If you want to understand my weirdly ambivalent response to Ayn Rand, it has a lot to do with the facts pointed out in the following excerpt:
Rand’s most dogmatic followers have made colossal claims for the comprehensiveness and completeness of her philosophy, but Rand herself was more modest than that. She wrote almost nothing on metaphysics. She tells us that her book on epistemology is a “summary” of a single element of her epistemology—her theory of concepts—presented as “a preview” to a (never-written) forthcoming work on the subject, and presented outside of the “full context” of the epistemology as a whole. Her single book on ethics, The Virtue of Selfishness, is a “series of essays” amounting to an FAQ on ethics, “not a systematic discussion” of moral philosophy. Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, her major non-fiction book of political theory, is “a collection of essays on the moral aspects of capitalism,” not a systematic treatise on political philosophy or politics. The Romantic Manifesto is just that—a manifesto in defense of Romantic art, not a treatise on aesthetics. As far as philosophy is concerned, Rand doesn’t say that all relevant work has been done; she says that “it’s earlier than we think”—that is, that less has been done than has been left undone.
Therein lies the problem: Ayn Rand dropped the ball — badly.
At best, “her” philosophical output is exceedingly haphazard and uneven — even though she had two opportunities to present at least a single-volume “summary” of Objectivism. (Moral Basis of Individualism and Objectivism: A philosophy for living on Earth) — both of which she failed to do.
Here’s the thing: Why “reinvent the wheel?”
IF Ayn Rand had been a rational person, she would have admitted that a significant amount of the groundwork for “her” philosophical system had already been laid. Of Course, if she had admitted that, she would have also tacitly been admitting that she “didn’t build that” (to paraphrase a rather infamous quote from Obama):
By the way, here’s that quote in context:
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. (Applause.)
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the GI Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President — because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.
Now, lets step away from the stuff about “government”, and just think about exactly how much of “her” philosophy Ayn Rand “didn’t build”:
- “Her” philosophy is (broadly) a variant/refinement of Aristotelianism.
- Her “Man of Ability” bears a none-too-subtle resemblance to Nietzsche’s Ubermensch
- A significant amount of her political/economic effort went toward attempting to “answer” marxism.
That’s just a start.
Ayn Rand didn’t operate in some sort of vacuum. Much of what she did was in response to cultural and philosophical trends AROUND her.