Quote of the week...please share your favourite line from Ayn Rand's writings

“Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values.”

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"Ayn Rand And I" By Gurcharan Das

Gurcharan Das has an excellent review on Anne C Heller’s “Ayn Rand and the World She made”.


"Anne Heller’s excellent biography of the Ayn Rand is an exception. Her great achievement is to have connected Rand’s extraordinary legend and individualistic philosophy of unbridled capitalism to her life as a youngster, Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum, an awkward and wilful Russian Jewish prodigy, who had written four novels by the age of eleven. Heller makes you believe that that Rand’s excessive self-absorption and vehement protest against any form of collectivism are rooted in her family’s suffering in early-twentieth-century Russia, where Jews were violently persecuted and personal freedom died when the communists came to power."

"I came to admire free enterprise after decades of living under the inefficiency of Nehru’s ‘mixed economy’ or License Raj, as many call it. Whereas I turned against state control from economic compulsions, Rand came to free enterprise from her collectivist Russian experience. I rebelled against the inefficiency of socialism; she revolted against its lack of human freedom and individuality. My embrace of markets was a pragmatic decision; she sought in capitalism a moral foundation. Both of us ended in a suspicion of state power but our paths were different. For me political liberty was not an issue because India had uniquely embraced democracy before capitalism. Democracy came to India soon after 1947 but our love affair with capitalism only began seriously after the 1991 Reforms when we began to dismantle the socialist institutions of the License Raj."

"Ayn Rand understood that free markets brought phenomenal productivity and prosperity, but
to her it was a side effect. The real deal was that capitalism gave a person’s ‘natural, healthy egoism’ the freedom to enrich himself and others. ‘Selfishness is a magnificent force’, she declared. ‘I decided to become a writer – not in order to save the world, nor to serve my fellow men—but out of the simple, personal, selfish, egoistical happiness of creating the kind of men and events I could like, respect, and admire’, she wrote in 1945."

"I must confess that I was not able to go as far as Ayn Rand in embracing individualism as a creed; nor did I become a votary of unbridled, laissez faire capitalism. I also think that her use of the word ‘selfishness’ was unfortunate (perhaps, because she learned English late in life after coming to America). She would have been more effective if she had distinguished between ‘self-interest’ and ‘selfishness’. One would not wake up in the morning if one is not self-interested; but selfishness in ordinary English usage suggests the pursuit of one’s ambition at the expense of others. I suspect she meant the former sense of ‘self-interest’, which is a natural, rational instinct and which leads to healthy ambition without trampling on others (implied in more negative ‘selfishness’)."

"I agree with Rand’s conclusion. Without a morality of rational self-interest capitalism cannot be defended. The problem of capitalism is the inability and the lack of courage of its defenders to defend it. It is difficult to defend the capitalist idea of the ‘invisible hand’ (made famous by Adam Smith) because the hand is, in fact, ‘invisible’. In contrast, equality and sacrifice for the masses are visible ideals."


  1. I disagree with Gurucharan Das's view that Ayn Rand would have been more effective if she had distinguished self-interest from selfishness.

    In the Introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness, Miss Rand wrote:

    "The title of this book may evoke the kind of question that I hear once in a while: 'Why do you use the word "selfishness" to denote virtuous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people to whom it does not mean the things you mean?'

    To those who ask it, my answer is: 'For the reason that makes you afraid of it.'

    But there are others, who would not ask that question, sensing the moral cowardice it implies, yet who are unable to formulate my actual reason or to identify the profound moral issue involved. It is to them that I will give a more explicit answer.

    It is not a mere semantic issue nor a matter of arbitrary choice. The meaning ascribed in popular usage to the word 'selfishness' is not merely wrong: it represents a devastating intellectual 'package-deal,' which is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind.

    In popular usage, the word 'selfishness' is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.

    Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word 'selfishness' is: concern with one's own interests.

    This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one's own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man's actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.

    The ethics of altruism has created the image of the brute, as its answer, in order to make men accept two inhuman tenets: (a) that any concern with one's own interests is evil, regardless of what these interests might be, and (b) that the brute's activities are in fact to one's own interest (which altruism enjoins man to renounce for the sake of his neighbors.)

    [. . .]

    Since nature does not provide man with an automatic form of survival, since he has to support his life by his own effort, the doctrine that concern with one's own interests is evil means that man's desire to live is evil — that man's life, as such, is evil. No doctrine could be more evil than that.

    [. . .]

    If it is true that what I mean by 'selfishness' is not what is meant conventionally, then this is one of the worst indictments of altruism: it means that altruism permits no concept of a self-respecting, self-supporting man — a man who supports his life by his own effort and neither sacrifices himself nor others. It means that altruism permits no view of men except as sacrificial animals and profiteers-on-sacrifice, as victims and parasites — that it permits no concept of a benevolent co-existence among men — that it permits no concept of justice.

    [. . .]

    To rebel against so devastating an evil, one has to rebel against its basic premise. To redeem both man and morality, it is the concept of 'selfishness' that one has to redeem.

    [. . .]

    Since selfishness is 'concern with one's own interests,' the Objectivist ethics uses that concept in its exact and purest sense. It is not a concept that one can surrender to man's enemies, nor to the unthinking misconceptions, distortions, prejudices and fears of the ignorant and the irrational. The attack on 'selfishness' is an attack on man's self-esteem; to surrender one, is to surrender the other."

  2. The following is a minor correction to the comment I posted.

    In the first line of my comment, I had inadvertently mis-spelt the reviewer's first name. His first name is Gurcharan, not Gurucharan.

  3. Gurcharan is not someone I would regard as sufficiently knowledgeable about Objectivism. I doubt that he has any basic understanding of the Objectivist theory of concepts from which the concept of "selfishness" can properly be justified.

    His views on Ayn Rand and Objectivism are exactly that--his views.

  4. Dear Mr Kaimal,
    Let me convey my regards and thanks for the befitting reply.
    I have nothing to add to your post, except the fact that I find it presumptous for Mr Gurcharan Das to doubt the language efficacy of Ms Ayn Rand.

    Any comments posted here should at least be polite to Ms Ayn Rand.

  5. Yes, Gurcharan Das betrays only a tenuous understanding of Objectivism, and his personal philosophy is certainly not compatible with Objectivism. In fact, Objectivists would find Heller's view that Ayn Rand's ideas were a product of her childhood experiences alone to be insulting, offensive, and narrow-minded.