Ayn Rand Essay - Rand, Ayn (Vol. 3)

Rand, Ayn (Vol. 3)

Rand, Ayn 1905–

A Russian-born novelist, essayist, and playwright now living in America and writing in English, Miss Rand builds her novels around strongly-articulated philosophical arguments. Her objectivist credo is well known to readers of her popular novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 15-16.)

[For] Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged there can be no satisfaction, properly defined, outside of the true business world, that world which is based upon unconditional free enterprise, and a full-blown laissez-faire individualism. And Miss Rand has a carefully constructed philosophy to support her position, which is a curious blend of the values of the "open decision" and their outright denial. The highest good for her is the life of the individual, and the virtuous man will not surrender that life without a fight. As with Jaspers and Heidegger, Miss Rand suggests that human death is not simply physical; it may occur with the submergence of the self in the apparatus, the values of the "they." The man who wants to live must guard against humanitarianism, often passed off as a virtue but, in Miss Rand's view, a vicious softness which requires one to sacrifice his life for another. The greatest wealth that one can own is the outright title to his own life, unentailed by other claims or debts. The moral purpose of one's life, says Miss Rand, is "the achievement of happiness," but that happiness is not assured simply by possession of title. It comes from growth: "Every living thing must grow … or perish." Life is growth—not biological growth, but intellectual. The form of that growth is familiar. It is conceiving an aim and then shaping matter to the purpose of that aim. Thus created objects like motors have life "because they are the physical shape of the action of a living power—of the mind that had been able to grasp the whole of this complexity, to set its purpose, to give it form." The function of life is action, and action is the harnessing of thought to the production of goods. There is more, however, to happiness than mere action in Miss Rand's world. Part of the moral purpose of life—that is, happiness—is payment for services rendered. Giving is a pernicious word in her vocabulary. The more one produces the more wealth one ought to have; the contrary also holds true….

The society organized on these values is not simply auspicious for individual satisfaction, as Miss Rand sees it; it is virtuous in what approaches a religious sense. Those who reject such a society are represented as wicked and evil, malevolently bent upon destroying life itself simply because they are too weak to live it and would spite everyone who is strong. In Atlas Shrugged such men appear within the very business world which is presented as carrying our salvation. Their presence is corrosive, and one of the duties of the good is to rid the world of this corrosiveness. These men, together with those in government gradually strangle the country's practitioners of free enterprise, professing patriotism and concern for the social good. Frustrated and enraged that, in their weakness, they cannot compete with the truly good and the truly strong, they pass laws controlling what and how much is produced in the country, how much is sold, and to whom it is sold. These evil men preach a vicious social ethic: obedience rather than argument, belief rather than understanding, adjustment rather than rebellion, compromise rather than struggle. They speak hypocritically of brotherhood and the common good, and of the conviction that all must share each other's burdens. They are the "enemy," and they scorn reason as illusion, have a "leering hatred of the human mind." The "moderation" and the ambiguities of the "open decision" are here represented by Miss Rand as sinister threats to her conception of reality. Men who live by these antivalues (as Tom Rath does) ride ungratefully upon the backs of the capable, demanding what they neither earn nor deserve, and declaring that the deserving rich need them more than they need the rich.

Miss Rand has created a world composed of all that she most vehemently resents. This she represents as a true assessment of the present structure of reality, and she proceeds to attack that structure with strong vindictiveness. The weaklings must be taught a lesson; they must be punished for their ungratefulness….

Atlas Shrugged is more myth than novel. Miss Rand's heroes and heroines are god-like creatures who, in their leviathan strength, resist the wickedness of the pernicious weaklings around them and achieve their ends at will, though not without devoted and gigantic effort. Their tool is reason, their aim is individual satisfaction. While the enemy collapses of his own evil, the godlike producers retire to reap the harvest of the world. For Miss Rand there are no contradictions inherent in the human condition between man's image of himself and the ability to actualize that image. The notions of moderation and absurdity she flatly rejects. The for-itself can become an in-itself. One can achieve full identity. The real and the ideal can merge under the direction of the human mind. And … a sense of human solidarity is represented as an obstacle to the achievement of the highest good, for it smacks of humanitarianism.

Jerry H. Bryant, in his The Open Decision: The Contemporary American Novel and Its Intellectual Background (reprinted with the permission of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.; © 1970 by The Free Press, a Division of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.), The Free Press, 1970, pp. 169-71.