Philosophy: Who Needs It

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 “The primitive and banal mentality of enforced politics–any politics–can only produce primitive and banal art.”

Vladimir Nabokov, “Robert Hughes Interview” 1965

It is interesting to think about Ayn Rand in relationship to literature and philosophy. She boasted that she wrote literature and philosophy but her results were a bland and pale imitation. Rand, Nietzsche and Baudelaire all share a kind of glorification of individualism. Nietzsche created works that challenge our preconceived notions of morality and truth. Baudelaire creates great art, challenging and disturbing works that cause us to question our notions of the beautiful. Rand, on the other hand, while promoting individuality and genius, writes works in a popular and sentimental style to appeal to a mass audience. I always felt her pulp style and appeal to popular taste was somewhat hypocritical and undermined her message. Viewed in this context her ideas seem rather weak and reminiscent those lampooned in Flaubert‘s Dictionary of Accepted Ideas.

I am not just dismissing Rand for her followers, but for her writing which seem to lack depth, understanding and rigor. If we are looking for rigorous and insightful presentations of individualism we can look toward the Existentialists and Transcendentalists (who are admittedly less rigorous). If we are looking for rigorous and insightful presentations that oppose socialism or collectivism we can read Friedrich Hayek or Karl Popper.

I am certainly not dismissing her for writing fiction. Flaubert and Baudelaire are great examples of how fiction can be intellectually and artistically challenging.

I can accept Rand as a propagandistic writer of popular fiction. She certainly has her fans. I can also see the value of discussing her in the context of literature as it helps us to understand what makes other writers so much better. The characters in her novels are one-dimensional. They are allegorical rather than real. Flaubert’s Emma Bovary is foolish, but she still engages our sympathy. Baudelaire presents his (somewhat narrow) view of the world with great richness and variety. Rand repeats herself endlessly. Nietzsche takes on much of the history of Western Philosophy. Rand sets up straw men and knocks them down. I’m sure that Atlas Shrugged could be a great book read at the beach. I’m also sure that it is not the great work of literature or philosophy that it sometimes pretends to be.


~ by severalfourmany on April 8, 2013.

3 Responses to “Philosophy: Who Needs It”

  1. Cheers to the existentialists 🙂

  2. I oft felt that she remained bound in her mother country’s chains ~ each book a manifesto shouting out a battle cry for any reader who wished to live by Rand’s rule. ~

  3. Hi. I don’t know your name, but I thought since I couldn’t find an “About” section in your modestly self-effacing blog, I would comment to you under “philosophy: who needs it” (since for all I know you may be totally unwilling to participate in yet another blog award making the rounds, due to the highly learned and serious nature of your blog. By the time you do participate, if you choose to, you may well feel in need of a little philosophy!)
    Someone recently nominated me (he’s at, and the logo for the award is on his site, and except for the logo, which you may want to access from his site, the rules for participating are on mine at If you don’t want to participate it’s fine, I enjoy reading your blog very much and this is just one way of letting you know it. Shadowoperator

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