“Ayn Rand Assholism” as Institution/Ideology

GQ link via Tertiary, thanks.

If you read any rant today, make sure it’s “The Bitch Is Back”. (Be warned: should you happen to think Objectivism is nifty, you may not appreciate it quite as much.) Andrew Corsello’s essay for GQ concerning author/philosopher Ayn Rand’s followers and her work’s lingering influence over global economics and politics is a raw, rambunctious, damning piece of work. Here’s a choice excerpt:

In the end, it’s not the books but the smug, evangelical certainty of Ayn Rand Assholes that causes me to loathe Ayn Rand in a personal way. The thing I liked most about college was being around so many young people who were as earnest as they were dauntingly smart. People who didn’t (yet) feel the need to own every room they walked into. People who knew how to ask questions. That was it. All that elevated question-asking, and the pliancy of temperament it entailed.

We were children. Then came Rand, “the Rosa Klebb of letters,” as entertainment journalist Gary Susman calls her, to body-snatch some of the best of them. Rhetorical question: Is there anything more irritating than a 20-year-old incapable of uttering the words “I don’t know”?

Actually, there is: an 82-year-old Alan Greenspan admitting in October 2008—at least ten years too late—that he’d found “a flaw in the model that I perceived as the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works.”

WORD. Wish I still had the email address for this kid in my high school econ class who used to carry Rand’s photo around in his wallet and habitually referred to people as “subnormals”, just so I could send him the final, frothing paragraphs of Corsello’s essay.

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29 Responses to ““Ayn Rand Assholism” as Institution/Ideology”

  1. tertiary Says:

    Arrogance is the most utterly irritating of human habits, I think.

  2. Bruno Says:

    I think the only good thing that came out from Ayn Rand’s objectivism is the Mr. A comics by Steve Ditko.

  3. Mer Says:

    Bruno, I wholeheatedly agree. I may loathe Rand and just about all she stood for, but Mr. A is incredible. Ditko in general is incredible.

  4. Nadya Says:

    “Is your face described as ‘angular’?”—-> NO —–> Stupid Commie.

    Gets me every time! HAHAHA

  5. Tequila Says:

    Wow, that article was dead on point AND hilarious. I’ll be sending that to a few choice people for sure…

    The Fountainhead was enough for me. Greed has its place as does individualism but not in the way Rand sells it.

    At least not to me. Seems to do the trick for many who go on to achieve massive financial fortunes though. Well at least until they get indicted for something or bring down a financial apocalypse.

    The Passion of Ayn Rand was pretty entertaining though. Helen Mirren’s performance in it is outstanding.

  6. Marc Says:

    Her work may’ve influenced the people who have set us on a course that will ultimately doom us all to a life of poverty…

    But Objectivism also provided hefty inspiration for the underwater-world-gone-mad featured in Bioshock.

    So I’d call that a silver lining of sorts.
    A silver lining that lets you shoot bees from your hands at mutated flapper girls.

  7. cappy Says:

    I think it’s high time to update Atlas Shrugged to reflect the changing tastes of its current fan base.

    For example, instead of having Galt’s valley populated by benevolent men of industry and brilliant scientists, it would be filled with religious wackos, racist wingnuts, and people who think yelling “Git-r-done” is the highlight of culture.

  8. Sam Says:

    Saying “I don’t know” is so freeing. We should all do it more often.

    I wonder whether the incidence of narcissistic PD is higher in Objectivists than in the general population.

  9. R. Says:

    @tertiary: Arrogance in small doses is fine but in large doses it’s annoying.

    And you know…I love saying “I don’t know” when I don’t know because it’s so much easier than to make up some psuedo-intellectual bullshit.

  10. db Says:

    I suspect that like a lot of people I’ve had these ideas in my head, but it’s really useful to see them chained together so clearly. Objectivism is so frustrating because so many truly talented people went for it (Steve Ditko is the perfect example) and it just makes life this joyless trudge to the grave, it’s a tragedy. If there’s one thing we could all use more of, it’s “I don’t know”.

  11. thekamisama Says:

    Ayn Rand’s “followers” just barely edge out LRH’s for sci-fi inspired creepiness. I just wish they all had a dress code to point them out in public like the Trekkies and Jedi’s do though.

  12. Mickie Rat Says:

    That article was hilarious and intelligent, I love it when that happens. I never read any Rand books because everyone who recommended them to me were annoying assholes. Now I know why.

  13. Rick Says:

    A friend of mine linked this on Tumblr yesterday, but I totally forgot about it until you highlighted it here. I’m a little sad that I waited, because I had nuggets like “…gleefully pulling the cooling rods out of the American economy” waiting for me.

