Ayn Rand: A Leading Lady of the Classical Liberal Tradition


Rand was a really independent thinker. She
didn’t want to be affiliated with any movement during her lifetime. So, for example, libertarians
loved Rand–they read her, they were inspired by her, she was central to the first moment
of organizing a libertarian party and a libertarian movement–but Rand hated libertarians. She
called them “plagiarists” and “hippies of the right.” She thought that they used
her ideas without proper attribution. So, she didn’t want to be associated with libertarianism,
and she only wanted to be associated with objectivism, the movement that she created.
But, as a historian, as someone who studies the history of American thought and intellectual
thought, I can really take her and put her in the classical liberal tradition.
When you look at the overall impact of her thought in American history and in Western
thought, she really does belong in this classical liberal tradition. And the reason is her focus
on the individual. Rand called individualism the theme of all her writing. It was really
the motive power, the goal of all that she did as a novelist and as a philosopher. So
it began with the individual, and it moved out from there.
Now Rand knew in her own life what could happen when the collective was placed above the individual.
So, she grew up in communist Russia: When she was a young girl, 12 years old, her father’s
chemistry shop was seized by the Bolshevik revolutionaries. It was seized in the name
of the common good, in the name of the people. And it meant the loss of her father’s business
he had worked his whole life to build. It meant that her family went from being a prosperous
and successful family to being poor and almost on the edge of starvation. The minute this
happened, she knew it was fundamentally unjust because the individual, the hard work her
family had put in, it meant nothing, and it was all swept away in the name of the greater
good. So she started from this moment, this insight, and then, as a novelist, as a thinker,
she took this and writ it large in her novels. It was this fundamental theme that comes out
in all her novels. So for instance, “We the Living” plays
this history of Russia, shows the fate of individuals in a socialist or communist state
when individuals are not valued. The “Fountainhead,” her first breakthrough novel–one of her major
works, shows on a psychological level what it means to be a true individualist, to be
motivated by your own goals and ambitions rather than those of other people. And then
“Atlas Shrugged” takes this theme of individualism and writes it large on a social canvass and
says, “What happens to society when individuals are not given the liberty they need to flourish
and to create?” And “Atlas Shrugged” takes that question, “What happens to society
when individuals are inhibited from living their fullest potential?” and shows all
the consequences that follow from that. So it’s this theme of individualism that’s
really powerful throughout all her work. Now, in terms of what did Rand bring to the
classical liberal tradition, what’s her contribution? Well, in a lot of ways what
she did is she modernized this set of ideas that had been around for centuries. She wrote
fun, catchy novels that were widely read. She brought a dose of glamour and sex to the
presentation of these ideas. And this was really important because, when she started
writing and publishing in the 1930s and 1940s, classical liberal ideas had very limited circulation,
particularly in the United States. They were considered old-fashioned, out-of-date, no
longer important, and to have a young, dynamic, popular writer working with these ideas and
spreading these ideas was really important. So that’s part of what she brought to the
classical liberal tradition. The other thing I would say is the real emphasis
on production rather than consumption or distribution. So, what does it take to produce goods in
the economy? Whether it’s, what does it take to run a railroad, what does it take
to design a new motor, to create a new steel alloy, or to write a new symphony, or to write
a new novel, she really focused on that process and how that worked on an individual level
and also a social level. So there’s that focus; instead of worrying about how do we
distribute or how do we consume enough, was this real focus on production; how do we produce?
And I think, in her novel, she translated what a lot of economists have since come to
understand about production–how fundamental production is– translated that into very
simple human terms that anyone could understand. So the other thing that’s really important
about Rand’s contribution to classical liberalism is she really emphasized that economic activity
was creative. Business was creative. This was not a common idea. It was not a popular
idea when she was writing. Business was for drones.It was boring. There was nothing artistic
or creative about it. And she really showed that almost any type of work, from running
a major corporation to driving a bus, could be a creative act that you brought your best
self to. So in one of the opening scenes of “Atlas Shrugged,” Rand has a character
notice a bus coming around the corner, expertly steered. And this might seem like a throw-away
line, but it’s very significant, and it goes to the heart of her philosophy. What
she’s saying here is that any type of work you do, be it running a huge industrial corporation
or as humble as driving a bus, that can be a creative and even a moral act if you bring
your best effort and your best self to that. So even being a bus driver–complicated thing
when you break it down–may be a profession not given a lot of attention in our society,
but she’s saying her ideas, her philosophy, applied just as much to the bus driver as
to the industrial tycoon, the genius, the creator of a new metal. So this is another
thing; she brings this sense that her ideas about capitalism and free markets and individualism
are not just for the elite. They’re not just for the privileged few. They work for
everybody, and they apply to everybody. Rand had the ability to inspire a social movement
around her ideas. This is something that no other author in her time or since has been
able to do as effectively and as significantly. “Atlas Shrugged” came out; it was panned
by critics–it got absolutely terrible reviews from left, right, and center–but it had an
incredible impact on readers. They loved the book. And many of these readers came to Rand
asking for more education in objectivist philosophy. They formed objectivist clubs on college campuses.
They subscribed to her newsletter. They came to see her talk. And they really began a very
important social movement of the 1960s; not the kind we usually associate with the 1960s,
but one that we’re beginning to recognize is really one of the more important historical
stories of the 60s. And this group of young people, who came together around her ideas,
really form the core of the later conservative movement and the core of today’s classical
liberal and libertarian movements. So it’s a tremendous irony; Rand was an independent
thinker–she didn’t want to be connected to any movement–but she actually created
multiple movements, and she had an impact on multiple movements.
In 2009, “Atlas Shrugged” sold over half a million copies, so we can see that what
Rand started is still happening today, and it will be happening far into the future as
well.




