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Why is Ayn Rand So Controversial?

Why is Ayn Rand So Controversial?

March 18, 2024

Why is Ayn Rand so controversial?

Whoa, whoa—why all the knives out for Ayn Rand? Her novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead are among the best sellers of all time—so why would having her books on your shelf make you un-dateable?

Here are five reasons to explain the "Ayn Rand Derangement Syndrome."

The first is Rand’s revolutionary defense of self-interest—or as she provocatively put it: The Virtue of Selfishness. She argued that the moral purpose of man’s life is the achievement of his happiness—neither sacrificing himself for the sake of others nor sacrificing others for his own sake. 

The flip side of this is her attack on altruism—not to be confused with ordinary kindness and benevolence—but the creed that morality consists in always putting the interests of others before our own.

In a world where, for centuries, we’ve been taught that suffering is noble and that we all must sacrifice for the “common good,” you can see why that’s a pretty controversial take.

Second, Rand’s uncompromising defense of individualism. She rejected collectivism in all its forms—class, race, gender, and so on. So all the talk about group solidarity, intersectionality, allyship—no. Only individuals think and act, and should be judged on their own merits, not membership to this or that group.

Third, Rand’s unflinching moral defense of capitalism. While some may grudgingly defend capitalism as the system that produces the best results, they shrink from defending its morality. They view socialism as impractical, but vaguely idealistic.

Ayn Rand would have none of that, she championed capitalism as the only system compatible with the protection of individual rights—a system that calls on the best in man: productivity, creativity, ambition, and pride in accomplishment. She didn’t excuse socialists as misguided idealists—but denounced them as power-hungry purveyors of envy, greed, and entitlement. Challenging that “moral” high ground. . .pretty controversial.

Fourth, is atheism. Like some other defenders of liberty—Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman—Rand was decidedly secular in her views. Her philosophy of Objectivism embraced the natural world as opposed to a supernatural one and insisted on reason—not faith—as the means of gaining knowledge.

Now, this was a lot more controversial in Rand’s heyday, back in the 1940s and 1950s, but as society evolved in a more secular direction, it’s less of a big deal.

The fifth and final reason that the "Ayn Rand Derangement Syndrome" is a big deal, is how effective her novels and philosophy have been as “the gateway drug” to liberty. Despite every attempt to cancel Ayn Rand—on the right and the left—and despite efforts to caricature and marginalize her ideas, they endure and continue to gain new adherents.  Unforgivable!

So, rather than listen to the haters who’ve never read her books, or even those who treasure them, check them out for yourself. We the Living, Anthem, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged—and nonfiction like The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.

You’ll find more resources—and meet other curious, independent minds—at The Atlas Society.

For further reading, check out these related articles:

1 Ayn Rand's Works

2 Ayn Rand and Altruism (Part 1)

3 Rand's Radical Methodology

4 Ayn Rand as Dissident

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