Yesterday we featured Alain de Botton’s television broadcast on the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Today, we feature another, earlier television broadcast on a much more recently active philosopher: Mike Wallace’s 1959 interview of Ayn Rand, writer and founder of the school of thought known as Objectivism. But should we really call Rand, who achieved most of her fame with novels like The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, a philosopher? Most of us come to know her through her fiction, and many of us form our opinions of her based on the divisive, capitalism-loving, religion-hating public persona she carefully crafted. Just as Nietzsche had his ideas about how individual human beings could realize their potential by enduring hardship, Rand has hers, all to do with using applied reason to pursue one’s own interests.
Mainstream, CBS-watching America got quite an introduction to this and other tenets of Objectivism from this installment in what Mike Wallace calls a “gallery of colorful people.” The interviewer, in the allotted half-hour, probes as many Randian principles as possible, especially those against altruism and self-sacrifice. “What’s wrong with loving your fellow man?” Wallace asks, and Rand responds with arguments the likes of which viewers may never have heard before: “When you are asked to love everybody indiscriminately, that is to love people without any standard, to love them regardless of whether they have any value or virtue, you are asked to love nobody.” Does Ayn Rand still offer the bracing cure for a rudderless, mealy-mouthed America which has forgotten what’s what? Or does her philosophy ultimately turn out to be too simple — too simple to engage with, and too simple to improve our society? The debate continues today, with no sign of resolution.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.