Ayn Rand, Capitalist Cheerleader
Chris M. Sciabarra
sciabrrc at is2.NYU.EDU
Thu Sep 21 17:04:47 MDT 1995
On Thu, 21 Sep 1995, Jamal Hannah wrote:
> Chris Sciabarra said:
> > When I refer to Rand's dialectical savvy it has less to do with
> > her understanding of right and wrong, and more to do with her entire
> > approach to the study of society. She sees society as an organic
> > totality, one in which all institutions, cultural practices, even
> > individual psychologies are internally related.
> Yeah, I noticed this, and I think youre finding something which wasnt there.
> Like, wishful thinking. I do not think Rand was dialectical any more
> than one could say the average person, or the average, foaming-at-the
> mouth anticapitalist was "dialectical". Rand rejected dialectics
> like she rejected Marx.
Well, Rand rejected "dialectical materialism" or what is more
commonly called "historical materialism." But dialectical method is
something that stretches waaaaaay back to long before Marx, and it
centers on such methodological characteristics as holism, abstraction and
integration, internal relations, systemic and historical dynamics, and
the revolt against formal dualism. In each of these cases, Rand is
strongly dialectical. The SUBSTANCE of her analysis differs considerably
from that of Marx, but the METHOD she uses is very similar, nearly identical.
> > Hence, for Rand, as for
> > Marx, revolution must be total -- it must counter the forces of
> > oppression on every level of generality, not just economically, not just
> > politically.
> Rand was a counterrevolutionary.. a reactionary. She was quite happy
> with the New York city skyline, and had no desire for any "total
> revolution".. Marx did... but you are repeatedly trying to blur
> the distinction between Marx and Rand and, I must say, it's outright
> ridiculous. (I guess it just goes to show that one can rationalize
> anything.. especially a "good" Marxist scholer)
Rand's revolution you may see as "reactionary" but her vision is
totalistic. It operates on every level: the epistemological, the
psychological, the ethical, the political, the aesthetic, the economic,
the cultural, etc., etc., etc.
> Rand complained and complained about how screwed up and un-Reason-able
> she felt everyone was. If she wanted a revolution to change all of that,
> it would have been a facistic imposition of her own ideals onto others.
> The tight structure of her group and her authoritarianism toward
> her fellows tended to give this strong impression.. she really
> wanted to _mould_ people to her thought. I suppose it just goes to show
> how one can become what they are franticly fighting against... Stalinist.
I address this very real issue in my book; I don't think she
would have agreed simply because it was not her wish to promote a
Maoist-style Cultural Revolution. She favored a cultural renaissance
however, before any political change, since only a cultural movement
could sustain the kind of change she envisioned.
> I consider Rand more of a "female Stalin" than a Marx. She simply didnt
> have the opportunity to (directly) command a massive army. She DID
> address the US army boys during Viet Nam, telling them how they were
> fighting for freedom and all that. I dont accept her lame excuse that
> she wasn't playing up to "flag waving nationalism", but instead was
> "sincerely a believer in America and freedom". What a load of hooey.
> Her nationalism was the nationalism of capital.. of profit, and the
> expanding, octopus-like tenticles of the United States profit system.
> Her "flag" was her pin with a doller sign on it. The doller sign ($),
> by the way, is actualy a "U" superimposed on an "S". You can
> see this on the very erliest doller bills. It simply became more
> abstrtact and simplified over time. When Rand defended "money"
> in a long rant in "Atlas Shrugged", she was defending pure US
> imperialism. Just look at the last line of the book "Atlas
> Shrugged". It's goofy.
She did address the boys at West Point, but she was NEVER a
defender of the Vietnam war. Quite frankly, she opposed U.S. entrance
into World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam; she was opposed to
military conscription, and her writings show certain insights into the
relationship of statism and militarism.
> Too bad she got to play "American Patriot" but anarchists who came to
> America from other countries were kicked out ever since McKinley was
> shot. Shows the double-standard.. capitalists are allowed freedom
> to "organize the masses", and propagandize America to death with
> their pro-capitalist tracts and speeches, but not the socialists.
> Tsk tsk. (the anarchists had long denounced violence as a tactic
> after that... and Malatesta had rejected it clearly in his writing.)
> Capitalists are allowed ultimate freedom in Russia today, too. But
> I wonder how Yeltsin would respond to anarchist immigrants to Russia?
> When capitalists complain about "one world government" they are
> never complaining about their own one-world corporate multinational
> government.. which they pretend does not exist. (ha!)
> > Rand was first and foremost a novelist given to theatricality and
> > hyperbole, and her dismissals of Marx are downright embarrassing at
> > times. Nevertheless, in her more studied moments, she shows greater
> > respect for the old master.