Comments
  1. Greed is not a negative. The person who created and produced the computer you type on did so out of greed and made a profit at it.

  2. Actually, no. I use Linux made by volunteers that love the art of creation which is why it is so much more stable and safe that windows or macs, I assembled this computer myself, because I love building things, My father knew Shockly who worked at bell labs which was primarily there as part of tax break the government gave ma bell in conjunction with monopoly rights. He drew a salary but didn't get rich, he did it for love. Greed is creates cheats, love creates excellence.

  3. They are buying their way onto your recommended video list.

    I did not come here looking to dis Rand. She is dead physically and intellectually. She just keeps getting resurrected by infusions of cash from politicos.

  4. I was out there fighting the war months before it happened. I was tryoing to counterbalance the propaganda being generated buy billionaire families and corporate media that was tricking america into that criminal fiasco.

    The people who sponsored that war are very much the same people who are pushing Randain philosophies on us. There greed drives them to exploit the private and public sectors, that is Rand's moral mandate. Service thyself, which why she lived off tax payers when old.

  5. I am sorry, there is no Santa Claus. Reality truly does not care how badly it offends your sensibilities. Moral systems don't magically arrive from heaven, they are social contract instituted among humans. You may think something is an inalienable right but if the rest of society doesn't agree, you have no right.

    What you and a lot of Randians seem blind to is that the social contract is strong, ubiquitous and often good. It gives you things like property and life provided you use it well.

  6. What an irrational logical leap. No individual has a right to initiate physical force on another innocent individual in a free society. At least read Rand before you comment on her videos.

  7. "I was out there fighting the war months …"

    Oh, wow. You would give whiskey to a drunk and then claim innocence when he kills someone in a car wreck.

    Quit with the self-righteous bullshit. You willingly give the murderers money. YOU ARE GUILTY.

    (or a delusional idiot – your call)

  8. I was getting bottles thrown at me and being called a traitor because I was trying to stop the damn stupid war. What were you doing?

  9. Awww, little boy threw a temper tantrum because daddy upset him. You want to play your little games and think it lets you off the hook? It doesn't.

    You cast your lot with the sociopaths. You identified yourself as a proud member of the gang with this – "Only, parasites don't pay for what they use."

    Where the fuck do you think the get the money to go commit the mass murder?

