The Ethics of Ayn Rand
Appreciation and Critique
Revised October 9, 2007
In the late seventies, I went on an Ayn Rand craze. I read most of her works, fiction and non-fiction. I recall sitting in the student center at Bethel College as a young professor of Bible reading Atlas Shrugged. An Old Testament professor from the seminary walked by and saw what I was reading. He paused and said, “That stuff is incredibly dangerous.” He was right. For a certain mindset, she is addicting and remarkably compelling in her atheistic rationalism.
To this day, I find her writings paradoxically attractive. I am a Christian Hedonist. This is partly why her work is alluring to me. She had her own brand of hedonism. It was not traditional hedonism that says whatever gives you pleasure is right. Hers was far more complex than that. It seems so close and yet so far to what I find in the Bible. So in this essay, my goals are to introduce Ayn Rand, to describe briefly her impact as a novelist and philosopher, and to assess her ethical theory from a Christian perspective—specifically from the perspective of Christian Hedonism. Though the original form of this essay was written almost thirty years ago, I have had to change very little.
Cogent Christian responses to Ayn Rand are few. Positive Christian assessments are almost non-existent. I aim for this treatment to be both Christian and primarily positive, even though Ayn Rand was an atheist and outspokenly anti-Christian. I trust I will be forgiven the presumption of stepping outside my own specialty: My field is neither literary criticism nor philosophy but biblical, theological and pastoral. I write this because I take pleasure in extending to others the delight I have had in learning from Ayn Rand.
Who Is Ayn Rand?1
Ayn (rhymes with “pine”) Rand was best known as the author of the novels Atlas Shrugged (1957), The Fountainhead (1943), and We the Living (1936) which together sold over twelve million copies.2 She was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1905, graduated with a degree in history from the University of Leningrad in 1924, and emigrated to the United States in 1926. “I am an American by choice and conviction,” she wrote, “I was born in Europe, but I came to America because this was the country based on my moral premises and the only country where I could be fully free to write.”3 In 1929, she married Frank O’Connor whom she had met (ironically) at Cecil B. de Mille’s Hollywood Studio during the production of The King of Kings. Until The Fountainhead established her as a novelist, Ayn Rand worked as a screenwriter, a filing clerk, a typist, a script reader, and a freelance writer.
In 1958, soon after the publication of Atlas Shrugged, Nathaniel Branden, whom Ayn Rand calls her “intellectual heir,”4 began to offer a periodic series of lectures on the basic principles of Objectivism—the philosophy which Ayn Rand had developed in her novels. Together Rand and Branden published The Objectivist Newsletter from 1962 to 1968. This periodical, which applied Rand’s philosophy to contemporary events, was selling over 60,000 copies monthly before Branden ceased to be associated with the project in 1968. From 1968 to 1976, Rand produced a monthly four-page tract called The Ayn Rand Letter which reached a circulation of 15,000. She announced her decision to stop publishing the Letter with these words, “I intend to return, full time to my primary work: writing books. The state of today’s culture is so low that I do not care to spend my time watching and discussing it.”5
The Impact of Ayn Rand
Dr. Ruth Alexander once said in The New York Mirror, “Ayn Rand is destined to rank in history as [an] outstanding novelist and profound philosopher of the twentieth century.”6 Whether or not this historical judgment will prove true in the long run, we may surely say with M. Stanton Evans that the sheer success of her novels in the book market (over twelve million sold) “suggests she has touched some vital nerve deep within the exhausted tissue of our culture. . . .”7
Despite her success the literary establishment considers her an outsider. Almost to a man critics have either ignored or denounced the Book [Atlas Shrugged]. She is in exile among the philosophers too . . . . [L]iberals glower at the very mention of her name, but conservatives too swallow hard when she begins to speak. For Ayn Rand whether anyone likes it or not is sui generis: indubitably, irrevocably, intransigently individual.8
These words of Alvin Toffler were confirmed when one surveyed the critical opinions of Rand’s work. While Nathaniel Branden declared Atlas Shrugged to be “the most original and challenging novel of our age,”9 Newsweek branded the book “a masochist’s lollipop which runs to 1168 pages.”10 Other critics were just as negative, if not as creative: “execrable claptrap,” “a pitiful exercise in something akin to paranoia,” “longer than life and twice as preposterous,” “the worse piece of fiction since The Fountainhead.”11 James Collins, professor of philosophy at St. Louis University, regarded Rand’s writing as “free-floating harangue.”12 Perhaps the most wholesale condemnation came from freelance critic Bruce Cook in The Catholic World:
