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Lake Life

Ayn Rand, Russian-born American novelist, is shown in Manhattan with the Grand Central Terminal building in background in 1962. (AP Photo)

The Associated Press

AUBURN — A discussion group at the Auburn Unitarian Universalist Society spent last Sunday afternoon exploring the misappropriation of ideas and philosophies introduced by the 20th-century intellectual Ayn Rand.

Rand, born Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum in Russia in 1905, wrote such famed novels as “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged.” Charles Kincade, the church event’s speaker and a member of the society, sited a survey from the 1990’s of the all-time most influential books: “Atlas Shrugged” was second on the list, after only The Bible.

Rand attended school in Russia, but looked negatively upon academia.

“Ayn Rand was against academia because they represented non-thinking and espousal of altruism,” Kincade said.

After moving to the United States in 1926, Rand found the country’s capitalism and individualism a welcome alternative to the corruption and negativity she saw in the socialism of her birth country. She went on to become a passionate advocate of her own philosophy, objectivism.

The characters in Rand’s books were interested in self-actualization: the fulfillment of their true nature. But there are people who have misinterpreted and misappropriated her ideas for their own agendas, Kincade said.

“The impact of Ayn Rand’s ideas is difficult to measure,” Kincade said. “All her works are still being published and continue to sell.”

Rand’s influence over many is clear, such as Alan Greenspan, Kincade said. John Fitzsimmons, a member of the Auburn Unitarian Universalist Society, believed this example showed that her influence is a negative one.

“(The) evil spawn of Ayn Rand was Alan Greenspan,” Fitzsimmons stated.  “(He imposed) no limitations and what’s happened is the deregulations of the financial industry (that) led to the collapse of 2008-2009.”

The “Virtue of Selfishness” is another of Rand’s novels that is often misappropriated by readers, Kincade said. Her philosophy was “self-interest versus selfishness,” Kincade said. Many have taken this work to suggest an isolation and care for only one’s self, but Kincade suggests that Rand was instead suggesting the need to have simply an interest in oneself: Not to care only for others, but yourself as well.

Another misconception with Rand is that she sought wealth. This is largely due in part to “The Fountainhead,” in which young architect Howard Roark becomes very successful. But the character wanted to create, not achieve wealth, Kincade said.

To illustrate this point, Kincade quoted the line “(He was a) man fueled by desire to achieve,” as well as the character’s statement, “I don’t build in order to have clients, I have clients in order to build.”

Though her novels are still hugely successful today, Rand was never famous. Her intellectualism and philosophy is still widely read and practiced by many. The Ayn Rand Institute funds scholarships, and promotes the introduction of objectivism and her works to new readers.  

Kincade cited another example of the misappropriation of Rand’s ideas: the use of the logo of the Ayn Rand Institute on websites dedicated to fighting unions. Kincade felt that this was a misuse, that Rand would not have opposed unions and what they support.  

Sally Stroman, another Unitarian Universalist society member present at the discussion, noted that Rand was abused as a child.

“This could have made her more adamant about her views,” Stroman said. “I read (her books) in my late teens and loved her.  Then I went on to learn more about life. As I’ve grown and gotten older, I’ve come to see that her ideas should be balanced with a social conscience.”

Fellow discussion participant Patrick Jordan said, “I think she’s held up as an icon that’s misdirecting the public conversation. I disagree (with) what she says about altruism being a bad thing.”