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An Ayn Rand First:(?):

An article in the New York Times about Rand and Atlas Shrugged that is notable for the absence of the expected condescending sneering.

Rand didn't much influence my political philosophy, which was about the same before I read her stuff as it is now, but I do give her credit for two things. First, she indirectly persuaded me that caring about the success of strangers on sports teams that happen to carry the name of my city or school is a waste of time. This freed up thousands of hours for other endeavors more directly related to my own life. (I'm not an evangelist about this; if you enjoy rooting for sports teams, and think the opportunity costs are worth the enjoyment you get out of it, more power to you.)

Also, discussions of Rand typically focus on her political and moral philosophy, but, as the Times article suggests, she inspired a lot of people, of all political, religious, and social views, to raise their aspirations and expectations of themselves. In my own case, I had always done well in school, but never studied hard or paid much attention to my classes. It was after reading Rand, and being at least as inspired by her example as her characters (an adult immigrant who didn't know English becoming one of the most influential English-language novelists of all time, in part due to her sheer force of will) that I started to apply myself--I think I'm somewhat unusual in that I still work much harder as a tenured law professor than I did in school. (Whether Rand did me a favor, or whether I'd be better off in some sense as a slacker with lots of free time like I was in college, is admittedly an interesting question.)

Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
I think, re-reading Atlas Shrugged now, 40 years or so after I first read it, I see it more as a psychological novel than as a political one: it looks to me more like a novel about becoming self-actualized, and overcoming a sense of shame.
9.15.2007 12:41am
fffff:
Ayn's novels might be OK; the problem is a sizeable portion of the people reading them.
9.15.2007 1:02am
sbron:
When my father (whose brother had been sent to the
Gulag) read Atlas, he told me the book was about
Russia, not about America. Now I am not so sure.

The section of Atlas Shrugged describing the collectivization of the Twentieth Century Motor Co.
is one of the most frightening things I ever read.

Despite being badly written by novelistic standards,
the book stands out because it is one of the very
few works of fiction that actually celebrates technology,
and even more daringly the American middle class
lifestyle of consumption as being noble.
9.15.2007 1:08am
Truth Seeker:
Has anyone else written epics like Atlas Shrugged? I know Ayn Rand gave lessons in her home on how to be a writer, but apparently none of her students continued her tradition. Maybe Atlas Shrugged was just too intimidating to even try.

Someone suggested some science fiction to me (Old Man's War, and Serenity) but jeez, no comparison. Those were like "A day in the life of..." compared to Ware and Peace. A few battles, a few deaths and at the end we get nowhere. I'm looking for great battles between good (individualism, liberty) and evil (collectivism, socialism).

How about individualist children's books? I guess The Three Pigs and Little Red Hen were early classics, but any recent stuff?
9.15.2007 1:14am
ScottVA:
As someone who in my late teens enjoyed Ayn Rand a lot, I've got to say I agree very much with Charlie in the self-actualizing aspects of the books. Large parts of Atlas seem downright silly in retrospect, but the incredibly optimistic and self-confident vision of the book can't be overlooked. I knew some people who really got something out of her books..

I also have to agree about Rand's biggest fans... wasn't it Nathaniel Branden who changed his last name to Branden as an anagram of "ben Rand" ???
9.15.2007 1:34am
CaseyL (mail):
Sorry, Truthseeker: If what you want are epic battles, casts of thousands, with dialog and characterizations multi-layered and rich with metaphor and allegory, you pretty much have to go with science fiction. Modern non-SF writers don't know how to handle a canvas that broad.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny. On a distant planet in a distant future, humans have taken on the aspects and attributes of the Hindu gods, and lord it over their own (mortal) descendants. One man opposes them. It's a retelling of the conflict between Hinduism and Buddhism.

2. The Pliocene Exile series, by Julian May. The discovery of a one-way time portal to Earth 6 million years ago attracts romantics, scoundrels, heroes, criminals, and other eccentrics hoping to find an Edenic exile. What they find when they get there is that an alien race has colonized Earth in order to continue its own battle-religion. The alien race bears a startling resemblence to the Celtic gods. The books should be read in order: The Many-Colored Land, the Golden Torc, the Non-Born King, and The Adversary.

3. The Dragon Waiting, by John Ford. An "alternate history," in which Rome never fell, Christianity was never made the official religion of Rome, and sorcery is real. A Welsh sorcerer, a German vampire, a woman physician formerly from the Medici Court, and a Greek mercenary who could have been Emperor get involved in the War of the Roses - where Rome is backing the enemies of Richard III.

4. "Years of Rice and Salt," by Kim Stanley Robinson. Another "alt.history" novel. This one posits that the Black Plague did kill off all of Europe. Over the centuries, the Islamic, Asian, Hindu, and Native American empires battle for supremacy.

These are terrific, mind-spinning epic novels that will stay with you. I recommend them highly.
9.15.2007 1:39am
neurodoc:
DB: First, she indirectly persuaded me that caring about the success of strangers on sports teams that happen to carry the name of my city or school is a waste of time.
Perhaps notwithstanding the influence of Rand, you would have felt differently had you attended school in say South Bend, IN rather than Waltham, MA; or a school which styled itself as something more puissant, like "eagles," "tigers," "gators," etc., rather than the "judges," with its implications of dispassion, non-partisanship, conflict resolution, etc. (Were you utterly indifferent to Mason's March Madness results?)
9.15.2007 1:46am
omarbradley:
Joseph Conrad was another great english novelist whose native tongue wasn't english. Heart of Darkness is one of the shortest novels and Atlas Shrugged is one of the longest. Go figure.

For me Rand's novels are most noteworthy for their sex. Reading them, even with all the objectivism and philosophy thrown in, at bottom they're basically stories of young, thin, beautiful sexually submissive women who end up having mind blowing sex with these ubermenschen figures like Howard Roark, John Galt, Francisco D'Anconia and Hank Rearden. We The Living also features a young woman that has great sex with two hot guys.

Given that Rand herself was the definition of Frumpy I wonder how much of the books were about philosophy and how much were about living out fantasies with the objectivism thrown in.

On another Rand note, am I the only one who has read Atlas Shrugged who is worried about the prospect of there actually being a Mr. Thompson elected to the Presidency?

If he has an advisor named Mouch on the payroll, I might just have to head for Colorado and Galt's Gulch.

Although if Fred does win I wonder how long before someone hacks in to the feed of one of his oval office addresses with "Mr. Thompson will not speak with you tonight..."
9.15.2007 1:46am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Neurodoc, I cared as much about GMU's March Madness success as the members of the GMU basketball team cared about my contemporaneous professional successes. Except, of course, that I was happy that the university was getting favorable publicity.
9.15.2007 1:55am
GMU Alum:
It's interesting that Orin posted about Greenspan right after this post, as Greenspan was once a follower of Ayn Ran.
9.15.2007 5:19am
GaryO:
After hearing for years about people who loved Ayn Rand, and seeing her books at the top of "most influential books I have ever read" lists, I tried reading Fountainhead. I found it so painfully bad that it was a struggle to continue reading. I was however, through sheer force of will, able to finish it. I can't say that (a) it made me want to read anything else she wrote, or (b) it made me understand why people like her so much.
9.15.2007 5:29am
Peter McCormick (mail):
David,

Thanks for blogging the NYT article. You're right: it's suprisingly free of snide and condescending remarks. Disappointingly, though, some readers of this blog have made up the difference.

Ayn Rand and Objectivism are enjoying something of a renassiance right now. Atlas Shrugged is now being taught at several major universities around the country and several serious books about her philosophy have been published recently.

Liberals and socialists clearly hate Ayn Rand. The interesting phenomenon, though, is why some conservative academics hate her so much. It's not the religion issue so much as the fact that conservatives hate to think in principles. The fact of the matter is that Ayn Rand is the only philosopher to have developed a moral defense of capitalism. I guess that's why conserveratives (neocons in particular) despise her. What they mostly know and fear is that they'd lose all their students.

Banning Ayn Rand from America's college classrooms is the one thing that liberal and conservative academics seem to agree upon. (See the John Lewis case at Ashland University.)
9.15.2007 7:33am
question123 (mail):
Concerning Rand's influence on Greenspan, are there any studies (popular or academic) about that influence? I remember seeing a picture of Rand surrounded by her acolytes, one of whom was Greenspan. From what I've heard, it was like a personality cult.

I enjoyed reading Fountainhead (never made it through Atlas Shrugged), but I remember recognizing that I shouldn't take her too seriously. Her heroes were selfish and self-absorbed to an extreme, and I didn't see the virtue in that.

(What would Rand have thought about someone like Mother Teresa, for example? Probably disdain and contempt. Yet I think hers was a noble life. If I recall, Mother Teresa once said something to a Western critic along the lines of, "I agree that it's better for people to become independent and self-reliant, and fulfill their potential. But a leper whose flesh is rotting away off his body doesn't have that option, and someone needs to take care of him.")

Anyway, to what degree (if any) was Rand an influence on Greenspan's actual policy decisions?
9.15.2007 9:32am
MDJD2B (mail):
Where is anything in any of these thick tomes she worte about reproduction, parental love, or propagation of culture and civilization?
9.15.2007 9:55am
Peter McCormick (mail):
MDJD2B:

Here's a wonderful passage from Atlas Shrugged (Part III, chpt. 2) about the family:

The recaptured sense of her [Dagny's] own childhood kept coming back to her whenever she met the two sons of the young woman who owned the bakery shop. . . . They did not have the look she had seen in the children of the outer world--a look of fear, half- secretive, half-sneering, the look of a child's defense against an adult, the look of a being in the process of discovering that he is hearing lies and of learning to feel hatred. The two boys had the open, joyous, friendly confidence of kittens who do not expect to get hurt, they had an innocently natural, non-boastful sense of their own value and as innocent a trust in any stranger's ability to recognize it, they had the eager curiosity that would venture anywhere with the certainty that life held nothing unworthy of or closed to discovery, and they looked as if, should they encounter malevolence, they would reject it contemptuously, not as dangerous, but as stupid, they would not accept it in bruised resignation as the law of existence.

Continuing:

"They represent my particular career, Miss Taggart," said the young mother in answer to her comment. . . . "They're the profession I've chosen to practice, which, in spite of all the guff about motherhood, one can't practice successfully in the outer world. . . . I came here, not merely for the sake of my husband's profession, but for the sake of my own. I came here in order to bring up my sons as human beings."

There's more, but that should get you started.
9.15.2007 10:11am
Adam K:
What the NY Times article lacked in condescending sneering, Bernstein's entry certainly made up for.
9.15.2007 11:32am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Adam K: Huh?
9.15.2007 11:39am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Gary, FWIW, I've tried reading The Fountainhead twice, and found it too boring to finish both times. I really enjoyed Atlas years ago, but found it very tedious to reread more recently. I really enjoyed We the Living, her least famous, and least philosophical, novel. Someone should really make a movie out of it (besides the Italian version made during WWII).
9.15.2007 11:50am
Zacharias (mail):
I remember reading results of a survey that asked Americans to name a book that "changed their lives" or some such. It was either Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead that was most often cited, ahead of the Bible.

I would have to second that. When I was just 22, a college friend, after hearing my ranting and raving against the Nanny State, suggested I read The Fountainhead, which I did. It truly helped me organize my inchoate thoughts over a wide range of philosophical issues. It was a Road to Damascus experience for me, that is hugely responsible for leading me to where I've arrived decades later.

Her books are no literary treasures and she was a strange bird, but, as the Fundamentalists in Bible Class used to say, "If God can use Balaam's ass" to speak the truth to you, he can use anybody.
9.15.2007 12:22pm
frankcross (mail):
Referring to "expected condescending sneering" could be viewed as condescending sneering.

But a blog isn't a New York Times news page
9.15.2007 12:53pm
bigchris1313 (mail):
Although they aren't literature, Ayn Rand fans would do well to see both The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Although Ratatouille appears a little more light-hearted and directed towards children, both feature different themes from Atlas Shrugged. And I don't mean themes mentioned in passing. The overarching themes of each film are taken directly from the Objectivist playbook.

Both films adapt the themes just enough to make them palatable to modern audiences, but the basic principles are still there in force.
9.15.2007 1:04pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Peter:

Thanks for posting those passages. I had forgotten exactly how dreadful a writer she is. The last sentence in that first passage vividly brought it back.
9.15.2007 2:08pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Oh, BTW, Terry Goodkind is a fantasy writer who is also an unabashed Randian. So if you are looking for Rand's philosophy packaged into different novels, you might consider giving him a try. It's a 12 book cycle so far.
9.15.2007 2:10pm
The Cabbage:
I call myself a libertarian, and I hate Ayn Rand. After reading the comments, I realized why: I like libertarianism for purely pragmatic reasons. Free-market capitalism and libertarian politics just happen to be the best solution. I don't see any moral imperative behind them. As far as morality goes, I try to be religious and I like Kant.

Does that make me a closet neo-con? I fancy myself reasonable enough to take a very long term view of most political opinions-unlike the current administration, I'm not going to start abandoning principles (small gov.) just because it might score me a few short term points. I just see a huge separation between political/economic philosophy and morality.

Capitalism works. It doesn't need to be justified as "good". We just need to recognize that its effective.
9.15.2007 2:16pm
unhyphenatedconservative (mail):
Duffy,

I hate to say it though but the more unabashedly Randian his writing gets, the worse his books have gotten. The first few had the flavor but as he's gotten about as subtle as a sledgehammer, the stories have suffered immensely.
9.15.2007 2:23pm
Truth Seeker:
What would Rand have thought about someone like Mother Teresa, for example? Probably disdain and contempt.

This shows how many peple don't understand what Rand was saying.

You don't ralize how selfish Mother Theresa was? If she wasn't selfish she would have pleased her parents by giving them grandchildren. She would have been a doting wife and caring mother. But she was selfish and did exactly what she wanted with her life. She became world famous for it and loved every minute of it and knew she'd be a saint in record time. Rand would have admired her.

In Rand's book the Virtues of Selfishness she explains how being selfish can actually help the world because you have to give something to the world in order to receive all you want.

In her other books she shows how some people get what they want by leeching off other people, like union leaders and politicians. They don't add anything to the world. They just skim off a percent while taking money from one group and giving it to another.
9.15.2007 3:06pm
Warren F. (mail):
Duffy,

What would you consider a passage of fine writing -- from any author? I'd be interested to contrast your taste to Rand's.

