Ayn Rand Was a Big Admirer of a Serial Killer

From Alternet:

The best way to get to the bottom of Ayn Rand’s beliefs is to take a look at how she developed the superhero of her novel, Atlas Shrugged, John Galt. Back in the late 1920s, as Ayn Rand was working out her philosophy, she became enthralled by a real-life American serial killer, William Edward Hickman, whose gruesome, sadistic dismemberment of 12-year-old girl named Marion Parker in 1927 shocked the nation. Rand filled her early notebooks with worshipful praise of Hickman. According to biographer Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market, Rand was so smitten with Hickman that she modeled her first literary creation — Danny Renahan, the protagonist of her unfinished first novel, The Little Street — on him.

What did Rand admire so much about Hickman? His sociopathic qualities: “Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should,” she wrote, gushing that Hickman had “no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel ‘other people.'”

31 Comments

  1. I think people have used her works as the basis for an economic philosophy, based in free market laizze faire system. So I supposed this means she would have enjoyed the saw movies. Excellent insight.

  2. Oh. My. God. Words fail me. I guess Rand would have found Bret Easton Ellis’ book “American Psycho” to present the perfect model of a successful 80s yuppie.

    Oh, wait… it DID.

    If ever I had the idea of reading “Atlas Shrugged” or anything else of hers, it’s gone now. No wonder her book is so popular among the frothing-at-the-mouth survivalist crowd.

  3. I fucking hated Atlas Shrugged. If I were the sort of person to condone book burning, she’d be the first on the pile. I stuffed her in the back of my closet instead. Might use it for loo paper instead.

  4. That was a disturbing article. I read Atlas Shrugged back in high school. Although I liked certain aspects of her philosophy ( not being subjugated by the will of others), I always found her extremist. For instance, pity, in her worldview , is a reprehensible emotion. I realized her worldview was bullshit when I read an article about her followers being split into two groups over who was the heir to her philosophy. If there’s anything I learned from her book, it’s that “supermen” don’t form groups and seek consensus amongst themselves.

  5. I’d like to offer a bit of advice, if I may.

    When you set about to initiate or perpetuate a smear campaign against someone like Ayn Rand, it would serve you better to pick a subject that someone other than the ignorant would actually believe. Anyone who knows anything at all about Ayn Rand would never believe that she would admire someone for any kind of violence, much less for killing children, as no one was more adamant in opposing aggression (initiation of force) than she.

    Of course, you may simply have been wishing to appeal to the ignorant in this discussion; if so, you seem to have succeeded.

    In any case, good luck with your future smears.

  6. Byafi-

    I can’t speak for Chris but personally, it’s her crimes against literature that bother me most. Even if you leave the dubious ideology out of it, it’s badly written drivel.

  7. I tried to read both Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, but could not stomach either one. That much self-absorption is simply not healthy, either for the individual or for society.

  8. How about some real criticism of Ayn Rand’s actual views, instead of this made-up bullshit? Ayn Rand, and her hero John Galt, upheld the principle of individual rights as an absolute. John Galt’s oath was “I will never live for the sake of another man nor ask another man to live for mine.” Ayn Rand rejected sacrifice — on principle: her ideal society was that of production and voluntary trade to mutual advantage.

    People interested in her actual views might take a peek at the “Lexicon” of her writings. Under the entry for “physical force,” for example, you’ll find this from John Galt himself:

    ***

    Whatever may be open to disagreement, there is one act of evil that may not, the act that no man may commit against others and no man may sanction or forgive. So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate—do you hear me? no man may start—the use of physical force against others.

    To interpose the threat of physical destruction between a man and his perception of reality, is to negate and paralyze his means of survival; to force him to act against his own judgment, is like forcing him to act against his own sight. Whoever, to whatever purpose or extent, initiates the use of force, is a killer acting on the premise of death in a manner wider than murder: the premise of destroying man’s capacity to live.

    Do not open your mouth to tell me that your mind has convinced you of your right to force my mind. Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins. When you declare that men are irrational animals and propose to treat them as such, you define thereby your own character and can no longer claim the sanction of reason—as no advocate of contradictions can claim it. There can be no “right” to destroy the source of rights, the only means of judging right and wrong: the mind.

    To force a man to drop his own mind and to accept your will as a substitute, with a gun in place of a syllogism, with terror in place of proof, and death as the final argument—is to attempt to exist in defiance of reality. Reality demands of man that he act for his own rational interest; your gun demands of him that he act against it. Reality threatens man with death if he does not act on his rational judgment; you threaten him with death if he does. You place him in a world where the price of his life is the surrender of all the virtues required by life—and death by a process of gradual destruction is all that you and your system will achieve, when death is made to be the ruling power, the winning argument in a society of men.

    Be it a highwayman who confronts a traveler with the ultimatum: “Your money or your life,” or a politician who confronts a country with the ultimatum: “Your children’s education or your life,” the meaning of that ultimatum is: “Your mind or your life”—and neither is possible to man without the other.

    ***

    Ayn Rand’s critics might want to muster some shred of credibility by showing some vague understanding of her actual views. Instead, they discredit themselves by these vile misrepresentations.

  9. Wow. I’m not even sure what to say. First of all, there is no ‘worship’ in that quote, nor is there any ‘gushing’. More context would be needed to determine if Rand thought his lack of emotions was good or bad, and in the context of her philosophy – that of rational self-interest and individual rights – I think she would have despised him: murder is never in one’s rational self-interest, nor is it indicative of a respect for individual rights (the former leads to the latter.)

    That quote actually reads more like a clinical analysis than any sort of judgment. The only word that hints at judgment is ‘Superman’ – but Ayn Rand knew that he was not, in fact, anything but human, and that any of his thoughts to the contrary would not be based in reality and would be delusional. Perhaps this was actually intended as a commentary on Superman.

    I find it disgusting that this quote is twisted in this manner. If you are right, and she did actually admire a serial killer, find a quote from her that proves it, and cite it. Don’t hide behind ambiguous quotes without any context or references.

  10. “…it’s badly written drivel” – the same goes for your comments. So much for literary criticism.
    Ayn Rand stated that “pity for the guilty was treason to the innocent” – does that sound like something she would say if she really revered a murderer?

    1. Ashley – ah, that so-is-your-mom-kneejerk reaction truly is the sign of a great literary mind. No wonder you like Rand so much.

      In all honesty though – and I repeat myself here – ideology aside, do you honestly think she’s a good writer? Everything is just so flat and tepid. Her characters are little more than cardboard cut-outs. Her writing is starved of any Nabokovian colour, nor does she have Coetzee’s beautiful Spartan command of the English language. I would love to say that a dollop of surreality permeated her work, but it doesn’t because she means every word of it.

      As for revering a murder: I’m not going to assume it’s true, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

  11. More context.
    “Hickman with a purpose. And without the degeneracy. It is more exact to say that the model is not Hickman, but what Hickman suggested to me.”

    Sounds like she was responding, in an abstract fashion, to the b.s. Hickman was trying to use as cover rather than who he really was… which as the article points out he was very good at hiding.

    It’s amazing to me how many evasions, assumptions, and leaps of logic the article makes to try and create guilt by association. It fails, in my opinion, but if you were looking for an excuse to continue to hate Ayn Rand and Republicans then I suppose it will do adequately.

  12. I’m one of those “I liked it but I got better” crowd. I still enjoy reading them every now and then, but I have to say Atlas Shrugged is more horrifying to me now than it was when I was 20.

    What is really horrifying is when I had some personality testing done for fun the one “celebrity” that matched my profile was Ayn Rand. I read her biography and immediately began a concentrated campaign to change my personality. Holy crap was SHE a sociopath! NOT what I wanted to model myself on!

    Oh Abby – that’s Anne Rice… though the sex scenes are quite similar…

  13. Ayn Rand was a moral genius. Most people I know that read her report that she has a unusual way of awakening them to the potentcy of their mental capabilities. In advocating reason as our means of knowledge, she was ardently opposed to the use of force since force and reason are opposites. This was at the heeart of her thought and totally irreconcilable to the unfounded accusation that she admired a violent pervert. Like her writing style or not, her philosophy leads the way to a second renaissance and perfects the iedeas in the original US Constitution and saves freedom from the cancer of statism.

    1. I find Ayn Rand inspirational too. Even a hack writer like her found dimwits like you to follow her narcissistic rantings.

  14. This post is not only a smear, but such a willful mischaracterization that it amounts to a lie.

    The relevant primary source material was published in _Journals of Ayn Rand_.

    In her drafted planning notes for the never written story, Rand wrote, “The model for the boy is Hickman. Very far from him, of course. The outside of Hickman, but not the inside. Much deeper and much more. A Hickman with a purpose. And without the degeneracy. It is more exact to say that the model is not Hickman, but what Hickman suggested to me.” [p. 27, emphasis added]

    As the editor of the Journal writes, Rand explains that the public response against Hickman was because who he was, not what he did, with his key vilified characteristic being independence. [p. 22]

  15. Wow, I have no idea what the supposed source for this is, but it contradicts everything Ayn Rand ever wrote. She was a passionate defender of individual rights, above all the right to life–she would never defend a serial killer. She didn’t like Nietzsche, either, and disagreed with his “superman” concept–she said that morality applies to all men equally. So this has to be a fabrication or at best a distortion.

    Would appreciate hearing a critique of Ayn Rand’s actual writings, rather than third-party misrepresentations.

  16. “”Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” — attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt

    I wonder what that says about those minds that discuss made-up things about people…

  17. Wow – I am surprised at the reaction from Rand defenders.
    I read Atlas Shrugged in high school and thought it was brilliant. It was one of my favorites, but a couple years ago I tried again.
    By that time, I could see that the philosophy was impractical and a little trite. And whatever Rand’s attitude toward violence, her hero is essentially a rapist. The rape is one of the highlights, like this shows how great he is. I am surprised that I thought it was so good and missed that the first time.

