I seem to be writing a great deal about Ayn Rand lately, in the wake of the Atlas Shrugged Part 1 movie and all. So be it.
One of the most striking features of the Internet discussion of Rand is the sheer amount of falsehood out there about this author. One does not have to agree with her on any particular position to acknowledge that there is a tidal wave of nonsense and outright falsification. And this should give pause to any reflective person that it has been found necessary to concoct such nonsense in order to slam an author. What nerves are being touched?
I plan, then, to very briefly take on some of these myths. I expect to be doing so repeatedly, so thick are the thickets of disinformation. (As I’ve mentioned here and there, any comment-leavers can not bother with inaccurate personal comments: I’m not an Objectivist.)
Myth #1. “Ayn Rand’s parents were rich.”
Fact: Her parents were not rich. They were upper middle-class at most and that’s stretching it. Her father was a pharmacist who eventually owned his own shop and the building in which it was located. They were Jews living rather precariously, given the anti-Semitism of the time.
Myth #2. “She went wealthy to poor overnight.”
Fact: Even in the Soviet horror there was not overnight confiscation. The family fled to the White-controlled Crimea and they lived reasonably well given circumstances for about two years.
Myth #3. “She hated Communism because she went from rich to poor instantly.”
Fact: Theft of an entire country’s wealth and plunging it into blood, mud, and typhus are good grounds for hate, but as a psychological analysis this is childish. One of its earliest forms was a truly offensive 1968 New York Times piece by Nora Ephron that claimed Rand hated Communism for taking away her toys. I wonder if the same snideness would have been applied to Leftist revolutionaries who hated capitalist oligarchs. Regardless, Rand saw what the overweening State did to people and personally had the threat of death over her head for speaking out against the Communist takeover the universities. She also took a while before formulating her system. Early on she may have had some slight bias against businessmen – see We The Living and earlier works.
Myth #4. “Rand went on welfare because her books didn’t even cover her medical treatments.”
Fact: This is not what the interview in the recent oral biography of Rand, 100 Voices (where all this started), says. That was the social worker’s opinion. It also was not accurate. Rand had earned a lot – after starting out in the U.S. with next to nothing – and died in 1982 with an estate over $500,000 per the New York Times. She was never “on welfare” in the sense of dependence.
Myth #5. “Ayn Rand hid her use of Social Security under the name Ann O’Connor”
Fact: That is not even in the 100 Voices interview with the social worker. Her name on the Social Security payout and death records is Ayn Rand. And the insinuation that if she had used something equal to or similar to her legal married name (which would probably be “Alice O’Connor”) that it was for concealment purposes is speculative and unfounded. See immediately below for why she had no reason to conceal.
Myth #6. “Rand was a hypocrite for receiving Social Security and Medicare benefits.”
Fact: There was no hypocrisy in Rand’s recouping the contributions she had been forced to make to those programs – for decades, in the case of Social Security. She never maintained that one should surrender expropriated property to the State. Moreover, some years before age 65, she publicly announced that any opponents of such programs should recoup their forced contributions. And she did so. She said what she would do, it is consistent with her philosophy, and she did it. Here’s primary source material on her saying it: http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexi…
Myth #7. “Rand hated Social Security and Social Security recipients.”
Fact: Rand said, openly, that opponents of the system should recoup what was taken from them. (The entitlement systems themselves are bad economics and should be phased out. The horrendous unfunded liabilities they are accruing bear this out, and may be the bankruptcy of our government.) Rand was in favor of welfare being phased out gradually, over a period of years, anyhow. So many of these spasmodic arguments against her hold no water: if programs are to be phased out gradually, she obviously was not draconian about their use.
As all this shows, there is a powerful thrust to show that Ayn Rand was a purely hateful hypocrite. Unfortunately, it reveals a thrust of both hypocrisy (in a near-total inattention to fact) and hate. That Rand must be turned into a cartoon ogre on such spurious grounds – when there are some legitimate things to criticize her on (though we would do well to attempt to understand her first in her depths) – is an unfortunate display of an almost unparalleled level of reactivity to a public figure, even in our almost incredibly reactive times.
But the most astounding illogic about Rand is yet to be covered: that she was a sociopath. We’ll take that one up next time.