The Ayn Rand Deprogrammer: A More Twisted Crime and Punishment


I really appreciate all of the suggested texts submitted for the Ayn Rand Deprogrammer. If you visit the comment thread, you’ll see that the inevitable happened: Objectivists tried to hijack the discussion. I say ignore them. Eyes on the prize: a solid Ayn Rand Deprogrammer. Any distraction will slow us down, and delay publication of forthcoming projects, the Hayek Deprogrammer and the Milton Friedman Deprogrammer.

I am going to bundle up all the good suggestions made by commenters. But here is one that no one else has found. Written in 1957, it is clear eyed and prescient book review of Atlas Shrugged appearing in Harper’s Magazine. I quote it in its entirety.

Paul Murphy Pickrel: Review of Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand’s new novel, Atlas Shrugged (Random House, $6.95), is longer than life and twice as preposterous. Of its 1,168 pages (plus two pages at the end “About the Author” that the prospective reader would be well advised to tackle first) I have read only 300; to read even so much was a triumph of Will over Inclination, but then Will knew when it was licked. From my 300 pages I did not discover why the book bears the title it does, but I found out everything else that I regard as necessary to know about it.

As far as I got, only one idea emerged for me from Miss Rand’s book, and that one, in my opinion, pernicious. The idea is this: there are certain people of such extraordinary talent that they should be permitted unlimited license to work their will in the world. This would not have been a bad point of departure for a novel–Dostoevski, staring out with a character who believed the same thing, explored and developed the idea to write a great novel, Crime and Punishment. But, as far as I read, Miss Rand explored and developed nothing; she simply stated and restated and then stated again. Her characters have no spontaneity or individuality, they are simply creatures of her didactic purpose. The scenes do not unfold a story; they simply illustrate a point.

Yet the book will probably give pleasure to some readers. It makes life wonderfully simple, and in a way that is agreeable to many of us, probably to all of us at some moment in our lives: according to its argument there is no contradiction or strain between man’s inner life and his social role, for unrestrained egoism solves all problems. In addition, Miss Rand is able to enlist some of the more disreputable human emotions–hatred, contempt, anger–in a pretty powerful way. Oddly enough, though I do not believe in her characters for a moment, I do believe in their wrath.

I think Pickrel nails it with the comparison to Crime and Punishment. And his last sentences–the idea that he doesn’t believe in Rand’s characters, but in their wrath, is consonant with my experiences. Rand’s characters are Übermensch; in reality, people committed to this philosophy fall far short. They’re usually ineffectual people who blame the government for their problems. At the same time, their wrath, their hatred for government and for others is pathological.


  1. “As far as I got, only one idea emerged for me from Miss Rand’s book, and that one, in my opinion, pernicious. The idea is this: there are certain people of such extraordinary talent that they should be permitted unlimited license to work their will in the world.”

    Well, the one idea he got is wrong. Ayn Rand didn’t think anyone has the “unlimited” right to work his will in the world. And she didn’t think people of extraordinary talent have any more rights than others. She believed that everyone has the exact same rights: the right to his own property, and the right to act freely as long as he does not infringe on the rights of others.

  2. BowserTheCat

    I read Atlas Shrugged while still in High School and far too impressionable. It was a number of years (and a couple of real jobs) before I was able to break free of it.

    I crossed paths with it again a number of years later when I purchased a used car from a co-worker. In going through the car after I got it home I found a large stack of “Who is John Galt” bumper stickers. I still wonder about those. I threw them away but have occasionally wondered if there were any interesting applications for them…

  3. How about Mozart Was a Red? 😉

  4. In my experience, Objectivists fall into two categories:

    -high school / college students who don’t have real jobs or families yet, and who are sustained in their idle solipsism by their parents’ tuition payments


    -pathetic post-college mutant versions of the above, who continue to live immediately around the college from which they graduated so they can still attend meetings with the undergrads. Like a mirror-image version of the stereotypical Marxist “professional rabblerouser.” I have seen such people well into their 60s, still hanging out with the teenagers and sounding exactly like them, apparently supporting themselves (and very very very occasionally their significant others–never their children) through odd jobs in the college-support community (i.e. working in the campus bookstore, souvenier shop, etc).

    You have to be a certain type of clueless, inexperienced, and alone to be an Objectivist. Fortunately nearly everyone who is exposed to the toxin outgrows the danger years–kinda like West Nile.

  5. I believe the term “Randite” would be more accurate that “Objectivists”.

    An honest and genuine Objectivist (and, yes, I’ve actually encountered one or two who fit the definition I use) is willing to consider carefully when you point out that Rand takes premises as universally valid after only showing them usually valid, that therefore there may instances where other philosophies which in certain conditions come closer to describing reality than Rand’s philosophy, that there is some evidence of her historical psychological makeup which suggests she was describing reality as she felt it should be and not as it Objectively is, and thus there may be more Objective positions than those of Ayn Rand.

