Five Myths About Ayn Rand and Objectivism
Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was a Russian-American novelist, playwright, and philosopher who left a lasting legacy as one of the leading thinkers of the 20th century. His philosophy of objectivism, presented in his works of fiction and non-fiction, is groundbreaking and unique.
Objectivism is constantly distorted and stereotyped in the popular media, and is accused of being responsible for all right-wing political development. Here are five common myths you may have heard about Ayn Rand.
Myth #1: Ayn Rand was against charitable donations
The cornerstone of Ayn Rand’s philosophy was her opposition to altruism and his support of selfishness. Of course, in common parlance this would imply that she was fundamentally opposed to all forms of charity.
Charitable donations under the guise of altruism is contrary to the principles of objectivism. However, giving can be entirely compatible with rational self-interest. Donating money to specific individuals or causes actually has an important role to play in a night watchman state.
Rand argued that some people are unable rather than unwilling to support themselves, and therefore voluntary charity would be the only legitimate means of survival for some. However, it is critically important that this donation remains motivated by reason rather than a sense of altruism.
In his article “The Ethics of Emergencies,” Rand said:
“By elevating the question of helping others to the rank of a central and primordial question of ethics, altruism has destroyed the concept of all benevolence or genuine goodwill between men.“¹
Myth #2: Receiving “government money” is unacceptable
Objectivism argues that the government should not be in the business of redistributing money. Ayn Rand’s critics would say her eventual collection of Social Security money was a point of hypocrisy.
In Letters from Ayn Rand (letter 524, to Mrs. Milton W. Broberg), it was addressed to a fan whose husband had become unemployed and was receiving money from the government. Rand asserted that the man should not be ashamed to receive this help.
It was on the grounds that he had earned money that the state had plundered from him while he was working, and he was just getting back some of what was already his. It was precisely because Rand opposed collectivist redistribution of wealth that she saw the collection of Social Security as restitution for what had been taken.
Moreover, one of the characters of Atlas shrugged.Ragnar Danneskjöld, would rob American merchant ships, convert the spoils into gold, and return it to the people of Galt’s Gulch whose revenues had been taken by the state.
Myth #3: Ayn Rand didn’t tolerate religious people
Objectivism is a philosophy fundamentally at odds with religion, where there is no room for metaphysical mysticism. This does not mean, however, that Ayn Rand was intolerant of religious people. On the contrary, Ayn Rand is known to have held certain religious people in high regard and, while disagreeing, would willingly listen to their ideas and engage in debate.
Thomas Aquinas, a 13th-century priest, was one of two philosophers from whom Rand drew significant influence, alongside Aristotle. Rand’s appreciation for Aquinas stems from the latter’s attempts to apply Aristotelian logic to his own beliefs. The reason was important to Aquinas, although he ultimately did not come to the same conclusion as Rand.
Moreover, by writing to him masterpiece, Atlas shrugged.Ayn Rand originally planned to include a priest in the story, a character who would be a “most glamorous projection of a Thomistic philosopher, a man who thought he could combine reason and religion.”²
Myth #4: Objectivism means our ultimate goal must be to make lots of money
Objectivism does not condemn the pursuit of money – which distinguishes it from other philosophies. However, the money is not one of the cardinal values of objectivism.
Instead, it’s reason, purpose, and self-esteem. The means to achieve these values are rationality, productivity and pride. As such, money is not an end in itself, but rather the results (in a capitalist society) of productivity, which is the central goal of a rational man’s life.
In Atlas shrugged., Rand features heroes and villains at both ends of the wealth spectrum. Indeed, many of the story’s antagonists, such as James Taggart and Orren Boyle, are rich characters, while Galt’s Gulch has a place for productive people in all industries.
Myth #5: Ayn Rand was a conservative
Due to a number of conservative figures crediting Ayn Rand with influence, a pervasive myth has emerged claiming her as conservative. Rand, however, would have flatly rejected this idea. Indeed, she was known to be a fierce critic of conservatives, disliking conservative figures such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
Ayn Rand disagreed with conservatives on religion and religious morality. She also disagreed with them on politics. But, more importantly, she also strongly disagreed with the conservative approach to defending capitalism.
When conservatives defend capitalism, it is usually approached from an altruistic or utilitarian angle, that is, that it produces the greatest good for the greatest number. Conservatives can also defend capitalism on the basis of tradition, rejecting the disruption of socialism. However, conservatism does not defend capitalism for capitalism’s sake.
In her essay “Conservatism: An Obituary,” Ayn Rand characterizes conservatives as follows: “They say we must defend the American political system not because it is rightbut because our ancestors chose it, not because it is goodbut because it is Old.“³
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¹ Rand, Ayn. “Ethics of Emergencies.” The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Selfishness. 50th anniversary edition. New York: Bookmark, 1964, 49.
²Rand, Ayn. Ayn Rand’s Diaries. Ed. David Harmon. New York: Feather,  1999. 540-541.
³ Rand, Ayn. “Conservatism: An Obituary.” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. 2nd ed. New York: Bookmark,  1967, 221.
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