The Case Against Objectivism
Largely as a result of Ayn Rand's forceful, blunt personality and of her fairly extremist arguments in favor of her world view, Ayn Rand's popularity among American readers has been paralleled by an equal amount of backlash against her philosophy and against the Objectivist movement that accompanied her rise to fame. Criticisms of Objectivism have historically belonged to one of two over-arching categories. In the first category, many philosophers have either ignored or refuted Rand's arguments, contending that she has committed a number of logical fallacies in her assumptions despite her claim to perfect rationality and that she has misrepresented human nature. In the second category, others have critiqued Ayn Rand's personal application of Objectivism, as well as the cult of personality that some have alleged her Objectivist following to be.
One of Rand's major points in Anthem in particular is that when man lives only for others, he will cease to produce or know happiness. This assertion has some truth to it, as shown in the Soviet Union, where collectivization led directly to a decrease in per capita productivity. However, by expressing the idea that selfishness is good and the key to the running of society, Rand implies the complete denial of the power of sacrifice. Unfortunately, she chooses to argue against only the most extreme form of thankless sacrifice, effectively creating a straw man where an argument against extreme collectivism is presumed to be an argument against even moderate manifestations of societal altruism. In addition, a philosophy of ultimate self-centeredness could allow people to justify any action, so long as they feel it beneficial to themselves, and some such actions may be overly cruel or unnecessary.
Problems also occur if one analyzes Objectivism in terms of capitalism, the system most suited to egoism. Like Objectivism, capitalism rests on the assumption that society will benefit as a whole if each man is allowed to work for his own deserved reward. This assertion may be true to some extent, particularly if one believes Adam Smith's conclusion that the average worker will be protected by the "invisible hand" of the market. That being said, the history of the United States has suggested that unrestricted capitalism leads to an increasing gap between the rich and the poor caused not, as a reader of Rand might suppose, by the ability of the rich but rather by the tendency of the capable rich, in their own self-interest, to retain their wealth for their families and acquaintances, some of whom may not be as capable as they. Outside of Rand's novels, not all people have emotional attachments only to the capable, and what begins as self-interest can end in monopolies created by men who prize only money, rather than Rand's beloved inventors and creators. Consequently, anti-trust law and increased Federal regulation in the United States has altered the American understanding of capitalism, resulting in a more restricted system where self-interest is checked by law. These and other arguments do not entirely destroy the celebration of the individual proposed by Objectivism, but they do undercut its more extreme implications.
Another area in which Rand's views have often been considered objectionable is feminism. Whereas Randian heroes are often the creators and inventors of her novels, her heroines tend to fall somewhat short of equal to the men. Although women such as Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged are capable and intelligent, they generally take a place at the male heroes' side as their lovers and disciples. Rand viewed the definition of an ideal women in terms of the ideal man; Liberty 5-3000 is an object of worship for Equality 7-2521 in Anthem, and she is an ideal woman largely because she submits to no one except the ideal man. However, their relationship is still inherently one of dominance, where the man is dominant and the woman submissive. Dominique Francon of The Fountainhead has a particularly suspect scene where her reaction to her rape by Howard Roark is one of joy as a result of her defilement. She states particularly that if Roark had treated her kindly, she would have despised him, and although Rand intends the scene to indicate that only Roark is worthy of dominating her and that only he recognizes her needs, the positive treatment of rape is nonetheless highly worrying from a feminist perspective.
Aside from the potential problems within Rand's body of work, some have suggested that Rand's treatment of Objectivism outside of her writing weakens her case. Rand seems to have deeply believed that her behavior embodied the ideals of Objectivism, and she gathered a group of disciples, which she jokingly called the Collective, who headed the Objectivist movement during the mid-twentieth century. Although her writing encouraged people to think for themselves, within the movement, her word was considered law, and disagreement tended to either be suppressed or cause schisms over the concept of ideological purity. Even her personal preferences in music were to be adopted by those within the movement, and her strong personality merely reinforced this manifestation of what some have accused to be a cult. Rand also often tended to justify her illogical desires by finding supposedly rational excuses, as when she caused the first major Objectivist schism supposedly over ideology but in reality because of her jealousy over her second-in-command's affair with another woman. Unsurprisingly, given that the Objectivists claimed to live what they preached, the facts of the Objectivist movement have also contributed to critiques of Randian philosophy.
Anthem Essays and Related Content
- Anthem: Major Themes
- Anthem: Questions
- Anthem: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Ayn Rand: Biography
- Anthem Summary
- About Anthem
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter One
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Two
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Three
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Four
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Five
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Six
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Seven
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Eight
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Nine
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Ten
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Eleven
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Twelve
- The Case Against Objectivism
- Related Links on Anthem
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources