Satyajit Das: Rand World

By Satyajit Das, a risk consultant and author of Traders, Guns & Money: Knowns and Unknowns in the Dazzling World of Derivatives

Jennifer Burns (2010) “Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right” Oxford University Press

One of the strange by-products of the publishing boom around the global financial crisis is the revival of the Ayn Rand’s reputation. The sales of her books, such as “The Fountainhead” and especially “Atlas Shrugged”, the 1957 novel that for libertarians is the marker for the rise and failure of collectivism, has risen sharply outperforming most living writers and most recent contributions.

The spike is neither unexpected nor surprising. The rise in fortune coincides directly with massive state intervention in the economy following market failures in the fallout from the financial crisis. As one recently formed group on the social networking site, Facebook, expressed it: “Read the news today? It’s like ‘Atlas Shrugged’ is happening in real life”. The writer just forgot to add the “Oh boy!” at the end of “Read the news today?” to complete the nostalgia.

For some, the future predicted and feared by Rand is coming true. Alan Greenspan’s downcast admission in Congress about the failure in his view of the world echoed similar admissions by the character, Robert Stadler, the gifted physicist in “Atlas Shrugged”, who had betrayed his faith cravenly in exchange for political favour. The fact that Alan Greenspan was once a member Rand’s circle merely added to the parallels.

Ayn Rand was a trenchant critic of the popular collectivism movements of the twentieth century. Her view was always resolutely pro-individual and anti-government. Rand helped shape the libertarian self image – the gifted individual restricted, brought down and in permanent conflict with power hungry bureaucrats, officials and the untalented ‘second handers’ who populate life.

Born Alisa Rosenbaum, Rand, a Russian Jew, had first hand experience of the Communist revolution and it effects on her native land. It shaped a philosophy that was fervently anti-communist and devoted to the rights and liberty of the individual.

An experienced scriptwriter, Rand shaped her two major novels less as literary works and more as vehicles for her polemic. In her time, the academic establishment found her views to be shallow and limited. Perhaps one reason was her strident criticism of everybody including people whose views were not dissimilar to her own, such as Hayek. She, it seemed, found it impossible to agree with anybody even if they agreed with her.

Her writing never rose to high standards. The stereotyped characters in her novels were poor caricatures. These weaknesses did not detract from a unique popular appeal.

In “Goddess of the Market”, Jennifer Burns identifies the source of her appeal. The very shallowness of her thinking that intellectuals dismissed was inherently attractive to a certain sensibility, especially adolescents. Her absolute values and intolerance are attractive to those who prefer a Manichean worldview. Rand’s popularity also derives from her correct insight that thriving societies are not possible without freedom, entrepreneurial abilities and innovation. This fact is most evident in China’s embrace of market economics to some degree.

Rand’s popularity is also in no small part driven by her greatest talent – creating mystique and self-promotion. Rand anticipated the cult of “celebrity thought leadership” (practised by Richard Gere, Madonna, Bono, Bob Geldorf and others) even before the terms existed.

Her power came from her greatest creation – Ayn Rand herself. Highly deliberate, Rand cultivated a distinctive image. She had a glare according to a magazine profile that “could wilt a cactus”. She wore a broach in the shape of a dollar sign.

As Ms Burns writes, her personal life completed the imagery. Her long-suffering husband had to wear a bell on his shoe to ensure that Rand could hear him approach. She informed both her husband and Mrs Branden of the arrangement whereby she met and had sex with her leading acolyte, Nathaniel Branden, twice a week.

Ms Burns identifies the internal contradictions of Rand. Within her inner circle (known ironically as “the collective”), the promoter of individual liberty could not tolerate dissent of any kind. Her stifling worldview encompassed everything from politics to interior design and dancing. Despite her following, Rand never succeeded in creating a lasting legacy or political movement. The collective fell apart when she fell out with Branden.

