The Age of Envy

The following is an excerpt from “The Age of Envy” by Ayn Rand, an
essay she published in both “The Objectivist” and The
Anti-Industrial Revolution
. I stumbled across it when surfing
for information about her posthumous how-to-write book, The Age of
. I include it here because the topic occasionally comes
up, and people toss around the allegation of envy without, I suspect,
considering just how nasty a vice it is. (Rand had a real talent for
exposing evil, as seen, for instance, in her href="">HUAC
testimony.) Note that envy is often mistermed jealousy, though the
latter word is more properly associated with love (no matter how
warped a love) rather than malice.

Superficially, the motive of those who hate the good is taken to
be envy. A dictionary definition of envy is: “1. a sense of
discontent or jealousy with regard to another’s advantages, success,
possessions, etc. 2. desire for an advantaged position possessed by
another.” (The Random House Dictionary, 1968.) The same
dictionary adds the following elucidation: “To envy is to
feel resentful because someone else possesses or has achieved what one
wishes oneself to possess or to have achieved.”

This covers a great many emotional responses, which come from
different motives. In a certain sense, the second definition is the
opposite of the first, and the more innocent of the two.

For example, if a poor man experiences a moment’s envy of another
man’s wealth, the feeling may mean nothing more than a momentary
concretization of his desire for wealth; the feeling is not directed
against that particular rich person and is concerned with the wealth,
not the person. The feeling, in effect, may amount to: “I wish I had
an income or a house, or a car, or an overcoat) like his.” The result
of this feeling may be an added incentive for the man to improve his
financial condition.

The feeling is less innocent, if it amounts to: “I want this
car (or overcoat, or diamond shirt studs, or industrial
establishment).” The result is a criminal.

But these are still human beings, in various stages of immorality,
compared to the inhuman object whose feeling is: “I hate this
man because he is wealthy and I am not.”

Envy is part of this creature’s feeling, but only the superficial,
semirespectable part; it is the tip of an iceberg showing nothing
worse than ice, but with the submerged part consisting of a compost of
rotting living matter. The envy, in this case, is semirespectable
because it seems to imply a desire for material possessions, which is
a human being’s desire. But, deep down, the creature has no such
desire: it does not want to be rich, it wants the human being to be

This is particularly clear in the much more virulent cases of
hatred, masked as envy, for those who possess personal values or
virtues: hatred of a man (or a woman) because he (or she) is beautiful
or intelligent or successful or honest or happy. In these cases, the
creature has no desire and makes no effort to improve its appearance,
to develop or to use its intelligence, to struggle for success, to
practice honesty, to be happy (nothing can make it happy). It knows
that the disfigurement or the mental collapse or the failure or the
immorality or the misery of its victim would not endow it with his or
her value. It does not desire the value: it desires the value’s

“They do not want to own your fortune, they want you to lose
it; they do not want to succeed, they want you to fail; they do not
want to live, they want you to die; they desire nothing, they hate
(Atlas Shrugged)

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