Miss Rand is a profoundly poor writer. To say that her plots are absurdly tendentious, her characters no more than wooden puppets and her diction utterly without grace or beauty (all of which is quite true) is to give no real idea of the quality of her novels, they are completely bad from conception to expression.13
Not only her fiction but also her underlying philosophy, Objectivism, received mainly negative criticism (except at the grassroots, see below). Besides Branden’s sympathetic “Analysis of the Novels of Ayn Rand,”14 there were two major studies on Objectivism both of which were almost entirely negative. Albert Ellis wrote Is Objectivism a Religion? to show that any resemblance between Objectivism and a truly rational approach to human existence is purely coincidental; that Objectivist teachings are unrealistic, dogmatic, and religious; that unless they are greatly modified in their tone and their content they are likely to create more harm than good for the believer in their way of life; and that they result in a system of psychotherapy that is inefficient and unhelpful.15
William F. O’Niell wrote the most detailed and scholarly critique of Objectivism called With Charity Toward None: An Analysis of Ayn Rand’s Philosophy. While his conclusions were negatively critical, he did grant that “whatever else Miss Rand may have achieved, she continues to serve as a useful intellectual catalyst in a society which frequently suffers from philosophical ‘tired blood.’”16
Probably more indicative of establishment sentiments, however, were the philosophical potshots taken in the popular press. Charles Shroder, in a typically vague and platitudinous critique said that “Miss Rand’s ideas appear to be a century or so out of date” and “her philosophical system is just another philosophy of retarded conservatism.”17 Joel Rosenbloon accused her of a “sophomoric analysis of the history of Western philosophy” and added that her own philosophy is “largely pretentious nonsense.”18 Miss Rand’s thought was described as “a sort of Nietzscheism-gone-rabid”19 and she was attacked as an anarchist and an incipient Hitler20 whose “grasp of logic is uncertain” and whose philosophy “is nearly perfect in its immorality.”21
But at the grassroots level, the story of Ayn Rand’s impact was different. All over the country, Randian enthusiasts discussed her books with an almost religious fervor. They still do in 2007. In business luncheons and dormitory bull sessions and neighborhood conversations, the glories of John Galt, Howard Roark, and Leo Kovalensky (Rand’s three heroes) were extolled, and the philosophy they embodied was applied to American culture. Typical conversion stories would include the following. A student recalls, “I was born a Catholic, but I just can’t believe in the gaudiness and fanciness of the Catholic church. I like Howard Roark’s worship of man much better.” A coed in the Midwest who didn’t say what church she had formerly belonged to remarked proudly, “It was only a few weeks after I read Atlas Shrugged that I left the church.”22 A Manhattan retail store executive described his experience after reading The Fountainhead: “I had found my spiritual home.”23 How much Ayn Rand’s philosophy had grown up from the grassroots into the minds of those with governmental power was hard to say. But in September, 1974, Time reported that Alan Greenspan, the Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, was a longtime friend and disciple of Ayn Rand.24
In my judgment, Ayn Rand was a very important intellectual voice in America and must be seriously reckoned with if for no other reason than the wide readership her novels have received and are still receiving in the 21st century. But there are other reasons. When first reading Atlas Shrugged and especially the speech of John Galt, which Rand says is the briefest summary of her philosophy,25 I was continually provoked to deeper and clearer perception and thought. I did not share the undifferentiated condemnations against her fiction, which was the among most enthralling I had ever read, or her philosophy, which as O’Neill said was at least “refreshingly abrasive.”26 But even more, Ayn Rand was right on some fundamental issues. The reason I have written this essay is to distinguish between some of the basic truths and errors in her teaching. Or to put it another way, I wanted to ferret out why I was both attracted and repulsed by her philosophy. I choose to focus on her ethics for two reasons: First, because as Toffler says, “Her philosophy . . . encompasses more than economics or politics. Primarily it sets forth a new kind of ethics . . .”27 Second, because her essay, “The Objectivist Ethics,” was the best distillation of her philosophy I read.
The Ethics of Ayn Rand: Restatement
The best one sentence summary of Ayn Rand’s thought came from the appendix to her greatest novel, Atlas Shrugged: “My philosophy in essence is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity and reason as his only absolute” (1085). As an atheist and a thoroughgoing laissez-faire capitalist (F, viii),28 she opposed all philosophies and ethical systems based on supernaturalism or collectivism. The one opposes and destroys man’s life on earth by calling for self-sacrifice in hope of a non-existent future life; the other opposes and destroys man’s life by demanding his self-immolation for the sake of an ethereal entity called society. For Ayn Rand, all the emotions of exaltation, worship, reverence, grandeur, and nobility which religion arrogated to God, and collectivism arrogated to society, belonged in fact to man as a rational individual. Thus she said in a commencement address in 1963, “This is the motive and purpose of my writing: the projection of an ideal man.”29 She wanted to portray her characters so that “the pleasure of contemplating these characters is an end in itself” (F, vii). Accordingly, she designated “the sense of life dramatized in The Fountainhead as man-worship” (F, ix).
Ayn Rand’s most fundamental premise was, in the words of John Galt, “The axiom that existence exists” (FNI, 124; AS, 942). Then a corollary premise was that man is a conscious being who perceives this existing reality. These two, existence and consciousness, were fundamental, inescapable axioms in any action we undertake: “Whether you know the shape of a pebble or the structure of a solar system, the axioms remain the same: that it exists and that you know it” (FNI, 125; AS, 942). Implied in these two axioms was the law of identity and the law of non-contradiction. A is A; a stone is a stone and not a flower; a thing is what it is and not something else; you cannot have your cake and eat it too. That is the law of identity. Existence is not wishy-washy but a firm base for epistemology. The law of non-contradiction then is the epistemological form of the law of identity: You cannot know A to be A and at the same time know A to be not-A. Two mutually exclusive assertions cannot both be known to be true at the same time. “A contradiction does not exist . . . . To arrive at a contradiction is to confess an error in one’s thinking; to maintain a contradiction is to abdicate one’s mind and to evict oneself from the realm of reality” (FNI, 126; AS, 943).
Thus for Ayn Rand, existence and consciousness were coordinate, so that existence or reality was always the standard by which the validity of the judgments of consciousness was measured. To put it another way, metaphysics (“that which pertains to reality, to the nature of things, to existence,” VS, 14) is the foundation and arbiter of epistemology. (See her critique of Kant’s bifurcation of phenomenal and noumenal, FNI, 30f.)
In a similar way, metaphysics functioned as the basis of Rand’s axiology, her system of values. Just as being is the foundation of knowing, so it is the foundation of duty. What is prescribes what ought to be. As she said in “The Objectivist Ethics,” “The validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is determines what it ought to do.” This premise must be grasped to understand Rand’s ethical system.
Rand argued that “life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself” (VS, 17). She did not mean mere existence, but rather the life appropriate to the nature of the organism. No more ultimate value than life can be conceived for any given organism when life is defined as the fullness of existence appropriate to one’s nature. But not only is life the highest value of any given organism; life is also that alone which makes the concept of values possible (VS, 16). For, since a “value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep . . . it presupposes an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative” (VS, 15). Therefore, without life values are not possible, and so life must be valuable since on it hangs the very validity of the concept of values. If one is to conceive of values at all, he must ascribe value to life or else contradict himself by devaluing that which makes his very devaluation possible.
It follows from this that “an organism’s life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil” (VS, 17). Or, to be more specific with regard to man, “The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics . . . is man’s life, or: that which is required for man’s survival qua man.” (VS, 23). Again, it is not mere survival, but survival proper to man’s nature. What is this nature?
