A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Mike Wallace interviews the screenwriter Ayn Rand.

Don't get lost in her eyes.

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Stop it, Grant. I just passed this along to my Mass Comm students and the still shot scared the heck out of them, especially since the "play" button looks like an eye-patch.Here's my favorite take on Rand:

Did she have any children? I mean, the widow's peak thing is kind of familiar...Otherwise, run, don't walk....

I was actually kind of fascinated by Mike Wallace's hair. Did that style have a name?

Rand did not have children. She told Phil Donohue in one of her last interviews that women who chose to be mothers should approach it like a career, do research on it, use scientific methods, take it very seriously. She said that raising children simply didn't appeal to her.She supported abortion and wrote in 1968:"An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn)."Abortion is a moral rightwhich should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?I presume that Sen. Ryan's support for Rand's ideas is limited to her views on unfettered capitalism.Not that it matters, but Rand would have despised that kind of cherry-picking of her philosophy. Complete freedom to pursue one's potential in economic arenas depended on complete freedom from any obligations that would fetter one's pursuits, including children.Rand's notions of charity were also interesting. She believed that charity was fine if it made you happy. Laws that required charitable acts where abhorrent to her, as were charitable acts that stemmed from guilt or any sense of duty or morality imposed from the outside. Love your neighbor ... if you feel like it. Otherwise, like John Gault, you don't owe anybody a damn thing, and nobody owes you, either.

Ayn Rand had a very consistent atheistic world view. From the unbridled capitalism to the absolute right of a woman to the integrity of her own body, without regard to anything growing within it. It's all part of the same package. One would have thought that a student as smart as Paul Ryan would have understood that.

A right to the integrity of a woman's body is not an atheistic world view. Rather it is the view of those who do not accept the position that the preborn have the rights of the born. It's a different view of what constitutes a human being. Nothing atheistic about it.

If I had a choice of having dinner with her or Dorothy Day, I am pretty sure whom I would choose (and with whom I would have a better chance of her picking up the tab).

It's kind of hard to imagine why her Objectivism has been taken so seriously - I guess libertarians and republicans have a dearth of authority figures to use as justification ;)jbruns ... there are atheists who are pro-life and religious people who are pro-choice.

Anthony Andreass:If you were invited to dine with Ayn Rand you might be served Beef Stroganoff and Russian nut cake cooked and served by her housekeeper, Eloise. See: you were to dine with Dorothy Day you would probably have soup, bread and coffee, made and served with love by volunteers at the Catholic Worker.

She must have missed the bits about justice. How it's communal prudence that puts order into our interactions with others, making sure we render to our fellow humans that which is their due. And how Aquinas says it is a stable and lasting willingness to do the right thing for everyone, (not just for ourselves). And how it encompasses justice to society as a wholethe common goodand justice to individuals in society, including both justice between people and the justice of the community to the individual, by sharing what is owned in common and sharing the burden of the common good.

Fun fact: Rand deeply admired Aquinas. In a savage critique of Paul VI's Populorum Progressio she waxes elegiac:"There is an element of sadness in this spectacle. Catholicism had once been the most philosophical of all religions. Its long, illustrious philosophical history was illuminated by a giant: Thomas Aquinas. He brought an Aristotelian view of reason (an Aristotelian epistemology ) back into European culture, and lighted the way to the Renaissance. For the brief span of the nineteenth century, when his was the dominant influence among Catholic philosophers, the grandeur of his thought almost lifted the Church close to the realm of reason (though at the price of a basic contradiction). Now, we are witnessing the end of the Aquinaslinewith the Church turning again to his primordial antagonist, who fits it better, to the mind-hating, life-hating St. Augustine. One could only wish they had given St. Thomas a more dignified requiem." Ed Kilgore - St Ayn and St Thomas

The cigarette during the interview is interesting, to say nothing about Wallace's microphone almost looking like a crucifix around his neck.

Suddeutsche Zeitung today talks of Atlas Shrugged as a prophetic novel. It is about a capitalist elite who go on strike, telling the losers and nobodies (the majority of the population) "We don't need you!" They end their strike when the nobodies have learnt their lesson. But what Rand did not foresee is that today's greed-is-good elite would not be so kind. Rand for the White House -- that would be the ultimate nemesis of America's infatuation with greed, if that is what the constant mega-bestseller of Rand's novels indicates.

Interesting point about Rand and Aquinas. She seems taken with his view of reason, above all, but plucks it out of context and elevates to a point that makes little sense any more, "Thomistically" speaking. No?But perhaps that is why Ryan speaks highly of Aquinas, and why he charmed Cardinal Dolan:

@Crystal and Jim Mc. You are both correct. But the 'orthodox' atheistic view is that people are free to act in their own self-interest and that restrictions on that behavior should be kept to a minimum. By saying atheists generally accept abortion as consistent with their philosophy is not to say anything at all about non-atheists.

