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Surprising Science

Is Watchmen’s Rorschach Really an Objectivist Hero?

Brian Doherty, a senior editor at Reason magazine and the author of This is Burning Man and Radicals for Capitalism, reflects on whether the hero of the new graphic novel turned blockbuster movie, Watchmen, is an objectivist saint. As in Ayn Rand.

The moral center of Watchmen is a “curious and prickly masked vigilante,” writes Doherty, and while his mask resembles the psych test, the metaphor runs deeper. Rorschach is “obsessed with stark duality…and he lives by his objective understanding of right and wrong.” Just like Ayn Rand.

As it turns out Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man and original conceiver of the first iteration of Watchmen, a superhero called The Question, was a huge fan of Ayn Rand and Objectivism. Long ago, Ditko wrote “Mr. A,” an homage, apparently, to Randian Aristotelianism. “Reality is what it is, Rand held, and an objective set of moral imperatives follow from that. Thus, Rorschach is Moore’s vision of an Objectivist superhero.” This according to Doherty.

And like Rand, Rorschach has contempt for what he sees as the moral stink of the Watchmen world. Or is that collectivism? “It’s easy to imagine that he might have been willing to accept that each and every person killed in the movie’s central scheme might have actually deserved it (as Rand did in a smaller-scale disaster; Atlas Shrugged’s train wreck scene)…But by the end he sacrifices himself in the name of avenging the deaths of millions who he doesn’t know. He does it for another reason as well, one of particular holiness to the Objectivist: the truth, the facts of reality. Whether or not the villain’s scheme might result in some ‘higher good,’ it did so at the cost of Faking Reality—a cost no Objectivist will bear.”

Doherty concludes that “it seems appropriate somehow that Rand should have invented the superhero…But Rorschach is no handsome Rand hero as she imagined them, but he’s still probably the most vivid and well-thought-out Objectivist hero that Rand didn’t create.”


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