Flannery O’Connor: Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Ayn Rand (1960)

flann rand2

In a let­ter dat­ed May 31, 1960, Flan­nery O’Con­nor, the author best known for her clas­sic sto­ry, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” (lis­ten to her read the sto­ry here) penned a let­ter to her friend, the play­wright Mary­at Lee. It begins rather abrupt­ly, like­ly because it’s respond­ing to some­thing Mary­at said in a pre­vi­ous let­ter:

I hope you don’t have friends who rec­om­mend Ayn Rand to you. The fic­tion of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fic­tion. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the sub­way and threw it in the near­est garbage pail. She makes Mick­ey Spillane look like Dos­to­evsky.

The let­ter, which you can read online or find in the book The Habit of Being, then turns to oth­er mat­ters.

O’Con­nor’s crit­i­cal appraisal of Ayn Rand’s books is pret­ty straight­for­ward. But here’s one fac­toid worth know­ing. Mick­ey Spillane (ref­er­enced in O’Con­nor’s let­ter) was a huge­ly pop­u­lar mys­tery writer, who sold some 225 mil­lion books dur­ing his life­time. Accord­ing to his Wash­ing­ton Post obit, “his spe­cial­ty was tight-fist­ed, sadis­tic revenge sto­ries, often fea­tur­ing his alco­holic gumshoe Mike Ham­mer and a cast of evil­do­ers.” Crit­ics, appalled by the sex and vio­lence in his books, dis­missed his writ­ing. But Ayn Rand defend­ed him. In pub­lic, she said that Spillane was under­rat­ed. In her book The Roman­tic Man­i­festo, Rand put Spillane in some unex­pect­ed com­pa­ny when she wrote: “[Vic­tor] Hugo gives me the feel­ing of enter­ing a cathedral–Dostoevsky gives me the feel­ing of enter­ing a cham­ber of hor­rors, but with a pow­er­ful guide–Spillane gives me the feel­ing of lis­ten­ing to a mil­i­tary band in a pub­lic park–Tolstoy gives me the feel­ing of an unsan­i­tary back­yard which I do not care to enter.” All of which goes to show that Ayn Rand’s lit­er­ary taste was no bet­ter than her lit­er­a­ture.

via Bib­liok­lept

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rare 1959 Audio: Flan­nery O’Connor Reads ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’

Flan­nery O’Connor Reads ‘Some Aspects of the Grotesque in South­ern Fic­tion’ (c. 1960)

Ayn Rand Adamant­ly Defends Her Athe­ism on The Phil Don­ahue Show (Cir­ca 1979)

The Out­spo­ken Ayn Rand Inter­viewed by Mike Wal­lace (1959)


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Comments (102)
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  • patrick naulty says:

    this is an awful attack on Mick­ey Spillane, he would have had noth­ing to do with these spe­cious pseu­do-intel­lec­tu­als, they would have been awful­ly mur­dered in the first chap­ter. I could per­son­al­ly think of sev­er­al ways to kill Vir­ginia Woolf

  • Frank H. says:

    I find this post appalling and unbe­com­ing of what I am accus­tomed to read­ing on Open Cul­ture.
    Rather then go into an expla­na­tion of why Ms. O’Con­nor would make such a state­ment, the author pre­sumes that the state­ment stands on its face. It does not.
    I will con­fess to being a fan of Rand, but being of ratio­nal mind I am open to read crit­i­cism of her pro­vid­ed the posi­tion is jus­ti­fied. I see no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion in this arti­cle. I see a blog post by some­one who thinks they are being fun­ny mak­ing an inside joke to a group of friends that share the same unin­formed opin­ion.

  • andy says:

    good article.…would have been even bet­ter had the author not insert­ed him­self into the dis­cus­sion via the last sen­tence

  • Blue says:

    The only thing this arti­cle made me is curi­ous to read Mick­ey Spillane.

  • tills says:

    “…Tol­stoy gives me the feel­ing of an unsan­i­tary back­yard which I do not care to enter.” All of which goes to show that Ayn Rand’s lit­er­ary taste was no bet­ter than her lit­er­a­ture.

    Ha! Ha ha ha! If I was going to dis Tol­stoy for any­thing, its that he makes every­thing too clean. Levin and Kit­ty off feed­ing the birds and stuff. Unless that’s what Ayn meant by unsan­i­tary, I have to agree with the arti­cle on this one.

    And even if that is what she meant, his writ­ing is so… mea­sured? It’s like the gor­geous blue­print for a house that would look hor­ri­ble if it was actu­al­ly built.

  • Zuk says:

    love when the author ends the arti­cle with their own quip about O’Con­nor that actu­al­ly makes zero sense and does noth­ing to explain what the author’s pov would be re o’con­nor and/or the author she cites.. not sur­prised! :D

  • Neil Baxter says:

    Clue­less is cured by an edu­ca­tion; but taste­less is nev­er cured.

    Friends, by the way, let friends read what­ev­er they want — it is not their busi­ness to dic­tate a friend’s taste — only a typ­i­cal total­i­tar­i­an thug would try.

  • Michael says:

    Your com­ment that “Ayn Rand’s lit­er­ary taste was no bet­ter than her lit­er­a­ture,” should not be pro­tect­ed under the First and Fourth Amend­ments of the Con­sti­tu­tion of the Unit­ed States. It should be trea­son­able.

  • charles says:

    Who are all these Ayn Rand sup­port­ers? O’Con­ner was spot on. Rand was a greedy, self-serv­ing iso­la­tion­ist who could­n’t write a decent sen­tence. The more crit­i­cism of her the bet­ter. If Tol­stoy or Vir­ginia Woolf are “pseu­do-intel­lec­tu­als” as one review­er implies, then I’d like to know who he deems the real intel­lec­tu­als to be. The fact is Amer­i­cans have increas­ing­ly become anti-intel­lec­tu­als to their own detri­ment.

  • Sue says:

    Ah, I can just taste the tears of all the Ran­di­ans but­thurt by this arti­cle right now.

    “There are two nov­els that can change a book­ish four­teen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged . One is a child­ish fan­ta­sy that often engen­ders a life­long obses­sion with its unbe­liev­able heroes, lead­ing to an emo­tion­al­ly stunt­ed, social­ly crip­pled adult­hood, unable to deal with the real world. The oth­er, of course, involves orcs.” — John Rogers

    One thing that puz­zles me is con­ser­v­a­tives who try to blend Ran­di­an eco­nom­ics with their “Chris­t­ian” cru­sades against any social minor­i­ty. Rand is the anti-Jesus. You have to choose one.

