Ayn Rand on Intelligence

What she had to say about man’s capacity of thought. Excerpts from “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal” published in 1966.

Excerpts from the Essay WHAT IS CAPITALISM? BY AYN RAND

1. About the keystones of capitalism

Corresponding to the four branches of philosophy, the four keystones of capitalism are: metaphysically, the requirements of man’s nature and survival — epistemologically, reason — ethically, individual rights — politically, freedom. This, in substance, is the base of the proper approach to political economy and to an understanding of capitalism — not the tribal premise inherited from prehistorical traditions. The “practical” justification of capitalism does not lie in the collectivist claim that it effects “the best allocation of national resources.” Man is not a “national resource” and neither is his mind — and without the creative power of man’s intelligence, raw materials remain just so many useless raw materials.

Depiction of a network of connections as metaphor for intelligence.

2. About the quote “unfair” disadvantage because of Intelligence

As to the objection, the claim that a man of average ability suffers an “unfair” disadvantage on a free market — Look past the range of the moment, you who cry that you fear to compete with men of superior intelligence, that their mind is a threat to your livelihood, that the strong leave no chance to the weak in a market of voluntary trade. . . . When you live in a rational society, where men are free to trade, you receive an incalculable bonus: the material value of your work is determined not only by your effort, but by the effort of the best productive minds who exist in the world around you. …

The machine, the frozen form of a living intelligence, is the power that expands the potential of your life by raising the productivity of your time. . . .

3. About Redistribution of wealth with regard to intelligence

It is obvious which human attribute one rejects when one rejects objectivity; and, in view of capitalism’s record, it is obvious against which human attribute the altruist morality and the tribal premise stand united: against man’s mind, against intelligence — particularly against intelligence applied to the problems of human survival, i.e., productive ability.

While altruism seeks to rob intelligence of its rewards, by asserting that the moral duty of the competent is to serve the incompetent and sacrifice themselves to anyone’s need — the tribal premise goes a step further: it denies the existence of intelligence and of its role in the production of wealth.

It is morally obscene to regard wealth as an anonymous, tribal product and to talk about “redistributing” it.


Anyone who has ever been an employer or an employee, or has observed men working, or has done an honest day’s work himself, knows the crucial role of ability, of intelligence, of a focused, competent mind — in any and all lines of work, from the lowest to the highest.

4. About Capitalism and Intelligence

Observe how seldom and how inadequately the issue of human intelligence is discussed in the writings of the tribal-statist-altruist theoreticians. Observe how carefully today’s advocates of a mixed economy avoid and evade any mention of intelligence or ability in their approach to politico-economic issues, in their claims, demands, and pressure-group warfare over the looting of “the total social product.”

It is often asked: Why was capitalism destroyed in spite of its incomparably beneficent record? The answer lies in the fact that the lifeline feeding any social system is a culture’s dominant philosophy and that capitalism never had a philosophical base.

It was the last and (theoretically) incomplete product of an Aristotelian influence. As a resurgent tide of mysticism engulfed philosophy in the nineteenth century, capitalism was left in an intellectual vacuum, its lifeline cut. Neither its moral nature nor even its political principles had ever been fully understood or defined


5. On Antitrust Laws in the 1961 Alcoa Case (United States v. Aluminum Company of America)

Here, the meaning and purpose of the antitrust laws come blatantly and explicitly into the open, the only meaning and purpose these laws could have, whether their authors intended it or not: the penalizing of ability for being ability, the penalizing of success for being success, and the sacrifice of productive genius to the demands of envious mediocrity.

If such a principle were applied to all productive activity, if a man of intelligence were forbidden “to embrace each new opportunity as it opened,” for fear of discouraging some coward or fool who might wish to compete with him, it would mean that none of us, in any profession, should venture forward, or rise, or improve, because any form of personal progress — be it a typist’s greater speed, or an artist’s greater canvas, or a doctor’s greater percentage of cures — can discourage the kind of newcomers who haven’t yet started, but who expect to start competing at the top.

