The Ayn Rand cult /
Jeff Walker.
Chicago : Open Court, 1999.
xvii, 396 p.
0812693906 (pbk. : alk. paper)
More Details
Chicago : Open Court, 1999.
0812693906 (pbk. : alk. paper)
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter

Chapter One

The Cult While the

Guru Lived

Rand's Adolescent Recruits

When the disciple is ready, the guru arrives.

Old saying

Nearly always, new converts to Objectivism are young . In the 1960s, the core of the Objectivist rank-and-file consisted of college kids, many of them converted or first attracted when in high school. Even Rand's inner circle, the Collective, mostly comprised `thirsty' young people drinking up her ideas, ideas so potently spiked with her charisma as to be absolutely convincing. "She could convince you to walk into a firing squad," declares Erika Holzer.

    Ron Merrill opens his book on Rand's ideas with: "I was fifteen--a common age for converts to the ideas of Ayn Rand." Barbara Branden read The Fountainhead at age 15. Eric Nolte was 16. Libertarian philosopher and former Objectivist Eric Mack first read Rand as a high school junior. Roy Childs felt obliged to remark upon his "late" start, not reading Rand until his last year of high school because he wasn't normally a reader of fiction. Sympathetic critic Robert Hunt suggests that Atlas Shrugged "demands the fervent elitism of late adolescence in order to be read with conviction. A taste for Rand must be acquired early or not at all." A former Objectivist recalls that when he was a teen, in the spring of 1966, the assistant pastor at the Lutheran Church he attended gave him his copy of Atlas Shrugged , much the way that eventual neo-Objectivist leader David Kelley discovered Ayn Rand. Says Kelley, "By the time I went to college, ... I knew these were my basic values."

    Normally cults reach out and assertively recruit. The Rand cult was fortunate: there was no need for hard missionary work. At the back of every copy of Atlas Shrugged , one paperback page-turn after the inspiring conclusion, the young reader scarcely having had a moment to catch his or her breath, found "A MESSAGE FROM THE AUTHOR," virtually an invitation to join the Objectivist movement. It was a highly unusual pitch for the 1960s, if not for later decades. These back-of-the book invitations help to explain the growth and resilience of the Rand cult, then and now. The sales of Rand's novels are so high, year after year, that a tiny percentage of readers responding to these invitations supplies the official Objectivist organization with a steady flow of new recruits.

    The youthful students of Objectivism who were recruited in such surprising numbers in the 1960s typically came equipped with a basic education but little or no prior knowledge of the subjects that Objectivism pronounced upon, subjects like philosophy, history, economics, and literature. Typically, recruits learned the Objectivist line on all these subject areas, and then, perhaps, began to learn a little about them. The students' first exposure to these subjects was through a Randian lens.

    Pierpont describes Rand's readership as the largely abandoned class of thinking nonintellectuals. Joan Kennedy Taylor concurs: "Many thought that Rand had invented laissez-faire capitalism.... dentists, engineers, and so on loved this vision of a technologically advancing logical world, but this was the first they had dealt with ideas in any grand sense." Taylor, having grown up with people in the arts and having gone to a liberal arts college, was not quite as overwhelmed by Rand's ideas as most of her fellow students of Objectivism, for whom these were the only ideas in the world.

    Many former cultists say that early college classes destabilized their worldview and bewildered them, preparing them for the certainty offered by the cult. Rand criticized professors for disorienting students, while in effect capitalizing upon the disorientation. Kay Nolte Smith recalls that a friend took her in 1957 to an NYU lecture by Rand who said that everyone has a philosophy of life, the only choice being whether one is going to know it consciously or not. For Smith this was "a blinding epiphany. I thought `my God, she's right'--everybody's actions are governed by some kind of thoughts," so it's incumbent on us to know consciously what those are. "And the idea that one could be consistent in one's thoughts, I found wonderfully attractive."

    Atlas Shrugged was most people's entry to the cult. The part that casual readers skip is the part Objectivists-to-be dwell upon: Galt's 35,000-word speech, which Jane Hamblin called the longest burst of sustained histrionics since Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungs . Rosalie Nichols recalls that reading Atlas Shrugged a second time snapped the last ties holding her to her pre-Objectivist friends. "I had always been lonely, and it had been getting worse with every shattered relationship. Now I felt totally isolated. But then I reasoned: I exist. Ayn Rand exists. There must be others. I have to find them." For Nichols, Rand's philosophy "made it easier to understand people and harder to get along with them, ... easier to identify the influences in our culture and harder to live in it, ... stimulated my desire to study and made it almost impossible to read a textbook, ... fueled my ambitions and convinced me how difficult it would be to achieve them in this society.... I became more and more particular and less and less satisfied."

The Spell of Ayn Rand

Newsweek remarked about Rand in 1961 that no she-messiah since Aimee McPherson could so hypnotize an audience. Of the Rand-based figure in her novel, Elegy For a Soprano, Kay Nolte Smith writes that, "people responded less to her ideas than to the strength with which they were held." There can be something peculiarly magnetic about someone who seems completely unconflicted. Those lacking self-confidence tend to look to such a person for certainty. In Mary Gaitskill's Objectivism-satirizing novel Two Girls, Fat and Thin, the Randian-in-the-making character, recalling her first attendance at a lecture by the great Granite (Rand), rhapsodises, "I imagined myself in a psychic swoon, lush flowers of surrender popping out about my head as I was upheld by the mighty current of Granite's intellectual embrace."

    Rand was impressive on an interpersonal level, according to followers. Even John Kobler, an unsympathetic 1960s journalist, could not avoid mentioning her "huge blazing hazel eyes" that fronted a "personality as compelling as a sledgehammer." "We were young and she was not," recalled Kay Nolte Smith. "I thought she was a genius. One of the things that was dazzling to me was her superb command of the language. She could just talk magnificently on any subject without any hemming or hawing or note consulting, and then she could marshal an argument on practically any subject, that--at least at that time in my life, given my age and knowledge and experience--I was simply unable to refute, had I cared to. And if you think to yourself, I have to be able to go by rational arguments, and you're unable to refute them, then you're really in a bind, which is where we all were." Rand spent virtually all of her productive time after the publication of Atlas Shrugged in 1957 consolidating and communicating what she believed to be rational arguments for her ideas and against opposing ideas. She became good enough at it to dazzle already-starstruck university students.

    To former student of Objectivism Ron Merrill, it seemed that Rand radiated intelligence. "You could almost physically feel it ... you would ask her a question and she would look at you with those incredible eyes and you could just see--almost like a fire burning behind them--the power of her intelligence ... she was never at a loss ... ask her a question and instantly out came an answer that you could never have thought of on your own." She could improvise on the spot, with a perfect answer, even regarding something she hadn't previously thought about, "in perfect sentences, with all the grammatical elements in the right place." Merrill could well understand how people "would give up anything to be so close to a person of such stellar intellect." It doesn't come across when you see her from a distance or on tape, Merill insisted. "You had to get up close, talk to her, her attention focused on you," like a magnifying glass in the sun. Merrill is correct that neither razor-sharp intelligence nor unusual articulateness is evident on extant video and audio tapes of Rand.

    Former associates cite Rand's unshakeable arrogance and self-assurance, emulated by the follower, who, secretly not so self-assured, relied heavily upon Rand. She came to embody Reason. The highest value became earning her approval, the gravest sin--incurring her displeasure. Kramer and Alstad suggest that a guru can become a disciple's personal living god, igniting even greater emotion than an ethereal one. An early 1970s open letter to Ayn Rand proudly confessed its author a Randian cultist. "I worship you.... I owe you my life.... I think you are the greatest thinker and writer who ever lived...." Published albeit obscure novelist Shane Dennison recalls that, as imagined from afar in the 1960s, Rand and Branden "were gods, man, they'd said it all."

    Rajneesh's sannyasins came to view their Master as a powerful, unquestioned, and unquestionable authority. Likewise Kay Nolte Smith recalls the "commonly held and voiced view that Ayn was never wrong ... about anything having to do with any aspect of thought or of dealing with human beings." Leonard Peikoff, today's Pope-like leader of orthodox Objectivism, tells us that Rand "discovered true ideas on a virtually unprecedented scale" and that a moral person would greet this "with admiration, awe, even love .... If you ... accept Objectivism, you live by it," and you revere Ayn Rand for defining it. To her most devoted followers, Rand is very much an `Eastern' guru, that is, perfect enlightenment in the flesh. In the West, the only perfection is heavenly. In the East, the guru's enlightenment is all-encompassing, applying everywhere in the past, present, and future. Peikoff echoes that sense of finality with respect to Rand.

