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am 21. Dezember 1999
I wonder whether 'Objectivists' are aware of the idolatrous nature of the Ayn Rand cult. Readers of Jeff Walker's helpful book may find the following remarks helpful as well. (See also my reviews of CAPITALISM: THE UNKNOWN IDEAL, THE VIRTUE OF SELFISHNESS, and PHILOSOPHY: WHO NEEDS IT.)
Alyssa Rosenbaum, like so many other would-be secular Messiahs, was connected to but alienated from the Jewish faith: her father was a Russian Jew, her mother was not, and she was raised in a strictly secular environment. Her hostility to G-d is evident throughout her work - her 'man-worship' and her belief in the so-called 'benevolent universe' are so evidently idolatrous that I need not comment further on this point. Also, her presentation of herself as the embodiment of her philosophy helped to generate an atmosphere of idolatrous worship of Rand herself.
(And like her predecessor the false Messiah Shabbatai Zvi, she felt free to alter the Law at will - in her case, to permit an adulterous relationship with her young protege and populariser, Nathan Blumenthal/Nathaniel Branden. Incidentally, Shabbatai Zvi was publicly promoted as the Messiah by a different Nathan: Nathan of Gaza.)
However, in her philosophy she seems to have borrowed certain isolated *elements* of Judaism and attempted to place them, quite inconsistently, on a highly unstable secular (approximately Marxist/Leninist) foundation. Moreover, as indicated by a remark she once made to Isabel Paterson, she seems to have considered herself a 'Jewish intellectual' even though, by strictly Halakhic standards, she would not be regarded as a Jew. I suspect further that some of her expressed admiration for Thomas Aquinas ('I am a bridge of that kind' - The Romantic Manifesto) was in fact directed at Moses Maimonides z"tzl, whose work exercised a profound influence on the great Roman Catholic philosopher.
Walker includes a somewhat helpful chapter comparing 'Objectivism' with Judaism, though some of his points of comparison have more to do with secular-Jewish culture than with Judaism proper. But it is certainly the case that while 'Objectivism' certainly has adherents from many different backgrounds, its primary appeal is to secular Jews alienated from the roots of their own historical faith. (Much the same thing could have been said about other more or less secular quasi-Judaisms - e.g. Spinozism, Marxism, Freudianism, and Felix Adler's 'Ethical Culture' - indeed, from a Halakhic point of view, even Reform Judaism.)
This is perhaps not surprising, since 'Objectivism' is *structurally* very much like Judaism - with ATLAS SHRUGGED as the new Torah (featuring 'John Galt' as a new, messianic Moshe who delivers the new Law via radio broadcast) and Rand's nonfiction writings serving as a sort of Talmud. Even the very Name of G-d is carried over into the new secular cult: G-d's self-appellation 'eyeh asher eyeh' ('I am that I am') is simply transferred to His Creation, becoming the false god 'reality', whose name is 'A is A'.
Walker's book is very interesting, then, as an illustration of Miss Rand's deeply ambiguous relationship with the Jewish religion and her misguided attempt to retain some of its elements on a clearly idolatrous basis. I highly recommend it to readers interested in the 'cult phenomenon' generally and in its effects on Judaism specifically.
Also of interest: Gary Eisenberg's SMASHING THE IDOLS: A Jewish Inquiry into the Cult Phenomenon.
