Ayn Rand’s Ideas Only for Teens?
I want to comment on one aspect of what President Obama said in Rolling Stone regarding Ayn Rand–specifically, that Rand is someone to take seriously only when you’re young and naive.
According to Obama, “Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we’d pick up.” “Then,” he says, “we get older”—the implication being most people learn how the real world works and grow out of Rand’s purportedly childish ideas.
Is Rand’s appeal really limited to the youth? The birth of the Rand-inspired Tea Party in recent years—consisting of people of all ages fed up with government intrusion in their lives—would suggest not.
Then what exactly in a person does Rand appeal to? In an article published earlier this year, ARI senior fellow Onkar Ghate sought to answer that very question. He said:
If we actually consider the essence of what Rand advocates, the idea that her philosophy is childish over-simplification stands as condemnation not of her position but of the many adults from whom this accusation stems.
The key to Rand’s enduring popularity is that she appeals not to the immaturity but to the idealism of youth. This is why more than 29,000 students submitted entries this year to essay contests on her novels and, in the past five years alone, high school teachers have requested over 1.5 million copies of The Fountainhead, We the Living, Anthem and Atlas Shrugged to use in their classrooms. They know that students respond to her stories and heroes as to few other books.
“There is a fundamental conviction which some people never acquire,” Rand wrote in 1969, “some hold only in their youth, and a few hold to the end of their days—the conviction that ideas matter.” The nature of this conviction? “That ideas matter means that knowledge matters, that truth matters, that one’s mind matters. And the radiance of that certainty, in the process of growing up, is the best aspect of youth.”
In the introduction to her novel The Fountainhead, Rand expanded on the spirit embodied by the youth:
The best of mankind’s youth start out in life [with]…a foggy, groping, undefined sense made of raw pain and incommunicable happiness. It is a sense of enormous expectation, the sense that one’s life is important, that great achievements are within one’s capacity, and that great things lie ahed.
It is not in the nature of man—nor of any living entity—to start out by giving up, by spitting in one’s own face and damning existence; that requires a process of corruption whose rapidity differs from man to man. Some give up at the first touch of pressure; some sell out; some run down by imperceptible degrees and lose their fire, never knowing when or how they lost it. Then all of these vanish in the vast swamp of their elders who tell them persistently that maturity consists of abandoning one’s mind; security, of abandoning one’s values; practicality, of losing self-esteem. Yet a few hold on and move on, knowing that that fire is not to be betrayed, learning how to give it shape, purpose and reality. But whatever their future, at the dawn of their lives, men seek a noble vision of man’s nature and of life’s potential.
So don’t take Obama’s word for it—whatever your age, read Ayn Rand for yourself to learn the ideas that have inspired and intrigued millions.