Ayn Rand Today: The Enemy of Collectivism and Democracy
My interest in Ayn Rand’s work emerged recently because of two developments, the first of which revolves around the publication of four of her novels in Russia within the last decade: We the Living, The Fountainhead, Anthem, and Atlas Shrugged. Until quite recently, her name was not at all known to Russian readers who were otherwise quite familiar with all leading figures in American and European literature and artistic life after the war. Rand’s name escaped the attention of the Russian intelligentsia even though her Russian origin should have only abetted interests in her work. The cause of this does not lay in draconian censorship because we read in Samizdat and other foreign publications during the 1960s and 1970s such ferocious anti-Soviet authors as Orwell and Koestler. Perhaps our suppliers of foreign books did not like Rand or supposed that the militant style evinced in her stories of tedious moralization were reminiscent of the masterpieces of socialist realism and would not be of any help in the liberalization of Soviet society.
Those who have since decided to publish Rand’s books in Russia thought that they would be very useful for Russians when they try “to live as adult and independent people able themselves to make important decisions without waiting for the state support,” as contended by the author of the preface to Atlas Shrugged. In other words, in his opinion, Rand would enable Russians to love capitalism. My interest in the new analysis of Rand’s books is also instigated by the prominence of her name in the Tea Party movement. Some members of this movement invoke the names Howard Roark and John Galt – the major protagonists from Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged respectively — as their icons, hardly acknowledging the intricacies and contradicting parts of Rand’s heritage. However, in this social movement that is emerging in America today, Rand is erroneously included in the ideological arsenal as a champion of liberal capitalism, when in fact she is its enemy.
The major flaws in the analytical texts on Rand were the disregard of the impact her Soviet experience (she was educated in Soviet Russia before her emigration in 1926) had on her theoretical constructions in addition to the influences of the Marxist and Bolshevik ideologies. Furthermore, those who wrote on Rand with the clear intention to present her as an original thinker (she herself was engaged in self-aggrandizing her accomplishments) did not thoroughly investigate the obvious influence of Nietzsche and Spencer’s Social Darwinism on her social philosophy
Even though touted as an original philosophy, Rand’s “Objectivism” in fact shares the most basic elements of vulgar materialism. The major tenet of her objectivism, which insists that it is necessary to separate facts from opinions, in addition to its direct correspondence to the formula of A = A or “objective reality,” is ludicrous in its primitivism as well her boorish critique of Kant, one of the greatest thinkers of mankind, who she deemed as “evil” as well as his philosophy. Such a passionate detractor of religion as Rand could only be found in Soviet Russia during the 1920s and early 1930s. Later, such boorish attacks on religion were not acceptable even for the Communist leadership
Rand’s economic views can compete in simplicity with her philosophical outlook. She totally ignores the importance of most economic institutions, such as the financial system and the stock market, even though without which the most simple market economy cannot function. In her works, she essentially describes a simplistic capitalist economy which is most comparable to the market economy in a remote African village with buyers and sellers of goods as single actors. She believes in the most elementary versions of exchange theories, and her rationalizations, for instance regarding the role of money, strike as astoundingly primitive.
Following the Communist Manifesto, Rand declared the quest for profit as the main incentive of human activity. She rendered all other motives of human behavior ineffective or fraudulent. Her description of the ideal capitalists as an animals thinking only about dollars is similar to the caricature of capitalist “fat cats,” which entered into the universal folklore.
In congruence with radicals of all sorts, Rand shares the revulsion of Western democratic society. If for Marxists the state is the weapon of corporations, for Rand it is the service of the “bandits,” a term used by Rand for the characterization of all bureaucrats who are only able to damage the economy. She denies any positive function of government in the life of society besides the protection of societal order and the observance of contracts. With a particular fervor, Rand describes the hostility of government toward science, in turn mocking all possible scientific projects financed by the state.
The loathing of class enemies in Soviet society vividly reminds us of the hate which is brimming in the hearts of Rand’s heroes — the detestation of talentless people, dishonest capitalists, government officials, trade unions, beggars or even relatives soliciting help. With her distaste of compassion and aid, Rand called on people to retreat to the pre-civilization form of existence and reject the achievements of mankind in the development of the humanism in society.
Rand shares with the Bolsheviks a weakly veiled contempt for democracy and for all democratic institutions. In Atlas Shrugged Rand does not spare neither elected president nor legislation, nor the courts and media, nor the intellectual community. The Election as an institution is absent in her description of political life in her novels. Rand has openly expressed her disgust not only of Soviet collectivism but also of the ruling majority in democratic society.
Rand came to the United States from Bolshevik Russia with the strong belief that it was not democratic elections but strikes and revolutions which could change the social order. Who, if not the Russian revolutionaries, inspired in Rand the passion for destruction? Even the title of Atlas Shrugged is a near literal repetition of the famous lines from The Internationale which called to “destroy this world of violence down to the foundations.” Rand is absolutely delighted that her protagonists express their discontent with their existing societies by destroying everything that they can, from copper mines to rail roads. The final words in Atlas Shrugged, “We return to our world,” spoken after its destruction indeed looks as a line from a proletarian hymn.
What more, in Atlas the democratically elected president of the United States was forcefully removed from the radio microphone when he tried to make his address to the people. John Galt, who in the novel looked as a Lenin-esque leader, addressed the confused American President with the words, “Mister Thomson will not talk to you. His time as president has expired.” In fact, Galt’s address closely echoed the words and sentiments of the famous sailor Zhelezniak which were spoken when he and his revolutionary comrades expelled the members of the Constitutional Assembly in 1918.
With her contempt for democracy, Rand can hardly be treated as the libertarian and the advocate of liberal capitalism that many people in America have portrayed her as. In fact, her flaunted individualism is deeply anti-democratic and extends only to the CEO of big corporations. How else is it possible to interpret her glorification of the supermen and superwomen in business, who, in her opinion, can determine just what society needs?. Aristotle talked about three types of the political regimes: “the ruling of one” (or authoritarian in contemporary parlance), “the ruling of few” (oligarchic), and “the ruling of many” (democratic). Rand is clearly an apologist of the oligarchic regime, and she can indeed be treated as a sincere contributor to the oligarchic ideology because of its aggressive contempt for the masses which is rarely openly discussed by the members of the economic elite.
Rand attracted the attention of millions of Americans not because of her critique of a state intervention in the economic process, or due to her vehement attacks against anti-trust laws, and definitely not because of her amateurish philosophy of “objectivism.” The source of Rand’s popularity lies in her assaults against social parasites of all sorts, again a tactic borrowed from the Bolsheviks who used as their central slogan the biblical adage, “he who does not work, neither shall he eat.”
Indeed, many Americans are irritated by their financially dependant relatives who demand of them various sacrifices, as well as by the millions of people who live on welfare simply because they do not want to work. In order to release her readers from the guilt of conscience, Rand launched harsh attacks on altruism, once again repeating world for word the Soviet denunciation of this “false bourgeois virtue.” It is only logical for the antithesis of a compassionate human being, that Rand, a Jew who claims to be the major adversary of the totalitarian state, completely ignored the suffering of Jews in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. In the 1940s and 1950s Rand’s naïve followers could be exonerated somewhat for their concurrence with her simplistic view on altruism, however at this point in time when many studies have shown the significant role of altruism for the survival of human groups and societies, such acceptance of her ideas look almost as anachronistic.
It is high time that the mythology about the philosophy of Ayn Rand be exposed to the objective critique.