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am 15. Juli 1999
This is the sort of book that would really rankle those hardcore objectivists who might read it. But those with cultist inclinations aren't likely to do so. The book is filled with examples of seemingly absurd behaviour on the part of Randians -- most of it documented by sources that appear to be plausible. Walker addresses some issues that haunt objectivists. One of the major ones is the lack of children. Like smoking, this is one of those areas that makes little sense. To those who are so intent on pursuing their own ends selfishly, having children is just an obstacle to self- fullfillment. Of course, most of the those who do this, do so more because they are cold, stiff individuals, who don't want to be bothered by unpredictable children. In reality, children are real values -- but this is something that seems to elude the Randian cultist. Walker wonders if being a one dimensional adherent to someone elses philosophy represents individuality? I wonder also. Is smoking, merely because your cult leader does it and intellectually can justify it, a good idea? I guess not. This is just ONE example of the parroting of Rand values by cultists that is so reprehensible. I kind of wonder about the only objectivist publication that Walker praises: In Full Context. This very readable montly (albeit not read by many) was once the griping grounds of as missanthropic an ogre as could be found amongst the Objectivists -- David Overly, who haunted it's pages with bitter denuciations of Nathaniel Branden in much the same fashion as does Walker. Ok, so maybe that's the attraction: both of these dudes hate Branden. Seemingly, for reasons that go above and beyond the call of sensibility. Walker does his book no justice by the viscious assault on Branden and everything he has done in life. Branden is exceedingly poplular at what he does, mainly because he is very good at it, as well as creative. Walker also dilutes the integrity of his story when he claims that Rand's Atlas Shrugged is second or third rate, not a classic. Well it is. Like it or lump it. It has enduring value, it has an inimitable style, a very good plot, and will probably be around long after Walker's book has lost it's luster. Walker's book is a good read. Objectivists who refuse to read it will remain the same as always, narrominded, but those who have a more carefree, less oppressive sense of life, will find some value in it, and might even laugh at some of the things they previously held dear and unassailable.
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am 16. Dezember 1998
I've had a long-term relationship destroyed by my then-girlfriend's involvement with Objectivism. From the time she decided to join an Objectivist study group at our college, to the final disintegration of our involvement three years later, her personality progressively changed from shy, warm, loving and idealistic to ideological, cold, bitter and alienated. Her Objectivist friends constantly encouraged her to end our relationship because I was not an Objectivist and had no plans to become one. Small difficulties that we used to deal with easily became huge problems that to her typified my moral debasement. By the time she decided she would have no further contact with me I was depressed and confused as to how a love that had been so intense and fulfilling could so quickly disintegrate into a sustained attack against my deepest held values of autonomy, rationality and self-respect -- values which Objectivism claims to advocate.
Reading this book was like having a veil of ignorance lifted concerning the pain and confusion of that relationship. I am now able to see, thanks to Walker's detailed and well-written compilation of data, how my ex-girlfriend's change in personality fits into a larger pattern of control which Objectivism exercises over its followers, whether they belong to Peikoff's sect, David Kelley's, or any number of smaller splinter groups. Even many of those who claim to be free-lance Objectivists, devotees of Rand herself and not one of her interpreters, tend to manifest many of these characteristics.
Though Rand and Objectivism tout reason, self-esteem and autonomy, they rely on their followers' *lack* of these virtues. The Ayn Rand Cult explains this in detail. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has had or does have respect for Rand as a philosopher or political theorist. She was neither. A huckster of false beliefs, yes; an enlightened thinker, definitely not.
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am 4. Juni 2000
'The Ayn Rand Cult' is a much-needed splash of cold water on Objectivism and its charismatic founder. As a former Objectivist, I recognized the truth of Walker's words over and over again throughout this well-researched, but sometimes indifferently organized, book. 'The Ayn Rand Cult' can serve as an 'intervention' or 'deprogramming' for those who have allowed their own personalities to be absorbed by the dominating personae of Rand's fictional heroes ... and of Rand herself. What's sad is that the people most in need of this book will probably never read it!
Also recommended: 'Without a Prayer: Ayn Rand and the Close of Her System,' by John W. Robbins -- despite the author's heavy-handed Calvinism, Robbins does a good job of dissecting (and demolishing) Rand's arguments in painstaking detail.
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am 5. November 1999
I don't know which would be worse: a movement of 'egoists' each devoted solely to his *own* ego, or a movement of false egoists each devoted (at least in effect) to the ego of Ayn Rand. At any rate, the Subjectivist (oops! 'Objectivist') movement is unquestionably the latter, Jeff Walker having in this book exploded the movement's every last pretense of 'objectivity'. An excellent book about a very sick woman and the havoc she wrought on her unsuspecting acolytes.
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am 11. Oktober 1999
The reviewers of this book that gave it one star are so deluded by the lies and errors in thinking of the objectivists that they can't see the truth even when it smacks them in the face. I called myself an Objectivist at one time and vowed to follow it's principles. What did it do for me? It made me a cold, pessimistic, overly judgmental person. I feel sorry for anyone who comes under the spell of such Objectivists as Leonard Peikoff and Harry Binswanger.