In “Goddess of the Market”, Jennifer Burns, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Virginia, provides an insightful and, at times, entertaining perspective of Ayn Rand and her thinking. Ms. Burns has fashioned an interesting portrait of one of the twentieth century’s most fascinating and yet Quixotic figures. Rand’s influence lives on in her book and also in the watered down elements of her libertarian philosophy that has penetrated liberal political thinking

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67 comments

  1. Tom Stone

    Gee,The musing of a woman with narcissistic and sadomasochistic tendencies who glorified sociopathic behavior became popular? I wonder why…

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        An ad hominem attack, which is an invalid form of argument, and not permitted here. Can you dispute the facts presented in the article? No, because they are a matter of public record.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        The article does not refute the contention. It asserts that Rand did not admire and idolize Hickman, but provides not a shred of evidence (no quotes from her journal, while the Alternet article did). Moreover, its claim that the Left idealized serial killers is based on….a 1964 review of a horror movie? And one that never got any kind of a following? This is just plain intellectually dishonest.

        Now there could be a case to be made in Rand’s defense on this matter, but that post most certainly is not it.

  2. Walker

    As Rogers so aptly put:

    There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

        1. The Barefoot Bum

          In what sense is the article an “ad hominem“? And in what sense would even the book be an “ad hominem” except in the unobjectionable sense that, like any biographical work, it’s about a person?

          Generally speaking, genuine ad hominem arguments come in three varieties, two of them fallacious. First, “this person has some particular characteristic; we therefore conclude that her argument is mistaken (or correct).” Second, “this person’s argument for some position is unsound or invalid, therefore the position is incorrect.”

          The third (and non-fallacious) form is drawing legitimate conclusions about the person’s intellectual honesty, impartiality, or competence from evidence of their personal characteristics, i.e. “You claim that this man is innocent, but you cannot be trusted since you are a criminal as well.”

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          I did not intervene in comments, nor does it screen for key words. Comments sometimes do not load (it happens to other readers, trust me, as well as me) and you choose to make it mean something.

          Frankly, this review is a lot more positive about Rand than the book appears to be.

    1. Andrew Bissell

      I found it ironic that a railroad were used in Atlas Shrugged. It was the government who donated the lands and supplied the capital to build railroads.

      That’s actually true of many of the railroads in Atlas Shrugged as well, just not the ones run by Rand’s heroes. James J. Hill’s Great Northern Railway, a privately funded railroad, is considered a rough inspiration for the Taggart Transcontinental in Atlas.

    2. liberal

      Well, that’s because Ayn Rand and most libertarians don’t understand economics:

      But are the heroes of Atlas Shrugged real capitalists? The inventor John Galt is, and perhaps Hank Rearden of Rearden Metals is, too, although one wonders where he got his ore and fuel. But Taggart Railways enjoys extremely valuable right-of-way privileges from the state. (Once land is parceled out, it is virtually impossible to build a railroad without either land value tax or eminent domain.)

    3. eric anderson

      I don’t understand why it has to be either-or with Rand. I do not subscribe to every point of Rand’s philosophy, but she made brilliant, prophetic points about government. Credit where credit is due.

      Objectivism and Atlas Shrugged is an incomplete and partly flawed defense of the concept that the nature of man is to yearn to be free. The flip side of this is the nature of man to attempt to enslave other men, whether it be through a brutal totalitarian system or the soft tyranny of a burdensome, misguided, and corrupt socialism.

      If you buy into the notion that liberty is a natural or a God-given right, then you will likely find some sympathy with Rand’s ideas, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy into the whole package. Like any person’s work, it does not represent the alpha and the omega.

      A lot of the trashing of Rand seems unnecessary and inaccurate. Rand didn’t believe in thievery. That’s what Wall Street and TBTF corporate America have become, in cahoots with a very corrupt government. To equate that with Rand is absurdity.

      1. Greg

        What “brilliant prophetic points about government” did Rand make?

        The main problem with Rands philosophy and staunch libertarians in general is that they are naive to the fact that private corporations take on all the same attributes that a govt does. Privatizing does not lead to liberty it simply leads to tyranny under something besides a “government”.
        ————————————————-
        “If you buy into the notion that liberty is a natural or a God-given right, then you will likely find some sympathy with Rand’s ideas”

        No one chooses to be ‘Un free”. The question is how best to insure the liberty for the most. Un fortunately this requires a third party in order to have a functional society.