  • Greg P says:

    ..for a web­site called “open cul­ture,” I see that many folks, includ­ing the poster, are not open at all.

    I don’t quite get the Rand hate, as I have not read the books.

    I don’t think the sug­ges­tion to not read it was open at all

  • Scott says:

    This is my first time read­ing any­thing on this site. I have not read Rand or O’Con­nor. The whole con­cept of shun­ning an author based on some­one else’s rec­om­men­da­tion is alien to me. The com­par­i­son to Spillane reeks of intel­lec­tu­al snob­bish­ness thin­ly mask­ing jeal­ousy.

    I won’t tell any­one what not to read. Fur­thest I might go is a bad infor­mal review, “I could do bet­ter than that, and I’m not a writer!” So, any­one telling me not to read an author would prob­a­bly lead me to at least read­ing reviews about that author.

    And I will say that the last sen­tence ruined this lit­tle essay for me as well. The opin­ion expressed is unfound­ed, based on third hand infor­ma­tion at best, and not even a con­clu­sion that could even be sup­port­ed by the essay.

  • PeterM says:

    Flan­nery O’Con­nor was a third-rate nov­el­ist and a fourth-rate mind. It’s not sur­pris­ing that she hat­ed Ayn Rand. The cult of medi­oc­rity always look bad in the pres­ence of great­ness.

  • david hitzing says:

    “All that ris­es must con­verge” puts Flan ery on top.

  • AlexB says:

    It nev­er fails: when­ev­er some­one dares crit­i­cize Ayn Rand, her acolytes can bare­ly con­tain their spit­tle-flecked out­rage long enough to come up with some defense that com­plete­ly dodges the heart of the argu­ment but man­ages to soothe their wound­ed egos.

    Which is more or less how Rand oper­at­ed too, and cer­tain­ly explains why her prose was such bor­ing, tor­tured dri­v­el. It was almost as if she was afraid to let the words speak for them­selves because if that hap­pened then the read­er might too. I’m sur­prised that a writer with such sub­tle­ty as O’Con­nor wast­ed the ink men­tion­ing her.

  • TawnieO says:

    Did any­one else go and read the full let­ter (it’s linked in the arti­cle)? It’s quite short and the tone of the thing strikes me as pret­ty light­heart­ed. I think Ms O’Con­nor would be bemused by the flap her off-hand remark has made here. (Though, giv­en her some­what dark view of human nature, per­haps she would­n’t be sur­prised at all.)

    That said… PeterM, are you trolling? Or do you real­ly not know that Flan­nery O’Con­nor was a great writer?

  • BillB says:

    “That dear crazy woman,” Mick­ey said of Rand, “she loves Mike Ham­mer!”

  • PeterM says:

    Count down. 5–4‑3–2‑1. Here they come. The anti-Rand whack jobs whose sole job in life is to ratio­nal­ize their own medi­oc­rity. I think it’s what Rand called “Hatred of the good for being the good.”

    TawnieO: Yeah, right. Flan­nery O’Con­nor was a great writer and Barack Oba­ma is a deep thinker.

  • Tom Powell says:

    Any­one not know­ing O’Con­nor is a cer­ti­fied genius and Rand a pre­ten­tious intel­lec­tu­al giblet must need a lot more edu­ca­tion. Go back to Jr. High, where you prob­a­bly read Rand and were so impressed by her wild, pas­sion­ate cries for indi­vid­ual free­dom (young­sters real­ly admire self­ish­ness on a grand scale). Read “Wise Blood” and see if you can’t relate, just a bit, to the main char­ac­ter. I know because you can post stuff on the inter­net you think you’re smart. Wrong. Any fool can. I do.

  • Tony says:

    Okay, Ran­di­ans, you have been fol­low­ing Eddie Lam­pert’s tank­ing of Sears, haven’t you? http://tinyurl.com/qcaesdd

  • Nebris says:

    Re: Rand’s nov­els. If one strips out all the meth-fueled ‘socio­cul­tur­al’ rav­ings, what one is left with are tor­rid roman­tic rape fan­tasies. No won­der she loved Spillane.

  • James says:

    The fact that we are debat­ing the mer­its of Rand and, yes, even Spillane, show what a last­ing impact they have had. Like them or not, they achieved greater fame and sold more books than O’Con­nor did (and I’m cer­tain­ly not say­ing she was any less of a writer). They found their nich­es and their read­ers iden­ti­fied with them, which is real­ly all it’s about as a writer.

  • Chip says:

    I liked Ayn Rand’s nov­els. I loved Dos­to­evsky, admired Tol­stoy, and was awed by Vic­tor Hugo. Sad­ly, I have not read any­thing by Mick­ey Spillane. I con­fess to hav­ing told friends not to waste their time on cer­tain nov­els, specif­i­cal­ly, Moby Dick. I con­sid­er it to be the most over­rat­ed nov­el in Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture. So I can’t dis­agree in prin­ci­ple with Flan­nery O’Con­nor. I can only dis­agree with her judg­ment of Rand’s mer­its. I think she had some.

  • Jeremy A says:

    Ayn Rand’s prose is insuf­fer­able and pompous. Her char­ac­ters are not believ­able as peo­ple. Her writ­ing is trashy and her polit­i­cal beliefs are unsup­port­able by any­thing resem­bling evi­dence.

  • Tim McDonald says:

    Ayn Rand wrote a decent tale. Mick­ey Spillane wrote books to enter­tain, and was wild­ly suc­cess­ful. He ful­ly under­stood he was com­pet­ing for my beer mon­ey, and was good at it. He was writ­ing for me and thou­sands like me, and if you don’t like it, go read your pre­ten­tious bs and tell your­self you are bet­ter or smarter than I am.

    It is of course not true, but keep telling your­self that, it will make you feel bet­ter about not know­ing what The Cal­cu­lus is, or how to solve dif­fer­en­tial equa­tions, or what the first or sec­ond laws of ther­mo­dy­nam­ics are, or to under­stand them if you did not know what they were.

    As for me, my opin­ion of you.…Well, if you can’t do high­er math­e­mat­ics, you are at best a tol­er­a­ble sub­hu­man who has been taught to eat with a fork and not make a mess on the floor.