Rand's writing, much like Roark's architecture, is much in the vein of "form follows function" or "style follows substance." Much that is stylistically more pleasing is substantially less meaningful, as well. She loathed that kind of writing as much as she loathed Greek facades on Manhattan bank buildings. There is A LOT of insightful and challenging thought in that passage you thought was bad writing. So, are you a style man, or does the writing you prefer to Rand's have as much substance as hers does, or more?
9.15.2007 3:25pm
trey (mail):
"I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

That is the moral crux of Rand's philosophy. Do for yourself and only for yourself, and expect the same from your neighbor, without asking anything from him or anyone else. I was disappointed with the NYT article in not explaining this crucial idea, because, like I said, this is the major moral formula of Objectivism. You will notice that the article cites two types of people: literary and philosophical critics, and capitalists and businessmen. All critics call it evil to some degree or another, and all cited capitalists laud it for the their inspired successes. I don't think the NYT article was viod of condecintion.

Also, as far is Greenspan is concerned, I read somewhere the disappointment of a number of Objectivists in Greenspan's actions as Fed Chair. Some even objected to him merely taking such as job, as the role of Fed Chair is in fact government playing a drastic role in the going-ons of our capitalistic economy.
9.15.2007 3:29pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
I've always thought that Rand's nonfiction essays are much better written than her fiction. Her essay on racism is an amazingly good individualist critique of racism and racialist thinking. Her article on the New Left has some of the choicest zingers I've seen. Her rhetorical and writing style was much better suited for such essays than for novels.
9.15.2007 3:38pm
comatus (mail):
Truth seeker, good point on Theresa. She was not, we now know, motivated by faith, but by force of will: a Randian tragic heroine, like Cherryl Taggart. And no welfare queen, either. Rumors abound that Rand had written a rebel priest into the Gulch, but was so offended at some public cleric that she scratched him out. Wouldn't THAT have shaken things up?

Rand wrote the last three-volume novel, each standing thematically on its own. Kipling refers to this as a "triple-decker" and was lamenting its passing in the 1890's. For other reading let me suggest the great American novel, Sometimes A Great Notion (certainly not the lamentable movie adaptation). Also worthy of proto-Objectivist note, if you can wade through the German irony, is Heinrich von Kleist's "Michael Kohlhaas," (rarely) available in a rip-snorting film version from a lifetime ago starring Anita Pallenberg with a cameo by Keith Richards.
9.15.2007 3:46pm
R. Richard Schweitzer (mail):
It has always seemed to me that commentators miss some key points about the "right" emphasised in Atlas Shrugged, and its exercise.

What is demonstrated fictionally (perhaps comparable to today's "special effects") is the ordering of obligations, not the dominance of any one set, nor simply setting prioities among them, but individual recognition, acknowledgement and acceptance of them.

The "right" so emphasised was a focus on the obligation all to allow each individual to set their own order, and points to the consequences when that is not done.

R. Richard Schweitzer
s24rrs@aol.com
9.15.2007 3:46pm
Peter McCormick (mail):
Atlas Shrugged in my view is the great American novel. It's also the greatest denfense of the American idea ever written.

And, unlike some here, I think it is a literary masterpiece.
9.15.2007 3:58pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
I don't have time to read like that any more, since I've also chosen parenthood (and some engineering on the side to support it) but I thought Atlas Shrugged was awfully scary. And she was into power sex, I don't quite get it. But what's wrong with rooting for the home team? I find that to be as much part of community-building (and maybe that is the problem) as more traditionally-recognized religious services.
9.15.2007 4:28pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
There's nothing wrong with it, but what makes the Washington Nationals my "home team?" You take a bunch of guys from all over the country (and the world) who I've never met and never will meet, slap a "Washington" uniform on them, and suddenly I'm supposed to care if they win or lose? And if they get traded to the Mets and now have a NY uniform on, they now become the "enemy?"

If you enjoy watching sports, you might as well root for the home team, because that makes it more fun. But I am bemused when people tell me I'm "supposed" to care if the Nationals, or the GMU Patriots, win because they "represent" me. I'll choose who I want to be my representatives, if any, thank you.
9.15.2007 4:41pm
Just Dropping By (mail):
The fact of the matter is that Ayn Rand is the only philosopher to have developed a moral defense of capitalism.

Although I enjoy her writings, I've always thought this point was overstated. Frederic Bastiat's work emphasized the moral dimensions of capitalism nearly as much as the efficiency aspect.
9.15.2007 4:47pm
LarrySheldon (mail):
I have not read Rand for years--I keep thinking I should get them down and read them again--in order ("Anthem", "We The Living", "The Fountainhead", and "Atlas Shrugged".

But I am afraid to. The nightmares engendered by the "news" papers, television, and daily life (poisoned pet food, poisoned people food, poisoned toys, cars that cost more than our first house and don't last as long as the pain from one-size-fits-all shoes are bad enough just running on the memories of those books.
9.15.2007 4:47pm
triticale (mail) (www):
I'm taking pleasure in the current success of my local sports team, but I'll leave the "rooting" to the Australians.

I was an established adult when I read Atlas Shrugged and had a world view similar but more relaxed than it might have given me as a result of reading Heinlein as a teenager. It happened that I was purchasing steel for a fabricating shop at the time, which made Rand's story that much more fictional for me.
9.15.2007 4:50pm
Billy Beck (www):
Charlie -- "I think, re-reading Atlas Shrugged now, 40 years or so after I first read it, I see it more as a psychological novel than as a political one: it looks to me more like a novel about becoming self-actualized, and overcoming a sense of shame."

"The most subversive political implication of 'Atlas Shrugged', is that individual freedom is possible only to those who are strong enough, psychologically and morally, to withdraw their sanction from any system that coercively thrives off their productive energies."

(Chris Matthew Sciabarra, "Ayn Rand -- The Russian Radical", 1995, pp. 301-302)
9.15.2007 4:56pm
Randy R. (mail):
Anyone who says that sports teams shouldn't be worshipped can't be all bad, I'll admit. And anyone who pisses off religionists is a good thing too.

In fact, anyone who is a fanatacist about anthing thing, idea, person or sports team is pretty bizarre. And that goes for Rand's fans as well.
9.15.2007 4:58pm
Randy R. (mail):
When I get into discussions with people about Rand, I'll sometimes cite, say a scientist who could make a ton of money doing research on some hot topic, but instead devotes her life to some obscure disease where she gets little money and less recognition. I say, good thing that we have people like that, despite the fact she appears to violate Rand's philosophy. (The list can go on: there are people who devote their lives to caring for the sick, or preserving art and so on)

Randists, however, counter that either that a) she is being selfish, because she gets the inner satisfaction of doing what she wants to do, or b) she's an idiot and should go for the money.

Also, what a trust fund kid who just sits around the pool drinking beer and makes nothing of his life? A Randist would say that he is being entirely selfish, which is good. Other Randists say he's not living to his full potential, which is bad.

Aren't those two opposite? Please correct me if I'm wrong.
9.15.2007 5:04pm
question123 again (mail):
Truthseeker, you said:
"This shows how many peple don't understand what Rand was saying.
You don't ralize how selfish Mother Teresa really was?"

First, use a spell-check. Second, I understand Rand fine, thank you. I'm not ignorant. Third, no, I don't understand Mother Teresa as selfish, or (as comatus called her) a Randian tragic heroine.

This is nonsense: "If she (Teresa) wasn't selfish she would have pleased her parents by giving them grandchildren. She would have been a doting wife and caring mother. But she was selfish and did exactly what she wanted with her life. She became world famous for it and loved every minute of it and knew she'd be a saint in record time."

She did not love every minute of it, and she did not care about becoming a "saint." You don't know what you are talking about.

And this - "Rand would have admired her." - is complete and utter BS. Maybe you're one of the "peple" who don't understand Rand.

Comatus, Mother Teresa did not live by force of will, but by her faith. Yet most of her life was the proverbial "dark night of the soul." That is not tragic, but profoundly significant and beautiful.
9.15.2007 5:07pm
donald (mail):
All I know is I was 28, a pretty successful salesman, and when I finished the book I quit my job, started my own ting (Failed the first two times), and never looked back. She crystalized in those two ponderous great novels every thought I ever had about what was good, fair, and successful. I was able to distill it down into a much better life than I would have experienced.
9.15.2007 5:12pm
MacGuffin:
She loathed that kind of writing as much as she loathed Greek facades on Manhattan bank buildings.

Is that why she wrote polemics under a facade of literature?

Rand occupies the same nearly unreadable literary space as Richard Bach (Jonathan Livingston Seagull) and L. Ron Hubbard (Battlefield Earth); and their respective fans are also commonly fatuous.
9.15.2007 5:14pm
Billy Beck (www):
Peter McCormack -- "'Atlas Shrugged' in my view is the great American novel. It's also the greatest denfense of the American idea ever written.

And, unlike some here, I think it is a literary masterpiece."


Emphatically agreed. I read it once about every five to seven years on average. Along the way, during the late-80's and early-90's, I was hitting Solzhenitsyn pretty hard. I began observing very remarkable similarities between the two writers in terms of tempo and passion. With further comparison to people like Dostoevsky or Pasternak, it occurred to me that Rand was very much a Russian writer in elements of style quite distinct from her explicit philosophical project, which accounted for a good deal of style on its own.

From then on, I've always laughed at bloody dolts who sneered at her work. My conviction is that we're talking about people whose literary grasp is paper-thin and whose capacity for independent thought is on a par with a fresh-weaned puppy.

You are absolutely right.

And: her epistemology -- specifically: her theory of concepts -- is the premier achievement in all of 20th century philosophy. You will not find one person in a thousand who can begin to discuss it competently.
9.15.2007 5:20pm
RL:
I won't go as far as MacGuffin, but I will agree that Ayn Rand wrote great fiction for people who loathe fiction. I attended a couple of Ivy League schools, so I've definitely met more than my share of Rand lovers - interestingly, every one of them was male.

Anyway, I thought her books were so-so, but as far as epic literature goes, I'll take Pynchon any day.
9.15.2007 5:23pm
Billy Beck (www):
"Also, what a trust fund kid who just sits around the pool drinking beer and makes nothing of his life?"

{laff, laff, laff}

Try Francisco d'Anconia.

Watch out for the mirrors and don't get lost.
9.15.2007 5:23pm
Warren F. (mail):
"Rand occupies the same nearly unreadable literary space as Richard Bach (Jonathan Livingston Seagull) and L. Ron Hubbard (Battlefield Earth); and their respective fans are also commonly fatuous."

This is a supremely silly statement, lumping lightweight mystics with one of the most profoundly anti-mystical minds of the last century as though that little aspect of content were meaningless.

I'm not sure why fatuous and condescending comments like this are provoked by the subject of Ayn Rand, but they are, seemingly invariably. Something about Rand's rationality causes the insecurities of some irrational souls to come hollering out with the most brash and contentless denunciations of Rand the writer, Rand the thinker, everyone who read and appreciated Rand, and the horses they rode in on.
9.15.2007 5:35pm
Truth Seeker:
She did not love every minute of it, and she did not care about becoming a "saint." You don't know what you are talking about.

Mother Theresa was an international celebrity since the 1970s. She was on the cover of TIME magazine, won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Albert Schweitzer International Prize, and many, many others, She met with world leaders such as Reagan, Thatcher, and all of the Popes. She ran an organization of over 600 missions in over 100 countries.

Yet, she never again visited her mother or sister since she left home at the age of 18.
9.15.2007 5:37pm
Peter McCormick (mail):
RL (or anyone elese)--

Let's make a bet. Let's get 500 top-flight college students. We'll have them read Atlas Shrugged and your favorite Thomas Pynchon novel. If just 40% of the students prefer Pynchon over Rand, I'll pay for all 1000 copies of Rand and Pynchon. If more than 60% choose Atlas Shrugged, you pay.

Deal??
9.15.2007 5:39pm
MacGuffin:
Rand's rationality is no more so and no less mystical than Hubbard's E-meter.
9.15.2007 5:39pm
James d. (mail):
I don't know if this spurred the NYT to mention Rand, but AMC's "Mad Men" recently threw in a Rand reference. The Cooper of the Sterling-Cooper ad agency gives the main character, Don Draper, a $2,500 bonus for apparently no reason, and also a copy of one of Rand's books (I'm afraid I can't remember which one).
The passing of the book seemed like a secret ritual in this 1960 Madison Avenue setting.
I read some of Rand many years ago, but I would have to go back and re-read to give a more informed opinion on her work.
9.15.2007 5:43pm
Peter McCormick (mail):
"I'm not sure why fatuous and condescending comments like this are provoked by the subject of Ayn Rand, but they are, seemingly invariably. Something about Rand's rationality causes the insecurities of some irrational souls to come hollering out with the most brash and contentless denunciations of Rand the writer, Rand the thinker, everyone who read and appreciated Rand, and the horses they rode in on."

This is an interesting question. There is a certain soul-type that really seems to come unhinged psychologically when Ayn Rand is being discussed. I wonder if there are any psychological studies of the phenomenon. I really am rather curious.
9.15.2007 5:45pm
Truth Seeker:
Mother Theresa was the perfect Randian hero. She became a hero and reached her highest potential by doing what she wanted and doing it well.
9.15.2007 5:46pm
MacGuffin:
Make it 500 top-flight literature students and you've got a deal, Peter. Else I'll grant you that Rand's literature has a nescient appeal.
9.15.2007 5:49pm
Billy Beck (www):
"Mother Theresa was the perfect Randian hero."

That is simply horseshit, on its face, and before we even get into Teresa's recently published letters which expose the fraud that she herself conducted in the face of world approbation for decades. You don't know what you're talking about.
9.15.2007 5:52pm
MacGuffin:
This is an interesting question. There is a certain soul-type that really seems to come unhinged psychologically when Ayn Rand is being discussed. I wonder if there are any psychological studies of the phenomenon. I really am rather curious.

This is an interesting response. There is a certain soul-type that really seems to come unhinged psychologically while becoming attached to Ayn Rand. I wonder if there are any psychological studies of the phenomenon. I really am rather curious.
9.15.2007 5:53pm
RL:
Peter,

Might many of the "unhinged" be women who were treated poorly by an ex who, like Bernstein, walked around proclaiming that Ayn Rand changed his life?

As for your bet, you would undoubtedly win if your randomly selected group included more than 40% non-humanities majors. If you limit it to humanities majors, I'd be surprised if you could get even 25% to pick Rand over Pynchon.
9.15.2007 6:02pm
e:
Randy R.

