Ayn Rand, an author who didn’t know when to stop piling on; and, John Galt as a substitute Christ

In my ongoing reading and note-taking on Atlas Shrugged (in preparation for an article I’m hoping to write called “Atlas Shrugged: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”), one of the things I’ve noticed is the way Rand injects the finest degrees of meaning, as well as impossible combinations of disparate meanings, into her characters’ every facial expression or tone of voice.

Here’s an example (from page 514):

Dr. Ferris did not smile as he walked toward Rearden’s desk; he merely wore a look suggesting that Rearden knew full well that he had good reason to smile and so he would abstain from the obvious.

My marginal note written on that page:

Try to imagine a look which is not a smile but which conveys that the person has good reason to smile but will refrain from the obvious.

Though, actually, that is not one of the worst examples, as I suppose you could imagine a suppressed smile which hints at a reason for smiling.

But now look at this, from a conversation between Dagny Taggart and John Galt at his house in the valley as their Randian Übermensch love/lust for each other is developing (page 714):

He raised his eyes slowly to hers across the room, and the submerged intensity that pulled his voice down, blurring its tone to softness, gave it a sound of self-mockery that was desperate and almost gentle.

My marginal note:

Try to imagine a tone of voice that is—all at the same time—self-mocking, desperate, and gentle .

Or this, from a scene between Dagny and her former lover Francisco D’Anconia (page 566):

He was fighting to regain control; there was almost a touch of apology in his smile, the apology of a child pleading for indulgence, but there was also an adult’s amusement, the laughing declaration that he did not have to hide his struggle, since it was happiness he was struggling with, not pain.

Try to imagine a smile which expresses the apology of a child pleading for indulgence, and (in the very same smile) an adult’s laughing declaration that he does not have to hide his struggle, since it is happiness he is struggling with, not pain.

Those are just a couple of examples. There are many, many such over-freighted smiles in Atlas Shrugged.

* * *

Why was Rand constantly compelled to squeeze more meanings into a thing, such as a character’s smile, than it could reasonably bear? I don’t have a ready-to-post answer at the moment. But I do notice that this Randian tendency of squeezing too many things into one thing is analogous to another Randian tendency I have previously discussed. Since she denies the three dimensions of reality in which man participates, nature, society, and the transcendent, leaving man’s life as the only reality and man’s choice whether to live or die as the only moral question, she must squeeze all the meanings of existence into the human self, or rather into the perfect human self of her hero, John Galt. Thus Galt is not only the greatest inventor who ever lived and the greatest physicist who ever lived and the greatest philosopher who ever lived, he’s also the perfect man who never makes a false move, and he’s also the greatest male sex object in the world (and not just to the novel’s heroine Dagny Taggart, but to the author herself—Rand openly lusts after her own fictional creation, never ceasing her heavy-breathing descriptions of his person), and he’s also god incarnate whom his friends follow as though he were Jesus Christ. Given Rand’s rebellion against the transcendent structure of reality, and particularly her virulent hatred of the idea of God and her near-genocidal hatred of people who believe in God, she must squeeze every immanent and transcendent value into the person of John Galt.

Who is John Galt? The ultimate substitute for transcendence.

September 30

Jim Kalb writes:

The two do seem related. The one thing I’d add is that if you live in a world of your own you’re likely to read more things into looks, gestures, situations, etc. than are really there.

Alan M. writes:

You really hit on something here for me.

Who is John Galt? The ultimate substitute for Jesus Christ. “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29.)

As in the discussion about the Western self and its deformations, Ayn Rand’s philosophy is a reaction to Christianity, as seen especially in its fetishistic focus on a full bodied immanence without transcendence—its wonder at the majesty of man without wonder at the majesty of man’s Creator. Properly situated in the bedrock of Christianity, many of her points hold up. Christianity embraces the immanent and transcendent in a grand “AND,” while its heresies are usually forms of an “OR.”

It would be a fascinating study to compare and contrast the two stories Atlas Shrugged and “God Died” (i.e. the Christian “story” of man and God). My guess is that it would help separate the wheat from the chaff in Rand’s philosophy and provide further insights into this particular deformation of the Western self.

For all I know, perhaps that’s where you were already heading with your essay.

LA replies:

That’s a very insightful comment.

No, I was not thinking of comparing Atlas Shrugged to the New Testament, though it’s an interesting idea. My purpose is, however, to separate the wheat from the chaff.

RT writes:

Those impossibly complex appearances do sound laughable. But I think they may represent Ayn Rand playing director. You probably do not know it, but Ayn Rand studied silent-film acting in Russia, at the State Institute for Cinematography, and the Ayn Rand Institute archives has published some photos showing the young Rand trying to achieve certain expressions. I know nothing about silent-film acting, but I imagine that a director of that era, instead of just saying “OK, Ferris, give me a smug look,” might say something like the description Rand writes for Ferris, in an effort to give the actor the psychology behind the look. Come to think of it: Didn’t Method Acting have its roots in Russia?

Terry Morris writes:

I can think of many ways in which Rand attempts to make a secularized Christ-like deity out of the John Galt character: his basement cafeteria meetings with Dagny Taggart’s assistant Eddie Willers; his unblemished character; his self-sacrifice (though of course Rand would not call it that) in giving up, for the sake of his cause, all the wealth and worldly prominence he could have had; his humbling himself by coming down to the level of other men and working as an unskilled laborer; the way he gathers disciples who follow him in renouncing the world, and so forth.

He even engages in a sort of pre-tribulation “snatching away” of his “elect” to a place he has prepared for them where there is neither need nor want, just happiness and justice and unceasing activity.

LA replies:

That’s very interesting. These parallels had not occurred to me.

BLS writes:

I’ve read Ayn Rand. I believe her novels are important works. John Galt was not a Christ-like figure, he was a man who rejected submitting his work and his humanity to others under the coercive control of government.

Ayn Rand was an atheist. We all understand that simple fact. Nevertheless, her ideas are powerful. They have to be viewed under the history and governments she lived under. She escaped Communism. Then, in the 1930s, she witnessed the change in American politics towards socialism.

I think The Fountainhead was a better novel than Atlas Shrugged, but they both espouse the American idea of individuality. As Christians we have to balance faith and country. Rand supports the idea that we are individuals. That is a Christian concept. Every life is important. Every life has meaning. Rand didn’t deny charity, she denied government-demanded charity. Rand didn’t deny helping people, she argued that it should be your choice. When we have choices we have free will.

I don’t understand the hate for Ayn Rand. She was a woman who advanced very American ideals. She wasn’t perfect, her philosophy wasn’t perfect, but it contained many arguments that understand humanity, that rejected collectivism, and demanded people live up to their potential. Christianity demands people live up to their potential. I do not see the discord that so many other people see in Rand and Christianity.