  • Mathieson says:

    ” Here they come. The anti-Rand whack jobs whose sole job in life is to ratio­nal­ize their own medi­oc­rity. I think it’s what Rand called “Hatred of the good for being the good.”

    There is plen­ty of rea­son for dis­lik­ing Rand — from her tor­tured prose to her bla­tant mis­read­ing of oth­er philoso­phers (Niet­zsche in par­tic­u­lar is dis­gust­ing, as the bet­ter parts of Objec­tivism are stolen, par­don me, loot­ed, from him), to her idi­ot­ic attempts to mor­al­ize taste.

    The tru­ly hor­ri­ble part about both Rand and her acolytes, though, is their bas­tardiza­tion of log­ic. It works like this — claim what you want to be true as an axiom (“Rand is Great”), then state “A is A” and claim any dis­agree­ment is obvi­ous­ly anti-log­ic and anti-human. Ask Nathaniel Bran­den if that’s tru­ly the human spir­it.

  • R J Dent says:

    It’s inter­est­ing, but not real­ly sur­pris­ing that O’Con­nor (a writer of South­ern Goth­ic Chris­t­ian real­ism) should urge a friend to avoid read­ing Rand (a writer of athe­ist philo­soph­i­cal roman­tic real­ism)… both authors were becom­ing suc­cess­ful in the 50s, they were pub­lished by rival big pub­lish­ers (Ran­dom House and Har­court, Brace), and Rand’s The Foun­tain­head and Atlas Shrugged had made her one of Amer­i­ca’s most suc­cess­ful and influ­en­tial nov­el­ists. It seems odd that any­one would try and stop peo­ple read­ing what­ev­er they want­ed, but there is a note of pro­fes­sion­al rival­ry here — O’Con­nor would obvi­ous­ly be jeal­ous of Rand, the author of four nov­els — one of which sells half a mil­lion copies a year, and has done so every year since it was first pub­lished.

    • Ashleigh Fox says:

      That might make sense if Flan­nery O’Con­nor were whol­ly moti­vat­ed by sales and mon­ey, but any­one who knows any­thing about her as a writer and as a per­son knows she had oth­er pri­or­i­ties. Research her — she’s fas­ci­nat­ing.

  • David Sherr says:

    Vir­ginia Woolf is a pseu­do intel­lec­tu­al?

  • Liam says:

    @David Sherr “Vir­ginia Woolf is a pseu­do intel­lec­tu­al?”

    Wel­come to the inter­net. If you think that state­ment was ridicu­lous, just keep on surf­ing.

  • Syn says:

    I think most of Rand’s crit­ics don’t appre­ci­ate or under­stand Roman­tic lit­er­a­ture.

  • Herbert Spencer says:

    I’ve read all of Rand, Dos­to­evsky, Tol­stoy and some Spillane. I read these of my own free will.

    The only O’Con­nor I’ve read was as part of an assign­ment in Eng­lish Lit. Real­ly, not my cup of tea.

  • L. Beyer says:

    There’s no account­ing for taste as far as the mass­es are con­cerned. Just look at how pop­u­lar the Khardasian’s are. Gag! So, Rand out sell­ing O’Con­nor is a sil­ly argu­ment.

  • S Harris says:

    Ayn Rand defend­ers are, per­fect­ly pre­dictably, chau­vin­is­tic defend­ers of her sim­plis­tic repack­ag­ing of the cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly dis­proven con­cept of Social Dar­win­ism. You aren’t heroes, you aren’t inher­ent­ly supe­ri­or to oth­ers, you aren’t part of a mas­ter race that will inevitably rise above the rab­ble to rule an earth where­in every­one unlike you is infe­ri­or and, most impor­tant­ly, you are a fif­teen year old boy any more. Grow up, get over it.

  • John says:

    I am always amused at those who believe that the best way to pro­mote their point of view is to sti­fle oppos­ing thoughts and pre­vent the hear­ing of oppos­ing argu­ments and thoughts. If your argu­ment is supe­ri­or, those eval­u­at­ing your work can read any oppos­ing mate­r­i­al and will still find your argu­ment supe­ri­or.

    • billmarvel says:

      It’s not with the idea of sti­fling Ayn Rand’s mes­sage, John, or cen­sor­ing her thoughts — such thoughts as there are. It’s with the alto­geth­er noble and praise­wor­thy desire to save one’s friends from an ugly, dis­taste­ful, painful encounter.

  • rodii says:

    Still laugh­ing at “trea­son­able.”

  • Bill says:

    Was this before Ayn Rand col­lect­ed over $10,000 in social secu­ri­ty ben­e­fits?

  • ellid says:

    Looks like the Rand cultists are spam­ming the com­ments. They’re sad lit­tle crea­tures who wor­ship her self­ish, anti-Amer­i­can, hor­ri­bly writ­ten crap, and they get *very* upset if they find any­thing crit­i­ciz­ing her books.


  • Gina de Miranda says:

    I have writ­ten a book on the Lib­er­tar­i­ans. Many of them view Ayn Rand as a gift­ed writer. That absolute­ly floored me. They saw them­selves as so intel­li­gent, so learned and, yet, they could see that her char­ac­ters were one-dimen­sion­al, her prose painful to the mind and her plot­ting bor­dered on ludi­crous. Not to men­tion that she was wild­ly self-right­eous with­out much to bol­ster her case for her own “bril­liance.”

  • Dennis says:

    Rand was a sec­ond-rate writer of fic­tion, at best, and was a third-rate mind. She was arro­gant enough to believe that she was the only per­son to have had a sen­si­ble or orig­i­nal thought since Aris­to­tle. Those who describe her as a ‘philoso­pher’ are slan­der­ing true philoso­phers.

    I can see why teenage boys 14–18 or so are drawn to Rand and (Tolkien). What I can’t fath­om is why they nev­er grew out of them. Then again, lot’s of those same peo­ple still play video games well into their 30s, and 40s.

    To say that O’Con­nor is infi­nite­ly supe­ri­or to Rand — as both a writer and a moral thinker — is an under­state­ment.

  • Greg Grummer says:

    Rand was a gen­uine per­son­al­i­ty, filled with all the con­tra­dic­tions that implies. The world would be a less inter­est­ing place with­out her or her fol­low­ers. The sto­ry of her life is edi­fy­ing, if edi­fi­ca­tion were real­ly pos­si­ble, which it’s prob­a­bly not. There’s this sec­tion in Atlas Shrugged, John Galt or some­one has com­man­deered a radio sta­tion, and gives a 50 page tirade,(or at least it seemed like 50 pages). If ever a per­son was act­ing out of a deep Jun­gian neu­ro­sis it was him and her, and it’s a won­der to behold. I would always rec­om­mend a Rand nov­el to any­one who enjoys the human parade, and who wish­es to wit­ness it in all its hor­ror and glo­ry. She and her fol­low­ers are def­i­nite­ly part of the sto­ry, and not to be missed out on, in my hmo. But after read­ing her, I might sug­gest a lit­tle Cesar Valle­jo, Spain Take This Cup From Me, as a chas­er, some­thing to cleanse the spir­it for the next go around.

  • Tom says:

    Rand’s taste in lit­er­a­ture was cer­tain­ly no bet­ter than her lit­er­a­ture. It would be impos­si­ble not to be. Sounds like this Mick­ey Spillane char­ac­ter writes sto­ries with clear dis­tinc­tion between good and evil, with the evil­do­ers always get­ting their com­me­up­pance. I’ll have to give him a read. As for Tol­stoy, he’s despi­ca­ble. His nov­el Anna Karen­i­na is basi­cal­ly just a con­dem­na­tion of chas­ing one’s dreams. I’ve no idea who this Flan­nery O’Con­nor non-enti­ty is and frankly I’m no inter­est­ed.

  • joodyb says:

    Three cheers for gram­mar and spelling!

  • ed palinurus says:

    While there is cer­tain­ly a lot to crit­i­cize in Rand, both in terms of her writ­ing qual­i­ty and her phi­los­o­phy, this is a dis­ap­point­ing attack by O’Con­nor (sounds like the arro­gance and pet­ty jeal­ousy of so many writ­ers and artists, and some­thing I’d have hoped she was above). Besides that, objec­tive­ly (no pun intend­ed), Rand’s phi­los­o­phy is wor­thy of dis­cus­sion and recog­ni­tion of the legit­i­ma­cy of at least some of her com­plaints and cri­tiques of sta­tism; I won­der if O’Con­nor might have seen that aspect of Rand dif­fer­ent­ly today, had she lived through the dras­tic expan­sion of the state in the 50 inter­ven­ing years and seen its gen­er­al­ly debil­i­tat­ing effect on per­son­al ini­tia­tive and free­dom, among oth­er things. The author’s tag­ging along does­n’t do much for me, either.

  • BigFurHat says:

    Did she pay into Social Secu­ri­ty with her own mon­ey?

    That’s right, she did.
    So what is the point you’re try­ing to make, that social secu­ri­ty is wel­fare?

  • Matt Braynard says:

    “All of which goes to show that Ayn Rand’s lit­er­ary taste was no bet­ter than her lit­er­a­ture.”

    Oh, please. Get over your­self.

  • Guy Weknow says:

    Please, peo­ple. Research the lit­er­ary lega­cy of Ayn Rand. Here are sev­er­al good biogra­phies.

    NAN A. TALESE. 567 PP. $35.

    OXFORD. 369 PP. $27.95.

    As a philoso­pher, an econ­o­mist or a writer, she was a train­wreck. She actu­al­ly has more of the char­ac­ter of a self-pro­mot­er and huck­ster than any­thing else. This makes her the Bill O’Reil­ly of her gen­er­a­tion.

  • Ben Baron says:

    Along those lines, read the review of those two books.


  • Gene Ward Smith says:

    O’Con­nor is hard­ly a rea­son­able choice for a writer with which to com­pare Rand. Much more to the point would be Har­ri­et Beech­er Stowe, as both made high­ly effec­tive and very influ­en­tial use of the nov­el as pro­pa­gan­da. Stowe was real­is­tic, where­as Rand employed fan­ta­sy, espe­cial­ly in her most influ­en­tial work, Atlas Shrugged. Peo­ple who take that to be either a lit­er­ary nov­el or an expo­si­tion of polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy in the man­ner of Pla­to’s Repub­lic make a grotesque error. It’s point­less to attempt to plumb its intel­lec­tu­al depths, because it has none. But as a means to indoc­tri­nate young peo­ple who are either will­ing to over­look its absur­di­ties or lack the capac­i­ty approach the book ana­lyt­i­cal­ly and rec­og­nize them, it’s bril­liant.

  • Gene Ward Smith says:

    Speak­ing as a math­e­mati­cian, I am gob­s­macked by the idea of com­par­ing Rand to John Nash. If she’s proven any the­o­rems then please tell the world about them. I promise to be suit­ably awed and amazed.

  • Greg B says:

    It’s iron­ic, and puts me in good com­pa­ny. One of Rand’s books that I hap­pened to be read­ing a cou­ple decades ago remains the only book that I have ever tossed into a near­by garbage pail. I was walk­ing down the street and took expe­di­ent action against a book I judged to have no redeem­ing val­ue. Would­n’t do that to one of Flan­nery’s texts, by a long shot! Or any oth­er that I can remem­ber.

    I don’t wish that I could remem­ber what pre­cise set of phras­es led me to jet­ti­son the Rand book, but I thought its con­tent was too shal­low for human thought. It was excru­ci­at­ing as it was obvi­ous.

  • Mike C says:

    Isn’t O’Con­nor best known for “Wise Blood”?

    It’s a great nov­el, by the way, and bet­ter than her short sto­ry, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”

  • Michael Russell says:

    Alisa Rosen­baum (Ayn Rand) was a vic­tim of Stal­in­ist Rus­sia, and this explains her dis­dain for Russ­ian Nov­el­ists. And her love of pulp fic­tion is the same as mine. The truth is that she was a roman­tic, and adven­ture sto­ries appeal to roman­tics. But as a philoso­pher, she knew the best way to reach the broad­est pos­si­ble audi­ence is to broach your phi­los­o­phy using such sto­ries, and this is why she is still such a pro­lif­ic and respect­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tor 40+ years after her death.

