The Outspoken Ayn Rand Interviewed by Mike Wallace (1959)

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ayn Rand’s Phi­los­o­phy and Her Resur­gence in 2012: A Quick Primer by Stan­ford His­to­ri­an Jen­nifer Burns

Ayn Rand Talks Athe­ism with Phil Don­ahue

The Ayn Rand Guide to Romance

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 Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (5)
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  • Sean Mac says:

    Short answer: despite her rants against social safe­ty nets, Rand her­self par­took of them in her lat­er years. If she’d have died pen­ni­less, spend­ing her own sub­stan­tial funds to pay for her health­care and retire­ment years, I might have respect­ed her posi­tion. But she became the hyp­ocrite and accept­ed social secu­ri­ty funds and Medicare under an alter­nate legal name and used com­mu­ni­ty funds to main­tain her lifestyle. The hyp­ocrite deserves no respect, and nei­ther do her anti-every­thing poli­cies. She’s just Anton Lavey in a dress.

  • steve har says:

    Unclear to me why you would pro­vide more Ayn Rand air time.

    Over at Mar­gin­al Rev­o­lu­tion there was an inter­est­ing thread of 221 com­ments who is the worst philoso­pher. Ayn Rand was in the can­di­date list as the worst of many, a view in which I con­cur.


  • A says:

    You don’t have to buy into her phi­los­o­phy , pol­i­tics or per­son­al­i­ty whole­sale.
    I (for exam­ple) don’t agree with the zero tax­a­tion con­cept. It is, after all, a VERY extreme point of view.
    She did raise a lot of ques­tions which are still rel­e­vant today. That’s why she still gets atten­tion.

  • Agatha Cat says:

    The ques­tion posed by Open Cul­ture was ‘should we real­ly call Rand… a philoso­pher?’ which I think is why she has been giv­en air time here. She cer­tain­ly held a phi­los­o­phy of life which does make her a philoso­pher.

    Whether or not you agree with what she says is nei­ther here nor there. His­to­ry is lit­tered with good, bad and dodgy phi­los­o­phy, and I am sure that there are many the­o­ries out there that we agree with now that seemed laugh­able at the time they were first unleashed to the pub­lic.

  • Lorne Smith says:

    Ego­ism can’t suc­ceed, since it depends on an end/means argu­ment, and, in a moral con­text, ends/means argu­ments aren’t allowed, since any action can be jus­ti­fied by such an argu­ment, and, hence,contradictory actions (an action can be both good and bad)can be jus­ti­fied, which entails that there is no moral­i­ty, which requires that good and bad actions be dis­tin­guished.

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