Ayn Rand and Reading Groups

Reading Part II, Chapter 10 in Atlas Shrugged: Why did Dagny stop the conductor from ejecting the aging tramp from the stalled train? "There was no astonishment in the tramp's face, no protest, no anger, no hope . . . The only gesture of concern he made was to tighten his grip on a small, dirty bundle, as if to make sure he would not lose it in leaping off the train. It was the laundered collar and this gesture for the last of his possessions--a gesture of a sense of property--that made her feel an emotion like a sudden, burning twist within her. 'Wait,' she said."

As the date for a paperback release of my book approaches, I’ll be visiting a number of reading groups to discuss Ayn Rand and the World She Made, Rand’s novels and essays, and her immense influence on our national discussion of everything from literature to religion to a building site for the disputed downtown Manhattan mosque. (More on that in a forthcoming post.)

The 18th-century Princeton home base of Korelitz's reading group, which benefits Housing Initiatives of Princeton, and of Korelitz, her husband, the poet Paul Muldoon, and their two children.

The first of these visits, which took place on September 14, was to a venerable reading group hosted eight times a year by novelist Jean Hanff Korelitz, in Princeton, New Jersey. Most of the group’s eighteen members–writers, publicists, parents, and teachers–had read my book and either The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged or both. (Since one of my goals for the book was to inspire readers to take a new look at Rand’s novels, this made me happy.) Members were especially interested in Rand’s celebration of individual achievement, but wondered, “Where is her empathy for those less able?” One reader thought she had spotted such empathy in Dagny Taggart’s favorable response to Jeff Allen, the tramp on the stalled and abandoned Taggart train in Atlas Shrugged; for those whose memory is hazy, Allen had worked for the Twentieth Century Motor Company and reveals to Dagny the identity of John Galt as a former Twentieth Century engineer and inventor. I pointed out that empathy is not a cardinal virtue in Rand’s universe; justice, as defined by John Galt, is:

“Justice is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake the character of men as you cannot fake the character of nature,” Galt says on page 933 of my copy of Atlas Shrugged, “. . . that every man must be judged for what he is and treated accordingly, that just as you do not pay a higher price for a rusty chunk of scrap than for a piece of shining metal, so you do not value a rotter above a hero. . . that to withhold your contempt from men’s vices is an act of moral counterfeiting, and to withhold your admiration from their virtues is an act of moral embezzlement–that to place any other concern higher than justice is to devalue your moral currency and defraud the good in favor of the evil, since only the good can lose by a default of justice and only the evil can profit.”

We also talked about private property as a basis of capitalism and at least one member’s recollection of Nixon’s final scuttling of the gold standard in the summer of 1971. She was in Europe and recalled that, within a day or two, her dollars bought ten percent less than they had. Of course, Europe was redeeming dollars for gold in that era of endless war and huge trade deficits, and she was reading Atlas Shrugged.

For a Knopf/Doubleday reading-group guide and suggested discussion questions about Ayn Rand and the World She Made, go to http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9781400078936&view=rg.

-Anne C. Heller


2 thoughts on “Ayn Rand and Reading Groups

  1. Objectivism has many flaws and this show one of the ways it is seriously flawed. I was in an objectivist study group for a while up to a year and a half ago. This group often discussed this issue of individualism and individual achievement.

    Often these discussion would center on the issue of an individual not taking credit for his achievement or downplaying it and often the example of a professional athlete of some popular team sport – football or baseball or basketball – performing very well and contributing greatly to the teams win but in post-game interview, not taking credit for it or playing it down or giving more credit to teammates, etc. So perhaps Matt Holiday hits a 3-run walk off homer the give his team a 1 run win and after the game says, “Well I just saw the ball well, he gave me a good pitch and fortunately I made good contact. And Smith really pitched a great game for us and our bull pen came in and held them and gave us a chance to win and hitters in front of me were able to get on base and give me chance to get to the plate”.

    Objectivist want him to brag how good he is and take pride in his own individual achievements.

    Well, first of all the modesty or the humility someone might show or the credit he gives to others on the team is often in his and the teams interest and he comes off much more classy. The “Objective” or Randite way he would come off looking like a jerk.

    2nd, Baseball is a team sport and it’s true that the team won not just because Holliday’s hitting the ball over the fence, but that there were two runners on base and so Holliday’s homer would not had been 3 runs and 3 rbi’s for Holliday and win for the team if they were not on base. And perhaps the pitching staff and some good defensive plays is what kept the team in game.

    And more than that, what kind of pitches Holliday gets depends on how good of hitters are the batters near him in line-up – especially the hitting right after him. Other not very strong hitters, the opposing pitchers will tend to pitch around Holliday.

    Finally, performing at the high level professional athletes perform at takes a certain kind of focus and mental attitude that is counter to the chest pounding boasting of own achievements the Randite way advocates. This comment has already gone on too long so I’ll leave it like that.

    And I’m sure some Randites or Randroids will want to tell me how wrong I am and get all bent out of shape because I criticize their religious beliefs of Randism and will call me all kinds of names. Go ahead, I get this all the time from Randites and Randroids. The reason is Randites and Randroids are jerks.

  2. Your assumption that modesty and humility are in the best interest of an individual thereby proving individual pride at one’s own achievements to be false is simply begging the question. Your revulsion at seeing another’s happiness in their efforts and claiming it as not “classy” is foolish since you’re already asserting humility as the standard of good conduct.

    To your second point whether or not a team wins a game doesn’t take away from an individual’s achievements. Yes winning the game depends on good teamwork and no single person can win the whole game (in your baseball example) but that still doesn’t mean that one person can’t hit a really good homerun. That’s still something to take pride in. Your whole example assumes that it’s win or nothing. If more people took pride in their achievements then others could have something positive to which they can strive and improve themselves. That way as you improve you help others to improve, a win-win. This point is dramatized in The Fountainhead with the scene between Roark and the boy on the bicycle.

    Thirdly, contrary to what you claim pride does not mean self-conciet, boasting, chest pounding, attention seeking. These attitudes run counter to the virtues Rand upheld, those of independence, honesty, and rationality among others.

    But I think your own words speak for themselves as to why you have such antagonism towards Rand’s ideas, “The reason is Randites and Randroids are jerks.” Why bother to discuss anything at all if that’s all you really wanted to say?

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