    TAXES. YOU FUCKING IDIOT.

    You swallowed the kool-aid. Deal with it.

  10. Don't dodge the question. Some of my taxes were abused yes, but i did my damnedest to stop it. What did you do?

    What are you doing now to stop the incipient war with Iran?

    You claim the moral high-ground but you are must a moral vacuous parasite, that does not care enough to stick his neck on the line and wants all the benefits of society without paying for it.

    And I am proud of the education, disease control, infrastructure, and security my taxes create as much as I hate the Iraq war.

  11. Just so you know, Paul Ryan is on record admitting Ayn Rand was his inspiration for getting into politics. He is also reported to have given his staff a copy of Atlas Shrugged for Christmas. Do you STILL believe classical liberalism and contemporary liberalism are the same? Just because the word "liberal" appears in both does not make them similar. Liberal has meant different things at different times.

    Your ignorance is matched only by your arrogance, You're a walking Dunning-Kruger effect.

  12. Unlike you, I don't believe in fairy tales and make-believe monsters.

    Oh. by the way, here's William F. Buckley (that raging liberal!) speaking fondly of Rand and Atlas Shrugged v=5KmPLkiqnO8

    And here's Ralph Nadar (that raging conservative!) speaking quite critically of Rand v=VkhQUU4LLq

    God, you're fucking retarded. If I didn't know better, I would guess you're an atheist troll trying to making Christians look stupid. But, I do know better, you're just that fucking stupid.

  13. Windows 7 is not stable? Linux is typical of "art" the majority doesn't understand it or give a shit about it and it does not serve a large segment of the population. I assembled my computer as well, what's your point? So greed and love cannot coexist? You're brainwashed. Figures you're inadvertently supporting unfair tax cuts and coercive monopolies.

  14. You implicitly espouse views of the rationalist philosophy which is far older than Rand's philosophy… older and more irrelevant… more delusional as well.

  15. Rands ideas are more primitive that people hundreds of years older because she reinvented the wheel and refused to engage the history of ideas that came before her,. Leaving her with Romance novels that were full of stuff that could only impress rank amateurs in epistemology, political and economic thought. 500 years ago she would have been ahead of her time. Unfortunately she ignored most the the intellectual development from the renaissance onwards.

  16. Fail. "Rand's ideas are more primitive" You cannot and won't prove this, it's a demagogue and a sad excuse at best. "Reinvented the wheel and refused to engage with the history of ideas" Something tells me you haven't even read Rand's philosophy or any of her books for that matter and now you're trying to pass judgement upon her. You're exactly the kind of her person who would've stood no chance in a debate with her. Perhaps you could've fallen back on your ability to pander to irrationality.

  17. Unlike Randians, I don't make claims I can't back up. You tell me the idea you think Rand innovated. I will show you it came earlier and that it has been rebutted. The mere fact she calls herself and "objectivist " means that she never even made it through classical epistemology.Her scholarship is near zero, her only original contributions are romance novels.

  18. lulz, you've obviously never read any of her non fiction work. Epistemology cannot be objective? So we're not capable of knowing anything objectively?

  19. Yes, all experience and thought based on experience is subjective. No one had a "god's eye view". There is not even a natural way to tell signal from noise or background from foreground. Further there are loads and loads of scientific evidence that shows that human judgment and perception is systematically flawed. Science has given up on objectivity in Rand's sense, it creates probabilistically reliable ideas that are specific to applications within paradigms.

  20. Still waiting for some idea from rand that you think is original.

    She does not even rise to the level of a plagiarist. She is a child that watched a bird one day and though she invented the idea of using wings to make people fly.

  21. @michalchik lulzz I just read my email on my phone so ill refrain from feeding your anti reason demagoguery until later, but in the meantime loltypical reason hating kant worship, but we can't help it can we?

  22. Hayek, is an entirely different subject than Rand. Rand's ideology about people spending their time and money on others without a reasonable expectation of reward was simple. She thought it was an evil annihilation of self. Altruism, which is what Wikipedia is built on, is a mental disorder or worse yet the beginning of the annihilation of civilization and the worth of man. Though Rand would have thought people working on wikipedia was their right she would have been sickened by the weaklings.

  23. Well, he is wrong and rationalizing to cover up the contradiction, Jimmy Wales may be benefiting from it in terms of money and notoriety, but those who donate time and money from it are behaving altruistically. I get the benefit of Wikipedia whether or not I help build it. Do by donating the time and money I am making a sacrifice that benefits others and had no effect on my wellbeing. That is the very definition of altruism.

  24. You're falsely assuming that writing or editing a Wikipedia article only benefits others and not the writer. By writing an article on a subject that one knows a lot about, he encourages others to write articles on other subjects, subjects that he does not know a lot about, but may be important to him nevertheless. The result is a net gain in important knowledge for the writer and a net gain in the capacity to acquire important knowledge!

  25. That analysis ignores the quantitative dynamics of the situation. The amount that a person stands to learn from an hour of writing for wikipedia is trivial compared to the amount he would learn if he spent an hour reading. His effect is diluted among all participants and the amount he contributes to the likelihood of participation by others is trivial. People participate in WP because they want to help create something good for everyone. That is altruism or in Rand's view sickness.

  26. By writing wikipedia articles, the author encourages others to write articles which he can later read. This is why the author benefits.

  27. Yes, i get it, you just repeated yourself. What you don't get is that the return on investment for the effort of any one individual is negative. You are not thinking quantitatively.

    Go ahead and try this yourself. Write a wikipedia article and time yourself. Count how many articles appear that your wanted to read and compare that to the time you could have invested simply looking elsewhere.

    Wikipedia is the product of people wanting to help create something good for everyone. Go ask authors.

  28. The net return is positive and not negative. He gets millions of articles to read in exchange for writing one article.

    Creating good for everyone also creates good for oneself by definition of 'everyone.'

  29. Yes, it is because access to or existence of the millions of articles are not contingent on a reader's participation. WP has many more pure parasites than participants. To understand the net effect you have to look in terms of a transaction.

    The cost is the time and effort of the the writer the benefit is access to NEW articles. NOT EXISTING, but NEW. For each new article a volunteer author writes, how many NEW articles that he WANTS to read are CREATED? The payoff is vanishingly small.

  30. I don't really think Randism is empiricist, nor does she considered it such i think.

    She said her influence was Aristotle (lol). Metaphysical rationalism

  31. I try never to leave sexist comments, but I'm going to make an exception here: Prof. Burns gives Ayn Rand way too much credit, but damn she's sporting some fine leg…

  32. Because Ayn Rand is a chump: She's someone whose ideas might excite you in your late teens (and I confess, I was one of those). But then you quickly grow out of her. And those who DON'T grow out of her appear, frankly, as ridiculous. And so you mock, and click on the down-pointing thumb.

  33. Ayn Rand is the creator of a doomed ideology. It tells wealthy and successful business owners that they are morally perfect and flawless, while the unsuccessful it says are worthless parasites. It is a creed which appeals exclusively to the ownership class and is noxious to those in low-wage and menial jobs, as well as the majority of intellectuals. Libertarianism is propped up as an ideology not due to popular support, but due to massive funding by the narrow class of plutocrats it appeals to.

  34. way to not understand the ideology at all kiddo or even watch the video close minded fools like you believe what they will i suppose.

  35. So, are you denying that the overwhelming majority of libertarians are rich (or at least middle class) white men and women? And that the ideology has vanishingly small support among those at the low end of the socioeconomic ladder?

  36. Putting one's thoughts on paper (or the electronic equivalent) and forcing oneself to do so in a clear and logical manner also benefits the writer.

  37. Any student of history will tell you that the "producers", I.E. the owners, have never shown any hesitancy in using force against the poor to get what they want; look up the Pinkertons on wikipedia sometime.

    I also reject the idea that it is the owners and the wealthy who built society. Modern nations were actually, physically built by the blood and sweat of the underclass.