Christians are not of this world. But, we are expected to participate in this world to spread the Gospel. Why shouldn’t we demand the worth of the individual as a creature made in God’s image? We do not live in a monarchy or dictatorship. We are free to witness as individuals. Rand is not a theological leader, but she is a political leader. Her political ideas are focused on the individual.

[Note: While the following comment was posted September 30, it was signficantly expanded on October 2. The expanded part begins with the paragraph that begins, “Please note that I am not dismissing Rand.”]

LA replies:

I think that, like many conservative readers who are disposed to like her books, you are seeing the parts of Rand that are most amenable and easiest to take in. You are not seeing, or you are skipping over, the major elements of Atlas Shrugged that justly earned Whittaker Chambers’s characterization of the book’s theme: “To a gas chamber, go!” Basically Rand’s view is that humanity consists, on one side, of a tiny minority of men of reason, and, on the other side, of subhuman maggots undeserving of existence. The dehumanizing language she uses for her bad guys, e.g., “mindless brutes, looting thugs, and mooching mystics”—who constitute the vast majority of the human race throughout history—and similar phrases that are repeated literally hundreds of times in the book, is identical in its brutal tone to the language of the twentieth century totalitarians she opposed. Except that the people deserving of non-existence in Rand’s book are vastly more numerous than they were for the Communists, who only wanted to destroy property owners and priests, and the Nazis, who only wanted to destroy the Jews and the Slavs. Indeed, in terms of the percentage of the human race whom Rand says doesn’t deserve to exist, her only close competitor is Muhammad.

And by the way, you, as a Christian, are one of Rand’s mooching mystics. “Such a being,” says John Galt in his speech, “is a metaphysical monstrosity, struggling to oppose, negate and contradict the fact of his own existence, running blindly amuck on a trail of destruction, capable of nothing but pain.”

“Man has the power to act as his own destroyer—and that is the way he as acted through most of his history…. “[T]he history of man has been a struggle to deny and to destroy his mind,” says Galt.

Get what he’s saying. All of history, including the history of Western civilization (except for a brief moment in America in the 19th century) has been anti-mind and evil.

Whence comes the stunning crudity of Rand’s thought, in which people are either men of reason or subhuman maggots? It comes from her first principle, as stated by Galt: “There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence.” Once you start from such a crude, simplified view, there can be no gradations of morality. The bad is not just bad, but anti-life, seeking its own destruction, and thus monstrously evil.

Please note that I am not dismissing Rand. The purpose of the article I’m planning to write about Atlas Shrugged is to separate what is good in the book from what is bad. Reading the entire book from beginning to end, underlining, taking notes, and thinking about every passage, is a very strange experience, because of the mixture of things in the book that are terrific or good, and things that are bad or horrible. Sometimes on the margin of one page, I’ll write something like “Great,” or “brilliant,” and on the next page I’ll write, “Insane, unreadable.” And part of my purpose is to explain why what is good in the book, and what is insane in the book, are so closely intertwined.

Well, I’ll give the answer now. The reason is, simply, ideology. An ideology, as I’ve said before, takes one part of existence, and treats it as the whole, and blocks out or demonizes all the rest of existence. So, one part of the truth of existence (as Galt says in his speech) is that thinking is the process by which we identify the nature of that which exists. Fine, excellent. But Rand/Galt, in the manner of an extreme ideologue, then makes that virtuous activity of thinking the only virtue:

Thinking is man’s only basic virtue, from which all the others proceed. And his basic vice, the source of all his evils, is that nameless act which all of you practice, but struggle never to admit: the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think—not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. It is the act of unfocusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment—on the unstated premise that a thing will not exist if only you refuse to identify it, that A will not be A so long as you do not pronounce the verdict ‘It is’. Non-thinking is an act of annihilation, a wish to negate existence, an attempt to wipe out reality. (Page 931.)

What’s wrong with this? For one thing, there are many virtuous, good people who are not thinkers. Most women, for example, are not thinkers. Does that mean that they lack the ability to tell right from wrong? They may know right and wrong through feeling, through conscience, through upbringing, through common sense. But because Rand only recognizes one form of knowing moral truth, namely an “intransigent devotion” to logical thinking, all other ways of being moral and virtuous are blanked out by her, and all non-intellectual people—the great majority of the human race!—are turned into anti-human monsters who seek to annihilate existence.

In short, Rand is insane. But alongside her insanity, there are truthful and illuminating ideas. How can this be? It is in the nature of ideology. An ideology may get part of the truth right, and when it speaks of that truth without ideological distortions, it will be saying something true. But right alongside that (partial) truth is the ideological madness which demonizes everything that is not that (partial) truth. And this explains how Ayn Rand can be terrific and insane at the same time.

October 1

Dean Ericson writes:

You wrote:

Who is John Galt? The ultimate substitute for transcendence.

How about, “a preposterous substitute for transcendence”?

(From Latin praeposterus, inverted, unseasonable: prae-, pre- + posterus, coming behind (from post, behind; see apo- in Indo-European roots).)

In other words “preposterous” means “bass-ackwards,” putting the behind in front. In this case putting man, the behind, in God’s place, who is rightfully the head.

LA replies:

But all the substitutes for transcendence are preposterous.

Dean Ericson replies:

Granted. But man would not be the “ultimate” in the sense of the last in a progression. Man is the primary substitute for transcendence. Then comes (in descending order); woman, money, blacks, dogs, beer, football, golden calves, home improvements, blogging (insert long list, etc.) … and then way down there’s the penultimate substitute, the Higgs boson, and then finally, at the end of the list, the ultimate substitute: Nothing.

Is Nothing sacred?

LA replies:

I’m laughing aloud …

October 2

BLS writes:

I appreciate your response. It has been several years since I have read Rand’s books, and I would expect I remember the concepts and ideas most amenable to my view. I think that is true of anything I read or hear. We naturally focus on the positive and dismiss, or forget, the negative. [LA replies: Not if you’re a glass-half-empty type, like me.]

Much has been said of Rand. Do the attacks cloud the argument she was making? Instead of approaching Rand as Rand, do we approach Rand as the bogeyman both conservatives and liberals reject?

The concepts I remember from Rand are:

- We are individuals.—Collectivism destroys the individual.—Every individual controls his destiny.—Government does not represent the individual.—Success is earned.—There are producers, and there are moochers.

Those are the fundamental points I remember. I would expect most people to agree with those few points as obvious truths.

I understand you are rereading her novels. Perhaps I should do the same. I look forward to your thoughts on her novels, as you distinguish the good from the bad.

“Man has the power to act as his own destroyer … ” Is that not true?

“[T]he history of man has been a struggle to deny and to destroy his mind.” Is this not true? Man was born into sin. Our natural inclination is to destroy, because of sin. Galt (Rand), may have viewed this as religion and collectivism, but the basic truth is that man destroys. It is through God that we transcend our natural state. Rand did not accept that, but it does not deny her basic point. Man is evil.

