Why I Am Not an Objectivist

Toward the end of my recent interview on “The Atlasphere, Kurt Keefner asked me whether I am an Objectivist. I answered no. Comments by two readers–one brief and friendly, the other sneering and combative–asked why not. Before I give my reasons, I want to make a few remarks about the second comment, which I reprint here because I get so many like it whenever I speak or write about Ayn Rand.

“Because Heller is not an Objectivist,” the commentator writes, “she is incapable of going to fundamentals in doing a bio on Ayn Rand, other than some sort of journalistic exposition of simple facts without analysis. But even this would be compromised by the *choice* of facts to focus on.

“She doesn’t understand that you evaluate moral ideas by their relationship to reality, not [as Heller wrote] ‘evaluating their effects in the lives of those who try to practice them, particularly their creators.’ The latter, instead, tells you how well those people are *executing* the moral ideals. Heller’s approach is utilitarian. Little wonder she mentions Marx.

“She doesn’t understand that genius is defined by single-minded focus on the facts of reality, taking those facts (inductively) and extrapolating extensively into generalities and conclusions that are true. Karl Marx was *not* one of those people. Marx worked backwards (deductively) from altruistic intent (“social good”) without regard for facts, such as the efficacy of the human mind, the hegemony of individuals, the right to non-initiation of force, etc. To compare Marx to Rand belies a gross misunderstanding of fundamentals and genius.

“Why didn’t Keefner ask Heller *why* she was not an Objectivist? The answer to that question would give some indication of Heller’s own dishonesty in relation to reality and enlighten potential readers of her book of the landmines awaiting.”

I’ll assume that the reader is a so-called Objectivist. Three decades after Rand’s death, some men and women calling themselves Objectivists (a title Rand explicitly reserved for herself and a pair of early followers) have adopted a strategy adherents used in her lifetime to stave off critics and equivocators–that is, to claim that anyone not agreeing with all Rand’s ideas is by definition benighted, probably evil (“punishing the good for being good”), and not worth listening to on the face of it. A wonderful tautology!  It let Ayn Rand choose not to read books she knew she probably wouldn’t like and yet publicly condemn them. It may perform the same service for my anonymous critic.

To assume that your intellectual adversary is an idiot or just plain wrong also lets you misquote or misconstrue him. Why should you treat what he says or writes with respect? Thus my critic has self-righteously given a false impression of what I intended to convey about the relationship between Rand’s ideas and her life. Here’s the full quotation from the interview:

Interviewer: How deep into Rand’s ideas do you think one has to go to understand her as a person? She was a philosopher after all.

Heller: I think you have to understand them thoroughly in order to understand anything about her. She devoted her life to ideas.

Furthermore, what is interesting about the woman is her mind; the reason I wrote the book was to find out to my satisfaction how and why her mind worked the way it did.

That said, I think the other side of the coin — evaluating moral ideas by their effects in the lives of those who try to practice them, particularly their creators — is legitimate and even necessary.

As to the ridiculous idea that a biographer has to agree with a subject’s views and methods in order to shed light on the subject’s life and works, about whom else would my critic say that? Marx? Dewey? Kant? Like them, Rand set herself up as a moral pathfinder and a secular oracle. In Intellectuals, Paul Johnson noted that he wanted to focus on the “moral and judgmental credentials” of certain modern intellectuals whose mission was to tell mankind how to conduct itself. How did they–Rousseau, Marx, Tolstoy–run their own lives? he asked. There is no reason not to ask the same of Rand.

One more thing: How are Rand’s precepts, “the efficacy of the human mind, the hegemony of individuals, the right to the non-initiation of force,” facts? They are assertions–good ones to be sure–which are considered facts by Objectivists only because Ayn Rand held them to be true. And by the way, the first two do not apply to those “subnormal” people Rand made sport of in The Fountainhead, do they? But then, as Rand wrote to Isabel Paterson in 1948, “It is possible that the entire human race, with the exception of me, might become collectivist–and I will then damn the whole bunch of them without damning man as such. I do not form any conception of the nature of man by counting numbers.” Here is Rand at her inductive (and solipsistic) best.

This is one reason I’m not an Objectivist.