  18. For Rand’s actual view on Hickman, we should refer to the full quote in Journals of Ayn Rand, page 22 in my copy:

    “[My hero is] very far from him, of course. The outside of Hickman, but not the inside. Much deeper and much more. A Hickman with a purpose. And without the degeneracy. It is more exact to say that the model is not Hickman, but what Hickman suggested to me.

    And page 43:

    “There is a lot that is purposelessly, senselessly horrible about him [Hickman]. But that does not interest me. I want to remember his actions and characteristics that will be useful for the boy in my story…[One example of such actions being] His almost inhuman strength in being able to joke about his death sentence: ‘The die is cast and the state wins by a neck.’ [Hickman was hanged.]”

    So: What did Rand admire so much about Hickman? Not his socio-pathic qualities, we learn from reading her journal entries. She admires him for the deeper reason the society at the time resented him: that he represents independence, not in his murder, but in his attitude toward people in general. He was very defiant and indifferent to society, even up to his death sentence–he didn’t guide his actions and feelings by what he thought people would respond to–he wasn’t socially “dependent,” to put it another way.

    Rand admired Hickman because of the elements of independence his character had, but she denounced him as a monster for his actions towards that poor girl. In a way similar to our respect of “master-minds,” destructive sociopaths who nevertheless concoct complicated, brilliant schemes (see: the recent movie “Law-Abiding Citizen”). Just because we recognize something they possess (independence, indifference, cleverness, etc.) doesn’t mean that we unconditionally support everything they are and everything they do. Having read the relevant entries myself, and having extensive knowledge of her view of the morally good, and individual rights, I know for a fact that she doesn’t support or admire Hickman’s murderous, sociopathic nature. To suggest she does is to lie to unsuspecting people who’ll be taken in due to their trust of the source (e.g. the third commenter above).

    And though I don’t know Rand’s stance on individual rights at the time she was writing about Hickman, her later, more mature thought made her a leading (if not the) exponent of individual rights:

    “Since Man has inalienable individual rights, this means that the same rights are held, individually, by every man, by all men, at all times. Therefore, the rights of one man cannot and must not violate the rights of another.

    For instance: a man has the right to live, but he has no right to take the life of another. ”
    http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/individual_rights.html

    Reading Rand’s fiction is a great way to learn about her beliefs, her way of looking at things. But an even better way is to read her non-fiction philosophy works (and other works, like her “Journals”) for yourself. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself believing anything you read on the internet about her–case in point, the third commenter above who said: “If ever I had the idea of reading “Atlas Shrugged” or anything else of hers, it’s gone now. ”

    Don’t let the misinformation spread on the internet distract you from discovering the truth about Rand, if that is your wish.

  19. Ah yes, the John Galt bloodbath was my favorite part of the novel /sarc.

    If the novel and hero are so atrocious, why the need to make shit up? Can’t you criticize it directly? Or must you equate the act of convincing the minds behind the nation’s economy to go on strike with murder and the subsequent tormenting of law enforcement?

    As stated by others, she was intrigued by the independence that Hickman showed, while at the same time, remained disgusted by his actions. She abstracted the quality of his action (independent) away from the actions (murder/torment) and showed what it would look like if employed to different ends (rejection of servitude). Is this impossible for you to understand, or do you believe that being independent per se leads to psychopathic manslaughter, and that the two cannot be rent from one another?

  20. People need to get some perspective about this. Instead of simply dropping the name of a murderer in order to avoid having to think about Rand’s ideas, why not engage in actual analysis?

    At the time, Ayn Rand was a 22-year old budding novelist who had just escaped a Russia that was being ruined by ideologies that championed the state over the individual. A) She was a romantic writer, who sought to create larger than life characters; B) she was looking for an attitude of individualism that would provide her characters with what she wanted.

    Did she advocate murder? No.

    Instead, she advocated the most humane political system ever devised, one in which everyone would be free to make the most of their life, and both individuals and groups (i.e. business) would be protected equally and neither could use the powers of government to gain advantage over the other.

    What do most of her critics advocate? Pushing socialism and the anti-individualism she fought her entire life.

    So, who is closer to Hickman in practice? Ayn Rand, who fought for freedom for all, or those who support the ideology of state control, self-sacrifice and anti-individualism that has resulted in the most murderous regimes in history?

  21. Lets see…. I’m supposed to let someone making claims about an author admiring a serial killer decide for me that Ayn Rand is unfit to read?

    And below this little pile of words, I see a small but very vocal group of faithful followers who also feel the need to slam her and her work and recite the well worn claims that she is a hack, for juveniles…. Oh, and advocate book burning with her works at the top of the pile. Impressive!

    Wow, your sophistication and razor sharp intellect almost had me fooled.

  22. This is another example of the “BIG LIE” method. Hitler and Stalin were both expert at this. If the public is to believe your lie, it has to be so outrageous that it is completly rejected by the thinking few and discussed ad nauseum by everyone else. Eventually many of those non-thinkers will believe it. Think (if you know how) of holocaust deniers.

  23. If anyone is interested in what Ayn Rand believed, try reading what she actually wrote–as opposed to relying on the half-assed, unserious smears made on this site.

    As an aside, Rand once observed that there is no one as naive as a cynic.

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