[LA replies: Your attempt to equate Rand with Christianity is interesting and even engaging, but it doesn’t hold up. To say that men are born into sin is not the same as saying that men are subhuman maggots. But that’s what Rand says. Christianity has a moral hierarchy. It has moral gradations. There are no such gradations in Rand. In Rand, if you are not one of the virtuous, you are this monstrous life-destroying sack of horror that deserves a horrible death. Rand’s language of hatred is like Muhammad’s language of hatred. ]

“There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence.” Is that not true? We either exist, or we don’t exist. I sense I am missing your point on this quote. [LA replies: To reduce all morality to this one simplistic principle, and then say that everyone who fails that moral test (which is virtually all humanity that has ever lived), which is the ONLY moral test, is a “mooching mystic,” a “looting thug,” a “destroyer of reason,” is the mark of an insanely distorted ideology.]

As I mentioned earlier, Rand should not be approached as a theological leader. But, as a political philosophy, Rand offered a vision that is more compatible with the American idea of individuality and personal responsibility than either of the current political parties.

Amadeus writes:

You wrote:

Whence comes the stunning crudity of Rand’s thought, in which people are either men of reason or subhuman maggots? It comes from her first principle, as stated by Galt: “There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence.” Once you start from such a crude, simplified view, there can be no gradations of morality. The bad is not just bad, but anti-life, seeking its own destruction, and thus monstrously evil.

I think you may be missing the point of “There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence.” In saying this, Rand is trying to get beyond the realm of hypothetical imperatives to find a categorical imperative that will ground a rational ethics. It’s obvious that: If you value X (as opposed to non-X), then you must do Y. That’s just a means-end relationship. But the end is incomplete. Why do you value X (as opposed to non-X)? For what reason?

Rand is asking: Is there any alternative in which one half is not truly incomplete in such a way? Is there any fundamental alternative about which one cannot sensibly ask: Why do you value X rather than non-X?

And Rand’s answer is: Yes, there is such a fundamental alternative. Existence or non-existence. A living organism can go out of existence. When an animal dies, that living entity has ceased to be—as any pet owner knows. In order to sustain life, and to prevent it from going out of existence, the living organism must engage in a continual, intricate, and relatively precise pursuit of lesser values congenial to keeping its life in existence. And of course this is what we see living organisms such as plants and animals doing.

But in the case of man, that continual, intricate, and relatively precise pursuit of values sustaining life must be volitionally chosen and pursued. And that is morality.

But this does not imply that there are no gradations of morality. Values that are more strongly life-sustaining are better. Values that less strongly life-sustaining are not quite so good. Values that are marginally life destructive are venial sins. Values that are profoundly life destructive are mortal sins.

LA replies:

My point is simply that human beings face myriad moral issues that have nothing to do with the stark Randian choice: “life or not-life?”—issues that cannot be resolved by referring them to, or reducing them to, the question “life or not-life?” There are myriad issues far more subtle and difficult than that. Anyone reading this could quickly list several examples of such issues. My second point was that once you reduce morality to such a crude choice, and define virtually all of the human race throughout history has having made the wrong choice, you must see virtually all of the human race as anti-life monsters.

This type of thinking cuts one off from humanity, from any sympathetic understanding of the history of human civilizations. The ancient Egyptians, for example, would be, according to Rand, nothing but mooching mystics and looting thugs and self-destroyers. Of course anyone who looked at ancient Egyptian art and sculpture for five minutes would find it rather hard to maintain such a view. Yet according to Rand, since the ancient Egyptians didn’t believe in the individual and in reason, that is precisely what they are. And this is where Randianism becomes a weird gnostic cult, which thinks that all of humanity is immersed in evil and delusion, except for the members of the cult.

Also, let us remember how Rand came upon the “life or not-life?” choice which then became the basis of her philosophy. She realized that her thought lacked a moral grounding, and that it needed one. As she pondered this, one day the “life or not-life?” idea occurred to her, and wham, it was the answer! But what is that idea? It is a classic example of the simplified formulae (discussed by Michael Oakshott in his seminal essay on rationalism) which give modern people the illusion that they have mastered the problems of life and society. It is of the same species as the phrases that liberals and libertarians grab onto in their adolescence, such as “All discrimination is evil,” or “Coercion is bad, everything that does not involve coercion is good,” and from that moment, just as their intellectual life should be beginning, they stop having an intellectual life.

TFS writes:

It is interesting that BLS weighed in on this conversation, for two reasons. One, it is one where he and I disagree, and two, he is my brother, who introduced me to Ayn Rand.

At his behest, I attempted to read Atlas Shrugged and I admit to not being able to get past the first two chapters. However, I agree with him that I found The Fountainhead much more enjoyable. Though I did find Roark much like the whining and simplistic Holden Caulfield. [LA replies: Roark, the utterly self-sufficient man, a whiner? He is the most unwhining figure in the history of literature. In fact, I have often thought that Roark is Christlike or saintlike in the way he is never internally bothered by anything anyone does to him, no matter how evil and harmful. The Indian spiritual master Meher Baba once said: “A man who never bothers other people is a good man. A man who is never bothered by other people is a God Man.” By that standard, Howard Roark is a God Man.]

I also agree with my brother, in that Rand does espouse the rugged individualism that was the capstone of America and her rise as a nation. That is where our agreement ends.

I would suggest that America’s postmodernism and Rand’s Objectivism are completely compatible with each other. However, both are incompatible with Christianity.

My reasoning comes down to the Fall of Man and how original sin has separated man from God. To me this is the greatest of dichotomies.

Man, created in God’s image, inherently desires to be “god-like” in his pursuit of life and at times is thwarted from doing so (i.e. the Tower of Babel). Man, before the New Covenant, could not see, taste, or touch God as before the Fall. Therefore, he continues to draw from his perfect design a desire to be god.

The New Covenant of Christ ushered in what man was truly created for, to glorify God. So perfect was this New Covenant that our God left us the Eucharist in order for us to continue to commune with him (in body and in spirit).

The great mysteries of the New Covenant and the Eucharist bring about unification with God that was not achievable previously. This can be confounding to some (including myself at times), and all of us continue to fall short because of stumbling blocks which surround us daily. To me, those stumbling blocks include Rand and, frankly, some conservative postmodern philosophies. [LA replies: I don’t know what you mean by conservative postmodern philosophies.]

Alan Roebuck writes:

I was once captivated by Rand; at least when she attacked liberalism, relativism, nihilism, unearned guilt, and so on. She was the first articulate, principled anti-leftist I encountered.

As the example of BLS shows, Rand still has the power to captivate, because she’s often right. In that respect, she resembles Longfellow’s “Little Girl,” in honor of whom I composed a little ditty:

There once was Ayn Rand
Surrounded by her band
Creating a new world mental.
And when she was good she was very good indeed,
And when she was bad she was dreadful.

You can’t revoke my poetic license; I haven’t got one.