Man’s distinction from the lower forms of life is this: “his consciousness is volitional” (VS, 20) and the knowledge upon which his survival as man depends and which he must achieve by the use of his volition is conceptual rather than merely perceptual (VS, 20). The uniquely human method of using consciousness Rand called “conceptualizing” and describes like this:
It is not a passive state of registering random impressions. It is an actively sustained process of identifying one’s impressions in conceptual terms, of integrating every event, and every observation into a conceptual context, of grasping relationships, differences, similarities in one’s perceptual material and of abstracting them into new concepts, of drawing inferences, of making deductions, of reaching conclusions, of asking new questions, and discovering new answers and expanding one’s knowledge into an ever-growing sum. The faculty that directs this process, the faculty that works by means of concepts, is: reason. The process is thinking (VS, 20).
If man is to be man he must will to think. His basic means of survival is reason. “No percepts and no instincts will tell him how to light a fire, how to weave a cloth, how to forge tools, how to make a wheel, how to make an airplane, how to perform an appendectomy, how to produce an electric light bulb or an electronic tube or a cyclotron or a box of matches. Yet his life depends on such knowledge—and only a volitional act of his consciousness, a process of thought, can provide it” (VS, 21).
The next step in Rand’s ethics was this: Since man’s uniqueness consists in, and his survival depends on, the volitional use of his reason, therefore “that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; and that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil” (VS, 23). The standard by which every man determines good and evil is the survival or fulfillment of his own life as a rational being. The basic ethical commitment of Ayn Rand was to be rational. That is, she sought a life that accorded with the fact that A is A, and no contradiction in one’s thinking or acting is to be tolerated. Thus in designating her standard of ethics as “rational self-interest,” the emphasis had to fall on the word “rational.”
All the virtues follow from this rationality. I will cite several examples. Independence: This is your commitment to think for yourself and to accept the burden and responsibility of your own rational life (FNI, 128).
Integrity: This is the conviction that man is an indivisible entity and that no breach can be permitted between body and mind, between action and thought, between his life and his convictions (FNI, 129; AS, 945). To forsake integrity is to try to fake your own consciousness, to think yes and do no, to live a contradiction.
Honesty: “This is the recognition of the fact that the unreal is unreal and can have no value, that neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud . . . honesty . . . is the most profoundly selfish virtue man can practice: his refusal to sacrifice the reality of his own existence to the deluded consciousness of others” (FNI, 129; AS, 945).
Justice: This is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake the character of men. A is A and you cannot identify a person as A and treat him as non-A. “Every man must be judged for what he is and treated accordingly . . . just as you do not pay a higher price for a rusty chunk of scrap than for a piece of shining metal, so you do not value a rotter above a hero . . . To withhold your contempt from men’s vices is an act of moral counterfeiting, and to withhold your admiration from their virtues is an act of moral embezzlement” (FNI, 129; AS, 946).
The virtue of justice has vast implications for inter-human relations. It affirms that “the principle of trade is the only rational ethical principle for all human relationships, personal and social, private and public, spiritual and material” (VS, 31). Justice means that “one must never seek or grant the unearned and undeserved, neither in matter nor in spirit” (VS, 26). Hence, the heroes of Atlas Shrugged take this oath: “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine” (AS, 680, 993).
All self-sacrifice is evil because “sacrifice is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of non-value. Thus altruism gauges a man’s virtue by the degree to which he surrenders, renounces or betrays his values (since help to a stranger or an enemy is regarded as more virtuous, less ‘selfish’ than help to those one loves). The rational principle of conduct is the exact opposite: always act in accordance with the hierarchy of your values and never sacrifice a greater value to a lesser one” (VS, 44). To forsake this ambition is to forsake the only standard by which rational choices can be made. The man who loses his ambition to achieve his own values loses his ambition to live (FNI, 130; AS, 946). He thus forsakes the ground and standard of any rational ethics and must opt for some mystic (God), social (society), or subjectivist (desire) theory of ethics (VS, 34).
In this way Ayn Rand provides the philosophical underpinnings of her ethics. To sum it up again in her words: “My philosophy in essence is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity and reason as his only absolute” (AS, 1085).
