YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Some shrug, but Randians get it

A small Objectivist group illustrates the philosophy's low-key presence today and the passion of its followers.

July 15, 2007|William Weir | Hartford Courant

HARTFORD, CONN. — The members of the Connecticut Objectivist Discussion Group patiently explain that their philosophy is not against charity.

"It's fine to help your fellow man," says Kim McNeil. "What's not fine is to put anyone else's needs before your own."

The small but dedicated group has been meeting for eight years, hashing out the ideas of Ayn Rand and the philosophy she formulated, Objectivism.

It's been 50 years since the publication of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged," the book that solidified the Russian immigrant's reputation, for better or worse. The only true moral course, Rand believed, was to pursue self-interest -- self-sacrifice being a big threat to humanity.

The novel praises capitalism while vilifying social workers and government programs. The book remains a solid seller and a film adaptation is in the works, with Angelina Jolie starring as heroine Dagny Taggart. It's scheduled for release next year.

Like Rand's other work, it's hardly subtle. One of her books was called "The Virtue of Selfishness." Critics haven't been very charitable: Her plots are melodramatic, characters two-dimensional, prose clumsy.

And yet "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead" have built a devoted (some would say cult-like) following. When the Modern Library released a readers' poll (with more than 200,000 votes cast) for the best novels of the 20th century, "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead" (published in 1943) were first and second, respectively. Rand had two other books in the top 10.

By contrast, a panel of noted historians and authors selected by Modern Library devised its own top 100 list -- which excluded Rand.

But her followers are a wide and varied bunch. Alan Greenspan, Billie Jean King and Hugh Hefner are devotees.

There are dating services that cater exclusively to Objectivists, and educational consultants have made a niche by advising on home-schooling children the Objectivist way.

But as far as Randian activity in the Nutmeg State, it's a bit under the radar. The Connecticut Objectivist Discussion Group was the only one found in the state. Even the name is in flux; McNeil thinks it's presumptuous to speak for the whole state.

Some call Objectivism a kind of cult, but the Connecticut group hardly fits the profile. They're friendly enough, exhibit no thousand-yard stares or interest in converting the reporter.

Whether they'll ever get more members, they don't know. Aaron Turner and McNeil have visited objectivist groups in other states, but they seem more geared toward socializing than discussing ideas.

Los Angeles Times Articles