Ayn Rand, Beauty, Love, and Tenderness

One great anomaly in the fiction of Ayn Rand, who held that romantic love is the greatest ideal of man, is that her depiction of love expressed physically is very wrong.

Love and Beauty

I often listen to classical music, while writing or researching. Recently, while researching Ayn Rand, for some epistemology work I was doing, I was listening to Chopin's beautiful nocturns. Being moved by the nocturns' hauntingly subtle beauty, I wondered what Ayn Rand would have thought of them. Since their beauty is much like the beauty of the romantic music of Brahms and Beethoven, which she very much disliked, I suspect she would have loathed the nocturns as well. This is very odd, since Ayn Rand regarded herself a romantic.

It has always seemed peculiar to me that Ayn Rand would have such a strong dislike for some of the world's most beautiful music. There is, it has occurred to me, a specific characteristic to the kind of music Ayn Rand dismissed and disliked, even though it is some of the most romantically moving music in the world. It was a very long time before I finally understood what the specific characteristic of such beautiful music had which Ayn Rand so despised. Having identified that characteristic, I realized there is a similar kind of characteristic related to another peculiarity in Rand's views, her view of true heroes and romantic love.

The Strength of Heroes

Ayn Rand admired strength, and despised weakness. In her works, she frequently employed physical strength in her heroes to symbolize and express the more important strength of their moral character. She believed it was the purpose of art to portray the world, not as it is, but as it could and should be. Her heroes were meant to concretize the best that man could be, the heroic: strong, ruthless, independent, defiant, and triumphant. But there is a mistake in how she held this view.

The mistake is actually a popular confusion, a lack of a certain refinement of discrimination. Strong does not mean rough, ruthless does not mean cruel, independent does not mean anti-social, defiant does not mean stubborn, and triumphant does not mean arrogant. While Rand never made any of these mistakes explicitly, the actions and words of some of her characters indicate she made this mistake in her understanding of those principles as they are worked out in an individual's life. Nowhere is this mistake more obvious than in her portrayal of romantic love.

Strength and Gentleness

In both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, her hero's love making was always rough, and that roughness was always "excused" as an expression of strength, passion, and "a right to what was being enjoyed." But that excuse neglects the very nature of romantic love.

Ayn Rand did not understand tenderness, gentleness, grace, and adoration. Not only are these expressions of romantic love, they are particularly masculine in nature. One cannot contemplate the most valuable object this world holds for them, the most precious and important thing in one's life without a profound sense and desire to preserve, adore, and protect that one whose very existence has become, for him, the very meaning of life.

This is the very important point Ayn Rand missed—while the male is the stronger of the two sexes, and that strength ought to be manifest in how that love is expressed—the greatest manifestation of strength and power in the world is when that great strength is used with the greatest control. Roughness is not an expression of strength, only crudity. The most delicate and precise movements require enormous strength. The greatest illustration is the grace of the ballet dancer; tenderness and gentleness require the greatest combination of strengths, physical, emotional, and intellectual.

It is because she misunderstood the kind of triumphant strength, the Herculean effort required to express one's love with controlled passion, with the loving attention and excruciatingly delicate power of a sculptor, channeled to achieve a sublime beauty of ecstasy. Ayn Rand did not like the kind of romantic music expressing those kinds of beauty. Her taste in music was governed by the same mistaken premises that distorted her views on romantic love and the relationship between men and women.

Any strong man can treat a woman roughly. Only a hero of enormous strength of character can express his greatest passion with that enormous self-control that turns every touch into a caress and every movement into an expression of love. Ayn Rand's heroes exhibited enormous strength in other areas of their lives, but in her depiction of their "love making" they are presented more as out-of-control adolescents than heroic lovers.

The roughness Ayn Rand describes in her love scenes is actually a depiction of crudeness and weakness on the part of her romantic heroes, who are both unimaginative and shallow in their love making. It is almost as though Ayn Rand thought sex was a mindless act1—when in fact, since it is meant for love, it should be one of the most profound expressions of ones whole mind and the kind of person one is. If they were truly strong and truly loved the one they, "possessed," that passion would have been expressed with the greatest finesse they were capable of and with the utmost tenderness.

Possessor and Possessed

I wrote the following for another article about ten years ago: "Love is a choice, a commitment, a complete surrender to the only thing one may surrender to without giving up one's values, because it is the fulfillment of one's values. It is choosing to regard someone above all other values, as one's ultimate value, because that person is all one cares for in life or cares to live for. Love is the conscious choice to sell oneself totally to possess the prize of their life, it is the ultimate trade, all of one's self in exchange for one's ultimate joy and achievement, to love and be loved by the one they live for."

There is a very interesting thing about romantic love that is both ironic and beautiful. Love produces two seemingly opposite desires and it is true of both the man and the woman. When one has found the one they love more than life there is a great desire to possess the object of that love; the ironic thing is, because the object of that love is the prize of one's life, the thing they desire above all other things, and because they know the only price that can pay for that prize is their own life, there is a great desire to give oneself to the one loved and to be possessed entirely by them.

Both men and women desire both to possess and be possessed—the desire manifests itself in every way—even in sexual desire, there is both a desire to possess fully, for one's own enjoyment, the one loved, but there is also a desire to surrender oneself completely to the other for their enjoyment.

But there is a difference in how these desires manifest themselves in men and women. In men, the desire to possess is dominant, even while he desires to give himself fully to her. In the woman the desire to be possessed is dominant, even while she desires to possess and enjoy the man for her own pleasure; the stronger desire in her is to surrender herself entirely to the man she loves for his pleasure, because that is where she finds her greatest pleasure, just as the man finds his greatest pleasure in pleasing the woman he loves.

Ayn Rand said that love is exception making, and it is. But she misunderstood the nature of the exception. What would be weakness in any other context, in the context of love, is the greatest strength; what would be surrender in any other context, in the context of love, is one's greatest conquest.

[NOTE: 1 That sex is a "mindless act" was certainly not Rand's view.

"I believe that our mind controls everything—yes, even our sex emotions. Perhaps the sex emotions more than anything else. Although that's the opposite of what most people believe. Everything we do and are proceeds from our mind. Our mind can be made to control everything. The trouble is only that most of us don't want our minds to control us—because it is not an easy job." {The Letter of Ayn Rand, "Return To Hollywood (1944)". To Gerald Loab, August 5, 1944.}

"... sex is the one field that unites the needs of mind and body, with the mind determining the desire and the body providing the means of expressing it. But the sex act itself is only that—an expression. The essence is mental, or spiritual." {The Journals of Ayn Rand, "13-Notes While Writing: 1947-1952."}

"They think that your body creates a desire and makes a choice for you.... Love is blind, they say; sex is impervious to reason and mocks the power of all philosophers. But, in fact, a man's sexual choice is the result and the sum of his fundamental convictions. Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life." {Atlas Shrugged, Part Two--"Chapter IV, The Sanction Of The Victim."}]

[NOTE: 2 I've often felt sorry for Ayn Rand. I never met her, but I know about as much as is possible without meeting her. Whether she ever experienced tender love, I do not know. She certainly never depicts it. None of her lovers hold hands, or just spend time cuddling. There is a passage where Dagney holds Francisco just before he leaves to join the strike. It is moving, but not particularly loving.

I've included the following entry from one of Ayn Rand's Journals. That she viewed the relationship between men and women as sado-masochistic may surprise you, though it explains a lot about some of the scenes in her books. It is certainly a wrong view, but might be understood as an exaggeration of love's mutual desire to possess and be possessed. ("She," in the quote, is Dominique Francon.)

"It is quite obviously inevitable that she should love Roark and that her love for him should be final, complete and immediate. It is a love too great to be endured in acceptance; she can bear it only by denying, by resisting it, by degrading it, by trying to destroy it. Like most women, and to a greater degree than most, she is a masochist and she wishes for the happiness of suffering at Roark's hands. Sexually, Roark has a great deal of the sadist, and he finds pleasure in breaking her will and her defiance. Yet he loves her, and this love is the only passion for another human being in his whole life. And her love for him is essentially worship, it becomes her religion, it becomes her reconciliation with life, with humanity and with herself—but not until many years later." {The Journals of Ayn Rand "7 - Notes While Writing, Theme of Second-Hand Lives"}]