Another reason is that I don’t agree that man (qua man!) is the overweening value in the universe. In this scheme of things, to demand to breathe clean air is to be anti-industry and anti-reason. To love open fields and the smell of the earth is to hate mankind.  While I agree with Rand that science and the profit motive may eventually combine to resolve some of the problems that science and the profit motive have created, I don’t want children, old people, or poor people to die while we wait.  I favor government regulation.

While “man” may not be–is surely not–“the means to the ends of others” [“Introducing Objectivism,” in The Objectivist Newsletter from August, 1962], neither is he “an end in himself.” Putting aside Rand’s notion that “there are no conflicts of interests among rational men” (which even Alan Greenspan renounced in 2008), this gives me license not only to litter (alongside James Watts) but also to steal (with Goldman Sachs). This is what Whittaker Chambers was driving at when, in his 1957 review of Atlas Shrugged, he wrote, “So Randian Man, at least in his ruling caste, has to be held ‘heroic’ in order not to be beastly.”

According to Rand’s now-elderly New York City doctor, Murray Dworetski, Nathaniel Branden once told him that all streets and roads should be in private hands. But how would that work? Dworetski asked. People would pay tolls, said Branden. Dworetski remembered laughing. Would each city street–61st, 62nd, Lexington Avenue, 112th Street–be owned by a separate individual charging a separate toll? Perhaps, said Branden, apparently not seeing the humor or the resulting traffic jams.

I have learned a lot from Rand–that people’s wishes are not necessarily my commands, even if I sympathise with them; that duty can be a logical trap. I appreciate her dedication to principles, to freedom, and to civil liberties. But I also like the social contract that requires that we maintain public spaces and educate everyone, including those who wouldn’t or couldn’t educate themselves, and that we not let our civil society become unbalanced by too great a division between the rich and the rest of us.

37 thoughts on “Why I Am Not an Objectivist

  1. “I favor government regulation.”

    While I understand and accept your problems with Objectivism, why would you believe that government regulation (force) would address these problems (problems that science and the profit motive have created)?

    Nice article — this was the only “huh?” I had.

  2. I’m a huge fan of Ayn Rand (I’ve read not only her fiction, but her philosophical essays), and I am drawn to Objectivism like a moth to flame. But lest we forget, flames burn moths. I am also a Christian. There is an inherent dichotomy between Rand’s Objectivism and Christianity (which she was quick to point out, especially in the marathon speech accorded to John Galt in Atlas Shrugged). I’m left with the belief that there is no “pure” philosophy – Rand is right (in my book) regarding the logical fallacy of altruism, if taken to it’s logical extreme, whereas the nature of man is to eschew the “rational” part of “rational self-interest.” Ironically, it is a belief in God that supplies what I see as the balance needed to make Objectivism work – a belief that there is a moral law above rational self-interest.

    As to those that commented on your ability to write a cogent book on Rand, I find it incredible that anyone who has an analytical mind (a prerequisite for the study of Objectivism) would deny the value of a “non-believer’s” perspective. After all, no one is born an Objectivist – or at least by the time they learn to read, they have been “sullied” by humanity. Even Rand developed her philosophy over time. She was not born an Objectivist any more than Nathaniel Branden was. As long as you clearly state any bias you might have (or at least state where your beliefs differ with Rand’s) I see no reason why you should not be able to write a book that sheds valuable light on Rand and her philosophy.

    • I agree with Brad here, with everything he said, because it makes sense to me. I am also a Christian, and like any good intellectual like to hear different points of view on life, and analyse them. This is what drew me to Ayn Rand. When I saw her Mike Wallace interveiw quite a while back on public tv. I was fasicnated by her logic, and then seeing what she descibed would happen now back in ’59 to me was astounding clarity, because I saw the interview again on your website, within the last year. I had read Atalas Shrugged back in grade school in the ’70’s. Though my parents found it, and threw it away on me. My intellectual curiousity scared them. So, I had for my own defenses to use drugs and alcohol to numb myself from all of the abuses that were going on in the house at me. I had to wait until I turned 18 before I could get away, clean up, and be myself full time. During those days, there wasn’t the help that is out there now. It has taken years of therapy to get where I am now, and with the help of Jesus Christ to stay clean and sober for 25 years. The intellectual was hard fought to bring back again. Especailly after a stroke in ’97. This is why I beileve in God. I surrendered my will to Him and He healed me. I am a walking miracle. I go my intellectual side back- it came from Him origianlly. I am living proof that there is a God. Miracles happen all of the time That is enough preaching from me. I cannot convince someone that doesn’t want to believe.

