Why I can’t buy into Ayn Rand (Part 1)

Is it just me, or is everyone I know reading Ayn Rand and nodding soberly, picking up pearls of wisdom to weave into a conservative economics of wealth production?

I first heard of Rand many years ago when I ran across her commencement speech “Who Needs Philosophy?”  which is actually a really good piece. She expounds a solid reason for studying philosophy as part of any course of study because philosophical thinking matters.  Cool.  I dig that.
Otherwise, my brushes with Ayn Rand consisted of staring at the huge copies of Atlas Shrugged on people’s bookshelves or in the bookstore and wondering if those thousand pages were worth my time.  I’ve decided they aren’t.
So I trotted off to learn something about her philosophical system, Objectivism. If you need a refresher, here is a boiled-down version from Wikipedia‘s article on Ayn Rand:
  • Objectivism’s central tenets are that reality exists independent of consciousness,
  • that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception,
  • that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process ofconcept formation and inductive logic,
  • that the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness (orrational self-interest),
  • that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism,
  • and that the role of art in human life is to transform humans’ metaphysical ideas by selective reproduction of reality into a physical form—a work of art—that one can comprehend and to which one can respond emotionally.
Rand herself denies that you can take her economics apart from her philosophy:
 I am confident enough to think that if you accept the importance of philosophy and the task of examining it critically, it is my philosophy that you will come to accept. Formally, I call it Objectivism, but informally I call it a philosophy for living on earth. You will find an explicit presentation of it in my books, particularly in Atlas Shrugged. (from the latter half of “Philosophy: Who Needs It?”)
I have a meaningful memory of politics since the time of Reagan. It seems that Rand’s cheerleading for individualism and no-restrictions-capitalism has colored Republican politics more and more over the past three decades. (Maybe it was a strong theme in the 60s and 70s too; I don’t know.)
*****
I don’t usually watch the Colbert Report, but a friend of mine commented that Wednesday’s show was very good so I caught it on Hulu.  Colbert dug into the topic of Rand’s influence on the Republican party. Yes, I know Colbert is a comedian not a political analyst (though I think his analyses are often very perceptive) and obviously he is partisan.
But still — take a look (links to video since I can’t embed from Colbert’s site):
After beating on Paul Ryan for a bit, Colbert turned to a Stanford University professor who’s recently written a book about Rand’s influence on the neo-conservative movement. Again, watch:
The Colbert Report
*****
Tomorrow:  I’d like to dig into why Rand’s ideas bug me so much.

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