“Two novels 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 involves orcs.” – Kung Fu Monkey
Ayn Rand is to philosophy what Twilight is to horror fiction - being that the only people who like it have absolutely no experience of what the subject is really about and as a result have nothing to compare it to. Her influence only extends to the general public and she is pretty much ignored by academia, and even then she is more or less unknown outside of North America. I suppose that if you’re a fan you might think this is due to her ideas being so radical that they threaten the liberal elite of University Academia, who plot to turn the USA into a communist country, or whatever. However the reality is that it’s just really bad to the point of being actually quite painful to read if you know anything at all about real philosophy. Reading the woman is to philosophiers like watching CSI if you know anything about computers - just painful.
What Ayn Rand supposed is that there exists a absolute reality of the A=A. Essentially in her mind existence exists and everything that man does is merely the reordering of existence. She goes on to argue that things like art enable man to create metaphors in reality enabling their wildest metaphysical dreams to take flight. She’ll argue that things such as visual illusions, do not prove that that man can not trust their perceptions but rather their perceptions are always correct and any mistakes are mistakes of interpretation, rather than perception of reality. She argues that since you are able to draw absolute logical conclusions and concepts from reality, that the only valid form of logic is Aristotelian logic because it is the one most grounded in reality.
She argues that the ideal world is one where all men are following their own “rational self interest” that they have drawn from reality, which in her mind is represented via a perfect capitalist society, and that there exists a “conspiracy” to suppress men by making them “unsure” of reality. She’ll redefine terms like selfishness and altruistic towards this end. For example a moral individual is one who follows their own “selfish” interest to build houses or whatever but that this is always undermined by “altruistic parasites” who will loot the efforts these selfish individuals rather than going out and doing things for themselves, mainly because they envy the selfish.
Now, as far as philosophical views go this is a pretty loony view of the world. Here are some objections
Her views are over simplistic solutions to complex problems, for example even if you suppose that there exists an absolute reality then you’re still left with the problem of how you, as a subjective individual, reconcile your abstract ideas to it - these are the sort of problems that real philosophers attempts to address. Basically in saying “existence exists” you haven’t actually “solved” anything but merely misdirected attention away from the problem. It is like saying that to end war people should just stop fighting, yeah sure, that people would stop fighting might be a consequence but then how would people otherwise solve disputes? It is childish logic, essentially.
Her views are dogmatic, that is they are true because you believe them to be true rather than being able to prove it to be true. There is this attitude that no one shall enter the kingdom but through me, this is not the way philosohpy works - because philosophy is dialectical - but rather the way religion works. What she is doing in saying that reality objectively exists is to make her personal subjective views appear to be more concrete than they actually are. Which is what her true intent is: to turn her specific definition of what capitalism is into some weird religion for the gullible, and nothing more.
She simply makes stuff up, for example she supposes that the whole of 19th century Idealism is merely a conspiracy to make people unsure of their own existence so that they are easier to control by 'altruistic ’ dictators. She spends the vast majority of her time in her books simply constructing and then knocking down various strawmen, who are represented by her characters. For example Dr. Floyd Ferris.
Her work is just derivative of other better philosophiers such as Nietzsche, that she has simply rewrittern a bad interpretation of in order to sell her rubbish moral opinions. As a consequence you’re much better off just going to the source and cutting out the middle hag, espically since she seems to have a rather limited grasp of genuine philosophy, and much of anything in general. This is very apparent if you even have a basic working knowledge of philosophy.
She’ll just ignore her own arguments when they turn out to be inconvient. For example she’ll celebrate the triumph of the Apollo project which being a government funded collective effort is the very antithesis of everything she is about. Brushing it off with broad statments like: “It would have been done” etc. And everything about who she was, how she became who she was and how she lived her life point towards a high level of cognitive dissonance. In fact there are convenient loopholes in her philosophy that state that her arguments can be ignored based a emergency situation, such as being on a life boat etc.
But the greatest failing is that even if you subscribe to her “philosophy” and ignore the above, even then it still falls down by its own argument. For example suppose I give you $5 for a hotdog, now as a objectivist to suppose that some benefit has occured between both parties then you have to presume that money is actually worth something outside of a social context, otherwise nothing has been created in the transaction since at the end of the day all money is, is a abstract concept. To put this another way, if I gave you $5 for a hot dog then there would be absolutely no benefit to you if you are unable to spend it due to it not being legal tender. To quote Adam Smith: “All money is a matter of belief”, currency is only currency because of social and economic forces and not because it is instrinically worth anything. It is not linked to reality in anyway, at all, but is only symbolically representative of reality. Do you see how it defeats itself? if objectivism is followed to it’s logical conclusion then money is worthless, in a supposed capitalist utopia
In conclusion: Rand just wrote a very bad interpretation of Nietzsche for young adults. Where Nietzsche argued that the problem with society was that it was based in ideals, E.G., Christianity, that were essentially founded in nihilism and were therefore self-destructive because they were effectively internalizing resentment and suppressing human passions, and went on to argue that the cure to this was to be found in the “free spirits” being those able to break free from this endless pattern of idealized self-destruction by getting back in touch with their own human drives, who love fate, who are (or do not resent) the strong and who reject notions of absolute ideal truth. What Rand does is take this view literary and argue that rather than rejecting it you should buy into a ideal - that further that it is objectively the only ideal, there being only one reality - that is ultimately for the benefit of those at the top of the pyramid, that represent the ideal man - her interpretation of the free spirits - and that society should be constructed only for the benefit of these people. That all the problems of society come about due to rejecting this and suppressing the elite - who would magically solve all the world’s problems if they were given free reign to pursue their own selfish goals. Really, it’s like the difference between devil worship and atheism, the latter rejects religion itself while the former gives up and decides to join the comic relief.
–edit, Wow if I known that I would have made best of Reddit I would have actually spent more time editting the post for clarity rather than giving up half way through and deciding to go to bed. It’s a jumble to be sure.