Objectivism is a philosophy designed by Ayn Rand, a Russian-American writer. The name derives from the idea that human knowledge and values are objective. These ideologies were first expressed in Rand’s fictional works, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.
Ayn Rand was born Alisa Rosenbaum in Tsarist St. Petersburg, Russia in 1905. Having been subjected to the Russian Revolution, she considered communism to be immoral and fled to the United States. Changing her name to Ayn Rand, she went on to write a series of successful novels, including her first bestseller, The Fountainhead, featuring an egoistic central character. Her subsequent book, Atlas Shrugged, fully defined what would become the four tenets of objectivism: reality, reason, self-interest, and capitalism.
Rand eventually selected philosopher Leonard Peikoff as her “intellectual heir” and he formalized objectivism’s structure, stating that it is a closed system and not subject to change. Rand passed away in 1982, but her philosophy continues to be passed down to others in her writings, on her website, and through ongoing courses which study objectivism.
The Philosophy of Objectivism
Objectivism is a multi-faceted philosophy. The premise essentially revolves around “looking out for yourself”. It maintains that if it is done properly, and practiced by everyone, the entire world could be a better place. Objectivism endorses several different ideals. The essentials are: reality, reason, self-interest, and capitalism. Let’s take a look.
You’ve heard the expression “mind over matter” before. Basically, if you think positively, positive things will come your way – at least they’re more likely to, anyway. Rand states that, “No amount of passionate wishing, desperate longing, or hopeful pleading can alter the facts… Reality is not to be rewritten or escaped, but, solemnly and proudly, faced.”
This theory rejects supernatural or mystical powers, including the existence of God. Objectivism attributes all of life’s occurrences to reality, and that is not something that can be changed, only endured.
Rand’s theories regarding reason intertwine with the intellect. Objectivism requires people to “activate” their minds, understand all the facts of the current situation, and perform the required “next steps”. Rand argues, “To follow reason is to reject emotions, faith, or any form of authoritarianism as guides in life.” She considers emotion to be unstable.
Rand professes that, just because we block something out of our minds, does not make it go away. This is merely an escape from the responsibility. Rather, we must face what is with strength and dignity.
Ayn Rand focused all her writings on one basic tenet: be selfish. Selfishness has a negative connotation, however. Feelings of thoughtlessness and greed spring to mind. Rand, however, states that such negative acts are not in your self-interest. According to aynrand.org, to be selfish means:
- Follow reason, not whims or faith.
- Work hard to achieve a life of purpose and productiveness.
- Earn genuine self-esteem.
- Pursue your own happiness as your highest moral aim.
- Prosper by treating others as individuals, trading value for value.
Rand believes that humans are not born with an inherent sense of good vs. evil. She teaches her followers that, “Man must choose his actions, values, and goals by the standard of that which is proper to man – in order to achieve, maintain, fulfill, and enjoy that ultimate value, that end in itself, which is his own life.”
A social system that places priority on individual freedom, such as a laissez-faire capitalist society, is the only one supported by objectivism. A society free from government control lines up with objectivism’s philosophy.
Rand professes, “An individual who eagerly faces reality, who embraces his own rational mind as an absolute, and who makes his own life his highest moral purpose will demand his freedom. He will demand the freedom to think and speak, to earn property and associate trade, and to pursue his own happiness.”
Examples of Objectivism in Everyday Life
- A person who works hard on a farm his entire life to be completely self-sustaining.
- A person who rejects the rules of religion and ultimate happiness with God and instead focuses on his own ultimate happiness.
- A woman who carves out a plan for the rest of her life that includes the principles of reason, purpose and self-esteem.
- A corporation that, while using ethical business practices, still has the main goal of being the absolute best in the field.
- Engaging in actions that will lead to long term happiness as opposed to short term pleasure.
- Making decisions that are based on reason as opposed to emotions and that which cannot be seen.
- If a person is attacked they should use any force or weapons available to stop the attacker.
- A person who is opposed to slavery and the practice of owning another human being.
- A person who tells a lie in order to protect his or her family, friends, or other people.
- Believing in the concept that all knowledge is reached through reasoning.
- Developing concepts of reality through language and abstract thoughts.
- Believing in the idea that there are no contradictions in the real world.
The common denominator in these scenarios is the idea that the greatest good in the world is to be happy. If each individual is happy, then the overall state of the world improves. However, that happiness cannot be achieved at the expense of another person or persons; that would not provide you with ultimate happiness.
While some of the ideologies surrounding objectivism may seem a bit abstract, they tend to have one common theme. While self-interest is supported, violent acts are not. Emotions are irrational, but an acceptance of reality is not. In a society dominated by religious and political structures, objectivism is frequently misunderstood and, oftentimes, downright rejected. What will you choose?