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What are the key beliefs of Ayn Rand? An introduction to objectivism

“Someday, the world will discover that, without thought, there can be no love.” – Ayn Rand.

When it comes to Ayn Rand, there are only two options: she’s either a hero or a villain. Her ideas either teach you how to find your purpose in life or you think of them as complete nonsense.

As a result, when people ask me “who’s Ayn Rand?”, I simply answer: “She’s a very influential, yet controversial theorist you need to know about”.

And indeed. Whether you adore her or hate her, one thing is sure – Ayn Rand had a great impact on modern society.

Whos’ Ayn Rand?

Ayn Rand is a Russian-American writer and philosopher, widely known for her theory of Objectivism and the novels “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead”.

In her theory of Objectivism, Rand presents her own concept of man as a heroic being and teaches us how to pursue happiness.

As she believes, “every novelist is a philosopher”. That’s probably why both her novels are filled with her beliefs about individualism, reason, and objective reality. You may haven’t read her books yet, but trust me, once you დო, there’s no way you can forget Howard Roark or John Galt.

See what her theory of Objectivism is all about and whether her way of pursuing a better life makes sense to you.

Objectivism

As I said, Rand’s ideas don’t make sense to many people. However, in most cases, this is because they are unaware of the true meaning of her Objectivism theory.

Objectivism is a Randian system of philosophy. It’s based on the four basic principles:

1) Objective reality

The key principle of the theory is that reality is objective. The universe is what it is and not what we want it to be. That’s how Objectivism got its name.

Rand believes that our subjective thoughts are not where the world ends. Instead, there is one true reality happening regardless of whether we admit it or not.

2) Absolute reason

We perceive objective reality through reason, not emotions. The reason is everything we need to understand the world around us. It’s an absolute.

3) Individualism

A man who has the ability to embrace the reason of objective reality is an Individualist.

An individualist man should only act based on their self-interest. Why? Because to Rand, altruism is evil.

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4) Laissez-Faire Capitalism

An ideal economic system is where the economy lets people act according to their self-interest to pursue their own happiness. It means the government must take its hands off the economy.

Now let’s take a deeper look at the main beliefs of Ayn Rand.

The 10 key ideas of Ayn Rand

1) We are all selfish by nature

“To say ‘I love you’ one must first be able to say the ‘I’.”

Rand believes we are born selfish. Even more. We have a duty to be selfish. Now you may argue that you’re not selfish. But let’s first talk about selfishness.

If you ask people “what’s the worst trait to have as a human?” the chances are high that they’ll answer, “It’s selfishness”.

No one wants to have a selfish friend, parent, or partner. We never admit when we notice we’re acting selfishly. We try to hide it instead. Why? Because selfishness is perceived negatively by society.

What is selfishness? It’s often defined as exploiting others. But that’s not something Ayn Rand agrees with.

For Rand, behaving rationally means putting your interests first. And it’s only possible if you act selfishly, which doesn’t mean exploiting anyone.

As she writes in her book “The Virtue of Selfishness”, we don’t need to disregard others’ needs and welfare in order to achieve our own. Selfishness is just “concern with one’s own interests”. And that’s the basic purpose of human beings.

Rand believes that altruism is immoral. The reason is simple – it’s incompatible with individual rights. One can’t be altruistic and achieve freedom at the same time.

In order to pursue the purpose of our lives, we need to be self-respecting humans who don’t sacrifice themselves for others’ needs.

What about others’ needs? As she believes, we don’t have anything to do with others’ needs. They are free and their needs are their choice. The only thing we must do is respect them.

If you think more deeply about this theory, you’ll notice that it’s based on Darwin’s Evolutionary Theory – we need to fulfill our own desires in order to survive.

So, for Rand, selfishness means realizing your highest potential and living in harmony with others by respecting their lives.

2) We should follow reason to understand objective reality

“Wealth is the product of man’s capacity to think”.

Rand can’t imagine realizing your highest potential without reason. She doesn’t trust in emotions. She doesn’t believe in unreasonable actions. To her, we can only understand reality through reason.

But emotions do affect our decisions, right? Does it mean she neglects the role of emotions?