Yes, taking Aquinas out of his own context makes no sense. If Aquinas created anything he created a tightly connected system of thought if you take Aquinas I think you must take him whole. But Ayn, like all good heretics, ignores evidence and takes a good idea and drives it into the ground.

Ryan and Rand is so last week. Now it's Ryan and Hayek. See the NYT Sunday Magazine:Prime Time for Paul Ryans Guru (the One Thats Not Ayn Rand) Financial Times piece on the contrast between two of Ryan's heroes, Rand and Hayek: "Rand believed that progress is made on the backs of Great People. An individualist, capitalist system is best because it gives persons of exceptional brilliance and work ethic the space to produce. These people havent just earned whatever monetary rewards come their way, but also the gratitude of lesser people for the civilisational advancements they make possible."Hayeks view was that the market process is mysterious and unpredictable; there are too many variables whose interactions are too complex to grasp. And yet the outcomes yielded by a setting of free competition and undistorted price signals are superior to those of central planning."

Patrick, yes, I have noticed that Hayek is now being worked into more of the Ryan Story as it rolls out of the professional Image Mills. Hayek is safer because hardly anybody knows who he is.There is a Hayek Institute (as there is an Ayn Rand Institute), but it does not seem to promote the personal cultus of the economist with the same religious fervor that the Randians do their object of adoration.Also interesting to note that David Stockman, who is very critical of Ryan's economic plan, is also a follower of Hayek. Hayek, who called himself a "classical lliberal," which I guess is more like a libertarian, was critical of conservatives saying, "Conservatism is only as good as what it conserves."I suspect that Ryan, a Cafeteria Randian, is also a Cafeteria Hayekian.However, Ryan is not inarticulate nor poorly informed, and his family seems refreshingly functional, which makes him a welcome change from previous GOP VP candidates.

In 2008, we published a piece on Hayek:

I would rather have dinner with Ayn Rand, who lived through what was arguably the most foundational event of the 20th century, the Russian Revolution, in which Marxist thought was translated into action (or at least, so it was said). However much I disagree with her, which is a lot, although I would say mostly it is the extreme degree to which she pushes her principles rather than the core of her ideas -- I have always thought it interesting that Rand never characterized her ideals as backward looking -- however much she detested the rise of the Soviet state, she never sought to go back to the forms and structures that preceded it, in the form of a Tsar and a government heavily informed by the Russian Orthodox Church. I suspect that she might admire Putin but absolutely despise the resurgence of the Russian Church. At any rate, I think a discussion between Rand and someone like Frances Fukuyama would be beyond interesting, to challenge Rand's thinking in the situation in which society now finds itself, in which individual freedom (including exhibitions of brilliance) is arguably being limited more by the rise of corporate power than government institutions. See his review of Hayek: Many of those who call themselves Randian are notably lacking in the kind of accomplishment that she actually admired, and I would include Paul Ryan in that group, whose only accomplishment, really, arises out of his participation within government structures that Rand disapproved of. I also like authentic Russian cooking.

Ayn Rand generally appeals to younger folks, during the rebellious or the searching years. However once people take a thoughtful look at what she actually thought and promoted, most real or reasonable people, while they acept her views on Communism and Fascism, most will move then away from her.

Rand's idolatry for brilliant achievement is pretty ironic since her own start, born with a good set of brains into a family which valued education, was in no way her own accomplishment.

