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July 21, 2009

The Ayn Rand Affair

I would like to write about the Ayn Rand affair, but it may not be the one that comes to mind first.

Rand is described by her cult-like following as a philosopher, but in fact she is a Hollywood script-writer and story teller. These are admirable fields, but they do not rise to philosophy. To say that she is a philosopher is to say that Tom Cruise is a bishop, or that Jesse Jackson is a diplomat.

Rand was born Alisa Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1905. Her father was a chemist and a successful pharmaceutical entrepreneur. In 1917, the Russian Revolution saw mobs seizing the property of Jews and the wealthy; her father's business was taken from them. She graduated from Saint Petersburg University and, fascinated by American movies, spent a year studying screenwriting.

She got a visa to go to New York, overstayed her paperwork and went to Hollywood. She struggled, wrote, and found success as a screenwriter. Her oevre focused on the conflict between the individual and the state, between the successful and the mobs who lived off their work, and in general her narratives recapitulated her family's experience at the hands of the Bolsheviks.

She found a ready audience in America. Although she rejected God and religion, and eschewed altruism, the safety net, the New Deal and social programs, her strident anti-Communism found favor in the 1950s. Her's was a perspective of "ethical egoism", and she advocated a rational, economic selfishness.

She attracted a cult-like following that met in New York salons. Her coterie included Alan Greenspan, and a very young admirer named Nathan Blumenthal. Usually, when people talk about the Ayn Rand affair, they talk about the married Rand and the married Blumenthal, some 29 years her junior.

In that scenario, Ayn Rand decided that she wanted Blumenthal, felt that she was justified in pursuing the young married man, and suggested to both Blumenthal's wife and to Rand's husband that it was in their rational self-interest to support her desire. Remarkably, since her husband and both the Blumenthal's depended on Ayn Rand for income, all the parties acceded to her proposal, proving the golden rule - the one with the gold, rules. In an earlier post, I refer to Ayn Rand as Cougar Zero.

Ayn Rand's view of sex is that it's an expression of positive self-esteem. There's a lot of self-help pop-psych in her books.

Blumenthal was Rand's muse, and their time together was her most productive as a writer. In 1957 when she completed Atlas Shrugged, considered by her fans to be her best work, she dedicated the book to both her husband and to young Blumenthal.

Nathan Blumenthal changed his name to Nathaniel Branden in honor of Rand. Note the letter-work; Branden shuffles into Ben Rand, a Hebrew expression of "Son of Rand". A Fruedian could find a thesis in that.

Rand declared Blumenthal/Branden to be her intellectual heir, and together they incorporated the Nathanial Branden Institute (NBI), which sold her books and speeches, and advocated her cause. Young Branden's fortunes were intertwined with his matron's largesse, and he became an ardent advocate of her Objectivism.

Alas, the virtuous and noble decision-making that led Rand to have an affair with her employee Blumenthal was not thoroughly inculcated in the young lad, and he began another affair with an actress named Patrecia Wynand (the last name was given to her by Rand). Rand, who considered her own affair with Blumenthal completely justified, took umbrage at his other assignations and severed all ties with Blumenthal and his Institute. She also expelled Blumenthal's wife from the inner circle, because the wife (Mrs. Blumenthal) had failed to inform Rand of her husband's cheating on Rand. The tale of the noble Russian love descended into Greek Tragedy.

Many All have sinned. Many philosophers have failed to live up to their theoretical structures. They are only people, after all. What makes Rand's excursion different is that she defended her affair as the legitimate and logical conclusion of her philosophy.

This is not a post about Ayn Rand's affair with a married fanboy. This is a post about the American public's affair with Ayn Rand and her stories.

The Ayn Rand Affair

The most significant Ayn Rand affair is the story of America's embrace of her stories and her muddled, selfish values.

Sales of her books are up since the economy went sour and since President Obama began talking about higher tax rates. Successful people talk about "going John Galt" and withdrawing part of their efforts. True Randians would look at these people and say, "I know John Galt, and you're no John Galt".

In 2011, we may be treated to the new movie, Atlas Shrugged, reportedly with Angelina Jolie as the heroine. Here's the IMDB plot synopsis:

Dagny Taggart is a railroad heiress trying to keep both her integrity and her family's railroad afloat. She faces corrupt government, the callous incompetence of her own brother, and the ongoing loss of her best people. She begins to detect a pattern, and suspects a sinister force working against her.

One by one, the best and brightest industrialists in the country are disappearing overnight, abandoning their businesses to be cannibalized by corrupt political interests. She realizes that someone, some destroyer, is working at cross-purposes against her. She knows she must somehow beat him if she wants Taggart Transcontinental to survive.

She pursues the mystery cross-country. She knows the time for saving her railroad, and maybe staving off the collapse of the industrialized world, is growing short. The revelations she finds will ultimately challenge her assumptions, and force her to choose between defending the status quo or leaving everything she's valued behind.