Not at all. As she says, one must reject emotions and choose to follow reason. And this means neglecting our emotions is our choice.

She doesn’t say emotions don’t matter. She doesn’t reject emotions. But she believes we shouldn’t rely on emotions while making decisions. Instead, we should rely on reason.

Why? Because emotions are unstable.

Rand perceives emotions as well as faith as a form of authoritarianism. But we’re individuals. We must rely on ourselves, our reason, and not something like emotions that guides us through life.

This means that in the war between Rationalism vs Empiricism, Rand strictly supports rationalism and Aristotle, the only philosopher who has ever influenced her.

3) Happiness is the moral purpose of our lives

“Learn to value yourself, which means: fight for your happiness.”

Discussions about Ayn Rand are mostly focused on her politics. But sometimes I realize her beliefs about happiness are much more important than her views about politics.

The entire theory of Objectivism is focused on achieving happiness. Objectivism teaches people how to pursue their own happiness. And here’s how.

As Rand says, “Man is entitled to his own happiness. And that he must achieve it himself.” But we can’t achieve happiness by just dreaming about it. We should act upon it!

But how? Does it mean we must become self-centered individuals who would harm others in order to get what we want?

Rand doesn’t mean that. Instead, she believes that pursuing happiness requires rational respect for objective reality. And objective reality also includes facts about other humans and their needs.

So, as we already said, no one has to reject others’ needs. We just need to take care of our own.

And taking care of your needs is a must because happiness only comes from the achievement of one’s values. That’s the only path to feel as an individual.

Since the purpose of your life is to achieve happiness, pursuing your own happiness is your highest moral aim.

At least, that’s what Rand believes. There’s no greater moral goal than pursuing your own happiness.

4) Love is also selfish

“If a man wants love, he should correct his flaws and he may deserve it”.

Quotes about selfless love are everywhere. Have you ever heard the idea that you should find your soulmate, dedicate your life to them and be there whenever they need you?

You Probably have. But for Ayn Rand, there’s no such thing as selfless love.

To her, love is selfish. We love because it’s in our own interest to love somebody.

We don’t sacrifice our feelings. We don’t help anyone altruistically. Instead, we love people because we take selfish pleasure in them.

Rand admitted that she was in love with her husband, Frank O’Connor, selfishly. She helped him financially because she saw personal benefits in helping him.

Admit it. Would you like it if someone told you they loved you for your own good? They have no personal interest, they don’t feel anything towards you, but they know you need them and that’s why they love you.

No, you don’t. It’s pure altruism and not love. And pure altruism is against pursuing your own happiness.

The main reason why Rand’s understanding of love deserves critique is that she looks at love as a business deal. As she said, every business has its own currency, and in love, this currency is a virtue.

Rand believes we love only those people who deserve it. And people who deserve our love have some values that are important for our happiness. We don’t love what they do for us and we don’t love what we do for them.

Generally, Rand can’t imagine loving people indiscriminately. To her, loving everybody equals loving nobody. Because we can’t love people without any standards.

So, love that is placed above ourselves isn’t only immoral, but it’s impossible.

5) Money is from where all evil comes from

“So you think that money is the root of all evil. Have you ever asked what is the root of all money?”

Ayn Rand’s opinion about money is a bit different from what classic capitalists think. Money is the essence of capitalism. But for Rand, money is the root of evil.

The theory of Objectivism doesn’t say anything about money. However, in the 1957 novel “Atlas Shrugged”, there’s an entire speech about money and that’s probably what Rand believes is true.

In “Francisco’s Money Speech”, we read that money is material that people use for trade. It doesn’t mean anything by itself, but it’s the people who give it value.

Therefore, “money is made possible by the men who produce”. What does it mean?

It means money doesn’t mean anything to me, as an individual. Others give value to money. It’s collective.

We exchange money for something others make. Something that doesn’t belong to us.

But Rand is an individualist.

She doesn’t care about the collective needs. A person shouldn’t be concerned about benefiting others. And since the main purpose of money is to benefit someone, it’s evil. And even more, money is where all evil comes from.

6) The universe exists regardless of consciousness

“Achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death.”

