Forty years ago this month, in its March 1964 issue, Playboy magazine interviewed Ayn Rand.
This interview would prove to be a significant event for Rand and for Objectivism. Playboy was one of the earliest mass-circulation public forums to offer Rand an opportunity to explain her philosophy and address at length a broad range of topics. She discussed everything from metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics to sex, religion, politics, and art. The interviewer was Alvin Toffler, later to become famous as author of Future Shock.
At a time when Rand's books and ideas were often maligned and misrepresented by the media, Toffler and the editors of Playboy treated her seriously and respectfully. The introduction characterizes her as "among the most outspoken—and important—intellectual voices in America today." And at a time when Rand had as yet published little non-fiction, the interview served as one of the best comprehensive statements of her views.
In a twist that some might have found appropriate and others incongruous, the cover of the issue touted a pictorial essay: "Girls of Russia and the Iron Curtain Countries."
Although Rand would have denied it, commentators have noted that the views she expressed portray her as an early representative of modern feminism. Every woman should have a career, she maintained, and as for one's choice of career, "what is proper for a man is proper for a woman." Today, four decades later, many of her other statements have a surprisingly relevant and timely ring. For instance, she lambasted the United Nations and contended that the United States has the moral right to invade any dictatorship.
What sort of influence has the interview had? Playboy's circulation at that time was two and a half million, so it surely introduced Rand and her ideas and books to a wide new audience.
But the interview's life and impact persisted far beyond that initial appearance. It has been republished in its entirety in anthologies of Playboy interviews and in The Libertarian Reader by David Boaz (The Free Press, 1997). Many other books and articles have excerpted or cited it. Reprinted in pamphlet form, it is still sold by The Atlas Society and the Ayn Rand Institute. To this day, it remains an excellent brief introduction to Ayn Rand and Objectivism.
In Reaching for Paradise: The Playboy Vision of America (Times Books, 1978), Thomas Weyr listed other contemporaneous Playboy interview subjects—ranging from Salvador Dali to Jean-Paul Sartre—and then commented: "But the real bird of paradise Toffler captured for Playboy in 1964 was Ayn Rand , the first female intellect given voice in the magazine. Miss Rand did not disappoint. She dominated the interview with sharply phrased opinions that rode over Toffler's questions like the charge of Czarist cavalry."
On December 17, 2003, Christie's, the prestigious New York auction house, held a major auction of Playboy artwork, documents, and memorabilia. The event was part of the magazine's 50th-anniversary celebrations. One of the lots consisted of the original typewritten manuscripts and typeset galley proofs of Ayn Rand's interview, along with correspondence, photos, and other related items.
On these papers, Rand had made extensive corrections and revisions in her own handwriting. She jotted notes and asides to the editors. She even edited Toffler's introduction and rewrote some of his questions along with her answers!
I was at Christie's for the exhibition the day before the auction. As soon as I saw these documents, I was captivated—and became determined to own them. Why? It was via this interview that, in 1964 at the age of sixteen, I discovered Ayn Rand. As so many Objectivists say, my life was changed. Over the years, I have given copies of the interview to many friends, especially those who might be resistant to reading a long novel.
The next day, after some spirited bidding, the hammer came down and I emerged as the owner of this remarkable archive. Now, just a few months later, coincidentally enough, it's the 40th anniversary of the interview's publication.
Among my motivations for acquiring the archive, aside from its personal resonance, was the recognition that this is material of substance and importance, with genuine historical value for Rand admirers, researchers, and scholars. Adding to the drama is the fact that these documents have been out of public view—and unknown to Rand connoisseurs—for four decades.
These documents have been unavailable to Ayn Rand connoisseurs for four decades.
In 1998 and 2000, I had attended auctions devoted to Rand collectibles. Although some of the documents offered at those two events struck me as interesting, few seemed to possess much intellectual or literary significance. Most were devoid of undiscovered content or fresh insights into Rand's ideas. But this archive promised that—and perhaps more.
What, I wondered, had been deleted prior to publication? What did Rand say spontaneously and subsequently decide to change? How did she and the Playboy staffers regard each other, and what did they discuss privately?
It was an exciting experience to examine the archive for the first time. What a fascinating collection! I saw Rand's and the editors' revisions. I spotted numerous differences from the published version, as well as questions and answers that were omitted in their entirety. Every manuscript page and even the most minor corrections Rand made were initialed "AR."
The galley proofs were festooned with Rand's notes. But I quickly realized how carefully I had to handle these aging, sepia-tinted sheets. Galley proofs, in the era before desktop computers and word processing, were long, narrow pages with the typeset text laid out in a single column for editing. Because cheap, acidic, newsprint-type paper was used, the most valuable part of this archive is, ironically, now the most fragile and subject to deterioration.
Let's look at some of the omitted material, published here for the first time. Right at the start of the interview, a deleted Q&A focuses on an important issue: the widespread antipathy toward ideology as such.
PLAYBOY: Philosophers have offered world systems in the past, often with frightful and frightening consequences—slavery, inquisitions, purges, etc. Isn't there something in the very nature of philosophical system-building that leads to intolerance? Don't world views, because they try to be all-inclusive, because they are so neat and seemingly simple, attract and encourage fanaticism?
RAND: Surely you don't mean to say that knowledge and consistency are dangerous, but ignorance and inconsistency are safe? It is irrationality that leads to fanaticism, and inconsistency that leads to destruction. Man cannot escape the fact that he needs a philosophy. The only question is: what kind of philosophy is it? If one man believes consistently in production, and another man believes consistently in robbery, the nature and the consequences of that consistency will not be the same. The atrocities you mentioned were caused by philosophy—by the wrong kind of philosophy. They were caused by the irrational influence of what, in a generalized sense, I can call the Platonist school of thought.