    My main point is that your ideology is doomed because it only appeals to the fortunate few, not the downtrodden many.

  38. The American capitalist system which Ayn Rand spent her life extolling the virtues of is founded upon the use of force against the powerless by the wealthy; native americans, african slaves, labor unionists, south americans… You cannot exalt this capitalist system without excusing the tyranny and cruelty it was built upon.

    The sanctity of "individual rights" only appeals to those who have succeeded, or hope to succeed, in an organized society yet claim all the credit for themselves.

  39. No one is an island. Individual rights are important, true, but only have value within the context of a society. In the wilderness/anarchy, the only "right" you have is to starve and freeze to death. What libertarains call "negative liberties" are useless without "positive liberties".

    And if what you say is true, why are poor people so hostile to libertarian ideas in the real world? I think they would prefer a strong welfare state and guaranteed employment than any amount of "economic freedom"

  40. See, the sad thing is that you can move to France or Denmark. However, those of us who want to run our own lives and be left alone have no where to go. I (should) not be forced to be part of a collective. Your life is not my fault. I would never tell you what to do, is it that hard to reciprocate?

  41. Oh you want to "run your own lives", do you? Bullshit. So you're going to pave your own roads, enforce your own property rights, and educate your own workforce from scratch? Move to an uninhabited wilderness and see what 'freedom' gets you.

    All business owners and entrepreneurs build their success on the foundation provided by the working class. They don't get to just decide that they shouldn't be subject to the will of the masses after having made their fortune on those people's backs.

  42. I'm a libertarian, I make less than $14,000 a year and all of my friends who are libertarians make less than $40,000. I can't say I KNOW any libertarian I would call rich.

  43. Wow, well there's more to explain to you than there is bandwidth on youtube. All I can say is that I used to hold those same beliefs. I hope you keep watching videos and reading books that you disagree with.

    p.s. If you know where there is an "uninhabited wilderness" that is not under the rule of any government then please share.

  44. Wrong, most of the dislikes here are from libertarians butthurt over the fact that rand did not like us. That is why their other videos on ayn rand have 99% likes.

  45. Wow, half way into your comment I was like who the hell read Ayn Rand in their late teens? When I was growing up everyone was on Harry Potter, recently they were on Twilight and now the Mortal Instruments.

    Now those are books people can easily grow out of, I don't believe anyone who says they read the whole of Atlus Shrugged and claim they've grown out of it. Every where I go I see instances of what Atlus Shrugged stood for and in a sense, it's unfortunate.

  46. Yeah well you know, like they say the price of freedom is eternal vigilance…..What? Your not vigilant enough for these few words? It's ok, it'll go right over your head within a few minutes.

  47. Why so serious?
    Too many people have this ridiculous notion that some ideas are "for kids" or "immature" and that they can be grown out of.
    Not Rand, not being "hippie", nor any other type of idea of any sort, even magic, if you so say.
    You don't grow old and out of ideas, you get out of ideas and get old.
    (Sorry other youtubers, this comment had nothing to do with the video, but so had the comment I was responding to.

  48. We're taught many misconceptions, here are two-
    Our founders founded this country to create a system to take care of everyone. In fact our founding fathers founded this country on the principle of individualism, literally translated to the most minimal sized government to ensure the freedom to pursue life liberty and happiness, which is answered with constitution, a free market, and a mutual respect. #2 Ayn Rand was a wild radical. Truth- Ayn Rand was a Constitutionalist plain and simple.

  49. It is an emotional response.
    People have them when they are told they are wrong and can't prove logically why they are right.

  50. [[Any student of history will tell you that the "producers", I.E. the owners, have never shown any hesitancy in using force against the poor to get what they want; look up the Pinkertons on wikipedia sometime.]]

    Know the difference between corporatism and capitalism. Business men naturally don't like capitalism. Winning fairly is hard.

  51. I'm not a huge fan of Rand, but I have to give a thumbs up. This video was a very good treatment of the subject.

  52. Everybody wants to be liberals now because being liberal is so cool.. Now they're all arguing about how the other persons are not liberal, and they're the real liberal and shit..

