read Faust by Goethe, and perhaps the famous novel about a scientist Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis, who was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1926.
The conflict between talent and mediocrity, between workaholics and idlers, between people who love their profession and those who hate it (“the only sin on earth was to do things badly,” says Rand’s characters Francisco and Dagny in various chapters of Atlas) are not unique to the American society. It is universal in nature and was very important in the Soviet society. In the 1960s Soviet intellectuals blamed the Communist party for encouraging mediocrity.
The weakness of Rand’s analysis of society’s attitude towards the assessment of talent and genius lies in the fact that she did not understand the complexity of the estimation of its people. It her submission, a dollar is easily used to evaluate the contribution of an entrepreneur and scientist, writer and physician, teacher and musician. In fact, the fair assessment of people of different professions is a daunting and often impossible task.
Rand drew in Americans with her attacks on the parasites as well. In her arguments about the dangers of helping others there is a grain of rational. Indeed, aid is often corrupt and destroys people. At the same time, this moral principle was the basis for early capitalism, for those entrepreneurs at the beginning of the 19th century, who assumed that a 12-hour work day for children helps them avoid the temptations of the street. The same principle is used to justify any criticism of social programs; all the way up to pensions and health insurance (some libertarians even today share such a view). This view is quite acceptable for the Marxists, who also condemn the “handouts” of the ruling class, and require the return of any surplus product of the workers, who then will not need charity. In her struggle with civilization, Rand also attacks love, believing that the partners in any case should not give something to their partner “without reciprocation.” One of the most beautiful declarations of love solidified the hero of Atlas, Rearden, when he declared to his mistress that he loves her not “for your pleasure, but for mine.”
The fact that Rand mocks altruism is not surprising. Marxists, especially the Bolsheviks, have always scoffed at this bourgeois fiction. Until the 1970s a positive mention of altruism, as opposed to the “class approach,” was impossible in the USSR. Here is what was said in The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (third edition, 1970) about this concept (in the spirit of tirades heroes of Rand): “Altruism retained this value (“selfless service to each other”) up to the bourgeois society, which extends to the fields of private charity and personal services.”
An article by V. Efroimson, “Pedigree of Altruism” in The New World (1971. № 10), which justified the underlying social and biological roots of altruism, has become almost a political sensation. (I remember with awe when I met with Efroimson in the Lenin Library.) When in the 1940-1950s Rand’s fans took for granted her attacks on altruism as a dangerous social phenomenon, it was still possible to explain the lack of popularity of biological and sociological work on a huge positive role of altruism in human history and contemporary society. But now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, this approach can no longer be legitimate from any point of view.
Rand without a doubt belongs to the most striking women of 20th century. A young girl who had come into a strange country which was full of talent and in a short period of time, to break into the top of its intellectual world is indeed a kind of feat. Rand guessed how to attract the interest of millions of Americans: to capitalize on the glorification of their aspirations for self-fulfillment as well as their desire for a fair evaluation of their activities and freedom from exploitation by labor idlers.
However, philosophical, economic, and social structures of Rand have never been taken seriously in academic and literal America. Her ideological roots – Nietzsche, Marx, Bolshevism, Spencer – are insufficient at best to develop a serious social program. Moreover, these sources have made her an enemy of modern American society. Rand despises democracy, public opinion, media, political parties, the courts, and of course, the U.S. government – all without exception major institutions of American democracy. On the one hand, her ideal society is described as an anarchist commune, not controlled by any authority. On the other hand, it is a viewed oligarchy (“aristocracy of money” as it refers to the character Franscisco D’Ankoniya), to which Rand, with her anti-democratic and faith in the intellectual elite, obviously gravitates. The ideal society in Atlas Shrugged is like an anarchist commune, but clearly unsustainable. A society must evolve, such as that in Plato’s Republic which was headed by philosophers, or like the Iron Heel society by Jack London, which is no better than Soviet totalitarianism.
It his typology of political systems, Aristotle distinguishes three, which are dependent on who controls the society. If only “one” person is ruling, it is authoritarian (to use modern language); if there are a “few” people, it is an aristocratic (or oligarchic, or feudal) regime; if there are “many,” it is a democracy. Rand obviously gravitates to the second regime, which is why she had bad relations with libertarians who were usually loyal to the cause of democracy.
Primitivism of Rand is the result of strikingly one-dimensional representation of society, similar to the characteristics for many Marxists. Rand does not understand that society for its preservation, to avoid civil wars, to ensure solidarity in the event of an external threat, requires a complex social policy, the establishment of national projects, and to mitigate the situation of the underprivileged sections of society.