Amadeus replies to LA:
I think you are misunderstanding how the alternative of existence-versus-nonexistence (life versus death) operates in Rand’s system. It is simply the grounding for her meta-ethics; it is not a rule that a person wields as a moral touchstone. Indeed, according to Rand, it would be epistemologically impossible for a person to wield that alternative as a moral principle. The sole role that the alternative has in Rand’s philosophy is to provide the objective grounding for such virtues as rationality, integrity, independence, productiveness, honesty, justice, and moral idealism. And Rand certainly did not say that those virtues had never been exemplified in ancient history.

In fact, Rand was extremely cautious when it came to convicting earlier eras of immorality. For example, she doubted that societies prior to the Industrial Revolution (prior to the 1700s) had had a sufficient knowledge of man’s nature to grasp the Lockean doctrine of individual rights that she espoused so strongly. If not, she said, their violations of individual rights could not necessarily be attributed to immorality.

Lastly, I do not see the basis for your pseudo-biographical understanding of “how Rand came upon” her meta-ethics. She considered herself a philosopher, and philosophers had been trying to solve the “is-ought problem” for several centuries before her time. Mostly, they sought some fundamental grounding that would bridge the is-ought gap. The idea that “life” or “survival” was such a fundamental grounding was quite common in Rand’s day. (See John Barth’s first novel: The Floating Opera, 1956). Rand thought she had found a way to create the bridge. Right or wrong, it’s the kind of thing philosophers do. No big deal.

October 3

Amadeus writes

In response to your expanded comment, getting one’s understanding of Objectivism from Galt’s Speech is dangerous, because Rand had to keep the language non-technical. Thus, when Rand says: “Thinking is man’s only basic virtue” she is not talking about “thinking” in the ordinary sense of mental problem solving. Much less is she saying that to be a virtuous person one must be a “thinker,” in the sense of an intellectual. And much, much less is she saying that to be a virtuous person one must be a major intellectual capable of following the philosophical derivation of the virtues.

All that Rand means by “thinking” (versus non-thinking) is being alert to what you need to know for your context and actions. If you are going to jump off a ledge, be alert to how hard you are likely to land. Don’t blank that out of your mind. That is “thinking versus non-thinking.” It doesn’t mean you have to be able to calculate the rate of acceleration of a falling body. Much less does it mean you have to understand the scientific derivation of the law of acceleration by gravity.

The reason Rand calls mental effort “man’s only basic virtue” has to do with her solution to the problem of free will. She argued that increasing or decreasing mental effort as needed is the one act that is directly under the control of man’s volition. Since “ought” implies “can,” mental effort or “focus” is the root of all virtue. How that plays out is another matter.

LA replies:

Your points are interesting and add nuance to the discussion. However, I’m not writing about Objectivism. I don’t claim to know anything about Objectivism. I’m writing about Atlas Shrugged. If a person cannot discuss and analyze Ayn Rand’s magnum opus on the basis of the text of that magnum opus, but is required to go to other sources as well, wouldn’t that be a bit preposterous? Any discussion of Atlas Shrugged would have to become the province of Rand specialists.

On one hand, Atlas Shrugged is presented as the most important book in the world, a new bible, and indeed it has shaped a multitude of minds; on the other hand, I’m told that I don’t have the right to discuss and form judgments about Atlas Shrugged on the basis of its own text!

Also, Objectivism was formulated and named after Atlas Shrugged was published. So Objectivism is something external to Atlas Shrugged.

October 4

Amadeus writes:

I am troubled by your assertion. “If a person cannot quote and discuss and analyze Ayn Rand’s magnum opus on the basis of the text of that magnum opus, but is required to go to other sources as well, wouldn’t that be a bit preposterous?” Certainly, a person can “quote” and “discuss” Atlas Shrugged on the basis of its text. But Galt’s Speech was written to be a highly compressed presentation of Rand’s philosophy, cast as an “address to the nation.” (Rand first wrote out in theoretical form the philosophical arguments that she needed to cover, then re-cast them as an address to the nation. In that sense, Objectivism pre-dated Atlas.) Under the circumstances, it seems to me quite natural for a critic who wants to “analyze” Galt’s Speech to consult lengthier nonfiction explications of her philosophy, so as to correctly interpret her compressed fictional and popularized rendering. Wouldn’t you do that as much with Dante’s philosophy? In any case, if one ends up with a clearly absurd reading, such as “only intellectuals can be virtuous,” surely the dictum of interpretive charity demands that one look to any possible source of clarification.

LA replies:

We simply disagree on this. I am not a student of Rand’s Objectivist philosophy. I am a reader of Atlas Shrugged. And that book is the big deal, it’s the thing that millions have read and been shaped by. And some of them have been shaped, most importantly, by the very distorted, reductive, hate-filled views of reality presented in that book. I know this personally, having received many e-mails from Rand-bots, such as one who wished me the same horrible end as James Taggart, when he realizes the anti-life nature of his own self and collapses in madness. How can I warn people—people whom I also want to show the positive sides of Atlas Shrugged—against those distorted views, without discussing them and showing their falsity?

Your perspective is different. You are primarily interested in Rand’s philosophy as a philosophy. I am interested in Atlas Shrugged.

October 5

Terry Morris writes:

Allow me to commend you for the effort you’re putting into re-reading Atlas Shrugged in preparation for your future article on the subject. I’ve said many times that I don’t think I could read it again, and my reasons have been covered in this interesting and enlightening discussion. Commendations go out to the discussion’s other contributors as well. Which brings me to my point, …

All of the contributions to this discussion have combined to convince me to re-read the book myself, in the interest of looking closer at the concepts presented in Atlas Shrugged uncovered in this thread.

When I first read it, I almost stopped reading at the point that Rand’s hatred for religion and religious people became clear to me. My recollection is that this was gradually revealed in the text, culminating in John Galt’s address to the nation.

Speaking of which, I personally liked D’Anconia’s speech given to the small group of dinner guests much better than Galt’s speech, the latter of which was way too long in my opinion, in addition to its highly revolting, hate-filled message. This was the much anticipated moment the preceding chapters had led up to, and it was a big let-down for me personally. I had hoped that Galt (Rand) would acknowledge the benefits of genuine religion to societal welfare and cohesiveness. Instead I was treated to a 55-page-long lecture on why I’m to be counted among the lower forms of human evolution deserving of contempt because of my rational belief in a Supreme Being and his governance of the universe.

As with most hard-core libertarians I’ve ever discussed the topic with, not only did Rand have a serious aversion to religion, but she also denied religion’s leading role in the creation and formation of this nation, which certain historians have described as “the fullest expression of a Christian civilization.”