  53. What happened to "putting your country first"? huh? Isn't that putting the collective above the individual? Who cares about what's good for the collective? I only care about what's good for me..

  54. Capitalism and capitalization are two different things. Capitalism involves free market competition. Corporatism isn't capitalism at all. It's cronyism…political favors. It's the opposite of capitalism.

  55. What's good for EACH individual IS good for your country. The amendments to the US Constitution are all based on individualism. Don't confuse individuals cooperating with one another with collectivism. BTW, I was active military during Operations Desert Storm, Desert Shield & Southern Watch, and I was in the Saudi sand box 2 tours, but I didn't "serve my country", I served my own values, as in helping the innocent escape the iron grip of a dictatorial crime family.

  56. Very good point.Thomas DiLorenzo makes the point well in "Hamilton's Curse". He traces the long, historical conflict between capitalism (Smith, Jefferson, Calhoun) and what was called "mercantilism" (Hamilton, Clay, Lincoln).It's really a very old debate that has been raging for centuries — a free market vs. a system that used "internal improvements" (government subsidies of private corporate effort), protective tariffs, and a national bank. The modern form of "mercantilism" involves bailouts.

  57. Atheism (a-theism) is simply lack of theistic belief. Baby eating and worshipping the devil are not "forms of atheism" though any give atheist may be involved in baby eating and devil worshipping. Likewise, cronyism or corporatism are not forms of capitalism, as capitalism is simply Marx's dirty word for the private enterprise system. In other words A + B isn't another form of A.

  58. Atheism is nothing more than a-theism, non-theism. Matter of fact, Marx's idea of atheism was belief in no 'god' rather than no belief in 'god', but it just so happens that if one believes in no 'god', they also lack belief in any 'god', (but not necessarily the other way around).
    Another example. The-Brights (dot) Net page. Brights are atheists who have a naturalistic view of the world, no ghosts, goblins, etc. Yet they're not "atheists", they're Brights, which is why they made the distinction.

  59. Capitalism was Marx's dirty word for the private enterprise system, also known as the free enterprise system. "Free" meaning free from coercion, which cronyism, corporatism & unionism are not.

  60. Libertarians loved rand because she appeared to be dismantling the government and libertarians are anarchists. In fact rand was trying to establish the government by removing its opposite which was merged with the true government. Libertarians also did not share the same philosophy of government as Rand and actually opposed her philosophy of government so they were not allies.

  61. Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism… Racism is a doctrine of, by and for brutes. It is a barnyard or stock-farm version of collectivism, appropriate to a mentality that differentiates between various breeds of animals, but not between animals and men.

  62. Those who say that starting and running a business is not creative, are simply dumb as a brick, and yes, this includes liberal professors, they are dumb as bricks as well

  63. WE CAN MOVE THE MONEY HERE OURSELVES!

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    OURNAME4FREEDOM .WS = We Sovereign and we can multiply into millions upon millions of us – And that is what it's going to take in order for us to reach the 'dumb downed' masses. WeSovereign.ws | Create YourName4Freedom .WS !!!

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  64. Ayn Rand was not a classical American liberal. She was a Russian radical. Many of her ideas were rooted in the themes of revolutionary Russia.

  65. So what this? Now that liberals are realizing the BS of their ideology they want to claim Rand, Friedman, and Sowell as "Classic Liberals" then in a year or two they'll just remove the "Classic" from the title and call them all Liberals put a twist on what they said (now that they're not here to rebuke what's said about them) but keep the same socialist policies? Isn't this what they ALWAYS do? Turn their coats.

  66. more likely libertarians get angry when you tell them that what they really are is liberals

    libertarianism is just the american term for not getting confused whith european classical liberalism (which is the original one, and the one that is most similar to what americans call libertarianism) and liberalism as understood as what is now the philosophy of democrats and progresists

  67. Agreed, and Ayn Rand was not a Libertarian, she was an advocate of Objective Freedom. Learn more about the philosophy of a free society at Objective Freedom dot com.

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