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I see that in [hatchet job?] pieces about AR, there is mention of her admiration for one William Hickman ( among many other such pieces here is a typical example http://goo.gl/YnkCQ ). I am interested to know what the truth is here ? Was AR really in the thrall of a murderer? The usual excuse given is that she was a fan of Nietzsche and that William Hickman was construed by here as some sort of superman that felt justified in destroying anyone. If so, that would be almost a complete contradiction of the man-worshiping aspects of objectivism. Given the prevalence of this particular accusation, I just thought I'd ask the experts. It seems to me, this is a lot of typical context-dropping type smearing, but given my relative ignorance of the facts. I would love to get a clear take on it.

asked Apr 24 '11 at 12:19

Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image


"Journals of Ayn Rand"

Rand only mentions Hickman in her private journals; Hickman was a model for her main character in a novel that she never finished. (I think because it would have been too negative and bitter for her to write.) There were aspects of Hickman that she admired, like his independence, but she wanted her character to be independent and have a productive purpose, not the "degeneracy" [her word] of Hickman. Her view was that Hickman was a monster, but that society was even worse, because it had nothing to offer for such an exceptional person, so he turned to crime.

(Apr 24 '11 at 16:53) Roderick Fitts Roderick%20Fitts's gravatar image

I recommend that you pull up "Journals of Ayn Rand" at Google Books and go to the section on "The Little Street". Back up a few pages from there to begin with circa February 28.

I think it is the case that these private notes, taken out of context, are convenient fodder for anyone wishing to disparage Rand.

Draw your own conclusion carefully considering the full context.

(Apr 24 '11 at 17:02) Alfred Centauri Alfred%20Centauri's gravatar image

Roderick-- What on earth made a sadistic murder "exceptional" to AR ? In the usual sense, that word is a positive attribute. By that token, a loner serial murder could also be considered "exceptional" since he doesn't care about what society has to offer him and kills people. By the non-initiation-of-force principle, I would assume Hickman is evil.

Alfred C-- I will purchase the Journals and read.

(Apr 24 '11 at 17:13) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

Rand said that "the only thing impossible to him is pettiness and mediocrity." (p. 41) She thought he was "great," though a "monster." This is the same idea behind the "mastermind" concept--a person has an exceptional intelligence, but uses it for evil. So she admired Hickman to that limited extent, for his greatness in character, but she was morally opposed to what he did.

And "exceptional" is a morally neutral concept--it means "uncommon, exceeding beyond the usual," and that can be used to describe good or bad actions. Stalin was exceptionally evil, for instance.

(Apr 24 '11 at 17:59) Roderick Fitts Roderick%20Fitts's gravatar image

Roderick- I get it. I scanned thru the google books entry on the Journals of Ayn Rand and I think I get what AR was admiring: the man who can happily thumb his nose at all of society (although she does qualify Hickman was degenerate). In a sense AR seems enthralled by the concept of the only "right" man in a sea of "wrong". This is one of those unfortunate things which I think the enemies of AR will enjoy for a long time. Her point was subtle and not trivially easy to grasp. It is simple to paint her as a murderer-admiring monster given some simple out of context quoting.

(Apr 24 '11 at 18:24) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image
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Amy Peikoff answers this question in a recent podcast.

answered Apr 27 '11 at 06:20

Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Andrew Dalton ♦

In the Rationally Selfish Webcast of October 9, 2011, I discussed Ayn Rand's alleged admiration for William Hickman. Due to a hiccup in the internet, the beginning of the webcast recording for this question was missing. So I re-recorded it, and posted it to YouTube:


Basically, the Alternet article is a baseless, dishonest smear. If a person wants to reject Ayn Rand's ideas, he should do so on the basis of her actual mature views, not invented claims based on private journal entries written when she was 23 about a long-since abandoned writing project.

answered Oct 12 '11 at 11:52

Diana%20Hsieh's gravatar image

Diana Hsieh ♦

edited Oct 12 '11 at 11:53

Amy Peikoff and Diana certainly covered this topic very well in their podcasts, but allow me to give an answer that people can read here.

This smear on Ayn Rand is a product of quote-mining a section in "The Ayn Rand Journals" titled "The Little Street". In this section she gives an outline for a book that she is planning to write, with a list of characters and her notes about each of them. In her notes about "Danny Renahan", she writes the following:

"Hickman said 'I am like the state: what is good for me is right.' This is the boy's psychology. (The best and strongest expression of a real man's psychology I ever heard). The model for the boy is Hickman. Very far from him, of course. The outside of Hickman, not the inside. Much deeper and much more. A Hickman with a purpose. And without the degeneracy. It is more exact to say that the model is not Hickman, but what Hickman suggested to me."

Obviously Rand is not writing in admiration of Hickman but of one particular thing that he said which she felt was representative of the essence of Danny Renahan's character. Even in her personal journal (which is what this was) she qualified her statement with remarks distancing the boy's character from Hickman's "degeneracy".

At the time of my writing this answer, you can read "The Ayn Rand Journals" for free on Google Books if you're curious to see for yourself.

answered Aug 21 '13 at 14:49

empiric's gravatar image

empiric ♦

edited Aug 21 '13 at 15:02

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Asked: Apr 24 '11 at 12:19

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Last updated: Aug 21 '13 at 15:02