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am 21. September 1999
This excellent and thoroughly documented book should be read in conjunction with John Robbins's WITHOUT A PRAYER: AYN RAND AND THE CLOSE OF HER SYSTEM. Let Robbins show you all the contradictions in Rand's "philosophy," and let Jeff Walker show you what her cult was really all about. It's not Walker's book that is "full of hate"; it was Rand herself.
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am 13. Mai 2000
Although Walker clearly exposes that appalling psychological mess that was Alice Rosenbaum, there many many things in this book that he only briefly mentions. He spends one sentence on Alan Blumenthal's comment that Rand suffered from Narcissistic, Paranoid and Borderline Personality Disorders. Had he expanded on this, he would have realized that her philosophy and her novels are little more than an expression of her psychiatric illnesses. There isn't any discussion of the mythological elements in her novels: _Atlas Shrugged,_ for instance, instead of being an original work, is just an updated version of Noah's Ark. John Galt is a Messiah figure; Galt's Gulch is just another Shangra-lai or Brigadoon; his motor is just a version of the Holy Grail. Also helpful would have been more discussion of the psychological disturbances of those who are Rand's followers; such as, for instance, their complete inability to see what Rand (and her philosophy) really are, in spite of the fact there is a mountain of evidence in front of them. (This type of blind fanaticism is better discussed in Eric Hoffer's _True Believer._) Still, for all its flaws, this is a very good book, and a needed one. It's an eye-opener for anyone except Randroids (most of whom won't read it, and if they do, will rationalize like crazy as to why it's wrong).
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am 25. Januar 2000
If you hate Ayn Rand you will love this book. Walker dredges up every negative thing he can find on Rand and everyone around her, from Alan Greenspan's alleged bad breath to Nathaniel Branden's Ph.D. allegedly coming from a school accredited in only two states. He criticizes every aspect of her life from claiming that as a child she was "not easily loved" to saying that after her husband's death she was clinically depressed. His theory that her pen name Rand came not from her typewriter as she claimed, but from the South African currency unit, the Rand often found in gold form, and that Galt is a Yiddish way of pronouncing gold, was interesting, though probably wrong, and he later claimed she got Galt from a character in another novel she had read.
With hundreds of thousands of people buying and loving her books each year for decades, I don't know why it is important that Frank Lloyd Wright's associate's junior assistant thought The Fountainhead was trash, or that one of Rand's ex-friends thinks that it wasn't moral for Dagny to shoot a guard in Atlas Shrugged.
Walker apparently has spent a good part of his life trying to tear down Rand's legacy. It is too bad he didn't use the same energy to create something positive instead. I'm still looking for a more evenhanded critique of Ayn Rand's work.
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am 24. Dezember 1999
In the very beginning of his book, Jeff Walker aptly points out that people either heavily get into Ayn Rand in their teens -- or not at all. I first read FOUNTAINHEAD and ATLAS SHRUGGED at 31 and, while seriously impressed by her political and economic clairvoyance, was puzzled by her bizzarre view of humans and human nature and her desire, demonstrated in both novels, to steamroll over anybody who didn't fit her definition of a hero. Besides, I never understood how could a philosopher, who preached individualism and self-reliance, attract tens of thousands of adoring followers. Ayn Rand's ideal was not a follower, therefore, the followers could not, by definition, live up to her ideals or have her respect (which they didn't). Jeff Walker does a very thorough job of answering just that question. Yes, his theory may be considered debatable. It's an opinion, and he argues it convincingly and with style. He even preempts the insults, such as you may find below, by pointing out that when people identify too closely with their system of beliefs, they have no choice but defend them tooth and nail from any hint of cognitive dissonance. The politically correct, who wear their bleeding hearts on their sleeves, react just as hysterically to any fact they find uncomfortable. It's a fanatic's way. Walker's book is written with humor and decency, it's an easy and enjoyable read (and I don't read much nonfiction), and it has guts. The more you know about Ayn Rand from objective sources, the more sense Walker's book makes.
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