  3. I consider myself an Objectivist, but I’ve never taken Rand in totality, always contextually. I think she was right about objective reality, but considering the viewpoints of others, even those that disagree with us, can help us to understand how they are seeing reality, and gives us at least a better approach to addressing their viewpoint. Sometimes they can even see things about reality that we miss.

    Also, while I do not believe that “evaluating moral ideas by their effects in the lives of those who try to practice them” is a legitimate approach to determining the validity of those moral ideas, it *does* provide a feedback mechanism whereby we might ask if our moral ideas need to be refined, or helps us identify faulty premises that people are trying to reconcile with those moral ideas (which would lead to cognitive distress).

    Finally, on the issue of privitizing roads, I refer you to Walter Block who has very interesting solutions to this problem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUA4h8ctNWM

    • I come closer to sharing Richard Dawkins’s view. I do not believe in a “creator” or “designer” of the universe or in a personal god. On the other hand, Rand’s arguments in an attempt to disprove the existence of God–basically, that no one has ever seen God and that man would be relegated to the position of an inferior if God existed–have not made much of an impression in themselves, though they are interesting in light of her character and work. What do you think?

      • It is clear that Rand’s essential reasoning behind atheism is the lack of identity given to an omnipotent god. Identity is to define something that exists, and to define an existent is to put limitations on it, by necessity. Therefore, limiting an omnipotent being (i.e., defining it) negates the omnipotence of the being in question.

  4. Nice piece! Are you thinking of writing an appendix on the fraud charges against Goldman Sachs for subsequent editions of the biography? This would be fancinating! And the situation just cries out for it.

  5. Anne,
    Your response reads logically to me and also allows for the logic of others in full or partial disagreement. At least it shows you agree to listen. To adhere to Rand is to cling to truths often inconsequential. They still haven’t solved the problem of taking it with you, other than to be buried with it. Having worked in some poor countries, I believe that over time, communications with their speed, consistency, and clarity will serve to nudge us to do what we can to help our fellow humans. Some may choose to ignore the nudges, but conflict over resources could be the result of this hero-like outlook. All the heroes are buried in Arlington, by the way…

    Tom Ryan…Kansas City

  6. Anne: You’re rebuttal is cogent and impressive!

    Now in my own words, 1)Man has the capacity to be both beastial and beneficent, not hegemonic; 2) Man is NOT born tabula rasa and some unfortunate individuals may find it impossible (although we must judge them, nonetheless) to avoid irrational acts and even evil deeds; 3) Considering these facts, government must enforce laws that protect most individuals while (in some instances) restrict a few.

    I know the last statement seems Marxist. I am not a Marxist. This is reality! We live in an imperfect world, as imperfect creatures.

    Moreover, I believe that government handouts (although abused by some individuals) help many people and, therfore, help every individual. Does the Objectivist believe that had we offered African Americans decent schooling that history might have been changed? Does the Objectivist think we’d be as mighty intellectually, were it not that we are “entitled” to an education? Can the Objectivist deny that giving to charity oft times is done to the betterment of all of us?

    We live in a “mixed” economy because of our imperfections, not because we don’t know “reality.” How much proof does the Objectivist need to deduce that the businessman is neither a savior nor a saint, that Rand was wrong to opothesize any man (and it is she who denounced religion!). Greed, for example, prevails in many individuals. Can the Objectivist deny that greed is not an innate part of some ill-fated people, that they may have been born with a genetic defect (we all have character flaws, witness Ayn Rand)? Again, these individuals must be held accountable, otherwise, society (all individuals) would suffer. A man cannot go into court charged with theft and plead that his wrongsdoing was the consequence of his mother having square nipples!
    Thank you, Anne, for such a remarkable book and great intellectual stimuli.

  7. ** YOU DON’T HAVE TO AGREE WITH AYN RAND’S VIEWS TO WRITE A BIOGRAPHY ABOUT HER. ** Zealous critics who claim only Rand’s disciples (e.g., pure objectivists) — are qualified to write an “impartial biography” about Rand — are WAY off. If a mainstream non-objectivist wants to read “authorized biographies” or “official accounts” of Rand’s life, they can read many “sanctioned” publications which “gloss over” or white-wash — the less attractive parts of Rand’s life that are candidly — too compelling for an impartial reader to ignore. “Authorized” publications “preach to a choir” of objectivists. By definition, objectivists cannot be impartial about a person they adore.

