Ayn Rand's Mistake

Sometime in late 1940 or early 1941, Ayn Rand began efforts to form an "individualist" movement that would counter the growing collectivist, socialist, and communist movements active in those years. She expended a huge amount of time and energy on this "project" which she firmly believed would bring a kind of counter-revolution and restoration of individual liberty and free-market culture to America.

One of her supporters in this effort was Channing Pollock, a drama critic, novelist, and playwrite. Her correspondence with Pollock reveals both her enthusiasm and conviction that this movement would work.

In the first known letter to Mr. Pollock (March 7, 1941) she wrote:

"I was very glad to hear that you approved of my 'To All Innocent Fifth Columnists' And I shall be only too happy if you find that you can use any of it in your lectures—with or without credit. I do not care at all about credit, but I care tremendously to have these ideas spread in every possible manner.

"I realize the difficulties that would confront you if you headed a national organization [upholding individualism] such as I have in mind. But my plan would not necessarily burden you with a big administrative job. Your contribution would be "ideological" or intellectual guidance, at the head of a committee somewhat on the order of the Advisory Board which you suggest. Since our "ideology" (I hate the word, but it's the most expressive one to convey my meaning) would be very much in line with that of your lectures, your work on such a committee would demand some time and thought, but no additional writing or research or slackening of your own writing and lecturing activities. ..."

In her next letter to Mr. Pollock (April 28, 1941), Ayn wrote:

"The 'Manifesto' took twelve hours Saturday and fifteen yesterday—I go at it with interruptions only for meals. I shall have it finished tomorrow and mail it to you as soon as it is typed. It will be quite a bit longer than 2,500 words, because it must present the whole groundwork of our "Party Line" and be a basic document, such as the Communist Manifesto was on the other side. However, I think the problem can be solved by having two manifestos; that is, a very short declaration of our principles and aims—for the purpose of recruiting members, and the complete text for those who join. I shall have them both ready to submit to you within the next few days."

The "Manifesto" she refers to is an unpublished 8,000-word statement of her ethical/political philosophy. A 1,500-word version entitled "The Individualist Credo," was published in the January 1944 issue of Reader's Digest as "The Only Path to Tomorrow."

In another letter (June 14, 1941) to Mr Pollock, she wrote:

"I have met DeWitt Emery and have seen him three times while he was here. I don't know whether this was due to his enthusiasm for our cause or to his being impressed by me—and I am vain enough to hope it was both. I really did not find him hard or tough at all—he was very charming and very sincerely interested in our cause. He promised definitely that he is with us, and will do everything he can. He did say that he cannot give it his full time until after the passage of the Labor Bill on which he is working, but that would not be necessary, I think, until our organization actually gets going. He pointed out very emphatically that we should have financial backing first of all—and he will help us to get in touch with the right people."

Mr. DeWitt Emery was the founder of the National Small Business Association, and he definitely would have been able to organize financing for this movement.

A Philosophical Revolution

Rand's intent was nothing less than to bring about a philosophical revolution that she believed would counter the growing leftist collectivist movements in the country. In a July 20, 1941 letter to Mr. Pollock she laid out her intentions:

[Note: the NAM is the National Association of Manufacturers.]

"Here is the letter of Mr. Eames which you sent me. I am afraid that Mr. Eames missed the point and did not understand the nature of our proposed organization at all. We would not compete with or duplicate any other organization. What we want to do is not being done by anyone, and the need for it is desperate.

"Here are the main points:

"1. Our side has no "ideology," no clear-cut, consistent system of belief, no philosophy of life. Merely to claim to be defenders of the "American Way" is not enough. It is a generality which is being used by everybody and anybody for all sorts of purposes. What organization of our side has defined a concrete ideology of Americanism? None. The first aim of our organization will be intellectual and philosophical—not merely political and economic. We will give people a faith—a positive, clear and consistent system of belief. Who has done that? Certainly not the N.A.M. They—and all other organizations—are merely fighting for the system of private enterprise and their entire method consists of teaching and clarifying the nature of that system. It is good work, but it is not enough. ...

"The Communists do not owe their success merely to booklets on the economics of Communism. They provide, first, an intellectual justification—a faith in collective action, in unlimited majority power, in a general, levelling equality, in "unselfishness," "service," etc.


"2. There is no mass membership organization of our side. All of them—including the N.A.M.—merely ask people to contribute money. That is why the average citizen takes no interest in any of them. People want to be active, to do something concrete for our cause—and no one gives them anything to do. You recall the almost desperate plea in the letters you received in answer to your lectures. "Please tell us what to do!"—that is the mood of the people. When it is answered merely by "send us a check," no wonder that people turn away, indifferent and disheartened. The subversive organizations, the Communists and the Nazis, go out after mass membership, enroll people and give them a concrete program of activity for their cause. ...

3. There is no organization of our side in the intellectual field. And there are hundreds of Leftist groups. As witness—the collectivist trend in all the arts and in all the avenues of public expression. Who has done anything to stop it? Our organization would make it possible for anti-collectivist thought, art and literature to be presented and heard—which is practically impossible now."

It Works for the Enemy

Ayn Rand is clearly advocating using the enemies methods, which are obviously working for them. She was convinced that a handful (or more) of dedicated individualists could bring about the very kind of revolution she envisioned. It worked for the Communists and Nazis.

In "To All Innocent Fifth Columnists," Rand wrote:

"You say, what can one man do? When the Communists came to power in Russia, they were a handful of eighteen men. Just eighteen. In a country of [170,000,000] population. They were laughed at and no one took them seriously. According to their own prophet, Karl Marx, Russia was the last country in which Communism could be historically possible, because of Russia's backwardness in industrial development. Yet they succeeded. Because they knew what they wanted and went after it—historical destiny or no historical destiny. Adolf Hitler started the Nazi Party in Germany with seven men. He was laughed at and considered a harmless crank. People said that after the Versailles Treaty Germany could not possibly become a world power again, not for centuries. Yet Hitler succeeded. Because he knew what he wanted and went after it—history or no history. Shall we believe in mystical fates or do something about the future?"

As she had explained to Mr. Pollock, the communists have an ideology, something for the people to believe in, so "We will give people a faith—a positive, clear and consistent system of belief." The communists have organizations for people to join, "so we'll give people an organization to join."

"To be heard, however, we must be organized. This is not a paradox. Individualists have always been reluctant to form any sort of organization. The best, the most independent, the hardest working, the most productive members of society have always lived and worked alone. But the incompetent and the unscrupulous have organized. The world today shows how well they have organized. And so, we shall attempt what has never been attempted before—an organization against organization. That is—an organization to defend us all from the coming compulsory organization which will swallow all of society; an organization to defend our rights, including the right not to belong to any forced organization; an organization, not to impose our ideology upon anyone, but to prevent anyone from imposing his ideology upon us by physical or social violence." [Emphasis mine.]

It Did Not Work

Rand's revolution obviously never happened and the relentless march of the American culture and society to the drums of collectivism has continued unabated to this day. The organization she, Emery, and Pollock discussed was never established; but even if it had been, the kind of results Rand expected for it never would have occurred.

Ultimately Rand came to this conclusion herself, or at least to the conclusion that an organized movement is not good, and not the way to spread a philosophy of individualism. Of her own philosophy, she made it, "emphatically clear that Objectivism is not an organized movement and is not to be regarded as such by anyone." [Ayn Rand, The Objectivist, June 1968, "A Statement Of Policy, Part I."]

Whether Rand came to understand why the methods that have been successfully used in the spread of other ideologies cannot be used to spread the principles of independent individualism and individual liberty I do not know. She certainly understood what individualism is and how it is different from all other ideologies.

Why The Enemy's Methods Won't Work

A philosophy of objective reason, individualism, freedom, and personal integrity cannot be spread by the methods used to spread socialism, collectivism, multi-culturalism, or even environmentalism. The reason is simple. An objective individualistic philosophy appeals first, and primarily, to the intellect. The socialist and collectivist ideologies (they are not philosophies) appeal first, and primarily, to the feelings and emotions.

These ideologies, while they may use the rhetoric of reason, are essentially irrational, and must appeal to the feelings of people to be put over. All their methods are designed to excite people, to motivate them to action (not thought), to make them feel like they are part of something—something that "feels" important or noble.

You can use propaganda, programs, seminars, and campaigns to convince people they have a right to their portion of a nation's wealth, whether they make any contribution to that wealth or not. You can use rallies and pamphlets to convince people they have a right to an education, health-care, a job, and a "fair" wage. You can use rhetoric and sensationalism to convince people the rich are evil because they are rich and that the economy needs to be controlled for the "benefit" of everyone.

These methods will never work to convince people they must be responsible for their own lives, that they are better off going without than having what they have not earned and do not deserve, that they are going to have to work and study if the want to be successful, that they are going to have to discipline themselves if they want to remain healthy and stay out of debt.

Every ideological movement regards individuals as part of something and makes their membership in their community, or society, or the world the end and purpose of their lives. Individualism regards the life of every individual sacrosanct and totally private, no part of their life is part of anyone else's and no part of anyone else's life is theirs except that which they willingly share with those whom they choose to their mutual benefit.

How To Promote Individualism

Individualism cannot be promoted in the usual sense, by means of promotional campaigns, movements, organizations, or even education. It is very unlikely that one can make individualists by teaching collectivists what individualism is, and individualists do not need to be taught what it is, and there is nothing in between—one is either an individualist or one is a collectivist to some degree.

That does not mean there is nothing an individualist can do. It is not up to any individual to "convert" others to their view, or to "save" society. It is up to every individual to make the most of his own life and achieve whatever success and happiness is possible to him and that can only be done as an individualist.

What every true individualist can and must do is to live as a free independent individualist to whatever degree is possible. In the end, this is the only method that Rand ever describes as successful—it is the entire theme, purpose, and objective of her opus novel, Atlas Shrugged. It is the story of a revolution unlike any other. Not one of her heroes is involved in politics, not one of her heroes forms an organization or movement. Not one of her heroes engages in propaganda. All of her heroes do one thing, they choose to live their lives as free independent individualists, and it is that choice and their lives that produced the revolution.