On June 9, 2010 Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom" was the number 1 best-seller at Amazon and has sold over 2,000,000 copies (per Wikipedia). I daresay any book on economics with that sort of popularity deserves the presumption that it might have something true to say. I've only read some parts of it, and it is indeed easy to understand for an econ book, but, as I see it, it is also extremely easy to draw conclusions about Hayek's views that aren't there. He does NOT support the egoism of the Randists. He is NOT uncritical of capitalism.It isn't true that he was indifferent to poverty, he just could not see a way to avoid it given the capitalist system we have. And though he thought that an unplanned economy was far better than a planned one, he was also critical of such systems when they allowed unfair advantage to some sectors and individuals. No doubt he'd be astonished to find that GE is not required to pay any taxes at all. He emphasized the necessity for economists to make their predictions on the basis of information, but recognized that economists lack the amount of information that would be needed to establish fair prices and fair wages. Better, he thought, to have a free market where people could make their needs and values known by what they buy than have a planned economy, which was essentially just as blind as unplanned ones. As I read him, he saw planned economies such as the Communist USSR as no better than the czarist regime which preceded it. He was concerned about fair prices and wages, but held that even the *concepts* of fair wages and prices are inadequate, and, further, there is no means as yet of getting enough information so that we could know just what prices and wages would be in a given situation. The basic problem is a lack of information.In other words, Hayek was no Rand. He was a libertarian because he saw it as the lesser of two evils, with planned and unplanned economies being the alternative evils. In fact, he and Keynes knew each other and admired each others' work. So how could they be so different and still admire each other? Some think that it was because their main concerns were different. Keynes' theories best describe capitalism when it breaks down and what to do when that happens, while Hayek is concerned with capitalism in relatively stable states and what is the best we can manage given our ignorance. But they agreed that economics is hindered by a lack of information. Economists rarely know just what is happening, which is why economic predictions are so very unreliable.It isn't surprising that there are both economic liberals and conservatives in the Catholic Church. What we should be able to agree upon is that both sides should be willing to learn from each other. And somehow the Church should encourage the search for just what "fair wage" and "fair price" should mean. It's strong intellectual tradition could no doubt add a perspective to any discussion of those most important economic ideas. But economists of all stripes (including Keynes and Hayek themselves) seem to have tried but then given up looking for them. Until we know what *is* fair and unfair we're hardly in a position to criticize or recommend any system.

From the FT piece linked above by Patrick:"As for Rand, [Hayek] said he had met her only once, quite recently, at a party given in their honor and you should never have two lions at the same party. The host eagerly brought the two together for the introduction. Here are the results, to the best of my memory: We had a very brief exchange. She swelled in anger and spun away, remaining only long enough to say, You are a compromiser.

Jeanne --Hayek was a severe critic of the notion that business success is a result only of necessarily superior ability. Says he, "It is significant that one of the commonest objections to competition is that it is "blind". It is not irrelevant to recall that to the ancients blindness was an attribute of their deity of justice. Although competition and justice may have little in common, it is as much a commndation of competition as of justice that it is no respecter of persons. That it is impossible to fortel who will be the lucky ones or whom disaster will strike, that rewards and penalties are not shared out according to someone's views about the merits or demerits of different people but depend on their capacity and luck, is as important as that, in framing legal rules we should not be able to predict which particular person will gain and which will lose by their application. And this is true because in competition chance and good luck are often as important as skill and foresight in determining the fate of different people."This certainly negates Rand's view that success is a result of the superior abilities and character of her hero type. It also condemns government by interest group which is what we seem stuck with these days.

" --- the orthodox atheistic view is that people are free to act in their own self-interest and that restrictions on that behavior should be kept to a minimum."Sounds rather TeaParty Libertarian to me. Of course, I doubt that very many of them would admit to being atheists. Au contraire ...."But Ayn, like all good heretics, ignores evidence and takes a good idea and drives it into the ground." Sounds a bit "prudential" a la "Fr" Robert Sirico and his ilk.

"On June 9, 2010 Hayeks The Road to Serfdom was the number 1 best-seller at Amazon and has sold over 2,000,000 copies (per Wikipedia)."Well, I'm gob-smacked. So much for my claim that nobody's heard of Hayek.But, then, I usually get the SparkNotes version of economic theory and theology from Raber who actually reads hard books. I have very little patience for subjects that can be endlessly parsed and never proved in this life. I once considered getting an advanced degree in literary criticism, but it seemed to me to offer a life filled with endless bickering, so now I teach freshman writers how to do in-text citations and to support contentions with evidence. It's lowly, but it helps people.

As I see it, there are very few higher ambitions than to teach people how to support contentions with evidence. Lowly? NOT!! And do try "The Road to Serfdom". Great popularization. But balance it with Heilbroners "The Worldly Philosophers". There's a special place in Hell, I think, for important thinkers who are too snooty to deign to write comprehensible works for us ordinary folk. I say one of the marks of a truly great thinker is the ability to write simply enough to be understood by curious people who are willing to expend a bit of effort. It's a two way street. No, we can't understand it all, but usually we can get the outlines. (Well, no, not Einstein, but he did at least try to write for us.)

