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A few kind words for Ayn Rand. You can expect to see a number of articles on Ayn Rand and her novel Atlas Shrugged over the next two weeks and for two reasons.One reason is that October 12th 2008 will be the 50th anniversary of her novel.The second is that Atlas Shrugged is a favorite among the rich and powerful or, at least, among rich and powerful businessmen. Many hedge fund managers love it, at least, if my talks with hedge fund managers can be trusted. You can expect to see turf fights over the book among conservatives.
Over the decades, I have read a modest number of articles about Ms. Rand and Atlas Shrugged.Almost everyone gets it wrong.Robert Tracinski, writing on the conservative/libertarian website RealClearPolitics, is a pleasant exception.Ayn Rand paints businessmen as heroes, as people who attempt great things and succeed because of courage, persistence and ethics.He understands, as many others do not, how empowering Ms. Rand’s vision is. If we can take the reports of many of her readers at face value, and I can see no reason why we cannot, Ms. Rand’s vision has driven many to greatness.
There are people who can’t stand that the fact that Ms. Rand’s vision has driven so many to greatness.Among them is Andrew Ferguson.Mr. Ferguson, writing on the conservative/neocon website Weekly Standard, says about Ms. Rand, “Her creepy philosophy of Objectivism, placing the self at the center of the moral universe, was being enthusiastically embraced, as it still is, by tens of thousands of pimply teenage boys in the dreamy moments between fits of social insecurity and furious bouts of masturbation.”This is not analysis.This is character assassination. Mr. Ferguson should be ashamed of himself.
Judged by literary standards, there is not much to recommend Atlas Shrugged.Her characters are flat or even false, her dialogue wooden and her prose uninspired, but these are not necessarily the proper criteria.Her fans love her book because it has a strong plot, it is intellectually engaging, and because it made them feel important.Most of us spend most of our time working.Many hate it.Ayn Rand is one of the few novelists who find work important and uplifting.In Ayn Rand’s world and mine, building a skyscraper or driving a bus is every bit as noble as being a doctor or writer—provided you do it honestly and to the best of your ability.If you are looking for a novel to read, you could do a lot worse.
Atlas Shrugged also has Ms. Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism in it, which can be quite persuasive when you are in your twenties.When I was in my twenties I read everything I could by Ms. Rand.I remember reading about a question put to her during a speech and her reply.
Q: “In an objectivist society, what will be done to help the poor?” A: “If you wish to help them you will not be stopped.”
For several reasons, I disagree with her philosophy.Her stress on independence can lead an investor or investment manager to overestimate his knowledge and technique and underestimate the knowledge and technique of others, especially the people he works with.This is always costly and sometimes fatal.
But right or wrong, Ms. Rand was relatively honest.She understood that ideas have consequences and she took responsibility for her ideas.When political discourse is dominated by publications like the Weekly Standard and people like Mr. Ferguson, where loyalty to the party is more important than loyalty to facts and logic, this must always be honored.
A note from one of my readers: I will probably not be the only person who enjoyed your piece about Ayn Rand, but who thinks that you might also have mentioned The Fountainhead - at least its equal in seeing work as an important, heroic act, but with more credible characters and story, and much less didacticism.
Good points! Thanks for writing.
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"If your mother says she loves you, check it out." --Old reporters' motto; also our motto. Copyright (C) 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 Fred Gehm. All rights reserved.