Ayn Rand, Beauty, Love, and Tenderness
A Journal for Western Man-- Issue XLIV-- December 16, 2005
[This article is the sequel to the article, Sex, Love, and Marriage]
One great anomaly in the fiction of Ayn Rand--who held that romantic love is the greatest ideal of man-- is that her depiction of love expressed physically is very wrong.
Love and Beauty
I often listen to classical music, while writing or researching. Recently, while reading Ayn Rand for some epistemology research I was doing, I was listening to Chopin's beautiful nocturnes. Being moved by the nocturnes' hauntingly subtle beauty, I wondered what Ayn Rand would have thought of them. Since their beauty is much like the beauty of the romantic music of Brahms and Beethoven, which she very much disliked, I'm certain she would have loathed the nocturnes as well.
It has always seemed peculiar to me that Ayn Rand would have such a strong dislike for some of the world's most romantically beautiful music. There is, it has occurred to me, a specific characteristic to the kind of music Ayn Rand dismissed and disliked, even though it is some of the most beautiful music in the world. It was a very long time before I finally understood the specific characteristic such beautiful music had which Ayn Rand so despised. Having identified that characteristic, I realized there is a similar kind of characteristic related to another peculiarity in Rand's views: her view of true heroes and romantic love.
The Strength of Heroes
Ayn Rand admired strength and despised weakness. In her works, she frequently employed physical strength in her heroes to symbolize and express the more important strength of their moral character. She believed it was the purpose of art to portray the world, not as it is, but as it could and should be. Her heroes were meant to concretize the best that man could be, the heroic: strong, ruthless, independent, defiant, and triumphant. But there is a mistake in this view and it carried over into another of her views: her view of romantic love.
The mistake is actually a popular confusion, a lack of a certain refinement of discrimination. Strong does not mean rough, ruthless does not mean cruel, independent does not mean uncooperative, defiant does not mean stubborn, and triumphant does not mean arrogant. While Rand never made any of these mistakes explicitly, the actions and words of some of her characters indicate she made this mistake in her understanding of those principles as they are worked out in an individual's life. Nowhere is this mistake more obvious than in her portrayal of romantic love.
Strength and Gentleness
In both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, her hero's lovemaking was always rough, and that roughness was always "excused" as an expression of strength, passion, and "a right to what was being enjoyed." But that excuse neglects the very nature of romantic love.
Ayn Rand did not understand tenderness, gentleness, grace, and loving adoration. Not only are these expressions of romantic love, they are particularly masculine in nature. One cannot contemplate the most valuable object this world holds for them, the most precious and important thing in their life without a profound sense and desire to preserve, adore, and protect that one whose very existence has become, for them, the very meaning of life.
This is the very important point Ayn Rand missed—while the male is the stronger of the two sexes, and that strength ought to be manifest in how that love is expressed—the greatest manifestation of strength and power in the world is when that great strength is used with the greatest tenderness and control. Roughness is not an expression of strength, only crudity. The most delicate and precise movements require enormous strength; the greatest illustration is the grace of the ballet dancer; tenderness and gentleness require the greatest combination of strengths: physical, emotional, and intellectual.
It is because she misunderstood the kind of triumphant strength, the Herculean effort required to earn the right to enjoy true peace, grace, and the subtle grandeur of sublime beauty, Ayn Rand did not like the kind of romantic music expressing those kinds of beauty. Her taste in music was governed by the same mistaken premises that distorted her views on romantic love and the relationship between men and women.
Any strong man can treat a woman roughly. Only a hero of enormous strength of character can express his greatest passion with that enormous self-control that forbids him to express his love with anything but the greatest of respect, adoration, and tenderness for that which is the most precious and valuable thing in his life. Ayn Rand's heroes exhibited enormous strength in other areas of their lives, but in her depiction of their "love making" they are presented more as out-of-control adolescents than heroic lovers.
The roughness Ayn Rand describes in her love scenes is actually a depiction of crudity and weakness on the part of her romantic heroes, who are both unimaginative and shallow in their lovemaking. It is almost as though Ayn Rand thought sex was a mindless act—when in fact, since it is meant for love, it should be one of the most profound expressions of one's whole mind and the kind of person one is. If they were truly strong and truly loved the one they "possessed," that passion would have been expressed with the greatest of care and utmost tenderness.
In my article, "Sex, Love, and Marriage," I said, "Love is a choice, a commitment, a complete surrender to the only thing one may surrender to without giving up one's values, because it is the fulfillment of them. It is choosing to value someone above all our other values, as our ultimate value and the object of all our other values, because that person is all we care for in life or care to live for. Love is the conscious choice to sell oneself totally to possess the prize of one's life; it is the ultimate trade, all of one's self in exchange for one's ultimate joy and achievement: to love and be loved by the one one lives for."
There is a very interesting thing about romantic love that is both ironic and beautiful. Love produces two seemingly opposite desires, and it is true of both the man and the woman. When one has found the person one loves more than life, there is a great desire to possess the object of that love; the ironic thing is, because the object of that love is the prize of one's life, the thing one desires above all other things, and because one knows the only price that can pay for that prize is one's own life, there is a great desire to give oneself to the one loved and to be possessed entirely by them.
Both men and women desire both to possess and be possessed—the desires manifest themselves in every way—even in sexual desire, there is both a desire to posses fully for one's own enjoyment the one loved, but there is also a great desire to surrender oneself completely to the other for that person's enjoyment.
But there is a difference in how these desires manifest themselves in men and women. In men, the desire to possess is dominant, even while he desires to give himself fully to her. In the woman the desire to be possessed is dominant; even while she desires to possess and enjoy the man for her own pleasure, there is the stronger desire to surrender herself entirely to the man she loves for his pleasure, because that is where she finds her greatest pleasure, just as the man finds his greatest pleasure in pleasing the woman he loves.
Ayn Rand said that love is exception-making, and it is. But she misunderstood the nature of the exception. What would be weakness in any other context, in the context of love, is the greatest strength; what would be surrender in any other context, in the context of love, is one's greatest conquest.
I've included the following entry from one of Ayn Rand's Journals. That she viewed the relationship between men and women as sado-masochistic may surprise you. It is certainly a wrong view, but can be understood as an exaggeration of the mutual desire to possess and be possessed. ("She," in the quote, is Dominique Francon.)
[The Journals of Ayn Rand 7 - Notes While Writing "Theme of Second-Hand Lives"]
"It is quite obviously inevitable that she should love Roark and that her love for him should be final, complete and immediate. It is a love too great to be endured in acceptance; she can bear it only by denying, by resisting it, by degrading it, by trying to destroy it. Like most women, and to a greater degree than most, she is a masochist and she wishes for the happiness of suffering at Roark's hands. Sexually, Roark has a great deal of the sadist, and he finds pleasure in breaking her will and her defiance. Yet he loves her, and this love is the only passion for another human being in his whole life. And her love for him is essentially worship, it becomes her religion, it becomes her reconciliation with life, with humanity and with herself—but not until many years later."
Reginald Firehammer is a filosofer and author of the book: The Hijacking of a Philosophy: Homosexuals vs. Ayn Rand's Objectivism. He is the author and host of The Autonomist, an online intellectual journal, as well as a contributor to The Rational Argumentator. In the future, he intends to produce a comprehensive treatise on ontology, consciousness, and ultimately filosofy itself. Mr. Firehammer can be contacted at email@example.com.
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