    ** Using the backwards logic of Heller’s critics, the author must LIKE and FULLY UNDERSTAND the tenets of objectivism before writing anything about Rand. That’s like saying only a National Socialist (Nazi) who LIKES and FULLY UNDERSTANDS Nazism — is qualified to write about Adolph Hitler. The comparison is harsh, but the analogy is the same. The irony is Anne C. Heller is a critical ADMIRER of Ayn Rand’s titanic genius. Her work is even-handed and FAIR. For critics to disqualify her writing because she’s NOT a card-carrying objectivist — makes zero sense to me. Moreover, it affirms the insular, controlling and cult-like nature of “some” (not all) of the stewards of Rand’s legacy.

  8. Ayn Rand had a lack of compassion for human shortcomings, a notorious
    Eastern European fault after crawling under the wire with people dying to the right and left.

  9. Miss Heller,

    I would like to make a comment in regard to your reaction to Rand’s comment to Isabel Patterson: “It is possible that the entire human race, with the exception of me, might become collectivist–and I will then damn the whole bunch of them without damning man as such. I do not form any conception of the nature of man by counting numbers.”

    I would like to suggest an alternate interpretation of that passage. When I read this passage, I see it as her recognition of the best that man is capable of and that no number of evil or flawed men can take that idea away from her. In effect, she is saying that it is not the proportion of good men to bad men that should make you judge men as inherently evil and that you can’t judge human nature by a statistical impression.

    I don’t think this smacks of solipsism as you suggest. Instead, I consider it to be evidence of her integrity – that she stands firmly in her conviction that man is a rational animal fully capable of thriving in this world and living a full life.

    There is much in your response that I find disagreeable, but this is the only piece I wish to bring to your attention at this time.

    -Francis Luong

  10. Did you actually look at the charges against Goldman? It sounds like you might have just read a headline. Read this http://bit.ly/cQO7H7. That article just points to some of the problems with the case brought forward by the SEC. I don’t understand your assertion that ‘because Alan Greenspan admits it, it must be true.’ are you suggesting that everyone involved in the financial crisis was rational?

  11. There is a another reason why Ms. Heller is not an objectivist; she does not believe in individual rights. To favor regulation to our lives (instead of protecting us) is taking away the rights of men to live their life as free being. I give her credit from some of her views on Rand’s personality, but her argument as to why she’s not an objectivist is extremely flawed.

    • Dear Reason,

      The rights of men end where the rights of other men begin. Right? The kind of laws I favor empower government to protect men from men, or “man from men,” if you prefer. Now, we could sue one other when you pollute the stream in my back yard and I sell you a 6 percent mortgage and then pencil in “16 percent” and Joe Smith sells the clothes we both bring to his dry-cleaning establishment. But isn’t it preferable to let the government take legal action? I, for one, can’t afford it and don’t have time.

      Also, Reason, it is not reasonable to make blanket statements about other people’s convictions. But you are right in this: I don’t “believe” in individual rights, I support them and would support them to the last breath.

      Anne Heller

  12. How many forlorn Objectivists exist in this world? It is incomprehensible to me that mindless Rand devotees are extant. She was egregiously flawed as were the charcaters in her novels, as were her perceptions and many of her conclusions. C’mon, Charlie’s Angels and Mickey Spillane? I don’t think she did much reading while she lived. Moreover, she lived and died unhappily, so say those who knew her well. And there is no argument that she was a solipsist. She marched to a different drummer, but she was tone deaf. Moreover, her intellectual heir manifests little intellect but much vitriol. I have met it and confronted it. If you find merit in some of Ms. Rand’s writing, then you have done well. If you are a devotee, you don’t think for yourself.

  13. Ms. Heller,

    I am an Objectivist, and I read your book and enjoyed it. After all, it’s on one of my favorite subjects 🙂

    Like your vitriolic critic from Georgia, I also disagreed with some of your interpretations of the philosophy, as well as some aspects of Rand’s character and psychology. I thought they were sometimes incorrect, and too harsh, respectively.

