Why Ayn Rand Was a Proto-Fascist

Ayn RandI was thinking of something while writing, Ralph Fiennes Makes Coriolanus Even More Fascist. In that article, I referred to “[Ayn] Rand’s proto-fascist philosophy.” And I fear that many people would take exception to this. I know that my first wife would argue that Rand didn’t believe in violence, for example. Well, as I discussed in Ayn Rand and Indians, this isn’t really true. Like most political radicals, she often fell into apologetics on behalf of violence for her cause.

Rand is a strange character. She considered herself a philosopher. But she is a great example of the Dunning–Kruger effect. This describes how the less someone knows about a subject, the more they overestimate their abilities in it. So Rand claimed that all of her work sprang from Aristotle and she got nothing from anyone else. At the same time, she never missed an opportunity to bash Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. She misunderstood Kant to such a level that it is quite embarrassing. But much more problematic for her was her relationship with Nietzsche.

The whole of Rand’s philosophy is pretty much Nietzsche as understood by a 16-year-old boy. And this is why I call her proto-fascist. Her idea of the übermensch goes right along with fascist thinking of the 1920s and 1930s. Her major works didn’t come until long afterward. Her philosophical work didn’t really start until the late 1950s, following Atlas Shrugged. So she was forced to spin her thinking, which was largely in accordance with fascism, as something else. Instead of the elevation (in theory anyway) of the worker in communism, she elevated the businessman. But this really is little different from fascism. And on a practical level, the elimination of the state would only lead to a country of “makers” and, not “moochers,” but serfs.

But if you find this all too theoretical. Let’s talk about rape. In The Fountainhead, Roark rapes Dominique. Rand did later justify herself against criticism by saying it was, “rape by engraved invitation.” But her notes from the writing of the novel show that this was not what she meant when writing it. Then, in her play Night of January 16th, Bjorn Faulkner rapes Karen Andre. Yes, Ayn Rand had some real emotional hangups and if you are interested in them, read Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right. The point is that Rand admired the idea of Hitler’s “brutal youth.” Sure, she softened it and created apologias for it. How could she not after Hitler and Stalin? But that was what she was pitching.

The kind of social Darwinian thinking that so many on the right have is undercut by one problem: actual Darwinian evolution. Humans are animals of both individualistic traits and communal traits. So both “sides” of the debate are wrong. The communists were wrong to think that we can all work together for the common good. People need to feel special and distinguish themselves from others. But the counter to that, Rand’s thinking, or libertarianism more generally, is wrong for thinking that all that motivates us is personal gain: we are hungry, we take food; we are horny, we take a woman we find attractive. If that’s how we really were, we would have gone extinct tens of thousands of years ago.

Some will note that fascism was a communal system as well. It really wasn’t. It was a pure social Darwinian system that was sold being for the good of the masses. We mustn’t mistake the marketing for the message. Ayn Rand had the luxury of being more blunt because she wasn’t a politician — just a cult leader. But she wanted an anti-democratic world where “great” men just take what they want and everyone cowers before them as befits the demigods.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

8 thoughts on “Why Ayn Rand Was a Proto-Fascist

  1. I know I’m picking on you here, Frank, and I really ought to tell this to others too, but we really need to ixnay on the Dunning-Kruger effect. I checked it out; while interesting, it’s only one paper which considered incompetence in only one dimension. I constantly see people I respect (that’s you Frank) lazily pulling it out, and I’d really like it to stop.

    As always, thank goodness for the Sisters of Mercy. And as always, cigs are even harder to quit than is brown. If I jumped from a tall building, it would be all over.

    • You’re not picking on me. I will look into that. Are you questioning the whole idea of illusory superiority?

  2. I’m not questioning the idea seriously, but I hope you feel, as I do, that it really seems convenient that we are able to fit the right-wingers with this schema so easily.

    Again, Dunning-Kruger was one paper, one. Not a fully worked out social-psychological theory. One paper. That is my beef (if it is a beef).

    • But it isn’t just right-wingers! I refer to the effect because I’ve seen it so much in the high tech world. Also in the writing world. And I’ve seen it in myself. In the simplest terms, it is just that the better you get at something, the more you can appreciate people who are really good. One of my complaints is that the vast majority of people who listen to classical music have almost no appreciation of it.

      But you are right that the very idea of the effect is extremely elitist. It flatters me to think it. And on the political issue, I’ve begun to think maybe politics is all tribalism — especially given that what we people (liberal and conservative) want doesn’t seem to matter at all.

  3. What about that old truism “The more you learn the more you realize you don’t know.”? It’s a real thing.

    • True. I always wondered how much of these philosophers she actually read. In particular, her treatment of Kant was so facile that I can’t think she engaged with him much. The more I understand Kant, the more impressed I am. Her take on him was just, “Kant said there was no absolute reality.” That’s not true. I certainly don’t think she knew philosophy enough to claim she owed nothing to anyone but Aristotle. Hell, she didn’t even seem to understand him very well!

  4. She “borrowed” most of her themes from earlier works that most don’t know these days and wanted to sue folks for the most Universal concepts. She was not dumb but very limited. Her Prose was a block of cement to any who had actually read good literature.

    • I’ve definitely seen that. However, I don’t recall reading anyone else making her ridiculous point about altruism. If you know where that comes from, please let me know!

      She was a solid non-fiction writer. Her fiction was hopeless. And repetitive. And most of all didactic. Of course, if it weren’t for that, no one would read her. I assume people think they are learning valuable lessons. But even when my thinking was mostly in accordance with her, I didn’t find her work that compelling. It was light on insight and heavy on fetish.

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