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Ayn Rand is not a synonym for libertarianism.

Ayn Rand is not a synonym for libertarianism.

Not that anyone who should try to find out about the distinction would care, but Ayn Rand ≠ libertarianism.

I recently had an email forwarded to me by a friend on an “Occupy” listserve from an academic with the subject line “A little something for the libertarians” with a copy/paste of an article about Ayn Rand’s creepy admiration of a serial killer from the 1920s.

It doesn’t bother me that this academic went for a lame ad hom attack of a writer. (Would I try to dismiss socialism by citing Stalin’s character flaws? No! I can do much better than that.) What bothers me is that this is supposed to be a “gotcha” moment for libertarians because somehow Ayn Rand has become a blanket term/the figurehead of libertarianism.

Of course, it isn’t because Randian philosophy ≠ libertarianism.

I know many libertarians and conservatives, including myself, who loved reading Atlas Shrugged in their youth. The book’s argument against collectivism resonates well with pro-liberty individuals. However, Randian philosophy comprises a whole bunch of embarrassing epistemic, moral, and aesthetic components that repulse many actual avowed libertarians. (And did during her life too.)

Yet this is the third time in my college career that I have bore witness to someone in higher education using Ayn Rand’s character flaws to dismiss an ideology she didn’t even like! 

I’m happy to quote Ayn Rand when she made a good point against collectivism, but I stick to Hayek and Mises for the most part. Because, you know, they happily represent what libertarians believe.


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Charles Curran | November 21, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Whittaker Chambers reveiwed Atlas Shrugged for National Review when it first came out. He pretty much panned the book, to the point that when Buckley would enter a room or gathering where Rand was, she would leave the room.

I appreciate Rand’s stance against Collectivism though her lack of understanding the nature of the human condition leaves her words morally empty. Human beings are capable of committing horrific attrocities without conscience and morality- or rather acquiring a moral compass- is not something that just happens out of an idea that good intentions feel good; as is said the road to hell is paved with them. Humans need humility which means having a belief there is God more powerful than self.

A friend and recently-retired philosophy professor (he was asked to present a paper at Oxford last year) wrote about Ayn Rand in the following article. He is a libertarian and ran for local office as a libertarian. This is probably the best analysis of her actual philosophy that you will find:

“Ayn Rand (born Alice Rosenbaum) is a fascinating person and an inspiring advocate of freedom but a very mixed blessing philosophically…”

I read Atlas Shrugged while I was in the Service when I spent a few months in a hospital wrapped in a bunch of plaster casts. Had Facebook been around then I would have unfriended Ms Rand. Not that I had anything against taking care of myself but because of the way she just left Eddie Willers out in the wilds when the train finally stopped.

Remember Eddie? Never a big mover and shaker, simply a fiercely loyal subordinate. Not able to think the big thoughts, just a guy who got his orders and would carry them out, at whatever cost to himself.

Maybe I never learned all the things one is supposed to learn in grad school but as a PFC, Lance Corporal, then Corporal I learned to be loyal to both my superiors AND my subordinates. Rand had no loyalty down. I doubt she had any loyalty at all.