        Rand and her acolytes are responsible I believe, for the second most destructive idea in our society. The idea of the self made man. There is no such thing. We are all products of our environment and we are all nothing if we are not social creatures. These sociopaths on Wall St are exactly what one would expect from a society built around Rands ideas.

        1. eric anderson

          Fine. But what about the sociopaths who seek government office? What is your solution to that threat?

          This is exactly what I mean about Rand’s brilliant prophetic points about government. The kinds of characters in Rand’s book are the kinds of pathetic characters we see in the Congress and Executive branch today. Anyone who doesn’t see that simply doesn’t want to see.

        2. Matt Stiles

          That’s what Wall Street and TBTF corporate America have become, in cahoots with a very corrupt government. To equate that with Rand is absurdity.

          ————————————

          Indeed. There is not a chance this last experiment with casino capitalism could have existed without the State’s assistance every step of the way. To argue as much is to completely misunderstand the basic elements of Classical Liberalism.

          I would argue that the corporatism that we know today is nearer to socialism than to any Randian or Hayekian concept of Liberalism.

  3. attempter

    Ayn Rand was a trenchant critic of the popular collectivism movements of the twentieth century.

    Really? I’m aware that she was an aggressive, obnoxious critic. I’ve read plenty of examples of that. But I’ve never once seen a “trenchant” criticism from her.

    Rand helped shape the libertarian self image – the gifted individual restricted, brought down and in permanent conflict with power hungry bureaucrats, officials and the untalented ‘second handers’ who populate life.

    In other words, she wrote the gospel for precisely these untalented parasites to see themselves as heroes, since those who exalt her almost invariably are such parasites.

    Her writing never rose to high standards. The stereotyped characters in her novels were poor caricatures. These weaknesses did not detract from a unique popular appeal.

    That’s better for that purpose. For a novel to have real literary qualities only gets in the way of the polemic. Chernyshevsky’s equally influential What Is To Be Done? was also badly written in that sense.

    Rand’s popularity also derives from her correct insight that thriving societies are not possible without freedom, entrepreneurial abilities and innovation. This fact is most evident in China’s embrace of market economics to some degree.

    This is of course absurd on its face, and betrays either complete and absolute ignorance of history, or complete and absolute disingenuousness. It’s true only if you define “thriving” and “freedom” as “thriving according to Rand’s nightmare vision of what freedom and a society should be”. So it’s a Humpty Dumpty tautology and nothing more.

    BTW, the fact that her heroes were architects and such, who required Stalinist gigantism for their “dreams” to be realized, is a tip-off to the totalitarian code in which she was writing. She was really saying, we need the direct dictatorship of big corporations, while the people should be reduced to a slave mass to be mined for the corporate projects and profits of we elites.

    If that’s not what she really meant, if her ideal were really the gifted individual, then why weren’t her heroes poets and painters who didn’t need or want material things but merely the time and freedom to create?

    1. Thomasina Jefferson

      She was really saying, we need the direct dictatorship of big corporations, while the people should be reduced to a slave mass to be mined for the corporate projects and profits of we elites.
      ——————————
      She was touting Capitalism and tried to give it a scientific/philosophical foundation.

      1. attempter

        This post and thread made me think of you, Jake. I wondered if you’d see it.

        As I said before, I’ve read some essays but not the novels.

        You never did fully answer my question which I repeat above about railroads and architects as opposed to non-materialistic individuals who seek only in the realms of art and spirit. Why all the political and economic domination rhetoric, if it’s all about wanting to be left alone in non-materialistic freedom and peace?

  4. purple

    Rand is popular (particularly with the adolescent set), because the reader can imagine they are the SuperMan who is being frustrated by the ignorant masses. Her novels feed a certain level of narcissism ; we all identify with the genius protagonist. But this is strange considering the context of her novels, that the masses cannot understand genius.

    Most of us grow out of the Rand phase, but some do not.