    A Randite, however, takes the writings of Ayn Rand as Scripturally Inerrant, just as Creationists use Biblical Inerrancy. Randites will refuse to even consider the possibility of more Objective than Rand, just as Creationists will reject the possibility of something being more Moral than the Bible.

  6. Abb3w, I call those Randroids. 🙂

  7. (No) Free Lunch

    I’ll vote with Perky on the descriptive adjective for Ayn’s Acolytes.

    Mr. Wickens –

    You have a very good idea how Ms. Rand should have written her book and what she should have advocated, but in the here and now and in Atlas Shrugged and the rest of her books, her cardboard heros were allowed to do whatever they wanted without any regard to society or whether they actually owned or deserved to own anything. What they took, they could have.

  8. As I recently said in my blog in relation to this discussion about Ayn Rand:

    “But claiming special moral highground just because of success is, to say the least, an over-reach…and the worst: advocating and praising the centralization of power into the hands of a single super-competent alpha-male accountable only to himself who can ignore the simpering complaints of the liberals and run the world according to his grand design of clock-work perfection…

    …well, we’ve already read that book haven’t we?

  9. So do I, Perky… but not when I’m making at least a token attempt at being polite. =)

    When you’re trying to deprogram them, being insulting will be counterproductive; whereas if you can use their own language against them, by indicating Randite is not Objective, you have a slim chance to make them think.

  10. On the fiction side, I’d recommend Isaac Asimov’s The Naked Sun (1957), Thomas Pynchon’s V (1963) and the second season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2004).

  11. I second Blake’s recommendations, and add anything by Neal Stephanson

  12. minimalist


    In my experience, Objectivists fall into two categories:

    That may be your experience, but mine is that there are a lot of successful people who slavishly follow Rand as well (see: Alan Greenspan). This group probably includes most of the bastards who contributed to the financial collapse.

    Unsurprisingly, these people are successful in areas where naked greed and ambition are highly rewarded; not in areas where intelligence, innovation or creativity are the best assets (unless it’s finding innovative new ways to be greedy and unprincipled, like deliberately bundling bad mortgages into securities and rating them ‘AAA’). You don’t see many Objectivist scientists, artists, writers, etc., do you?

    Randism, to many of these people, justifies their greed, making their sole asset (the basis of their job and consequently their feeling of self-worth) into a full virtue. It’s more a psychological crutch than a worldview, simply allowing them to get by, day by day, without wanting to hang themselves over being such useless wankers.

    It seems to me, though, that Rand-worship is on the wane in the corridors of power anyway — only to be replaced by fundamentalist “prosperity gospel” Christianity. It serves the same purpose in justifying greed, and relieving any feelings of guilt or any incipient desire to maybe improve oneself, and it seems very disturbingly prevalent these days.

  13. There’s a performance of ‘Mozart was a Red’ here :

    And another piece by Rothbard : The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult

    Not that I would want to suggest that the Misoids are that much of an improvement on the Randroids.

  14. It’s interesting reading these posts because I have yet to find an argument against Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. I have yet to see someone point out a flaw in her philosophical beliefs. Her actual philosophical beliefs not just straw man arguments and ad hominem attacks. I’ll be waiting, I just hope it won’t be in vain.

  15. Ragnar:

    An ad hominem attack would be criticizing her philosophy based solely on her philandering (philgynating?) or her sour personality. There’s plenty of faults — why does Rand seem to think that true innovation can be created de novo, when the entire history of scientific advancement proves otherwise beyond any reasonable doubt? (And if she doesn’t believe that, why is that John Galt’s entire character arc in Atlas?) Why does Rand aggrandize the individual to such a degree when a truly individualistic society would be a painfully hardscrabble existence with little venue or use for genius? (As many anti-libertarians before and after me have pointed out, do you really want the entire world to be like Somalia?) Why does Rand portray Howard Roark as rightful master of a property that isn’t his — what property developer or owner would ever give the architect unlimited license to the degree that Rand felt Roark should have, and what sane criminal justice system would allow it? (Or should the physics community have accepted Edward Teller with open arms despite his sloppy experimental work and his political pandering (not to mention sabotaging Robert Oppenheimer’s career)?) And for crying out loud, why did Rand seem to enjoy coercive sex and rape so much?

  16. D. C. Sessions

    Short reading indeed: The Tale of the Lucky Stockbroker

    If, indeed, success is the only justification anyone needs, why isn’t one of these scammers running Rand’s world?

    I’d suggest Ringworld except that it’s a long read for a short punchline.

  17. Ragnar: One simple problem is her failure to include the cumulative effect of de minimus information costs in analysis of the marketplace.