    However, I also don’t hold non-Objectivists to the same philosophical standard as those who have been studying the philosophy by itself for an extended period of time. Even some alleged Objectivists don’t understand her philosophy, and apply it poorly. It is deceptively simple, yet actually profound, and confounds anyone who views it through the lens of common premises and colloquial definitions. Her view of selfishness, for example, is a common stumbling block.

    At the same time, your equation of bile and Objectivism (or Objectivists) means that you have not yet grasped the philosophy. Otherwise, you’d see that speaking to an audience as equals, rather than shouting down at them, is the objective approach. There are plenty of Objectivists out there who are normal humans with careers not involving abject cult membership, who don’t want to live in New York City, and yes… who even have children (gasp!).

    I’ll only use one example, your interpretation of the Rand quote above: “It is possible that the entire human race, with the exception of me, might become collectivist–and I will then damn the whole bunch of them without damning man as such. I do not form any conception of the nature of man by counting numbers”.

    You call this solipsism, yet there could scarcely be a more reality-facing statement than this.

    Rand is saying that a principle is a principle, a truth is a truth, regardless of how many people fail to live up to it. An ideal does not evaporate simply because we don’t see examples of it around us, or via the accumulation of individual failures. To use an historical parallel, the earth is round no matter how many people say it is flat. Or, a four-minute mile should be possible no matter how many have failed to run it. Or, ObamaCare is wrong no matter how many people on DailyKos say it’s the greatest thing ever. This is the exact opposite of solipsism: it is a statement that reality reigns over the mind, and we must accept its truths regardless of who does not believe it or who fails to live up to it.

    I’m certainly willing and content to accept that you don’t want to be an Objectivist, but doesn’t objectivity require that you understand it before rejecting it?

    Jeff Montgomery

  14. There are some who try to use Objectivism solely as a cudgel with which to “win” arguments. These are the folks that give the rest of us Objectivists a bad name. Objectivism’s primarily role is as a guide to living a successful, happy life here on Earth.

    The actions of this small but all-too-vocal subset of Rand admirers hasn’t been anywhere near as influential as the grotesque distortions created by the haters of Rand’s vision, with Exhibit A being the Chamber’s review. Being selfish – for example, figuring out how to put food on the table for yourself and your family – is instead equated with murdering the family next door and taking their food.

    I’m a thorough Objectivist and and thoroughly happy one. I believe Rand’s ideas are inspiring and correct – and that those two qualities are inseparable.

  15. I wonder when Objectivists (and Austrian economists, for that matter) will update their propaganda for the 21st Century. According to Wikipedia, 95 countries have renounced capital punishment, including Rand’s native Russia; and the practice has fallen into desuetude in several other countries.

    Yet the governments in these countries still manage to collect taxes and regulate businesses, without the ability to threaten to murder the noncompliant.

    You wouldn’t know that from Objectivists’ rhetoric, however. They still say things to the effect that all governments threaten to murder their citizens for even trivial infractions, like the Soviet government in the 1930’s.

  16. I had a friend that after he read Atlas shrugged got a tattoo of all the symbols in the book. All I could think was doesn’t that go against what she was about. I think these people that condem what you write got the tattoo but did not read the her books objectivly. Yes my spelling sucks and what’s funny is that I know most of you tattooed folk are thinking of that more than what I’m saying. Helen you write beautifuly. With all your research I think you understood Ayn better than those that can do no more than qoute Gault or others. Of course this is my opinion as an Artist and what do we know?

  17. How about an anthropological view? (though I hate partitioning approaches like that):

    I hardly know where to begin there are so many angles to this…

    The obvious one is the ‘objective’ reality of biological altruism in all social creatures from bees to dogs to people.

    This is a big wrench in the Objectivist utopia machine to make the world run right.

    I don’t mean the straw-man ‘altruism’ of so many of her nefarious characters which are actually excellent portrayals of what could better be called ‘self-interest advanced through deception’ (you know, like our political parties)…

    but the actual functioning of human altruism which motivates REAL behavior and functions in ways related to social/physical proximity with attenuating boundaries. (see Dunbar’s Number).

    For more on this see my blog:

    The Foundations of Authoritarianism

    How would hunter-gatherers run the world? (pssst… They Do!)