Hi, Ann, Edward T Oakes, SJ, in an essay "On canons" that is itself an enjoyable read, produces this quote from Schopenhauer on less-than-translucent writing by some of the German masters:"Kant's style bears throughout the stamp of a superior mind, a genuine, strong individuality, and a quite extraordinary power of thought. Its characteristic can perhaps be appropriately described as a brilliant dryness. . . . I find the same brilliant dryness again in the style of Aristotle, although his is much simpler. Nonetheless, Kant's exposition is often indistinct, indefinite, inadequate, and occasionally obscure. This obscurity is certainly to be excused in part by the difficulty of the subject and the depth of the ideas. . . . But the greatest disadvantage of Kant's occasionally obscure exposition is that it acted as an exemplar vitiis imitabile [an example inducing one's epigones to imitate its defects]. Indeed, it was misinterpreted as a pernicious authorization. The public had been forced to see that what is obscure is not always without meaning; thereupon, what was senseless and without meaning at once took refuge in obscure exposition and language. Fichte was the first to grasp and make vigorous use of this privilege; Schelling at least equaled him in this humbuggery, and a host of famished scribblers without intellect or honesty soon surpassed them both. But the greatest effrontery in serving up sheer nonsense, in scribbling together senseless and maddening webs of words, such as had previously been heard only in madhouses, finally appeared in Hegel. It became the instrument of the most ponderous and general mystification that has ever existed, with a result that will seem incredible to posterity, and be a lasting monument to German stupidity."Oakes himself comments:"OK, granted, Hegel couldn't write his way through a paper bag. But did such an attack remove Hegel from the canon, or bring Schopenhauer up to his rank? No. And that's the enigma."

"Theres a special place in Hell, I think, for important thinkers who are too snooty to deign to write comprehensible works for us ordinary folk."And my fear is that if I go to Hell, I'm going to end up in the special place with the dumb people consigned there to listen to them! Jim provided a small foretaste of damnation eternal with "... an exemplar vitiis imitabile [an example inducing one's epigones to imitate its defects]." Thanks, Jim! You may get me back to Confession and full communion yet!Since this has been such an interesting and pleasant thread, here's Monty Python's famous Australian philosophy professor song. Who could forget the immortal line, "And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart, I drink therefore I am." F-word caution; otherwise, follow the bouncing ball, and sing, Bruces!

Thanks, Jim P. Schopenhauer is right. Except for Wittgenstein. He, who wrote incredibly simply, presents even worse problems. He starts his great Tractatus so simply one wonders if he's kidding. It begins:"1The world is everything that is the case." So far, so good, right? But immediately his ultra-simple sentences with ultra-simple words start to confuse us:"1.1The world is the totality of facts, not of things." Hmm. Things aren't facts? What's the difference between them? He continues with:"1.11 The world is determined by the facts, and by these being all the facts." Huh? O, Lordy, I say to myself, I can understand that the world is "determined by the facts", but why the apparently additional part about "ALL the facts" determining the world? What's the difference between the first part of the sentence and the last part? What does "and" mean here???? The Tractatus in many parts seems so simple it's almost like a children's book, but I don't know of *anybody* who claims to understand it all. So complicated language isn't the whole problem with German philosophy. By the way, Wittgenstein and Hayek were close cousins. I wonder what they had to say to each other :-)Jean, you ain't going to Hell -- you're going to Purgatory where the Lord won't let you out until you read some Aristotle.

Ann, I did read some Aristotle (emphasis on SOME). But I suspect I might have to do more than that to get out. Catholics are the only Christian sect I know of that requires post-mortem homework. My evangelical friend and co-worker, who is a truly generous and lovely person, assures me that if I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal lord and savior, no matter what I struggle with or how many times I fall down in sin, I will go to heaven. The trick is whether I have TRULY accepted Jesus in the prescribed way.

That notion of "accepting Jesus" is terribly mushy, it seems to me. It could mean all sorts of things. You could accept Him as a fact, but so what? You could accept Him as God, but we really don't know what makes God God. Or accept Him as brother, butt what does that mean? Accept His teachings? His commands? Etc. etc. And how are we required to accept Him? (Yes, Catholics must accept him too.) We can accept something gratefully, or resentfully, or graciously, etc. Is any sort of acceptance enough? And what about good works, which Luther to the contrary notwithstanding, surely are a necessary condition and/or result of real "acceptance". Sigh.

Yes, it is mushy, and perhaps that's one of the reasons many folks like Rand reject religion altogether. Religion is mushy, you can't prove it, and at times I think doing what Jesus wants you to a) does no good whatsoever, and b) just eats up your reading and movie-watching time. Friends who've known me most of my life tell me I am very loyal and reliable as a Christian ... but I was a lot more fun as a non-believer. Carrying what Jesus wants you to is not an easy yoke or light burden, contrary to what's been advertised. I think St. Martha would have agreed with me, at least in this life, and I ask for her help daily.

Jean: tell your Evangelical friend that St. Paul told us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12) for a good reason. And so we all must: day by day, minute by minute, sin by sin.That's not works righteousness; that's the human condition irresepective of accepting Jesus or not.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment