Ayn Rand is one of the best-selling authors of all time – but she’s also one of the most criticized. In fact, while dislike of many other famous authors like J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien is generally explained by claiming “personal preference,” the dislike of Rand can often be highly personal. Many of her critics do not simply dislike her writing, they actually hate her.
People hate Ayn Rand because of objectivism, a moral philosophy she developed. This philosophy is seen in her books The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and essentially holds that individuals are separate from a community, and there is no fault in acting on self-interest over community good.
In this article, I’ll explore the problems people have with objectivism in further detail, explaining why Rand is so hated. I’ll also provide a balanced outlook of her perspective, giving you a supporting argument for objectivism so that you can judge this controversial author for yourself.
Philosophical systems can be notoriously hard to understand, and objectivism is no different. However, there are some core tenets of objectivism that can help you understand it better, and these are:
- Metaphysical realism: Essentially, this means that things that exist, exist, regardless of whether the world thinks about them or how people choose to interpret them. This means there is no point in arguing the nature of reality because no matter your beliefs, the reality is what it is.
- Ethical egoism and self-interest: This essentially means that the morality of an action can be judged on how it serves the self-interest of the actor. If you take an action that is in your own self-interest – even if it is against the self-interest of another person or the community at large – it is not only justifiable, it is also a moral action to take.
- Individualism: This is a political philosophy that emphasizes the importance of the individual. In some ways, it’s the political version of ethical egoism and holds that the interests of the individual are more important than that of society. As a political philosophy, it encourages governments to act in a way to boost the interests of the individual over those of society as a whole.
- Laissez-faire capitalism: This is a capitalist system that promotes a lack of governmental intervention in business decisions.
While it’s pretty easy to understand why objectivism can be considered controversial and even morally objectionable to many people, the above-mentioned points are not the ones that most people who hate Rand reference.
Rather, it is her rejection of the concept of altruism.
Most people hold altruism to be a moral principle. However, for Rand, altruism is a vice – rather, it is selfishness that is virtuous and moral, as explained in the ideas of ethical egoism and laissez-faire capitalism.
Objectivism in Real-Life
Some of Rand’s celebrity fans include celebrities including:
- Brad Pitt
- Angelina Jolie
- Tom Selleck
- Hugh Hefner
She also has political followers, including Paul Ryan and Rand Paul, as well as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Her work is also popular among business leaders, including Eddie Lampert, former CEO of Sears. In 2008, Lampert decided to restructure the company following Rand’s objectivism philosophies, hoping for higher profits.
However, it led to in-company fighting instead of promoting effective internal competition. This resulted in lower share prices and the company approaching bankruptcy.
What Rand’s philosophy fails to take into account is that cooperation is an inherent part of the human experience. While it can be argued that being selfish is evolutionarily beneficial, research suggests the opposite – that cooperation was an evolutionarily stable strategy instead.
Additionally, Rand’s choice to treat selfishness as a positive trait is frequently under criticism. This criticism notes that, while some people might prefer a world in which the individual exists outside society, that is not the world we live in.
The individual benefits from society in numerous ways – for example, the roads you drive down are not built by you but by the government for the good of the whole.
This section of her philosophy is often considered to be “infantile” at best. Additionally, there’s also evidence that she acted contrary to her beliefs.
Though Rand decried the “welfare state,” after she developed lung cancer, she received social security benefits – paid for by taxpayers for the good of society rather than individuals.
While, in a 1966 essay, she argued that doing so was okay as the government had forcibly taken taxes and receiving benefits was a form of restitution, it’s easy to see why so many people think it was an ineffective justification at best.
People note that individuals who discover and follow Rand’s ideals usually transform into selfish beings without any care for their impact on other people. This ability to change people you love to people who you wouldn’t interact with if you newly met them understandably leads people to hate Rand and her philosophies.
The Argument for Rand
While Rand has her many critics, there are just as many people who believe in her philosophy. This includes people who are altruistic themselves – just because they agree with objectivism does not mean they choose to be selfish in their own lives.
People argue that many life-charging inventions and creations come from the minds of people who follow Rand’s beliefs, even unknowingly. Additionally, followers of Rand say that she is one of the few mainstream authors who understand the value of capitalism in helping people find meaning in their work.
Additionally, many people note that liking Rand does not necessarily mean subscribing to her worldview. It is possible to enjoy her novels for what they are – stories – without agreeing with her philosophy of objectivism or incorporating it into your own lives.
Finally, some Rand critics argue that, while Rand’s philosophy is morally unjustifiable, it does not mean that Rand should be ignored. This is because people cannot simply ignore Rand into non-existence. Her ideas are already out there, and if you are to change the opinion of people who like her, you must be able to make a reasoned argument against her beliefs.
To do this, it is necessary to understand what her beliefs are. People who follow Rand don’t just believe altruism is morally unjust but that forcing people to act for the benefit of others is actually cruel.
If you want to counter their beliefs, explaining why people need to be altruistic is essential – and that cannot happen without knowing what you’re arguing against.
People hate Ayn Rand because they think her philosophy of objectivism is selfish and cruel, which cannot work in real life. They note her beliefs that altruism is morally unjust and that individuals should only act for their own benefit as being detrimental to society and having no basis in reality.