How one woman’s sense of entitlement changed the world


I made the mistake of reading the comment section under a National Post editorial. The piece was knocking Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty for his alternative energy program (which I happen to support). But some of the comments had me wondering about the mental capacity of Canadians, such as this:

“Leftist policies cause disaster because they aren't capable of thinking things thru, in any area. Millions died in Cambodia because of an incompetent vision for society. About 8 million Ukrainians starved. Rethink things like garbage and recycling policies. Climate change policies would cause a world of harm for no intelligent reason.”

I admit the comment does have a certain irrational poetic appeal. But its wildly gyrating scope is astonishing. Apparently “leftist policies” (not people) are responsible for the worst human atrocities including harmful climate change policies—and dealing with garbage and recycling. Uh, well OK. One can’t help but admire how the commenter brings new meaning to the phrase, “no intelligent reason.”

Online experiences like these are about as pleasant as wandering into a thicket of burdocks.

Other than the Internet exposing the illiterate, illogical thinking of ordinary Canadians, one wonders how these lines of thinking got started? How did this rapidly reactionary seed get planted? Well…

Ayn Rand was a Russian immigrant who moved to Hollywood to write screenplays and novels. After two unsuccessful novels she hit pay-dirt with “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” in which she laid out her philosophy: that ego, talent and hard work trump ethical altruism, and that the rewards should go to those superior beings who most deserve them. The books are an unbridled defense of laissez-faire capitalism vs. evil collectivism, the individual vs. the state, and promote material ambition as the motive force of humanity.

Rand's ideas found resonance in a generation of leaders that included Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, economists Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman, and of course our own Stephen Harper, and shaped the basic framework for both neo-conservative and libertarian ideologies.

Just in case you’re not up on your ideologies, neo-cons and libertarians favour deregulating business and lowering taxes on the wealthy. They believe everyone has the opportunity to work hard and achieve wealth. Those who don’t work hard enough deserve to remain poor and suffer the consequences. According to Rand and her followers, the wealthy and successful should not bear the burden of supporting the idle masses.

I admit the Randian philosophy of constructive greed has a certain appeal if one already has wealth and privilege. But somehow I don’t think it’s been working out too well for the poor, who are already burdened with significant disadvantages from birth.

But, wonder of wonders, the very group of people—the poor—who should be most incensed by Rand’s philosophy are often its biggest supporters. A lot has been written about this, the general consensus being that the American (Canadian) Dream is predicated on the notion that everyone has the opportunity to become a billionaire in our “free” society.

Sure. So, the six heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune will be dividing up $69 billion, which is equal to the net worth of the entire bottom 30 percent of income earners in the US. It’s hardly surprising to note that the Walton family has been lobbying aggressively to cut estate taxes. And the effort is working. The same sort of pressure from wealthy families is happening here in Canada.

So what are the chances of the poor becoming the wealthy? The odds are against it. Whereas incomes for the top one percent of income earners grew by 275 percent, they only grew 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent between 1979 and 2007. And from 2000 to 2007 the incomes of the middle and lower income groups have actually declined. In the words of Rand, "What are your masses [of humanity] but mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it?"

Meanwhile, instead being educated, the so-called masses are fed a steady diet of Fox and Sun disinformation by elite-serving Randophiles like Sean Hannity and Ezra Levant.

And where has 40 years of Rand-informed politics taken us? To Thatcherism and Reaganomics and deregulation of business that inevitably led to the financial meltdown in 2008. To Iraq, Afghanistan and other points in the Middle East for other people’s oil. To a senseless War on Terror, the erosion of civil liberties and the steady expansion of police state powers. To the widening gap between the rich and poor. And the dismissal of real collective dangers such as climate change.

In a twisted bit of irony, Rand’s early recoiling from Russian collectivism and subsequent proselytizing for free market capitalism has led to the equal and opposite reality: totalitarian capitalism. Her theories have led to corporate-run collectivism rather than the state-run variety. Yes, Rand has managed to change the world. Now it’s run by a different set of power-hungry bastards.

Why should Ayn Rand matter to you and me? Simply because we’re still being directed by the invisible hand of her philosophy as we speak.


  1. Ayn Rand was a self-aggrandizing, amoral witch. Her writing was turgid, hystrionic and sophomoric. My take at Ayn Rand's Right. How's that for nuance, Gerald? ;)

  2. I think your take is wonderful. Unpleasant subject, skillfully presented. They should teach this kind of interpretation of Rand in high schools. She's a very destructive force, still.

  3. Wow you're take on Ayn Rand went from here to there to here - what is the problem with personal responsibility? For me .. She was right on. Wa wa wa for all those who just had a rough go - man up do your best and call it a day. Really, Jerry, I am surprised to hear you defend the ideal that says hard work, talent and idealism arr problematic! Her philosophy w not intended for those born of wealth and privilege. ... For those of us who have a vision and are willing to work for it - Did you read her books? When? What was going on?

  4. Yes, I've read her books. No, I don't have a problem with hard work, talent or idealism (well, perhaps a bit more trouble with idealism at this stage of life!)

    You've identified the real trap of Rand. Her philosophy presents as meritocracy. But, ironically, it's a whiney form that suggests that a few rare, heroic individuals have what it takes to rise to the top and reap the rewards, and poor them, the world and the masses are against them. Now, as much as an egoist as I am, I realize that that's simply crap.

    Societies value different talents at different times, and none of us is an island. It takes teamwork and a coordinated, cooperative approach—as well as leadership—to bring good things to life. It is the integration of all our talents that matter most, not the singularity of the hero's ego getting what it thinks it deserves for itself.

    But far be it for me to alter anyone's belief in Rand and her theory. God knows she's created a very pernicious and enduring one.

    That said, I will not stop working hard on my talent nor indulging my ego from time to time. But a little humility can go a long way, too.

  5. I have to confess I've never read anything by the woman; all I know about her comes from excellent pieces like this one. Had I ever brought home a copy of one of her books, my liberal librarian mother, who was vehemently opposed to censorship of any kind, would have burned it. Between her always wise perceptions and such articles as this, I get enough to know that I don't want to read her writings. Why bother when there are so many good books to read and philosophies to explore?

    My first time here for some unknown reason. I like your blog - the content and the clean layout. I'm glad you stopped by my place or I might never have zipped over here. We oldies are sometimes a little slow on the uptake. Will be pleased to add your TEC to my blogroll.

  6. Thanks Leslie. Honoured to be on your blogroll, in good company! On Rand, I agree, better things to read. Like Nietzsche (who's arguably less offensive), she's had a decidedly negative effect on our political and economic culture.

  7. I've read Rand's books and quite a bit on her life and I think that you are on target in your assessment of the woman and her philosophy, Jerry.

    The type of individual responsibility that Rand claims to espouse is based on the need for a tiered society in which there are always people on the bottom for how else are others to climb to the top of the heap except on the backs of those at the base. Everyone cannot be successful under capitalism. The economic structure of capitalism is a pyramid. The base must always be larger than the top.

    As this post points out, Rand summarizes this perspective in her own words, "What are your masses [of humanity] but mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it?"

    Such a system will never produce sufficency for all There waill always be a small minority at the top that have total sufficiency,whose needs are not only met but exceeded. As one moves down the pyramid, not only does excess decrease but so does efficiency so that the closer to the base of the structure one resides the less of one's basic needs (food, clothing, shelter) are met.

    Rand was a selfish, unethical nitwit.

  8. That makes me laugh. She was a nitwit. I've always had that feeling about her. Such a pathetic little woman (and I don't mean in physical stature, but that too).


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