DeWitt Wallace (1889–1981) was co-founder of Reader’s Digest in 1922. A staunch anti-Communist, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon in 1972.
This letter was previously published only on the Ayn Rand Institute website.
December 8, 1943
Mr. DeWitt Wallace
Pleasantville, N. Y.
Dear Mr. Wallace:
Thank you for accepting my article “The Individualist Credo,” now entitled “The Only Path to Tomorrow.” I am very glad and proud to have become a contributor to the Reader’s Digest.
I do not know whether it is considered correct in the circumstances to argue about the text of your condensation or whether one ever argues with the editor of the Reader’s Digest—but I assume that you do not want writers on such crucial subjects as politics and philosophy to sign their names to statements which are not their exact belief, so I feel sure you will not mind the few corrections I have made in the proofs.
With the exception of these few points, let me say that your condensation is excellent and I appreciate it very much.
In order not to appear arbitrary, I shall list here my reasons and explanations for each correction I made.
Page 1. The examples of totalitarian dictators I used were Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin. Stalin has been eliminated in the proof. If you find it inadvisable to include Stalin at this time, then we must eliminate the whole list of examples and leave only the general statement. I do not object to that. But I object most emphatically to any mention of specific dictators which does not include Stalin. By omission and implication it ammounts to saying that Stalin is not a totalitarian dictator. I would not allow this to be said in my name under any circumstances whatsoever.
In the following paragraph my definition of what constitutes the collectivist doctrine has been given an entirely different meaning. I have corrected it to read as I intended it. If you find this too strong, then cut the line out entirely and make the paragraph read: “No tyrant has ever lasted long by force of arms alone. No dictator could rise if men… etc.” If you find it possible, please add the last sentence of this paragraph as I have marked it. I think it cinches the
point. But I do not insist on this sentence. It is up to you. I would only be very pleased it you find it possible to include it.
Next paragraph: here I think it most important to end my sentence as marked. To say “where men deal with one another as equals” is a generality to which even a communist could subscribe. The whole point of my statement is the end of the sentence: “in voluntary, unregulated exchange.” Since individualism is my whole theme, religion and mission in life, you can understand why I want to give the best definition I can, and why I do not want to sound as if, at the most crucial point, I got away with a mere generality.
Page 2. My statement on what we must reject as total evil has been given an entirely different meaning. As the statement stands in the proof, it amounts to my saying that I would tolerate the abolition of individual rights if it really served the common good, but that I object to it only because it doesn’t. This is not my belief at all. In fact, this is the point on which our entire conservative side has ruined its stand. My belief is that I would not tolerate such an abolition for any cause and in any circumstances whatsoever. This is the heart of my whole article. Therefore, the statement must read as I marked it. By putting the words “common good” in quotes, we will avoid the impression which I believe your editors had in mind or were afraid of when they changed this sentence.
The other cut I made on this page is merely a suggestion to save you space. I notice that the article runs over and you need some cuts.
Page 3. The line: “when the Active is destroyed, the Passive can no longer be cared for” sounds as if I advocate that the Passive must be cared for, that it is our duty. I do not. When I say, as I marked, “the Passive cannot survive” it is a simple statement of fact, without altruistic implications.
In the next paragraph, the line: “There is no other way to help him in the long run” is inexact. There is no other way to help him in any run, long or short. Who but the Active can ever help anyone in any way?
In the same paragraph, I would like very much to add the final sentence, which I marked, about the extermination of the Active in a collectivist society. I think it clinches the point. But I leave this to your discretion. If you prefer to omit that sentence, do so. In this case, I don’t insist.
But the line about “the savage’s whole existence” (at bottom of page) must be kept as I marked it. Here again the meaning has been changed. It is incorrect to say that savages are ruled by their leaders; they are not; they are ruled by tribal laws and customs which also bind the leaders. It is not my point that leaders usurp power. It is my point that the attempt to make all existence public and subject to communal laws or decrees is a reversion to savagery.
In the marginal note on my biography (Page 1), somebody gave you some wrong information. I came to this country in 1926, not 1931. My play “Night of January 16th” ran on Broadway for seven months, not three years. It was a good run, but not that good. I would rather not list my novel “Anthem” because it has not been published in this country, only in England. Above all—and this is most important to me—I would like my novel “The Fountainhead” described as “a novel on individualism.” I am asking this merely as a favor. If a reader likes my article and knows that my novel deals with the same subject, he would want to read the novel. This was my main purpose in selling this article to the Committee for Constitutional Government—to publicize the theme of my novel. So it is most important to me that this note appear in the article and its reprints. If you find it possible to do this—I would be extremely grateful.
Thanking you again for your acceptance,
The Ayn Rand Archives contains no response from Wallace regarding Rand’s changes, and, despite the importance of her changes, the published version does not reflect those changes. In her biographical interviews, Rand mentions the Reader’s Digest reprint but makes no reference to any editing. The reprint by the Committee for Constitutional Government (see previous Letter 107) does reflect Rand’s changes, as does the reprint in The Ayn Rand Column (New Milford, CT: Second Renaissance Books, 1991).