Growing out of Ayn Rand

Been too busy this week, so this post goes to my reader/student.  First, me.

I’ve always loved this Ayn Rand quote:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Which leads me to the student’s experience, which he shared via email:

I read the article you posted and I have been thinking about why ayn rand was so appealing to me. I think it is because she advocates a society that sounds very appealing.  It is almost like a libertarian utopia. When I was 17-20 it just seemed like the way that the world should be.  Or the way I wished the world was.  I went to prep school and was smarter than a lot of kids whose wealth and status opened doors for them I could only dream of.  In ayn rand world none of that would happen.

Then real life happened. I saw firsthand that I needed other people. I realized that not every problem an individual faces is due to their behavior or can be overcome with hard work.

I realized that I would be dead if I lived in ayn rand’s world.  People like me would never get any help because there aren’t enough of us to be profitable to a drug company.   The consequences of a society like that are unacceptable. When I realized that I was able to step back from ayn rand.  I still find some of her ideas appealing, and I tend to want to try libertarian solutions first.   However I have come to accept that the map is not the territory.  I don’t want to live my life beholden to any ideology because they are all imperfect and imaginary. I can be predisposed to like libertarian solutions but also accept that I don’t want a libertarian Healthcare system.

I think some people never learn that things like political  ideologies are not the immutable laws of the universe. If your ideologically correct way of handling something makes it worse than it isn’t useful or correct in that situation.  I think some people like the security that blind adherence to a rigid ideology gives them. It sure makes thinking easier.

Key sentence… “then real life happened.”  I still believe libertarianism has much to recommend it, but when it is not tempered by an understanding of and experience with the real world, it is a highly problematic ideology.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

2 Responses to Growing out of Ayn Rand

  1. While it’s not an entirely fair basis for evaluating a philosophy, I’m the one who had to do the school reading assignments, and I dismissed Ayn Rand because her books are crap storytelling, full of characters who declaim at such interminable length they would be rejected in the real world. Or they might get a show on Fox. I guess personality cults are an alternative.

    • Jon K says:

      Everything in ayn rand writing is a vehicle to teach her ideas. Her characters are supposed to be unbelievable because they represent the ideal person as she sees things. Her evil characters similarly are similarly extreme and unbelievable because they represent the opposite of what ayn rand sees as virtuous.

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