Individualism. An idea which is considered to be inherently vile, is in fact the thing that makes up the very core of achievement. To believe in oneself is seen by current society, and most of all cultures as akin to something evil, full of malice and infelicity which is why the world is heading towards a spiral fueled by self-consumption with the idea that we owe something to someone else or to the collective as a whole.
Perhaps what is hated even more than the idea of individualism, is its main propagator in the 20th century. Ayn Rand, the Jewish girl that immigrated from the ills of Soviet Russia, to the wealth and opportunity of the United States, had professed a new type of philosophy that placed man and woman, and their rationality, as the center of all moral and ethical bearings. Perhaps, even more interestingly it gave people the confidence to assert themselves with self-esteem as the most important factor in their lives.
Yet, as I have mentioned people hated Ayn Rand(and still do), for the exact reasons that she fought against throughout her career as a novelist/philosopher: the lack of confidence to understand that love for the self is far more necessary for healthy relationships with others, and a healthy position in a society than anything else. It is not coercion that creates balance in the societal structure, but the willingness of each individual to engage in voluntary trade, as awarded by the small reach of a small goverment.
If we were all forced to be friends with each other, and exchange presents even to those we care nothing of, would that not create acrimony? Yet, if are given the freedom to choose who to be friends with based on the compatibility of our own values, what would the result be. What system would you rather live in? Although an extreme example, do you not see what collectivism can lead to?
Still before we can even adequately understand Objectivism which is inherently only human nature, we must first look at the person behind it.
Rand, born Alisa Rosenbaum, to a rich Jewish family living in St. Petersburg was not like most Jews in Russia. She was well off, in fact she was lucky enough to live outside of the Pale of Settlement. Her family was somewhere on the fence between non-observant Jews, to full on secular. Business was the main motivator of the family head, as her father had a lucrative pharmacy that gave them the ability to enjoy a bourgeois existence. This of course was a very rare thing amid both Jews and Russians in Tzarist Russia prior to the Revolution, where poverty and destitution struck at most of the population.
Rand showed an astute intelligence unlike most girls and boys her age. She began writing stories, and became interested in philosophy. In high school, she let go of superstitions and identified as an atheist, later recalling that she valued “rationality” and “reason” as the most important human virtues. In 1917, before the provisional goverment took over, and her republicanism became clear when she vowed support for Alexander Kerensky, head of the provisional state, over the autocracy of the Tsar. Yet, soon her family would suffer as thousands of others, once the second revolution of 1917 put the Soviets in power. Her family’s wealth was gone, as the Soviets saw to distribute everything to the masses.
Imagine a young woman living under two regimes, one more oppressive than the other. It is without a doubt that the core of her philosophy and mindset were conceived in those early years in Russia. She went to university, but decided to leave for the U.S in 1924 as thousands of other young people looking for a better life. When she arrived, the next year she managed to publish a monograph about a femme fatale, but more importantly it was the first times that she used the pseudonym “Ayn Rand” that would later replace her name. It is said she was dumbstruck when she first saw the New York skyline, and realized that humanity had the strength of gods.
After many low-paying jobs, some relatively small success with her first novels and works, Rand became famous with her 1943 The Fountainhead, where for the first time presented her most basic concept of Objectivism. Howard Roark, the main protagonist of the book and later the film adaption would catch the hearts and minds of millions of Americans and others around the world. For the first time since the era prior to the First World War, the idea of individualism made its way back into American Culture. Atlas Shrugged which is still one of the best-selling novels of all time, cemented her as one of the great philosophers of the century.
Still, what does it matter now, today?
As Yaron Brook has reiterated over and over again, happiness is up to the individual. It is up to her/him to achieve it, and it is her/his sole responsibility. Rand knew this truth, and fought to expose it to the masses. True happiness does not come from receiving things which are unearned from others. No, it comes from seeing the fruits of one’s labors come alive. Israel today is prosperous due to the achievements of individuals, not collectives, or groups.
First mend yourself, and then mend others.- Jewish Proverb