Ayn Rand and Her Embarrassingly Bad Attempts at Argument

Ayn Rand is a pseudo-intellectual charlatan of the first order of magnitude. Her boring dime store novels and forced bits of sophomoric sophism are eagerly consumed by college Republicans who desire anything remotely intelligent-sounding for the purposes of cloaking their anti-social reactionism in a veil of false authority. 

Rand fandom is the mark distinguishing the intelligent person from the wannabe smart person. Love of Rand separates brains from hacks. Those who study philosophy and the sciences laugh at Rand worshippers behind their backs (sometimes to their fronts). As soon as we find out a person is a Rand devotee, we know immediately that the person is a intellectual lightweight, a self-important newbie to the world of thought. We sometimes wonder why Rand fans aren’t L. Ron Hubbard fans. At least his novels were interesting. At least he could smile without it looking like his face was going to twist up into a knot. 

Here’s an instance of Ayn Rand’s “brilliance” on display. In the late 1940s, Rand was writing screenplays in Hollywood and gaining a following for her book The Fountainhead (a book that was so bad it was rejected by twelve publishers and then almost uniformly panned by reviewers when it finally found an outlet). In 1947, she appeared before the House Un-American Affairs Committee to protest a film she believed falsely portrayed life in the Soviet Union as enjoyable (Rand was Russian).

Ayn Rand testifies before the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities, October 20, 1947

She claimed the film was a piece of propaganda and so she defined propaganda, saying, “I use the term to mean that communist propaganda is anything which gives a good impression of communism as a way of life. Anything that sells people the idea that life in Russia is good and that people are free and happy would be communist propaganda.”

Immediately we can see how silly this is. It’s a simple fact that many millions of Russians found life enjoyable during this period. One might have simply asked the majority of those who had lived under the Czar how much better life was after the Revolution. One might have asked them if they were more free under the Czar. Depicting Russians as happy wasn’t propaganda at all; it was a truth that Rand dreaded because it contradicted her propaganda, namely, that nobody in Russia was happy. It would have been propaganda to have censored images of and testimony concerning happiness and freedom.

Just listen to what she said in response to John McDowell’s question. “You paint a very dismal picture of Russia. You made a great point about the number of children who were unhappy. Doesn’t anybody smile in Russia any more?” She responded, “Well, if you ask me literally, pretty much no.” She claims that literally the Russian people pretty much don’t smile. When asked to clarify, she says, “If they do, it is privately and accidentally. Certainly, it is not social. They don’t smile in approval of their system.” This is propaganda. Russians did smile publicly then, They did smile in approval of their system. 

McDowell milked it for all it was worth, unintentionally allowing Rand to make an even bigger fool out of herself. “That is a great change from the Russians I have always known, and I have known a lot of them,” he said. “Don’t they do things at all like Americans? Don’t they walk across town to visit their mother-in-law or somebody?” Rand answered, “Certainly they have friends and mothers-in-law. They try to live a human life, but you understand it is totally inhuman.”

The “totally inhuman” characterization doesn’t jibe with objective accounts of Soviet life. Nor does this: “Try to imagine what it is like if you are in constant terror from morning till night and at night you are waiting for the doorbell to ring, where you are afraid of anything and everybody, living in a country where human life is nothing, less than nothing, and you know it.”

Then McDowell asks, “You came here in 1926, I believe you said. Did you escape from Russia?” Rand answers, “No.” McDowell asks, “Did you have a passport?” Rand, “Strangely enough, they gave me a passport to come out here as a visitor.” So we are to believe that this “totalitarian dictatorship,” in which everybody lives in “constant terror from morning till night,” “where you are afraid of anything and everybody,” “where human life is nothing,” even “less than nothing,” gave Ayn Rand a passport to visit the United States?

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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