'If life can have a theme song—and I believe that every worthwhile one has—mine is best expressed in one word: Individualism’.
This is Ayn Rand speaking. Known as the 20th century’s most controversial novelist-philosophers, she was born to a Jewish family in 1905 czarist Russia. In her autobiographical notes, she mentions herself at the age of nine when she decided to make fiction writing her career.
Walter Scott and Victor Hugo inspired her. When 21, she left for Hollywood to become a screenwriter. However, she had to opt for various other jobs until her first novel We The Living was published.
She, through her fictional characters, formulated “a philosophy for living on earth” and gave it the name of Objectivism. The best one-line summary of her Objectivism comes from Ayn Rand’s words:
“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity and reason as his only absolute” (appendix to Atlas Shrugged).
Her novel The Fountainhead brought her laurels beyond expectation. The depiction of its main character Howard Roark, a hero, was the paramount purpose of her writing—“the ideal man, man as he could be and ought to be.” Strange and yet alluring is the case of Howard Roark, the competent architect but a conceited and utterly selfish creature.
Rand writes of him, “Born without any ‘religious brain centre’, he does not understand and even conceive of the instinct for bowing and submission…
The world has no painful surprise for him…. He does not suffer, because he does not believe in suffering. Defeat or disappointment is merely a part of the battle. Nothing can really touch him. He is concerned only with what he does. Not how he feels.”
So, Howard is a typical phlegmatic person who lives just for himself alone. He is merely a self-seeking piece of flesh. This is evident from a single line from Howard to a question of Toohey (a humanitarian in the novel) as to what he thinks of him. Howard answers snobbishly–“But I don’t think of you.”
Howard Roark is the simon-pure spokesperson of Rand, living for his own sake, rejecting every form of human sacrifice. Anti-altruistic, Rand wants him to work for his self-interest.
However, in the process, Rand unwittingly, makes her hero lose many of life’s little but precious possessions. Vainglorious, he doesn’t value anything or anyone sincerely. He lives for himself only—his pleasures and his power.
In fact, in many of her novels, there are instances where Rand has tactfully and, of course, artistically overpowered even genuinely natural emotions by the iron-rod of reason. Upholding the killing of emotions altogether as a magnum opus, she has lent a psychologically abnormal and unwontedly obdurate colour to her great literary style.
That life requires not only the gaining of values but sometimes even their loss; not only victory but sometimes even failures; not only an honour but sometimes even humiliation; and not only self-preservation but sometimes even self-sacrifice—is a simple logic perhaps missed too miserably by a woman of Ms Rand’s calibre.
Moreover, that there is a hell of a difference between Ego and Egoism, also continued to elude Rand.
The former never hinders one to live and feel for others, whilst the latter always dictates one shove nonchalantly through others, living and dying only for one’s own life and world. And this perhaps is no big deal, and does not involve any ‘extra-ordinary’ mettle as propounded by Rand.
Actually, when you sacrifice and still sing; when you suffer and still smile; when you die and still live—that’s dynamism, that’s gallantry.
Ego makes you humbly humane; egoism renders you stolidly brute. Rand missed the point. However, she unreservedly succeeded in creating many Howard minds around, handing over to them a false theme song for life.
Needless to say, the prolific and immensely creative writings of Ayn Rand notwithstanding, her literary contributions are undoubtedly remarkable.
Nonetheless, the underlying philosophy of her all works and their un-naturalness take much sheen away from her, though millions wade through her masterpieces even today. There is ‘Ayn Rand Institute’ in the US, meant for studying and propagating her philosophy.
The bottomline that her Objectivism was nothing but yet another add-on in the junkyard of human-engineered inefficacious isms, doctrines, philosophies and ideological aberrations, we suppose, is not outrightly incorrect for if human reason has been raised to the level of God by Ayn Rand, is it surprising that ever-increasing cynicism, injustice and bitterness on earth are the natural fruits, once such fake and flimsy gods fail? Perhaps, not. The world today is an eye-opener.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK