Today is International Women's Day. we might as well make the best of it by celebrating a woman praised by von Mises as “one of the greatest men in America" - Ayn Rand.Perhaps it is fitting to start from the presumption of Mrs. Rand's probable disdain for this holiday as a general prelude to a broader appreciation of her work. It is, of course, just a presumption, but it is not without reason. For Mrs. Rand, judging by her work, was on the whole far more interested in celebrating men than she was in celebrating women.
In fact, she thought that as a general rule, a happy woman was one who worshiped a great man. This sentiment, phrased as it is, led of course to much trouble from all quarters. The feminists routinely tend to consign Ayn Rand to the memory hole because of it, given that the idea implies "patriarchy" and female dependence. Meanwhile, others would blame Rand for advocating that any mortal human "worship" other mortal humans, for after all only God is worthy of worship.
These and other lines of demarcation have long ago been drawn by Rand's supporters and detractors, thus in a real sense excluding Ayn Rand's work from the dominant political philosophies of our times: liberalism and conservatism. For the former, she does not fit their ideology of a liberated woman, for the latter she treads too harshly upon the religious sensibility.
Mrs. Rand's own often bombastic predispositions, along with those of her followers, tended to cement this exclusion. Nevertheless, there is still more to be gained from an honest and open appreciation for Mrs. Rand's work, and the real danger to be avoided is not the contemplation of her work, but the silly sectarianism of a petty mind.
In that spirit we forge on: The idea that happy women are those who worship great men presupposes two things - the possibility of greatness in men and the notion that perhaps no finer endeavor exists to satisfy a woman's heart than finding and loving such a man.
Let us begin our analysis from the latter part of the above point: it should be noted that this point does not presume that no other sources beyond loving great men can inspire female happiness. This is no mere semantic point. While it is true that Dominique appears to have no other occupation in life beyond loving Howard Roark in Rand's Fountainhead, the character of businesswoman Dagny Taggert in Atlas Shrugged clearly demonstrated that Rand was quite aware of the larger scope of female potential beyond simply "worshiping" men.
Need it also be said that Rand's own example as a successful public intellectual demonstrates the point? In any event, feminists wishing to paint a picture of Ayn Rand as assigning to women a subordinate and undignified role in life are of course gravely mistaken.
The apologia concluded, let us pause for yet a while longer to consider further the merits of the Randian archetype for female happiness as man "worship." Given the tendency in our day and age to go beyond tolerance for diverse sexual orientations that are the result of biological anomaly towards a philosophical embrace of the virtues of sexual relativism, it would be worth our while to ponder for a moment the great benefit of Rand's strong defense of what the gender studies ilk would call the traditional role of women in the heterosexual "lifestyle."
Rand would never refer to it as such, for she considered with Aristotle that there exists a thing we call human nature, and that the discovery of rational principles by which humans can lead happy lives (an art called eudaimonia by the ancients) did not admit of the possibility for subjective definitions of happiness along the lines proffered by moral relativism. Those disinclined to philosophy often mistake this as meaning that whatever Rand "liked" (i.e. a certain flavor of ice cream) was therefore an "objective moral value" that all men must accept.
The unfortunate tendency among Rand's self pronounced followers and, at times, Rand herself, to conflate personal preference for objective moral principle did not help the matter. But such tendencies do not negate the philosophical truth of her claim, they merely point to its limits. These limits were well known to Aristotle, who contended early in his Politics, that men were not akin to geometry and did not admit of precision when measuring their nature.
Of course the Christian tradition elaborates these limits by way of the notion of Fallen Man (a radical judgement of human imperfection). In any event, independent of personal failings (and let he who is without sin cast the first stone), Rand herself explicitly distinguishes between her view of Objectivist egoism and selfishness in contradistinction to the vulgar view which equates egotism with thoughtless hedonism.
Nevertheless, abstracting from limits and personal failings, there is a sense in which the heterosexual female nature is complemented by the heterosexual male nature, and this sense is not merely sexual. Rand's heroines discovered this in the happiness afforded to them by the chance to love great men. For insofar as we can say that a great man is admirable and makes us feel an emotion of pride (just as we feel pity at the sight of lowly men), no other creature on Earth can admire a great man with the same depth as a heterosexual woman, since her entire construction is made for it.
Rand's vision of female happiness defined as the "worship" of great men is no caricature of patriarchy. It is not akin to Ibsen's Doll House. It does not presume that women must love men to be happy, but that they must love great men. To do this women must conceptualize greatness and have the capacity to discover it in men, a high intellectual endeavor.
Men, in turn, must seek to make themselves great. Aristotle again comes to our rescue with his concept of the megalophysis, which I am sure Mrs. Rand would recommend to those wondering about what this great-souled man is. A more popular presentation of this archetype can of course be found in Rand's The Fountainhead, in the person of Howard Roark.
In this present age, when sexuality is seen as a "role", and love is relativized, Ayn Rand's vision of female happiness as found in heterosexual love of great men, and the notion that this is the highest form of happiness for a woman, is all the more a magnificent achievement that women would do well to emulate. While it may be seen as overly simple to say that the romantic love between a man and a woman is the basis of happiness in life, our times make of this banality a profound truth to be relearned.