Rand, Objectivism, and Millennials

Ayn Rand wrote volumes urging people to be selfish.

In popular usage, the word “selfishness” is a synonym of evil; it brings to mind the image of an ungrateful being who is a slave to their mindless whims and fancies for their own immediate satisfaction and cares for no other living being.

Yet, the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own interest. Selfishness, she wrote, required a man to think, produce and prosper by trading with others voluntarily to mutual benefit.

She believed that man’s “highest moral purpose is the achievement of his own happiness, and that he must not force other people, nor accept their right to force him, that each man must live as an end in himself and follow his own rational self-interest.”

Ayn Rand was born in 1905 in Russia, where she attended grade school and university, studied history, philosophy, and screenwriting; and witnessed the Bolshevik Revolution and the birth of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In 1925, just after World War I, she fled the Soviet Union and spent the rest of her life preaching her ideology of Egoism, which stressed the individual and selfishness as a virtue, as a counterpoint to the socialist ideal of collectivism and rejection of the self.

She was against altruism and group-behaviour in any form. She believed that individualism was the ultimate goal for human enlightenment and that altruism was a primitive aspect of society that was forced upon us through our past socialisation. She despised socialism, and on principle. She had lived through it, suffered under it, escaped from it and claimed to understand it better than anyone.

Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, her father’s pharmacy shop was confiscated by communist authorities, an event she deeply resented and was profoundly impacted by. As a result, she developed strong feelings toward government intrusion into individual livelihood.

Rand’s world was black and white. You are either all good or all bad. Her world was a good fictional representation, but it doesn’t work in reality in terms of human beings. She basically tried to categorize people into two groups, she puts out a catch-22 situation to say that if a person doesn’t ascribe to her idea of a perfect human, then he is a part of the problem in the world.

She began writing one of her most famous works, The Fountainhead, in 1935. The story of Howard Roark, creative designer and architect, misunderstood by a society in love with tradition, promotes Rand’s ideas on objectivism and promotes themes of independence and individuality. In 1946, Rand began working on her legacy, Atlas Shrugged. Published in 1957, despite initial negative reviews, it quickly became a bestseller. She introduced what she called Objectivism through a 60-page speech given by the hero, John Galt, in Atlas Shrugged.

Morally, Objectivism advocates the virtues of rational self-interest, virtues such as independent thinking, productiveness, justice, honesty, and self-responsibility. Culturally, Objectivism advocates scientific advancement, industrial progress, objective (as opposed to “progressive” or faith-based) education, romantic art, and above all, reverence for the faculty that makes all such values possible: reason. Politically, Objectivism advocates pure, laissez-faire capitalism, the social system of individual rights and strictly limited government, along with the whole moral and philosophical structure on which it depends.

She also wrote a collection of essays titled, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal among several other books and essays. But that was a different time, when the world was reeling from the after effects of the World Wars. It was clear that her own struggles in the Soviet Russia drove her to seek and worship its ideological opposite: American capitalism. Socialism vs Capitalism is a forever ongoing debate, with both forms of economy having its pros and cons.

Millennials have eventually discovered that the quality of our lives is tied to the benefit of others. However, the attraction of socialism for millennials has less to do with their familiarity with the ideology, and more to do with their discontentment with the current economic systems, the flaws which they blame on free-market capitalism. Having seen only times of peace, privilege and abundance, the newer generations decry Rand’s objectivism for its selfishness and often disown it. They hate the opulence of the extremely rich considering there are people dying of hunger. While the truth is that the last few decades have brought remarkable successes in tackling global poverty: in 1981, almost half the people in the developing world lived below the poverty line; as of 2012, that figure had dropped to 12.7%

The reality is that millennials are living in what is objectively the most prosperous period in history.

An ideal society would have universal healthcare, access to affordable housing and education, while incorporating Rand’s ideas of selfishness and objectivism, which roughly translates into an individual’s life with the least interference from the government or the society.

It goes without saying that no philosophy is without flaws and criticism. What Rand propagated was an extreme state of capitalism, with absolutely no interference by the government. On the theoretical level, Rand’s ideas offer no real possibility of developing robust civil society responses to address the needs of those down on their luck. Since misfortune and distress are a normal part of the human condition, a philosophy that offers no positive, private solutions to deal with them will just have a harder time making the case against government intervention stick.

Focusing on Literature and Lifestyle of the Urban Youth of the Country, LitGleam is a monthly magazine, an intrinsic part of BlueRose Publishers.

Within its pages, our readers find provocative essays on literature and lifestyle, guidance for getting published and pursuing writing careers, in-depth profiles of poets, fiction writers, and writers of creative nonfiction, and conversations among fellow professionals.

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