This book review was originally published in The Atlantis News Volume II, No. 6, March 21, 1969, pp. 5-6. Is Objectivism a Religion? was written by Albert Ellis and published by Lyle Stuart, Inc. in New York.
by Roy Halliday
Objectivism is the philosophy of Ayn Rand set forth in her novels The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, etc., and in numerous essays and lectures.
Some of the basis tenets of Objectivism are that truth exists and can be discovered by reasoning; morality consists of pursuing rational self-interest; altruism is evil; laissez-faire capitalism is the only moral form of society possible; communism, fascism, and anarchism are evil; the greatest pleasures are productivity and romantic love; and anyone who disagrees with any of the above is a psycho-epistemological mind subverter.
Albert Ellis contends that Objectivism is a religion because it is a "dogmatic, fanatical, absolutist, anti-empirical, people-condemning creed" which is based on the assumption that "some higher power or order of the universe demands that their views are right and that all serious dissenters to their views are for all time wrong."
This book is more than a critique of the philosophy of Ayn Rand; it is a deprecation of all philosophies which assume the existence of absolutes. Not only does Dr. Ellis proclaim that to believe in absolutes is anti-empirical and therefore religious, but he also implies that to be religious is to be emotionally ill. He believes that religious people are motivated by a desperate need for certainty. The religious person "holds on to his views for dear life--as if he would fall apart by the seams if he held them more loosely or let them go completely."
Dr. Ellis demonstrates that Objectivism is a perfection-demanding philosophy which attracts fanatics. Nathaniel Branden, for example, was one of the leading proponents of Objectivism. By the age of 19 he had read The Fountainhead 40 times. Nevertheless, he failed to reach the state of perfect egoism exemplified by Ayn Rand and was publicly denounced by Her and excommunicated from the movement.
Prior to his excommunication, Nathaniel Branden and Albert Ellis staged a debate during which the pro-Objectivist audience booed, hissed, and laughed at Dr. Ellis whenever he "made a telling point against one of their sacred tenets." With the memory of this debate fresh in his mind Dr. Ellis wrote his virtual declaration of war against Objectivism.
A major fault of Ellis’ critique is his habit of forgetting the Randian meanings for certain words and using more widely accepted meanings instead. In this way he finds many more inconsistencies and irrationalities in Objectivism than are actually there. He does this to the extent that he seems to be deliberately misinterpreting the statements of Miss Rand and her disciples.
After having established the fact that we never had pure laissez-faire capitalism in order to suggest that we could never have it, Dr. Ellis forgets this when it suits his purposes and arbitrarily blames pure capitalism for historical instances of depressions, starvation, poverty, etc.
His criticisms of the free market are weak. He does not appreciate the difference between people voluntarily saving and investing and people being forcibly deprived of consumer goods as long as what is called "economic progress" is achieved in either case. Since he regards all absolute principles as mere arbitrary assertions, the immorality of slavery escapes him. Because happiness and individual rights cannot be measured empirically, but wealth can be, he is more upset by the possibility of someone having more money than someone else.
Dr. Ellis points out that capitalism does not necessarily lead to the production of the most rational goods and services, but the goods and services that the buying public, for whatever reason rational or otherwise, wants. Capitalism should not be advocated on the grounds that it produces more rational people, because it allows men the freedom to choose on the basis of their own subjective (to use a Randian curse word) value schemes.
Dr. Ellis is at his best when evaluating Objectivist psychology. He finds parallels between the mentality that created Jehovah and the mentality that created John Galt. There is a need to feel superior in people attracted to such heroes which gives rise to condemning and punitive attitudes, intolerance, dogmatism, and other religious traits.
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