Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Reflections on Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand Taught the World How to Value Human Life

by Peter Schwartz

Editor's note: Today is the 100th anniversary of Ayn Rand's birth. This eloquent eulogy of Ayn Rand by TIA's founding editor, Peter Schwartz, was originally published in the March 15, 1982 issue of The Intellectual Activist. This article is part of the new bound volume of the back issues of TIA from the Peter Schwartz era, 1979–1991.—RWT

Ayn Rand taught the world how to value human life. She was man's great idealizer and defender. In her novels, in defiance of the cynics, she portrayed her heroes as figures to be looked up to and emulated. In her philosophy, in opposition to the skeptics, she defined man as a rational being, whose power of reason left no part of the universe unknowable and no goal unattainable. In her cultural/political writings, she identified the meaning of the seemingly innocuous slogans and projects and policies that posed deadly intellectual threats. Someone who knew and admired her commented sadly, upon her death: "The world is unprotected, now."

Ayn Rand believed that happiness should be viewed as man's normal state of mind. She taught people to expect happiness and not to settle for less—to regard frustration and misery as the exception, as unnecessary—to recognize a "benevolent universe" where success is achievable if only men use their minds. She wanted man to be the very best he could be, and she gave us the knowledge of how to do so.

Her radical theory of morality established man's happiness as the central purpose of his life. But achieving it, she said, comes not from surrendering to some mindless hedonism or from obedience to some supernatural authority—but from the commitment to live by rational values. She taught that living an honest, productive, selfish life entails greater effort and greater integrity—and greater reward—than adopting the life of a Mother Theresa. Ayn Rand glorified man. She believed that life was precious, too precious to be thrown away in the form of self-sacrifice. She showed that virtue consists in productivity, not renunciation, and in pride, not selfless humility. Ayn Rand taught the world that it is the most moral of acts to achieve happiness.

In Atlas Shrugged her theme is that the world rests on the shoulders of the men of productive ability, the men of the mind. But, if it is they who hold up the world, it is Ayn Rand who upholds the upholders. It is her shoulders upon which they themselves ultimately rest. It is she who identified their importance, who gave them a philosophy and a moral sanction, and who was—is—their only defender. Ayn Rand is the "Atlas" to whom all men are indebted.