The Marxist and Bolshevik Roots of Ayn Rand’s Philosophy


Selene

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Folks:

I ran across this article while doing research on an article I am writing and I am not sure that this is the proper place on OL to post it, but if it needs to be moved to a different section that is fine with me.

The Marxist and Bolshevik Roots of Ayn Rand’s Philosophy

This is written by a Russian, whose background I have not looked into as yet.

He opens with, "The inspiration for writing this text was the relatively recent publications of Ayn Rand’s works in Russia over the last ten years, where previously she was almost unknown."

He continues explaining that:

"The disregard of Ayn Rand in the USSR is in itself an interesting fact, though it is unlikely a case of simple censorship. Despite the fact that the level of anti-Soviet views by Orwell is clearly much greater than Rand’s, his novel 1984 entered the USSR in the late 1950s (I read the English text of this book in Novosibirsk Akademgorodok in 1963). In Atlas Shrugged there is no mention of communism or socialism, nor Stalin or terror. Samizdat distributed all books released in the West, from Lady Chatterley’s Lover to For Whom the Bell Tolls. If censorship was not involved in these cases, then maybe the problem was rooted in other causes. The Western intellectuals, who were the enemies of the Soviet system and supplied us with books, could have hardly been fans of Rand. As it is now clear to me, even those who read her in their youth did not believe that Rand’s books would help to fight the totalitarian regime."

Did this author think that the purpose of the book had anything to do with Communist Russia? Apparently he did.

The author then declare what he is going to attempt to prove. He state that, "Fundamentally, she was an apologist for the aristocratic (oligarchic or feudal) capitalism, in which a society is commanded by talented and noble people. I will also try to show that the original philosophy of Ayn Rand is exaggerated, and that many of her ideas she owes to Marx, as well as the practice and ideology of the Russian Bolsheviks."

He concludes with...

"However, philosophical, economic, and social structures of Rand have never been taken seriously in academic and literal America. Her ideological roots – Nietzsche, Marx, Bolshevism, Spencer – are insufficient at best to develop a serious social program. Moreover, these sources have made her an enemy of modern American society. Rand despises democracy, public opinion, media, political parties, the courts, and of course, the U.S. government – all without exception major institutions of American democracy. On the one hand, her ideal society is described as an anarchist commune, not controlled by any authority. On the other hand, it is a viewed oligarchy (“aristocracy of money” as it refers to the character Franscisco D’Ankoniya), to which Rand, with her anti-democratic and faith in the intellectual elite, obviously gravitates. The ideal society in Atlas Shrugged is like an anarchist commune, but clearly unsustainable. A society must evolve, such as that in Plato’s Republic which was headed by philosophers, or like the Iron Heel society by Jack London, which is no better than Soviet totalitarianism."

Love the way Francisco's name comes out!

I would truly enjoy input from OL posters after reading the entire essay and some of the posts in the link about the author's arguments.

Adam

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It's a rather superficial view of Rand; 'She's atheist and economic, therefore obviously Marxist.'

But Rand's philosophy is essentially a form of atheistic Scholasticism. Her praise for Aristotle and Aquinas and her association with the Catholic Isabel Paterson, who evidently greatly influenced her, should make that clear. Rand's epistemology entails a rejection of materialism, and Rand is vocally explicit about this.

Edited by Ted Keer
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From the Catholic Encyclopedia

The Scholastic method

No method in philosophy has been more unjustly condemned than that of the Scholastics. No philosophy has been more grossly misrepresented. And this is true not only of the details, but also of the most essential elements of Scholasticism. Two charges, especially, are made against the Schoolmen: First, that they confounded philosophy with theology; and second, that they made reason subservient to authority. As a matter of fact, the very essence of Scholasticism is, first, its clear delimitation of the respective domains of philosophy and theology, and, second, its advocacy of the use of reason.

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(groan) This is a rather unoriginal pasting together of accusations against Rand that have been forgotten, then someone finds them, usually someone like this Russian dude.

The claim that her philosophy is re-written Marx was trotted-out by Whittaker Chambers in his National Review article in 1957. Religiously-oriented conservatives often state this without any documentation (probably because there isn't any). The longest tirade against her using this claim is John Robbins' book, Without A Prayer: Ayn Rand and the Close of Her System. He suggests John Calvin as a better choice. No, really.

