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About this book

Questioning Ayn Rand: Subjectivity, Political Economy, and the Arts offers a sustained academic critique of Ayn Rand’s works and her wider Objectivist philosophy. While Rand’s texts are often dismissed out of hand by those hostile to the ideology promoted within them, these essays argue instead that they need to be taken seriously and analysed in detail. Rand’s influential worldview does not tolerate uncertainty, relying as it does upon a notion of truth untroubled by doubt. In contrast, the contributors to this volume argue that any progressive response to Rand should resist the dubious comforts of a position of ethical or aesthetic purity, even as they challenge the reductive individualistic ideology promoted within her writing. Drawing on a range of sources and approaches from Psychoanalysis to The Gold Standard and from Hannah Arendt to Spiderman, these essays consider Rand’s works in the context of wider political, economic, and philosophical debates.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Introduction: Uncanny Rand

The opening chapter of Questioning Ayn Rand: Subjectivity‚ Political Economy‚ and the Arts offers a brief introduction to Ayn Rand, her philosophy of Objectivism, published work, and its critical reception. It argues for the urgency of a multidisciplinary and detailed academic critique of Randian Objectivism, and further promotes an approach to this work that is not simply dismissive. Randian texts, it is suggested, should be engaged in all their disturbing familiarity as well as their threatening otherness. The nine central chapters are introduced, and there is a demonstration of how their various concerns can be understood to turn on notions of ‘purity’ and ‘revelation’.
Neil Cocks

Psychoanalysis and Psychologisation


Chapter 2. Reading Ayn Rand Psychoanalytically: Ethics, Libertarian and Otherwise

This chapter contends that if we are to grasp the forms of subjectivity in Objectivist writing that (whether Rand likes it or not), owe a discursive debt to Freud, then this writing has to be read psychoanalytically. Such a reading must be one that attends to the implication of psychoanalytic discourse in Objectivist texts rather than attempting to ‘apply’ psychoanalysis to them. Objectivism is understood to provide a distinctive account of ethics, yet this is distinctive not so much to Rand and her followers as to the capitalist economics they admired, and can be brought into focus through an analysis of contrasting ethical formulations to be found in psychoanalysis, here in the work of Thomas Szasz and Slavoj Žižek. It is demonstrated not only that Szasz’s American ego-psychological libertarianism chimes with the Objectivist thought it criticises, but that Slavoj Žižek’s Lacanian alternative presents a mirror-image of it, ostensibly refusing it but effectively confirming it.
Ian Parker

Chapter 3. Psychologisation, What It Is and What It Is Not: Objectivism, Psychology, and Silicon Valley

The focus of this chapter is the extent to which Objectivist philosophy calls upon what has come to be termed ‘psychologisation’, often met with consternation by right-wing commentators as they commonly understand it as an ‘overspill of the psychological in discourse to non-psychological areas’. Psychology is regarded in such commentary as repressive and irrelevant, and this leads to the suggestion that we should go back to a time before psychology, when things were simpler and we were authentically ourselves. The move against psychologisation thus proves to be one of its most forceful articulations, introducing the imagery of a primordial human nature to be assessed by, for example, Objectivist philosophy. The chapter begins by reading this move in Rand’s work, where a clear boundary between the psychological and the logic of Objectivism is quickly dissolved, as the latter claims to show us who we ‘truly’ are. A connection is then made to narratives produced and repeated by Silicon Valley. The contention is that in forwarding their anti-statist, ‘heroic’ form of capitalism, Rand and Silicon Valley are invested in the notion of an independent and assessable reality, yet neither can acknowledge the alienating movement necessary to this seemingly natural state.
Jan De Vos

Chapter 4. Narrated Rand: HUAC, Engraved Invitations and the Real of Sexual Difference

This chapter draws on Rand’s testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), her description of the individualism of one of the heroes of her novel The Fountainhead, the infamous rape scene in that novel, and the celebrated analysis of this by Slavoj Žižek. The aim is to suggest that the purity of Rand’s narratives is always compromised, not least through their literary status: Rand is constantly disavowing the narrative frame that is necessary for her philosophy to be ‘revealed’. The chapter argues that a comparable disavowal can be read in the work of her most radical of critics.
Neil Cocks

The Arts


Chapter 5. The American Mythology of Individualism: Emerson, Ayn Rand, and the Romantic Child

Emerson and Rand might seem an odd couple, but once read together, the connection seems inevitable. Through a focus on their constructions of individualism, this chapter charts key political differences between these two great mythologisers of the American self, as well as drawing out repetitions across their work that disrupt any wholly secure separation between them. The central interest, however, is with their constructions of childhood. In reading the contrasting constructions offered by these two self-declared ‘Romantic’ thinkers via Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and The Romantic Manifesto and Emerson’s essays ‘Self-Reliance’ and ‘Domestic Life’, this chapter offers a reading of the fissures necessary to the production of the seamless subject.
Kristina West