    At this point (being three weeks from 28 years old), I’m wondering if I should read some Rand just so I have the actual ammunition to argue with some of these people… and then I go and read quotations like those in this article, and I just have to shake my head in disbelief, and go read something written by someone that uses their vocabulary, rather than trying to prove it.

  14. Jessica Says:

    I’m going to be devil’s advocate here, in honor of the my arrogant teenage self…
    Personally I think that it’s too easy (and given the Greenspan debacle, too trendy) to completely dismiss Rand. IMHO, it’s a given that her novels can be painfully cheesy, that most of us outgrow the need for such flaming absolutes, and that on most levels (especially politically) her ideas are a mess. Still, I firmly believe that saying “I don’t know” is oftentimes FAR less interesting than “I’m gonna figure this out and damn the people who say that it can’t be done.” That, I think, is what I connected to in her work when I read it in high school. It’s something that artists (and inventors of all sorts) need to believe on some level, since choosing such a path requires going up against some ridiculous odds. I think that the idea of doing things yourself, rather than wringing your hands and saying “They say that it can’t be done.” is still important…

  15. Merrily Says:

    I remember overhearing friends discussing Ayn Rand in hushed, secretive tones. I was intrigued and asked them what novel I should read and it was unanimous that “Atlas Shrugged” was a great piece of work to read “especially if you are an artist”…?

    I told my boyfriend that I was reading “Atlas Shrugged” on the suggestion of my friends and I was about 60 pages in. He basically explained to me Ayn Rand’s philosophy and how it was antithetical to my own personal morals. Only 60 pages in I found her writing non-engaging and trite.

    I think it is beneficial to discuss her ideological fallacies. I would like the meme to perpetuate that her Stockholm Syndrome turned into cult of personality is a complete and utter failure. I am posting this article everywhere possible.

  16. Paul Komoda Says:

    Early on, a friend had told me that if I caught anyone over the age of twenty still cleaving to the philosophies of Ayn Rand, that it would be advisable to get as far away from them as humanly possible.

    Years later, during a decidedly desperate period of my life( one of them ), I recall reading “something”by her, and got as far as the first chapter before shit-canning it.

  17. Alissa Says:

    Wonderful article! My parents unintentionally gave me the same name as Ayn Rand’s birthname, Alissa Rosenbaum. Throughout my life I have had people asking me if it is my real name, and assuming that I admire her, where in fact I find her philosophy repugnant.

  18. Nadi Says:

    I loved Ayn Rand in high school and still think there are some great things to her philosophy. However I agree that most avid followers of Objectivism tend to suck quite a bit. Although I met alot of anti Rands who sucked just as much (and where just as pretentious)
    some were along the lines she got a bit intense. At times I think she could have stopped at Anthem, or just left some of that whole radio announcement out of Atlas Shrugged.
    But I still <3 her

  19. Ben Morris Says:


    ‘ “I don’t know” is oftentimes FAR less interesting than “I’m gonna figure this out and damn the people who say that it can’t be done.” ‘

    But the thing is those two statement don’t seem at all mutually exclusive to me. In fact I’d say “I’m gonna figure this out and damn the people who say that it can’t be done.” is to some degree contingent on not knowing. If you already know there is nothing to figure out or explore.

    The thing that Carsello is really concerned with in that part is that a particular breed of Objectivists are convinced they always know. No leeway, dissuasion or argument. They know.

  20. Nadya Says:

    I agree with the essay, particularly when it comes to the unfortunate effect that her work has on young people who never recover from it.

    But I’ll always have a soft spot for Ayn Rand, personally – just because she was a fresh-off-the-boat immigrant, this Russian Jewish girl who came to America and said “whatever, I’m having this” and built up this life and identity for herself, becoming one of the most influential forces of the past century. I know that a lot of her vision was shaped by her own self-hatred, and that the result of her teachings wasn’t exactly positive, as the GQ essay does a great job of explaining. I think that if you view her as a product of her time, what she achieved was quite remarkable. Her father, who she loved very much, was a pharmacist who spent his life building up a family business, and she watched the communists shut it down when they came to power in 1917. I think that this traumatic experience was responsible for her black-and-white view of capitalism/communism. There’s a lot that she didn’t understand or want to accept. She herself didn’t know where her personal sexual preferences ended and her “objective” philosophy began. But, for all her flaws, I still think that she was a very interesting person. You could say that I’m proud of her for going as far as she did.

  21. Andrew Swingler, England Says:

    Loved that essay, loved the fountainhead to for that matter.

    you really have to take it all at a pinch of salt, it’s only a book, it’s got a very skewed veiw of the world, but its a work of fiction so it’s allowed to. I dont think having liked the book means you’ll turn into a Dog eating Dog. really interesting essay though

    “(b) took it all the way, and now spend their days in the bowels of the Cato Institute, stroking hairless lap cats and smirking sourly as they develop strategies for deregulating the law of gravity”

    Haha! loved it!

