April 11, 2017

"The new age of Ayn Rand: how she won over Trump and Silicon Valley."

A piece over at The Guardian by Jonathan Freedland.
... Trump’s offer to the electorate in 2016 was not a promise of an unfettered free market... So why does Trump claim to be inspired by her? The answer, surely, is that Rand lionises the alpha male capitalist entrepreneur, the man of action who towers over the little people and the pettifogging bureaucrats – and gets things done....

Which brings us to the new wave of Randians... the princes of Silicon Valley....
Rand, [Vanity Fair] magazine suggested, might just be “the most influential figure in the industry”. When the CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, had to choose an avatar for his Twitter account in 2015, he opted for the cover of The Fountainhead. Peter Thiel, Facebook’s first major investor and a rare example of a man who straddles both Silicon Valley and Trumpworld, is a Randian. Meanwhile, Steve Jobs is said by his Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, to have regarded Atlas Shrugged as one of his “guides in life”.

Among these new masters of the universe, the Rand influence is manifest less in party political libertarianism than in a single-minded determination to follow a personal vision, regardless of the impact....

[Rand's] is an ideology that denounces altruism, elevates individualism into a faith and gives a spurious moral licence to raw selfishness. That it is having a moment now is no shock. Such an ideology will find a ready audience for as long as there are human beings who feel the rush of greed and the lure of unchecked power, longing to succumb to both without guilt. Which is to say: for ever.

59 comments:

Sigivald said...

Why are people so obsessed with Rand?

Is it just that if you're on the left-ish side, you have no idea of anyone else even vaguely in favor of free markets and the like?

Maybe someone should do an intro to Hayek and Freeman or something?

EDH said...

What choice in life could be more "altruistic" than writing for the Guardian?

mockturtle said...

The idea of the alpha male unbowed by pressure from politicos and consortia is more the Trumpian figure than is her 'unfettered free enterprise' philosophy. And probably the more important feature of her novels, IMO. The Rand-ian hero is more concerned about doing, creating, building than about power and the games men play with it. But that very fact gives him power.

TosaGuy said...

Rand was far far better at portraying the antagonists, endless and unquenched in their lust, than she was the protagonists, which seemed two-dimensional and lifeless.

Wherever there is wealth and success there will be those who want to derive power by taking that wealth and giving it to someone else.

Darrell said...

Ayn would never wear a pussy hat. A cervical cap, maybe.

chuck said...

"Such an ideology will find a ready audience for as long as there are human beings who feel the rush of greed and the lure of unchecked power,"

Sounds like lefties everywhere. The Guardian should be more sympathetic to its fundamental values.

Michael K said...

The Guardian probably has garlic ready in case a Rand follower comes by to visit.

TosaGuy said...

"Such an ideology will find a ready audience for as long as there are human beings who feel the rush of greed and the lure of unchecked power,"

Sorry Mr. Guardian Writer, Atlas Shrugged is not about the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party.

Mike Sylwester said...

I write a blog about the movie "Dirty Dancing", which includes an article I wrote called "Robbie Gould's Philosophy". This article has received more than 20,700 hits.

http://dirty-dancing-analysis.blogspot.com/2008/12/medical-students-philosophy.html

Robbie worked as a waiter in the Kellerman Hotel's restaurant and was trying to seduce Lisa Houseman, the sister of the movie's main character "Baby" Houseman.

When Baby confronted Robbie for being a cad, he defended himself on the basis of Ayn Rand's philosophy.

Brando said...

"Rand was far far better at portraying the antagonists, endless and unquenched in their lust, than she was the protagonists, which seemed two-dimensional and lifeless."

I sort of noticed that as well--that, and by her physical descriptions you could quickly figure out who the good and bad guys were.

Her writing also would have been improved by including some "nuanced" characters, to demonstrate how even otherwise good people can have the bad qualities that harm civil society. We usually don't get where we are due to cartoonishly evil actors so much as those who fall prey to bad ideas and help it along. With Rand, you sort of want to shout out "too subtle!"

Ann Althouse said...

"I write a blog about the movie "Dirty Dancing"..."

I love the idea of really narrowly focused blogs.

mockturtle said...

Ayn's characters, while often admirable, were soul-less. I figure that's because of her atheism. One can be too objectivist.

Ann Althouse said...

"When Baby confronted Robbie for being a cad, he defended himself on the basis of Ayn Rand's philosophy."

I'd like to see a collection of movies where a character is defined by naming or showing one book.

I remember in "Good Will Hunting" the main character displays Howard Zinn's "People's History of America." Saved a lot of exposition.

Kate said...