Against the World

Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all unifying agents.

Eric Hoffer, The True Believer

Rand bullied her inner circle, the Collective, who in turn bullied the students of Objectivism, who in turn bullied possible converts. Merrill writes that to the extent that the Collective passively accepted the sort of intellectual bullying of which they accuse Rand, "they corrupted her--as slaves always corrupt their masters. Surrounded as she was by the distorting mirrors of her sycophantic admirers, it is not surprising that Rand lost touch with reality." When NBI students intellectually bullied outsiders, they were no more in touch with reality than Rand. According to Nathaniel Branden, "If people didn't get it, we only had two responses: It's useless to talk; go read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead . And then, if the book's converted you, we'll do the fine polishing with you. If not, the hell with you."

    Rand gave public talks every April (except one year owing to ill health) at Boston's Ford Hall Forum between 1961 and 1981, attended by overflow audiences of her admirers. She would field questions, but the event was so in-group-oriented that its informal moniker became `Objectivist Easter', as Objectivist an institution as NBI, which in effect it replaced in 1969. The rapt admirers did not ask tough questions.

    Many of the cult aspects of the Objectivist movement were exposed by the founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), Albert Ellis, in his 1968 book Is Objectivism a Religion? It grew out of his public debate with Branden in May 1967 on the respective merits and shortcomings of Ellis's and Branden's therapies. Probably because of the amount of unbecoming heckling of Ellis by Rand herself and by the largely Objectivist crowd, as well as the commotion Rand raised when Ellis attacked the appropriateness of Rand's characters as role models, Branden subsequently refused Ellis permission to distribute audiotapes of the debate. His justification was that Ellis's arguments had been "devoid of intellectual content."

    The explicit message of Objectivism is optimistic, benevolent, and life-affirming, but Objectivism, beginning with Rand's writings, is actually more preoccupied with contempt and disgust for the real world. Robert Bidinotto has concluded that, for many Objectivists, morality is identified with suffering, and the roots of Atlas Shrugged in the Promethean tragedy link heroism to martyrdom. While paying lip service to positives, Rand dwells on the negatives, and passes on this attitude to her followers. Ultimately, Objectivists come to feel they are in society but not of it. Holding standards alien to those of mainstream society can then excuse lack of progress in one's education or career. The Objectivist martyr is even reluctant to pursue great challenges, for if not successful, he will feel like a failure, which in Objectivism amounts to moral failure. Then he feels guilty about unproductiveness. George Smith maintains that the Objectivist martyr is caught up in a vicious cycle of rules and guilt, with devastating results.

    Eric Mack says that what had the most negative impact upon him emotionally and psychologically was the notion conveyed by Rand's novels that one should be "devoted to the choice and pursuit of a world-historic career, and not at all to personal relations" which were destined to work out somehow as adjunct to one's main world-historic mission, or not to work out, in which case they weren't worthy of it.

    John Ridpath, associate professor of economics and intellectual history at York University in Toronto, and foremost Canadian exponent of orthodox Objectivism, agrees that part of the price of becoming an Objectivist is "cutting yourself off progressively from your own culture." That vile culture invites such loneliness and seeming hopelessness that one tends to withdraw. Perhaps Ridpath's perspective springs directly from a passage in Atlas Shrugged , in which a beleaguered Hank Rearden achieves some sense of identification with "fanatical sects ... who believed that man was trapped in a malevolent universe ruled by evil for the sole purpose of his torture."

    Rosalie Nichols quit a government job because she was being paid with money stolen from tax-payers. She dropped out of university because she found the subject-matter to be distorted, biased, or false. Even its presentation was all chopped up and disconnected, in contrast to Objectivism, where one finds the answers to all issues integrated into one big pyramid. Distancing herself from statism thus became an almost total withdrawal from the social sphere. Depressed by the whole culture, she would read Atlas Shrugged for an hour every night in order to get to sleep in a cheerful mood.

    Atlas Shrugged's secondary railroad hero Dan Conway denounces villain Jim Taggart as "lice." At another point Dagny's words to brother Jim "were not addressed to anything human." Elsewhere Galt's gang describe their enemies as "inanimate objects" or as "refuse." Letters to the editor in defense of Ayn Rand dismiss her critics not just as `hoodlums' and `thugs', but as 'cockroaches'. Rand herself deploys "vermin" in one letter and her orthodox heirs would dismiss Barbara Branden, until late 1968 ranked number three in the Objectivist movement, as `lice.' Considering that lice and cockroaches are owed no moral consideration, and that in any case, as Nathaniel Branden put it, "once somebody is declared an `enemy' of Ayn Rand, all morality is suspended," one shudders at what some literal-minded Objectivists might do to an enemy they saw as posing a threat to the future of the Objectivist movement and hence of civilization.

    The only sector of humanity that Rand seemed to approve of was businessmen. Belying that impression, she wrote in the 1960s that the real "money- maker " is a discoverer who transforms his discovery into actual products, money-makers in Alan Greenspan's view constituting less than 15 percent of businessmen. Overwhelmingly, in Rand's view, actual businessmen are "money- appropriators " whose goal is to get rich not by conquering physical nature, not by thought, not by producing, but by social manipulations that result in the shifting of pre-existing wealth from its owners' pockets to theirs.

    Tacitly, say David Kelley, Chris Wolf, and other former cult participants, Objectivists held that there had to be something mentally and morally wrong with those who would not quickly embrace Objectivism. Since these outsiders would not accept the truth, they must be `evading facts' and thus be motivated by evil. Objectivism was so clear, so well laid out out, so manifestly true, that refusal to swallow it must mean basic irrationality. Kelley now points out that it's perfectly possible for a reasonable person to be quite familiar with Objectivist principles and yet, in good faith, not be convinced. It speaks volumes for the character of the movement he left that he feels he actually needs to say this.

    An unrepentant Peikoff has used the term "inherently dishonest ideas," referring to ideas so blatantly false that they can be believed only through a deliberate act of evasion. He includes as examples: non-objective art such as that featured in Museum of Modern Art exhibits, non-Aristotelian logic (such as fuzzy logic, presumably, or perhaps even all modern logic), pragmatism as developed by American philosophers or illustrated by American politics since Jefferson, and egalitarianism (and here Peikoff means not just equality of outcomes but also equality of opportunity). Peikoff adherent Peter Schwartz has characterized Islam, Kantianism, and Marxism as inherently irrational and labels libertarianism an evil doctrine. Peikoff insists that all the leaders of such movements are necessarily evaders on a major scale, their ideas being anti-reason and anti-reality and thus anti-man and anti-values.

    The way marriages are handled shows similarities across cults and cultishly fanatical political movements. Rothbard recalls that the top Randian leadership presumed to bring about appropriate marriages, one explicitly asserting that she knew all the rational young men and women in New York and could match them up. At one Randian wedding ceremony, "the couple pledged their joint devotion and fealty to Ayn Rand" and "read aloud a passage from the sacred text," Atlas Shrugged . If a match that should be working wasn't, Objectivist psychotherapy would bring the couple to see Reason. Writes Margaret Thaler Singer, "When one partner of a married pair is recruited into a cult, pressure is put on that person to get the partner to join. If the partner doesn't, most of the time the cult, in effect, breaks up the marriage." Rothbard reports of Objectivist circles in New York in the late 1950s that when hectoring failed to persuade, many marriages were actively broken up by the cult leadership, one partner being sternly informed that his or her spouse was insufficiently Randworthy. Rothbard's wife Joey, a Christian, was a problem for Branden, who grilled Murray as to whether she had listened to his anti-God tape and been converted by it. (Branden still markets a version of this tape in Psychology Today ads for lectures by various therapists.) Rothbard recalls one Randian so brainwashed that she agreed she deserved her expulsion for having married a non-Objectivist.

    Henry Scuoteguazza, looking back from 1991, tells us that in his experience, Objectivists use only one main criterion in choosing a friend: Is he or she an Objectivist? As a result, they have few friends in the working and everyday world. Joan Kennedy Taylor recalls the romantic implications of that stance, namely that in the heyday, Objectivists were only supposed to go with Objectivists, a recipe for a rather constricted love life. Scuotteguazza laments that having tried for decades to live by Rand's ideas, he is still faced with the question of why the Objectivist ethics hasn't made a more positive impact on the lives of Objectivists. His tentative answer is that those ethics don't help the individual choose from among the innumerable values that may be rational but aren't particularly appropriate for oneself. Moreover, what little guidance Rand's virtue of selfishness actually provides boils down to: `Be rational, and always pass moral judgment. And ... oh, by the way, have fun.' But when obsessive rationality and the judging of others are the top priorities, whither fun?