    One more complicated is that her arguments rest on the premise that Right to Life and Right to Property must be treated as absolute. Presuming you consider the Second Law of Thermodynamics to be Objective, it may be shown right of Life and Property are imperfect approximations to the underlying Objective nature of reality… usually correct, but not universally correct.

    The bulk of the conclusions of her philosophy rests on the incorrect absolute premises in the latter, and to a lesser degree on imperfect analysis due to the former. This results in a number of incorrect conclusions. The bulk of the problem is not in the inferences she makes, but the initial premises.

    However, your phrase I have yet to find an argument suggests you’re not interested in the details.

  18. abb3w: “One simple problem is her failure[.]” Fixed that for ya.

  19. Give the devil her due, bob; by the usual metrics for cult founders, she’s closer to a success than a failure. Similarly for philosophers; and my the usual metrics of society, she lived a moderately successful life.

  20. I’d be careful Abb3w. I spent a lot of time convinced there were no solid arguments against Rand’s writings for years, not because I wasn’t interested in the details, but because such a huge proportion of attacks on Rand are red herrings. People who criticize her and Objectivism really need to make sure they get the target right before they fire if they wish to make a difference.

    Ragnar, there are several nontrivial problems with Rand’s philosophy/analyses. One of the worst is that she uses the term “man” to mean both an individual and the human race, inconsistently, sometimes within the same argument. This allows her to weasel out of problems with obviously incorrect statements like “Man cannot live as a parasite” by equivocating.

    She also denies or ignores all troublesome economic realities, such as emergent properties (to her, microeconomic and macroeconomics are different only in scale), efficiencies of scale, barriers to entry, price stickiness, imperfect information, and irrational actors. Rand’s economics : actual economics :: physics in space : physics on earth.

    She also ignores (or was ignorant of) some biological realities, such as inherent structure of the mind (she assumed we are born tabula rasa), and even evolution, which she was loath to admit.

    Finally, her philosophy is nearly barren of anything substantive with regard to childrearing and children in general, which is why none of the main characters in any of her books had or were children. In her own words, on the subject of children, she blanked out.

    I remain sympathetic to Rand’s view that human morality should be grounded in human nature, and reality, as opposed to supposedly divine texts and emotionally reactions. The problem is she ignored far too much reality.

  21. Y’ever notice how, to Randroids, there are only two types of arguments against Randroidism: Fallacies and “non-existent” logical arguments (which don’t exist to them because every argument is really just a fallacy)?

    They’re fundamentalists of the Church of “I’ve-Got-Mine-So-F-You”. To them, there are only the pure, like them, and the filthy unwashed, and any failure of the pure is because they weren’t pure enough. Seriously, ask them about any failure of unfettered capitalism to deliver on the utopia they seem to think it entails; their response will invariably involve stating that they weren’t “real capitalists” and were “secretly socialist” and how capitalism works, you’re just too stupid to see it.

    To put it simply, life is not objective, and Objectivism is not logic.

  22. I would be against giving Hayek the same treatment as Rand. Hayek’s Why I am not a Conservative

    is good reading, and the warnings in Road to Serfdom were badly needed at the time and have been heeded. (People who try to apply that book to the present day have to stretch it somewhat.) I confess Constitution of Liberty is still on my reading list.

    I can’t say I’ve ever met a Hayek-programmed person. What are the signs?

  23. Blue Fielder, your post is exactly what I’m talking about. Arguments such as yours will only further convince the Objectivists that they are correct. I was one, I know how they think.

    Objectivism doesn’t say every argument is a fallacy, though they do obviously make mistakes in their refutations of the logical arguments against them. Their view isn’t “I’ve got mine so fuck you”. It’s “I got mine without demanding involuntary assistence, so you can too”, which has several assumptions that are difficult to justify, most glaring to me being that it assumes all people are born into the same circumstances. They dismiss failures of free markets, not with the No True Scotsman Fallacy, but by finding a way to blame the failure on government (often with only a smattering of evidence).

    There are plenty of legitimate problems with Objectivist arguments, but their arguments are more sophisticated than a lot of you give them credit for. If you take short cuts when arguing against them your efforts will be counterproductive.

  24. Green Eagle

    I’d just like to point out that, out here in the real world, most of us stop getting our philosophy from novels around age 15.

  25. Chris/TTT/Blue Fielder,

    You really don’t appreciate how ridiculous you sound when you speculate about your ideological opponents’ mental states; it’s like Bill Donohue going off about Hollywood’s supposed anti-Catholic bias – it’s utterly baffling to people who don’t live inside your particular little manichaen bubble.