  22. Mer Says:

    I respect what you’re saying, Nadya, but a person who overcomes adversity by embracing unbridled resentment, anger, unchecked egoism, contempt, hatred, irrational homophobia and misogyny will never elicit much pride from me, regardless of their sympathetic origins or background.

    Okay, so the Bolsheviks scarred her for life; she and her family were oppressed and terrorized. Sad stuff. Then Rand’s reaction was to become a hamfisted bully herself? Not surprising, really, but is it admirable?

    In many ways, Objectivism and Bolshevism seem like two sides of the same coin. Both Rand and the Soviets believed that a tiny revolutionary elite (that somehow possessed flawless, inarguable rationality) must seize power and impose a unified vision upon the great unwashed, simpleton masses. Does the hypocrisy not make you a little queasy? Why be proud of someone who takes that path? (I mean, sure, the route Rand took sure beats laying down and dying with a boot mark on your forehead! Kudos. But still!)

    I might have a soft spot for Rand, might feel more ‘you go, girl” towards her, if the deeply flawed premises of her fiction and philosophy hadn’t influenced world politics to the degree that they have. If she hadn’t been a friendly friggin’ witness before the House of Un-American Activities Committee. If her ideas, which hinged so heavily on the value of logic and reason, were not often presented in such a rabidly emotional, unbalanced manner. If she hadn’t been profoundly disrespectful of just about all of the philosophers who preceded her and grossly misunderstood and misrepresented some of them (see her demonizing of Kant) in her ignorance.

    Elitism born of wounds, achievements fueled by insecurity or vengeance… they’re not at all remarkable to me. And I rarely find outright hateful people very interesting.

    However, hatred and selfishness are very human traits, and that’s the one thing I think Rand gets right: that human morality should be grounded in humanity. The problem is, more often than not, she chose to ignore or outright deny countless less B&W facets of humanity that didn’t fit her agenda. In this respect, she (and her more slavish followers) end up ignoring reality– that very same immovable, objective reality they insist exists.

  23. Dotc Says:

    This from elsewhere:

    Then went the Pharisees unto Libertarian Jesus, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.

    16And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, O Great Libertarian Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.

    17Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?

    18And Libertarian Jesus spatteth the dummy, and did say, Taxation is a tyranny upon the common man.

    19I say unto thee that Caesar must go forth even unto Fuck, for I shall not render a single shekel unto that Onanist.

    20And the Pharisees rejoiced, for they knew that Pilate would give Libertarian Jesus a bloody good crucifying, and sent forth for the legions.

    21But Lo, Libertarian Jesus hadst not finished by a long shot, and did bend the ears of the Pharisees, saying, Big governorship is inherently self-interested and should be overthrown by a mass movement of individuals.

    22Truly, I knowest how to spend my hard earned coin, and no quill-pushing scribe should spend it on aquaducts and such foolishness.

    23And the Pharisees became annoyed, and did say, Surely the LORD smileth upon aquaducts, for they hath improved sanitation.

    24And, This stuff about smashing the state doth sound good in theory, but surely it is but passing water in the wind, for it shall never work in reality. Nobody shalt go for such nonsense.

    25Truly, Libertarian Jesus, thou art wasting thy time and ours.

    26But Libertarian Jesus was great in wrath, and did goeth on at great length about negative liberty and natural law.

    27And on.

    28And on and on.

    29And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and the Pharisees begged Libertarian Jesus to holdeth his peace, but to no avail.

    30And lo, presently the Legion came upon Libertarian Jesus, and gave him a bloody good crucifying.

    31And there was much rejoicing and loud were the hosannas.

    32And Libertarian Jesus looked down upon the Pharisees and said, Forgive them LORD, for they know not the principles of Minarchism

  24. Randal Says:

    Good morning everyone,

    It always amazes me exactly how much vitrol there is out there about a philosophy that can really be boiled down to 1) focus on the facts and 2) fight for the best life you can.

    Most Objectivists I know are polite, friendly, and joyous. Yes, there are angry, bitter people that call themselves Objectivists and attempt to use the philosophy as a bludgeon. In my experience, they are usually young and have a superficial understanding of it. They see the word “selfish” and think that means you should be a jerk; when what it means is that you should be productive, protect your loved ones, protect your freedom, aspire to your best.

    A philosophy that tells you to love your life shouldn’t be this controversial.

    Randal V

  25. Brianna Says:

    It always astonishes me when peopel say, “I’ve never read Rand, but her work is a bunch of bull”, and then proceed to proudly demonize something they have never studied and don’t understand.

