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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  • 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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