Friday, February 25, 2005

Ayn Rand In The Boston Globe 

To mark the 100th anniversary of Ayn Rand's birth the Boston Globe printed an editorial by Ed Hudgins. The column sparked some interest by Globe readers. Here are some letters to the editor on the subject:

I've Rejected Selfish Individualism
February 20, 2005

I was an Ayn Rand fan in my teens. Now in my 50s, I no longer believe in the selfish individualism and laissez-faire capitalism she promoted in her books. And I find her continued popularity bewildering.

Life has taught me that happiness is not something I achieve in isolation, apart from the happiness of others. I've learned the difference between the small happinesses that come from satisfying my immediate wants to the larger happiness that arise with acts of kindness and generosity.

Rand's followers may think it wrong to give to the victims of war and natural disasters, but the suffering of others in my community and world makes it impossible for me to be happy without doing something about it.

I now take my inspiration from those who devote themselves, sometimes at great personal sacrifice, to making this world a better place for everyone.


She's An Appropriate Idol for the 21st Century
February 20, 2005

Feb. 2 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ayn Rand and it is appropriate that you celebrated her birthday with a eulogy by Edward Hudgins in an oped article. Her ideas can be seen in the thinking of many world leaders.

The motto of the Ayn Rand Institute is her statement ''My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."

That is for ''men." What about women? Their role seems to be to love ruthless men who understand that their ''own happiness is the moral purpose of their lives" and that compassion, love, and tenderness are meaningless words that are used by evil people to manipulate the rest of us.

Rand makes this all especially clear in her novel ''The Fountainhead."

The book is about Howard Roark, who is a genius. He is an architect who knows what he wants and does not hesitate taking it. Dominique is a lovely young woman whose mission in life is to appreciate people like Roark.

As soon as she learns what he is like she falls madly in love with him and devotes the rest of her life to helping him. The scene in which she discovers his true nature is particularly telling:

''He knocked the lamp out of her hand. The crystal burst to pieces in the darkness. He had thrown her down on the bed and she felt the blood beating in her throat, in her eyes, the hatred, the helpless tenor in her blood. She felt the hatred and his hands; his hands moving over her body, the hands that broke granite. She fought in a last convulsion. Then the sudden pain shot up, through her body, to her throat, and she screamed. Then she lay still.

''It was an act that could be performed in tenderness, as a seal of love, or in contempt, as a symbol of humiliation and conquest. It could be the act of a lover or the act of a soldier violating an enemy woman.

''He did it as an act of scorn. Not as love, but as defilement. And this made her lie still and submit. One gesture of tenderness from him -- and she would have remained cold, untouched by the thing done to her body. But the act of a master taking shameful, contemptuous possession of her was the kind of rapture she had wanted."

So hats off to Ayn Rand. She expresses the spirit of our age, and is an appropriate idol for the 21st century.


Rand's Capitalistic Utopia
February 20, 2005

I enjoyed reading the Jan. 29 op-ed article, ''Still A Voice of Reason," by Edward Hudgins. I would like to proffer a few mollifying and clarifying counterpoints.

About a decade ago I read Ayn Rand's, ''For the New Intellectual," which is an annotated composite of her several books and other writings. And as Hudgins noted, the theme she promulgates is the self-made man (and, today, woman) struggling against mediocrity seeking to fulfill his/her vision guided by an ethical, dynamic rational self-interest.

There is no doubt that, to some extent, America was built by the determined efforts of rational self-interested persons. . John D Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Bill Gates to some extent parallel fictional antagonist Howard Roark in ''The Fountainhead." These men all had the utmost ambition to succeed. But that is where the similarity and fiction ends. The early business endeavors of these men could hardly be described as ethical.

A (pure) rational self-interest is best expressed by Adam Smith's ''invisible hand," the concept that everyone helping themselves in the markets, i.e., a pure self interest, promotes the general welfare of society. Yet such a practice ultimately leads to a perverse economic distribution and vast social inequities. Slavery, child labor, the 12-hour (or more) workday, union busting, monopolies, cartels, political influence, etc., are all prime elements of a ''rational self-interest." Yet I doubt that Rand would condone or accept such spurious outcomes, considering her background.

Ayn Rand's capitalistic utopia made possible by persons of heroic status makes for interesting reading and thoughtful discussion. But America has already traveled through her version of capitalism. America in the 21st century desperately needs more people like Howard Roark: someone with an entrepreneurial risk-taking zeal tempered with a passionate social consciousness. But, alas, such people are very, very rare.

As our country moves forward, we best remember that Rand's capitalistic vision was simply an ideal, and, as such, is best to remain a realization only in her books and writings.

Instructor of Economics
Bentley College

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