Chapter 6. Selfish Cinema: Sex, Heroism, and Control in Adaptations of Ayn Rand for the Screen

This chapter examines onscreen representations of the work and life of Ayn Rand. It explores two films: King Vidor’s The Fountainhead (1949), based on Rand’s 1943 novel, for which Rand was screenwriter, and Chris Menaul’s The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999), an adaptation of Barbara Branden’s biography of Rand, starring Helen Mirren. The Fountainhead tells the story of Rand’s heroic man, Howard Roark (played by Gary Cooper), an individualistic architect whose single-minded desire is to design and execute his vision of the ideal building. In the film, Roark functions as Rand’s onscreen representative and his literal, architectural edifices convey in physical form the audacity of Rand’s philosophical one. The Passion of Ayn Rand, by contrast, paints an intimate portrait of Rand’s personal life and portrays the emotional manipulation she exerted over her husband, lover, friends, and followers. In Menaul’s film, absent a heroic (male) onscreen alter ego, the Randian character as a female selfish subject is rendered both vulnerable and monstrous in ways that are specifically gendered. More broadly, then, the two filmic examples permit an exploration of the gender politics of film adaptation and biographical representation, as well as of the philosophy of selfishness.
Lisa Downing

Chapter 7. At Home with Marx and Rand: Returning Man in Pre-history

This chapter reads ‘pre-history’ in Marx and Rand, drawing on the strange connections between these seemingly opposed thinkers, and thinking about some of the ways this connection can and has been theorised. It also builds on the fact that Spiderman’s creator, Steve Ditko, was a Randian, and that the comics are also concerned with constructions of pre-history. The chapter plays with Rand’s claims about the ‘proper’ form of political protest in her anti-Marxist writing: ‘sit-ins’ are never acceptable, ‘letters-to-editors’ are. What follows takes the form of such a letter, a seemingly ‘proper’ form that allows a further twist to the working through of problems of pre-history: what is the place prior to the letter’s receipt, and what difficulties attend any claim to knowledge of such a place?
Bonnie McGill

Politics and Economics


Chapter 8. The New Left: Rand, Pedagogy, and ‘the Cure’

This chapter offers a critique of the pedagogical theories forwarded in Rand’s The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, a text concerned with the theory and practice of education. For Rand, there is a clear opposition between what she sees as the dangerous forces of liberalisation at large in America, and the reason, rationality and logic that defines Objectivist philosophy. The former holds sway in ‘progressive nurseries’ that are defined as ‘the disease’ while, ironically, the ‘thematic learning’ that is taken to oppose orderly, rational pedagogy is termed ‘the cure’. This chapter reconsiders the terms of these inconsistent medical metaphors, figuring ‘the cure’ instead as a critical encapsulation of the project of Objectivist pedagogy, one that promises a sure suppression of ‘the disease’ to which it stands in opposition, in order to restore a supposed natural state of equilibrium.
Jerome Cox-Strong

Chapter 9. Topographies of Liberal Thought: Rand and Arendt and Race

The penultimate chapter of this book compares arguments on de-segregation in American schools forwarded by Ayn Rand and Hannah Arendt, especially as they relate to the 1957 ‘Little Rock incident’. Both authors came out against moves to promote integration in classrooms, and through contrasting what might seem their aligned positions, the chapter draws out the wider stakes involved a comparative reading of their work. Central to this project, and central also to recent ‘alt-right’ contributions to debates on ‘liberalism’, are questions of topography. What are the demarcations that must be called upon when separating a celebrated theorist such as Arendt from a seemingly peripheral and problematic thinker such as Rand? And how might the difficulties involved in corralling these two impact on the kind of physical and social separations that are evoked and evaded within their racist discourse, and its subsequent critical response?
Stephen Thomson

Chapter 10. ‘“Oh, that’s Francisco’s private joke” […]’: Atlas Shrugged, the Gold Standard, and Utopia

Objectivist economics rests upon the gold standard, understood to signal a commitment to self-regulation and a rejection of all discretionary measures. For Objectivists, gold has an intrinsic value, and an economy based on the precious metal is thus taken to be rooted in reality and resistant to inflation. Rand makes an analogy between this understanding of gold and ‘competence’ within everyday life: accurately comprehending the world and having the skills to productively act within it are declared to be the ‘gold standard’ of morality. This chapter is concerned specifically with questioning this construction of the gold standard in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Through a detailed reading of the text, it draws out gold’s constitutive tensions within the novel: a substance and yet substitutive; necessarily present while always somewhere else; secondary as well as primary; reassuringly natural yet dangerously figurative. Through an appeal to Melinda Cooper’s recent work on the family within C20th American politics, the chapter concludes this book by contending that the gold standard morality and economics of Atlas Shrugged rest on unacknowledged contradictions, with the uncanny supporting the Randian political economy even as it disturbs the self-identity and surety upon which this calls.
Neil Cocks


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