Monday, 12 March 2018

Quote of the Day: On the Ayn Rand cult ...

"As to the endlessly recycled 'cultist' charge, is that smear supposed to ignore those who have studied her ideas intensively over decades and find them convincing? How about the fifty members of the Ayn Rand Society, which is affiliated with the American Philosophical Association? Are we to believe that this cult has taken over the brains of the ten philosophers who contributed chapters to the recent volume on Ayn Rand in the Blackwell Companions to Philosophy series?
    "A strange cult this is—a cult devoted to independent thought:
Accept the irrevocable fact that your life depends upon your mind. . . . Redeem your mind from the hockshops of authority. . . . an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error. (Atlas Shrugged)"
~ philosopher Harry Binswanger, replying to the New York Post

BONUS: Here is What's Really Wrong With Ayn Rand's Philosophy!


  1. That bonus link is a great summary of what Ayn Rand is about and the practical implications of her ideas. Very easy to understand, and to me reads like common sense. Then I have to remind myself that if this sense was so ‘common’, she shouldn’t be half as controversial.

  2. I think a large part of the "Cult" accusation stems from the fact that many people who claim to understand her philosophy is reduced to quote mining after a mere handful of questions.

    This is not a philosophy that lends itself to partial understanding, and many of the loudest voices have no more than a passing knowledge of both the philosophy and the context of objectivism.

    This leads them, ironically, to resort to mindless parroting of quotes and ideas by those accepted to be "correct", and therefore above question.

    It also doesn't help that she chose fiction as the main vehicle to spread her ideas. It brings to mind a certain other novelist (of the sci-fi variety) who decided to expand into the realm of "the meaning of life" , and brought us an organization that is undeniably a cult.

  3. The cult is not devoted to independent thought at all: it's devoted to what Ayn Rand thought. Anyone who disagrees with her is told they're not an Objectivist and directed to one of the cult websites such as "Ayn Rand Answers" for the "correct" way to think.

    And on most of these sites free speech is not allowed. Any actual independent thought won't make it through moderation if it doesn't fit within the echo chamber.

    In Ayn Rand's day she excommunicated those who disagreed with her. She didn't have much time for independent thought.

    1. That looks like five claims there, Ross, made over three paragraphs, without one single shred of evidence.
      That takes real skill. Well done.

    2. Rand anticipated most of the criticisms against her and formulated arguments against them. Pointing to where she did so is hardly cultish behavior! (Note that such folks as Diana Brickel point to flaws in Rand's philosophy, such as her ignorance of personality theory, with no ill effects on their reputation.)

      Sites that are geared towards archival information tend not to be bastions of open debate, because such activities are counter to their purpose.

      Rand dealt with many disagreements by demonstrating them to be wrong--see Peikoff's description of his early days as an Objectivst. It was only after the person revealed that they had no interest in honest examination of the issues (Greenspan, for instance) that Rand refused to associate with them.

      Anything else?

    3. Thanks Dinwar for addressing the points I made instead of facetiously pretending there isn't any evidence.

      The fact remains though, that Rand evaded any academic debate.

      What was her excuse for her hypocritical participation in the McCarthy trials?

      She didn't address criticism - she evaded it and made sure that her inner circle was full of sycophants.

      To prove there is no cult, why not list the things Rand was wrong about? A sure sign of a cult is when adherents claim it to be without fault.

    4. You see, part of the problem is that so many of the criticisms you hear -- such as yours for example -- are just factually wrong. (Ask yourself why people would need to make up horror stories instead of simply citing the truth?) I
      Above, for example, you ask (still without adducing any evidence) about what you call her "hypocritical participation in the McCarthy trials [sic]." But she never participated in the McCarthy hearings, which happened in the US Senate in the 1950s, and nor if she had would it have been hypocritical. [See for example 'The Vindication of Joseph McCarthy ]
      What she did participate in was the HUAC hearings in 1947 (in the House, not the Senate, and before McCarthy was even a Senator). What she testified about was a film. FWIS, you can read the transcript of her testimony here:

      My main point here being, that, certainly there are what you might call "internet Objectivists" about with little knowledge of the topic, but there are many more internet anti-Objectivists about with even less, which apparently however provides no bar to participation. More's the pity.

    5. "She didn't address criticism - she evaded it..."

      I've never seen evidence of her evading criticism. To not address every arrow thrown your way is not to 'evade', it's good time management. Particularly when the arrows are repetitive in their content, and previously dealt with - and/or lack goodwill by not getting facts correct, or distorting the context.

      As Peter has identified, We see several of these in your short post. Getting the facts wrong regarding a tie to McCarthy, and not appreciating the context of her HUAC participation. Read the link and you'll see she acknowledged the government had no right to ban the free speech of communists, so there's no hypocrisy I can see.

      Everyone has their limit as to how much they want to engage with their opposition, and at some point it's in your interests just to ignore it. I don't for a moment doubt that if Ayn Rand thought some new criticism thrown her way had some validity, even an ounce of truth to it - she would have addressed it. In fact I see evidence she went further than that, often engaging with opponents she knew were wrong, but accepted it may have been due to an honest error.

    6. "But she never participated in the McCarthy hearings, which happened in the US Senate in the 1950s, and nor if she had would it have been hypocritical."

      Whether or not she took part in the actual hearings or 'just' HUAC is not the point: the point is that Ayn Rand, ostensibly a champion of individual rights against government tyranny, testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee as a “friendly witness”

      Ayn Rand’s philosophical convictions about individual rights were so important to her that she instantly jettisoned them for the opportunity to help the slimiest elements of the US government conduct an Orwellian witch-hunt against innocent Americans. She stood up to be counted with the banally evil bureaucrats who destroyed the lives and careers of hundreds of citizens including Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles who were guilty of nothing more than peaceable assembly and harbouring ideas that the government didn’t like.

      “The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breaches or fraud by the others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law.”

      — Ayn Rand For the New Intellectual

      You said it Ayn! Under which of those “… proper functions of a government …” would you like to try to convince us the House Un-American Activities Committee belonged?

      PC, your response is exactly what I'm talking about: you went straight to one of the cult websites to learn the "correct" spin for this particular hypocrisy ("she was there to talk about a film" is a pretty lazy deflection.)

      And then Mark, who was probably unaware previously that Rand took part in the McCarthy witch hunts, takes your word/"objective standard's" word for it without any further research of his own. A cult devoted to independent thought indeed.

      Now back to my question: what was Rand wrong about? One of the hallmarks of a cult is that no criticism of the Dear Leader is accepted. So you shouldn't have any qualms about pointing out Rand's flaws, because you're totally independent and free to criticise her...


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