> Ah, whatever. I dont buy this at all, nor will I ever forget who or
> what Rand was, or gloss her over and say "Oh, that's just good ol'
> sweet Rand!" The woman was, to put it roughly, a paranoid, obsessive
Hey, I've never called the woman sweet or reasonable. She was
temperamental, crude, and she inspired a terribly authoritarian cult of
personality that has kept scholars away in droves from any serious
analysis of her thought.
> > The NEW YORKER piece was a good one in many ways, actually. And
> > you are right, she is prone to using imagery in her novels to show vice
> > and virtue-- but this is not unlike most Russian novelists who used
> > characters as symbols in the dialectical interplay of ideas. As for her
> Eh. Nope.. wrong again. My understanding of "Russian writers" was this
> intense focus on the negative.. self pity.. darkness, despair and
> ugliness. Heroes were anti-heroes. Russia was and is a tough place
> to grow up. I'm talking "Dostoyevskian" here. Rand rejected this
> type of prospective and went for the "all capitalists are blond
> and blue eyed angels" kind of thing, which the origionaly wonderful
> Russian Social(ist) Realism degenerated to under Stalin (but the
> worker or the "leader" was the pretty-boy).
When I say Russian, I mean that Rand retains the Russian FORM of
the novel; the ideas and themes to which she speaks are not negative,
true. But the form -- characters symbolic of ideas (a chief trait of
Dostoyevsky, who Rand credits with Hugo as being among her most important
influences); large tracts -- all this is typically Russian. Moreover,
Rand was deeply influenced by the Russian Symbolists; one of her favorite
poets is Aleksandr Blok (praised by Trotsky, incidentally). The
Symbolists were preoccupied with Nietzschean themes, but Rand was very
captured by their concern for grand issues: nature, truth, justice,
beauty, freedom, etc. And yes, there is also an element of Socialist
Realism that one can find parallels to in her writing.
> I do not think it was bad that Russian writing focussed on negative
> issues and aspects of life. Pain is an emotion that is a part
> of being a whole human being. The point is not to "worship" pain
> but to accept it as a part of what life and reality is about. Rand
> used the underhanded tactic of interpreting this admittance that
> life can be negative (at times) by claiming that it meant Communists
> worshiped pain. Rand was less honest than the true, decent
> communists she dispised. I blur the distinction between "Russian
> Writing" and Social Realism because I think this aspect of Russian
> writing was one of Russian culture's contributions to the communist
> movement. (one can take it or leave it, if they so desire.)
> Rand was big on "Romanticism", which isnt dialectical.. it's
> like Virtual Reality. It lulls one into a sense of unreality
> and unconnectedness with the world. One thing Rand was ardent about
> was the "neccesity" to oppose communism.. She was really hard-core
> about that.. but everything else was like a world of fantasy.
Oh, I don't believe that Romanticism is undialectical. On this,
you might wish to take a look at Peter Thorslev's article which takes
Romantic writers to task precisely for their dialectical savvy. See,
Thorslev, Peter L., Jr. (1971), "Some dangers of dialectic thinking, with
illustrations from Blake and his critics." In ROMANTIC AND VICTORIAN:
STUDIES IN MEMORY OF WILLIAM H. MARSHALL, ed. by W. Paul Elledge and
Richard L. Hoffman (Rutherford, NJ, Fairleigh Dickinson University
Press). It is a fascinating article.
> A good example of this is Art Spiegelman's "Maus" graphic-novel
> about the Holocaust. The origional version from the early 70's
> underground comic had cartoony (read: romanticized), cute mice
> in a concentration camp. No matter how misirable they looked, they
> were cute and it distracted from the ability to use rational thoaght
> to make a jugement about the Nazis. The newer version resolved this
> contradiction with a different art style that was not "cute" but more
> social realist. "Cute" cartoon artwork evolved out of market
> force's inherant tendency to push it's cartoonists to produce
> characters which stimulate humans in a certain way that will make
> them pay money to see more and more cartoons. To take the traits
> of a baby, which are naturaly attracting to humans and stimulate
> certain responses, and then add them to a cartoon character is
> to sucker the human mind and commodify the art form. Youth today
> would say that communism is boring because it criticizes capitalism
> at _all_ levels, even aesthetics, and would make life "no fun anymore".
> But humans actualy _can_ enjoy regular, non-spicey, non-sugar-loaded
> food if they fall back on a diet of food that is not commodified,
> not "romanticized"... the same goes for the art form. (of course these
> days capitalism is commodifying "ugly" art, by going in the other extreme
> direction. It's still the taint of capitalism affecting art.)
> A Russian writer would more likely have the communist hero not
> neccesarily be all that great looking, but have a hardened honesty
> about him (like in the American Upton Sinclairs' "The Jungle").. whereas
> the capitalists WOULD still _look_ great, sure.. but their dishonesty
> would be the main problem. Rand didnt allow her "bad guys"
> to even look good. Rand would have claimed that to make the heroes
> look "ugly" and the villans look "good" was a projection of
> "success hatred" (This is something the Unabomber accuses the
> left of being guilty of.. what a dork.) The right will never admit that
> the left's rightful resentment of _exploitation_ does not equate some
> "inborn psychological jelousy".. but they use this accusation as a
> propagandistic smear, and Rand was no exception.