The Ethics of Ayn Rand: Appreciation
I agree with Ayn Rand that if man is to survive and live as man, he must live by his reason. That is he must think clearly about reality and make judgments on the basis of what he perceives to be real. “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” Jesus asked (Luke 12:57; see 1 Corinthians 10:15; 11:13). It is true that whatever negates, opposes, or destroys rationality or logic is evil. Blind faith is not a virtue. John Galt, the hero of Atlas Shrugged, is right when he says:
Do not say that you’re afraid to trust your mind because you know so little. Are you safer in surrendering to mystics and discarding the little you do know? Live and act within the limit of your knowledge and keep expanding it to the limit of your life. Redeem your mind from the hock-shops of authority. Accept the fact that you are not omniscient, but playing a zombie will not give you omniscience—that your mind is fallible but becoming mindless will not make you infallible—that an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error. (FNI, 178; AS, 982)
No concept man forms is valid unless he integrates it without contradiction into the total sum of his knowledge. To arrive at a contradiction is to confess an error in one’s thinking; to maintain a contradiction is to abdicate one’s mind and to evict oneself from the realm of reality (FNI, 126; AS, 943).
The necessity and rightness of rationality is, so far as I can see, unimpeachable. Accordingly, I am willing to follow her defense of the virtues of independence (making one’s own judgments), integrity (practicing what you preach), honesty (maintaining a freedom from contradiction between your words and your convictions), and productivity (the ambitious struggle to achieve your values). I agree without reserve that one should “always act in accordance with the hierarchy of one’s values and never sacrifice a greater value to a lesser one” (VS, 44). And so long as Rand defines self-sacrifice as “the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one” (VS, 44), I will agree that all self-sacrifice is evil. She was right that the rational man should be dedicated to “the goal of reshaping the earth in the image of his values” (VS, 26).
Since your values are determined by the reality of who you are as a rational man, the struggle to achieve your values is the struggle to live. But the ambition and effort to experience life as a man is merely the existential form of the ambition (in psychological form) to be happy (VS, 29). Rand makes it very clear that by happiness she does not mean just any kind of pleasure. Self-interest must be qualified by “rational” (VS, 60): only that which is proper to a rational being is good and the ground of true happiness (VS, 23). This is why she opposes traditional hedonism which declares that “the proper value is whatever gives you pleasure” (VS, 30).
Happiness, for Ayn Rand, “is a state of non-contradictory joy—a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values and does not work for your own destruction” (VS, 29). On the basis of this definition, I am willing to say yes to the following sentence: “The achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose” (VS, 27). The meaning of this sentence is not that a feeling is exalted above the nature of reality in guiding our choices. The sentence rests on the conviction that reality is such that true happiness—“non-contradictory joy”—is the inevitable outcome of a life devoted to the principle that A is A, and that there is no true joy to be found in faking reality in any way. For the rational man, the aim to be happy is the aim to realize his values, and the aim to realize his values is the aim to live as a man, and the aim to live as a man is an effort to take reality seriously, to respond properly to the axiom A is A, Man is Man (FNI, 125; AS, 942). I cannot fault the basic validity of this approach to ethics. It is my own, as far as it goes.
The Ethics of Ayn Rand: Critique
It may have been noticed that in the list of Rand’s virtues above, which I condoned, justice and pride were omitted. This is not because I disagree with everything she said about them, but because the Christian cannot follow her consistently at these points. Rand argued that one must never “grant the unearned or undeserved, neither in matter nor in spirit” (VS, 26). Men must deal with each other as traders not as looters and parasites. The Christian, on the other hand, is instructed: “bless those who curse you” (Luke 6:28). In short, Ayn Rand has no place for mercy, whereas Christianity has mercy at its heart.
Why was there this conflict here? I think it was due to Rand’s thoroughgoing immanentalism: the complete rejection of a divine or supernatural dimension to reality. If she was right in her atheism and naturalism, then I think her system was consistent at the point of demanding only justice. Given the scope of reality that Ayn Rand took into account, the axiom A is A demands that men always trade value for value.
But if Ayn Rand was wrong about God, if he exists, and, as St. Paul said, “made the world and everything in it . . . and is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24f), if such a God exists (and Ayn Rand offered no argument to the contrary, only the assertion),30 then a radically new dimension of reality must be reckoned with and a corresponding new value should guide man’s behavior.
The new fact of reality is that God cannot be traded with as a man. There is nothing that man can offer to God that is not already his. You cannot exchange value for value with one from whom you have life, breath, and everything. You must, as a creature, own up to your total dependence on mercy and be content with it or, by an act of irrational rebellion, evict yourself from the realm of reality and try to live a contradiction.
In view of the nature of reality, the rational man’s highest value will be the admiration and enjoyment of his Maker and Redeemer. This value implies at least three others: First, it implies the value of knowing and being with God. The virtues that aim to achieve this value are study of and meditation upon divine realities. The second value implied in my admiration of God is the value of summoning others to see how valuable God is so that they can admire and enjoy his excellence. This is implied because it is a psychological necessity to want to increase my joy in God’s beauty by admiring it in another’s admiration for it. When the beauty of God is reflected in my neighbor’s delight in that beauty, my joy in that beauty is compounded. The virtue which aims to achieve this value is called evangelism or witness or apologetics. The third value implied in my admiration and enjoyment of God is a style of behavior in inter-human relationships which advertises the value I place upon the mercy of God. It is precisely here where Ayn Rand’s contempt for mercy would have to be altered. If I am to be true to my highest value—the excellence of God including his mercy—my behavior will have to reflect it in merciful acts.
Ayn Rand’s devastating criticism of altruism missed the point of Christian mercy.31 She could only conceive of mercy in terms of our sacrificing our greater values to lesser ones. The Christian sacrifices no values in blessing those who curse him, nor is his behavior causeless or aimless. It is an achievement of his own dependence on and love for the merciful God. It is caused by God’s mercy, and it aims to transform the enemy into one who treasures God above all things. It is thus a self-benefiting act, compounding, as it does, the joy of the believer.
What Ayn Rand means by altruism is indeed ugly and can be seen best in the words of Lillian Rearden to her husband in Atlas Shrugged. Here is the essence of the evil of altruism, as Rand saw it:
If you tell a beautiful woman that she is beautiful, what have you given her? It’s no more than a fact and it costs you nothing. But if you tell an ugly woman that she is beautiful you offer her the great homage of corrupting the concept of beauty. To love a woman for her virtues is meaningless. She’s earned it, it’s a payment, not a gift. But to love her for her vices is to defile all virtue for her sake—and that is a real tribute of love, because you sacrifice your conscience, your reason, your integrity and your invaluable self-esteem (AS, 290).
Since Ayn Rand had no place for a sovereign all-sufficient God who cannot be traded with, she did not reckon with any righteous form of mercy. All the antagonists of her books were corrupt by almost any standard and surely by a Christian one. It is indeed evil to love a person “for their vices”; it is evil “to give unearned respect” (AS, 367). But mercy in the Christian sense is not respect, nor is it a payment for someone’s vices. It is not “because of” vices, but “in spite of” vices. It is not intended to reward evil, but to reveal the bounty of God who cannot be traded with but only freely admired and enjoyed. It aims not to corrupt or compromise integrity, but to transform the values of the enemy into the values of Christ. While it may mean the sacrifice of some temporal pleasures, it is never the sacrifice of my values and so is never self-less. But the sacrifice of lower values to higher ones—a night’s rest for the timely delivery of a steel shipment—such sacrifice Ayn Rand believed in deeply.
Therefore, Ayn Rand’s philosophy did not need to be entirely scrapped. Rather, it needed to take all of reality into account, including the infinite God. In this case her own premise—A is A—would have demand an alteration in what she conceived as rational and how she evaluated mercy. Since she claimed to “provide men . . . with an integrated and consistent view of life,” this alteration would have meant a rebuilding of the whole structure. No detail of her philosophy would have been left untouched. But enough has been said here. That reconstruction is the job of a lifetime.
