A Response to Objectivism

 

Ayn Rand arguably remains one of the most influential philosophical writers of the twentieth century—at least where America is concerned. When we look at the body and course of American ideals and values over the past hundred years, we find a marked rise in individualism and its ultimate expression in objectivism. I would not argue, however, that she is entirely responsible for this movement for truly no man or woman who espouses a philosophy may rise to great heights unless he or she has succinctly captured a sentiment and movement which were already hugely at work in the world, even if unrecognized—especially if unrecognized previously. Rand offered an atheistic response to communism and a justification for rational egoism at a time when it was badly desired. She wrote of the ideal man to show men what was possible—at least to her mind.

Rand's writings raise the standard of self-interest and attack altruism. This is indisputable fact. In support I offer this:

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. (Ayn Rand)

And this:

Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute is self-sacrifice—which means self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of good. Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. This is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: No. Altruism says: Yes. (Rand, Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World)

Good in Rand’s universe happens, essentially, when “heroes” are happy—in other words, when “great men” do “great” things for no other reason than that it pleases them to do so. And we must remember that Rand viewed her characters as ideal humans, which suggests that, as a standard of perfection personified, they exist to be emulated by lesser beings. Of John Galt in Atlas Shrugged Rand states:

a philosopher and inventor at once, both a thinker and a man of action. That is why he is the perfect man, the perfectly integrated being (Rand, Journals of Ayn Rand).

Rand suggests in her writing that her purpose in fiction was the portrayal of characters who “are not what men are, but what men could be—and should be” (Rand, The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature). In The Fountainhead , Rand's ideal hero, Howard Roark, rapes love interest Dominique, thereby demonstrating for her what "great" men do and how they behave. To her critics Rand defended Roark's actions by claiming that he was only giving Dominique what he knew she wanted, but isn't that the defense that many rapists use? Strangely, only Rand seems to have been confused about the issue as everyone else knows exactly what is meant by "the rape scene" when discussing her book. Therefore, it seems only fair to state what is obvious, for Rand, a woman—no matter how “great”—exists for the pleasure of “great” men who express their desires about as well as animals, by taking what they want since, in Rand’s view of the ideal, it seems they must. It is for this reason that the protagonist of The Fountainhead commits rape and Rand expects the reader to simply accept that fact as part of an ideal relationship between a “great” man and the woman who functions as a receptacle for his "greatness."

The idea of the “welcome rape” may or may not be a lie depending upon who is involved, since one cannot account for the tastes of all people everywhere, but as an ideal held up before young men and women the prospect is a scary one—the results potentially catastrophic. The objectivist will explain the rape away as the result of sexual tension between two internally consenting characters, but any view of intercourse in which the depiction of idealized foreplay involves the object of the hero’s attention and receiver of his seed repeatedly striking his face in a non-consensual manner before being forced into receipt of that seed—well, any such view, to say the least, displays a serious disconnect between one’s philosophical ideal and reality. And this is the problem with objectivism, because logically extended to its ends, this philosophy says that whatever a man does because he’s a real man is just dandy.

As I’ve expressed previously, a writer’s heroes will be the result of an admixture (deliberate or otherwise) of personal or cultural values with the reflections and echoes of the Image of God as originating in the story of Christ. As Rand, who was an atheist, highly valued the thoughts of Aristotle, it should come as no surprise to find that her heroes are, essentially and symbolically, all Greek gods. Think of it. Was not self-satisfaction the ultimate pursuit of Greek gods? Was not the rape of beautiful women what Greek gods did? If you fail to understand how this can be, please go back to The Fountainhead and consider the symbolism of the objects, descriptions, and actions she associates with each of the figures she portrayed as heroic, or at least potentially so. Roark is perhaps most like Zeus as the chief god among gods, the pinnacle, the fountainhead, the over-thrower of the old, inferior order, looking out over the world from high above, as though from atop Olympus. Mallory, with his mercurial statue, is like Hermes—being the messenger of Roark, making manifest the vision of the greater god for all to see. Gail Wynand stands like Hades to Roark’s Zeus, as a potential, though lesser, rival; if you don’t see it, think of how his personal quarters bear more in common with a crypt or mausoleum than with any actual abode for the living (or so it seemed to me when I read the novel ten years ago). The clues are there, if between the lines a bit. In any case, I wonder if Rand didn’t intend to show, via her novels, the potential of man as it was prior to the advent of Christianity—before the philosophies and values of the Ancients were, in her eyes, corrupted.  Therein resides the failure of objectivism—Rand’s logic carried to fruition might seem good to her followers, but the Church should have little difficulty in understanding why that’s a bad thing.

Consider the aforementioned creed espoused by Rand for her heroes again:

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. 

By this we see that she essentially claimed three maxims for the ideal man: first, that he exist to please himself, second, that he be productive if he feels particularly noble, and third, that he live by reason—or at least hold no absolute other than reason alone (essentially precluding any influences like God or absolute Truth). What are the natural ends of this standard? What are its implications for those who are less than “gods"?

Every person living for self-satisfaction, the Worthy among them productive and guided by reason. Hmm… Perhaps our culture has already wholeheartedly embraced objectivism. Maybe it’s just me, but Rand’s philosophy sounds like a prescription for resurrecting the culture(s) of Sodom and Gomorrah if ever I’ve heard one. Historically, does Rand’s philosophy even make sense? I don’t think so, but history is as history does. And future generations will know us by our fruits.

Bio-shock, a popular video game franchise, poses the objectivist ideal that “a man chooses, but a slave obeys.” The villain says it must be one or the other, but the true hero knows better. The hero knows it must be both: After God chooses us, we choose whether to continue in obedience as the bond-servant of Christ, empowered by the Blood of Christ and the Anointing of His Holy Spirit, without Whom we would surely fall again. All stories echo the Christ in some fashion. The Way, the True Path, is neither utter-selflessness, nor is it, obviously, self-seeking; the proper path for us to follow strikes a course somewhere apart from these two. The man of God does not allow others to stop him from fulfilling God’s Will for his life. The man of God does great things, but not because it pleases him—though it ultimately will; he does them because of the greatness of God in him. Christ did great things—all in submission to the Father’s Will. And Christ stated that those who followed after Him would do even greater works because He was going to the Father. Utter loss of self is not True Christianity, but dying to wickedness in Christ is. When we do, we become more than we are, more than the world sees in us. So, in some small way, Rand hits the Truth, but then obscures it again with everything that both opposes God and raises up Antichrist in Christ’s stead. If Darth Vader were to have a favorite philosophical mentor, Ayn Rand would be it. 

Finally, more than any other concern—and there are many—the greatest issue with objectivism for America and Christianity is that Rand's philosophy resides at the heart of many (though not all, and certainly not all of the worst) of our political struggles. We think of our political system as being Democrat vs. Republican, liberal vs. conservative, left vs. right, or even pro-this vs. pro-that, with a few odd parties and movements thrown in for flavor. What we need to realize is that the worst of our partisan struggles are not between parties as much as they are between self-serving individuals who do as they please because it pleases them to do so. In other words, whether we realize it or not, whether they confess to it or not, a good many political struggles are actually between objectivists. Ultimately, no self-serving philosophy of Man which holds ancient Greek gods up as an ideal is compatible with faith in Christ and, therefore, must be rejected by the Church. No one who claims to be a follower of the Way can embrace Ayn Rand’s philosophy, and surely no one who embraces Ayn Rand’s philosophy can hope to follow the Way, unless he or she repents of all Randian values and rejects all Randian ideals.