"Selfishness" of Rand's sort is definitely not about money or trampling the rights of others. That's quite evident in the hero of The Fountainhead. He could have made money but chose not to conform. It was the supposedly selfless voice of the masses, a shady journalist, who used power to try to pull down achievers. Perhaps people would be less likely to misrepresent or misunderstand her views if they were described (more accurately I suspect) as about nonconformity and conviction rather than selfishness.
9.15.2007 6:06pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Warren F:

Since you asked, here are two passages that I think hold up pretty well:

"And the incorruptible Professor walked, too, averting his eyes fro the odious multitude of mankind. He had no future. He disdained it. He was a force. His thoughts caressed the images of ruin and destruction. He walked frail, insignificant, shabby, miserable -- and terrible in the simplicity of his idea calling madness and despair to the regeneration of the world. Nobody looked at him. He passed on unsuspected and deadly, like a pest in the street full of men."

And:

"You are more than entitled not to know what the word "performative" means. It is a new word and an ugly word, and perhaps it does not mean anything very much. But at any rate there is one thing in its favour, it is not a profound word. I remember once when I had been talking on this subject that somebody aferwards said: "you know, I haven't the least idea what he means, unless it could be that he simply means what he says." Well that is what I should like to mean"

I'm dying to know: Do I side with style or with substance? I've often had trouble telling the one from the other.

unhyphenatedconservative:

I agree. As Goodkind lets the Randian philosophy do more of the steering, his books become harder to take. And Richard's character becomes insufferably self-righteous. Still, I like the series more than I don't, even with the rather large lapses.
9.15.2007 6:06pm
Warren F. (mail):
RL,

Rand was a woman, you know... I've had a few shrewish vegetarian socialist mystic girlfriends in my day, but it didn't put me off to tofu. Well, it did probably put me off to socialism and mysticism, though. And humanities majors.
9.15.2007 6:08pm
R Gould-Saltman (mail):
Rand and Pynchon? I'm guessing Neal Stephenson might outdraw 'em both together right now...

. . . as to Rand as "inspiration" , and the mind-set of many of her avowed "followers", the single most informative work on the issue, and from a libertarian, no less, for me remains Jerome Tucille's "It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand"
9.15.2007 6:13pm
theobromophile (www):
Ditto the "Incredibles" and "Ratatouille" suggestions.


I enjoyed reading Fountainhead (never made it through Atlas Shrugged), but I remember recognizing that I shouldn't take her too seriously. Her heroes were selfish and self-absorbed to an extreme, and I didn't see the virtue in that.

Atlas is much better than Fountainhead. The characters in the latter are neurotic in the extreme; the Atlas ones are sane, rational creatures.
9.15.2007 6:19pm
Peter McCormick (mail):
The NY Times article on Ayn Rand says that Atlas Shrugged is ranked at 338 on Amazon. It's now at 29.

Of course I'm sure you all remember the Library of Congress survey from the early 90s that ranked Atlas Shrugged only behind the Bible as the book that had most influenced people's lives.
9.15.2007 6:26pm
Warren F. (mail):
Duffy,

That is quite a fascinating contrast. These are as substantial as the Rand passages, and are written in much the same soul-searching way. What is different about them is not so much the style as the content or the conclusion. The soul described in both passages you quote is arguably the opposite of Rand's. A rejection of meaning, self-worth, even aspiration as necessarily fraudulent could be said to be the worldview being expressed in them. Since Rand writes in opposition to that (predominant) 20th century trend in thinking, it is not surprising that you loathe her writing, I would suggest. She is aiming to blow the legs out from under that very worldview.

But these are powerfully written passages that quite ably express the opposite of what Rand was expressing, and thanks for supplying them. For me, I could only enjoy the style of the writer -- the worldview, or substance of what is being said, I disagree with and would not be enjoyable to me. Both writers unpack the substance of what they're saying in ways that resonate with the worldview of their readers. Rand's style, I submit, is merely appropriate to her worldview. It would be inappropriate to express a sense of hopelessness or meaninglessness or self-loathing with ruthlessly clear, perfectly reasoned and reverential language, just as it would be inappropriate to express a worldview of rational efficaciousness, knowable reality and self-reverence with ambiguous syntax, distorted thought processes, and self-loathing language. Substance demands the right style, and I think both authors meet that requirement exceptionally well.

I thought there was a very interesting comment earlier about Rand's fiction being perfect for those who don't enjoy fiction. In a way, I'm one of them, in that I only enjoy reading fiction that somehow informs my understanding of reality -- I love Twain, but he didn't write a single sentence that didn't have an arched eyebrow of mischief, and a bank of wisdom behind that. So I don't have to read about riverrafting for the pure fictional escape of it when reading Huck Finn. I like fiction that isn't escapist, in that way, but is important to my life and my understanding of it. I know some who plow through every single "Wheel of Time" book like hamsters who want it to keep on rolling with no end in sight. I shudder at that kind of waste of time. Just the way I am. But I loved LOTR and wept when Sam said, "Well, I'm back."

Anyway, the disagreement may well be one of substance and not style, although if one hates the substance and the author has followed through with it in the style chosen to express it, one might well hate the style, as well.
9.15.2007 6:32pm
whit:
"I remember reading results of a survey that asked Americans to name a book that "changed their lives" or some such. It was either Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead that was most often cited, ahead of the Bible. "

i majored in philosophy as an undergrad. i never once (that i remember) even heard rand's name MENTIONED, let alone sneered at. all talk of liberal university aside, Rand was simply off the radar for my philosophy professors. some would argue that it's worse to be ignored than criticized/sneered at etc. (i think ann coulter would be in that camp, or michael moore)

it is only in retrospect, after my post-college education in the important conservative thinkers (rand, hayek, burke, etc.) that i really realize how much the academy just glosses over these people. when FORCED to deal with them, they will, but people like rand will just generally be ignored among the philosophical world's hoi polloi.

foucault, derrida, etc. otoh will be emphasized way beyond their abilities or real influence.

based on the above quote, rand is supposedly immensely influential. but you would never have known that studying philosophy at my college
9.15.2007 6:44pm
MacGuffin:
all talk of liberal university aside, Rand was simply off the radar for my philosophy professors.

As she is for most literature professors. It is no coincidence that the NYT article appeared in the business section and that it referred to Atlas Shrugged as "[o]ne of the most influential business books ever written." Whatever high regard and utility her works may still hold in other realms, Rand's influence and utility in literature and philosophy is, at best and deservedly, de minimis.
9.15.2007 7:10pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
I came to the Rand novels as someone who had been required to read literature in high school. My problem with them was that I could not identify with Rand's perspective on the world, her understanding of people, or her understanding of their motivations. The virtue of the Fountainhead was that, while it read like my mother's Taylor Caldwell potboilers (Taylor Caldwell having her own distinct, right-wing, POV), at least I could finish it. Once Atlas Shrugged told me only capitalists could have real orgasms (others just having the equivalent of the penile sneeze, or an unsatisfying twitching), I found it hard to take seriously. The worst part was the 100 page polemic radio speech that only a true Randite would have listened to.

Basically, Rand novels are fine for those who like that sort of thing.
9.15.2007 7:19pm
Randy R. (mail):
e: ""Selfishness" of Rand's sort is definitely not about money or trampling the rights of others. He could have made money but chose not to conform."

Then Mother Theresa is a perfect Randian hero, right? She could have made money, or become a wife, or a queit nun, but chose not to conform to others' view.

But we have a situation here where two devotees of Rand sharply disagree about Mother Theresa. One says she's the perfect Randian hero, the other says the exact opposite.

What good is a philosophy where everyone meets the standard, and no one -- simultaneously?

Please, someone, give me a real life example of the perfect Randian hero, and the perfect anti-hero. Then we can compare notes.
9.15.2007 7:29pm
MacGuffin:
What good is a philosophy where everyone meets the standard, and no one -- simultaneously?

As with self-contradictory religious texts or juxtaposed, incongruous images in a Grateful Dead montage, they are all wonderfully, flexibly open to interpretation and unfalsifiable.
9.15.2007 7:41pm
Warren F. (mail):
Ayn Rand would have regarded Mother Theresa as a tragic hypocrit. To the extent she did what she did for self-gratification, what she preached was hypocrisy. To the extent she sacrificed herself for a belief she did not really even possess, her life was an abomination. To the extent Mother Theresa knew it, her life was a tragedy. To the extent that she was hailed as a saint for denying her mind and herself as worthy of existing for her own sake, she would have regarded the culture of the world still blighted by mysticism and altruism.

Rand regarded mysticism and altruism, even when claimed as a selfish pursuit, as a kind of treason to the nature of man, since man must use reason above all and is, in fact, not a collective but an individual with requirements for survival and happiness.

Rational self-interest does not mean hedonism, either, or sacrificing others to oneself.

These are all common strawmen objections which she was very specific and not ambiguous about refuting.

A new book published by Cambridge University Press, "Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist" clarifies all of these issues. Probably a better place to start than "It Usually Starts With Ayn Rand." It's nice to see, as a bonus, academia finally acknowledging what Rand herself actually said about these topics rather than resorting to the usual ad hominem attacks.

And it's nice to the NY Times back off a little bit with the sarcasm. Still, I wonder if a retrospective of "The Sun Also Rises" would talk about how badly old Hem treated his wives. That honor still seems to be reserved for the likes of Rand retrospectives, even though it has far less merit in her case.
9.15.2007 8:43pm
kiniyakki (mail):
Which book is it that convinces a person to stop rooting for sports teams? I detect an opportunity for me to kill two birds with one stone. First, I have never read a book by Ayn Rand, but have wanted to. Second, I have a new job and baby that both take energy, so if I can avoid football this season, I could use the extra time. So, which book should I read?
9.15.2007 8:55pm
anon252 (mail):
RL wins the bizarre comment on the thread award. How does a complain about people, sex unmentioned, who become unhinged when Rand is discussed become about women wronged by fans of Rand, with an obscure reference to the OP?
9.15.2007 8:59pm
theobromophile (www):
Anon,

You'll notice that RL mentioned that most of the people he knows who love Ayn Rand are men. Ergo, he imparted sex into his next comment... but I cannot parse the rest any further.
9.15.2007 9:20pm
Promethean:
I would recommend Edward Cline's Sparrowhawk series. Cline is an Objectivist who can write.

His series set against the backdrop of the decades leading up to the American Revolution is an excellent interweaving of history with larger than life fictional heroes.
9.15.2007 9:51pm
Stuart M. (mail):
Rand's stuff is interesting philosophically, but much of her writing is dreadfully overwrought. Atlas Shrugged is about twice as long as it needs to be because she violates the "show, don't tell" rule in the most flagrant fashion imaginable. The bombast to substance ratio is way too high.

That being said, her thesis about the importance of individuals and individual rights, respect for talent, honoring property rights, respecting others in their own quests, are all very worthwhile, and much-needed antidotes to the leftie pieties. Which isn't to say that some of her stuff isn't off the wall (for one thing, I don't think the most attractive look on a woman is the look of being chained - a line in Atlas Shrugged that really horrified me).
9.15.2007 9:51pm
e:
Randy:

But we have a situation here where two devotees of Rand sharply disagree about Mother Theresa. One says she's the perfect Randian hero, the other says the exact opposite.
What good is a philosophy where everyone meets the standard, and no one -- simultaneously?
Please, someone, give me a real life example of the perfect Randian hero, and the perfect anti-hero. Then we can compare notes.

Rand is not alone in having devotees who disagree on her views, or perfect hero. Is it necessary for ones perspective to be so easily reducible? That difficulty hardly means there aren't valid points. Rand might admire Bill Gates, but also see some flaws to the extent that he's seen to have taken from others. Rand might detest Kim Jung Il for various reasons. You overstate with "the complete opposite" and suggest that other philosophies don't allow room for internal debate. Maybe very simple philosophies, or caricatures of philosophies. The kind of descriptions I've heard of Rand or Marx by people who've never bothered to give them any serious consideration.
9.15.2007 10:10pm
theobromophile (www):

(for one thing, I don't think the most attractive look on a woman is the look of being chained - a line in Atlas Shrugged that really horrified me).

Off the top of my head, the line was "...the most feminine of all aspects, the look of being chained."

That pedantry aside, Rand's characterisations of female looks were rather strange. Dominique is described, once, as being frail; Dagny is merely slender. Kyra is occaisonally too thin. They all have extraordinarily capable minds, but none of them has a capable, strong body.

I think we could all go on for quite some time on how utterly strange Miss Rand's sex scenes are.
9.15.2007 10:10pm
Seerak (mail):
This is a lively thread -- and contrary to my expectations when I read the OP's first line, that the snarkiness would be supplied here -- it hasn't been. Although that's probably got something to do with the fact that the OP isn't Ilya Somin.

Billy Beck just about covers anything I'd care to add; I'll just add two links for VC readers' convenience in support of his heretofore unechoed point about Mother Teresa's recently published letters.

Mother Theresa's Crisis of Faith

Mother Teresa's Letters Reveal Doubts
9.15.2007 10:35pm
Peter McCormick (mail):
In 1998 the Modern Library, a major American publishing house, established a committee of writers, editors, and literary experts to pick the 100 best novels of the twentieth century. Here is a representative passage from the number one novel:

"He kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump, on each plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative melonsmellonous osculation.
The visible signs of postsatisfaction?
A silent contemplation: a tentative velation: a gradual abasement: a solicitous aversion: a proximate erection."

The Modern Library then conducted an electronic Internet poll, asking ordinary everyday Americans to vote for the best 100 novels of the twentieth century. Here is a representative selection from the people's number one novel:

"She sat listening to the music. It was a symphony of triumph. The notes flowed up, they spoke of rising and they were the rising itself, they were the essence and the form of upward motion, they seemed to embody every human act and thought that had ascent as its motive. It was a sunburst of sound, breaking out of hiding and spreading open. It had the freedom of release and the tension of purpose. It swept space clean and left nothing but the joy of an unobstructed effort. Only a faint echo within the sounds spoke of that from which the music escaped, but spoke in laughing astonishment at the discovery that there was no ugliness or pain, and there never had to be. It was the song of an immense deliverance."


The greatest novel of the twentieth century chosen by the intellectual class was James Joyce's Ulysses. The greatest novel of the twentieth century chosen by the people was Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. (Hat tip to HB for the quotations.)

Go figure.

Now I know why MacGuffin wants only English majors who have been taught to believe that Joyce is great literature and that Ayn Rand is trash to be a part of the bet.
9.15.2007 11:03pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Looking at the top ten selections, the ascension of Atlas Shrugged mostly reflects the titanic struggle of the Randites against the Friends of Elron for dominance of the Internet Readers' List of the 100 Best Novels.

If you don't like Joyce, you might also not like Steinbeck: "Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky-tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries and laboratories and flophouses."

To me it's obvious that Joyce (as well as Steinbeck) is literature, and Rand reads more like a self-published novel.
9.15.2007 11:51pm
Warren F. (mail):
Well, James Joyce self-published The Dubliners. ;)
9.16.2007 12:34am
Billy Beck (www):
"Looking at the top ten selections, the ascension of Atlas Shrugged mostly reflects the titanic struggle of the Randites against the Friends of Elron for dominance of the Internet Readers' List of the 100 Best Novels."

...which naturally accounts for Rand's sales figures.

{cackle}
9.16.2007 12:54am
Billy Beck (www):
"Well, James Joyce self-published The Dubliners."

That's right. Meanwhile, Rand demanded a fifty thousand dollar advance, a straight fifteen percent of the royalties, with a first edition print run of seventy-five thousand copies. That was completely outlandish in 1957, and Bennett Cerf wrapped that whole deal in literally five minutes.

That's because he knew he had the real thing on his hands.
9.16.2007 1:12am
Tony Tutins (mail):
Is Joyce "Grant Richards" of London?

I've read self-published novels -- they're very cheap at used bookstores.
9.16.2007 1:14am
Tony Tutins (mail):
The Modern Library then conducted an electronic Internet poll, asking ordinary everyday Americans to vote for the best 100 novels of the twentieth century.

Sales figures are objective. Open internet polls are not. I believe my suspicions were pardonable:
Reader selections

Best 20th century novel

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Anthem by Ayn Rand
We the Living by Ayn Rand
Mission Earth by L. Ron Hubbard
Fear by L. Ron Hubbard
9.16.2007 1:28am
Truth Seeker:
For those who criticize her work, she had her social problems, and her philosophy was not perfectly worked out, but she had a deeper intellect, wrote more profitable material and will endure much longer than anyone reading this blog. She was born in 1905 Russia and came to America with no credentials. What's your excuse?
9.16.2007 1:38am
Warren F. (mail):
Well, considering Objectivism isn't a religion and has no organized network of churches or schools like Scientologists have, it's pretty impressive that the Objectivists mobilized so much better than the Scientologists, eh? And they didn't do it with E-meters or religious tax shelters or any official organization at all. Hmmm. Oh, and her fans, unlike Hubbard's adherants, include people like Alan Greenspan, instead of Tom Cruise.

No, it's clear that people voted for Rand, Lee, Orwell and Tolkien because they were fans, and people voted for Hubbard because they are members of his church and are indoctrinated en masse by an official church organization to view Hubbard as a their prophet.
9.16.2007 1:38am
Tony Tutins (mail):
And just how did people come to join Hubbard's church? Having read the works of all the writers in the top ten, it's clear that people voted for Hubbard's novels because they liked his belief system, and people voted for Rand's novels because they liked her belief system. The other books are well-written and interesting. Moreover, people voted for Lee and Tolkien because, in the end, good triumphs over evil, and for Orwell, because, in the end, evil triumphs over good.
9.16.2007 2:42am
Warren F. (mail):
Look, Cambridge University does not publish books about "belief systems." It's a book on the P-H-I-L-0-S-O-P-H-Y of Ayn Rand. (Mentioned above)

And here is a quote of the New York Times' own book review of The Fountainhead: "Ayn Rand is a writer of great power. She has a subtle and ingenious mind and the capacity of writing brilliantly, beautifully, bitterly." I doubt you're going to find a quote like that about any book by L. Ron Hubbard.

The two just aren't comparable except in a very superficial way. Hubbard started a religion, not a philosophy, and was regarded as a hack pulp sci-fi writer. Cambridge University, the New York Times, and a public not belonging to any church all agree that her philosophy, her artistic merit, and her novels are worthy of serious attention, praise and popularity. And no one had to be frightened into submission by the threat of thetans and Xenu.
9.16.2007 3:20am
omarbradley:
I think Rand's novels are combinations of a story and philosophy.

They're much longer than they need to be.

That said, they have sold well, been influential, are still being discussed, etc...

Her novels are also products of their time. To read them now isn't to understand their impact or what they meant in the context of 1943 and 1957 and the collectivist mentality that was ascendant and the Cold War etc...

For such long books they read rather fast and I found them enjoyable.

To add an anecdote about her influence, and in relation to the legal focus of this blog, it's been reported in various places that Justice Thomas requires his clerks to read The Fountainhead over the summber before the start of the new term

As someone said above, not bad for a girl born in St. Petersburg in 1905 who came to the US with nothing.
9.16.2007 3:48am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
The Cabbage-

I call myself a libertarian, and I hate Ayn Rand. After reading the comments, I realized why: I like libertarianism for purely pragmatic reasons. Free-market capitalism and libertarian politics just happen to be the best solution. I don't see any moral imperative behind them. As far as morality goes, I try to be religious and I like Kant.

One can support capitalism for purely utilitarian reasons, but if you look closer you can certainly see moral support as well. Markets are inherently vountary and non-violent - buyer and seller peacefully and voluntarily exchanging goods and both benefitting from it. And the vast majority of the time this exchange is friendly, or at least cordial, which is another part of the beauty of it. And then even when one expands to a larger view society as a whole benefits from the exchange and the profits made. (Of course this depends on a society and markets as free from coercion and fraud as possible, but this is why that is a core libertarian value.)
9.16.2007 8:47am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
question123-

What would Rand have thought about someone like Mother Teresa, for example? Probably disdain and contempt. Yet I think hers was a noble life.

Ah yes - libertarians and Randians, as believers in laissez faire capitalism, all yearn to have a sweatshop in their basement. And they don't even like music, they prefer to listen to recordings of the cries of anguished workers being exploited by capitalist slave masters....

I haven't read Rand yet, but from what I know about Mother Teresa she does not conflict with libertarianism. Libertarians have no problem with charity and volunteerism, and in most cases appreciate, respect, and applaud it, as long as those engaging in it are doing it with their own time and money or time and money freely given to them. When you take other people's time or money through fraud or coercion it is not charity, it is theft. I don't know of Mother Teresa taking money from people unwillingly or knowingly accepting stolen property as a "donation", so she likely would not conflict with libertarianism, or from what I know of Randism.
9.16.2007 9:07am
Freedom, Soar! (mail):
Hayek, at the urging of friends, reportedly gave Atlas Shrugged a try, but said he just didn't get it and had to put the book down. Victor Hugo, whom Rand emulated and praised as the world's greatest novelist, would probably read AS through but would have something of a difficult time doing it. So what does this say—about them and about Rand? Not a whole lot. For in the world of ideas, all three are equals in keeping alive and effectively promoting to different audiences the same great Idea. Rand throws darts and cherry bombs; Hugo bombs and missiles; Hayek nukes. We need them all, just as (in Les Miserables), at the barricades we need Gavroche, Jean Valjean and Enjolras.
9.16.2007 9:29am
R. Richard Schweitzer (mail):
All those words, and nothing about human motivations and what drives human action, the Daemonic. As people refer to the great pieces of literature in the several languages, and from the several cultures, does no one pick up on the essential themes of motivations?

It is generally accepted that most individual human conduct (including that classified as social and economic) is "motivated" by internal and external stimuli (or "causes) in active and reactive responses.

R. Richard Schweitzer
s24rrs@aol.com
9.16.2007 11:03am
MacGuffin:
And they don't even like music, they prefer to listen to recordings of the cries of anguished workers being exploited by capitalist slave masters....

I don't know about that, but Randians certainly seem to prefer inartful sententiousness to literature.
9.16.2007 11:26am
Alan Crowe (mail) (www):
Atlas Shrugged is a wishfulfillment fantasy in which heroes drawn from imagination defeat villains drawn from real life. Ayn Rand is an interesting figure because she went to University in Russia in the aftermath of the 1917 revolution and saw through the popular self-deceptions of the time. Readers focus on her heroes, but it is her villains who are drawn from life and it is in her villains that artistic truth is to be found.

Look at Zimbabwe today. What is Mugabe thinking of? He never intended for the economy to collapse. There is an easy analysis in terms of policy errors that explains the collapse of the economy, but it is unsatisfying precisely because it is so easy. Surely leaders ruin their countries by making subtle errors, not stupid ones.

So one looks to psychology. What darker self-deceptions and denials let a man become what Rand calls a "looter" without ever quite seeing the fate that lies in front of his face? Rand attempts to describe the psychology of the looters based on her real life experience.

She also fashions a philosophy in opposition to looting. but there is no John Galt at work in Zimbabwe. If her novel is more than entertainment we should be asking if her villains are true to life. Perhaps her philosophy serves as an innoculation against or antidote to the psychology of the looters. Perhaps it doesn't. If she has succeeded in nailing the psychology of the looters that is enough to make her reputation.
9.16.2007 12:01pm
MacGuffin:
Rand attempts to describe the psychology of the looters based on her real life experience.

No, as Stuart M. correctly observes, Rand flagrantly violates the "show, don't tell" principle. She tells us the "correct" way to define her characters and she tells us the framing to "correctly" make sense of their actions instead of showing us the subtleties and interactions of characters, settings, actions, reactions, etc. that allow us form our own always incomplete but far more interesting understanding of the people being written about. That is why Rand's work is horribly failed literature, even if it may retain some utility as personal goad or political cudgel.
9.16.2007 12:26pm
Peter McCormick (mail):
I'm not a psychologist, so I can't and won't attempt to understand or explain the motives of some people on this thread. For those of independent judgment, make up your own mind as to what does and does not constitute good literature.

From James Joyce's Ulysses:

"He kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump, on each plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative melonsmellonous osculation.
The visible signs of postsatisfaction?
A silent contemplation: a tentative velation: a gradual abasement: a solicitous aversion: a proximate erection."


From Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged:

"She sat listening to the music. It was a symphony of triumph. The notes flowed up, they spoke of rising and they were the rising itself, they were the essence and the form of upward motion, they seemed to embody every human act and thought that had ascent as its motive. It was a sunburst of sound, breaking out of hiding and spreading open. It had the freedom of release and the tension of purpose. It swept space clean and left nothing but the joy of an unobstructed effort. Only a faint echo within the sounds spoke of that from which the music escaped, but spoke in laughing astonishment at the discovery that there was no ugliness or pain, and there never had to be. It was the song of an immense deliverance."

The good news is that the future of American culture will be settled less by the people here and more by the hundreds of thousands of people who buy Atlas Shrugged on a yearly basis, which is why I'm willing to trust the first 100 names in the phonebook for political wisdom than I'm willing to trust the literature faculty at Yale.
9.16.2007 12:56pm
MacGuffin:
You're not doing yourself any good, Peter.

As for the first 100 phonebook names and political wisdom, that doesn't address the question of literary merit. There are numerous examples of influential political writings that are also examples of horrible literature. Thankfully, most of their authors did not adopt the pretense that they were writing novels.
9.16.2007 1:24pm
Peter McCormick (mail):
You're not doing yourself any good, Peter.


Given the fact that you seem to be coming unhinged, I'd say I've hit the bulls eye. I think I could do this all day.
9.16.2007 1:37pm
MacGuffin:
There is nothing about watching you miss the mark all day that stresses my hinges.
9.16.2007 1:50pm
Marina @ Sufficient Thrust (mail) (www):
From the moment I opened Atlas Shrugged (after, admittedly, it sat on my bookshelf for over three years), I couldn't put it down. Now, I'm an avid reader, but I don't usually have that reaction to books.

I did not feel that way about The Fountainhead, and in fact struggled to get through it. I haven't read Anthem yet, and We the Living has been sitting half-read on my bedside table for over six months now.

Not only was it well-written, but its message was incredibly powerful. I can't say it changed things for me, as I was an Objectivist before I knew what the term meant, but it certainly articulated many of my as-yet-unarticulated feelings. This passage in particular immediately stopped my EVER procrastinating on a work project again:

"So you think that money is the root of all evil?" said Francisco d'Aconia. "Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?"

Has anyone visited Ouray, Colorado, which was said to have inspired Galt's Gulch? I want to spend a few days there within the next year or so, for curiosity's sake.
9.16.2007 3:30pm
Warren F. (mail):
If one is so into taking the temperature of what others think about the quality of Rand's writing, then one cannot ignore the fact that the New York Times book reviewer said what she said about The Fountainhead -- without being deliberately obtuse.

Perhaps you don't care what the New York Times book reviewer's appraisal of The Fountainhead was -- because you prize your own literary knowledge and judgement higher than a mere New York Times book reviewer. OK. But understand that people will probably pay more attention to the words of a New York Times book reviewer than to your opinion, no matter how many non-New York Times book reviewers hoist a sneer at the literary merit of Ayn Rand's writing to chorus your opinion. Ain't the argument from authority a bitch?
9.16.2007 3:38pm
Warren F. (mail):
I should have addressed my comment to McGuffin for clarity's sake.
9.16.2007 3:40pm
MacGuffin:
Actually, Warren, people who are interested in literature as literature are likely to pay far more attention to the body of criticism of Rand and The Fountainhead that has arisen in the 64 years since its publication than to the views of a single reviewer in the New York Times shortly after that book's publication. If I want the assessment of a contemporaneous authority of Rand and The Fountainhead, I'll stick with that of the book's inspiration, who, in the process of coming to a stalemate in their attempts to use each other's fame, found Rand to be an obsequious though parsimonious pest, and her book ridiculous nonsense.
9.16.2007 4:33pm
Warren F. (mail):
If you're talking about Frank Lloyd Wright, you're wrong. He was not the inspiration for the book. He proclaimed The Fountainhead magnificent. He still had the book next to his bed when he died -- go see it at Taliesen West. And he was the parsimonious one who wanted an exorbitant fee to do Roark's designs for the movie version. Get your facts straight.

As for the rest, piff.
9.16.2007 5:52pm
Carol (mail):
It is a matter of historical record that F. L. Wright worshipped both Rand and The Fountainhead, and he never seems to have changed his mind about these things.

Whenever someone repeats the well-refuted "Big Lie" that there exists a "body of criticism" on Rand's philosophy, I always insist on specifics. The late Robert Nozick, Harvard professor of philosophy, was just one of those "experts" who was ripped to shreds (in academic journals) for simply getting what Rand said wrong. These "critics" are usually also in the dark about the growing and impressive secondary literature (in some of the best scholarly journals) rigorously explicating Rand's ideas, and that this literature has yet to receive a response which is both serious and accurate.

In short, there has yet to be a critic of Rand's philosophy who can claim to have also accurately described it.

The same is invariably true for the claim that Rand wasn't a good writer. These critics are never able to give an accurate analysis of the plot, let alone anything else in the book. As high school book reports, these "critiques" would earn straight "F's." Such critics invariably seem to have blinded themselves to the subtle and powerful technique, something else that. at last, is starting to receive some of the attention - and understanding - it deserves.

So, the attack always degenerates into the sort that we see here - an ad hominem vacuum of substance. Rand's fans, it seems, don't even like music. Of course, wasn't one of Rand's fictional heroes a composer? (See what careful readers they are?)
9.16.2007 7:29pm
MacGuffin:
It is a matter of historical record that F. L. Wright worshipped both Rand and The Fountainhead, and he never seems to have changed his mind about these things.

Wrong. Both Wright's opinion of Rand and Rand's opinion of Wright changed greatly after their falling out.
9.16.2007 7:46pm
Carol (mail):
What "falling out"?

The evidence from her letters and journals is clear, Rand never changed her opinion of Wright one little bit.

Wright's exalted opinion of Rand and her work is well-known, and it is something that has gone unchallenged by his biographers.

First things first, though: what evidence of a "falling out" do you possess? That Rand could not afford the home he designed for her was not the occasion of any reported rancor to my knowledge.

Unless, of course, you have some new evidence?
9.16.2007 8:05pm
liberty (mail) (www):

To me it's obvious that Joyce (as well as Steinbeck) is literature, and Rand reads more like a self-published novel.


Heh. Why is it obvious? I guess I'm just not smart or something, cause Joyce seems like the opposite of literature to me. While Rand's writing style is not my favorite (it reads to me like bad writing) her ideas are powerful and she has transformed many minds. To me that is good literature.


Rand throws darts and cherry bombs; Hugo bombs and missiles; Hayek nukes.


In a sense this is true, in that Hayek (and Mises) really got the core of the economics of the problem in a scientific methodical way, while Rand did not-- but that is because she wasn't not an economist, she wrote as a writer and a moral philosopher. But, she also did get to some of the core economic problems in a way everyone can understand, which is invaluable. And clearly she did drop a bomb because she has been a major influence-- often THE major influence in a lot of people's thinking.
9.16.2007 8:34pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Hero: any number of prominent entrepreneurs who have not caved to the urge to lobby for regulation on their firm's behalf. Perhaps Sam Walton*

Anti-Hero: any number of prominent businesspeople who do use politicians as weapons against their rivals; many or even most politicians; all the socialist leaders remaining and up-and-coming like in South America; etc etc.
9.16.2007 8:38pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Oh, I forgot my footnote:

* Wal-Mart today does do some lobbying and politiking, such as for a minimum wage, to hurt their competition, however that is after Sam Walton I think. I am under the (perhaps false) impression that he didn't use those tactics. I could be wrong.

But, in any case, I think its pretty easy to know what characteristics make up her hero and which her anti-hero. The fact that its so damn easy to find anti-heroes and so hard to find pure heroes is pretty sad. But there are at least contenders in America.
9.16.2007 8:41pm
Warren F. (mail):
I have no idea what MacGuffin is talking about re: Ayn Rand's "falling out" with Frank Lloyd Wright. I've never seen this before. Anywhere. I DID see The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in the shelf next to Wright's bed at Taliesen West just a few months ago, though. Very well-worn paperbacks with Scotch-taped spines.

Rand disagreed with Wright on some things -- such as the cult-like atmosphere of the school, tellingly -- but I've never heard of any falling out between them that resulted in an end to their friendship, and certainly not to any reappraisal of The Fountainhead by Wright. He referred to her thesis in that book as "The Great One" and remarked that she would probably be burned as a witch for writing it. And, of course, he wanted to do the architectural designs for the film.
9.16.2007 8:54pm
fishbane (mail):
Amusing thread. My personal view is that Rand, as a novelist, is all but unreadable. She needed an editor far more badly than Kerouac ever did. I did read The Fountainhead, but couldn't make it through Atlas. As a philosopher, moral or otherwise, she's a complete lightweight, repackaging a bunch of fairly obvious things that others said much better in a romantic bundle and selling it to horny highschool students looking for a reason for self respect and slightly kinky sex. And yes, once you get to the "A=A" sillyness, it really isn't much different than L. Ron Hubbard, or for that matter a late night buy-my-tapes-and-succeed-in-business! infomercial.

If that works for you, great. Some of my best friends are religious, too.
9.16.2007 8:57pm
Carol (mail):
Rand's arguments for liberty are far more important and powerful - and make many more converts - precisely because they are moral arguments.
9.16.2007 8:57pm
Billy Beck (www):
"In short, there has yet to be a critic of Rand's philosophy who can claim to have also accurately described it."

I have to disagree with that. I maintain that Roy Childs was right about the disconnect between her ethics and politics, despite the fact that he recanted that position shortly before he died.

"So, the attack always degenerates into the sort that we see here - an ad hominem vacuum of substance. Rand's fans, it seems, don't even like music. Of course, wasn't one of Rand's fictional heroes a composer?"

Yes. That's Richard Halley.

At page 643 of her "Letters", you can find a nice note of appreciation that she wrote to Duane Eddy in 1967.
9.16.2007 8:59pm
Carol (mail):
Rand's moral argument is unprecedented in the history of philosophy. I defy "fishbane" to find its equal. Same goes for her epistemology.

Despite the length of some of her work, Rand is also the tightest fiction writer you will ever read.
9.16.2007 9:01pm
Carol (mail):
Childs was an anarchist who - toward the end of his life - realized that some of his thinking was half-baked. At one point, at least, he believed that Rand's non-initiation of force principle required anarchism, but Rand's ideal government requires no initiation of force, as Childs assumed it did, as others have observed.

He's a good example of what I mean: he never grasped Rand's critique of anarchism, or her conception of an ethical government, in the first place.
9.16.2007 9:08pm
liberty (mail) (www):
fishbane,

its almost not worth responding, because I have to think that you know that what you said is full-of-crap and you just resent her or something, but I will take it at face value and respond.

As a philosopher, moral or otherwise, she's a complete lightweight, repackaging a bunch of fairly obvious things that others said much better in a romantic bundle


If those things she's "repackaged" (isn't almost everything just repackaging?) are so obvious, then why is she so controversial? And why do so many people say that she influenced them so much? According to Publisher's weekly "Atlas Shrugged is the "second most influential book for Americans today" after the Bible, according to a joint survey conducted by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club"

and selling it to horny highschool students looking for a reason for self respect and slightly kinky sex.

O.K. you win, its all horny high school kids, like Alan Greenspan, Frank Lloyd Wright, etc.
9.16.2007 9:10pm
MacGuffin:
Wright's exalted opinion of Rand and her work is well-known, and it is something that has gone unchallenged by his biographers.

Wrong again.
9.16.2007 9:18pm
Warren F. (mail):
You can't just gloss over or skim a book by Ayn Rand -- it's like glossing over bits of an equation and not knowing what you're looking at when you get to the solution.

Most people don't expect each word to be that important, don't look for it, are more used to words just sort of washing over them as in Joyce or less extreme examples, and so are totally mystified by why some people think Rand's work is so amazing. It's not about this excerpt or that excerpt. The arcs are much bigger, the interactions precise, and the word-use exact and tied in to the entire context of what is being said over a vast and complete worldview. If you want to appreciate Rand's fiction, you have to know and look for that, (and not resent having to).

So it's clearly not for everyone, but I've found, invariably, that people who don't like her books and call her an inferior writer have no clue what she is doing literarily, no idea how she is doing it or even that she is doing it. It's like hearing somebody say they hate chocolate ice cream because it's hard to wash out of their hair.

I'm still waiting for a critic of hers who actually understands what her style accomplishes and how precisely it does so AND still rejects it as "self-published" "bad writing." The same goes for her philosophy, as Carol notes above. The more people learn about it, the less they disagree with it, the more they like it. ;)
9.16.2007 9:19pm
Warren F. (mail):
MacGuffin, put up or shut up. What are you talking about?
9.16.2007 9:20pm
Carol (mail):
Yes, MacGuffin, could you please cite something that supports your view. I've just re-checked Rand's existing biographies and the Wright biographies I possess, and I can find nothing like what you say. I wonder what source you have that others lack.
9.16.2007 10:29pm
Carol (mail):
Rand's egoism is not of the cynical exploitation variety like Hobbes' and so many others'. It isn't Spinoza's sort, as well, either in its methodology or ultimate conclusions. Nietzsche is the philosopher to whom Rand is most often compared, but he rejected logical, principled ethics altogether and probably would have been - fundamentally - horrified at Rand's "virtue ethics." What he would have made of her doctrine of individual rights one can also easily guess. Yes, Aristotle is still the closest fit, but Rand provided a metaethical foundation not to be found in that giant's work, either. Rand's answer to the "Is/Ought" problem is post-Humean, so, again, there's no existing analogy.
9.16.2007 10:52pm
Latinist:
I'm absolutely sure I'm an idiot for getting into this discussion, but I can't help myself.

First of all, the arguments about who thought or thinks what about Ayn Rand are pretty useless. Ayn Rand fans already know that lit professors don't like her; literature types who hate AR already know that she has a large following. So AR fans think lit professors are pretentious idiot snobs, and AR haters think there are a lot of philistines who don't understand true literature out there. (Note that those beliefs aren't inconsistent; I, for one, think there's some truth in each of them.)

I suppose you could come up with some more reasonable test based on what we all agree to be true; you could, e.g., try to find the correlation between people who like AR and people who like, say, Shakespeare (I'm assuming we all think Shakespeare was a good writer). But let's be honest: if we did that test, would anyone accept it as proving that AR was or wasn't great? I certainly wouldn't.

So we have to find some way to actually directly discuss the texts and, you know, talk about, like, literature and stuff. In that spirit, I'm going to use another comment to say what I think of Ayn Rand. (This one is too long already, as my comments always are. Sorry, I can't help it.)
9.16.2007 10:52pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Warren F.

Well said. I think that I like her work in part for that- I don't like a lot of wordy descriptive stuff, I really like conceptual books with ideas, and Atlas was the epitome of that. Also I read slowly and like to absorb every word-- that is just how I like to read. Her books reward that, like good literature should. Also, someone said above that people who don't like fiction like Rand-- that also describes me. I have read one complete work of fiction (and it was really short) in the past year or few years. I read maybe one a year. But I read a lot of non-fiction, for enjoyment.

Still, I don't like her writing "style" that much, but it was quite a revelation to see The Fountainhead movie and realize that it was from the "romantic" tradition. That really explained a lot. I'd missed that.
9.16.2007 10:56pm
Billy Beck (www):
Carol: I agreed with Childs, the first time, and I still do.

Very briefly: her individualist ethics necessarily implies the right of radical dissent against the existence of the state. This is in the nature of values, which she always had right. It's one of her best features.

Her critique of anarchism is strictly from conservative, and quite shallow.

Her "Objectivist Epistemology" is just splendid. The finest thing she ever did, even though it's only an "Introduction", and was never fully explicated as she had planned. Her correction of Aristotelian "essence" as an epistemic (not metaphysical) attribute is both millenia late and, so far, ahead of its time.
9.16.2007 10:58pm
Carol (mail):
The "right of radical dissent against the existence of the state" is, of course, implied in her system - as it is under the U.S. Bill of Rights - that is, the "dissent" part. If you mean, "Can someone 'opt-out' of Rand's state?" Well, so long as he or she doesn't initiate force against anybody, he or she will have no problem with Rand's state, since it will never initiate force, either.
9.16.2007 11:24pm
Latinist:
I've only ever read Anthem by Ayn Rand, which people tell me isn't her best, so what I'm going to say may not apply at all to the Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged or whatever else she wrote. But in regard to Anthem, I have to side with the condescending sneerers. I thought it was a readable, mediocre sci-fi novel, with some really boring preachy bits.

The characters were all totally one-dimensional. The good guys (a man and a woman, as far as I remember) were always strong, individualist, un-self-doubting (after a bit of perfunctory getting-over of the dystopian education) brave heroes, and the bad guys were all always sniveling, obscurantist wimps. There were no complexities, no worries about whether the idea of good that the book was selling was really the perfect, absolute, hundred-percent good, no painful confusions or contradictions. It was all so easy. And thus, boring.

I also don't remember the language being very good, but I can't really defend that claim, as I don't remember Anthem well enough. In regard to the two passages quoted earlier, however, from Joyce and AR: I've never read either Ulysses or Atlas Shrugged, but I think the yellow smellow passage totally wins that contest. Joyce is having fun, he's playing with the sound of the words, rhymes and echoes and little jokes; I love the way the silly rhyming nonsense turns into exaggerated technical-sounding language, and you hear how similar the two things are.
The Rand passage, by contrast, seems to me a pretty unsurprising rolling out of the standard modern author's bag of tricks. The connection of music with an intense psychological experience, the intensifying descriptive phrases separated by commas with no conjunctions, saying something "is" somethiing else to indicate a close connection and immediacy of experience ("they were the rising itself"): they're all effective tricks, and all capably done, but nothing to get that excited about, it seems to me. (Of course, maybe I'd get more out of them in context.)

About Rand's philosophy I'm even more ignorant, but I've never found it that impressive: what little I've read tends to claim to be absolutely provable by logic, which I find ridiculous, and to think that great philosophers like Plato and Kant can be dismissed by calling them "mystics" or some such. But maybe that's only because I've been reading abbreviated versions.

On the other hand, as an avid NY Mets and Giants fan, the last few days have left me feeling that professional sports are indeed a wretched and miserable waste of time that should only be inflicted as punishment on condemned multiple murderers. So maybe Rand was right about something.
9.16.2007 11:24pm
Billy Beck (www):
"If you mean, Can someone 'opt-out' of Rand's state?"

Yes, ma'am. That's what that "radical" bit means.

"The Bill of Rights" is summarily dismissed as metaphysically, ethically and politically incompetent.

"Well, so long as he or she doesn't initiate force against anybody, he or she will have no problem with Rand's state, since it will never initiate force, either."

That isn't all there is to it, Carol, by a long shot. Her stand on a claim of a "monopoly of the use of force" is a necessarily implicit arbitrary and unilateral threat against individual defense, and that's only the start of it.
9.16.2007 11:36pm
fishbane (mail):
If those things she's "repackaged" (isn't almost everything just repackaging?) are so obvious, then why is she so controversial? And why do so many people say that she influenced them so much? According to Publisher's weekly "Atlas Shrugged is the "second most influential book for Americans today" after the Bible, according to a joint survey conducted by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club"

Why is Howard Stern so controversial? It isn't because he's profound.

Perhaps I was a little harsh - it is good that there's an author out there that introduces individualism and self reliance to young people. I just wish it weren't wrapped up in the cultishness that AR built around herself. People can get the same thing out of Nietzsche, Hayek, Mill, and following references from those. Or if that's too much to ask of our education system, buy the teen in your life Machinery of Freedom, and don't look at their browser logs. Heck, for a influencing a budding mind towards libertarianish thought without a lot of work, you could do a lot worse than Vernor Vinge's work. He ages better, too.

And yes, I do think her work is mostly for young people. Larger than life heros, endless repetition, every character a romantic good or evil, every motive, thought and deed excruciatingly spelled out (usually in epic length monologues), and sprinkles of "take me" ravishing of the sexy heroine to keep the interest going.

In the end, though, I'll give her that she's remembered. That's a feat. And she's apparently considered literature by a lot of people, and I don't begrudge anyone their tastes, even if I don't share them (I'll share mine, but I don't get upset if people disagree with them. Would that Rand fans could do the same.)
9.16.2007 11:48pm
theobromophile (www):

every character a romantic good or evil

Then how do you explain Gail Wynand? Or even Peter Keating, who showed flashes of good towards the end? Or the Wet Nurse, who changed his path? Or the people who worked at the Twentieth Century Motors, who did not realise the full evil of the plan but went along with it for years?

That aside, most people hate Ayn Rand because she is utterly uncompromising in her ethics and morals.
9.17.2007 12:00am
Peter McCormick (mail):
And yes, I do think her work is mostly for young people.

Funny thing: not one of the CEOs interviewed for the NYTs article that got this thread going is a teenager.
9.17.2007 12:15am
fishbane (mail):
Funny thing: not one of the CEOs interviewed for the NYTs article that got this thread going is a teenager.

Misrepresenting my point, or missing it? When did they first read her works? I know several fans of hers, and all of them were introduced to her before their 20s. Contrapositively, everyone I know who first read her in their 30s (a smaller sample, to be sure) finds it to be dreck.
9.17.2007 12:23am
theobromophile (www):
I was 25 when I first read her books. I'm not sure if they would have had the same appeal in my teenage years... I had a fairly large liberal streak going then and wouldn't have appreciated the libertarian and capitalist ideals.
9.17.2007 12:48am
Peter McCormick (mail):
"Misrepresenting my point, or missing it?"

Neither. Just rejecting it.

I know people who read Atlas Shrugged in their teens and now reject it, and I know people who read it in their 60s and have subsequently rejected their old-time religion and embraced Rand's philosophy.

Appreciating or rejecting Objectivism (or any other philosophy for that matter) has nothing to do with age. To suggest otherwise, is to insult both the young and the old.
9.17.2007 12:56am
Carol (mail):
Anthem is not a tradition novel, much less a sci-fi. If one is eager to do comparisons, it is more akin to Nietzsche's Zarathustra than to any novel, but its approach to life and ethics is radically different. It is a symbolic prose-poem. The ethical and political doctrine it celebrates is revolutionary and unprecedented.

Both Rand's epistemology and her ethics are radically and fundamentally opposed to the approaches of Mill, Hayek, and Nietsche. Rand's students have fully explicated the profound errors of each of these thinkers. Mill is the epitome of what Rand opposed in almost every sense - from his brand of empiricism to his sappy moral and social thinking. Nietzsche was the mirror-opposite of her demand for logic, system and principle. Hayek was the libertarian of the 1940s she opposed the most, and her reasons make compelling reading.

What makes Rand so popular are ideas that you will never find in the work of any of those writers.

As for adults coming to love Rand, there is a long list. There is Professor John Hospers, former head of USC's philosophy department and editor of leading academic journals, who was also the first Libertarian candidate for President. He was converted from socialism by Rand as an adult. (He credits Rand with an originality beyond Mill in her rights theory, too.) Alan Greenspan was no kid when he met Rand, either. Neither was her good friend Charles Sures, the distinguished attorney. Neither was the neurophysiologist Robert Efron. Neither was Professor Petr Beckmann, the dissident Czech physicist and former emeritus professor at the University of Colorado.

Had enough?

In any event, for a better appreciation of Rand's revolutionary esthetic theory, let me recommend What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand by Louis Torres and Michelle Marder Kamhi.

On Anthem, let me recommend Essays on Ayn Rand's Anthem, edited by Robert Mayhew, PhD.

On her ethics, the various works of Prof. Tara Smith, including her recent Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist, published by Cambridge University Press.

On her approach to epistemology, see David Kelley's The Evidence of the Senses, based on his Princeton PhD dissertation, and his published essays on Rand's theory of abstraction.
9.17.2007 12:57am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Marina-

"So you think that money is the root of all evil?" said Francisco d'Aconia. "Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?"

This poses an interesting dilemma. I wonder what the typical Randian producer would do if he were faced with a combined group of looters and moochers who abused him and stold everything he produced? My guess is he wouldn't tolerate the situation - he would resist it until he could put an end to it and collect what was his. And he certainly wouldn't produce more for them to steal.

Again, let me stress I haven't read Rand yet, just posing a hypothetical question.
9.17.2007 1:01am
Billy Beck (www):
"Contrapositively, everyone I know who first read her in their 30s (a smaller sample, to be sure) finds it to be dreck."

As anecdotally as you; I know a combat-veteran retired U.S. Army lieutenant-colonel who didn't read her until his early-40's, and who thinks this whole attitude is rubbish.
9.17.2007 1:04am
Carol (mail):
Mr. Beck, you claim, "Her stand on a claim of a 'monopoly of the use of force' is a necessarily implicit arbitrary and unilateral threat against individual defense..."

How so? She would not permit anyone - including the state - to refrain from initiating force.

It seems to me that the "arbitrary" would be individual determinations of when force should be applied.
9.17.2007 1:06am
Carol (mail):
Forgive the sloppiness of the last post to Mr. Beck. It should read: "She would not permit anyone - including the state - to initiate force."

("Refrain from"? What was I writing?)
9.17.2007 1:13am
Tony Tutins (mail):
That aside, most people hate Ayn Rand because she is utterly uncompromising in her ethics and morals.

Ayn Rand behaved unethically by breaching the compact between novelist and reader, because she was preachy, pedantic, and long-winded, and because she created cardboard characters who lived as no human beings ever have.

If I want to read a good Russian emigre novel, with well-drawn characters behaving believably, if not admirably, in which every word advances the story, I'll read Nabokov.
9.17.2007 1:17am
Warren F. (mail):
Well, Tony, Ayn Rand did hang with the Nabokov family as a child in St. Petersburg, but just because Vlad wrote characters like that doesn't mean she had to.

I guess if you wrote a story about a Russian Jewish teenager escaping Soviet Russia, learning English in order to become a novelist in that language, meeting Cecil B. DeMille and getting cast as an extra, meeting her actor husband and working her way up from wardrobe girl to screenwriter, publishing her novel and later having the Hollywood star she imagined cast in the film, becoming a bestselling author whose magnum opus people have voted the most influential book besides the Bible, it would sound like... an Ayn Rand character!

Characters don't have to be pedophiles or mediocrities to be realistic. Especially in art, where electing to show the mediocre implies that mediocrity is all that truly is possible, since it's not just a videostore camera randomly capturing things but an artist selectively including and excluding things in order to contruct his fictional picture.
9.17.2007 1:38am
Duffy Pratt (mail):
I like Mabokov too, but if you have read Ada, I hardly think you would stick with the idea that every word advances the story.

I said earlier that the passage quoted reminded me how dreadful a writer Rand is. Let me explain a little more. First, there is the almost endless parallelisms, which for me simply do not work. Worse, in describing the kids she says

"they looked as if, should they encounter malevolence, they would reject it contemptuously, not as dangerous, but as stupid,"

Maybe someone out there knows what this "look" is. But I haven't got a look. I hate when writers pretend to be giving descriptions, but are actually doing something else. For those who insist that its important to look at the "larger" picture, it seems clear to me that in the larger picture that Rand is pretending to write a novel when it is really a canvas for her rants about individualism and the evils of collectivism. I find those rants boring and tedious. I prefer novelists to write novels, philosophers to do philosophy, and ranters to flame each other on the internet. If she were alive today, she would no doubt have a controversial blog with a large audience. It's a medium that is perfect for her. But I doubt I would ever visit it.

BTW, I enjoyed The Fountainhead when I was in 10th grade. I tried to read Atlas Shrugged in my late 20s and couldn't get past 20 pages or so. So I picked up The Fountainhead again, and couldn't read it either.
9.17.2007 1:43am
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Oops, above I meant to say "But I haven't got a clue." not a "look."
9.17.2007 1:45am
Carol (mail):
Rand is not "preachy, pedantic," or "long winded." Nothing of her theme is not also found in her plot, in the logic of the events of her story. This is a rare thing to find in any literature. Her purpose was not propaganda or instruction, but contemplation and enjoyment. For a great many readers, her novels are exciting fun. She is also the most economical writer and the tightest novelist you can find. Her characters are much richer than Dickens's and far more pleasant to contemplate than most of Nabokov's. They behave more "believably" than many people I've actually known in reality - and, the heroes, far more logically. The same outcomes from the behaviors involved are to be found in both reality and Rand's work.

This points to the "unreality" of naturalism - reality does play out logical outcomes - the moral, properly understood, is the practical.
9.17.2007 1:47am
Carol (mail):
I know exactly what that "look" is - I've seen it.

Rand often used abstractions to describe concretes and concretes to describe abstractions. It's part of her method and craft - but you've noted only half of it.
9.17.2007 2:36am
liberty (mail) (www):

I've never read either Ulysses or Atlas Shrugged, but I think the yellow smellow passage totally wins that contest. Joyce is having fun, he's playing with the sound of the words, rhymes and echoes and little jokes; I love the way the silly rhyming nonsense turns into exaggerated technical-sounding language, and you hear how similar the two things are.
The Rand passage, by contrast, seems to me a pretty unsurprising rolling out of the standard modern author's bag of tricks.


I used to write poetry with a lot of rhyming and alliteration too -- in my teens! Joyce is rubbish for the elite to feel superior about. Just my opinion. Perhaps you disagree.

Rand is about ideas. I don't think her writing is amazing either stylistically - although its far more readable than Joyce. I had trouble getting started with it (Atlas Shrugged, at age 25 or so) because of that, but pushed on because I'd been promised that it was worthwhile-- and it was! For the ideas. Again, I wanted to stop reading it later in the book because I knew that I had gotten her point and it was just going on and on, but I made myself finish it and I'm glad that I did. I will probably reread it at some point, as well. There is a lot in it.

I did not like her sex scenes at all though. Ugh. Please, too much information. Lets get back to the plot. I do not agree with everything she says, with her absolutism about ego and morality and so forth. And her private choices, cutting friendships and all that. I don't feel that she had much compassion, etc. But really the private lives of many great thinkers and artists and so forth are checkered.
9.17.2007 10:55am
liberty (mail) (www):
I have to agree that I know that look. Its one of those looks that is above the tawdry business of wasteful everyday infighting. Its when someone is wise and calm and makes you feel like a jerk for being stuck in a stupid cycle, because you got dragged down by others but this wise person knew better. Even if they get hurt by it, they would simply let it wash past, seeing it for the foolishness that it is. Its very Buddha-like, although it can be seen in many regular smart people.
9.17.2007 11:00am
Tony Tutins (mail):
Another book I can recommend to some of the Rand fans is The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer
9.17.2007 12:04pm
Connie:
Uh, Carol, about that tight writing of Rand--you must have missed the 150 page John Galt speech near the end.
9.17.2007 12:23pm
abb3w:
The Cabbage: Capitalism works. It doesn't need to be justified as "good". We just need to recognize that its effective.

I'll half agree with that. Capitalism, with some limiting constraints, works better and is more effective that any other system anyone has tested; and while effectiveness is not sufficient for a system to be good, it is necessary.

On the other hand, I just got through (at a pseudo-Objectivists prodding) her non-fiction essays in the collection "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal". It strikes me as a massively flawed analysis throughout. There are two big problems she fails to address. First: information — EG, information costs, and asymmetric market information; her stance on patent is effectively incoherent, in light of its omission of trade secrets and reverse engineering and her stance on the products of labor. The other is the effects of time: birth, development, mortality. She also neglects to express in light of those, why she expects people at any level of economic strata will limit themselves to moral means to gain and maintain wealth.

I've no objection to larger than life Science Fiction heroes. Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan, E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensmen, Phil and Kaja Foglio's Agatha Heterodyne, Orson Scott Card's Andrew Wiggin, Roger Zelazny's "Sam" Mahasamatman, Terry Pratchet's Carrot Ironfoundersson and Havelock Vetenari — my bookshelves are full of them. The best, however, do so by overcoming their tangible human limitations, or despite them. (I'm also partial to GRRM's Song of Ice and Fire.)

Yes, Rand's books can inspire one to strive to achieve more. However, I believe there are more useful tools for the function, capable of conveying more subtle ideas in the process.
9.17.2007 1:18pm
Billy Beck (www):
"She would not permit anyone - including the state - to initiate force."

Carol, I don't think this is exactly the time or place for this whole discussion to be blown out -- certainly not without an explicit green light from the blog owners -- but I'm begging you, already: this is not a complex set of concepts. I specifically referred to "defense", and you're now talking about "initiat[ive]". These are two different things, and I would hope that you would know it.

Now, if we can't get that elementary aspect squared-away -- from which all the rest of it follows with fairly simple implication and necessity -- then there is nothing productive in this for anyone.

"It seems to me that the 'arbitrary' would be individual determinations of when force should be applied."

Please observe that your word "applied" is categorically different from "initiat[ed]", and of conceptual necessity includes both offensive and defensive "appli[cations]". This is what Rand -- correctly -- called a "package deal", and no thinking person is bound to stand for that sort of a change of concept without analysis to proper distinctions.

Certainly, I don't.
9.17.2007 1:41pm
Billy Beck (www):
"Uh, Carol, about that tight writing of Rand--you must have missed the 150 page John Galt speech near the end."

You have never read the book, Connie. I can tell.
9.17.2007 1:44pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):

Is there anyone who is not persuaded by Rand's philosophical notions but who finds her writing to be compelling as literature? I have never met such a person. I have never read any of her work, and not a single passage posted in these comments hints to me that I have missed something special. YMMV, of course.
9.17.2007 2:52pm
Warren F. (mail):
Duffy,

"they looked as if, should they encounter malevolence, they would reject it contemptuously, not as dangerous, but as stupid," I know PRECISELY what kind of demeanor this implies about children. Some children have a hollow-eyed expectation of cruelty and a meak, broken fear written all over their faces and actions. Some kids run around with no expectation that they will get into unexpected trouble and be exposed to inexplicable cruelty. Kids are weathervains for their family life -- their spirits are either innocent and expressive or crushed and wary. Happy kids whose spirits aren't crushed quite naturally see mean-spiritedness as nothing more than a waste of time and no threat to them -- they see it as nothing more than "stupid," since having a good time without all the baggage many adults carry is so much more fun and joyous. There are kids, on the other hand, who already bear the sad wisdom that happiness doesn't stand a chance. Kids are more expressive of their reaction to evil -- whether it is potent or impotent in their lives -- than adults are. You must have noticed this. Rand is tying that universally observable trait in children to the IDEAS that have been applied in rearing them.

You say you want novelists to write novels and philosophers to do philosophy, etc. But Rand's novels are about the role of ideas in human life. Her point is that they are inescapably a part of human life, that ideas are the foundation of human psychology and character, that the wrong ideas will lead to misery, the right ones to success, and all of the subtle interactions between philosophical conclusions and the kind of life people will lead as a result. That is the entire point she is making, and it is a revolutionary point.

You think she would have made a good blogger -- but she obviously, in terms of affecting people's lives and selling books, is a FAR more successful novelist than Nabokov or Joyce could ever me, precisely because she does not shy away from the vital role of ideas in human existence, whether at the individual or the social level. For that reason alone there is a very justified place on the shelf of novels and in the company of other novelists for Rand's work.
9.17.2007 2:56pm
Pig Bodine:
Is there anyone who is not persuaded by Rand's philosophical notions but who finds her writing to be compelling as literature? I have never met such a person.

Neither have I.
9.17.2007 3:14pm
Connie:
Actually, I read Atlas Shrugged about 5 years ago when I was 40. Despite being a liberal, I liked its economic philosophy a great deal at the time, just not its application to families and religion. OK, maybe JG's radio address near the end isn't 150 pages, but it's not a "tight" use of language.
9.17.2007 3:33pm
liberty (mail) (www):

Is there anyone who is not persuaded by Rand's philosophical notions but who finds her writing to be compelling as literature? I have never met such a person.


Probably not, but the same can be said of many an economist, philosopher, historian, etc. Rand is foremost a thinker.
9.17.2007 3:36pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
Rand is foremost a thinker.

This always seemed to be the crux of it to me, too, but so many Rand fans insist on her primacy as a writer.
9.17.2007 4:00pm
not a randian (mail):
Something that hasn't been discussed much is her affair with Nathaniel Brandon, and her bizarre justifications for it. Frankly, learning of that made me realize what her selfishness (and rejection of altruism and consideration for others) leads to. This was a woman who took herself waayyyy too seriously, as do her followers.
Yes, she had some great ideas, but her amorality cancels out their practical application.
The people I know who still take her seriously all think that they are Howard Roark, and they're not. Yet they feel quite justified in holding us regular mortals in contempt. It's no wonder to me at all that Rand cheated on her husband, and had no concern for the consequences to other people (including Brandon's wife).
9.17.2007 4:08pm
Carol (mail):
Galt's speech is the tightest part of the whole book. Rand covers more material in that speech than most philosophers do in three books. In contrast to writers like Thomas Mann, Rand's speeches explicate her plot - something many readers here seem to need more of - and are not merely attached like a donkey's tail.

The mythology runs pretty thick around this subject, doesn't it? I have known and met many people who found her books to be "great reads" but who, by their own confession, never really understood her philosophy. In such a condition, they will obviously not stump for Rand - but several have often reread her just for pleasure. Some people in my own family are the very sort of Rand fans you think don't exist.

Yes, Mr. Beck, I agree. Let's spare our host what seems to be turning into a word salad.
9.17.2007 4:24pm
Carol (mail):
On how Rand's private life has been grossly misrepresented in books and films, you must read The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics by James S. Valliant. It's an eye-opener.

The ad hominems just don't stop, do they? "Serious," yes, but the Rand fans I know are also the warmest, most generous and funniest people I have ever met.

As for my own experience, I am often astounded at the viciousness and cruelty of self-proclaimed and overtly committed Christians and socialists.

Is the opposition to Ayn Rand really so shallow and hysterical that it must always eventually resort to these tactics?
9.17.2007 4:37pm
Peter McCormick (mail):
Is the opposition to Ayn Rand really so shallow and hysterical that it must always eventually resort to these tactics?

Yes.

Carol: You've done an admirable job in defending Ayn Rand from these nattering nabobs of discontent. As I've suggested earlier in this thread, the issue is clearly psychological for some of these people. To watch them come unbottoned psychologically by the attempt to have a serious conversation about Ayn Rand is, well, predictably sad. The degree of their snideness is almost certainly connected directly to their fear of Ayn Rand's ideas in the broader culture.
9.17.2007 4:48pm
Carol (mail):
The real truth is that everyone who claims that Rand was a lousy writer also disagrees with her philosophy.
9.17.2007 5:08pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
The real truth is that everyone who claims that Rand was a lousy writer also disagrees with her philosophy.

I am aware of only two points of disagreement with the Randian philosophy: a little decoration never hurt any building (I'm planning to add gargoyles to my house, in fact), and, even non-capitalists can have satisfying orgasms.
9.17.2007 5:35pm
theobromophile (www):
Carol,

I'll echo the sentiments here: you've done a great job of defending Ayn Rand, both personally and philosophically.

I've known a couple of people who worship her and are not productive, moral people of uncompromising integrity. That, however, is not the measure of any author, philosopher, or politician: we don't take a head count of followers, determine their relative worth, and then rate the leader. I've never heard of a single person whose following was utterly pure and above reproach - does that mean that there are no philosophers or writers worth considering? Contrariwise, there were some very nice people among the Nazis and the fascists: does their presence cast an aura over those regimes?

There are no Howard Roarks, John Galts, or Hank Reardens in the world? Pray tell, then, how have we managed to live in a world that has skyscrapers, green buildings, combustion engines, nanocomposites, or mag-lev trains?

As for Rand's personal life... again, how does that bear on the validity of her philosophy? Winston Churchill is frequently derided for drinking too much - perhaps his contributions to the world are made less? As for adultery - if we removed every adulterer from our list of heros, there would not be many left.
9.17.2007 5:45pm
not a randian (mail):
"There are no Howard Roarks, John Galts, or Hank Reardens in the world? Pray tell, then, how have we managed to live in a world that has skyscrapers, green buildings, combustion engines, nanocomposites, or mag-lev trains?"

And how many of those skyscrapers etc. would have survived Rand's (or the fictional Roark's) critiques? Not everyone is a Frank Lloyd Wright, and many modern skyscrapers have decorative elements that Roark/Rand would have abhorred. Furthermore, to design and create a skyscraper you usually need the work of more than one person - sometimes you even need a committee! (But that doesn't compute to Randians.)
9.17.2007 5:52pm
theobromophile (www):

Furthermore, to design and create a skyscraper you usually need the work of more than one person - sometimes you even need a committee! (But that doesn't compute to Randians.)

Yes, it does. In fact, Roark endorsed committees - those designed wherein each person has a task that involves something besides critiquing the work of another. Rand, and her followers, have nothing against assigning specialised jobs. She did not presume, for example, that one person would produce an entire newspaper; she acknowledged that there are various editors, copy editors, writers, press boys, etc.
9.17.2007 6:26pm
Pig Bodine:

The real truth is that everyone who claims that Rand was a lousy writer also disagrees with her philosophy.

That's not even really true within this thread of discussion.
9.17.2007 7:28pm
Carol (mail):
This thread actually demonstrates it perfectly. Show me one advocate of her essential ideas - the atheism, the egoism, the laissez-faire (and someone who seems to understand the same) - and who is also a critic of her writing. For example, naming the two "differences," as Tony has, only demonstrates either a complete ignorance of the philosophy or, as seems more likely, a desire to ridicule it. Saying that Rand had a "couple of good ideas" won't cut it, either, since it still may imply substantial disagreement - even severe opposition.

Here we are, fifty - five-zero - years after the original publication of Atlas Shrugged, and the book is still among Amazon's "Bestsellers"! Like The Fountainhead, and nearly all of other books, it has been in continuous hard- and paper-back print since its first appearance. Opinion polls of readers still rank its influence just shy of the Bible's. An Academy Award nominated biographical documentary, her face on postage stamps, more than one journal devoted to exploring her ideas, and a rapidly growing body of literature about Rand and her ideas are just some of the other proof that the cavalier dismissals haven't worked to keep her art and her ideas from new generations of readers.

Young and idealistic, fairly glowing with Rand's "Benevolent Universe" Premise? Then you are a "cultist."

Mature, serious and rigorous in your thinking? Then you are humorless and "take yourself wayyy too seriously."

See how it works?

See how much substance?
9.17.2007 8:21pm
way to go carol (mail):
So be mature, serious, and rigorous in your thinking. Cheat on your spouse and damn the consequences.
I wonder if that leader of Hillsdale College was a Randian.
9.17.2007 9:29pm
Pig Bodine:
This thread actually demonstrates it perfectly. Show me one advocate of her essential ideas - the atheism, the egoism, the laissez-faire (and someone who seems to understand the same) - and who is also a critic of her writing.

Here's several that have expressed admiration for her ideas while being less charitable toward her writing:

http://volokh.com/posts/1189827262.shtml#267963
http://volokh.com/posts/1189827262.shtml#267996
http://volokh.com/posts/1189827262.shtml#268136
http://volokh.com/posts/1189827262.shtml#268142
http://volokh.com/posts/1189827262.shtml#268443
http://volokh.com/posts/1189827262.shtml#268519

If you just mean that Kool-aid drinking Randians in their individually self-realized nonconformity all equally and uniformly admire Rand's writing, I could see that.
9.17.2007 9:32pm
Warren F. (mail):
Way to go Carol: Ayn Rand did not cheat on her husband.

It's interesting that you trot out something so obviously false as some sort of knowledgable dismissal of Rand, though.

The fact is, you don't know what you're talking about. But STILL you have a need to dismiss Rand. THAT is pretty bizarre. I wonder why that is?
9.17.2007 9:38pm
Carol (mail):
More worthless ad hominems, Pig? Not really?

I love it when a previous point of mine gets demonstrated so quickly that a "viz:ante" is all that's needed for further reference.

The point, good sir, is that one's literary judgment maybe - just maybe - is affected by a significant disagreement over ideas. It was suggested that Rand's literary fans were only those who shared her ideas. This is demonstrable nonsense. However, there does appear to be an ideologically-based critique in almost every jab at her writing.

So, thank you for the links!
9.17.2007 9:47pm
Pig Bodine:
It was suggested that Rand's literary fans were only those who shared her ideas. This is demonstrable nonsense.

Go ahead and demonstrate it, then. Show us the examples of those who love Rand's writing but dislike her ideas.
9.17.2007 9:58pm
liberty (mail) (www):
carole,

you know, its ok if she's not perfect. It is possible that she made a great contribution even if her writing style wasn't that strong, or even if she made some mistakes in her personal life.

Sometimes people think her following is like a cult because her fans don't seem to want to admit that. Nobody is perfect. Its OK, it doesn't have to take away from the fact that she made a great contribution.
9.17.2007 10:12pm
Carol (mail):
Do you mean, Pig, apart from the fact that most of the positive reviews of Rand's novels are of this character - e.g., The New York Times review of The Fountainhead? Or, my own experience with family members?

No, Liberty, Rand wasn't "perfect" by the standard definition of the term.

What an ad hominem distraction that is!
9.17.2007 10:38pm
Warren F. (mail):
Liberty,

Nobody, including Carol, said anybody was perfect. Where do you get that from?

The issue is whether or not something is true, not whether Rand was perfect. Big difference.

And Pig: lots of people on this thread have said they enjoyed Rand's novels but don't agree with her ideas in some respect. If everyone who loved "Atlas Shrugged," for example, agreed with all of Rand's ideas then there would be almost as many Objectivists as there are Christians. That can't be true, obviously.
9.17.2007 10:40pm
Carol (mail):
Note: For Rand many things of this world could be (and often were) "perfect." In consequence, her adherents are often misunderstood.

However, I have yet to read a defense of Rand's "perfection." Even her strongest defenders, e.g., Leonard Peikoff, have had their criticisms.
9.17.2007 10:42pm
SenatorX (mail):
Better than Nietzsche? Hrmmm, well after reading all these comments I will have to read her and see.
9.17.2007 11:22pm
Carol (mail):
Rand taught that nobody, including herself, was either omniscient or infallible. She said that she hadn't said the last word in philosophy. Her novels are all about individualism - her heroes standing alone against the world, relying on their own judgment, etc. Her philosophy extols reason above all. No one - not one writer that I can identify - claims that Rand never made mistakes.

The whole "true believer"/"cult" charge is just grossly unfair.
9.18.2007 1:57am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Tony Tutins-

...even non-capitalists can have satisfying orgasms.

How can they stand it? They could have been working for the collective, the common good, with all that orgasm time. How selfish.
9.18.2007 2:22am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
theobromophile-

I've known a couple of people who worship her and are not productive, moral people of uncompromising integrity.

Production is not the end-all, be-all. If one knows their production is going to be stolen, used to hurt other people, used to perpetuate a criminal, dishonest, racist, and/or immoral system, etc. - then it is quite justified to cease producing.
9.18.2007 2:27am
Tony Tutins (mail):
"So you think that money is the root of all evil?" said Francisco d'Aconia. "Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value.

This passage reminded me of Rand's many stylistic similarities with the work of another great author whose ideas were more powerful than his prose, namely the late Hugo Gernsback. Here's a quote from his immortal Ralph 124C 41+, A Romance of the Year 2660, first written in 1911. Note that the speaker has also selected "Money" as the subject of a chat with a young woman to whom he is quite attracted:

Chapter VII -- The End of Money
A few days later, Alice, while rolling along one of the elevated strees of the city with Ralph, inquired how the present monetary system had been evolved: "You know," she confided, "I know very little of economics."