I thought of "Atlas Shrugged" yesterday during the United incident. When Dagny tries to get something done, the mid-level guy says, "On whose authority?" Dagny answers, "Mine."

Dragging a passenger off a plane was a dumb idea. It seemed like no one at United would step forward and say "don't do this". No one wanted to take authority.

This is what I would guess Trump likes about Rand. Syrians were gassed and he did something about it. The buck stops here again.

Brando said...

"I remember in "Good Will Hunting" the main character displays Howard Zinn's "People's History of America." Saved a lot of exposition."

That was how I knew I was wasting time watching that movie. And what if those jerky Harvard guys didn't like apples? I would have completely ruined Will's sick burn!

MaxedOutMama said...

To describe Rand's philosophy, such as it is, as pure "selfishness" misses it badly, IMO. The corollary to not sacrificing yourself to others is that one also must not sacrifice others to oneself, and her criticism of the ideal welfare state is that it corrupts the spirit and creates nothing but defeated and all-engrossing selfishness.

Objectivism is not selfishness. It's a different type of creed, and what is often billed as "unselfish", in practice, may cover a healthy dose of self-interest. The college students agog over the promise of a free education in the last election were hardly being unselfish.

I can't even figure out why Trump landed in this article. He's not Randian in any sense. Maybe it was clickbait? One might as well describe Trump as being a devotee of Robert Frost as in "Good fences make good neighbors." But of course, in "Mending Walls", the narrator is the one who thinks the effort on the fence is wasted, and it is the neighbor who insists that the wall is necessary (and it is a cooperative effort).

Brando said...

"I can't even figure out why Trump landed in this article. He's not Randian in any sense."

I don't see it either. Paul Ryan or Rand Paul might have a better claim to being Randian, and even for them it misses the mark. I think some leftists just figure "I hate this wretched philosophy, and I hate this person and his policies, so they're probably pretty much the same".

Matthew Sablan said...

"I can't even figure out why Trump landed in this article. He's not Randian in any sense."

-- Well, Rand is bad. Trump is bad. Therefore, Trumpand.

Matthew Sablan said...

"Why are people so obsessed with Rand?"

-- She did write two books, one in which, Roark I think?, rapes a woman (mattering on your interpretation) and blows up a building after spending a lot of pages basically saying he wants to do it because reasons. So, in part, she's a victim of her own success and people doing what they usually do with a surface level reading of literature. And this is coming someone fairly right/libertarian on economics.

Brando said...

"-- Well, Rand is bad. Trump is bad. Therefore, Trumpand."

Yeah, I must have missed the part where Trump championed atheism, argued for removing any barriers to trade, promised to wipe out social safety nets, and pulled the government out of everything from drug criminalization to border control.

Brando said...

"So, in part, she's a victim of her own success and people doing what they usually do with a surface level reading of literature. And this is coming someone fairly right/libertarian on economics."

But would you agree that although Randism isn't exactly libertarianism, libertarianism is the current political philosophy that is closer to Randism than any other?

Steven said...

"that, and by her physical descriptions you could quickly figure out who the good and bad guys were"

So, the character with the "tall, slender body, a body with an elegance of line intended for the confident poise of an aristocrat" was?

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

Movies where a character is defined by naming or showing one book? This should be right up Rand's ally, since she made a living as a Hollywood writer. Here are 30 examples from the web.

http://www.shortlist.com/entertainment/films/when-movie-characters-read-books#gallery-30

There are two Nietzsche titles, but no repeats of any other author, or any title. Good Will Hunting/Howard Zinn not included here. How about another Robin Williams flick, Dead Poets Society? Carpe Diem is from Horace, and Captain, My Captain is from Whitman.

The list of 30 has Cameron Diaz reading To Kill a Mockingbird; Diaz reads an e e cummings poem, "I Carry Your Heart," at the end of In Her Shoes. In Groundhog Day, Rita recites to Phil a few lines from Walter Scott, which actually sum up the narcissist quite well; Phil impresses Rita with a French poem which is really a mangled lyric by Jacques Brel, and expresses the thought that true love gets better with age; Blade Runner has a few lines of William Blake, also mangled, allowing Roy the replicant to compare the replicants to fallen angels.

To my delight, the list of 30 includes The Cat in the Hat in Addams Family Values.

[Morticia is reading "The Cat in the Hat" to Pubert, who has golden curls and rosy cheeks]
Morticia: Are you enjoying this?
[sadly]
Morticia: To think, a child of mine!
[turns the page]
Morticia: "I know it is wet, and the sun is not sunny. But we can have lots of good fun... that is funny."
[flipping to the last page]
Morticia: Oh, no. He lives.

