Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was a Russian Jew turned American popular philosopher. She wrote novels and later founded a movement that she called objectivists hence qualifies as either a philosopher or a religious fanatic or an insane cult leader. This woman fled Russian communism and came to America. She believed that she saw freedom in America. Everything America, to her, seemed honky-dory, the action of free men. She set out to preach pro-Americanism, the America of her fantasy, not the real America. In real America African-Americas are relegated to second class citizenship but to her that America is heaven on earth.
In the beginning she wrote fictional books, such as the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In her novels she extolled the virtue of individualism. The chief characters of her books were rugged individualists, men who went it alone, the America entrepreneur who had ideas of what they want to do, what they want to produce and sell and did so and sold it to the public. As she imagined, these men were free men who lived their lives as they saw fit unfettered by social chains. This is not Russian totalitarianism where the monolithic apparatchiki told every person what to do. In the America of her dreams individuals were free to do as they wanted to do.
One wondered if this woman actually lived in America or whether she was dreaming about an ideal America. America is every bit as totalitarian as the Soviet Union. America’s totalitarianism is velvet, soft. In America you do as the system expects you to-do and you are rewarded, but if you step out of line you are marginalized, not given work, blacklisted and, worse, you could be sent to jail. Relative to other countries, America has the highest percentage of her population in jails and prisons and this lady would be philosopher calls this situation, this jailhouse a free place. She must have been drinking or smoking something in Hollywood (where she lived).
When she was done writing her fictions she established a society that she called objectivists to teach her understanding of freedom. Essentially, she taught libertarian, laissez faire economic system; in this system government does not interfere in the economy and allowed people to do their thing. She fancied that if government did not interfere in the economy that all would be nice in the land. It never occurred to her that capitalism has cycles of boom and burst and that when it bursts it sends folk to the unemployment line, to poverty and starvation.
Folk like John Maynard Keynes argued for government intervention in the economy to stabilize the economy when it gyrates between depression, recession, inflation or stagflation. Rand would rather the government did nothing and left the economic system to sort things out by itself.
John Locke’s limited government must be upheld at all costs. Big government, like the one she saw in Russia, oppressed people and she did not want oppression. She wanted freedom and located it in small, limited do nothing governments.
In her personal life, she wanted the freedom to be married and still have affairs with other men, as she did. However, when one of her male lovers decided to have affair with another woman, whom he later married, she cut off from him and blacklisted him and removed him from her objectivist organization. So much for her freedom. Apparently, that freedom of hers is for her only, not for other people.
What shall we make of this woman? It is that she was a foreigner fascinated by the American economic and political system. She did not understand that economic and political system and certainly did not understand its underbelly. It can be said that the woman was as naïve as they come. She was an alien who took a look at tinsel town, was impressed by its razzmatazz and did not realize that not all that glitters is gold. Her house on the mountain was built on other people’s backs, Africans (to start with, the land was stolen from Indians). This woman took a house of evil as the house of good.
As is the case with would be Western philosophers, she had to show that she understood past Western philosophers. Thus, she peppered her work with quotations from the giants of Weston philosophy: Kant and Nietzsche were her favorites. She even provided what amounts to pedestrian criticisms of those philosophers.
Let us conclude by observing that this woman was a superficial thinker, a crank, and did not really understand the subjects, such as freedom in America, the American economic and political system that fascinated her. Her objectivist movement is more like a religious cult than a philosophical movement. She was the god of that movement and members had to conform to her interpretation of liberty in America. The world is not lacking in conformists and thus many conformed to this woman’s misperception of American liberty.
Ayn Rand. The Fountainhead (1943)
Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged. (1957)
Ayn Rand. The Virtue of Selfishness. (1964)
Ozodi Thomas Osuji