What liberals don't understand about Ayn Rand

Yet great insights can come from flawed thinkers. Rand’s anti-altruism tirades often turn their target into a straw man, but she is right that the knee-jerk habit of treating altruistic goals as noble has aided evil—for instance, blinding well-meaning Westerners to communism’s monstrosity. When pundits alarmed by Rand-style individualism scoff at the “myth” of individual autonomy, we should remember that this “myth” gave us freedom and human rights, and unleashed creative energies that raised humanity’s welfare to once-unthinkable levels. Rand’s work offers a powerful defense of freedom’s moral foundation—and a perceptive analysis of the kinship between “progressive” and “traditionalist” anti-freedom ideologies.

Rand’s ideas apply to the personal as well as the political. One needn’t go to Randian extremes to agree that the valorization of “sacrifice” and the accusation of “selfishness” can be potent weapons for users, manipulators, and family despots—or that dependency is not the path to healthy relationships. (In Rand’s words, “To say ‘I love you,’ one must first know how to say the ‘I.’ ”) A common critique is that Rand appeals to adolescents who think they’re self-sufficient, special, and destined for great achievement. Yet surely the world would be poorer—materially and spiritually—without people who carry some of that “spirit of youth,” as Rand called it, into adulthood.