"Well," said Ralph, "all monetary systems of the past or present are based on one principle -- the exchange of one thing for another. At first it was simply a bartering or swapping of such things as a goat for a pig, or a string of beads for a piece of cloth. Only much later did money evolve. Before we had coins, certain rare shells were used as tokens. Still later, precious metal was exchanged for good, using the weight of the metal as a basis. Later on, coins were developed, and still later on, paper money replaced part of the coins. Where the shells, the precious metals, and, later the metal coins, had intrinsic value, the paper money had no such value. The public accepted with faith and confidence a piece of paper across which was printed the guarantee that the bearer of it would receive so many metal dollars in exchange for the piece of paper. The paper money was built upon confidence that the people had in the government issuing the paper money.
9.18.2007 3:19am
Pig Bodine:
Do you mean, Pig, apart from the fact that most of the positive reviews of Rand's novels are of this character - e.g., The New York Times review of The Fountainhead? Or, my own experience with family members?

No, I meant for you to actually demonstrate the claim that you said was demonstrable, not to reiterate and extend an unsupported or unverifiable assertion or to accompany it with falsehood. Lorine Pruette's 1943 review of The Fountainhead in The New York Times in no way demonstrates that Preuette loved Rand's writing while disapproving of her ideas. On the contrary, in a review otherwise praising both Rand's writing and ideas, the closest Pruette comes to disapproving of Rand's ideas is rhetorical indifference:
She has written a hymn in praise of the individual and has said things worth saying in these days. Whether her antithesis between altruism and selfishness is logically correct or not, she has written a powerful indictment.
9.18.2007 10:10am
Warren F. (mail):
Clearly, Pruit is an example of someone who is not entirely sympathetic with Rand's ideas but acknowledges her power and brilliance as a writer. You lost this one, Pig.

And it reiterates the point being made -- that many who disagree with Rand will use just about any tactic (calling her an inferior writer, claiming nobody takes her seriously, bringing up her private life, distorting her ideas, etc.) to avoid trying to refute or debate her IDEAS in an honest way.

Pruit did not succumb to those tactics and gave an honest review. It's a lot more than can be said about many other of Rand's "critics."
9.18.2007 12:38pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
many who disagree with Rand will use just about any tactic (calling her an inferior writer, ...) to avoid trying to refute or debate her IDEAS in an honest way.

See, this is how Rand fans come across as people who have drunk the Rand Kool-Aid. I deal with Rand as a reader to a writer. This role requires me neither to accept nor reject Objectivism. Just as my opinion of Scientology would not influence my opinion of a Hubbard short story, my opinion of Rand's ideas does not influence my opinion of her writing. Criticizing his writing (and frankly, Hubbard is a much better writer than Rand) would not an attempt to avoid debating the merits of Dianetics.
9.18.2007 1:01pm
Warren F. (mail):
L. Ron Hubbard is a "much better writer than Rand"?

OK, I'll just leave it at that.
9.18.2007 1:05pm
Pig Bodine:
Clearly, Pruit [sic] is an example of someone who is not entirely sympathetic with Rand's ideas but acknowledges her power and brilliance as a writer. You lost this one, Pig.


How do you figure? As I wrote above, there is nothing in Pruette's review that indicates that she opposed any of Rand's ideas, and there is much that indicates that she approved of them. The closest Pruette comes to disapproving any of Rand's ideas is one instance of a rhetorical device that does not resolve a single issue of Rand's argument one way or the other before continuing on to approve of Rand's conclusion regardless.
9.18.2007 1:22pm
Warren F. (mail):
"Whether her antithesis between altruism and selfishness is logically correct or not, she has written a powerful indictment."

This does not indicate that she approves of Rand's ideological approach, but DOES indicate that she thinks the writing is powerful.
9.18.2007 1:36pm
MacGuffin:
No, it indicates that regardless of whether Rand's argument leading up to her conclusion is precisely correct, Pruette agrees with Rand's indictment of altruism. Most relevant to the current discussion, it most certainly does not indicate that Pruette disapproved of Rand's ideas. Were that the case, one would expect Pruette to write something like "she fails to persuade in her indictment."
9.18.2007 3:04pm
Carol (mail):
How absurd is all of this?

Strong ideological differences are enough to qualify here, such as the differences that would seem obvious between Rand and a feminist writer of "psychoanalytic" studies who was also an admirer of psychologist G. Stanley Hall - like Pruette. Of course, she does have an affinity for something Rand is saying, even a qualified political one - despite her earlier Left-radicalism. However, she was looking past other differences to praise Rand.

In those days, Rand herself was distressed at the positive reviews she was getting much more than the negative ones. Why? They were all missing the ideological point!

What remains noteworthy in this discussion is the willingness of Rand's opponents to make up stuff (e.g., about a "falling out" between Frank Lloyd Wright and Rand), or to just throw accusations against the wall, despite a total ignorance of the subject.
9.18.2007 3:52pm
theobromophile (www):

Production is not the end-all, be-all. If one knows their production is going to be stolen, used to hurt other people, used to perpetuate a criminal, dishonest, racist, and/or immoral system, etc. - then it is quite justified to cease producing.

True, that being one of the points of Atlas Shrugged. However, I did not say "people who produce for the good of society," rather, "productive people." Many of Rand's heros were, at their core, productive: even on strike, they did not loaf but created a fully-functioning, independent village in the Rockies. Their nature is to work and produce, as they have no desire to live in caves.

Furthermore, my point was pretty obvious: there are some very lazy people who claim to love Ayn Rand and follow her religiously. They are people who simply do not like the actions of working and producing; it has nothing to do with the uses to which society will put the products of their minds.
9.18.2007 4:21pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
L. Ron Hubbard is a "much better writer than Rand"?

OK, I'll just leave it at that.

I'm thinking of his pre-1950 science fiction: well-drawn characters and clever plots. Read his first published science fiction story, The Dangerous Dimension.

On another note: in the thread on this NYT article on Feministe, a couple of commenters discuss the strong homoerotic subtext of the relationship between D'Anconia and Rearden. Something that the Rand fans did not discuss here.
9.18.2007 4:26pm
MacGuffin:
Ah, yes. So now those who wrote approvingly of Rand didn't really approve of Rand, but rather disapproved of her ideas because they didn't approve in the right way. How absurd is all of this?
9.18.2007 4:56pm
Carol (mail):
The historical record is quite clear - that is, to those of us familiar with it: going by the published reviews of her work, Rand apparently became a much worse writer after her politics and religion became well known.
9.18.2007 5:39pm
Pig Bodine:
If you're done with the irrelevant tangents and unsupported assertions, please demonstrate that which you were asked to: examples of those who love Rand's writing but dislike her ideas. All we've got so far is Warren claiming that Pruette liked Rand's ideas as well as her writing, and you claiming that Pruette actually disapproved of Rand's ideas even while she was writing positively about both them and Rand's writing.
9.18.2007 5:59pm
Warren F. (mail):
Never teach a Pig to sing...

Alas, anyway -- what is clear is that many who enjoy Rand's writing and are impressed by her power as a writer, are not "Objectivists" or "Randians" and don't necessarily agree with her ideas -- such as Pruette.

Carol is right -- after Rand's politics and philosophy were known and were found to be disagreeable at that level to both leftists and conservatives, suddenly her writing was attacked for being mediocre. And her character was attacked (never happened to Hemingway, hmmm), and her fans were called "cultists," etc., etc., etc.

Can you do the math, or do you have to take your shoes off, first? ;)
9.18.2007 6:23pm
Pig Bodine:
The math is easy.

Unsupported assertions: lots

Examples of those who love Rand's writing but dislike her ideas: none

If the history you assert is so clear, then you should have no trouble finding examples to back it up. Perhaps you could start by showing us where Pruette recanted her approval of Rand's ideas -- preferably whilst retaining her admiration for Rand's writing.
9.18.2007 6:33pm
Peter McCormick (mail):
The LA Times ran an article a couple of days ago on Atlas Shrugged in honor of the 50th anniversary of its publication. The reviewer rejected Rand's moral philosophy, but said this about the literary quality of the novel:

"For decades, critics have scorned Rand for creating paper-thin characters while millions of readers have found that Howard Roark and Dagny Taggart live with them forever. Clearly, she was doing something right. Her message -- that each individual can and must without help blaze his or her own path through life -- is inspiring, even to those who might already have learned better. More than this, though, it's the texture, the warp and weave of "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged" that compels. Rand called her philosophy "objectivism [sic]," yet the inside of her head, as revealed by these two novels, so much greater and richer and stranger than the simplistic slogans that tend to be adduced from them, was happily unique."
9.18.2007 7:18pm
Pig Bodine:
Yeah, so? That is a nod toward the richness and strangeness of the ideas "inside of her head," not toward the quality of her writing. At most, the reviewer disagrees with the criticism of Rand's characterizations; but "characters are not as thin as many critics say" hardly qualifies as approval of Rand's writing style, just disagreement with some elements of the criticism leveled against her novels.
9.18.2007 7:50pm
Pig Bodine:
I just read all of Rayner's review. The parts that you didn't quote do indicate that he finds admirable quality in Rand's writing, but where's the part where he "reject[s] Rand's moral philosophy"? He finds some of her public efforts to be provocative over the top and "not merely offensive but silly," but there is no indictment of her ideas. Instead, he finds that her "message ... is inspiring".
9.18.2007 8:08pm
Carol (mail):
Pig seems to have forgotten why this question was raised in the first place - indeed, what little relevance it ever had.

Here's one, Pig: Raquel Welch. When asked on 'Larry King Live' if Rand had influenced her politics, she said, "No." Asked what she did like about Rand, she said, "Her writing - and its romantic sense of life." I doubt that she admires Rand for still deeper unmentioned topics in philosophy than politics, so does she count?

I've got to also believe that actress Angelina Jolie's admiration for Rand is of the same kind. The same is probably true for the many other actors who have stated an admiration for Rand's work - even as they proclaim their mystical and socialist beliefs in other contexts.

To what extent this is true for the athletes who have said that they admire Rand - from Billie Jean King to Cal Ripkin, Jr. - isn't clear, but it can hardly be her epistemology.
9.18.2007 10:14pm
Warren F. (mail):
Yes, other notably leftwing celebrities love The Fountainhead -- like Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone and Alec Baldwin. Surely they don't ascribe to Rand's politics, or her philosophy which encompasses those politics? So what ARE they responding to?
9.18.2007 10:22pm
Carol (mail):
Right. Obviously, when Christopher Hitchens, Penn Jillette, and Dennis Miller say they admire Rand, as they all recently have, it's Ayn Rand's ideas that attract them, but Hollywood Lefties?
9.18.2007 10:31pm
Carol (mail):
Then, of course, are the actual writers who have stated an admiration for Rand. A writer like Ira Levin showed no signs of any ideological influence, political or otherwise, as far as I can tell - but his first work, A Kiss Before Dying, shows signs of a purely literary influence. Take noted screenwriter Sterling Silliphant - his quoted admiration for Rand involved only her skilled craftsmanship as a writer.

Obviously, for a writer like Robert Heinlein the dramatic influence was ideological.
9.18.2007 10:44pm
theobromophile (www):

I've got to also believe that actress Angelina Jolie's admiration for Rand is of the same kind.

Please don't remind me that she is playing Dagny Taggart. Jolie would be a good Dominique Francon, but the thought of her playing Dagny saddens me. Think of how many untold millions of people will see the movie without having read the book and miss what makes it all so great.
9.18.2007 11:18pm
Carol (mail):
Bennett Cerf, the man at Random House who dared to be the first American publisher of Joyce's Ulysses, the first to publish Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, that friend and publisher of Eugene O'Neill and William Faulker (I don't know if his literary eagle-eye missed L. Ron Hubbard), was also Rand's publisher for Atlas Shrugged. Intellectually, he was never anything even resembling an Objectivist. In his own memoir, however, he reports Rand's charm, the power of both her presence and her writing - and that alone among his writers, Rand got the "upfront" promise from him to publish every word she wrote in that novel. Despite her "brilliance" at expounding her theories, Cerf believed that the negative reviews were exclusively the result of the reviewers' ideological differences with Rand's philosophy. "Whether you like it or not, most people don't agree with your ideas, and it's your ideas that they're attacking." (At Random, p. 252)
9.18.2007 11:23pm
Carol (mail):
Then, of course, there's H. L. Mencken, who helped Rand's first novel, We the Living, see the light of day.
9.18.2007 11:54pm
Carol (mail):
Legendary filmmaker Hal Wallis (his credits include Casablanca), is also quoted as greatly admiring Rand's skills as a writer, and it's hard to imagine that he was an Objectivist. He hired Rand as a screenwriter and script-doctor when he left Warner Brothers to start his own company, and even gave in to her unusual work-schedule demands in order to keep her. (He also hired commie-sympathizer Lillian Hellman.)
9.19.2007 12:50am
Warren F. (mail):
Thanks to Volokh Conspiracy for hosting this. It's been very informative!
9.19.2007 1:06am
Carol (mail):
Warren: Rand gave seminars on both fiction and nonfiction writing. This material has been published in two volumes, The Art of Fiction, edited by Tore Boeckmann, and The Art of Nonfiction, edited by Robert Mayhew. Check them out if you haven't already.
9.19.2007 2:52am
Carol (mail):
It is worth noting that there are a number of fiction writers who have also been significantly influenced by Rand's philosophy, along with her writing. Among these are: Andrew Bernstein (Heart of a Pagan), Kay Nolte Smith, and Erika Holzer, who has written a literary memoir of Rand called, Ayn Rand: My Fiction-Writing Teacher..
9.19.2007 6:16am
Peter McCormick (mail):
The New Statesman, an established English journal of opinion, is in the process of publishing a four-part series on Objectivism by ARI scholar, Onkar Ghate.

The first two essays are up on the webpage at the New Statesman.

http://www.newstatesman.com/200709170007

http://www.newstatesman.com/200709180002
9.19.2007 7:56am
Carol (mail):
The astonishing range of Rand's influence is also noteworthy. From a Jewish kid growing up in New York City's Washington Heights like Alan Greenspan to an African-American girl from the South like sociologist Ann Wortham, the author of The Other Side of Racism - from one of the foremost academic scholars of Aristotle, Professor Allan Gotthelf, to numerous corporate CEOs - from novelists to computer engineers - from comic book artist Steve Ditko to a list a major psychotherapists - from beautiful actresses to leading policy-makers like Martin Anderson - from brilliant investigative journalists like Edith Efron to rock and roll musicians like Rush - the scope of Rand's impact is simply astonishing.
9.19.2007 2:56pm
Carol (mail):
It would be wrong not to also mention philosopher Harry Binswanger, author of The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts, or George Smith, author of the modern classic Atheism: the Case Against God, or Charles Murray, author of Losing Ground, or economist George Reisman, author of comprehensive Capitalism: a Treatise on Economics. Still, I have left out composers, sculptors, talk show hosts, and others.
9.19.2007 4:05pm