19 Mar 2000


Is Ayn Rand a Youthful Indiscretion?

As I mentioned in a previous journal entry, I recently finished re-reading The Fountainhead.  I can't say how many times I have read Ayn Rand's fiction.   At some point I lost count.  But I almost always pick up something new when I reread her books, and the mere process of doing so usually throws me into a happy contemplative mode for a while. 

This time was no different. For some reason, the character of Gail Wynand intrigued me -- or at least a significant quantity of his quotes stood out for me this reading.   Here is another one:

"There's so much nonsense about human inconstancy and the transience of all emotions," said Wynand.  "I've always thought that a feeling which changes never existed in the first place.  There are books I liked at the age of sixteen.   I still like them."

I identify with this particular statement, but it again raised a recurring question for me:  how do so many people read Ayn Rand, identify with her writing, and later abandon her philosophy?  I had a small Christmas gathering this year during which a friend of a friend noted my Rand collection, and made the snide comment that he once found her compelling.  I let the comment go, as generally when I press people who say such things, they inevitably respond: "I was young and idealistic" or some such non-answer.

Why is this so?  I suppose psychologically it's easier to say that than either 1) "I once found her ideas to be true, but have since discovered she was wrong" (and therefore, one's judgment was bad in the beginning -- this answer, of course, requires demonstration WHY she is wrong, WHAT she is wrong about, etc., matters that are intellectually challenging); 2) "While I think her ideas are true, I have betrayed them by refusing to integrate them into my life" (and therefore, the implication is that the individual is intellectually lazy). 

I can understand disagreeing with certain aspects of Objectivism or certain judgments Ayn Rand/Leonard Peikoff have made on certain topics.  But if, at some point, one agrees conceptually with Objectivism -- meaning one accepts the Objectivist framework as true -- then how can it be so easily dismissed?  I would like to see someone answer this question satisfactorily.

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  Copyright (c) 2000, Kevin L. Whited