The Virtue of Selfishness, by Ayn Rand

Good morning readers.  Thanks for coming by for a read this morning.

I’ve said a few things about Ayn Rand on this blog a number of readers found objectionable.  A goodly number found it offensive enough to cancel subscriptions, which I don’t find objectionable at all.

Fact is, I was once an avid reader of Ayn Rand.  Not being a reader of Ayn Rand was a way a person could declare himself a non-pseudo-intellectual, which of course, I certainly didn’t wish to be.  At the time, admitting to the shameful fact of not having read Atlas Shrugged, or Fountainhead, reduced the stature of the person admitting it to something akin to not having seen Gone With The Wind.

In all honesty I found Rand’s fiction tedious, with the exception of Anthem, which nobody’d ever heard of [few Rand admirers probably have to this day] and didn’t win any intellectual points in the 1960s.  So when I came across The Virtue of Selfishness, in 1965, I welcomed the read because I thought it could provide discussable insights into Rand’s viewpoints while sparing the reader all the muscle-flexing fictional heroes.

Which it did.  And having read it I quickly ceased being an admirer of Rand, to whatever extent I might have been previously. 

I suspect those who read, or claim to have read Ayn Rand today probably derive opinions about her, and her work, from the fiction works and admiration for the fictional characters.  The gut-level response to Horatio Algerism with a bit of Paul Bunyan thrown in. 

But the appeal of Rand at the time was located in fictional characters.  The Virtue of Selfishness quickly was to be found on the reduced price shelves at the book stores.  Because, the simple fact is that nobody loves an ego-maniac.  Nobody loves a selfish, grasping, gluttonous, greedy person when the fictional fantasies are stripped away.

And giving it a fancy name, objectivism, rationalizing the state-of-being that goes with it, just doesn’t add anything to the equation.  There might never have been a culture in the history of mankind where greed was openly, admittedly, frankly, an object of admiration.  In fact, the opposite is mostly true.

So today when Rand admirers are justifying their world-views by using her tepid arguments in favor of devil-take-the-hindmost, they rarely use the name of her tour d’force work, where she attempts to explain herself.  They know somewhere inside themselves it’s off-putting to the listener.

So the buzzwords are used, instead.  Short phrases bounced around back and forth that needn’t be defended.

Nobody needs Ayn Rand to justify selfishness and self-centeredness, but she provides an excuse, however lame.

Old Jules

Edit 8:12 am – There’s a mysterious, paradoxical side of the 21st Century fascination with Rand I neglected to mention.  Today admiration for Rand is the unlikely and somewhat ironic focal point where fundamentalist Christians join hands with atheists.  Both quote snippets of Rand, claim to have read her.

All of which makes a certain amount of sense for atheists of a particular sort.  But it’s not easy to reconcile with Christianity.  After all, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy and pride have been universally accepted as the Seven Deadly, or Venal, or Mortal Sins since a time long before Protestants.  And I don’t recall any Protestant sect ever declaring openly to repudiate them.

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27 responses to “The Virtue of Selfishness, by Ayn Rand

  1. Although her tomes are somewhat wordy she did foresee what is now happening. And yes, A=A.

    • Good morning Momlady. Thanks for coming by. Predicting human behavior accurately, describing what humans are going to do and how they’re going to behave just isn’t all that difficult. Though I doubt she’d have predicted she’d be quoted and bandied about among a tiny segment of humanity in 2012. Whatever else is happening that she foresaw has happened so many times in human history as to be a given, thinks I. Almost every writer of the 20th Century managed to do some of it. Gracias, J

  2. I’m in entire agreement with you!

  3. read all of her books when they came out…the extreme egotism put me off from the get go…I dubbed it then & now as “the arrogance of the stupid”.
    How did you miss Taylor Caldwell who defined everything that has & is occurring in her torrid tomes complete with bibliographies which I then tracked in the library & Congressional record?
    she outlined & documented many of the things that Dean Handler in his blog..Left Hook….documents now.
    her last major warning was nullified when they took her “Captains & Kings” & made it into a TV mini series.

    • Hi dayledann: I’m not certain I ever read a Taylor Caldwell book all the way through, though I recall beginning a few. Likely that’s how I missed it. Gracias, J

  4. A concept which I believe is a Rand-ism, at least in a roundabout sense, is the idea that doing what is best for you is doing what is best for society. But this has to be understood not in the self-centered concept most people attach to it, but in a much larger view.

    In other words, it is better for me to be a responsible husband, parent, employee/employer, and citizen because it is good for my family, business and country. Being a philandering louse who abandons his children, puts in a crappy effort at his job and is a threat to society by committing crimes is, on a micro level, selfish and self-centered, but in reality it’s not good for anyone, even the individual in question. He, ultimately will wind up, one would assume, with an unsatisfying existence and quite possible behind bars. Society, of course, will suffer for his actions. If he is wise enough, he understands that doing what is best for him is often the same as doing what is best for his family and others. Not always, but often.