MaxedOutMama said...

Matthew Sabian - you may well be right!

But the fact that individuals writing for prominent newspapers feel entitled to be so superficial in their layered stereotyping, and that their editors see nothing wrong with publishing stuff this idiotic explains why Noonan just got the Pulitzer Prize. At LEAST NOONAN WAS TRYING TO MAKE SENSE.

This article is either written by someone who can't make sense of anything, or by someone who willfully wants to obscure the sense in things.

Matthew Sablan said...

"But would you agree that although Randism isn't exactly libertarianism, libertarianism is the current political philosophy that is closer to Randism than any other?"

-- Of the ones that have any notable amount of people claiming adherence to it, probably. It's been a long time since I've read Rand though.

Brando said...

"So, the character with the "tall, slender body, a body with an elegance of line intended for the confident poise of an aristocrat" was?"

Not to mention "fat, balding with beady eyes.." Gee, was that going to be one of the bad guys?

buwaya said...

"Why are people so obsessed with Rand?"

Because Rand was different, new, unique, able to get people to some different point of view. Even today Rand is powerful that way. There is very little else that breaks out of established positions and conflicts, or nothing that is semi-respectable.

More, Rand is semi-plausible. Her point of view is based on both European and American history, very recent history when she was writing. There were indeed great men, individuals, responsible for building the unprecedentedly productive commercial and industrial enterprises of the time. These were not the anonymous historical trends of Marxism. These were not the Christian social gospel either, indifferent as it was to the objective benefits of this sort of capitalism.

Its telling that Rand still manages to enrage, 70+ years after. She can especially threaten world-views that are armored against religion-bound tradition.

MaxedOutMama said...

Brando - but I feel quite free to find the idea of eating snails disgusting and to firmly refuse the opportunity to expand my culinary horizons with haggis without pontificating on the foul taste of either or trying to draw parallels between them. I don't eat them, I don't want to eat them, I don't know how they taste, and I would not try to fool anyone else into not eating them on the basis of their bad taste.

The article struck me as being written by a person who knows nothing about Rand, really nothing about Objectivism, and nothing about Trump. I'd say twenty minutes of googling formed the research basis of that article.

Shouldn't there be some shame in that? At least on the editorial board? This is the reason I don't read many newspapers any more. I used to - but as mentioned previously, a diet of tripe is not to my liking.

Fernandinande said...

These two sentences prove the author is a member of the Buggy-Whip Manufacturers Association, and a high-functioning moron:

"Among these new masters of the universe, the Rand influence is manifest less in party political libertarianism than in a single-minded determination to follow a personal vision, regardless of the impact. No wonder the tech companies don’t mind destroying, say, the taxi business or the traditional news media."

mockturtle said...

When my high school boyfriend [later to become my first husband] and I discovered Ayn Rand, her works became an exciting topic over coffee with friends. Like Nietzsche, she believed in greatness and integrity as well as the worth of the individual over the 'welfare of the state' which, as we should know by now, always backfires disastrously.

Lewis Wetzel said...

The equivalent on the Left of a Randian Objectivist is a Marxist. Both Rand and Marx drew their inspiration from 19th century continental philosophers like Hegel. Both seek entirely material explanations for all of human behavior. Both consider man to be solely an economic actor. All our behaviors are derived from economic reasoning or they are simply wrong.

buwaya said...

Rand appeals today, partly, because there was, again, a recent resurgence of "great men" of industry, the 19th-early 20th century sort, in the late 70's-early 2000's.

Her characters were based on Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford and Thomas Edison and John D Rockefeller and hundreds of others.

The latter day lot - Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Andy Grove, and plenty of other saw themselves as successors to those great men.
This later generation has been replaced by a much-less-great, much more bureaucratic lot, but the legend continues.

buwaya said...

"Both seek entirely material explanations for all of human behavior. Both consider man to be solely an economic actor."

That's why Rand especially threatens the left.

Brando said...

"The article struck me as being written by a person who knows nothing about Rand, really nothing about Objectivism, and nothing about Trump. I'd say twenty minutes of googling formed the research basis of that article. "

That's often the case--look how many people are horribly offended by Charles Murray's "The Bell Curve" in that they think it argues that certain races are inferior. Yet the vast majority of people offended by it never read it.

Now, admittedly I never read "The Bell Curve" either, but I reserve judgment on it because of that. But it seems a lot of people get caught up in the idea of something rather than going straight to the original source.

Bob Loblaw said...

Yeah, I must have missed the part where Trump championed atheism, argued for removing any barriers to trade, promised to wipe out social safety nets, and pulled the government out of everything from drug criminalization to border control.

