Book Review: The Argument from Intimidation by Ayn Rand

rand argument from intimidationWhile I have to say that I take issue with many of the things Ayn Rand taught and even some of her life choices, I absolutely love that she is a powerful intellectual who is not only willing to admit that there are absolutes but she insists that any clearly thinking person will admit it too. She goes even further than that, though, by consistently maligning those who refuse to see that morality always exists on both sides of any argument and that moral judgment is always taking place. In her article “The Argument from Intimidation,” found in The Virtue of Selfishness she states:

“Moral evaluations are implicit in most intellectual issues; it is not merely no absolutespermissible, but mandatory to pass moral judgment when and where appropriate; to suppress such judgement is an act of moral cowardice.”

She goes on to explain that in any given intellectual confrontation, all the individuals involved are utilizing methods of persuasion to win others to their way of thinking. The “argument from intimidation,” she explains, is an intellectually lazy approach to discussion. It is essentially a vacuum–an argument that is really no argument at all. It is devoid of reason, thought and evidence and consists mainly of passing moral judgment on one’s opponent rather than giving them solid reasons to believe in what you have to say. It is substituting moral judgment for intellectual argument.” In practice, Rand explains that the Argument from Intimidation looks something like this:

professor lecturing“‘Aristotle? My dear fellow-‘ (a weary sigh) ‘if you had read Professor Spifkin’s piece in-‘ (reverently) ‘the January 1912 issue of Intellect magazine, which-‘ (contemptuously) ‘you obviously haven’t, you would know-‘ (airily) ‘that Aristotle has been refuted.’… Such teachers are frequently assisted by the ‘liberal’ goon squad of the classroom, who burst into laughter at the appropriate moments.”

Rand then states that “in our political life, the Argument from Intimidation is the almost exclusive method of political debatediscussion.” She said that in 1964. Having headed another 50 years down the same road, examine where we stand today in our public and university classrooms, in the local and national media, in the political debates on every imaginable subject. The Argument from Intimidation is virtually all one sees–people passing moral judgments on each other without either being willing or able to stand behind a solid principle and argue for it’s truth and the necessity of it’s adoption.

This is a tragedy of major proportions because it is arresting all the good thinking that could go on and substituting in it’s place moral and character attacks of all kinds. If Rand is right, then when we watch a debate, what we are witnessing is people dancing around the real issue and avoiding suggestions for a real solution.  And what is the result? Nothing. We end right where we began, with the same problems unsolved and the same people maligning each other.

And if Rand is right, we are left to ponder: Where is the true discussion?! Where are those with the education and reasoning skills to actually give arguments of substance and clarity? Where are those who aren’t intimidated by weak and shallow attacks, who see the real issue and address it? Where are those with the deep understanding of moral principles and the willingness to stand behind them at all costs?

patrick henryAccording to Ayn Rand:

“The most illustrious example of the proper answer to the Argument from Intimidation was given in American history by the man who, rejecting the enemy’s moral standards and with full certainty of his own rectitude, said: ‘If this be treason, make the most of it.'”

READ THIS FANTASTIC ARTICLE! Quotes HERE; Selections HERE; Find the full article in the book The Virtue of Selfishness which you can buy HERE


  1. Dan

    Ayn Rand does have some really good points and this one is right on. If there were discussion about principles we might actually convert people or at least help people ask honest questions.

    1. Author

      By the way, there is some really valuable information on Natural Law and Principles in the “Reading Tips” section above. Check it out!

  2. Donna

    Where can I buy this book? I can’t seem to find it online.
    Is it part of her book entitled “The Virtue of Selfishness”?

    1. Author

      Yes it is from The Virtue of Selfishness. There are several valuable articles in that book! Happy Reading!

  3. Natasha

    Love this article! What a great way to distinguish between real discussion and a shouting match. I love the idea that when I intimidate someone I am just showing my ignorance of a better argument. Like swearing because you don’t know enough words to communicate correctly

    1. Author

      Exactly! I’ve said that before myself! This article is so helpful for becoming more diplomatic and influential. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Ammon Nelson

    I found myself convicted by this review. Thank you for writing it. I have mixed feelings about the writings and philosophy of Ayn Rand, but find many nuggets of wisdom in what she writes. I have been avoiding The Virtue of Selfishness because of what I now recognize as a silent argument of intimidation within my own mind. I will now place it higher on my “to-read” priority list.

    Now that I see it explained, I can see the cowardice I have demonstrated in many, if not the majority, of the “intellectual” discussions I have participated in. What a refreshing thing it is to be made aware of something more which I can improve – not that there is a shortage. 🙂

    I really like this quote I read from the “quotes” link at the bottom of your review:
    “When one enters any intellectual battle, big or small, public or private, one cannot seek, desire or expect the enemy’s sanction. Truth or falsehood must be one’s sole concern and sole criterion of judgment—not anyone’s approval or disapproval; and, above all, not the approval of those whose standards are the opposite of one’s own.” I needed to read that. It is something that I have been working on personally lately, and to read the succinct and frank eloquence of Ayn Rand brings some clarity to the principles involved.

    In answer to the question: “Where are those with the deep understanding of moral principles and the willingness to stand behind them at all costs?” I know that there are some modern day, living examples as well. I personally admire Oliver DeMille and his wife Rachel, Orrin Woodward and his wife Laurie, and Chris Brady and his wife Terri. None of them are any more perfect than Patrick Henry, but they all definitely meet the description of your rhetorical inquiry. I would also place you and your husband in that category. Thank you for your stand behind moral principles.

    1. Author

      Ammon, Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I had an insight much like yours and it was very empowering. I had to learn that I really can’t convince everyone but I need to stand my ground when I know I’m right. I also learned, though, that there are many people on the fence, waiting for a good enough reason to side with right and I could help them if I was prepared. So I’m always working on that! I also wondered if you saw the author bio on Ayn Rand, it also might help you when you jump into her readings. You can find it here: Keep reading and growing!

      1. Ammon Nelson

        Thank you, I had not seen the author bio. That is very interesting. I’ll spend some time watching all of the linked videos over the next few weeks.

  5. Ammon Nelson

    From the videos you link to in the author bio, it appears that later in life, Rand became a perpetrator of the Argument from Intimidation – by using her own version of morality, but still using animplied moral judgment rather than addressing ideas for their own sake.

    1. Author

      Ammon, sorry it took me so long to get back to you. Didn’t see this comment until now. 🙁 I know what you mean. I feel that because of the poor personal choices Rand made, as she got older her view became more skewed and narrow. She was closed minded and accusatory later on. It’s really too bad.

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