Don Draper: A Randian Hero?

“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” - Ayn Rand 

The simplest summarization of the philosophy of Objectivism could strike someone as the implicit ideology of Don Draper.  The ethics of a rational man, according to Ayn Rand, author of the acclaimed novel Atlas Shrugged, determine the course of his life, through reasoning and his own objective observation and rejecting the notions of altruism and self-sacrifice.  Furthermore, happiness is only achievable to a rational man acting in accordance with these principles.  

Bert Cooper first makes reference to the similarities between Don Draper and Ayn Rand’s idealized rational man in the episode “The Hobo Code.”  “You are a productive and reasonable man, and in the end, completely self interested." But Don’s egoism is first presented to the audience in episode one, “Smoke Gets in your Eyes.”  By definition, the affair with Midge, once revealed as extramarital by the end of the episode, is an act of carnal and psychological selfishness.  Rand would argue that such an affair, if in accordance with one’s own morality, is a rational act, in addition to being an expression of positive self-esteem.  Once his life story is gradually revealed, Don’s rational egoism is further affirmed by his creating a new life for himself for his own selfish purpose.  He did so not at the expense of the real Don and Anna Draper, but as he eventually explains, he had to remove himself from his traumatic past, and he had to get out of Korea.  The only way to do so was to leave Dick Whitman behind.  

Don particularly resembles one character from Atlas Shrugged, Hank Rearden, an ambitious steel executive whose business is derailed by excessive government regulation.  Both men play the part of a solid provider, even when they receive little to no personal satisfaction from doing so.  Both men find the tenets of post-materialism to be illogical, such as when Don dismisses Midge’s friends’ criticism of his lifestyle in “The Hobo Code.”  Lastly, both men pursue intellectual and sexual relationships with independent businesswomen as a means of escaping the seemingly vacuous relationships they have with their wives.  It is because of these similarities that I believe the writers of Mad Men intended to have some basic axioms of Objectivism be prevalent in Don Draper’s life.  

In an attempt to avoid oversimplifying Don’s philosophical motivation, it should be fully recognized that he does not solely see through an Objectivist lens.  The whole notion of evading reality is asserted by his abandonment of his true identity.  Rand would argue that man should not act without knowing the purpose of his actions, which one could argue, that Don has never truly been cognizant of his immediate nor long-term future.  But there is something to be said for his individuality, his commitment to success, and his apparent rational egoism, even if it operates at the expense of Betty and his children.  Don is driven to make money for himself, not for others.  He strives to be the best ad man at Sterling Cooper, which makes his relationship with the aspiring Pete Campbell more contentious.  His mind operates within his definition of a sound business model, that which is the client is to adopt his idea. He uses his own objective, reasonable mind to govern his life and rarely accepts that which is fed to him by Roger, Betty, or Pete.  Rand writes in Atlas Shrugged that “Man's mind is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him, survival is not. His body is given to him, its sustenance is not. His mind is given to him, its content is not” (1012).  There is no doubt that Don chose to live by this assertion when his life spun out of control; he chose to repair it through volition.  


  1. This article is right in so many ways. First, I thought when the man
    on the train called Don "Dick Whitman" that he was confusing Don with
    someone else. We soon find out that Don stole the identity of another
    soldier over in Korea and has been known as Donald Draper ever since.
    Don is still recovering from those hard times and he does that by
    pretending he is someone else. not only is he lying to himself, but he
    is lying to his wife and children. When Don is depressed, he goes to
    Midge and Rachel Menken to feel better instead of going home to his
    wife. On both occassions he tells them that he wants to go on a
    vacation with them and just leave their lives behind. not once did Don
    think about his wife and kids. I agree that he is very selfish and
    does only for himself. However, Don does not just pursue sexual
    relationships with business women like Menken, but he also goes for
    Midge. He is trying to get a woman that will put up with him and
    listen to the problems that he can't tell his wife. Don acts without
    thinking through the consequences and that is his downfall. Overall,
    this blog is quite accurate.Don is a man of many secrets, of which he
    take with him to his grave.....i think

  2. I have watch the first series and a half so far. My take on it is that it is objectivist but not with "good example" characters like Howard Roark or "learning how to get there" characters like Hank Rearden. Rather it is objectivist in terms of it's assumptions about how situations between certain people would play out and its moral evaluation of those situations. Relationships between people of different values Sterling/Joan, Draper/Midge peter out whereas those between people of similar values such as Draper/Menken are irresistable. The "look at my black girlfriend" thing with Paul is very similar to James/Cheryl Taggart in Atlas Shrugged.
    I don't really accept that Don is "pretending to be someone else" exactly. He is really an ad exec who is married etc. The history isn't important.
    Don is similar to objectivist heros in that he isn't a slave to client opinion - compare throwing out Rachel at the first meeting because she doesn't agree with his idea of what would be good work to do, with Roark refusing business from those who wanted him to copy something else (unfortunate how many people on both the left and the right who think objectivism is about income tax and money just don't understand what this type of scene is about).
    I hear series 5 is now broadcasting in the US so it may be different now, but a season and a half in it looks pretty objectivist to me.