    Ayn Rand & Alan Greenspan: The Altruism Fly in the Objectivist Ointment

    To touch another issue…

    The role of ‘myth’…

    Ayn Rand’s success was based on her success in developing great stories with ‘mythological’ implications. I.e., they attempt to answer questions about fundamentals of reality with simplifications containing incomplete ‘seeds’ of truth where the reality is either unknown, unknowable or simply to complex to keep straight in our heads.

    This is also true of Marxism. Both are intellectual fantasies. One seeing the world as perfect if we’d only give all power to the group and the other the individual.

    Frankly, both are nonsense. If only things were that simple.

    And don’t let me get into the problems with economics which is a hideously dysfunctional ‘science’…

    It’s actually trying to describe, predict and/or explain the metabolism (so to speak) of human societies… by focusing on a very imperfect technology: money and credit.

    On Social Energy, Enterprise & Expanding the Technology of Money

    The Problem in Scaling Altruism: Where’s the Intelligent Life?

    Technology, Development and the Social Energy Grid

    The Individually-controlled/Commons-dedicated Account

    • Tom Crowl:

      >self-interest advanced through deception

      There is no such thing.

      This is one of Rand’s main points with regard to self-interest: that you cannot cheat reality to achieve happiness and a good life by using deception.

      Like I said above, her philosophy “confounds anyone who views it through the lens of common premises and colloquial definitions. Her view of selfishness, for example, is a common stumbling block.”

      You should read (or re-read) The Virtue of Selfishness.

  18. I am an Objectivist and have been one since 1966. For many years, that title was reserved by Ayn Rand to a few people, as was her right — it is her philosophy. I am not hung up by emotive language which you use and she uses to prove points.

    It seems to me that people don’t like Objectivism because they think that there is something inherently unfair in giving an advantage to the strong against the weak. What they don’t realize is that every, EVERY law designed to protect the weak from the strong, does exactly the opposite: it enshrines the strong against the weak. There are no exceptions.

    More government, MORE GOVERNMENT, MORE GOVERNMENT. The clarion call continues.

  19. Yes – “to ‘demand’ clean air [provided by whom – blank out]is to be anti-industry and anti-reason.” To love to breathe clean air is NOT. “To love open fields and the smell of the earth” is NOT “to hate mankind.” To demand it be provided, in denial of property rights, is. And children, old people, AND poor people are dying WITH, and in many instances because of, government regulation and interference.

    • All right. “Demand” was rhetorical overreach. I admit that I’m not in a position to demand anything. As far as I know, however, no one has yet purchased the air, so if property rights are being discussed (as I assume they are when you write, “provided by whom–blank out,” which, by the way, is a wonderful Randism), it is public property we are discussing. Or is there no such thing?

      To make a general point to both you and Ilene, I do not favor more–or any–government regulation, unless it is intended to protect individuals against fraud, coercion, and theft, including theft of public property. I’m against speed limits and hidden government cameras at tolls booths, for example.

  20. Pingback: Why I Am Not an Objectivist : Objectivisme – the Philosophy of Ayn Rand

  21. Anne, that you are opposed to speed limits astounds me. People already drive at unsafe speeds–with speed limit regulations. 50,000 people die every year from car accidents, isn’t it so? And they kill innocent people, too. Next you’ll tell me that seatbelt legislation is an infringement of your rights. I may volunteer to put mine on when I get into my car, but the law protects me (somewhat) from the capriciousness of others not nearly as responsible, or who don’t have their own interests at heart.

    • I’ve often complained about seat-belt legislation. I don’t want to be protected from myself. Do you, really? We shouldn’t be eating sugar, either, you know. I don’t want to be contentious, but the number of road accidents is an argument against driving, isn’t it?

      If citizens of a state or county want to have speed limits, that’s fine. I’ll obey the law. But in spite of the commerce clause, I think it was super-parental for the federal government to impose a national speed limit in the 1970s–which was about oil, not safety.

      • I am not a proponent of seat-belt legislation because I want to be protected from myself. I want to be protected from others who are irrational enough not to wear a seat-belt when the evidence cogently indicates that seat-belts save lives. If tthese people don’t have enough sense to wear a seat-belt, then they are wont to drive irresponsibly–hence, the need for speed limits and such.

        As for your remark about the oil-saving scheme by the government, I’d advise you to consider that without it, unfortunately, the oil shortage probablywould have been much worse. As soon as we seemed to have enough oil, people began again to buy large vehicles once again. The irrational have short memories and, thus, we continue to support foreign countries by purchasing their oil, countries that would see us dead and be happy.

