Ayn Rand came into my life – through her writings – about five years ago. I’ve read two of her most influential books – Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged more than once, and each time I’ve been left gasping at the tremendous concepts that she has brought almost single-handedly into this world. I’ve also started reading her essays on The Virtue of Selfishness. Somewhere along the line though, my love for her ideas started becoming less blind, as I began to recognise, through my own experiences and reflections, as well as articles like this, that her philosophy was not flawless; that there were certain realities that Objectivism did not, and still does not, explain satisfactorily.
Imagine my surprise a couple of years ago when I came to know that there was a guy called Nathaniel Branden; that he was a close personal and intellectual associate of Rand; that he was a clinical psychologist; that after many years of association with her, he broke up with her; and it came to be disclosed that they were having an affair all the while!
Branden, the young man who idolised Rand from a very young age, had a fall-out with her that was as painful as his association was rewarding. One of the consequences of their split was that Branden started looking at Rand and her work in a less forgiving, and more critical, light. More importantly, he began to understand, given his background in psychology, how some aspects of Rand’s philosophy could do more harm than good. Briefly, these are the things that he objected to:
- Encouraging repression (“A clash between mind and emotions is a clash between two assessments, one of which is conscious, the other might not be. It is not invariably the case that the conscious assessment is superior to the subconscious one; that needs to be checked out.”)
- Encouraging moralizing (“I don’t know of anyone other than the Church fathers in the Dark Ages who used the word “evil” quite so often as Ayn Rand.”)
- Conflating sacrifice and benevolence (“I am referring to the principle of benevolence, mutual helpfulness and mutual aid between human beings. I believe it is a virtue to support life. I believe it is a virtue to assist those who are struggling for life. I believe it is a virtue to seek to alleviate suffering. None of this entails the notion of self-sacrifice.”)
- Overemphasizing the role of philosophical premises (“Among the many unfortunate consequences of believing that we are the product only of our premises and that our premises are chiefly the product of the thinking we have done or failed to do is a powerful inclination, on the one hand, to regard as immoral anyone who arrives at conclusions different from our own, and, on the other hand, an inclination to believe that people who voice the same beliefs as we do are people with whom we naturally have a lot in common.”)
The complete article offers a detailed insight from a man who’s still an Objectivist at heart, though an enlightened one, and without many of the shortcomings that Rand had, but never admitted. An interesting read for anyone, I think.