    Rand’s Objec­tivism, a sec­u­lar ethics, is per­haps the great­est philo­soph­i­cal accom­plish­ment of the 20th Cen­tu­ry. Her respect for indi­vid­u­al­ism is a result of her rejec­tion of “Com­mu­nism” under the U.S.S.R. and her desire for jus­tice in the form of mer­i­toc­ra­cy. The fact that she used sto­ries of pro­duc­tive and cre­ative genius, and home­less tran­sient labor­ers, like John Galt, to illus­trate her ideals, does­n’t dis­count their pow­er. Her call to judge peo­ple objec­tive­ly based upon their actions, giv­en the lib­er­ty of their own val­ues, is unique among philoso­phers.

    Although rarely under­stood, and often mis­rep­re­sent­ed, Rand’s genius was expressed not in the lit­er­ary qual­i­ty of her fic­tion, but in the log­ic expressed in her non-fic­tion works. Any­one who reads the breadth of her books is changed. As an athe­ist, Rand had the courage to reject irra­tional faith and cor­po­rate bureau­cra­cies, call­ing out those who had prof­it­ed with­out mer­it from the work of oth­ers. We would be bet­ter off if we had more Objec­tivists.


  • dwoz says:

    There are two gen­er­al class­es of read­ers: Those who encoun­tered Ayn Rand while also endur­ing puberty/early teen years; and those who encoun­tered Ayn Rand after pre­vi­ous expo­sure to real authors and philoso­phers.

    Rand appeals to that first group in a way that is both dif­fi­cult and inter­est­ing to fath­om: The ideas and ideals seem poignant to an inex­pe­ri­enced, fresh mind. To any­one with a whiff of real life expe­ri­ence under their belt, it is cloy­ing­ly, stul­ti­fy­ing­ly unbear­able.

    She was a ser­i­al tor­tur­er of the Eng­lish lan­guage.

  • James McDee says:

    This arti­cle was brought to you by Ellsworth M Toohey.

  • Doug Harry says:

    I read Mick­ey Spillane, Ayn Rand, Flan­nery O’Con­nor, Vic­tor Hugo, and Tol­stoy. I was in my teens when I plowed through We, The Liv­ing, Atlas Shrugged and old­er when I read the Virtue of Self­ish­ness. All of these books were phas­es in my read­ing taste. To cred­it Ayn Rand with a valid eco­nom­ic point of view on a work­able scale is akin to mow­ing your lawn with the garbage truck. Dr. Seuss and Shel Sil­ver­stein pre­sent­ed a more coher­ent world view.

  • R Gould-Saltman says:

    I sug­gest a dip into Tuc­cille’s “It Usu­al­ly Begins With Ayn Rand”.
    The “world would be a less inter­est­ing place with­out her or her fol­low­ers”, but that can equal­ly be said of Ezra Pound, who, anti-Semit­ic fas­cist mon­ey crank though he was, was a vast­ly more skilled artist, which Rand was­n’t.

  • Eric says:

    It does stand on its face.

    Ayn Rand’s phi­los­o­phy, Objec­tivism, as a basic philo­soph­i­cal con­cept makes no sense. Sure the pos­si­bil­i­ty of an objec­tive exis­tence out­side the bonds of human per­cep­tion exists, but human per­cep­tion dic­tates real­i­ty, not vice-ver­sa, that’s why books like 1984 are so thor­ough­ly ter­ri­fy­ing, because they rep­re­sent the purest exploita­tion of that notion.

    To assume that some­thing exists of itself is rank fool­ish­ness, noth­ing exists of itself on the human plane of per­cep­tion, the fact that we can argue the val­ue of that state­ment only enhances, instead of detracts, and the log­i­cal fal­la­cy that I just brought up being a poten­tial truth in my real­i­ty also bol­sters it.

    Skip­ping past her phi­los­o­phy, her oth­er ideas, such as the virtues of self­ish­ness, propped up by lib­er­tar­i­ans and self pro­claimed “Free thinkers” is a great jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the con­tin­ued sub­ju­ga­tion of the mass­es via cap­i­tal­ism instead of com­mu­nism. Rich peo­ple love her books because it gives them jus­ti­fi­ca­tions to be rich ass­holes.

    And, most egre­gious­ly of all, she’s just a poor writer.
    She has no under­stand­ing of peo­ple, plot and her dia­logue is leaps over the idea of rever­sal and goes straight to con­tra­dic­tion “I love because I hate you.” sums up 90% of her dia­logue.

    Let’s also not dis­re­gard the fact that freud would label her obses­sion with self­ish­ness as an reac­tion for­ma­tion against her com­mu­nist upbring­ing, which when you’re argu­ing for ratio­nal­i­ty is pret­ty much the exact oppo­site.

    She was human, and though she was human and her fail­ings were just so, that does­n’t excuse the clin­i­cal and life­less way she per­ceived lit­er­a­ture, art, and the human strug­gle.

    Her notion is mes­sage before craft and that appalls me, if you’re going to write a philo­soph­i­cal trea­tise, write a philo­soph­i­cal trea­tise, don’t write a turgid attempt at romance then shoe-horn a 36 page mono­logue about the shit­ti­ness of help­ing oth­ers.

    I am not say­ing that you are wrong to like rand, and since fun­da­men­tal­ly objec­tiv­i­ty is non-exis­tent for human­i­ty, you are enti­tled to believe what you want to believe regard­ing her philoso­phies.

    But as some­one who was offend­ed by the foun­tain­head­’s writ­ing, mess­sage annd philo­soph­i­cal out­look, I have no prob­lem fill­ing in the jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for O’Con­nor’s sen­ti­ment.

    I am sor­ry if this sounds unnec­es­sar­i­ly angry, but I just am very much not fond of Ayn Rand. I hope you can see where I am com­ing from

  • Renfield says:

    O’Con­nor, a great Amer­i­can writer Ran­di­ans would do well to read, did not do any­thing oth­er than tell a friend that Rand was a godaw­ful hack. This is self-evi­dent to any lit­er­ate per­son and not a vio­la­tion of any­thing..

  • Edna says:

    O’Con­nor was­n’t pub­licly attack­ing Rand. She was writ­ing a pri­vate let­ter to a friend. This let­ter and oth­ers she wrote to friends weren’t pub­lished until 1979, long after her death. It’s not sur­pris­ing that the deeply reli­gious Roman Catholic O’Con­nor would­n’t care for Rand’s athe­ist phi­los­o­phy. The recur­ring theme in O’Con­nor’s writ­ings is redemp­tion and unex­pect­ed grace which arrives despite her char­ac­ters’ best efforts to escape God’s will. I’d com­pare O’Con­nor to Dos­to­evsky. The best under­stand­ing of O’Con­nor comes from read­ing her last col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, Every­thing That Ris­es Must Con­verge.

  • Cynthia says:

    As soon as I read “fac­toid” I stopped read­ing. This is not a word.

  • Steve says:

    I some­how to have escaped read­ing Rand in junior high school in the 1950’s, but I did read O’Con­nor with­out the detri­ment or ben­e­fit of teach­ers while I was an Eng­lish major in col­lege a decade lat­ter. I also had read my share of Spillane, whose seems to be crit­i­cized most­ly by pseu­do intel­lects just because he found his niche. I nev­er tell any­body what they should­n’t read, but I’m always glad to rec­om­mend some­thing I thought my fel­low read­ers would enjoy.

  • MzPriss says:

    And the Twi­light nov­els, The Da Vin­ci Code and count­less oth­er pieces of utter crap sold a lot of books too. Does­n’t mean they were any good. Despite the pop­u­lar­i­ty of Rand’s low brow self­ish­ness, she was a real­ly bad writer. I can read lots of stuff I dis­agree with and still find some enjoy­ment in it as long as it is well writ­ten — not the case with Rand. Regard­less of her mes­sage, the writ­ing sim­ply sucks.

  • axl says:

    Its pos­si­ble to love oppo­sites in equal mea­sure. Ive read Rand. Her nov­els are tough and turgid and in need of edit­ing. But her life long out­rage over what Bol­she­viks did to the fam­i­ly busi­ness and the demor­al­iz­ing effect it had on her father seemed valid. And her mes­sage struck a nerve with me…beware any­one who asks or demands sac­ri­fice for the greater good. Theres sure to be some­thing up their sleeve. Ive also read Ocon­nor. Theres a par­tic­u­lar sto­ry about a one legged athe­ist who attempts to seduce a seem­ing­ly vir­ginal bible sales­man who steals her pros­the­sis and leaves her in a hay loft. Absolute­ly fan­tas­tic. Wicked fun. I love Rand and Ocon­nor. Bril­liant orig­i­nal gals who believed pas­sion­ate­ly in their mes­sage. Spillane? I havent got­ten there yet. Im sure he was on to some­thing too. Sor­ry about the spelling mis­takes. Damn android.

  • Alton says:

    Click­bait is a genre all its own—and you, O author of this post, are a mas­ter.


  • Petey says:

    Well, what I got out of this thread is that bad­mouthing oth­ers is nev­er a good look for any­body.

  • David Parker says:

    No Chris­t­ian “cru­sades” against any “minor­i­ty”.

    A Chris­t­ian rec­og­nizes the fact that all men are cre­at­ed in the image of God no mat­ter how hard they work to deface that image. God made one race of man that now exists in var­i­ous sizes and col­ors, all of which are mere adap­ta­tions and muta­tions of that orig­i­nal com­bi­na­tion of the genes of Adam and Eve his wife for life.

    Many things are done in the name of Christ, few are actu­al­ly Chris­t­ian: Few are actu­al­ly the good works we were cre­at­ed to do before the world was cre­at­ed.

    David Park­er

  • Don says:

    There is very lit­tle here that appears open to me. It seems like the left, and the right, are once again lift­ing their leg on each oth­er. Regard­ing cul­ture: I most­ly see a cul­ture of hate, big­otry, and arro­gance here.

  • bargal20 says:

    I could offer a cri­tique of Ayn Rand’s ouvre that would meet an objec­tivist’s stan­dards, but it would be a 23-page mono­logue, and no one with taste would enjoy it.

  • Mathew says:

    In regard to the com­ments sec­tion all I can say is, haters gonna hate.

  • Anupama says:

    The most appeal­ing qual­i­ty about Ayn Rand’s work to me and why I am such a fan is its “in your face” hon­esty and integri­ty, the very stark­ness which induces dis­taste and whole heart­ed agree­ment at the same time. Her work should nev­er be judged only on how “lit­er­al­ly” good it is, for it can nev­er be a lietrary mas­ter­piece. Her phi­los­o­phy how­ev­er, is the true mas­ter­piece of the sense of life!

  • Largo says:

    It would also make sense if Flan­nery O’Con­nor were /substantially/ moti­vat­ed by sales and mon­ey. I am not say­ing even that /that/ was true, but what you said smells to me of straw.

  • Proctor S. Burress says:

    Very nice­ly put. But what can be done about the O’Con­nor “cult?”

    Should any­one be sur­prised by the term: it was first used by her professor/writer friend in Geor­gia who is now deceased.

  • Randerson Derspitzirrawell says:

    Well that’s just com­plete­ly unfound­ed and quite hon­est­ly com­plete­ly inac­cu­rate. Flan­nery O’Con­nor was one of the great­est Amer­i­can writ­ers of the last cen­tu­ry along with Mar­i­lynne Robin­son. If any­thing, Ayn Rand was the mediocre thinker and writer, though even then, “mediocre thinker” is too gen­er­ous for her out­ra­geous phi­los­o­phy. I can’t help but laugh at the thought that Ayn Rand could even be con­sid­ered “great­ness.”

  • Rodney Welch says:

    The only — and I do mean ONLY — peo­ple who think Ayn Rand is a great writer are the peo­ple in her cult (which, as this com­ment thread attests, is both siz­able and snip­pety.) We can all think of a lot of oth­er great writ­ers who we may not love, but whom we can agree are great or at least estimable. To think this way about Rand, you have to be a so-called objec­tivist. With that crowd, her “genius” is the first arti­cle of faith.

  • Jim says:

    Thank you!

  • Richard says:

    I read him as a teen. You want hard-boiled detec­tive fic­tion, Mick­ey deliv­ers. To get a fla­vor of his style, one of his books (either ‘My Gun is Quick’ or ‘I,The Jury’ has this open­ing sen­tence: “The guy was dead as hell.” I out­grew MS, Tarzan,also Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series, which is racist as can be: “The epit­o­me of the Yel­low Per­il”, Fu Manchu is described as hav­ing emer­ald green eyes, as this “mon­strous mas­ter of malev­o­lence” tries to destroy west­ern civ­i­liza­tion. But some books have real­ly held up over time,particularly Wilkie Collins (‘The Moon­stone’; ‘The Woman in White); also both H. Rid­er Hag­gard (‘King Solo­man’s Mines; ‘She’) and John Buchan (most famous for ‘The 39 Steps’). I read one of Buchan’s books called ‘The Danc­ing Floor’ and it ter­ri­fied me as a teen and then left me twitch­ing in my bed all night last Christ­mas hol­i­days when I re-read it. And Buchan, along with M.R James, was a mas­ter of the short sto­ry and the super­nat­ur­al. ‘The Grove of Ashtaroth’in par­tic­u­lar — I can­not read the final sen­tence with­out shed­ding a man­ly tear or two. M.R James and Buchan can be found on the inter­net (expired copy­right). Years ago I attend­ed a four day writ­ers’ con­fer­ence in Palm Springs. I not only met Ray Brad­bury and Har­lan Elli­son but also Rod­er­ick Thor­pe, upon whose work the ‘Die Hard’ movie series is based. He read a draft of my nov­el and said, “This is good, but you don’t know how to write action.” I was proud of my action scenes, but Rod said, “You want to know how to write action? Learn from the great­est action writer in the Eng­lish lan­guage. Robert Louis Steven­son, ‘Trea­sure Island’. The scene where young Jack Hawkins is climb­ing the ship’s rig­ging, being pur­sued by a blood­thirsty pirate with a knife in his teeth, know­ing that once he gets to the crow’s nest at the top, there is nowhere else to go.

  • mike joe says:

    ahhh, a wise guy, eh?

  • Darrell McLean says:

    Two of the most influ­en­tial, mys­te­ri­ous and enter­tain­ing books I have ever read were Atlas Shrugged and I love Ayn Rands work and can’t under­stand why any­one would be so demon­stra­bly neg­a­tive about her beau­ti­ful fic­tion efforts.

  • Darrell McLean says:

    Apolo­gies I meant to say Atlas Shrugged and The Foun­tain­head

  • David Major says:

    I’ve nev­er under­stood cri­tiquing Ayn Rand as a “bad writer”. If any­thing, Ayn Rand’s descrip­tive writ­ing –describ­ing scenes and set­tings– is among the best I’ve read in terms of clar­i­ty and vivid­ness. More­over. I sim­ply don’t relate to peo­ple assert­ing that her char­ac­ters are one-dimen­sion­al or unre­li­able or “paper-machete”.

    Real­ly, the only char­ac­ter that can be fair­ly charged with those flaws is John Galt, but if one prop­er­ly under­stands Galt’s role in Atlas Shrugged, one real­izes his char­ac­ter devel­op­ment fits the nov­el per­fect­ly. Galt is sup­posed to rep­re­sent both and ide­al to strive for, and the sym­bol of the strike of the “men of the mind”. Hence, it is prop­er to keep his char­ac­ter some­what aloof, as con­trast­ed to the ful­ly devel­oped char­ac­ters of Dag­ny and Rear­don. And this brings me to my oth­er point.

    I always found Rand’s char­ac­ters well devel­oped for what she was try­ing to accom­plish in writ­ing her nov­els: Her nov­els where philo­soph­i­cal nov­els, and the char­ac­ter devel­op­ment in her nov­els gen­er­al­ly rep­re­sent­ed the devel­op­ment of the philo­soph­i­cal point she was try­ing to por­tray. In this light, her char­ac­ters are very well devel­oped and very relat­able.

    More­over, I read her nov­els before I knew any­thing about phi­los­o­phy, and I most cer­tain­ly did not read the nov­el from the per­spec­tive dis­cussed in the pre­vi­ous paragraph(s). Nonethe­less, I remem­ber thor­ough­ly enjoy­ing her descrip­tive abil­i­ty and, on a rather super­fi­cial lev­el, her char­ac­ter devel­op­ment, even though the did­n’t ful­ly grasp the import of what she was doing. And this is com­ing from an avid read­er who had already read many dif­fer­ent nov­els and authors. Hence, my expe­ri­ence, even on a super­fi­cial lev­el that did­n’t take account of or ful­ly inte­grate her pur­pose, belies the asser­tion that she is a bad writer.

  • David Major says:

    Yikes! I wish I had proof­read bet­ter, or there were an edit func­tion, because there are a few both­er­some typos I failed to cor­rect in my oth­er com­ment.

  • David Major says:

    “Ayn Rand’s phi­los­o­phy, Objec­tivism, as a basic philo­soph­i­cal con­cept makes no sense. Sure the pos­si­bil­i­ty of an objec­tive exis­tence out­side the bonds of human per­cep­tion exists, but human per­cep­tion dic­tates real­i­ty, not vice-ver­sa, that’s why books like 1984 are so thor­ough­ly ter­ri­fy­ing, because they rep­re­sent the purest exploita­tion of that notion.”

    Wow! So “human per­cep­tion dic­tates real­i­ty” huh? Where does that leave causal­i­ty, an idea cen­ter to all of Clas­si­cal Physics and our every­day lives? By chang­ing our beliefs and there­fore our per­cep­tion, can we make it so that jump­ing off a tall cliff with jagged rocks at the bot­tom will not ulti­mate­ly result in severe injury and most like­ly death, if only we per­ceive that it will not? Are you will­ing to par­tic­i­pate in a study seek­ing to prove this hypoth­e­sis? If not, do you tru­ly believe “human per­cep­tion dic­tates real­i­ty?”

  • Crystal says:

    I real­ly don’t under­stand why being objec­tive about any sub­ject is so con­tro­ver­sial, espe­cial­ly in a world where the col­lec­tive (no pun intend­ed) mass of human knowl­edge is acces­si­ble to any­one. Nor do I see why it is so offen­sive to con­sid­er loy­al­ty to your own coun­try. With more life already behind me than is left ahead, I sup­pose the more you learn the less you know is com­ing to pass.

