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Critiques of Objectivism

On the larger college campuses today, you can still find the remnants of Ayn Rand's Objectivist movement, which reached its peak in the 1960s. (It's funny how so many weird movements reached their peak in the sixties…) The true hardcore Rand fanatics – or as they're often called, "Randroids" – moved on and still continue to promote her as the Greatest Living Prophet Since Aristotle. And like L. Ron Hubbard's programmed automatons, the hardcore Objectivists really hate it when anyone dares to suggest she was anything less than The Ultimate Philosopher.

The Ayn Rand Web site states, "Formally, Ayn Rand named her philosophy 'Objectivism,' but informally she called it a philosophy for living on earth." In other words, Rand's writings will tell you everything you need to know about living and thinking! Who could ask for anything more?

That's the reason why Objectivists tend to gloss over the extra-marital affair Rand had with her protegĂ©, Nathaniel Branden. Despite their 25-year age difference and the fact that they were both married, the two carried on a lengthy affair that was allegedly approved by their prospective spouses; Rand even tried to "rationalize" the affair by claiming that she and he were the two greatest living minds on the planet. (She didn't have an ego – did she?) It came to an end when Rand discovered that Branden was actually cheating on her behind her back with yet another woman. This led to Branden's excommunication from Rand's inner circle and his demonization by the Objectivist movement. Rand rejected many of her close friends in the later years of her life, and much of the movement dwindled with her death in 1982. Today the Center for the Advancement of Objectivism (a.k.a. the Ayn Rand Institute) is led by Rand's hand-picked successor, Leonard Peikoff, and he rules it with an iron fist. In the eyes of the ARI, Ayn Rand is nothing less than the greatest human being who ever lived.

As for the Objectionist philosophy itself, it seems ludicrous to think that Rand laid out a set of hard-and-fast rules that every human being allegedly follows. Yet, that is the claim of Objectivism, and Objectivists recite the formula "A=A" (which originally came from Aristotle) as a way of declaring her formulas to be universal and all-encompassing. Interestingly, much of Rand's writings were originally published in her own self-edited newsletter, which allowed her to publish only comments and schools of thought that she agreed with.

It's practically mandatory for every self-styled wanna-be intellectual aged 20-something to read Atlas Shrugged (or at least attempt to read it). If you can slog your way through over a thousand pages of "philosophical" lecturing and speeches disguised as an actual story, then you're a better human being than I.

My favorite capsule summary of Objectivism comes from comic book writer Alan Moore: "I had to look at The Fountainhead. I have to say I found Ayn Rand's philosophy laughable. It was a 'white supremacist dreams of the master race,' burnt in an early-20th century form. Her ideas didn't really appeal to me, but they seemed to be the kind of ideas that people would espouse, people who might secretly believe themselves to be part of the elite, and not part of the excluded majority." [1]

The devotion of Rand's followers has led some of the breakaway Objectivist groups to criticise the Ayn Rand Institute itself, claiming that it has corrupted her ideals and philosophies. Such it is with ARI Watch, the Web site that still loves Rand but hates the ARI.

There's even an Objectivism wiki available online to contribute to, though this wiki currently makes no mention at all of Nathaniel Branden.

Rand's breakthrough novel, The Fountainhead, was made into a Hollywood movie in 1948 – but good luck trying to watch it without falling asleep. If you're more interested in the tawdry side of her life, you should look for a 1999 TV movie made and broadcast on Showtime called The Passion of Ayn Rand, which shows us her affair with Branden – and with a highly talented cast of British actors, too.

(A footnote: Randroids proudly proclaim that Atlas Shrugged was voted "the 'second most influential book for Americans today' after the Bible, according to a joint survey conducted by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club." Actually, the poll in question was an Internet-based popularity contest that was flooded with rigged votes for books by Rand and L. Ron Hubbard. You can see the actual results here at the Random House polls for the best nonfiction books and best fiction books of the 20th Century. The "reader's list" choices seem rather suspicious, don't they?)