Ayn Rand: In Love, Be Selfish

The objectivist philosopher once defended supporting her husband financially because, as she saw it, the benefits accrued to her.

AP / Atlantic

If your spouse decided to switch careers in midlife, would you support them while they made the transition? What if it was a notoriously unstable and non-lucrative career, like painting?

Okay, what if you had pioneered a popular movement that advocated for egoism, individual rights, and a rejection of altruism?

Of the many domains in which Ayn Rand’s thoughts are frequently invoked—libertarian conventions, college dorm rooms in New Hampshire—discussions about love are not typically one.

That’s why I was delighted to see that PBS’s consistently magical Blank on Blank series recently illustrated a conversation that took place between the mother of Objectivism and the journalist Mike Wallace in 1959.

For whatever reason, Wallace decided to grill Rand on matters of the heart. The whole thing is worth a listen—you’ll learn how, if you correct your flaws, you, too, can be worthy of love.

The segment begins with Rand describing the unique arrangement she apparently had with her husband, the actor and artist Frank O’Connor. At the time, O’Connor was just beginning to study painting, and Rand was already well established. Wallace saw an opportunity to try to paint Rand—who frowned upon welfare or financial reliance on others—into a corner.

“Is he supported in his efforts by the state?” Wallace prods.

“Most certainly not,” she says.

“Is he supported by you, for the time being?”

“...By me, if necessary ...”

“And there is no contradiction here, in that you help him?”

With her response, Rand reveals, perhaps, why she’s sold so many books:

“No, because you see, I am in love with him selfishly. It is to my own interest to help him if he needed it. I do not call that a sacrifice because I take selfish pleasure in it.”

It’s easier to understand Rand’s obsession with selfishness as a positive virtue if you consider that she included, under her umbrella of egocentrism, good deeds that make the doer happy. She wasn’t helping her husband, you see, she was helping herself have a husband who pursued his passions.

Of course, O’Connor had at that point already given up his budding acting career so that Rand could succeed as a writer. Which just goes to show—even if you believe that for civilization to survive man must reject the morality of altruism—marriage is still all about compromise.