    You actually seem to share with Rand what I find the greatest weakness of her writing – the failure to develop realistic antagonists to pit the embodiments of her ideology against; they’re all either so obviously evil that they’re utterly unsympathetic or so unintrospective that they have no serious justification for their views and thus are easily swayed by a casual encounter with the “correct” position. Your strawmen objectivists share the same characteristics as Rand’s antagonists; they either are unware of the vast wisdom that you supposedly have and their ideology will collapse like a house of cards at the slightist breeze of criticism or are some type of sociopathic mutant who stomps on kittens in the name of the almighty dollar. Of course, these characters are sufficiently unlike actual objectivists to be percieved as accurate portraits by anybody who isn’t ideologically blinkered, so you convince nobody.

  26. not in areas where intelligence, innovation or creativity are the best assets

    To this I have nothing to say but RUSH!

  27. Anybody brought up “Harrison Bergeron” from “Welcome to the Monkey House” by Kurt Vonnegut? Also gets the message across about the talented being suppressed by the masses, but while Ayn Rand’s book is taken as being pro-capitalist and elitist, Vonnegut’s story is seen as anti-fascist. Maybe if Rand had had Vonnegut’s sense of humor, she wouldn’t be getting slammed so badly. 😉

  28. It looks like Albert Ellis’ “Are Capitalism, Objectivism, & Libertarianism Religions? Yes!” has actually been released into the public domain, and is available in its entirety online:

  29. Why were my comments deleted? I just made some very normal suggestions.

  30. *Facepalm*

    Never mind. Sorry, my bad. I commented on the other, similarly named post.

  31. She believed that everyone has the exact same rights: the right to his own property, and the right to act freely as long as he does not infringe on the rights of others.

    Well, not everybody.

  32. Another review of Atlas Shrugged, from around the time it was published.

  33. Cleyus

    I love how the author only reads the first 300 pages, yet somehow thinks he knows enough to judge Miss Rands conclusions. Way off base, Ayn Rand deprogrammer. Socialism and Individualism are not sciences but a philosophies, and have no place on a blog that purports to refute scientific crankery.

    Just like Melanie Phillips should stick to politics, you guys should stick to science.

  34. LanceR, JSG

    BZZT! Wrong answer, Cletus! Do feel free to try again!

    This ain’t just science here. It’s denial of *all* types. And libertarian reality denial is one of the more pernicious on the internet.

  35. freeman

    “don’t mistake denialism for debate” “It’s denial of *all* types.”

    So you’re all flat-earthers, then, right?

    Using a book revue, written by an idiot who didn’t even read the book, as your inspiration is … well, it’s stupid. Did you go to college? Are you in denial of your education? An uninformed opinion of a subject is what?

    Denial is arrogant ignorance.

    I’ve never seen such a collections of self-absorbed arrogant fools in my life… at least, not since I stopped watching C-SPAN. This was a one time visit, so feel free to just go hog-wild with what I’m sure you think are witty responses, and don’t forget to masturbate when you see your posts online.

  36. Jason A.

    “don’t mistake denialism for debate” “It’s denial of *all* types.”

    So you’re all flat-earthers, then, right?

    That was so nonsensical it was painful…

  37. @freeman

    What a solid example of an ad hominem argument. What would be helpful, and could lead to a fruitful discussion, is a refutation of the points made by the “idiot who didn’t even read the book” using examples from the book. Especially from page 301 on. Or at least comment on the points brought up by previous commenters.

  38. Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth

    Albert notes that she was bipolar. She actually read little philosophy, and misunderstood that. Kant wasn’t anything like she claims.
    See Walker’s ” The Ayn Rand Cult” and the chapter on her in Michael Shermer’s ” Why do People Believe Weird Things?”

  39. Walter Foddis

    “You don’t see many Objectivist scientists, artists, writers, etc., do you?”

    They exist, but you may not know they are “Objectivists” unless you get to know them or their work better. For instance, I do self-esteem research, but you wouldn’t know my affinity for Objectivism unless you had thorough knowledge of Objectivist ethical theory and saw its connections with my self-esteem research. Or more simply, you could ask me. 🙂

    To see that there’s more to Objectivism than Randian acolytes, please visit The Atlas Society:

    David Kelley defends the position that Obejectivism is an open system of thought in his book, The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand. (It’s available for download.)

    I agree with Kelley’s general thesis. After all, if Objectivism is a rational philosophy, then new evidence, discovery of new truths, more coherent explanations, etc. ought to be incorporated into the philosophy. As a philosophy based on reason, it cannot only be “whatever Ayn Rand said.”

  40. Walter Foddis

    For what it’s worth…

    Rand-influenced artist:

    Peer-reviewed journal on Ayn Rand scholarship:

    Scholars influenced by Ayn Rand:

    Chris M. Sciabarra

    Roderick T. Long

    Tara Smith

    Douglas Den Uyl

    Tibor Machan (philosopher)

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