Did Ayn Rand idolize a serial killer?

Someone linked me to this article today, and it makes for a horrifying read. In short, it’s about a sociopath from the early 20th century who, among other things, kidnapped a banker’s daughter, held her for ransom, murdered her, dismembered her, wired her head and torso up in his car to make her look alive for the ransom pickup, got the money, and threw the head/torso out of the car at her father’s feet as he drove away. Not a nice guy.

The article quotes Ayn Rand discussing the guy:

An article in Slate agrees:

I’ve been of the general impression that Rand was a flaming asshole, but this goes well beyond the pale of what I thought about her. Do these quotes accurately represent her views? Did she ever back away from her adoration of a torturer/murderer?

This may be better in General Questions, but given the highly politicized nature of Rand’s works, I figured I’d save the mods a move.

Nope. More like “The article says it is quoting from a notebook in which Ayn Rand discusses the guy, but there’s no link to anything else, and the quote itself does not even explicitly refer to Hickman.”

I’m going to need to see a lot more than this to even believe that Ayn Rand said that about Hickman. And then I would need to see the complete statement in context to even begin to think about what she could have meant by it.

So far all we have is a couple of articles with typical mindless Rand bashing.

Rand was apparently planning a book, “The Little Street”, with a Hickmanlike hero; a character named Danny Renahan, who kills this evil minister in a way similar to the way Hickman killed his victims. So, in her journal, she’s writing about her planning of the book, and she’s writing about Hickman:

And remember, at this point in her life, Rand was Nietzschian and had adopted some of those ideas (and honestly, I don’t think she ever fully abandoned them), and so when she’s planning the book, she’s seeing Hickman, and the monstrous things he did, she’s saying, how is it that this man doesn’t have any purpose in his life, and how is that he does this horrible thing? And it’s her answer is that it’s society. And that’s what she wants to examine in her book; how did her character, Renahan, who she concludes isn’t that much like Hickman, because Hickman never had a purpose, how is it that he comes to kill this minister, for a purpose, and how has society failed so that he has to.

So it’s not that she admired Hickman, really, and in her journals, she points out that he’s a monster and directionless, but she’s fascinated by the idea of a person who’s totally uninterested in what society tells him he should believe, and instead acts according to his own value system. And it’s those ideas that lead to Howard Roarke, Dabny Taggart, and John Galt.

The relevant source is The Journals of Ayn Rand. I have an .epub so I’m not sure of the exact page numbers, but it’s about midway through Chapter 1. She appears to have admired something about Hickman’s independence and stated philosophy, although expressly not condoning the actual crimes. Still a bit, eh, unfortunate a choice of model for one’s protagonist. Some relevant bits:

I think it may be a case of I admire X about Y .

One could easily say Hitler was a real go getter. And go getters are good! But obviously there is a bit more to it than that.

I should also note that she appears to have been talking about Hickman in all the OP’s quotations, although there is some possible conflation in that she refers both to Hickman and the character inspired by him as “the boy”. Presumably her view of Hickman was, at least somewhat, affected by the positive qualities of her manufactured protagonist.

and it may also be the case that Ayn Rand’s fans admire X about her too :slight_smile:

It may well be that she was a misfit in more ways than one. She also apparently was a lot less capable of getting stuff done than many of her characters (what’s the point in convincing people to follow you, as she succeeded in doing, if she has nowhere meaningful to lead them). Well, Rothbard has a whole article about the vacuousness of her “school” or “cult” or however you want to call it Understanding Ayn Randianism - LewRockwell LewRockwell.com . “Leader-sage” just wasn’t her schtick.

But misfit or not, she had some valid ideas that she published in an attractive and forceful manner. Are ideas invalid if they originate from a misfit? Or are they invalid if dumb, biased people can take them to the absurd and then mock them? Not wishing to imitate dumb people :slight_smile: I don’t think so.

Regarding Hickman, if he’d been alive more recently, or if alternately there’d been a 60s movie about him starring Warren Beatty or Paul Newman, you’d probably see his face showing up on college students’ t-shirts to this day.

Well, he could get there faster if he used the carpool lane.

It’s a fair cop, but Society’s to blame.

Agreed. We’ll be chargin’ them too.

Ayn Rand was an ethical egotist. Ethical egotism only works for those who are supremely talented. Even then it is probably a liability.

And unfortunately it spawns those who believe that ethical egoism is, in itself, a supreme talent.

Well, that’s another thread, right? Rand may have been an unreasonable-man-worshipping weirdo, but I don’t think there’s anything inherently indefensible about a broadly eudaimonistic egoism. Tara Smith does a reasonable job of laying out what this might look like in her first few books (Viable Values and Moral Rights and Political Freedom), although I think she is a bit too deferential to the Randian fundamentalists. Egoism gets too bad a rap from those who think it’s merely an attempt to philosophically justify sociopathy.

The main appeal of Ayn Rand’s books is to high school students. I wonder what happens to them when they discover that becoming an Objectivist does not give them the talents of an Ayn Rand hero.

It is important to be liked. Those who make it clear that they only care about themselves are rarely likable.

Wait, I thought Rand felt like what was important was the actions of the individual, and that people are supposed to make choices and experience the outcome of those choices, etc. So how is it that when the problem is a man who needs financial help because he isn’t earning enough to feed himself the problem is his personal lacking, but when a man kills someone and dismembers their corpse and then by trickery takes money from her grieving parent it is society’s fault for not giving him a purpose in life?

No. She wasn’t into serial killers. Just arsonists. :slight_smile:

I don’t know much about Rand either way, her books are on that list of ‘someday’.

But from the quotes above, it sounds like she admires all of the standard symptoms of sociopathy. Oh, except for that “doing bad stuff” part.

What she doesn’t seem to get is that the “doing bad stuff” part is pretty integral to that type of person. If you don’t have any regard for others, why not do bad stuff to them? They don’t matter, anyway.

:dubious: So?! I suppose the thought’s never crossed your mind!

I suppose it’s incumbent upon the lukewarmly sympathetic parties to defend Rand – ah, well.

You’re missing something essential about her conception of goodness with regard to goals and behavior. It’s true that, in Rand’s view, a good person regards other individuals as instruments to her own happiness; but such a person also respects the rights of others to pursue their own happiness. That is, she believes in self-ownership applied not only to herself but to every other human. A perfect individual is one who wishes to strive and achieve success due to her own merits. She should find abhorrent the act of cheating or stealing or coercion generally.

It’s simply not the case that a Randian hero would brutally take the life of a little girl for his own gratification. It says something about Rand that one of the closest real-life expositions of her philosophy was given by a sociopath, agreed. But her position is somewhat more nuanced than to deserve an immediate dismissal.