After the Q&A on women's roles and careers, the following exchange occurred, which Rand chose to delete in the proof stage. She may have realized that she hadn't fully answered the question, and that to provide a complete explanation briefly would be difficult or impossible.
PLAYBOY: In Atlas Shrugged, you wrote that "one neither asks nor grants the unearned." Did you mean this to include unearned love as well as unearned aid and material support?
PLAYBOY: Well, then, why should a mother love her newborn infant who is still too young to have done anything to earn her love?
RAND: You don't really mean this as a serious question. To begin with, if the mother is a responsible, rational human being, she does not have a baby by accident; she has him by choice. At first, a child has a value to her simply because it is a human being created—physically, at least—by her. The child's parents owe him support until the legal age of 21, which means until such time as he can support himself. This is a chosen obligation that rational parents accept when they decide to have a child. They have to accept the consequences of their own decision. But do they have to love the child? No, not necessarily. That will depend on their evaluation of his character, as he grows up. He has to earn their love—as they have to earn his.
In the discussion of sex and hedonism, the following was cut. Note Rand's insightful and provocative interpretation of the chronic gambler's psychology and motivation.
PLAYBOY: What about discriminate and selective indulgence in other activities—drinking, for example, or gambling? Are these immoral?
RAND: To begin with, those are not in the same category as sex. Drinking, as such, is not immoral, unless a person is a drunkard. Merely taking a drink is hardly a moral question. It becomes an immorality only when a man drinks to the point where it stifles and stunts his mind. When a man drinks in order to escape the responsibility of being conscious, only then is drinking immoral. As to gambling, I wouldn't say that a person who gambles occasionally is immoral. That's more a game than a serious concern. But when gambling becomes more than a casual game, it is immoral because of the premise that motivates it. The passion for gambling comes from a man's belief that he has no control over his life, that he is controlled by fate, and, therefore, he wants to reassure himself that fate or luck is on his side.
The documents in this archive contain more unpublished material, but the above excisions are among the most interesting. Did the omitted passages reveal any big surprises? No. Rand does not, for instance, confess a secret affection for Kant or Kandinsky. Still, these and other deleted answers shed light on her thinking and give us her views on topics she didn't address elsewhere.
Of course, Rand and Playboy's editors corrected spelling and punctuation typos and made many edits for grammar and style. Most such changes are inconsequential, however, and had no effect on content or meaning. But one of her "minor" changes is telling. She reworded several of Toffler's questions to expunge the locution "Do you feel...?" Rand's aversion to the use of emotional terminology to describe cognitive activities is well documented.
Rand revised the entire opening of the interview, restored questions and answers that the editors had cut, and reorganized it for better clarity and flow. These changes, and others she made throughout, considerably improved the interview.
In answer to a question about her politics, she initially characterized herself as an anticommunist. Editing her words later, she evidently had second thoughts, struck 67 words, and began her published answer: "I never describe my position in terms of negatives."
At the end of the interview, Toffler asked Rand her view of the future and whether she was optimistic about man's survival. She restored a question, and her answer, which had been edited out. "Is man worth it?" Toffler asked. "Is man worth it?" she repeated. "What else is worth anything?" Then she reconsidered and crossed out the exchange, and the conclusion of the interview evolved into its published form.
The archive includes the three original photographs that illustrate the interview, as well as a proof of the photo captions. The editors, after retyping and considering 38 quotations from the interview as candidates for captions, submitted their three final choices to Rand. She approved two, but not the third: her comment on defeating communism via an economic boycott. Rand had a much better idea. She crossed out that statement and wrote, quoting from the interview: "Collectivism, as an intellectual power and a moral ideal, is dead. But freedom and individualism, and their political expression, capitalism, have not yet been discovered." Then she appended her initials. To read those important words, so quintessential to her philosophy, in her own handwriting, is a thrill for any admirer of her work.
As these examples indicate, Rand took an unusually active role in shaping the interview as a whole, rather than simply reacting to Toffler's questions. In her editing, sometimes heavily revised, one can witness a great mind at work.
As an interview subject, Rand was apparently as intransigent as her fictional heroes. Everyone seems to have bent over backward to accommodate her. She had an opportunity to review, correct, and approve at least three versions prior to publication. Editor Murray Fisher's notes to her are invariably polite and deferential.
For example, Fisher had rewritten the introduction from a previous version she had approved. "I hope this revised and condensed introduction meets with your approval," he wrote on the proofs. "Please feel free, however, to make whatever changes you wish…." Rand was not persuaded. She struck the new version in its entirety and sternly instructed: "The introduction is to be as written originally by Mr. Toffler and as edited by us over the telephone." In this case, as in many other instances where she differed with the editors, she got what she wanted.
As even many of her critics would agree, Ayn Rand had high standards. She was demanding and perfectionistic. And she loathed most of the media coverage she received. So what was her opinion of the published result?
Included in this collection is a letter Rand wrote to Fisher, dated March 14, 1964, more than a month after the issue was delivered to newsstands and to subscribers. "I am very pleased with the interview in its final form," she wrote. "I believe it justifies the difficulties of our efforts." Forty years later, I think we can agree that it did indeed.
This article was originally published in the March 2004 issue of Navigator magazine, The Atlas Society precursor to The New Individualist.