NBI: The Objectivist Church

Nathaniel Branden's original intention was to give just one course on Objectivism, in large part to help lift Ayn Rand out of her Atlas -reviews depression by demonstrating the public's interest in the book's ideas. The concept took off beyond Branden's imagination. By the mid-1960s, says Joan Kennedy Taylor, "The whole Nathaniel Branden Institute network was very powerful." Even on the west coast there were people "listening to taped lectures, writing letters to people back east, having Objectivist celebrities come by and visit their group." Murray Rothbard recollected that any town's NBI representative "was generally the most robotic and faithful Randian in his particular area, and so attempts were made ... to duplicate the atmosphere of awe and obedience pervading the mother section in New York."

    A magazine writer of that time, Dora Jane Hamblin, was not impressed by what she saw at NBI. "They are practically humorless, laughing only at key expressions of disdain for religion (the word `God', pronounced aloud in class, provokes paroxysms of laughter) ... They leave their lectures armed with formula answers for the obvious questions from outsiders. In an argument with outsiders, if one Objectivist were strangled in mid-sentence, another could finish it precisely.... Mastery of such glibness requires several class sessions and assiduous readings of The Works ..." A taped seminar in Detroit is described as "almost liturgical," featuring "an immaculate white-clothed altar with a tape-recorder tabernacle." Objectivists found such depictions insulting at the time, but in retrospect, most wince at their accuracy.

    Gurdip S. Sidhu, M.D., recalled that in 1967-68 he attended a few courses at NBI, along with a few social events. "The courses were characterized by little significant discussion except questions directed at clarifications.... No alternative opinions were ever offered." At social events "most participants were aloof, displaying an air of enlightened detachment. Cheerful talk was confined to a few small groups only ... an `in' crowd. Now, belatedly, I learn they were mostly members of the Blumenthal family." It also struck Sidhu that everyone in that circle was a chain smoker--a strange way of showing their conviction that life is the highest value.

    One student recalls of NBI classes and get-togethers unexpectedly high degrees of uniformity, conformity, uneasy self-consciousness, posing, overcautiousness, and coldness, "the young men in their suits and ties, sitting rigidly staring ahead, conscientiously unsmiling," the women no more real, most "concentrating on looking cold and glamorous." Another remarks upon the clannishness, even at non-live taped lectures. He found students to be inhibited, humor-deprived, and caddishly snide. Questions raised in a politely challenging way were often met with anger or contempt. Later, Barbara Branden would note the contradiction in Rand's attitude. She would abuse students for not grasping some point, while claiming to be challenging two thousand years of philosophy. If so, one might think, her philosophy was bound to be assimilated only with difficulty.

    One student of Objectivism found obsequious, even selfless conformity to be all too prevalent. Ron Merrill, always ready to defend the Objectivist movement against charges of cultishness, concedes that as the 1960s wore on `true believers' did come to infest the ranks of Objectivists at his school, M.I.T; the philosophy's doctrines did seem to harden into virtual dogma; and dissenters were formally excommunicated.

    Followers were not permitted to call themselves `Objectivists'. Only Ayn and Nathan could do that. The approved term was `student of Objectivism'. "That was the relationship that Ayn wanted with everybody, teacher-student ... that relationship went on with Peikoff until she died," says Taylor. "Greenspan may be the one person who graduated from ... her student to ... independent intellectual. I'm not sure anyone else was allowed to." Rand declared that the term `Objectivism' was her own intellectual property, that only she and those she explicitly sanctioned could be designated `Objectivists'. In an early 1960s letter she referred to her movement's role of spreading a new culture, specifying that "we are not and do not regard ourselves as teachers." But, of course, the followers were students.