        Anne, some government restrictions actually do benefit all of us. An example: I would be opposed to social security (I am a recipient) were it not that so many irresponsible people would end up on the dole in old age, and that you and I would be paying for it. We cannot form a more perfect union as long as man remains imperfect.

        While we may disagree, I thank you for this site and your thoughts. I hope that I contribute in some (very) small way.

  22. Thanks Anne for your well written book and your blog. I am not an objectivist, also. At one time, I did think it had just a few holes. Now I realized it is must worse than that. It’s very foundations are incorrect. There are some good things that Rand said or wrote, but you can find it written by someone else and written much better and without all the angry bitter rantings. But I still find Ayn Rand interesting and find her cult following interesting.

    But I’m a bit concerned that it may be very damaging to people to follow the objectivist religion. This is so in very many ways. One is her and Branden’s belief in conditional self-esteem – love yourself when you do well and damn yourself when you do poorly. Another is most objectivist, not all, follow Rand’s lead and severely limit what they can read or listen to. Even if they allow themselves to read something by what they consider the enemy or evil, they have no objectivity.

    Thanks again Anne and keep up the good work!

    • Dear palavering2U,

      Thanks for your thoughtful response to my digression about seat belts and speed laws. I learned to drive in the 1960s, when there were fewer of these self-protective legal measures and I would not miss most of them were they to disappear. I am not opposed to any law that limits my right to harm myself if its purpose is to limit my harm to others. But I want to be able to remove a warning tag glued to the plug on my refrigerator without having to break a law to do so.

      I agree about the good that can be done by government regulation. For example, workplace and food safety laws are for the most part excellent (when they are enforced). Without knowing enough to argue the point decisively, I’d favor the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall and the overturning of the Gramm-Leach bill that removed barriers between kinds of financial institutions. I agree with your reasoning about Social Security.

      My work on Rand made me think more seriously about what we often trade in autonomy for what we get from regulation in the form of health and security. (The Patriot Act began that train of thought.) After all, from generation to generation, legislators and regulators rarely repeal laws (unless a moneyed lobby wants it done).

  23. > One is her and Branden’s belief in conditional self-esteem – love yourself when you do well and damn yourself when you do poorly. Another is most objectivist, not all, follow Rand’s lead and severely limit what they can read or listen to. Even if they allow themselves to read something by what they consider the enemy or evil, they have no objectivity.

    Yes, these would indeed be terrible things, if they were true. None of these points apply to any Objectivist I know. What, you think I decide what to read or what music to listen to based on what Ayn Rand would have liked, or whether she would have “approved”? How completely silly.

    It used to be that Ayn Rand and Objectivism were not widely known. That has changed over the past 20-30 years. In the next 20-30, my hope is that Objectivist’s critics (of which there will still be plenty) are better able to report the content of Objectivism accurately.

  24. When discussing Rand with acquaintances I like to hear arguments about the following thought experiment: There are a total of twenty adult men and women on a rapidly sinking boat in dark frigid waters, far from shore or any kind of help. All are strangers to each other. Ten are Objectivists. The other ten have assorted belief systems. The one available life raft can only hold ten people – the absolute maximum. What happens next?

  25. @Tom,

    There is little to argue about here. Every human being has a moral obligation to preserve his own life. In a society of men, that obligation requires them to establish a third party institution (government) with the assignment of preventing the initiation of force against others to gain, withhold or destroy their values. The function of individual rights in such a society is to objectify in principle the kinds of actions that will be protected as well as the kinds of actions the government may exercise in guaranteeing that all human interactions are voluntary.

    Those rights opt in all situations with the exception of life and death emergencies of the kind in this “thought experiment”. Since the sole purpose of defining rights in the first place is to protect one’s life, it would be a contradiction to define a right in such a way that sustaining it would result in one’s immediate death. Therefore, in such a situation, there is no obligation to grant others a right to their life over your own.

    That said, rational men would strive to save as many others as possible, because of the high value they place on life in principle. Of course, if the 10 non-Objectivists were good conscientious Christians, they would be morally obligated by their own beliefs to forgive the transgressions of the atheist Objectivists and sacrifice their lives to save them as a ticket into the eternal joy of Heaven obviating the problem altogether.

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