Ayn Rand could write powerful stuff. I read Atlas Shrugged when I was 17, and it grabbed me like anything. And most people get attracted to her philosophy of Objectivism at around the same age. Over the years, I began reading stuff on Rand, and I did not like what I read. While her books are great and things seem logical, her personal life was a supreme mess. And while meeting flawless men like John Galt and Howard Roark would be awe inspiring, I have to concede that I have never met anyone who even remotely resembles them. In any case, I am a skeptic when it comes to believing that humans can be good (in the sense that they would go about their business without harming others). As for Ayn Rand’s philosophy – Objectivism, there are huge holes as to how to put Objectivist ideas into practice. And I have always struggled with that. Her arguments do not make things any easier as she has no concrete answers. For a believer in everything concrete, it is strange that there are no revelations as to how things work.
I am still strongly influenced by her ideas and continue to look at things from an Objectivist point of view and defend things vigorously if they are defensible. But while I am doing that, I do not forget reality. While the world would be very interesting if things happened the way Rand wanted them to happen, the world does not always behave according to the laws of Objectivism. People can read her works and stay with the ideas like I do. But it is very important that one should not fall into slavish devotion either to Rand or her ideas – every thought has to pass through and be digested by one’s own brain before one accepts it.
Here are a few articles on how Objectivism increasingly became something of a cult and how Rand wittingly or unwittingly brought into being the very thing she expressly forbade.
- The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult
- Ayn Rand after a century: Who was she – and why?
- Criticisms of Objectivism (or Ayn Rand)
- My last anti-Ayn Rand rant
And a review of Atlas Shrugged that was published in the National Review about 50 years back – Big Sister Is Watching You.
update (June 3, 2008): I am working on post that is related to economics and while researching the same, I had a chance to revisit Nathaniel Branden’s views on Rand and Objectivism – The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand: A Personal Statement. If you are into Rand, you cannot not know about Branden and his relationship with Rand. A must-read, and something that completely slipped my mind when writing this post.