That is where the original essay ended. She was living at the time. She died on March 6, 1982. I sent her a copy with a personal letter, pleading that she rethink her ethics by taking all of reality into account, namely, the all-embracing reality of God. I don’t know if she ever received or read the letter or the essay. Her way of looking at the world strikes me still today in 2007 as amazingly perceptive and tragically provincial. So much in the world is seen so with a kind of truncated accuracy. But leaving God out of account distorts all reality. May the Lord give us eyes to see the world with as much sharpness as Ayn Rand, and with far more fullness and truth.
1 The only authorized biography of Ayn Rand is “A Biographical Essay” in Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden, Who is Ayn Rand?, (New York: Random House, 1962), pp. 149-239. It is an interesting but idealized portrait that reads just like a Rand novel.
2 “The Chairman’s Favorite Author,” Time, 104 (1974), p. 87. These numbers continue to climb and Atlas Shrugged is ranked #222 today (10-9-07) on Amazon.
3 “About the Author” in appendix to Atlas Shrugged, (New York: Signet, 1957), p. 1085.
4 John Kobler, “The Curious Cult of Ayn Rand,” Saturday Evening Post, 11 November, 1961, p. 91.
5 Time, 107 (1976), p. 32.
6 Cited in Bruce Cook, “Ayn Rand: A Voice in the Wilderness,” Catholic World, 201 (May, 1965), p. 119.
7 “The Gospel According to Ayn Rand,” National Review, 19 (October 3, 1967), p. 1060. In 1991 there was a wide-ranging survey that ranked Atlas Shrugged only behind the Bible as the book people said influenced them most. Most consider the claim exaggerated, but it points to a very significant impact (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayn_rand#_note-17).
8 Alvin Toffler, “Ayn Rand: A Candid Conversation with the ‘Fountainhead’ of ‘Objectivism,’“ Playboy, 11 (March, 1964), p. 35.
9 Who is Ayn Rand?, p. 5
10 “Born Eccentric,” Newsweek, 21 (March 27, 1961), p. 104.
11 “The Curious Cult of Ayn Rand,” p. 99.
12 “The State of the Question,” America, (July 29, 1961), p. 569.
13 “Ayn Rand: A Voice in the Wilderness,” p. 122.
14 Who is Ayn Rand?, pp. 1-148.
15 Is Objectivism a Religion? (New York: Lyle Stuart, Inc., 1968), p. 11.
16 With Charity Toward None, (New York: Philosophical Library, 1971), p. 14.
17 “Ayn Rand: Far Right Prophetess,” Christian Century, 78 (December 13, 1961), p. 1494.
18 “The Ends and Means of Ayn Rand,” The New Republic, 144 (October 24, 1961), p. 29. (For a perceptive and balanced critique of her understanding of history see M. Stanton Evans, “The Gospel According to Ayn Rand.”)
19 “Ayn Rand: A Voice in the Wilderness,” p. 123.
20 “The Gospel According to Ayn Rand,” p. 1059.
21 Gore Vidal, “Comment,” Esquire, 56 (July, 1961), p. 27. This attack was effectively answered in a following issue: Leonard Peikopf, “Atlas Shrieked,” Esquire, 56 (October, 1961), p. 20.
22 Originally told by Robert L. White in New University Thought (Autumn, 1962). These and other accounts are recounted in “Ayn Rand: A Voice in the Wilderness.”
23 Dora J. Hamblin, “The Cult of Ayn Rand,” Life, 62 (April 7, 1967), p. 95.
24 “The Chairman’s Favorite Author,” p. 87.
25 The speech is printed separately in For the New Intellectual (New York: Signet, 1961), pp. 117-192.
26 With Charity Toward None, p. 15.
27 “Ayn Rand: A Candid Conversation,” p. 35.
28 In the rest of the essay, I will use the following abbreviations of the Signet paperback editions of her works: Atlas Shrugged (AS), The Fountainhead (F), For the New Intellectual (FNI), The Virtue of Selfishness (VS).
29 The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature, (New York: World Pub. Co., 1969), p. 160.
30 That is, in all the works I have read, atheism is assumed. If she argued for this position, I am not aware of it.
31 This problem of shooting down a bogus altruism is addressed by William O’Neill in With Charity Toward None, pp. 201ff, but not from a Christian perspective.
©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in physical form, in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For posting online, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. For videos, please embed from the original source. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org