Thursday, 23 May 2019

The Ayn Rand Cult

In her novels Ayn Rand introduces us to characters who are heroic, individualistic, moral, intelligent, wise, hardworking, ambitious, and capable of emotional self-control. But the Objectivist philosophical movement that she founded was an antithesis of all the values that she has preached in her fiction — from the beginning Objectivism was an atheistic religion and a cult.

I think Rand was a fine fiction writer, but she didn’t have the knowledge, patience, talent, and the energy for developing a system of philosophy and managing a philosophical movement. That she became convinced that she was the world’s greatest philosopher is by itself a proof of her lack of wisdom.

In his book The Ayn Rand Cult, Jeff Walker exposes objectivism as a classic cult. In his Introduction to the book, Walker says:

“In her fiction Rand portrayed a constellation of values, reality, objectivity, reason, egoism, individual rights, heroism, and laissez faire that underwent severe contortions during their attempted embodiment by a real-life movement. As many government interventions in the economy accomplish precisely the opposite of their intent, so Rand's formative influences made it likely that she would adopt a set of ideas which, if probed deeply enough or if embodied in real people, could be seen as accomplishing precisely the opposite of her intent. That opposite is the ultimate destination of her exclusive concern for the Nietzschean overachiever, who must be protected via absolutized individual rights, which are justified only by Reason.”

On page 17, Walker notes, “The explicit message of Objectivism is optimistic, benevolent, and life-affirming, but Objectivism, beginning with Rand's writings, is actually more preoccupied with contempt and disgust for the real world.” On Page 26, Walker says that the Objectivist movement took on the characteristics of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Almost every member of Rand’s inner circle in the early years of the objectivist movement was a relative or friend of Nathaniel Blumenthal (Branden). Nathaniel didn’t have the knowledge, wisdom, and patience to manage a philosophy movement—Rand probably granted him so much power because she was in a relationship with him. The members of “the Blumenthal bunch,” as Walker calls them in his book, were 25-35 years younger than Rand and they literally worshipped her. Here’s Walker’s description of the Blumenthal bunch (page 26):

“The core of the Collective was largely made up of Canadian Jews, most of them closely related… Leonard Peikoff. initially a lowly member of the Collective, though he was one day to become Rand's heir, hailed from Manitoba, as did Joan Mitchell Blumenthal, Rand's close friend for a quarter-century, and Peikoff’s cousin Barbara Weidman (Barbara Branden). With Toronto natives Nathan Blumenthal (Nathaniel Branden), a Blumenthal sister and her husband, and cousin Allan Blumenthal, Rand’s inner circle was nearly complete.”

It is surprising that Rand, a writer of several bestselling novels, didn’t have the sense or ability to find some competent and wise intellectuals to develop her philosophy and manage her movement—she handed over all the power to a bunch of under-informed, over-enthusiastic, and excessively sycophantic youngsters being led by an extremely rude, unwise, and supercilious man like Nathaniel Branden. According to Walker, the gang of youngsters made it impossible for Rand to continue normal relationship with her own peers. They were “barking at her feet all the time. Nobody wanted to deal with these hangers-on.”

I started reading the book today. Currently I am on page 47 of the 396 page book—I will have more to say on the book once I finish reading it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"... every great philosopher is likely to be misunderstood by his students."
Philip Merlan, From Platonism to Neoplatonism (Springer, 2013), p. 192
[Google Books]
I don't think this observation is original with Merlan, though.