Have you ever thought about what it would be like if you weren’t born?

Some people believe that the Earth revolves around them. They can’t imagine the world without them. And it’s understandable, but that’s what we call egocentric people.

What Rand believes is completely opposite.

But isn’t she a supporter of selfishness? How does it make sense then?

Yes, she is. But don’t forget that the theory is called “Objectivism”. Besides, being selfish and being egocentric isn’t the same.

The main principle of Objectivism is that reality exists regardless of our subjective perceptions. It’s an objective absolute. Our subjective desires can’t affect the objective reality.

A human being can’t determine the existence of reality. But we can understand it. We can make an impact on it.

As Rand writes,  “The power to rearrange the combinations of natural elements is the only creative power man possesses”.

To me, it means nothing more than having the power to change the world according to our own desires.

7) Rand supports “free market” capitalism

“Freedom – To ask nothing. To expect nothing. To depend on nothing.”

Do you know why libertarians adore Ayn Rand? That’s because she believes that the ideal social system is the one that holds laissez-faire politics in the economy.

Ironically, Rand described libertarians as people who plagiarize their ideas whenever their ideas fit their purpose. But that’s not something we’re going to discuss in this section.

Instead, we’re going to define laissez-faire or free-market capitalism.

“Laissez-faire” is a French phrase that translates as “leave to do”. Accordingly, laissez-faire capitalism is against any kind of intervention in the economy from the government. It means the government must let people do what they want to do, act as they desire.

That’s what we also call a “free market” – a system where consumers and the market decide the prices without any involvement from the government.

To Rand, freedom is the key to happiness. That’s why she accepts the free market. An individual is the author of his or her own life. And creating your own life is only possible when you are completely free from thr authorities.

Does Rand reject the idea of government entirely?

No. She believes that the only function the government has is to protect the rights of each individual. That’s because laissez-faire capitalism is the system of individual rights. And that’s what we call a positive understanding of liberty.

8) We must live independently

“I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine”.

If you’re a supporter of the idea of collective happiness, probably you won’t like what I’m about to say.

Rand rejects the idea of depending on one another. To her, a man is an independent being who is entitled to his own happiness. What does it mean to be independent?

Independence means accepting the fact that you are the only one responsible for your thoughts and actions. No one can think for yourself. No one has authority over your brain. You are the one and only author of your thoughts.

To Rand, people are born independent. We don’t have to serve society, God, the government, our parents, or anyone else in this world. We’re independent.

We’re not our brother’s keepers. We must live independently because we’re individuals.

9) Rand rejects religion and faith

“When I die, I hope to go to Heaven, whatever the Hell that is.”

Ayn Rand is an atheist philosopher. She rejects the idea of religion and if you take a look at the key principles of the theory, you’ll easily understand why.

As we said, Rand supports the idea that a human being is an independent person. We don’t have to obey anyone, including God. Why?

Because belief in God means accepting the idea that you must behave morally not for your own good but in order to serve God. But for Rand, the only moral purpose we have is to achieve happiness selfishly.

Besides, Rand believes that faith is against reason. Relying on your own reason is not achievable if you have faith in any kind of higher power.

Faith means accepting something as true without evidence, without doubting it. But the principle of reason says we must question the world in order to pursue happiness.

So, Ayn Rand considers faith as fear of independence. As Radians believe, having a belief in God means that you’re unable to live by yourself. You need someone to rely on.

10) Man has free will

“The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.”

And finally. If someone asks you to define the theory of Objectivism in four words, you can simply say: “a man has free will.”

That’s what her theory is all about.

To Rand, we’re rational human beings, able to think for ourselves. We create our own lives, and have an impact on the world.

Thinking is an act of choice.

Our decisions guide our actions.

We are the ones making choices.

Free will does exist, and we’re capable of achieving freedom.

What do you think?

Written by Nato Lagidze

Nato is a writer and a researcher with an academic background in psychology. She investigates self-compassion, emotional intelligence, psychological well-being, and the ways people make decisions. Writing about recent trends in the movie industry is her other hobby, alongside music, art, culture, and social influences. She dreams to create an uplifting documentary one day, inspired by her experiences with strangers.

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