Ayn Rand’s Favorite Child Murderer

Romancing the Stone-Cold Killer.  (The whole essay linked is well worth reading; this blog post only contains the barest summary of it.)

Ayn Rand was obsessed with a serial murderer named William Hickman, and based a hero in one of her early novels on him.  She thought of him as a noble rebel against a pathetic and mediocre society.  In praising her Hickman-inspired hero, she described what we now call “sociopathy” or “psychopathy” succinctly:

[He]is born with a wonderful, free, light consciousness — [resulting from] the absolute lack of social instinct or herd feeling. He does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people … Other people do not exist for him and he does not understand why they should.

Hickman kidnapped a banker’s child and held her for ransom, taunting the family with awful ransom notes; he managed to rig her mutilated corpse to appear to be sitting up and alive in the car next to him when he picked up the ransom, and he sped off and pushed the corpse out the passenger door when he was given the money by the father.

This was the sort of person who Ayn Rand admired.

American conservatives, particularly Alan Greenspan, the man who has been in charge of our economy for the last couple decades or so, admire Ayn Rand and what she stood for (with the exception, for many of them, of her contemptuous atheism).

Is it any wonder America’s economy is in a state of apocalypse?  The ideology followed by the best and the brightest in the world of finance is that of an unrepentant Raskolnikov turned cult-leader.

But maybe I’m too kind in blaming it on Ayn Rand.  This sort of thing went down in the 19th and early 20th centuries as well, without her help.  Perhaps unrestrained capitalism has always been a playground for the sort of personalities who are admired and encouraged by the same people who admire and encourage those who abduct, murder, and dismember children.

(via a comment in Kung Fu Monkey, via Terminal Velocity)

13 thoughts on “Ayn Rand’s Favorite Child Murderer”

  1. I have yet to read the essay, I will though, when I get back from my trip today. I have to wonder, though, is admiring a sociopath what she was doing or using real life to create a work of art? It isn’t unusual for someone to pick up a facet of someone and expand that into an entire character. And it’s interesting, actually, to take something so negative (like not understanding the importance of others) and make that into a sort of hero of a book. Quite an intellectual challenge, I think.

    And the way in which you wrote your first paragraph it’s confusing if Ayn admired the real life criminal or her own creation. Again, I’ll read the essay and see what that’s about.

    I, personally, have never read Ayn Rand nor do I intend to. I’ve had friends suggest the books to me, but it never seemed very interesting.

    Have you read her works? What do you think of them?

    It also seems a little extreme to go from folks who are greedy to people who perform outright physical cruelty to children.

    A very good friend of mine made the same connection between murder and greed in the marketplace. His family has suffered greatly (meaning lost millions) though his family is still better off than thousands have ever been. It struck me that he was speaking out of anger and self-interest – understandable certainly, but not much different than how the greedy capitalists were acting a few months prior, really.

  2. Rand was very careful to distinguish what she noticed in Hickman’s early character that was good, from everything else about him that led to his incredible evil.

    Michael Preston, who authored the article you’ve linked to, appears to have taken Rand’s effort to make that distinction as his cue to whitewash her distinction. Working with HIS absurd interpretation of her words, he then proceeds to embellish them with his own lurid imaginings.

    There are a great many *dishonest* interpretations of Rand’s work & character that go back to Whittaker Chamber’s 1957 review of Atlas Shrugged in the National Review.

    Rand elucidated a more fundamental definition of Honesty than occurs in dictionaries: “Honesty is the recognition that the unreal IS unreal.” Some simply fail to recognize the unreal, others recognize the unreal but pretend it IS REAL for their own (despicable) motives. Preston certainly falls into the latter category.

    …then there is the gossipers’ dishonesty, of echoing another’s statements without checking their veracity. That too can be driven by a certain resentment and gleeful schadenfreude.

  3. Moab, the objections you raise are answered in the original essay, which goes into much greater detail and makes the case more strongly than I did. And while it may seem a “little extreme” to associate ruthless capitalists with ruthless killers, the ruthlessness unites them — sociopathic people enjoy and excel at both kinds of work, because neither is burdened by empathy or conscience.

    Rand is quite explicit about admiring a lack of any kind of empathy or feeling of responsibility for one’s fellow human beings.

  4. Richard, I thought Preston made the case very strongly, and what you’ve said here doesn’t do much to convince me otherwise. In Preston’s article, it was Rand’s own words which condemned her, not Preston’s.

  5. I haven’t read Rand since college, but I can tell you that she very certainly did not endorse murder.

    Somehow economic liberals have a tendency to confuse “not living for someone else” (aka being a slave) for it being ok to harm someone else. It is the economic liberals (and social conservatives) and not Rand that break the rule of not doing to others what you would not have them do to you (wrt economic theft and social oppression respectively).

  6. I don’t think that it can be denied, given the preponderance of evidence in that article, that she admired a murderous sociopathy for the sociopathy which his murders demonstrated, and that she trivialized or excused those murders.

    Perhaps economic liberals confuse a refusal to be a slave with harming other people; or perhaps economic libertarians confuse natural human empathy with pathetic self-abnegation. Life is confusing, sometimes.

  7. Steve,

    Couldn’t you also say that if you’re *not* living for someone else, then you are a slave?

    I argued once with someone who was enamoured with parts of Rand’s philosophy. I don’t know if I understood it (or if he understood it) but he definitely thought that one of its high points was what you quoted about “a light conscience/conciousness”.

  8. By the by, Ed, I can’t believe that no one has commented on your Flex Mentallo post. Maybe if you posted something on Rebus or the Candlemaker…

  9. Jeff, I don’t even know about Rebus or the Candlemaker, though Wikipedia has taught me a little! I clearly should be reading a lot more Grant Morrison than I am.

  10. After reading the article and considering it and reading some wikis tuff on Ayn, I’ve come to a few conclusions:

    1. I still don’t care about Ayn Rand.
    2. Getting to the bottom of this would take a bit more effort.
    3. It seems she may well have been idealizing the killer.
    4. My natural bias, for good or ill, is that a rational and creative writer could take some aspect of a “bad” person and develop that into a unique hero figure as an interesting intellectual challenge. I’m also aware that I’m often called naive.

    In any case it was interesting, thanks Ed.

  11. Capitalism is not a breading ground for immorality, humanity is. Capitalism is about making money. It’s use (at least in America) assumes the fierce enforcement of laws that protect the individual.

    It’s really unfair to confuse Rand’s brand of individualism with capitalism. Her promotion of personal responsibility certainly rings true to many, but they idea that less-than-mediocre people start to become less than human is outrageous.

    Even Rand doesn’t complete believe her own message, since her fictional hero doesn’t participate in the same immorality or compromise the rights of others.

    In Rand’s atheist world, it’s okay to consider many people worthless, so long as you don’t kill them. That has more to do with her atheism rather than her conservative economics.

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