The fact that this guy is (or claims to be) Russian does not mean that he has any special vantage point based on their common Russian heritage. All the arguments (actually, merely assertions) that you cite can be easily found on the internet. His comments that she derived her philosophy from Spencer has no basis whatsoever. As for her brief Nietzschean period, that has been discussed at length by Stephen Hicks and also by some ARIan scholars.

Frankly, this sort of shoddy "scholarship" by Rand's opponents should be embarrassing to them. Instead of reading Rand and then criticizing what she does say, they continue to quote each others' baseless charges, apparently unaware that they are attacking a strawman (or perhaps they do know that, but just don't care). Branden commented on this tactic in his essay, The Moral Revolution in Atlas Shrugged (originally in Who is Ayn Rand? and since reprinted many times by TAS, including in Will Thomas's collection, The Literary Art of Ayn Rand.. I've quoted it at length many times here, so I'm not going to repeat it.

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(groan) This is a rather unoriginal pasting together of accusations against Rand that have been forgotten, then someone finds them, usually someone like this Russian dude.

The claim that her philosophy is re-written Marx was trotted-out by Whittaker Chambers in his National Review article in 1957. Religiously-oriented conservatives often state this without any documentation (probably because there isn't any). The longest tirade against her using this claim is John Robbins' book, Without A Prayer: Ayn Rand and the Close of Her System. He suggests John Calvin as a better choice. No, really.

The fact that this guy is (or claims to be) Russian does not mean that he has any special vantage point based on their common Russian heritage. All the arguments (actually, merely assertions) that you cite can be easily found on the internet. His comments that she derived her philosophy from Spencer has no basis whatsoever. As for her brief Nietzschean period, that has been discussed at length by Stephen Hicks and also by some ARIan scholars.

Frankly, this sort of shoddy "scholarship" by Rand's opponents should be embarrassing to them. Instead of reading Rand and then criticizing what she does say, they continue to quote each others' baseless charges, apparently unaware that they are attacking a strawman (or perhaps they do know that, but just don't care). Branden commented on this tactic in his essay, The Moral Revolution in Atlas Shrugged (originally in Who is Ayn Rand? and since reprinted many times by TAS, including in Will Thomas's collection, The Literary Art of Ayn Rand.. I've quoted it at length many times here, so I'm not going to repeat it.

Jerry:

Thanks. You have to remember that I was literally out of the "Oist" interior loop for two decades until I stumbled across this forum. I was dumbfounded by the suicidal infighting that had been going on. The different schisms, Kelly, etc.

Believe me, I am glad that I missed it.

So as I am researching for what I am writing and I run across something like this observation, I know it does not ring true, but I wondered whether the rest of you folks who have been in the trenches had heard of this point of view.

Therefore, thank you for the insight.

It seemed to be a pretty shallow attack to me. The Burns and the Heller book have discussed the Nietzsche influence well enough. Moreover, we had pretty well handled that in the '60's on our own.

Adam

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By the way, the author of this article is not currently living in Russia, although he was educated there. He is now a Professor of Sociology at Michigan State University.(see his website, linked in the article you cited).

Adam, I am not blaming you. My irritation is based on having read this sort of stuff for the last 50 + years, and seeing the same specious arguments repeated over and over.

Considering the long line articles and books that he lists in his vita (most appear to have been published in Russia), the poor quality of the article is rather surprising (or maybe not, most of his pieces seem to have been written during the Soviet period, so throwing around accusations without attribution may have been the norm). Among other things, he uses others; arguments but does not cite their source.

Edited by Jerry Biggers
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By the way, the author of this article is not currently living in Russia, although he was educated there. He is now a Professor of Sociology at Michigan State University.(see his website, linked in the article you cited).

Yep. I just started checking him out. I have a friend who is a Prof. at MSU and he will be back next week from a field trip, so I asked him to check him out for me. Lol.

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Sciabarra said something like this in Ayn Rand, the Russian Radical, and Whitaker Chambers said it nearly forty years before that.

My recollection is that Sciabarra discussed most of these issues in his usual thorough and exhaustive manner. But as I recall, his book demolished most or all of the charges made in the article referenced here by Adam.

The difference in the scholarship between that article and Sciabarra's book is night and day.

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Sciabarra said something like this in Ayn Rand, the Russian Radical, and Whitaker Chambers said it nearly forty years before that.

Sciabarra's point was in no way that Rand is a Marxist or a materialist, but that her philosophical style is "dialectic." Strelnikov here doesn't say anything about dialectics.