In all of her stories, Rand's characters reject the claims and bonds of society, and see the population as an undisciplined mass relying on the creative people to advance society and meet their needs. The relationships depicted are volatile and short-lived, and the sexual relationships are fetishised and somewhat rapine. Her heroes withdraw from society and live in relative seclusion, their economy sustained by a deus ex machine, a free energy source invented by John Galt. Although Rand depicts her ideal man, Galt, as an examplar for all to strive to become, in truth he's Nicholas Tesla, Superman, and Nietzschze all rolled into one. Mostly Nietzschze.

What I find remarkable is that Rand's fictions would find such affinity in the United States. The ethical egoism she espouses is not an American spirit, it is the spirit of the tyrant or the despot; I will do what is good for me. I will not help you, unless it is good for me. You should not help me, unless it is good for you.

Let's do a a little exercise. It's like this. There's you, Charlie, Ted, and Ayn. You're each going to complete a survey, share the results with the others, and reflect on the degree to which you're similar people. Here's the results of the survey:
Corporations should stand on their own, without gov't bailoutsUnsureAgreeAgreeAgree
Welfare programs can interfere with accountability for bad decisionsAgreeUnsureAgreeAgree
Gov't should leave me aloneAgreeAgreeAgreeAgree
Gov't should pay more respect to individual rightsAgreeAgreeAgreeAgree
IQ score?101121115105
Gov't is part of the problemSlightly AgreeNot SureAgreeAgree
What do you write?blog commentssongsmanifestosscreenplays

Based on that analysis, I'd say you're compatible with some pretty interesting characters, wouldn't you? It's true that Chuck Manson is slightly discordant, but you align well with Ted and Ayn.

My little exercise is prompted by a 1957 article written by Whittaker Chambers (yes, him) about Ayn Rand, saying... Since a great many of us dislike much that Miss Rand also dislikes, quite as heartily as she does, many people seem inclined to support her on other issues. Ayn Rand condemns things that most Americans are prone to condemn — but when you look at what she's in favor of, she quickly diverges from ethical behavior.

Chambers, I believe, has struck upon the core of her popularity - on the surface, she resonates with American individualism and initiative. Beneath the veneer, her body of work is selfish, hedonistic, and athiest, and is such a personality cult that her followers approach cult status.

I think that Rand's audience is generally immature — young economists, young women, and people fallen on hard times who seek to break free of society and strike out on their own.
    Why is Any Rand popular among young readers?
  • writes about sex
  • writes about angst
  • writes about finding your true place
  • her followers pay professors to use her books in class.

Have your own Ayn Rand Affair

Objectivism isn't just an academic exercise, it's a way of life, and you to can mix with other singles Producers who seek like-minded, self-centered, rationally selfish people. Check out, the Ayn Rand dating site. Odds of scoring on the first date? 83.7% I'd love to see a long-term study of the kids that come out those relationships. If there are any. You'll notice there's no children caused by the relationships in her books.


Shalom P. Hamou said...

The article: Ben "Systemic Risk" Bernanke proves that Bernanke knowingly maintained a strict monetary policy long after he knew of the sub prime problem.

It shows that it was the only cause of the "Depression".

And that he probably engineered it on purpose!

If you want to sleep tonight, Don't Read It!

You can read also: Preparing for the Crash, The Age of Turbulence Update: 22/07/09.|

Plea for a New World Economic Order.

YawnGG said...
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YawnGG said...
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YawnGG said...

This article is inaccurate, I will point out two flaws.. I am sure there are many more but my time is precious.

Rand never betrayed her philosophy. You just don't understand them. Her being mad at her lover and not wanting to see her lovers wife is completely reasonable, removing them two from her life is within her philosophy.. doing what makes one truly happy.

The chart. Why would you fill in the "You" section assuming you know what I would put down. I don't agree with "You" in this chart. Also you are unsure if Charles Manson is anti-government or not? Why don't you research instead of posting a partially filled chart? Here are the lyrics to a Charles Manson song that is obviously opposed to our government.

Did you ever consider the fact that intelligent people who spend to much time thinking about how fucked up this world is are likely to go crazy? and thus your una bombers and charles mansons come out..

Bloggers like you give credit to the myth that internet can't be trusted for information. Consider doing research before you start writing an article that way you can see if your opinion is valid rather then just guessing.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who can convince her husband, her married assistant and his wife, as well as herself that having sex with her is a logical offshoot of her own self-esteem--given that she was one ugly bitch--is at least a good con artist.

Anonymous said...

At the suggestion of a friend I read a couple book by Ayn Rand, seen the films of those, read about Ms Rand a bit, and saw the The Passion of Ayn Rand recently and I have to say, I agree with you and with anonymous above ^. She was a total narcissist and hypocrite

Bruce Majors said...

Another half wit tells us all about himself and nothing about Rand by blogging "about" her.

Try again next year.

Meechee said...

I still believe in the philosophy of individualism and the virtues of selfishness. I also believe in following reason and rational thinking in facing life's situations. That being said, anybody that has an extra marital affair certainly isn't following reason using rational thinking. We are all flawed and it proves that Ayn Rand was human and flawed just like all the rest of us.

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