Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ayn Rand, Anti-Communism and Dogma

By Joseph Kellard

I wrote this comment this morning and emailed it to the author of a synopsis-type commentary on the two new biographies about Ayn Rand.

Caroline Baum,

I want to address two passages that appeared in your piece on the two new books on Any Rand that I read at

You wrote:

"Born Alisa Rosenbaum in 1905 in St. [Petersburg], Russia, to Jewish parents, Rand had a privileged upbringing. Her father, Zinovy, was a successful pharmacist; her mother, Anna, a social climber. Rand watched as the Bolsheviks seized her father’s pharmacy in 1918. Zinovy refused to work for the Communists, which was the clear inspiration for 'Atlas.'"

This scenario is often repeated by people, especially those insufficiently familiar with Ayn Rand's life, as the reason for her strong anti-Communism. But Miss Rand began to develop her essentially anti-collectivist, anti-statist ideas while she was a girl growing up in czarist Russia, before the Communist took power.

While the Communist confiscation of her family's property certainly played a part in the development of her mature views that influenced her writings, it is not the event that so many misinformed observers and commentators make into a primary, seminal matter. For Miss Rand, it took more, much more, than just one concrete event to form her most fundamental ideas and inspire such writings as Atlas Shrugged.

Also, you wrote:

"Any question or challenge from acolytes would incite her, leading to expulsion and the severing of the relationship for life."

"Any" question or challenge? This is a complete distortion that lends credence to the unjust portrait that Ayn Rand was dogmatic about Objectivism. I’m sure that many of her admirers who knew her well, including her closest associate Dr. Leonard Peikoff, would give you and the authors of these two new books ample evidence to the contrary.

Joseph Kellard


Daniel said...

Good point. Even if Ayn Rand had developed her ideas after this event, the relationship would not have been causal.

The authors who make this mistake are acting under the mistaken assumption that they are--that, what has happened to one or how one was raised, determine the ideas they hold.

In the history of mankind, there has never been a clearer example that one's environment does not determine one's ideas than the example of Ayn Rand and the philosophic system she created.

To pretend that her ideas resulted from her circumstances doesn't just ignore the countless people who did not go on to become advocates of capitalism and everything this noble system requires as a philosophic base...

In attempting to psychologize why she thought the way she did, it also gives others the "out" they so desperately need for not dealing with her ideas, and specifically the reasons she held them.

Joseph Kellard said...


Agreed, and thank for your posting your comment.

Also, what's interesting about this point -- essentially that Ayn Rand was bitter about Communists because they confiscated her family's property when she was young -- is that even if this were her origin for turning anti-Communist, there's nothing wrong with that. The problem here is that the commentators try to cite this as her lone reason, all the while ignoring her study of history and her deep interest in ideas from an early age, and her integration of these event in her life to her wider, and earlier, context of knowledge.

~ JK