Truthfully I’m more than a little offended by a Russian immigrant to the United States dwelling amongst us and under the protections afforded her under our form of government, having the audacity to lecture Christian Americans on the true nature of their own history. As Noah Webster once wrote: “I consider it a matter of infinite consequence, the cautious admission of foreigners to the rights of citizenship … Many of them come here with violent prejudices against arbitrary government, and they seem to make no great distinction between arbitrary government and a government of laws founded on free elections.” [LA replies: Good one!]

It was in her native country that Rand adopted the alien idea of “freedom from religion,” then came to America and managed, through her books, to project it onto us.

LA replies:
Thank you. However, my progress in the book has drastically slowed since I reached the beginning of Galt’s speech about two weeks ago. I’ve gotten about nine pages into it, and still have 46 pages to go. It’s torture to read. It’s the literary equivalent of being locked in a room with a maniac who is hitting you on the head with a lead pipe.

Here’s a sample paragraph, from where I last stopped my reading, that gives an idea of what I mean. Notice how some valid ideas are mixed with the relentless thunk of a jackboot kicking you in the face, forever. It’s amazing how Rand became (or perhaps was from the beginning) the dictator-type that she hated. It’s also remarkable that she didn’t see how the crudely haranguing, hate-filled tone of Galt’s speech completely contradicts his usual genial, relaxed, non-emotional personality, and thus is an utter disaster for the novel as a novel. It’s not Galt the character speaking, it’s simply Rand speaking.

Productiveness is your acceptance of morality, your recognition of the fact that you choose to live—that productive work is the process by which man’s consciousness controls his existence, a constant process of acquiring knowledge and shaping matter to fit one’s purpose, of translating an idea into physical form, of remaking the earth in the image of one’s values—that all work is creative work if done by a thinking mind, and no work is creative if done by a blank who repeats in uncritical stupor a routine he has learned from others—that your work is yours to choose, and the choice is as wide as your mind, that nothing more is possible to you and nothing less is human—that to cheat your way into a job bigger than your mind can handle is to become a fear-corroded ape on borrowed motions and borrowed time, and to settle down into a job that requires less than your mind’s full capacity is to cut your motor and sentence yourself to another kind of motion: decay—that your work is the process of achieving your values, and to lose your ambition for values is to lose your ambition to live—that your body is a machine, but your mind is its driver, and you must drive as far as your mind will take you, with achievement as the goal of your road—that the man who has no purpose is a machine that coasts downhill at the mercy of any boulder to crash in the first chance ditch, that the man who stifles his mind is a stalled machine slowly going to rust, that the man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap, and the man who makes another man his goal is a hitchhiker no driver should ever pick up—that your work is the purpose of your life, and you must speed past any killer who assumes the right to stop you, that any value you might find outside your work, any other loyalty or love, can be only travelers you choose to share your journey and must be travelers going on their own power in the same direction.

Paul K. writes:

I read Atlas Shrugged decades ago. I admire your determination, but when I got to Galt’s radio address I struggled with it for a couples of pages, wondering, “When is this thing going to end?”, then skipped ahead until it did. It bewildered me that Rand imagined the nation raptly listening to this endless screed. I pictured radio dials being switched off from coast to coast.

LA replies:

I’ve been reading Atlas Shrugged since I was 14, and have never read (or should I say, “have never tried to read”) Galt’s speech until now. But I am absolutely determined to finish it, no matter how unpleasant it may be.

(By the way, I just found the whole speech online for easy reference and quotation.)

Thomas Bertonneau writes:

The passage from Galt’s speech that you quote, more or less at random, is actually a fascinating choice. If we stumbled across it in a 1930s speech by some Soviet Central Committee apparatchik to the annual Party Workers’ Congress in Moscow, it would seem perfectly in context. This tells us that Rand’s philosophy, of which Galt’s speech is supposed to be the epitome, is, like the Marxism she pretended to despise, reductively materialistic and inhumane. But that is not the only inconsistency by any means in the huge farrago of Atlas Shrugged.

There is a moment, in Atlas, when Rearden, having just subverted the kangaroo court designed to make an expropriation of his factory look legal, discovers himself to be the object of blackmail to the same end perpetrated by the repellent Dr. Floyd Ferris of the fraudulent National Science Institute. The blackmailer threatens to make public Rearden’s affair with Dagny Taggart. Protectively, Rearden cedes the patent for his miracle alloy, Rearden Metal, to the government gang. Numb from fighting his hopeless action against the “looters,” Rearden imagines, as Rand puts it, “a long line of men [who] stretched through the centuries from Plato onward, whose heir and final product was an incompetent little professor with the appearance of a gigolo and the soul of a thug.” Readen is thinking of Ferris, who, however, is now tied to his looming precursor, the student of Socrates and the author of The Republic, Phaedrus, Symposium, and all those other magnificent dialogues. A specter, it would seem, haunts Atlas Shrugged.

The passage is odd, not least in its specificity. Despite his being educated and intelligent, [LA replies: But when and how did Rearden get educated and learn to speak so well? He started out as a worker in an ore mine and climbed up from the bottom], Rearden nowhere else in the novel demonstrates any particular knowledge of the philosophical tradition or the history of ideas. On the contrary—Francisco d’Anconia has to act as tutor to Rearden in basic logic, ethics, and epistemology. Nor elsewhere in the novel does Rand mention any other figure in philosophy, except for Hugh Akston, Francisco’s teacher. Shortly after Rearden experiences this curiously definite vision, he emerges from reverie to hear Ferris finish up his threatening speech with a naked admission: “We’re after power and we mean to get it.” Rearden suddenly grasps that Ferris and his gang require what they so volubly despise, the virtues namely of industry and productivity, and that his years of concession to their parasitism constitute a moral lapse on his own part. We can agree with Rand that socialism is a kind of criminality for which “looting” is a not inappropriate designation. But what about the repellent Ferris as the heir, so to speak of Plato, by which literary construction Rand would condemn Plato?

Rand’s notion of Plato—as the arch-offender against her own matter-oriented Neo-Romanticism—rests on a breath-taking ignorance of what it would dismiss. As acute as Rand’s personifications of militant collectivism and unmitigated power-seeking are, they cannot approach in either the acumen of their insight or the depth of their analysis the diagnosis of the identical socio-pathologies in Plato’s dialogues, where figures like Thrasymachus, Ion, Callicles, and the trio of Socrates’ accusers at his trial embody exactly the kinds of viciousness against which the Atlas-author, to adapt a phrase from a critical note by Colin Wilson, launches her crusade. Like Marx, Rand used the word spirit, but in a purely figural and dishonest way. She dismissed the entire Western discussion of things spiritual, commencing with Plato and including Christianity, under her all-purpose epithet of mysticism. Mystics, she argued, appeal to notions like God and spirit as a way of avoiding thought; but it was Rand who was dodging rational discussion and prohibiting questions, a sure sign of a philosophical con-game.

There is nothing in Atlas Shrugged that we cannot find in a richer form in Plato or Dostoyevsky—but you will never convince Randians of that.

LA replies:

Well of course Randians would instantly dismiss what you’re saying, as it is central to Rand’s thought that Plato is the source of all evil.

Amadeus writes:

You wrote:

It’s also remarkable that she didn’t see how the crudely haranguing, hate-filled tone of Galt’s speech completely contradicts his usual genial, relaxed, non-emotional personality, and thus is an utter disaster for the novel as a novel.

Perhaps you do not make sufficient allowance for the fictional context of Galt’s Speech. Society is on the verge of a total collapse into anarchy. Galt has one shot to make Americans understand the deeply philosophical forces that have brought about this collapse—and to motivate them to change their ways and to save themselves at the last moment. In the words of Eliza Doolittle: “This is no time for a chat.”

What Galt delivers, then, is a speech that combines (1) a president’s attempt to explain difficult moral-political problems in ordinary language, plus (2) Jonathan Edwards’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” We are not used to either. Certainly, we are not used to a minatory harangue such as Edwards’s, and so I guess it does come across as “hate filled.”

From Edwards’s famous sermon:

The God that holds you over the Pit of Hell, much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over the Fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his Wrath towards you burns like Fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the Fire; he is of purer Eyes than to bear to have you in his Sight; you are ten thousand Times so abominable in his Eyes as the most hateful venomous Serpent is in ours.

The rhetoric of Edwards exemplifies a historical tradition of sermonizing that was not in its day considered “hate filled” but rather aimed at the ultimate good of its hearers. Perhaps we just live in soft times.

LA the Soft replies:

That’s an interesting way of looking at it. If I take the time I’m sure I’ll be able to come up with some problems with your analogy. Here is one. Edwards is saying that if men reject God, they are evil and have consigned themselves to Hell. Rand is saying that if men believe in God, they are evil and don’t deserve to exist. That’s a pretty large difference.

BLS writes:

Thomas Bertonneau’s comment is interesting. I am not a Randian, although, I think my arguments for Rand brand me as one in this thread.

Is it Rand’s thought that Plato is the source of all evil? This has never occurred to me, though that may be purely from my ignorance. I’m not an expert on Rand or Plato. I find both their ideas and concepts relevant and exciting, as far as I know them.

The Platonic idea of forms requires that the individual live up to his potential. I argued earlier that this is Rand’s argument, and that this is a Biblical argument. The Platonic idea of forms recognizes that there is a single truth, and that there are standards to which we must conform. I do not see the division in Plato and Rand. Conforming to your potential form is not conformity, it is an acceptance of the individual.

LA replies:

For Rand, Plato is evil because he posits a spiritual or non-material reality. For Rand (this comes soon after the beginning of Galt’s speech), there are two things: material existence, including our own material existence, and our consciousness of material existence. These basic realities present us with a choice: either we use our consciousness to preserve and enhance our material existence, in which case we are rational, life-affirming men; or we don’t, in which case we are sub-human maggots, suicidal contradictions warring against our own existence.

For Rand, to posit a non-material, transcendent reality not visible to the senses, such as the Jewish-Christian God or the Platonic Good, is to escape the only reality there is and to wage war against one’s own life. Thus Galt says:

Rationality is the recognition of the fact that existence exists, that nothing can alter the truth and nothing can take precedence over that act of perceiving it, which is thinking—that the mind is one’s only judge of values and one’s only guide of action-that reason is an absolute that permits no compromise—that a concession to the irrational invalidates one’s consciousness and turns it from the task of perceiving to the task of faking reality—that the alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind—that the acceptance of a mystical invention is a wish for the annihilation of existence and, properly, annihilates one’s consciousness.

Rand/Galt is saying that belief in God—or, indeed, belief in any good that is not immediately apprehended by the senses—“is a wish for the annihilation of existence and, properly, annihilates one’s consciousness.” If you belief in God (which Galt charmingly refers to as a “ghost in heaven”), you are one of Rand’s anti-life, sub-human maggots that doesn’t deserve to exist. If you believe in God, you are as evil as James Taggart and you deserve the same horrible fate.

See my short essay, “What is transcendence, and why does it matter?”, in which I point to many goods and values, experienced by all normal human beings (even Randians, though they won’t admit it), that cannot be reduced to materiality and therefore are transcendent. If you believe in such values, says Rand, you are a suicidal contradiction and you don’t deserve to exist.

By the way, in connection with Mr. Bertonneau’s parallel between Rand and Marx, here is a very significant similarity between them. Marx prohibited his followers to ask what is human nature or the origin of human nature, because he knew that that would lead to questions that could not be answered by his materialist view of man as solely the product of materialist forces. Rand also (at least implicitly) prohibits her followers to ask what is the origin of human nature, because it will lead to the question, “How did a being come into existence possessing consciousness, reason, and the capacity for moral purpose?”, and such a question cannot be honestly answered without pointing to the existence of a spiritual reality which we cannot directly see. And since Rand regards any belief in a spiritual reality as the essence of evil, she prohibits any question as to man’s origin and says that men must simply take their being as they find it. We have physical bodies, we have minds, and we must use our minds to preserve and enhance our physical existence. But we must never wonder where our human existence, our human nature, came from.

BLS replies:
Your response is overwhelming. I say that because it diminishes and destroys my argument! It is difficult to reconcile the Galt speech with the ideas I expressed earlier. I may need to read “Atlas Shrugged” again.

My only excuse is that I enjoyed “The Fountainhead.”

Amadeus writes:

You write:

If you believe in God (which Galt charmingly refers to as a “ghost in heaven”), you are one of Rand’s anti-life, sub-human maggots that doesn’t deserve to exist. If you believe in God, you are as evil as James Taggart and you deserve the same horrible fate.

How do you reconcile that interpretation of Rand with this quotation from her? “The function of religion in this country is not altruism. You would not find too much opposition to Objectivism among religious Americans. There are rational religious people. In fact, I was pleased and astonished to discover that some religious people support Objectivism. If you want to be a full Objectivist, you cannot reconcile that with religion; but that doesn’t mean religious people cannot be individualists and fight for freedom. They can, and this country is the best proof of it.”

LA replies:

People who have said totally unacceptable things typically contradict themselves in order to cover up or get away from what they have said. I do not notice that in her remark which you quote she renounces her monstrous statements about religious believers in Atlas Shrugged. What she says about religious believers in Atlas Shrugged—and she says it unrelentingly throughout the book, though the message becomes most explicit in Galt’s radio address—unambiguously speaks for itself.

Daniel S. writes:

Thomas Bertonneau wrote:

There is nothing in Atlas Shrugged that we cannot find in a richer form in Plato or Dostoyevsky—but you will never convince Randians of that.

This has been my observation as well. Ayn Rand may have realized and articulated certain facts or even truths, but she did so at the expense of even greaters truths, and above all, Truth itself. And men like Plato or Dostoevsky don’t merely provide richer literary forms, but have a very deep understanding of the metaphysical and spiritual problems that are at the root of the human condition. Rand’s assorted capitalist supermen could never even approach the characters we find in Plato’s dialogues or in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. To put it another way, Rand at her best is profound, while Plato at his worst is sublime.

You (LA) wrote:

Well of course Randians would instantly dismiss what you’re saying, as it is central to Rand’s thought that Plato is the source of all evil.

Again showing where Rand borrowed from Nietzsche without credit or attribution. Nietzsche too despised Plato and Socrates, perhaps even more than he despised Christianity. He contemptuously referred to Christianity as Platonism for the masses. Though, in hating both Plato and Christ (and all that comes from them), what is left of the West to love and defend?

October 9

Amadeus writes:

I am running out of ways to engage with you in a discussion Atlas Shrugged. When I rebut your interpretations by explaining Rand’s philosophy, you say you’re not interested in her philosophy. When I rebut your interpretations by citing remarks of hers clearly contradictory to your interpretation, you posit that she was contradicting herself to cover up for her remarks in Atlas. Can you think of any approach to rebuttal that might work? Close textual analysis? If so, I shall try it. I should be sorry to drop out of the conversation—more for my sake than yours, because I had very much hoped to profit by your re-reading of Atlas Shrugged. But perhaps I should just wait for a summary statement of your re-reading? At present, I cannot think of any way to proceed.

LA replies:

I’m not sure what you would expect of me. I’ve given the reasons why I didn’t accept your arguments. The fact is, we don’t agree on certain points. There’s no blame or problem in that, it’s just a fact.

Further, I have been developing my understanding of Atlas Shrugged based on my ongoing reading of it. You can’t expect me simply to give up my developing understanding in favor of your understanding. If I were to accept your argument, I would have to stop saying anything about Atlas until I had read all of Rand’s non-fiction works on Objectivism. But I have absolutely no intention of reading them. I’m not interested in them. I am interested in Atlas Shrugged. So by your reasoning, I would never be able to say anything about Atlas Shrugged at all.

Which brings us back to the reason why I am interested in it: because, as I have said, there are things in it that I think are very good, and things in it that I think are very bad, and I think it’s worth the effort to differentiate the good and the bad, so that, on one hand, some people will not reject the book wholesale and miss the good parts; and, on the other hand, so that some other people will not accept the book wholesale and be led astray by the bad parts.

That’s the specific source of my interest in Atlas. But when it comes to Objectivism per se, I have no such interest, because I don’t see anything good in Objectivism per se. I have zero attraction to it. I do have an attraction to some aspects of Atlas Shrugged, and that’s why I need to work out my thoughts on it.

In fact, as I just realized at this moment, the parts of Atlas Shrugged that I think are good are good because they are in accord with normal morality, normal reasoning, and common sense and have nothing to do with Objectivism. The parts that I think are bad are bad because they proceed from Objectivism, which is, in my considered view, an insane ideology. (Not that it’s entirely insane; its development is entirely logical. But it’s a logical development from insane first principles.) So, as I now realize, my project of separating the good from the bad in Atlas Shrugged is a project of separating the non-Objectivist parts of the book from the Objectivist parts. And that, again, is why I am interested in Atlas Shrugged, and not in Rand’s non-fiction, purely Objectivist writings.

Finally, to return to your question, I guess, as you propose, that for the time being you could let me develop my ideas on the book (if I continue writing occasionally about them), and then, if I write my planned article, at that point you could let me have it.

Amadeus replies:
OK. I see Objectivism as a flawed but splendid attempt to restate for the contemporary world the fundamentals of the Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy against the madness of a postmodern intellectual culture. If you do not see anything good in it, then I guess our explorations cannot be as mutually beneficial as I had hoped they might be. But thank you nonetheless for all the truths toward which you have pointed me.

LA continues:

To give an example of what I mean by the insane first principles of Objectivism: Galt says in his radio address that “you are your own highest value.” I wrote in the margin of my copy of the book: “Insane. Take the greatest men, the most accomplished, the most psychologically healthy men in history, say, George Washington. Do you think Washington thought, ‘I am my own highest value?’”

Of course healthy moral men value themselves. But they value themselves in the context of the larger world—the natural, social-cultural, and transcendent world—in which they participate, without which they would not be what they are, and without which they would not be at all, not in isolation from or denial of that world. In Washington’s case, his highest values were, one, the United States, their unity, preservation and well being (see his Circular Letter to the States and his Farewell Address) ; and, two, God, or as he put it in his abstract, eighteenth century style, the “Great Author” of our being. From his First Inaugural Address:

In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either. No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency….

Since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven, can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.

Was George Washington, because he didn’t say that his own self was his highest value, a parasitical and murderous “mystic of the spirit,” as Rand characterizes all believers in God? He was in fact, a man of reason, a man of the eighteenth century. But he had also had a profound, practical experience (which I discuss in detail here) that God had led the affairs of America and saved it repeatedly from disaster, and this experience was so powerful that he kept returning to it in his First Inaugural Address.

Washington by Houdon head-on.jpg
Did this man, who believed in Divine Providence and
held his country as his highest value, lack self-esteem?

But Rand’s first principle that “your self is your highest value,” along with its corollary that only that which we personally choose has moral meaning, necessarily leads to a paranoid fear and loathing of all that is not the self, all that is not chosen by the self, and thus, based on her insane first principle, she logically demonizes God and society (and also, as I’ve shown here, utterly devalues nature, except as a supplier of raw materials).

Thus Galt says:

The good, say the mystics of spirit, is God, a being whose only definition is that he is beyond man’s power to conceive—a definition that invalidates man’s consciousness and nullifies his concepts of existence. The good, say the mystics of muscle, is Society—a thing which they define as an organism that possesses no physical form, a super-being embodied in no one in particular and everyone in general except yourself. Man’s mind, say the mystics of spirit, must be subordinated to the will of God. Man’s mind, say the mystics of muscle, must be subordinated to the will of Society. Man’s standard of value say the mystics of spirit, is the pleasure of God, whose standards are beyond man’s power of comprehension and must be accepted on faith. Man’s standard of value, say the mystics of muscle, is the pleasure of Society, whose standards are beyond man’s right of judgment and must be obeyed as a primary absolute. The purpose of man’s life, say both, is to become an abject zombie who serves a purpose he does not know, for reasons he is not to question. His reward, say the mystics of spirit, will be given to him beyond the grave. His reward, say the mystics of muscle, will be given on earth-to his great-grandchildren.

So George Washington, whose highest values were “the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained,” and the well-being of his society, was, according to Rand, both a “mystic of spirit” and a “mystic of muscle” who held that the purpose of life is to become an abject zombie. By contrast, Randian man, whose highest value is himself, inevitably ends up worshipping himself as a god, as we see repeatedly in the iconography of various Randian publications and organizations, for example, the masthead of Pamela Geller’s website Atlas Shrugs, in which a giant naked female, towering over the Manhattan skyline, leans back against the roof of a skyscraper in an extravagant pose of sexual braggadocio:


These are examples of where Rand’s first principles logically lead.

