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Ayn Rand: The Failure of Mind as God

From my blog

Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was the great white hope of atheists determined to commandeer rationality. Her philosophy, “Objectivism,” was unique in its separation from the sensualists and its rejection of relativism. She did, nevertheless, hold man’s “own happiness as the moral purpose of his life,” and thus hearkens to John Stuart Mill.

Rand was influenced by Aristotle, Aquinas, and Nietzsche; from Aristotle she took the rational premise, “A is A.” She vehemently attacked every type of gnosticism and every form of empiricism, refuting the notion of what she called “the primacy of consciousness.” The primacy of consciousness is the cornerstone of postmodern thought: the notion that man’s conscious perception defines reality. Thus in this arena, Rand and Dabney were allies.

Unfortunately, Rand’s Objectivism is an atheistic system. While appearing rational in its propounding of an objective reality independent of consciousness, Objectivism also advocates that no divine consciousness underlies reality. Perception does not define reality, but neither is there a creator, nor a soul. The human mind is the moving force behind man’s potential, and man’s potential as a fully self-actuated individual is the only object of interest to the Objectivist. Nothing that came before is of any interest at all.

Rand rejected religion, as she did postmodern philosophy, as “evil” and “irrational.” She dismissed religion categorically as irrational because its premise is altruistic. Rand likened the alliance she perceived between church and state to “Attila and the Witch Doctor”–perhaps one of her more compelling insights.

The mind of man, according to Objectivism, is simply here, a priori, the most important thing in the universe, and not to be hindered. There is nothing higher and nothing more potentially rational. “Potentially” is the operative term here; Rand considered virtually everyone outside of her small coterie of followers to be irrational.

Rand was untroubled by any considerations of “where it all came from.” In an interview with Bill Moyers, Moyers asked Rand whether she was not impressed with all the things of creation around her. Her candid response: “Not really, no.” That which did not originate within her mind was unworthy of the further exercise of her mind.

Although Rand faulted Hobbes, her philosophy, as did his, held self-interest to be the bonding force of civilization. Self-interest was the greatest virtue in the Objectivist scheme, and altruism the greatest evil. She differed from Hobbes largely because of her “Benevolent Universe” world view. By what algorithm she reconciled benevolence with a contempt for altruism is unclear. As for the “why” behind the benevolent universe, she would not be accountable. It simply was. Self-existence implies self-existent properties.

Rand’s novels depict heroic humans with godlike brilliance of achievement; they are, in fact, creators. Titanic battles take place between creators and destroyers. Meekness was not the key to the Objectivist kingdom.

Rand, who emigrated from Bolshevik Russia, held strong anti-Communist convictions. The prevailing theme in her novels, as well her nonfiction, is the individual pitted against the collective. While rightly vilifying the unthinking and parasitic collective, Rand wrongly deified the mind. Sadly, she failed to apprehend atheism as the fatal essence of Communism.

Unfortunately, Rand’s scenarios are stage-set after a staunch Calvinist work ethic; but rather than accountability to God for one’s moral parameters, there is accountability only to the “rational self-interest” of her creator-heroes. Nor do her heroes lean toward a Calvinist chastity ethic. And they occasionally find it justifiable to kill someone who gets in their way.

An affair with her protégé undid Rand’s moral credibility, and with it, the credibility of Objectivism as a moral system sustained in self-will. Atheism lost a paragon in which to billet its cause.

Rand was right: Reality is objective. It is not subject to change according to men’s whims or perceptions. But Rand was wrong: Rational self-interest is unavailable to the perception of the natural man. The natural man’s self-interest cannot be rational because the natural man is not rational. He does not seek God because he believes he can live by his own reasoned righteousness. Man’s only true rational self-interest lies in his salvation from sin through belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Ultimately, Objectivism is a philosophy of self-will, self-interest, and self-undoing.

Ayn Rand was buried, at her own request, wearing her wedding ring, a photograph of her husband placed in her hands.

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