The Ideas of Ayn Rand - Merrill

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I am on about page 50 of The Ideas of Ayn Rand by Ronald Merrill and all I can say is what a charming book!

So far, his remarks about her fiction-writing are some of the best I have read anywhere. And they are short, concise, and spot on. He makes the Nietzsche influence very convincing and puts it into a realistic perspective. I especially enjoyed his identification of Nietzschean heroes in her fiction and as opposed to Randian ones and how this evolved.

Also, his comment about how to make drama with an ideal man is a total gem. (You keep him offstage a lot and keep the drama focused on how others react to him.)

I am completely enchanted so far. Anybody else read this?


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Good call, ol’ man. Good book!

Ronald Merrill's The Ideas of Ayn Rand is an excellent little book. Merrill’s book is neither slavishly “Orthodox” nor is it hostile, he is neither an attacker nor apologist, but rather, he is somewhere in that “limbo land” of being duely respectful and critical, but honestly objective and thougtful. How refreashing that must be to a lot of people.

Merrill’s book does provide an overview of Rand's work, including both her fiction and non-fiction and covers all of her philsophy in all the branches, and does so in a snap-shot fashion. In other words, its not very lenghty or commprehensive, but it does have the merit of being highly accessible to the lay person. The interesing thing about Merrill is his background: he is an scientist-entrepreneur. Hmm, a charming, rational, objective business man. Ron Merrill fits the bill of being a Randian Hero, don’t you think? He was a good man.

[i’m not sure, I heard he passed away, is this true?]

Edited by Victor Pross
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I too liked the Ideas of Ayn Rand. It was a very interesting look at Ayn Rand. I would agree with the other commenters. I have heard he died some years ago. Thank you for reminding me of this excellent work.

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Ron Merrill died a while back. He dedicated The Ideas of Ayn Rand to Yoon, his wife. She is now married to Adam Reed. Here is a small post by Reed on his history with them. Reed keeps an Internet site of Merrill's works online. The link is hard to find, but I just did some serious digging and found it again.

Ron Merrill Archive

There is an interesting review of Merrill's book by Stephen Hicks at The Atlas Society called Big Game, Small Gun?

Here are a few quotes I found exceptionally charming so far:

On Rand's predominant theme in all her literature (p. 15):

The constant thread which runs through all of her work is the problem of the moral individual trapped in an evil society.

On general types of literary fiction themes and Rand (p. 19):

Any serious fiction is centered on a conflict within the central protagonist. What can be the source of this conflict? Roughly speaking—there are of course many exceptions!—one might make the following generalization. In the eighteenth century, novels tended to focus on "manners" as a source of conflict: the hero wants to do something, but the dictates of custom forbid it. In the nineteenth century the conflict tends to be moral in nature: the hero wants to do something, but his moral principles forbid it. In the twentieth century, the conflict tends to be psychological: the hero wants to do something, but is incapable because of his neurotic problems. In this analysis, Rand is quite definitely a nineteenth century writer rather than a twentieth century writer, in that the focus of her books is on moral issues rather than psychological problems.

On Rand getting Kant-hatred from Nietzsche (p. 22):

... Nietzsche viewed himself as leading the opposition to one of history's most influential philosophers, Immanuel Kant. Nietzsche accused Kant of attempting to set limits to the validity of reason as a means of rescuing Christian, altruistic morality. He agreed with Kant that reason and altruism were incompatible. Unlike Kant, he was prepared to jettison religion and altruism, so Nietzsche rejected Kant's attack on reason. Rand adopted this view of Kant as her own, and never abandoned it. Like Nietzsche , to the end of her life she considered Kant her intellectual arch-enemy.

On Nietzsche and egoism (p. 24):

Let it not be thought, however, that Nietzsche was an advocate of egoism. His concern was with the welfare of the race more than of the individual. This was at the root of his concept of "superman."

On Nietzsche's influence on Rand as regards intellectual and moral growth (p. 26):

More subtle but still detectable in its influence on Rand's work is Nietzsche's belief that intellectual and moral growth is inherently painful and indeed cruel. His view is that self-improvement involves not only effort but suffering—a sort of intellectual "no pain no gain" principle. The theme is recurrent throughout Nietzsche's work.


In spite of her [Rand's] emphasis on the "benevolent universe premise," she never completely lost the conviction that to grow and improve oneself is painful, that one must not be stopped by the pain, and that to assist others means, in a sense, to be cruel to them.

Nietzsche, Rand and sense of life (p. 40):

Just as Aristotle taught her logic and metaphysics, so Nietzsche provided Rand with the root of her sense of life, the emphasis on achievement, on aspiration, on pursuing supremely important values. It is to her credit that she was able to clear away the debris of his ethical monstrosities and keep what was good as she built Objectivism.

The Fountainhead and Roark's thematic/dramatic role (p. 46):

... from the point of view of literary technique, problems arise in writing a story about an "ideal person." To use the central character who is morally perfect makes it difficult to center the story on an internal moral conflict. Adopting a hero who has no psychological problems rules out centering the story on psychological conflict. Thus when we encounter an "ideal" hero, the story usually involves a basic dilemma of some less fundamental sort, such as a physical challenge.

Rand resolved this problem in The Fountainhead by removing Roark from the lead role. In the novel as it exists, Roark is "offstage" for over half of the book. Instead, Dominique Francon becomes the real protagonist. The plot-theme of the book now becomes something different: "How would imperfect people react to the ideal man?" This makes it possible to center the plot on a moral conflict within Dominique—and, later in the book, Gail Wynand.