(By the way, I like the masthead of Atlas Shrugs, which is very aesthetically done. I like heroic Manhattan skylines in the Randian style. But the self-glorification of that female Titan has deeply negative meanings that should not be ignored.)

Dave T. writes:

I disagree, slightly. The belief that oneself is one’s own highest value is not so much insane as it is wrongheaded and arbitrary. The temptation to value oneself above all things is both common and coherent. The problem is that there can be no rational justification for such an ordering of one’s values as it is contrary to how we typically perceive the world, which is evidenced by the fact that people regularly sacrifice some part of themselves for something they perceive to be greater than themselves. In other words, Rand’s philosophy is at variance with the typical human experience, which can be the only starting point for ordering one’s values in a non-arbitrary way. If one were to ask Rand why she should value herself above all things what answer could she possibly give? I suppose she might try to argue from the brute fact of her existence and the fact that she perceives it to have some significance, but nothing of interest follows from this without the added help of some question-begging assumptions. In short, Rand offers a philosophy for narcissists that is not so much insane as it is baseless so that her crafting of it must be considered as nothing more than an exercise in wishful thinking.

On the other hand, if Rand truly perceived her existence as having the highest value then she was insane. I don’t know anyone who perceives their own existence as having the highest value. [LA replies: Exactly.] But I don’t think she did, as her philosophy is not a product of her own natural perceptions so much as it is a reaction against other value systems. [LA replies: I think she clearly did; she is utterly explicit on that point.]

Amadeus writes:

You just keep tempting me to respond.

1. “You are your own highest value” is nothing more than Rand’s attempted solution of the is-ought problem, stated in colloquial terms. The emotional content of the principle depends entirely upon the highly contingent nature of “you.” “The noble soul has reverence for itself,” Rand said, quoting Nietzsche. Fine, But speaking for myself, I could not possibly have reverence for my self or my soul. And yet I do remain my highest value, by the terms of meta-ethics.

2. To say that something is a value to oneself, one must be able to answer: Of value for what? Rand’s philosophy is perfectly able to say why Washington would so highly value the existence of the United State that he would give his life for that goal, and yet is also able to say that Washington’s life was his highest value. I know you don’t want to inquire into Rand’s philosophy. So I shall merely tell you that those are two facts about her philosophy and that they are compatible.

3. “Mystic of the spirit” This is perhaps your major source of confusion. You take “mystic of the spirit,” “mysticism,” etc., to be the equivalent to religion. But they are not. “Mysticism,” in Rand-speak, means believing some datum in the absence of evidence or especially in defiance of evidence. Thus, Thomas Aquinas’s belief in the existence of God or in the moral excellence of St. Francis were not mystical or reprehensible, in Ayn Rand’s terms. They were rational. That is why Rand was going to have a good-guy Thomist priest in Atlas Shrugged, and that is why she said (as I quoted to you) “There are rational religious people. In fact, I was pleased and astonished to discover that some religious people support Objectivism. If you want to be a full Objectivist, you cannot reconcile that with religion; but that doesn’t mean religious people cannot be individualists and fight for freedom. They can, and this country is the best proof of it.” [LA replies: I’m sorry, but these apologetics cannot stand. Multiple statements in Atlas, both ones I’ve quoted in this entry and many others, are absolutely explicit that what she is targeting is belief in God. If you believe in God, you are “mystic of the spirit,” with all the monstrous evils that implies. Period. The one remark of Rand that you have repeatedly quoted, to the effect that not all religious people are anti-Objectivist, means nothing. All it means is that some unthinking religious people had not realized the total incompatibility between Objectivism and religion. Also, as I said before, her remark is transparently the type of statement politicians and others make to soften some previous unacceptable statement they’ve made. When Atlas is replete with explicit statements damning religious belief, it will not fly to treat that one post-Atlas remark of hers as though it supersedes all of Atlas. And as for the planned sympathetic Thomist character she did not include in the book, she did not include him, right? Why did she not include him? Because his presence would have contradicted her absolute condemnation of belief in God. To say that text that an author thought of including in a book but decided not to include in the book supercedes the text that is actually in the book, is preposterous.]

I suspect you are not going to believe me, but I have studied Rand’s writings for 50 years and I know what she thought. You may have valuable point to make about her writings—for example, how ordinary readers would most naturally take the words of Atlas Shrugged. But with regard to what she actually believed—I know. [LA replies: As I have said many times, when it comes to politics—or, in this case, philosophy—what a person supposedly “actually” believes, or, in this case, what some authority tells us on his authority that a person actually believes, doesn’t matter; it is what a person has clearly and publicly stated that matters. I have based everything I have said about Atlas Shrugged on the text of Atlas Shrugged, Rand’s ultimate, most important, most trumpeted statement. It is a waste of energy on both sides for you to keep telling me that I am not allowed to make conclusions about the meaning of Atlas Shrugged based on … Atlas Shrugged. So let’s please let this fruitless, pointless, and enervating argument come to an end.]

Thomas Bertonneau writes:

Your interlocutor concerning Atlas Shrugged, Amadeus, claims that you cannot understand it unless or until you have read Rand’s non-fiction essays and books, but those essays and books belong overwhelmingly to the post-Atlas phase of Rand’s authorship. Additionally, in those essays and books, Rand has the habit of quoting from Atlas to explain her non-fiction arguments, which tells us that she regarded Atlas as her chief expression, not the non-fiction “explanation” that followed. Your instinct that you have no obligation to read the non-fiction “explanation” is thus well-founded. I did read the non-fiction “explanation” when I researched my Modern Age article on Rand of about ten years ago, so that I can confirm, on the basis of the exercise that your debater recommends, that such an exercise will not, in fact, increase one’s understanding of the novel.

LA replies:

Thank you. Also, Rand spent three years writing Galt’s 55-page speech, showing the supreme importance it had for her as a statement of her philosophy. And may I add that at the rate I am going, it will take me three years to read it.

Daniel S. writes:

The vicious, rabid, anti-Christian hatred of Ayn Rand can no more be denied than Muhammad’s equally hateful attitudes toward Christians and Jews expressed in the Koran. I remember reading an account by the libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard of his involvement with Rand and her followers. She had demanded that Rothbard’s wife, who was a devout Christian, denounce and reject Christ in order to be accepted into her cult circle or else be cast into outer darkness. (It has been further suggested that Rand had instructed the agnostic Rothbard to divorce his wife for her religious transgressions, though I don’t know if this is true or not.)

As an aside, knowing what I know about Rand and about Muhammad, I wholeheartedly agree with an earlier statement by Mr. Auster in which he compared the two figures. Rand quite clearly exhibits a Mohammedan spirit.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 29, 2012 11:16 AM | Send

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