6. About the Anti-Trust Case against General Electric from 1961

It was not these men’s achievements or their productive ability or their executive talent or their intelligence or their rights that their lawyers found it necessary to cite — but their altruistic “service” to the “welfare of the needy.” The needy had a right to welfare — but those who produced and provided it, had not The welfare and the rights of the producers were not regarded as worthy of consideration or recognition. This is the most damning indictment of the present state of our culture.


7. About the ignorance of the role of intelligence

The hallmark of collectivists is their deep-rooted distrust of freedom and of the free-market processes; but it is their advocacy of so-called “consumer protection” that exposes the nature of their basic premises with particular clarity. By preferring force and fear to incentive and reward as a means of human motivation, they confess their view of man as a mindless brute functioning on the range of the moment, whose actual self-interest lies in “flying-by-night” and making “quick kills.” They confess their ignorance of the role of intelligence in the production process, of the wide intellectual context and long-range vision required to maintain a modern industry.


8. On transferring Intellectual achievement

Intellectual achievement, in fact, cannot be transferred, just as intelligence, ability, or any other personal virtue cannot be transferred. All that can be transferred is the material results of an achievement, in the form of actually produced wealth. By the very nature of the right on which intellectual property is based — a man’s right to the product of his mind — that right ends with him.

Excerpt from the Essay LET US ALONE! BY AYN RAND

9. About Intelligence and Coercion

The statists’ epistemological method consists of endless debates about single, concrete, out-of-context, range-of-the-moment issues, never allowing them to be integrated into a sum, never referring to basic principles or ultimate consequences — and thus inducing a state of intellectual disintegration in then* followers.

The purpose of that verbal fog is to conceal the evasion of two fundamentals: (a) that production and prosperity are the product of men’s intelligence, and (b) that government power is the power of coercion by physical force. Once these two facts are acknowledged, the conclusion to be drawn is inevitable: that intelligence does not work under coercion, that man’s mind will not function at the point of a gun.

This is the essential issue to consider; all other considerations are trivial details by comparison.

Excerpt from the Essay IS ATLAS SHRUGGING? BY AYN RAND

10. About valuing social concerns over scholastic achievement

If your husband, wife, or child were stricken with a deadly disease, of what use would the doctor’s “social concern” or “graciousness” be to you, if that doctor had sacrificed his “own scholastic achievement”? If our country is threatened with nuclear destruction, will our lives depend on the intelligence and ambition of our scientists, or on their “spiritual eagerness” and “capacity to communicate friendship”?

11. Quoting her novel Atlas Shrugged

Let me remind you, parenthetically, that in Atlas Shrugged, John Gait states, referring to the strike: “I have done by plan and intention what had been done throughout history by silent default.” And he lists the various ways in which exceptional men had perished, in which intelligence had gone on strike against tyranny psychologically, deserting any mystic-altruist-collectivist society. You may also remember Dagny’s description of Gait before she meets him, which he later repeats to her: “The man who’s draining the brains of the world.”

12. On the alleged evils of being extreme

To proclaim that any extreme is evil because it is an extreme — to hold the degree of a characteristic, regardless of its nature, as evil — is an absurdity (any garbled Aristotelianism to the contrary notwithstanding). Measurements, as such, have no value-significance — and acquire it only from the nature of that which is being measured. Are an extreme of health and an extreme of disease equally undesirable? Are extreme intelligence and extreme stupidity — both equally far removed “from the ordinary or average” — equally unworthy? Are extreme honesty and extreme dishonesty equally immoral? Are a man of extreme virtue and a man of extreme depravity equally evil?

13. About the need of the military for volunteering thinkers

The age of large, mass armies is past. A modern war is a war of technology; it requires a highly trained, scientific personnel, not hordes of passive, unthinking, bewildered men; it requires brains, not brawn — intelligence, not blind obedience. One can force men to die; one cannot force them to think. Observe that the more technological branches of our armed services — such as the Navy and the Air Force — do not accept draftees and are made up of volunteers.


14. About students searching for philosophical answers at the University

Young people do seek a comprehensive view of life, i.e., a philosophy, they do seek meaning, purpose, ideals — and most of them take what they get. It is in their teens and early twenties that most people seek philosophical answers and set their premises, for good or evil, for the rest of their lives. Some never reach that stage; some never give up the quest; but the majority are open to the voice of philosophy for a few brief years. These last are the permanent, if not innocent, victims of modern philosophy. They are not independent thinkers nor intellectual originators; they are unable to answer or withstand the flood of modern sophistries.

