It’s easy to imagine Ayn Rand as the product of a laboratory—an unholy robotic experiment intended to merge cultural capitalism with particularly dour and sanctimonious soap operas; but little Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum was actually born to human parents, and even had living family with whom she corresponded, as dutifully compiled in Letters of Ayn Rand. Should you be curious as to whether or not the woman had a soft (or at least a sentimental) side, I invite you to read this letter she sent to her 17-year-old niece, Connie, who had recently asked to borrow $25 for a dress. I have bolded the very best/worst lines for my own emphasis.
To Connie Papurt, AR’s niece, a daughter of Frank’s sister, Agnes Papurt
May 22, 1949
You are very young, so I don’t know whether you realize the seriousness of your action in writing to me for money. Since I don’t know you at all, I am going to put you to a test.
If you really want to borrow $25 from me, I will take a chance on finding out what kind of person you are. You want to borrow the money until your graduation. I will do better than that. I will make it easier for you to repay the debt, but on condition that you understand and accept it as a strict and serious business deal. Before you borrow it, I want you to think it over very carefully.
Here are my conditions: If I send you the $25, I will give you a year to repay it. I will give you six months after your graduation to get settled in a job. Then, you will start repaying the money in installments: you will send me $5 on January 15, 1950, and $4 on the 15th of every month after that; the last installment will be on June 15, 1950—and that will repay the total.
Are you willing to do it?
Here is what I want you to think over: Once you get a job, there will always be many things which you will need and on which you might prefer to spend your money, rather than repay a debt. I want you to decide now, in advance, as an honest and responsible person, whether you will be willing and able to repay this money, no matter what happens, as an obligation above and ahead of any other expense.
I want you to understand right now that I will not accept any excuse—except a serious illness. If you become ill, then I will give you an extension of time—but for no other reason. If, when the debt becomes due, you tell me that you can’t pay me because you needed a new pair of shoes or a new coat or you gave the money to somebody in the family who needed it more than I do—then I will consider you as an embezzler. No, I won’t send a policeman after you, but I will write you off as a rotten person and I will never speak or write to you again.
Now I will tell you why I am so serious and severe about this. I despise irresponsible people. I don’t want to deal with them or help them in any way. An irresponsible person is a person who makes vague promises, then breaks his word, blames it on circumstances and expects other people to forgive it. A responsible person does not make a promise without thinking of all the consequences and being prepared to meet them.
You want $25 for the purpose of buying a dress; you tell me that you will get a job and be able to repay me. That’s fine and I am willing to help you, if that is exactly what you mean. But if what you mean is: give me the money now and I will repay it if I don’t change my mind about it—then the deal is off. If I keep my part of the deal, you must keep yours, just exactly as agreed, no matter what happens.
I was very badly disappointed in Mimi and Marna [Docky]. When I first met Mimi, she asked me to give her money for the purpose of taking an art course. I gave her the money, but she did not take the art course. I supported Marna for a year—for the purpose of helping her to finish high school. She did not finish high school. I will take a chance on you, because I don’t want to blame you for the actions of your sisters. But I want you to show me that you are a better kind of person.
I will tell you the reasons for the conditions I make: I think that the person who asks and expects other people to give him money, instead of earning it, is the most rotten person on earth. I would like to teach you, if I can, very early in life, the idea of a self-respecting, self-supporting, responsible, capitalistic person. If you borrow money and repay it, it is the best training in responsibility that you can ever have.
I want you to drop—if you have it in your mind—the idea that you are entitled to take money or support from me, just because we happen to be relatives. I want you to understand very clearly, right now, when you are young, that no honest person believes that he is obliged to support his relatives. I don’t believe it and will not do it. I cannot like you or want to help you without reason, just because you need the help. That is not a good reason. But you can earn my liking, my interest and my help by showing me that you are a good person.
Now think this over and let me know whether you want to borrow the money on my conditions and whether you give me your word of honor to observe the conditions. If you do, I will send you the money. If you don’t understand me, if you think that I am a hard, cruel, rich old woman and you don’t approve of my ideas—well, you don’t have to approve, but then you must not ask me for help.
I will wait to hear from you, and if I find out that you are my kind of person, then I hope that this will be the beginning of a real friendship between us, which would please me very much.
I am legitimately curious about whether this girl took the money—I mean, I would have. What risk is there? Alienating a terrible aunt who will probably just ignore you as “punishment”? A later letter suggests Rand thought highly of Connie, which leads me to suspect that she either found the dress funds elsewhere, or perhaps she really did get a job to repay her stern loan shark of an auntie. Rand also says she doesn’t “know” Connie, but I’m willing to bet that’s just Randspeak for, “Sure, we’ve met—but I cannot divine the capitalist contents of your soul.”
Or maybe the name just sounded too much like “Commie,” and Auntie Ayn got extra nervous?
Via The Toast