Yep. In temperament (I'm not sure he actually has an ideology) Trump is a Democrat circa 1985 or so, excepting some shifts on social policy, i.e. Trump's support for gay marriage and other LGBT goals would have made him a radical back then.

William Chadwick said...

If only.

JaimeRoberto said...

The author misheard somebody saying that Trump is randy.

Mike Rentner said...

Buwaya opined: "Why are people so obsessed with Rand?"

"Because Rand was different, new, unique, able to get people to some different point of view. Even today Rand is powerful that way. There is very little else that breaks out of established positions and conflicts, or nothing that is semi-respectable. "

I remember reading "The Fountainhead" as a teenager and not knowing anything about it. I remember the shock I felt as I started to realize that the description of the church he was designing and she was describing, combined with the comments about altruism were all 180 degrees backwards from everything I had ever known. It was a powerful lesson for me that she was able to explain why religion was not just wrong but that it was based on malevolent ideas. I had always felt that way but it was anathema to even think about. For that reason, I have always admired her. She was able to break through two thousand years of christian culture and make an another way of thinking clear and logical.

We are steeped in greco/judeo/christian culture, and it is very hard for us to dissociate from that culture and consider other ways. To consider altruism as an evil goes against the grain of almost every thought in our way of living, and to come to the realization that this alien thought is indeed correct was the most important thing I learned in my youth.

mockturtle said...

Mike Rentner asserts: We are steeped in greco/judeo/christian culture, and it is very hard for us to dissociate from that culture and consider other ways.

There are far worse things wrong with our present culture than 'greco/judeo/christian' influence. While an admirer of Rand, I believe her atheism was a failing, not a strength. I believe in rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's. It is not the role of the state to provide charity. That is God's province.

whswhs said...


The thing people chronically fail to get about Rand is that she does not mean by "altruism" what it's commonly used to mean in our society: kindness, or good will, or compassion, or generosity. Rand had read the history of philosophy, and she used the word in the sense in which it was used by Auguste Comte, the philosopher who popularized it and probably coined it. And what Comte said, for example, that when Jesus said "Love thy neighbor as thyself," this showed that his moral teaching was unsound, because it accepted self-love and took it as the standard, and merely asked people to love other people equally; a good person, an altruist, Comte said, was someone who loved their neighbors but had no love at all for themselves, and indeed was totally indifferent to their own welfare, except so far as it made them a better servant for the rest of humanity. Comte wanted us to live lives of total, 100% self-sacrifice, and this was what "altruism" meant to him, and to Rand.

Now, clearly, this was insane, and Comte wasn't even dead when his good friend John Stuart Mill was saying that we had to redefine altruism, and use it to mean the willingness to help other people as opposed to being solely concerned with one's own good. And since then, it has been redefined even more; sociobiologists, for example, talk about "reciprocal altruism," but their definition would include any example of mutually advantageous trade.

Conversely, when Rand talks about "selfishness," she means not being altruistic, or being concerned with one's own interests and one's own happiness. And her fiction includes many examples of people showing good will toward others and being willing to help them; "benevolence" in her vocabulary is a term of praise. What she is talking about is what in classical moral thought was called "prudence."

It's quite possible that Rand was also indulging in épatez les bourgeois; she seems to have enjoyed intellectual provocation. Inviting misunderstanding may have been not merely a misjudgment for her, but a pleasure. But if you look at the intellectual history, she is saying something quite different than many of her critics suppose.

dbp said...

"So why does Trump claim to be inspired by her?"

According to this piece in The Federalist, the whole basis for this claim is one quote where Trump indicated that he is a fan of The Fountainhead.

That's it. The rest is just a precarious house of BS

jimbino said...

Rand was fabulous: a liberated woman way before Women's Liberation, fluent in three more languages than the average Amerikan, an immigrant Russian who wrote an English best-seller or two second only to the Bible in the category of fiction.

exiledonmainstreet said...

"We are steeped in greco/judeo/christian culture, and it is very hard for us to dissociate from that culture and consider other ways."

Oh, I think we are dissociating from that culture. Peter Singer of Princeton, who has argued in favor of infanticide and bestiality, has divorced himself quite nicely from Judeo-Christian ethics. I'm not terribly impressed with the results.

It takes a certain amount of hubris to look around the West, which is now in the process of committing cultural and demographic suicide and congratulate ourselves on our superiority to our backwards ancestors.

Michael K said...

"I remember in "Good Will Hunting" the main character displays Howard Zinn's "People's History of America."

The good guy professor in that movie was the villain in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Pretty good one, too.

I've never been able to get through one of her books.

The new capitalists of Silicon Valley are mostly crony capitalists who get a lot of mileage from government.

JP Morgen did it all himself and he stopped the Panic of 1903 single handedly.

I'm a big fan of 19th century types. It wasn't all sweat shops and child labor.

Steven said...

@Brando

So, you didn't recognize that the "tall, slender body, a body with an elegance of line intended for the confident poise of an aristocrat" is a direct quote from Rand's depiction of the most prominent villain in Atlas Shrugged, James Taggart?

exiledonmainstreet said...

It's been a long time since I read "Atlas Shrugged" and I thought it was a slog. I thought many of her criticisms of collectivism were spot on; Objectivism struck me as adolescent.

mockturtle said...

I preferred The Fountainhead. Atlas was too long on philosophic monologue for my taste. But I liked Dagny better than Dominique.

The Toothless Revolutionary said...

Trump’s offer to the electorate in 2016 was not a promise of an unfettered free market... So why does Trump claim to be inspired by her?

Uh... because he's a LIAR who will say anything to get what he wants?

Congratulations are in order for Republicans. They now have their very own Bill Clinton.

The Toothless Revolutionary said...

It takes a certain amount of hubris to look around the West, which is now in the process of committing cultural and demographic suicide and congratulate ourselves on our superiority to our backwards ancestors.

Either that, or an aversion to wistfully reminiscing on the 10th century as a time worth returning to - as you and so-called POTUS advisor Steve Bannon do.

buwaya said...

Some of us have this trick of reconciling complicated, semi-incompatible ideas, or at least keeping them in mind for what value they offer. Some other people, perhaps including our friend Ritmo, have a simpler conception of existence.

The Toothless Revolutionary said...

Some of us have this trick of reconciling complicated, semi-incompatible ideas, or at least keeping them in mind for what value they offer.

Nice to hear your rationalization of your own cognitive dissonance, crocodile face.

Lewis Wetzel said...

I think that you are losing in the Marketplace of Ideas, R&B.
By all means, proceed.

Brando said...

"So, you didn't recognize that the "tall, slender body, a body with an elegance of line intended for the confident poise of an aristocrat" is a direct quote from Rand's depiction of the most prominent villain in Atlas Shrugged, James Taggart?"

The "tall, slender" description of him was a bit of an exception, but if I recall didn't she also describe him as balding? I don't think her heroes were ever balding.

I'd like to have seen a case where her heroine was short and fat but virtuous, just to throw off the readers a bit!

exiledonmainstreet said...

"Either that, or an aversion to wistfully reminiscing on the 10th century as a time worth returning to"

That's laughably inaccurate and unsually idiotic, even for Ritmo.

Ritmo, the Angriest Dog In the World,...,LOL!

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/6/6f/Angrydog.jpg/300px-Angrydog.jpg

Have a lovely day!

Craig Howard said...

I can't even figure out why Trump landed in this article. He's not Randian in any sense.

Because the vast majority commenting on Rand [anywhere] know her only through her fiction or from inaccurate characterizations they've read. Even on this thread her non-fiction [which was vastly superior to her fiction,] isn't even mentioned.

She was brilliant. Her "Objectivist Epistemology" should be required reading for anyone involved in education. And it might even help Ms. Althouse understand better why we don't have words in English to cover every emotion.

Robert Cook said...

"It is not the role of the state to provide charity. That is God's province."

And how does god provide this charity unless through the mechanism of humankind? And, who says it is not the role of the state to provide charity? Why not? The state uses tax monies to pay for the many aspects of society that citizens cannot pay for individually but which benefit all, such as roads, highways, damns, bridges, reservoirs, public schools, police departments, food and safety inspectors, and so on and so on. It is the job of the state to funnel the people's money to uses that are for the benefit of the society as a whole.

mockturtle said...

Cookie, charity should be a function of the Church and of individuals. When the state steps in to institutionalize poverty, for instance, by creating bureaucracies to administer aid, neither the public at large nor the recipients are helped in the long run. Again, your idealism is obstructing your rationality.

William Chadwick said...

Cookie probably read the Hillary Clinton translation of the New Testament. In that, the Good Samaritan, finding the mugged guy lying wounded on the side of the road, becomes a mugger himself, jumping other passers-by and forcing them to pay for the mugged guy's food, medicine and shelter. You could see why Cookie's perception of theology is on a par with his grasp of economics.

"It is the job of the state to funnel the people's money to uses that are for the benefit of the society as a whole." Apparently Yahweh deputized Cookie and other "liberals" to spend other people's money for them.

"I remember when 'liberal' meant being generous with your own money."--Will Rogvers.

mockturtle said...

Great illustration, William Chadwick!