I did once discuss with a professor of philosophy at Rutgers what Rand's response to someone who denied the freedom of the will would be. In essence (implicitly using the notion of the stolen concept, which I did not explain to him) I said she would ask the denier whether his denial reflected a freely arrived at belief in determinism, or whether he was forced to say what he did regardless. The professor then commented that Rand was a "dialectic" thinker, which he seemed to mean positively.

Edited by Ted Keer
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Sciabarra said something like this in Ayn Rand, the Russian Radical, and Whitaker Chambers said it nearly forty years before that.

Sciabarra's point was in no way that Rand is a Marxist or a materialist, but that her philosophical style is "dialectic." Strelnikov here doesn't say anything about dialectics.

I did once discuss with a professor of philosophy at Rutgers what Rand's response to someone who denied the freedom of the will would be. In essence (implicitly using the notion of the stolen concept, which I did not explain to him) I said she would ask the denier whether his denial reflected a freely arrived at belief in determinism, or whether he was forced to say what he did regardless. The professor then commented that Rand was a "dialectic" thinker, which he seemed to mean positively.

Ted:

Precisely, Heller referred to this aspect of her education because Russians think dialectically. As I understand dialectical analysis, it pursues knowledge and truth from multiple perspectives where there are questions and or conflicts. It is a form of analytical reasoning which suited Ayn well and it is certainly positive.

Adam

Edited by Selene
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But Rand's philosophy is essentially a form of atheistic Scholasticism. Her praise for Aristotle and Aquinas and her association with the Catholic Isabel Paterson, who evidently greatly influenced her, should make that clear. Rand's epistemology entails a rejection of materialism, and Rand is vocally explicit about this.

Ted,

That's a curious description. I'm not clear on what atheistic Scholasticism could mean. Could you explain?

-Epi

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But Rand's philosophy is essentially a form of atheistic Scholasticism. Her praise for Aristotle and Aquinas and her association with the Catholic Isabel Paterson, who evidently greatly influenced her, should make that clear. Rand's epistemology entails a rejection of materialism, and Rand is vocally explicit about this.

Ted,

That's a curious description. I'm not clear on what atheistic Scholasticism could mean. Could you explain?

-Epi

I had considered saying Thomism instead, but feared that that would be even more likely to be misinterpreted. I mean such things as both Rand's and Aquinas' presenting a systematic, non-skeptical philosophy with a hylomorphic ontology, with realism in regard to concepts, with respect for the reality and importance of individual happiness, and with belief in both objective truth and moral judgment. Obviously the supernatural element in Aquinas subverts the whole enterprise so far as Rand is concerned, but when the Scolastics set aside God, revelation, and the afterlife, they deal respectably well with life on earth.

Rand's specific differences from Epicureanism and Stoicism lie in her rejection of their metaphysics and in her rejection of their negative view of what happiness consists of. Aquinas and Rand both believe in the reality of joy.

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But Rand's philosophy is essentially a form of atheistic Scholasticism. Her praise for Aristotle and Aquinas and her association with the Catholic Isabel Paterson, who evidently greatly influenced her, should make that clear. Rand's epistemology entails a rejection of materialism, and Rand is vocally explicit about this.

Ted,

That's a curious description. I'm not clear on what atheistic Scholasticism could mean. Could you explain?

-Epi

I had considered saying Thomism instead, but feared that that would be even more likely to be misinterpreted. I mean such things as both Rand's and Aquinas' presenting a systematic, non-skeptical philosophy with a hylomorphic ontology, with realism in regard to concepts, with respect for the reality and importance of individual happiness, and with belief in both objective truth and moral judgment. Obviously the supernatural element in Aquinas subverts the whole enterprise so far as Rand is concerned, but when the Scolastics set aside God, revelation, and the afterlife, they deal respectably well with life on earth.

Rand's specific differences from Epicureanism and Stoicism lie in her rejection of their metaphysics and in her rejection of their negative view of what happiness consists of. Aquinas and Rand both believe in the reality of joy.

This agrees with what I've read about the Catholic church's relationship to reason. Reason is highly regarded, but only within prescribed domains. I wasn't aware of these parallels between Objectivism and Aquinas' thought. Very interesting.

I'm aware of several parallels between Epicureansim and Rand, but the two differences you've noted are spot-on. Thanks.

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