    Barbara Branden has tried to defend Rand by saying: "She wasn't aware of the whole cult atmosphere," the fact that for most students "real understanding wasn't necessary but only to know what the master was saying." Yet in a 1960 letter of warning to Rand, Hospers had written of NBI that "the rather dogmatic and brief presentation, the oversimplification of some points, and the sort of `I'm right and everyone else is wrong' manner of the presentation, tends to MAKE slavish dogmatists out of the audience." In her reply to Hospers, Rand dismisses any and all students so "cowardly" as to feel intimidated in this way. Tough on them. Her lectures' aim, she says, not "to provoke intelligent comment" but rather, paraphrasing George Washington, "to raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair." Rand states that the lectures are not given to convert antagonists--a redundant remark, for only those in agreement with the ideas of Atlas were invited to enrol. She says she is hurt by Hospers's "concern for any weakling's needs, ideas, and interests, as against mine; it implied that they must be considered because they have not developed their minds, but I can claim no consideration, because I have." Thus, while dismissing Hospers's fears that students would become mindless dogmatists, Rand rejects the notion of genuine dialogue with them.

    Students of Objectivism, recalls Taylor, "either accepted everything, or they were corrected. If they did not accept the correction they were out." Her aging father, Deems Taylor, a composer of operas, was a friend of Rand. Once "he was talking about dying and how matter is neither created nor destroyed so why should the soul be?, and Ayn said to me, `At his age this is meaningful to him. Just let it alone'." No student of Objectivism, even an elderly one, would have been allowed to get away with such `mystical claptrap'. Taylor explains that Rand respected people who had developed independently of her and met her on some common playing field of achievement more than she respected people who really admired her and came to be students. Nathaniel Branden said later that Rand "never had much respect for most of her followers."

The Cult's Pecking Order

Objectivism constantly praised individual independence, thinking for oneself, having confidence in one's mental capacity to make decisions, and not being intimidated by the opinions of others. While this incessant litany of inspiring words droned on ineffectually, the actual conduct of the Objectivist organization was the exact opposite. No one dared to think for themselves, except Rand. Within the Collective, Rand's inner circle, everyone hung on Rand's every whim, assuming that if their views ever conflicted with hers, they had to be in the wrong. The rank and file of the organization, the students of Objectivism, would do and say anything to win the approval of the Collective. The Collective treated the students with undisguised condescension and haughtiness. The Collective was fond of saying to the students: "Our job is to tell people what Objectivism is; your job to tell them that it is."

    Nathaniel Branden says that Rand made it "abundantly clear to us that fighting for Objectivism meant fighting for Ayn Rand.... Loyalty to Ayn and love of her work was really more important than who you were as a person." Philip Smith says with reference to gurus like Rand that "everybody around you become tools in your crusade. They're not people any more. They're tools." His wife, Kay Nolte Smith, reflecting upon her ouster by Rand, laments that previous devotion and a tremendous amount of time and effort had not registered at all. "I did feel used, because it all added up to zero."

    Philip Smith regards Eddie Willers as the most significant character in Atlas Shrugged . Willers is supposed to epitomize the ideal common man. "Imagine the view she had of the common man to indicate that Eddie Willers is the ideal," observes Smith. "He's sort of a non-entity with no life of his own who does everything Dagny wants him to do. He cuts the ribbon." When `the Mind' has left the culture, the good person like Eddie Willers is left to perish. "So all the common man does is sit there and adore, obey, take orders from the brilliant people in the world. If that is her view of the common man, imagine what she thought of herself in relation to society and what other people should be doing for her. That's what she wanted from everyone around her." In Rand's early play, Ideal (1934), heroine-worshipper Johnnie pronounces himself "a man who is perfectly happy? and then blows his brains out. Why? Because he'd just taken the rap for a murder he believed screen goddess Kay Gonda, Johnnie's highest reverence, had committed. But it turns out she was only pretending to have committed the murder, to test the loyalty of her supposed fans. Kay, a stand-in for Rand, comments later that allowing Johnnie that final dramatic gesture was, "the kindest thing I have ever done." It prefigures the ideal of devotion Ayn Rand would one day expect from her inner circle, the `Collective'.

    Rand learned the history of philosophy mostly by talking to Leonard Peikoff and Barbara Branden, both graduate students in philosophy, Barbara stopping at a master's. Rothbard notes that in Barbara Branden's biography, by not focusing on the cult she avoids unpleasant facts such as that while the Brandens had to abase themselves before Rand, everyone else crawled before the Brandens, and that Barbara herself was held up as `the most beautiful woman in the world', the greatest living female after Rand and (via her master's thesis) `the solver of the free will problem'.

    Novelist Kay Nolte Smith says of Rand that, "it is painful to write a book and have critics say things that are either nasty or ill-informed. She got rid of that. She built a group in which no one was allowed to do anything but praise her for her novels for the rest of her life." To Objectivists, this may not seem like the main function of the Collective and the Objectivist movement. Yet being more interested in power than in truth is merely to be consistent with the actual rather than professed values of most of the rest of the world. If nothing else, the guru comes to enjoy the power of being others people's emotional center.

    Within hierarchies, categorical separation of good and evil can facilitate the control of personnel. Kramer and Alstad explain that such dualistic thinking reinforces hierarchy because absolutizing the distinction between persons A and B legitimates their placement at different rungs of the ladder. Decades later before a mostly Objectivist audience, David Kelley would grant that the Objectivist movement "always had an inner circle, an extremely well-defined hierarchy ... in which people often knew to within several decimal places their exact distance from the center," (laughter of recognition throughout the audience) "whose members are ranked as much by loyalty as by merit. Many are contemptuous and condescending toward those below them, fearful and fawning toward those above."

    Peikoff disapproves of those who drift away from Ayn Rand's orbit, a revealing metaphor suggesting a massive gravitational center and passive inertial bodies. According to Rothbard's recollection, the central axiom of Objectivism's un official creed was, "Ayn Rand is the greatest person that has ever lived or ever shall live." In fact there was a "consuming concern with greatness and rank." A friendly but perfectly serious dispute broke out: Was Nathaniel Branden tied with or ahead of Aristotle for second greatest thinker of all time? Real disputes were resolved by appeal to the authority closest to Ayn Rand.

    The Objectivist movement quickly took on characteristics of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. An exiled Trotsky explained in 1927 that, "Within an order such as the Party had now become, the effect of psychological affinity with the leader is to suppress rational thinking and enhance feelings of fanatical solidarity, the herd-instinct, mindlessness." The Party "inhabits two storeys, on the upper one they decide everything, and on the lower one they only hear about what is decided."


Copyright © 1999 Carus Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1999-01-25:
According to this devastating and often heavy-handed critique, Ayn Rand, whose novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged exposed millions to her philosophy of virtuous self-centeredness and capitalist freedom, was an oppressive personality whose Objectivist movement demonstrated all the classic elements of a destructive cult (its messianic leader and its separation of group members from family and friends). Walker presents his subject as an arrogant, dogmatic bully who brooked no criticism and as a repressed narcissist who feared her own emotions and hid behind a glorification of reason. He concludes that Rand was no more than a third-rate pop-novelist of propaganda fiction and that her "vulgar Nietzschean" philosophy's obsessive concern with the overachiever‘who requires protection via absolutized individual rights‘contributed to the movement's cultish aspects. Walker also savages self-esteem guru Nathaniel Branden, who was Rand's protégé and extramarital lover; their explosive breakup in 1968 pulverized the Objectivist movement, whose contemporary schisms and crosscurrents he ploddingly tracks. In a vitriolic chapter on Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan‘a one-time member of Rand's inner circle‘Walker unpersuasively contends that this banker's "inflation-obsessed" policies grew out of Rand's theories. Those who find Rand's self-styled philosophy outré may not find much of interest in this scathing, albeit clumsy, exposé. Others will find it a useful corrective to the Rand mystique. (Feb.) FYI: Branden's tell-all account of his affair with Rand and his role in the Objectivist movement is being reissued in a new edition in March as My Years with Ayn Rand: The Truth Behind the Myth (Jossey-Bass, $19 480p ISBN 0-7879-4513-7). While he does criticize Rand personally, his treatment differs from Walker's in that he still reveres her as a philosopher. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 1999-03-15:
Ayn Rand's novels and philosophy have been the object of widespread popular interest since the 1950s. After her death in 1982, there was a spate of biographical and critical interest; her popularity continues with a U.S. postage stamp and a television documentary, both scheduled for this spring. These two books offer divergent perspectives on Rand, her followers, and the Objectivist movement. Branden (The Art of Living Consciously, LJ 3/1/97) offers a revised version of his 1989 memoir. A personal account of his intellectual and romantic relationship with Rand and their famous break, it is useful for its insider's view of the Objectivist movement and may appeal to those interested in gossipy details of the protagonists' lives. While objectivity isn't expected in an insider's account, this memoir nonetheless lacks critical distanceÄeven after nearly 50 yearsÄand is marred by plodding narrative and wooden dialog. Canadian journalist Walker makes a more valuable and original contribution to Rand studies. He analyzes the Objectivist movement, Rand's leadership role, and the politics of her inner circle in terms of the cult dynamic. This analytical perspective avoids the common extremes of hagiography and vilification that mark many accounts of Rand's schismatic movement. Walker also does a credible job of placing Rand's ideas in the context of philosophies that preceded and followed her, and it offers insightful chapters on three of her major followers: Branden, Leonard Peikoff, and Alan Greenspan. His account is well researched and clearly written, though it is sometimes weighed down by an unsynthesized accumulation of detail. A solid contribution to 20th-century intellectual history.ÄJulia Burch, MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Choice on 2000-07-01:
Though neither of these books, both written in a clear, readable style, is favorable to Ayn Rand (1905-82), Yang's study is the more personal. Having come under Rand's spell when he was 14, Yang finally freed himself from what he sees as the shallowness and emptiness of objectivism--the beliefs that turned out be "an illusion"-- by accepting the Christian faith. In Reconsidering Ayn Rand, Yang analyzes what he sees as the problems and discrepancies of objectivism. He briefly summarizes Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and their presentation of objectivism as (briefly) the "concept of man as a heroic being"; advocacy of "laissez-faire capitalism and reason"; "rational selfishness" as a virtue. Not only objectionable but evil are Christianity and altruism. Using numerous examples, Yang examines what he sees as flaws in Rand's logic with regard to romantic love, self-esteem, confidence, and self-worth; reason and reality; morality and government; and science and Christianity. By contrast, Walker sees the objectivist movement as "the most peculiar cult on earth." He recognizes its extreme popularity with many, but also feels that it has "caused considerable unnecessary unhappiness for many people." He examines its various facets, giving weight to both its positive and negative aspects. Adherents usually come to it when they are young. Walker discusses various people who have been involved with it and with Rand herself; Alan Greenspan, who learned "inflation paranoia" from Rand; Nathaniel Branden, her lover; Leonard Peikoff, "the future Objectivist Pope"; and Frank O'Conner, her alcoholic husband. Walker also examines the difficulties of Rand's personality and behavior. While he notes the popularity of objectivism to this day, overall he joins Yang in presenting a view of the cult and its followers as frightening, restricted, stultifying. Both volumes will be of interest solely to those who have strong opinions about Rand. J. Overmyer Ohio State University
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews, December 1998
Publishers Weekly, January 1999
Library Journal, March 1999
Choice, July 2000
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Unpaid Annotation
An in-depth debunking of Ayn Rand--one of the most controversial & influential novelists of the twentieth century.
Unpaid Annotation
Ayn Rand and her philosophical school, Objectivism, have had a considerable influence upon American popular culture, yet the true story of her life and work has yet to be told. In this book, Jeff Walker debunks the cult-like following that developed around the author of the classics "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead"--a cult that persists even today.
Bowker Data Service Summary
Ayn Rand and her philosophical school, objectivism, have had considerable influence on American popular culture. This is the story of her life. The author aims to show what she was like and how she manipulated her followers.
Table of Contents
Chronology of the Objectivist Movement
Introduction: The Most Peculiar Cult on Earthp. 1
The Cult While the Guru Livedp. 11
Entrails: The Anatomy of the Cultp. 47
The Cult After the Guru's Deathp. 75
Sex, Art and Psychotherapyp. 105
Nathaniel Branden: The Godfather of Self-Esteemp. 141
Leonard Peikoff: From Serf to Pontiffp. 177
Alan Greenspan: The Undertaker Takes Overp. 203
The Mind of the Gurup. 219
The Dark Side of the Guru's Soulp. 241
The Roots of Objectivismp. 271
The Disowned Ancestry of Atlas Shruggedp. 295
Ayn Rand's Legacyp. 327
Notesp. 347
Sourcesp. 351
Select Bibliographyp. 365
Indexp. 383
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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