Thank You Ayn Rand!
As today is Ayn Rand’s birthday, I thought I would repost something I wrote in September 2015.
Ayn Rand certainly has her critics, both within and without the libertarian movement. Those outside, of course, condemn her for promoting selfishness and capitalism. Some of those within the movement, on the other hand, condemn her for being a softie and supporting limited government instead of the “pure laine” anarchism that they espouse.
I don’t really want to get into either of those debates here. This post takes a look at Ayn Rand from a different perspective. She is undoubtedly the single greatest influence on my life. If it hadn’t been for Rand, I would probably have spent my life as an accountant, being mostly apolitical and probably voting Conservative or Liberal, depending on my mood at the moment.
Instead I dropped out of university to travel, and ended up on the west coast pursuing an interesting and creative career in television news.
Most people think of Rand in a political context. But she is so much more than that to me. Here are the areas where she affected me the most.
- Got me interested in philosophy. I never would have studied or developed an interest in philosophy if I hadn’t read Rand. She promoted the idea that philosophy was important and opened a whole new world for me. A world that still fascinates me today. Currently I am studying the liberal pluralism of Isaiah Berlin.
- Got me interested in politics and economics. I never thought much about politics at all until I read Rand. Or economics. And I guess, in a way, I should thank the radical left for indirectly introducing me to Rand.
I was a Commerce student at McGill in the late sixties when the left agitated to have the Commerce faculty abolished. The Commerce Undergraduate Society VP urged me to read Atlas Shrugged. So I did, after I read Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. If not for that fortuitous sequence of events, I would be your average Joe citizen without any concrete ideas about politics or economics at all. Just drifting aimlessly on the winds of political expediency.
- Got me interested in classical music. I grew up a sixties rock ‘n’ roller. The British invasion. Beatles, Rolling Stones, Animals, Manfred Mann. I had absolutely no interest in classical music. I actually thought it was dull, boring crap.
But Rand seems to have an opinion about anything and everything, and she wrote about aesthetics, since that is a branch of philosophy and she was attempting to create a unified system. Aesthetically, Rand was a romanticist. And musically, she loved the romantic composers – Liszt, Chopin and above all, Rachmaninoff. So I gave them a listen and enjoyed them a lot. My horizons spread to many other classical composers – Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky and many more. I developed a love for piano music and even took piano lessons for a few years. If I hadn’t read Rand, I would have much narrower musical interests.
- Got me into atheism. One aspect of Rand’s philosophy which particularly rankles conservatives is her atheism. But she approached it as an aspect of philosophy, of her dedication to reason and rationalism. I probably would have become an atheist anyway as I had declined to be confirmed in the church after taking confirmation classes at age thirteen. There were too many doubts and I could not, in good conscience, stand up before the congregation of our church and swear I believed in all the necessary dogma when I didn’t. My parents, to their credit, did not press the matter. Rand’s writings got me to understand why I had doubts and changed me from an agnostic to an atheist.
- Got me to appreciate religion. Now that might sound odd after my previous comment, but while Rand did not agree with religion, she did not disparage the impulse that led to religion. She saw religion as an early attempt at philosophy and appreciated it as such. I did some reading in comparative religion and enjoy reading about it as philosophy. At an early age, one of my ambitions was to be a minister. Reading Rand got me to understand that what I really was interested in was philosophy, the issues of good and evil.
- Got me interested in classical literature. In high school, I did not like most of the classics we had to read, whether it was Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations or Middlemarch (all of which I got through reading only the first few chapters before giving up out of sheer boredom – relying on Coles Notes to help me finish the course).
But Rand had a favourite author who she wrote about frequently. The inestimable Victor Hugo. My only exposure to Hugo had been in French class, where we studied an excerpt called Cossette and Marius. It was excruciatingly boring. Really, why do they make teen age boys read mushy stuff like that? In any event, Rand got me to thinking I should check out Hugo, so I did, reading Ninety-Three, The Man Who Laughs and Toilers of the Sea. I loved them. Later I got great pleasure from Les Miserables, which was also one of Rand’s favourite books. The link is to my review of the musical.
Ironically, one of the novels she recommended and which I read and enjoyed was Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz, It is the quintessential Christian novel, telling of the period in ancient Rome when Nero ruled. St. Peter plays a prominent role in this story of early Christianity. Why would Rand recommend it? Because it was romanticist at its core.
- Got me interested in pulp fiction. While Rand loved Hugo, she also enjoyed some pulp fiction. In particular, she was a big fan of both Mickey Spillane and Ian Fleming. Mike Hammer and James Bond were her heroes. Many people may brush them aside as low brow, but Rand loved them and explained why. And she got me to sample their works, which I enjoyed a lot. She also liked certain popular TV shows of her era (notably Charlie’s Angels of all things) and was a big fan of the actress, Marilyn Monroe. (And all you Rand haters thought you knew Ayn Rand! Ha!)
- Got me interested in the self-actualization movement. I had been exposed to it a bit already with my reading of Maxwell Maltz’s Psycho-cybernetics, but Rand’s emphasis on personal development and personal growth gave me a lifelong interest. I have a book shelf full of such titles as The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Rich is a State of Mind, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living Your Dreams, The Power of Focus and more. I may have pursued this interest without Rand, but she certainly helped solidify that interest.
Ayn Rand was a complex person and had a fiery personality. She opined about just about everything under the sun. But she always expressed her opinions in the context of her philosophy. Some of it I disagree with, but most of it is bang on. Like Rand, I value reason, egoism, capitalism and romanticism. I value personal development, personal growth and self-esteem. (I twice took her former associate Nathaniel Branden’s weekend program on Self-esteem and the Art of Being).
Ayn Rand was and remains one of the most powerful influences on my life and my thinking. Thank you Ayn Rand!
Liberty is a source of joy!