  • James Woods says:

    This bit from Ms. Rand would have been enough by itself to lead Flan­nery O’Con­nor to the con­clu­sion she did about Ayn Rand’s athe­ism and cru­el­ty…

    ‘If any civ­i­liza­tion is to sur­vive it is the moral­i­ty of altru­ism that they must reject’

    Ayn Rand

  • Joseph says:

    Your first para­graph puts Rand’s writ­ing in con­text and makes com­plete sense; but the sec­ond para­graph could­n’t be fur­ther from real­i­ty. It is, in fact, a false equiv­a­lence. John Nash’s con­tri­bu­tions to eco­nom­ics are actu­al­ly based on math­e­mat­ics and have been proven to be sound the­o­ry using ver­i­fi­able data. Ayn Rand’s eco­nom­ic phi­los­o­phy is based on ide­o­log­i­cal beliefs that have failed over and over again; the lat­est exam­ple of that fail­ure can seen on an epic scale in Kansas, under Gov­er­nor Brown­back. Com­par­ing the eco­nom­ic con­tri­bu­tions of Rand to Nash is like com­par­ing the debunked hypothe­ses of nazi eugen­ics with the the­o­ries of Stephen Hawk­ing; there’s absolute­ly no equiv­a­lence between the two. One has caused harm and the oth­er has added to human­i­ty’s col­lec­tive knowl­edge and under­stand­ing of the uni­verse.

  • James says:

    Actu­al­ly, it is. Nor­man Mail­er coined the term in his book “Mar­i­lyn”, 1972.

  • Leaha says:

    Total­ly agree.

  • Leaha says:

    Yes, it came off as humor­ous to me as well. A bit of fun.

  • Leaha says:

    Rand’s writ­ings are one of those top­ics youth­ful col­lege fresh­man find wor­thy of debate and dis­cuss.
    After that, most get over her.

  • Leaha says:

    So com­plete­ly true. My assess­ment as well. She a brief col­lege fresh­man top­ic at best — which ends with fresh­man year.

  • gontran says:

    Actu­al­ly Ayn Rand and Mick­ey Spillane were friends.

  • Dan Langlois says:

    I see some defend­ers of Ayn Rand’s writ­ing in the thread, I can *at least* defend her taste — these remarks of hers abou Tol­stoy and Dosteyevsky, Hugo, it’s all look­ing pithy, and per­fect­ly res­on­able to me.

  • Alan Hunter says:

    She despised wel­fare recip­i­ents and the wel­fare state. If she had her way there would be no wel­fare. If she had a shred of decen­cy she would have starved to death or eat­en out trash cans rather than accept wel­fare, typ­i­cal right wing hyp­ocrite.

  • Richard Bruce Clay says:

    Ayn Rand wrote approv­ing­ly of Ibsen, of Dos­to­evsky and, above all, of Vic­tor Hugo. So she clear­ly had a bit of taste. She decid­ed she detest­ed Tol­stoy. I think this was part­ly because the worst fea­ture of her writ­ing (lengthy pas­sages of com­ment and expo­si­tion that are insuf­fer­ably bor­ing and of only dubi­ous rel­e­vance) is iden­ti­cal with the worst fea­ture of old Lev­’s. In both cas­es, it stems from an unwar­rant­ed autho­r­i­al lack of con­fi­dence that plot and char­ac­ters are mak­ing the points effec­tive­ly. On a bad day, there’s not much telling the pair of them apart and I think Rand, on one lev­el, knew this. At their best, by con­trast, they are whol­ly dif­fer­ent: Tol­stoy excels at char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion — par­tic­u­lar­ly of peo­ple in states of extreme mis­ery; Rand is good at plot, some­times at pac­ing (when nobody’s mak­ing any long speech­es) and at a cer­tain kind of waspish satire.

    She is thought in some quar­ters not to have been par­tic­u­lar­ly well read and I sus­pect she dis­cov­ered few if any imag­i­na­tive writ­ers of sub­stance after she went to Amer­i­ca. Spillane would have looked a bet­ter writer than he is because, as a native Russ­ian and French speak­er, she would not have noticed the fre­quent clunk­i­ness of his prose.

    Yet she still has real strengths and it’s a shame nobody ever seems to have intro­duced her to George Eliot, from whom she could have learned so much. Romo­la, in par­tic­u­lar, is a nov­el that, to me, resem­bles what The Foun­tain­head could have been if purged of its resent­ful mis­an­thropy.

  • Rob Mimpriss says:

    Even if I had­n’t read all three writ­ers, I’d haz­ard a guess, from the tone of the com­ments, that it is the O’Con­nor fans who will dis­play the capac­i­ty for humour.

  • Darren says:

    Just for the record advis­ing some­one not to read a book or author that you your­self have read and dis­liked is nor­mal.
    The sug­ges­tion. That it’s not or that it is in some way deplorable, despot­ic, tyran­ni­cal or ‘trea­son­able’ (😂) is absurd beyond even that which Camus imag­ined the human mind capa­ble of in its fruit­less, yet inevitable, search for mean­ing and val­ue. Chil­dren.

  • Liam M O'Sruitheain says:

    Who the Hell cares what oth­er peo­ple think about a giv­en author? If you like their work, so be it. If you don’t, then don’t read it.

  • Daniel Sallberg says:

    ‘… … Rand’s Objec­tivism rejects prim­i­tivism and trib­al­ism, while argu­ing that they are symp­to­matic of an “anti-indus­tri­al” men­tal­i­ty. Rand claims that the indige­nous Native Amer­i­cans had no claim to prop­er­ty rights. When Rand addressed West Point Mil­i­tary Acad­e­my cadets in 1974 and was asked about the dis­pos­ses­sion and “cul­tur­al geno­cide” of Native Amer­i­cans which occurred en route to form­ing the Unit­ed States, she replied that indige­nous peo­ple “had no right to a coun­try mere­ly because they were born here and then act­ed like sav­ages .… Since the Indi­ans did not have the con­cept of prop­er­ty or prop­er­ty rights – they did­n’t have a set­tled soci­ety, they had pre­dom­i­nant­ly nomadic trib­al “cul­tures” – they did­n’t have rights to the land, and there was no rea­son for any­one to grant them rights that they had not con­ceived of and were not using.” Rand went on to opine that “in oppos­ing the white man” Native Amer­i­cans wished to “con­tin­ue a prim­i­tive exis­tence” and “live like ani­mals or cave­men”, sur­mis­ing that “any Euro­pean who brought with him an ele­ment of civ­i­liza­tion had the right to take over this con­ti­nent.” … …’ (wikipedia)

    Who pro­tects the insur­ance com­pa­nies’ invest­ments?

  • Kevrob says:

    She paid the /F/I/C/A/ tax­es, did­n’t she?

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