    Now, getting the vast majority of people to understand that being selfish in the larger sense, i.e., doing what’s best for more than just themselves because ultimately it will improve the lives of those around them, that’s a challenge I’m not going to pretend to understand how to accomplish.

    • Good seeing you, Cotton Boll Conspiracy.

      I can’t disagree with the ‘larger’ concept, approached as an ideal, though I can’t entirely agree, either. Human beings have a way of smelting abstractions, including ideals, and pouring them into a crucible for molding into whatever suits their purposes. And my personal thought is that their purposes rarely have anything to do with ‘overall good’ unless the two happen to cross paths with one another by accident. But I’m not a utopian, mostly. My pesky mind tends to keep fretting away at side issues and derivations until it finds forests of exceptions to every rule-of-thumb. Ethics and personal responsibility, seems to me, doesn’t need conscious intrusion of deliberate selfishness thrown into the mix with a stew of caveats apologizing for it, thinks I. We humans are more lacking in governors for our behaviors than our deficits rationalizing, say, greed.

      Gracias, Jules

  5. Funny, Anthem was the 2nd one I read after Atlas Shrugged. and i enjoyed it more than any of the others. But I was so much older than, I’m younger than that now. All of her books are gone, but Anthem might still be on the bookshelf.

    • Hi Morgan: I can’t recall now which I read first. Must have been Fountainhead, but I think I came across Anthem more-or-less by accident shortly afterward. I don’t believe any are left on my shelf, haven’t been there in 40 years. But I have to cull to keep from pulling around a Bookmobile with a trailer and books stacked on top. Gracias, Jules

  6. I haven’ t seen Gone With The Wind. I am surprised that the religious support her. I thought she rejected all manners of faith.

    • Hi Kate. Thanks for coming by. I haven’t seen Gone With the Wind, either, but I don’t recall ever admitting it before. Yep, it’s surprising conceptually, but more-or-less unsurprising in the larger context. Gracias, Jules

  7. Ayn Rand’s proposed philosophy had its appeal for this reader, back when youth demanded a search for the two forms of denial needed to justify and rationalize selfish hedonism. It’s amazing how old age tends to view needs differently than wants…

    • Good morning Lindy Lee. Yeah, I can see how it could, saw how it did for many. I, personally never needed any help rationaling hedonism as a youth, probably still wouldn’t if I had an opportunity to do some hedonizing. Gracias, Jules

  8. Hello Jules,
    After becoming aware that Paul Ryan is – even if he disavows it now – a follower of Rand’s theories, I decided I needed to read some of her works and started with “Atlas Shrugged”, but I find it hard to read, as hard as James Joyce’s “Ulysses” and Saint Exupery’s “The Citadel” – both of which I’ve never been able to finish. To me, it’s a chore, not a pleasure, and I constantly have to kick myself in the butt to continue reading. Let’s see if I can finish Rand’s.
    Best regards, and have a good one,
    Pit

    • Hi Pit. I’ve never read the “The Citadel”, though I thought I’d read everything by Saint X. Back during my pilot days I read him, Ernest Gann, Lindberg, all the writers who wrote about flying and the early days of heavier than air flight. My thought is that after you finish Atlas Shrugged you mightn’t feel the need to read Fountainhead. Gracias, J

      • Hi Jules,
        I’ve read Lindberg’s account of his flight across the Atlantic, too, but I’ve never heard of Gann. Saint X was kind of a must when I was young, btw, especially his “Little Prince”.
        As to “Atlas Shrugged” and “Fountainhead”: thanks for the advice. From what I’m experiencing with “Atlas” – the heavy reading it is – I guess you may have a point!
        Take care, and enjoy a relaxing Labor day,
        Pit

        • Hi Pit. Ernest Gann wrote a good many books about flying, some were made movies of in the 50s. The names are on the tip of my tonguish mind at the moment, but slipping out of reach. Except Gentlemen In Adventure. Which many didn’t consider his best. Gracias, J

  9. Hi Jules, I’ve never heard of Ayn Rand, but you’ve piqued my interest with your post. I’ll check her out on Wikipedia 🙂

  10. What is surprising is that someone who believes that “selfishness is a virtue” would be a subscriber to a magazine devoted to altruistic politics.

  11. A few weeks ago I watched a documentary on her life because altho I had seen her books in high school and college, I had never read one or had a clue what they were about. As I watched the film, and heard her philosophy being expounded upon, I realized I was hearing what sounded so similar to the right wingers who terrorize my facebook newsfeed. And most of these… Christians. And I began to be in awe that they had somehow ingested these principles, yet found them to not be inconsistent with their professed faith, of which I do to the extreme. Ever since I saw the documentary, her name has been popping up everywhere I go – even here! Thanks for doing this book review because it will save me alot of time. I don’t have time for really long works of bad fiction.

  12. You point out how some Christian fundamentalists read Ayn Rand. True. My ex-boss, who is a staunch Southern Baptist read *Atlas Shrugged* and absolutely loved it. He went on to read more, I can’t remember which ones. He still swears by her writing. Strange.

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