Themes in The Fountainhead(pp. 46-47):

For, on this level, The Fountainhead is a novel about the sin of despair. Though Rand would no doubt have been horrified to hear it thus described, the book has a theme prominent in Christian theology. Hope (as in "faith, hope, and charity") is a virtue in Christian doctrine because its antithesis, despair, leads one to feel that it is permissible to sin. If evil is destined to inevitable triumph, why struggle to achieve virtue? This is precisely the fundamental premise of Dominique and Wynand. Having despaired, not believing that good can triumph, they permit themselves to do evil. Wynand uses his "power" to exalt the banal in human existence, and to crush men who show signs of integrity. Dominique wastes her talents and, like Wynand, leaves a trail of agony behind her, as she does her best to destroy that which she most values, from statues, to Roark, to her own soul.

On still another level, The Fountainhead deals with the twin issues of independence and integrity. Rand's unification of these two virtues is not sufficiently appreciated. One of her objectives in the novel is to show that independence, in the end, must mean intellectual independence. The man who allows others to tell him what to think, thereby allows others to tell him what to do.

Dominique Francon:

To paraphrase one of Rand's favorite quotations from Aristotle, one might describe Dominique as a neurotic—not as neurotics are, but as they should be.

LOL. That's all for now. I am duly charmed.


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While there is no reference in Essays on Ayn Rand's We the Living I suspect Ron Merrill may have been responsible for the extenisive coverage of the Nietchz's influence. Ron is of course not acknowledged. What a surprise that.

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There is an extensive section in Merrill's book on the passages left out of We The Living and how this represents Rand's previous Nietzsche phase. It also makes a clear mention that Rand made a statement that was not true - she actually made substantive changes, but claimed the contrary. This item caused the orthodoxy heartburn back then from what I read online.

I did not mention this in the quotes above because it has been debated a lot. I am surprised that this is not mentioned in the Mayhew's collection of essays. Merrill's book is bears a 1991 copyright and from online research, this item caused a bit it a stir. I don't own Essays on Ayn Rand's We the Living edited by Mayhew, however, this information logically would appear in the ninth essay, "We the Living: '36 and '59" (Robert Mayhew).

Fred Seddon did a review of this work and it is available on OL. Merrill was not mentioned there either, although Fred was merely reviewing the book and doing his own research.


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Thank you for the quotations from Ron Merrill's book. I enjoyed it when I read it, and anyone who is interested in Nietzsche's impact on Rand should consult it.

I plan to read Mayhew's book on We the Living, which I have heard many good things about, but it may be a while before I get to it. I will confidently predict, however, that Ron Merrill is not mentioned in any of its chapters.

Ron Merrill's book was one of the first purportedly unscholarly works on Rand to be targeted on NoodleFood after Diana Hsieh converted to ARIanism. 'Nuff said.


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Over thirty years I had passages read to me from a first edition of We the Living, I thought at the time that the passages in the rerelease were Miss Rand states that there are only minor changes due to her not knowing English were incorrect.

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  • 2 months later...

Sometime during my years at the University of Iowa (1969-1971), an Objectivist friend gave me a Xerox copy of the relevant pages from the first edition of We the Living, which I then proceeded to compare side by side with the second edition. The conclusion was unavoidable: Rand lied!

This was a great shock to me at the time, and it greatly shook whatever confidence I had in Rand as opposed to the Brandens.

Remember that this was during the time that the Rand-Branden Split was still a raging controversy, and that there was enormous pressure to choose which person(s) you believed, in the name of "justice," of course, and to shun the other person. (Mostly the shunning was demanded in regard to the Brandens.)

We were told that since the Brandens lied to Ayn Rand over and over, we must condemn them irrevocably, as Rand's Loyalist Inner Circle did. Since then, the Brandens have admitted their dishonesty toward Rand and made amends to their many readers and fans.

However, not only did Rand never apologize for lying about the nature of the differences between editions 1 and 1 of We the Living, she did not even admit that she had lied. Nor, so far as I know, have any of her Loyalist followers.

Since I am beholden to none, however, I have no problem whatsoever with calling a spade a spade. I only wish Rand were still alive so I could say it to her face. She had a lot of nerve, pressuring people to support her against the "lying" Brandens, when she lied to not one person in private, but to millions of readers!


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  • 3 years later...

I just picked up a copy at a used book store end of last week. Really enjoying it so far, as I haven't really read anything that takes so much of her fiction under consideration - most of it all has just focused on Fountainhead and Atlas. I have always loved We The Living over her other novels, as her characters were so much more human. And her short stories - most of them I adore (Good Copy has to be my favorite). It is wonderful to see read this book, how he discusses her development through studying all her fiction.

I am about halfway. I wish I had read this book a few years ago!

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Ron Merrill is a wonderful thinker about Objectivism.

You can read more of his stuff for free (see post 5 in this thread for the link to the archive).

I wanted to expand on this corner because I really like his writing, but there is an impediment. A guy named Adam Reed married Ron's widow and he is not very friendly to this site. I tried to get permission/input from him to develop this section a few years ago, but it became really complicated.

I suppose I could have done some analysis and other comments about Ron's work, but rather than face the hassle of potential subculture squabbles, I merely left this corner up with hopes that people (like you) sporadically stumble across it.

I wish I could have met him.


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Ron Merrill's book is really good, and still underappreciated.

Open Court didn't reprint it, so you have hunt for it used.

And Adam Reed has done some good things, but has also gotten himself progressively entangled in Rand-land schismatics.

He recently published an article in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, defending Merrill's view that Rand went through a "Nietzschean phase," then turned around and indignantly denied on his website that he "publishes in JARS."

Adam has published in JARS three times; whether that rates the present tense is up to him to decide.

Robert Campbell

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