So some of them give up, after one or two unintelligible courses, convinced that thinking is a waste of time — and turn into lethargic cynics or stultified Babbitts by the time they reach twenty-five. Others accept what they hear; they accept it blindly and literally; these are today’s activists. And no matter what tangle of motives now moves them, every teacher of modern philosophy should cringe in their presence, if he is still open to the realization that it is by means of the best within them, by means of their twisted, precarious groping for ideas, that he has turned them into grotesque little monstrosities. Now what happens to the better minds in modern universities, to the students of above average intelligence who are actually eager to learn? What they find and have to endure is a long, slow process of psycho-epistemological torture.

15. About confronting ideologists

You would be surprised how quickly the ideologists of collectivism retreat when they encounter a confident, intellectual adversary. Their case rests on appealing to human confusion, ignorance, dishonesty, cowardice, despair. Take the side they dare not approach: appeal to human intelligence.

Collectivism has lost the two crucial weapons that raised it to world power and made all of its victories possible: intellectuality and idealism, or reason and morality. It had to lose them precisely at the height of its success, since its claim to both was a fraud: the full, actual reality of socialist-communist-fascist states has demonstrated the brute irrationality of collectivist systems and the inhumanity of altruism as a moral code.

Yet reason and morality are the only weapons that determine the course of history. The collectivists dropped them, because they had no right to carry them. Pick them up!

Excerpt from the Essay REQUIEM FOR MAN BY AYN RAND

16. About the war against sacred pride. About that “light-bulb look”.

I will ask you to project the look on a child’s face when he grasps the answer to some problem he has been striving to understand. It is a radiant look of joy, of liberation, almost of triumph, which is unself-conscious, yet self-assertive, and its radiance seems to spread in two directions: outward, as an illumination of the world — inward, as the first spark of what is to become the fire of an earned pride.

If you have seen this look, or experienced it, you know that if there is such a concept as “sacred” — meaning: the best, the highest possible to man — this look is the sacred, the not-to-be-betrayed, the not-to-be-sacrificed for anything or anyone. This look is not confined to children.

Comic-strip artists are in the habit of representing it by means of a light-bulb flashing on, above the head of a character who has suddenly grasped an idea. In simple, primitive terms, this is an appropriate symbol: an idea is a light turned on in a man’s soul. It is the steady, confident reflection of that light that you look for in the faces of adults — particularly of those to whom you entrust your most precious values.

You look for it in the eyes of a surgeon performing an operation on the body of a loved one; you look for it in the face of a pilot at the controls of the plane in which you are flying; and, if you are consistent, you look for it in the person of the man or woman you marry.

That light-bulb look is the flash of a human intelligence in action; it is the outward manifestation of man’s rational faculty; it is the signal and symbol of man’s mind. And, to the extent of your humanity, it is involved in everything you seek, enjoy, value, or love. But suppose that admiration is not your response to that look on the face of a child or adult? Suppose that your response is a nameless fear? Then you will spend your life and your philosophical capacity on the struggle never to let that fear be named. You will find rationalizations to hide it, and you will call that child’s look a look of “selfishness” or “arrogance” or “intransigence” or “pride” — all of which will be true, but not in the way you will struggle to suggest. You will feel that that look in man’s eyes is your greatest, most dangerous enemy — and the desire to vanquish that look will become your only absolute, taking precedence over reason, logic, consistency, existence, reality. The desire to vanquish that look is the desire to break man’s spirit.

17. About intelligence as an attribute of all men

Remember that intelligence is not an exclusive monopoly of genius; it is an attribute of all men, and the differences are only a matter of degree. If conditions of existence are destructive to genius, they are destructive to every man, each in proportion to his intelligence. If genius is penalized, so is the faculty of intelligence in every other man. There is only this difference: the average man does not possess the genius’s power of self-confident resistance, and will break much faster; he will give up his mind, in hopeless bewilderment, under the first touch of pressure.