I wrote Why Ayn Rand is Wrong (and Why It Matters), a new book now available for Kindle, to fill a vacuum. I'm pretty sure it represents a completely original approach to the works of Ayn Rand.
There are a lot of smart people in the world who value Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, and there are also a lot of smart people who don't. This ought to be the making of a great public debate ... but the two sides don't debate.
Instead, they call each other names. Non-objectivists caricature Ayn Rand as a shrill proto-fascist and mock the enthusiasm of her fans. Her fans circle the wagons and remind each other that the world is full of cowards who can't handle Rand's clear thinking anyway. Both sides seem to just wish the other side would go away. This is how we treat a philosopher who dares to write with strength and originality?
I believe that Ayn Rand's ethical theories were completely wrong (thus, the title of my book). But I also know that she was one of the most popular and persuasive philosophers of the 20th century (the only other two in her class were Ludwig Wittgenstein and Jean-Paul Sartre). Her novels may have been melodramatic potboilers, but she stopped writing novels in 1957 and spent the next twenty-five years writing philosophical essays that were -- have you ever read one? you may be surprised -- sharp, witty and powerful. She deserves much more respect than she gets.
I can't think of any other major 20th century writer who is as widely hated and ridiculed as Ayn Rand. You'd think she spent her career spreading anthrax, not writing books, for the way some people react when they hear her name. It's hard not to wonder whether the fact that she was an opinionated woman with a foreign accent has anything to do with this. George Orwell also wrote plodding (though shorter) novels about Stalinesque dystopias, and nobody hates George Orwell. Henry David Thoreau was also an anti-social crank, and we all love Thoreau. Perhaps the only other controversial public figure who has been so persistently hated for expressing a political philosophy is Yoko Ono (who, ironically, is as super-liberal as Ayn Rand is super-conservative, but they have a few characteristics in common).
Ayn Rand's philosophy is keenly relevant to our own age -- perhaps more relevant than it has ever been. A film version of her last novel Atlas Shrugged has just hit the screens. Kentucky's Republican/Tea Party Senator Rand Paul explained the plot of Rand's novel Anthem at the U.S. Capitol this week (he insists he was not named after Ayn Rand, though his Presidential candidate father Ron Paul is also a Randian, and so is Congressman Paul Ryan, who is currently sponsoring a Republican budget bill that would defund Medicare while preserving tax breaks for billionaires).
I don't agree with Ayn Rand about much, and I don't agree with Tea Party conservatives or Republicans about much either. However, I always make it a point to respect the intelligence of anyone I disagree with. I'd rather explain exactly why I believe Ayn Rand's ethical philosophy to be logically flawed than stand back and sneer condescendingly at her followers.
Because I am a proud liberal (with a philosophy degree) who does not desire a Randian style of government in the United States of America, I would like to engage with today's Objectivist community in a logical examination of the premises and implications behind the doctrine of rational self-interest. As a rule, Objectivists value rational argument, and a rational argument is what this book delivers. No insults, no games, and no hard feelings when I kick their ass in structured, rational debate.
Why Ayn Rand is Wrong is my opening thrust in a dialogue that I hope will continue. This short and inexpensive book contains five chapters that lay out a single argument: that Ayn Rand's ethical philosophy depends on a weak psychological understanding of the nature of self, and thus rests on a shaky foundation.
If you're interested in ethics, politics, psychology or philosophy, I hope you'll read my book (available now only for Kindle, other formats coming very soon) and let me know what you think about it all.
This article is part of the Philosophy Weekend series. The next post in the series is Philosophy Weekend: Nicholson Baker's Case for Pacifism. The previous post in the series is Philosophy Weekend: The Case Against Egoism.