I recently debated Gary Weiss, the author of the new book Ayn Rand Nation , at the New York Financial Writers’ Association. Weiss invited me to appear and defend Objectivism and Ayn Rand’s beliefs. Prior to the debate I read his book in order to familiarize myself with Weiss’s opinions and positions, and to see for myself whether the book was well researched and objective (no pun intended).
Weiss did a fair job of researching Rand and interviewing some key people, such as the Atlas Society's David Kelley . He also read her major works such as Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, and The Virtue of Selfishness. As far as I can tell he has not read anything about aesthetics such as the Romantic Manifesto or "The Night of January 16th." This is a shame, as these works contain some very telling information about Ms. Rand's reason for writing, and therefore studying, philosophy.
Overall I’d say he has only a surface understanding of Objectivism and Ayn Rand’s beliefs. There are some basic concepts he seems not to have fully grasped, and the book reveals no research into the subtleties of her beliefs and how they were integrated from top to bottom. Because of his lack of intellectual comprehension, many of the conclusions he draws in Ayn Rand Nation are incorrect.
Weiss writes well, in that he tries to make the story he tells interesting to his target audience, which in my opinion is the non-intellectual - but educated and intelligent - liberal.
In Ayn Rand Nation Weiss presents the case that the Tea Party and Libertarian movements, and their goals of limited government and Constitutional freedom, have been heavily influenced by Ms. Rand's teaching and novels. His initial concept for this argument came from seeing a photo of Alan Greenspan with President Gerald Ford in September 1974, when Greenspan was appointed to the Council of Economic Advisors. Ayn Rand was standing next to him. This led Weiss to conclude that Greenspan was heavily influenced by her teachings, and that those teachings led Greenspan, in his later role as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, to stop regulation of derivatives and banks, ultimately leading to the "financial crisis" in 2008.
Because of his lack of intellectual comprehension, many of the conclusions Gary Weiss draws in Ayn Rand Nation are incorrect.
Weiss fails to even consider other causes for the financial crisis, most notably what I consider the true reasons behind it: allowing Lehman Brothers to fail, and the political pressure for banks and agencies to offer mortgages with little or no money down (and no income verification) to those who would in any other period be unqualified. In other words, while Weiss sees some conspiracy between Greenspan and those who follow Ayn Rand, he fails to see that the financial crisis was spawned by the government offering a “free lunch” in order to gain votes and influence. Weiss has a strong distrust of laissez faire capitalism, and instead prefers controlled and heavily regulated capitalism (which is in fact much closer to Fascism). This view is driven by his “sense of life” that businessmen cannot be trusted.
Weiss exhibits many errors and important mistakes in misunderstanding Ayn Rand, her positions on intellectual issues, and the philosophic meaning of her concepts. For example, in the entire book, Immanuel Kant is only mentioned once. By contrast, “altruism” appears on 7% of the pages. But by not understanding Kant’s ethical definition of altruism (“sacrifice is a duty”), Weiss instead assigns his own definition (“an everyday human quality, and expression of generosity and selflessness”).
Weiss ignores Rand’s stated definition of "selfishness" as “concern with one's own interest.” He instead chooses to filter her words using the dictionary definition. Weiss checks his Webster's and finds it says "the state of being concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself; seeking or concentrating on one's on advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others." This kind of low comprehension of the concept is why the United States is where it is today. In every transaction, e.g. hiring, buying, selling, trading, or negotiation, which takes place millions of time every day, who in this world considers "the regard for others" as the primary factor in the transaction, except for charity?
Sadly, Gary Weiss also makes petty observations and comments on a few of Ayn Rand's actions in life in an attempt to make her integrity look inconsistent and shallow.
Picture interviewing an individual for a job opening; do you ask the candidate if the salary you’re offering is enough for their needs? Or do you simply say: "This position includes a salary of $X"? The definition with all the fluff is redundant. Of course we don't consider "the regard of others" as the primary concern. Negotiating means trying to gain an advantage for yourself. It occurs everywhere in the world. When you buy a car do you ask the salesman if he needs you to pay a higher price than he is asking because he has unwanted debt? Or do you bid lower than the asking price and come to an agreeable settlement?
Moreover, Rand’s definition does not say “concern with one's own interest to the harm or detriment of others.” This is very sophisticated, and it is called "doing business.” We all represent our own self-interest (including those of our children or loved ones), a.k.a. “selfishness,” in life. Weiss needs to think beyond reading words.
Sadly, Weiss also makes petty observations and comments on a few of Rand's actions in life in an attempt to make her integrity look inconsistent and shallow. For example, Weiss highlights "the altruism of the Government" in paying Rand's medical bills under Medicare as proof that she was unethical, because she opposed the program but took the benefit . He fails to point out that she was forced to pay into the program, so why on earth would she refuse the benefit? This is an example of the typical argument anti-Rand individuals look for, because either they can’t understand her concepts, or they purposely distort them to make their own positions appear stronger.
The biggest disappointment of Weiss's book is the Epilogue. I don't remember reading a more cynical and dark view of life in 20 years.(See sidebar article: " Weiss's World-View: The Epilogue to Ayn Rand Nation" )
Gary Weiss is a likeable person, but his book is not for people who understand Rand and wish to learn something new. It’s also not for those who want to be introduced to Rand and her true beliefs. So unless you wish to read the novice-like misunderstandings and observations of a leftist liberal—in order to gain some insight into how the average mind distorts something it does not grasp—it is not worth the effort.
See sidebar article: " Weiss's World-View: The Epilogue to Ayn Rand Nation" by Willam R Thomas
Rand on the Dole , Reason online.
"Rand actually defended the collecting of benefits as a way to get your own money back from The Man . . . In a 1966 article for The Objectivist newsletter, she wrote about the morality of accepting Social Security, unemployment insurance or similar payments . . ."
The Alan Greenspan Confession by William R Thomas
Was Ayn Rand ’s most famous and powerful follower brought low by objective evidence that the politics of Objectivism are wrong?
America's New Action Hero: Ayn Rand by William R Thomas
Explains why Rand's ideas galvanized many in the Tea Party: she defined what is quintessentially American—individualism, self-authorship, achievement, and freedom.
Myth: Ayn Rand Was a Conservative by William R Thomas
Ayn Rand's economic vision may resonate on the Right, but she was hardly a conservative.
Three Myths About Ayn Rand by William R Thomas
More Myths About Rand's Ideas (various authors)
Victor Sperandeo is the President and CEO of Alpha Financial Technologies. He is a professional trader with over 40 years of experience on Wall Street, trading numerous markets, and the author of three acclaimed books on trading: Trader Vic – Methods of a Wall Street Master , Trader Vic II – Principles of Professional Speculation , and Trader Vic on Commodities – What’s Unknown, Misunderstood, and Too Good to Be True .