Ayn Rand was an awful, awful human being. Had she not become a guru, she would have had no friends, or been the kind of person no one likes who still accumulates a few admiring followers, whom she would banish for the slightest deviation from total devotion — a particularly mean Mean Girl. But you never know why someone is as he is and if with the same experiences you would have done as badly or worse.
I’ve been reading a book called Ayn Rand Nation: The Hidden Struggle for America’s Soul by a journalist named Gary Weiss. It’s unevenly written, and though a lefty Weiss has a disturbing sympathy with some of Rand’s ideas, but it’s still a helpful description of the movement she created. But to the point.
Weiss relays stories from her followers and former followers, and from them and others I’ve read Rand seems like a very frightened little girl and one who learned to deal with her fear with anger. Weiss relays a story from one of Rand’s earlier disciples, named Iris, who was first introduced as someone who’d helped design ads for a Randian enterprise.
Rand said, “Tell me how much you like the ads.” Iris felt that “here’s my chance to tell her something she didn’t know.’ So she began to tell Rand about how she designed the ads. “I said, ‘You figure out what is the most important thing for people to know, and you make that largest’.’”
Iris noticed that Rand’s eyes widened in anger. She didn’t know what she said that teed her off. Ed Nash [her Randian boyfriend] said, “Oh, excues me,” and pulled her aside. “I think I could have lived my life and never guessed what made her angry,” said Iris. “Ed said, I said ‘you.’ It was as if I was telling her how she should design the ad. I should have said ‘one.’” Ayn Rand did not like to be told what to do, even when she wasn’t being told what to do.”
There are many stories like this and they all suggest some deep trauma, something that fixed her emotionally as a small child. We don’t know what horrors she may have suffered during her childhood in pre-Revolutionary Russia. It’s something to keep in mind when you think about her life and work.