Ironically, the tendency that you mention here, of Rand's, to
show her heroes as physically beautiful in contrast to her ugly villains
is not quite complete. In her earlier novel, WE THE LIVING, Andrei, the
chief communist in the book, is portrayed as beautiful as a god; he is
the idealism of communism, in Rand's view, before it was corrupted by the
Soviet regime. When the book was made into a movie by Italian pirates
(starring Rosanno Brazzi and Alida Valli), the Nazis barred it from
coming into Germany precisely because it was "too soft" on communism!
What a howl!
> Rand's perspective was tainted by her capitalist philosophy..
> capitalism says that you demand what _appears_ to be the best, not
> neccesarily what _is_ the best. So "if someone looks sexy, they
> must be great at sex, and a great lover, and who cares about anything
> else." This type of attitude can get you a lot of dissapointment.
> (I'm not saying ugly people make the best lovers.. most people
> are just average, thus, the best lover is probably some relativly
> "Average" person.)
I certainly don't believe that Rand really believed that looks
determined sensuality; she was more into -- excuse this expression --
"mind fuck" in the sense that she really did believe that what was most
important was a person's values and philosophical premises; it was on the
basis of this that a sexual relationship, in Rand's view, could be
> Social realism was dialectical in that it forced one to make a moral
> judgement about the subject matter.. whereas romanticism doesn't
> give one much chance, since it's subject is forced to be "good" no
> matter what, even if it's really "bad". (A sexy, romantacized Nazi
> woman is considered "good" because she looks good, not bad even
> though she unjustly killed someone.)
> I can appreciate both realism and romantacism.. but I dont kid myself
> about which is which! Also.. neither realism or romantacism alone will
> ever overthrow capitalism. (Both can be absorbed by it.)
Rand called herself a "Romantic Realist" by the way; and in this
regard she was less a strict romanticist. Her works demand moral
judgments from the reader at all times, and they have compelled many a
young person to question authority, conformity, and most other tacitly
accepted social values, including belief in God.
> Part of Rand's whole strategy was understanding what bourgeois people
> like and playing this up to the max. Like lots of sex? Accuse the
> commies of being anti-sex and capitalism (and "selfishness") to be
> the bringer of good sex. Have a Nietzchien "will to power" fantasy?
> Play up that in capitalism you can be a God, cuz you can follow
> the social darwinistic principle of "he who kicks the most butt wins".
> It's all deeply dishonest. I also do not think Rand really is
> all that popular outside of petty-borgeois circles.. especially
> impressionable college students. Of course when _IN_ an environment
> prone to that type (such as this one) one can say "Rand is one of
> the most-read philosophers in the world" and this is seemingly hard to
> dispute. Most thinking people consider Rand to be a pure crackpot. Her
> whole mission in life was to attack commies with any mental and logical/
> symantec construction she could muster. If only that book "The
> True Believer" had considered Rand, and mentioned that she
> would have been better off as an artist or an athlete, rather
> than a raving anticommunist all her life. (of course, the book was
> anticommunist, so it's not going to go into that.)
Well, Jamal... then you can imagine in the light of this judgment
that she is pure crackpot, what a professional risk I've taken to deal
with her in a scholarly fashion. Let the chips fall where they may...
> > practiced -- relates to that "How to Win Friends" thing you cited;
> > civility and tolerance are foremost virtues. You simply can't gain any
> > understanding of yourself or your opponent if you think you are in
> An opponent is an opponent.. there's little point lulling oneself into
> a false sense of "we can all get along"-ness. There's a point to
> keeping one's cool, however. The "How to Win Friends" mentality
> is _specifically_ an ideology intended to keep the wheels of
> capitalism running smoothly, just like the psychiatric profession.
My comment wasn't a Rodney King clarion call; it was simply an
appreciation of dialogue, rather than soliloquy.
> In times of revolution, people simply become more honest about how
> they _really_ feel. The capitalist class oppresses the working class,
> and thats just the facts. Most people deny it every day because
> it's easier or safer to capitulate than to scream and yell and do
> what would (psychologically) ultimately make one feel a _lot_ better.
> Dr. Helen Caldicott was right when she said, in a speech, that if
> asked "How are you?" one should say "I'm horrible", if they really
> _are_ feeling horrible. The Punk and Grunge movements were an attempt,
> by youth, to utilize this honesty to resist capitalism.. but honesty alone
> will not defeat capitalism. Organisation and militancy ultimatly will.
> (and Punk and Grunge rejected these important things)
> - Jamal H.
Dialogue helps to generate honesty as well...
Dr. Chris M. Sciabarra
Visiting Scholar, NYU Department of Politics
INTERNET: sciabrrc at is2.nyu.edu
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