    The other thing that always astonishes me is the idea that Rand could possibly have become a nationwide phenomenon, a revered novelist and philosopher, a best selling author who has been in print for over 60 years, gone from a refugee off the boat who knew no English to an English-writing author of international fame, and done it all on an internal moral philosophy of “self-hatred” and “foolishness”. If you do not see the logical contradiction here, your mind is frankly beyond the power of logic or reason to resuscitate.

    Anyone who does not realize Rand’s abilities, talents, or the truths in her work should attempt to become a best-selling author who sells millions of books and stays in print for 60 years. Furthermore, try to do it when your works are rejected by publisher after publisher, being told things like “you do not understand socialism” after literally fleeing for your life from a communist country, and getting denouned by official reviewer after official reviewer in the mainstream media. Then I will start to listen to your criticisms of what an idiot Rand was and how foolish her ideas were.

  26. David Forbes Says:

    I know I’m a little late to this, but here goes…

    Corsello’s piece is a powerhouse. Thanks for highlighting it, Mer. For my money, it’s probably the best smackdown of Rand since Whittaker Chambers’ classic Big Sister is Watching You from way back in 1957. The two essays make for interesting reading together, partly because of drastically different styles, partly because Chambers was a conservative and partly because they bookend 42 years that saw Objectivism go from fringe phenomenon to full-blown infectious alternative culture.

    To me, one of the most interesting aspects of Rand’s work is the way that those who don’t hold to its political ideology — like Henry Rollins, numerous pagan writers or some of my own friends — still have a soft spot for capitalism’s inquisitor.

    For plenty of awkward, outcast intellectual types (and we’ve all been there) Rand provides an ounce of arrogance and a stick to thrash the world with. Powerful stuff for many, and I think that accounts for a lot of her appeal, even for those who don’t become Objectivists. Drive and pride are essential, after all, and Rand does tout them in spades.

    So I can see where Nadya and Jessica are coming from, but I think Mer’s right about Rand relying on some extremely nasty traits to define her identity. If anything, her life and philosophy seems to carry a cautionary lesson: stripped of nuance or reflection, the quest for self-realization can lead to some pretty dark places.

    Plenty of people survived trauma like that suffered by Rand’s family and managed to lift themselves up from it without becoming fanatics. Overall, I think Rand’s impact has been ruinous and in the end, I see her as someone never really able to grow past early tragedy.

    It’s also worth noting that while Rand certainly put in plenty of hard work, she was hardly as completely self-made as she pretended. She came to the US and found her feet with the aid of well-established relatives in Chicago, whom she promptly ditched and never paid back, even after she had a fortune.

    Anyway, I’ve rambled enough and am way late to this topic, just my two cents.

  27. TW Says:

    I dunno, I’m looking forward to the Atlas Shrugged movie.

    Also, I dunno what to make of the article. I’m a liberal and I’ve only met a few Objectivists and only one was an asshole. I also don’t think capitalism caused our economic troubles. Bush was anything but a Randoid.

  28. Dotc Says:

    Bush didn’t cause the economic problems, he inherited the down slump, the crash many heterodox economists feared when Regan and Thatcher presided over the dismantling of the Glass-Streighton act at the Washington Consesus. That act was put in place after the last Great Depression in order to prevent such harmful economic slump happening again. Either Reagan and Thatcher didn’t understand how neoliberalism works, or they did but ploughed on regardless because of their obsession with market fundamentalism. Ask latin america how much they think of neoliberalism.

    Objectivism in political theory wants to de-regulate a so called free market even further. It is naked self interest and arrogance.

  29. briteness Says:

    The GQ article is a very fine critique of Rand and her followers. The personality cult of Rand is annoying, but ultimately what matters is not whether people idolize her, or their motivations for doing so, or whether she wrote good novels. What matters is her ideas, so long as they are espoused by many of the powerful. I have not read her books, but I tend to accept the view that she is a populariser of Nietschze, some of whose work I have read. It is strong stuff. To avoid ending up in his camp, you need a foundation to stand on. Without going into detail, I will say that the only way out I could find was rooted in religion. I will not say that it is the only way, but I studied this stuff a good deal in college and grad school, and it was the only way I could find. Hence I have some sympathy for the Randians saying that the majority of the population are more or less blind to the truth, and I also understand their contempt for God and religious faith. They can see that it is THE thing that has the power to expose the error of their views, hence it is a great danger to them. It is a bit ironic that the author of the GQ article singled out Christians as being the only other group that had the same kind of arrogant smugness as the Randians. He probably hates them too.

    The only cure for the immorality of the ideas of Ayn Rand and her followers is morality, and the best if not the only workable foundation for morality is ultimately faith in God. At least as far as I can see. I’m sure Hitchens would disagree with me.