Let’s talk about Ayn Rand. Firstly, I think it’s important to know that her name is pronounced “eye-uhn,” and, depending on what you know about her, you may think she’s the best or worst thing that’s ever happened to literature, philosophy and Western Civilization in general.
We can skip opinions for now and focus on a few facts. She emigrated from Russia in 1926 after facing numerous hardships as her family’s life was upturned by the Russian Revolution. She originally began her career as a screenwriter in Hollywood but eventually achieved fame for her novels.
“The Fountainhead,” the work that won her acclaim, has sold almost 8 million copies since being published according to the Ayn Rand Institute. The same organization places her most famous work, “Atlas Shrugged,” at nearly 9 million copies sold, and a Google search of her name produces more than half a million hits.
This woman has quite obviously penetrated the American consciousness in a way that few, if any, modern philosophers have. So, why do we not study her?
Rand developed an entirely new philosophical system she called Objectivism. It focuses on reason as man’s only absolute and dismisses concepts of good being defined by subjective means such as how people feel. She flipped the proverbial script and turned many a commonly-accepted concept on its ear.
Not only did she write incredibly popular novels but she also authored works, such as “The Romantic Manifesto,” that explore the purpose and criticism of art and literature. In a time where popular culture is shifting to include thinkers other than men, here sits a prime candidate that is overlooked on a regular basis. Again I ask, why do we not study her?
Perhaps people find her philosophy a bit too rigid or demanding for them. Whenever Rand encountered someone wishing to talk to her, she would ask them, “What are your premises?” Most people could only give half-thought responses about love or family or society, and Rand would then begin to reveal the logical flaws in their ideas—not a great way to endear oneself.
A friend of mine once said that Rand’s philosophy was excellent, but it could only work in a vacuum. And we, of course, cannot forget the comment by screenwriter and producer John Rogers.
“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.”
Personally, I am an enormous fan of Rand and her philosophy. I have given Objectivist advice to friends before that they thought was perhaps the most brilliant thing they have ever heard, but they rarely put it to use.
I think these examples are at the heart of the issue. People, when presented with the right or good choice—or perhaps even the ideal standard thereof—often simply think the mountain too high to climb and chose to remain as they are.
I find the belief that “standing on principle is just too hard” fairly depressing. We are human; we can change. Therefore, we have hope for a better future. I have to wonder what the results might be if we studied Objectivism in philosophy courses and used Rand’s theories of criticism in literature classes. Maybe this idea of a looming tower of logic that represents a standard too high to achieve might seem a little more surmountable.
Either way, I encourage everyone to stand on principle and to be able to defend their premises. This is college, after all, the time when you are meant to discover what you believe and why you believe it. Otherwise, why bother?
Ethan Davis is a junior philosophy and English double major from Laurel.