One of the most influential novelists in the United States is the late Ayn Rand. The Russian-born author's works inspired generations of right-leaning intellectuals, from former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan to former Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
Rand's popularity stems from her simple creed that selfishness is a virtue. In her philosophy, called Objectivism, the highest moral calling is to pursue your rational self-interest. This puts Objectivism in a unique corner, as most of the world's schools of moral philosophy and religion preach that selflessness and self-sacrifice are the most noble qualities. But Rands philosophy has sustained its following long after her death in 1982. In 2009, in the aftermath of a financial crisis many blamed on the selfishness of Wall Street, her novel Atlas Shrugged, which preaches the virtues of the self interested titans of industry, surged to a bestseller position on Amazon.com.
What makes Rand so popular? And is there any merit to her praise of selfishness as a virtue? To discuss that question we have two guests with us on this episode. Onkar Ghate is the chief philosophy officer at the Ayn Rand Institute and a leading Objectivist. He believes this philosophy is not only relevant but ultimately a guide for living a moral life. Austin Hayden Smidt is a political philosopher who cohosts the philosophy podcast Owls At Dawn. He's skeptical of Objectivism's claims, and believes that altruism is worth fighting for. On this episode we will discuss core philosophical issues that help drive our approach to politics, life, the universe, and everything.