  5. Toby

    What I don’t understand is why her philosophy justifies unrestrained self-interest with appeals to morality and fairness. Morality and fairness are both social phenomena. If life’s all about me and my desires, why should I give a shit about justifications, or appeals to morality, or benefiting society generally? Also, you need a language, a tool which can only be created organically by a collective, in order to come up with and then teach this philosophy of anti-collective, objective morality. Furthermore, language can only ever be imperfect, which renders the chance of objectivity null, as far as I can make out. The whole thing seems self-delusional to me.

    1. eric anderson

      What you’re saying is that Objectivism contains inherent contradictions. This is true.

      That does not mean that freedom is not something to be cherished and fought for. It just means that the definition of freedom is different for Rand than it is for most people.

      And people who look at the characters in Rand’s Atlas Shrugged universe and cannot see horrifying similarities to the Washington, DC of today are willfully blind.

  6. DownSouth

    ► “Born Alisa Rosenbaum, Rand, a Russian Jew, had first hand experience of the Communist revolution and it effects on her native land. It shaped a philosophy that was fervently anti-communist and devoted to the rights and liberty of the individual.”

    Life’s trials and tribulations destroy some people. Others they make stronger. Ayn Rand was one of those whom they destroyed.

    We can find the antithesis of Ayn Rand in individuals such as Martin Luther king, Jr. It would have been so easy for MLK to end up hating white people, just like Rand hated the proletariat, whome she perceived as having wronged her. But he didn’t.

    Here’s how MLK explained it:

    Due to my involvement in the struggle for the freedom of my people, I have known very few quite days in the past few years. I have been arrested five times and put in Alabama jails. My home has been bombed twice. A day seldom passes that my family and I are not the recipients of threats of death. I have been the victim of a near fatal stabbing….

    As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways that I could respond to my situation: either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into creative force. I decided to follow the latter course. Recognizing the necessity for suffering I have tried to make of it a virtue. If only to save myself from bitterness, I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself and heal the people involved in the tragic situation which now obtains.
    —Martin Luther King, “Suffering and Faith,” Christian Century, 27 April 1960

    1. Siggy

      Ayn Rand has come and gone. Alisa Rosenbaum has come and gone. Martin Luther King has come and gone. We are all here and then we are gone.

      What matters is what has been the mark of our passage thru time and space. What Ayn Rand left behind is a lot of drivel that says you should be free. What Alisa Rosenbaum left behind is Ayn Rand and very sadly the influence Ayn Rand had on the thinking of one Alan Greenspan. In that occurence one must consider how the escape from the pograms of the Soviet created a cultural lens that was so intensely self serving.

      I often wonder why it is that Mr. Greenspan was so ardent in his belief that markets are self regulating. What terrors drove him to adhere to a scrambled theology of self service?

    2. The Barefoot Bum

      “Rand hated the proletariat”

      From the evidence of Atlas Shrugged, Rand considered the proletariat to be almost completely irrelevant. Indeed, other than the fall of the Twentieth Century Motor Company — relevant only to provide the specific motivation for Galt’s strike — she does not even address any recognizable form of communism. And even the caricatured evils of the TCMC are imposed by its capitalistic owners, not a worker’s or vanguard party revolution.

      All of the antagonists in Atlas Shrugged are members of an opposing faction of the capitalist ruling class, or work directly for that faction. Atlas Shrugged is an extended polemic not against communism, not against the proletariat, but rather against the New Deal and FDR.

  7. john alt

    Rand made a career of selling narcissism as a virtue to mostly privileged white boys at the moment their privileges came most under attack.

    As the Reagan Revolution sought to restore those privileges Rand’s narcissism got the validating imprimatur of official power as the militant right made a complete irony of “conservatism” with their radicalism.

    These so called conservatives now make the best approximation of a collective in the US and have managed to get the rest of us to fund their privileges as they enforce their intolerant doctrine in economics and law.

  8. craazyman

    Bells on her husbands shoes???? ROTFLMAO. Holy Pussy Whip Batman! This woman wouldn’t last five minutes with a real man, somebody who never pays more than $15 for a haircut, makes up his own mind about things, and pumps iron before NFL football starts at 1 pm. Ha ha ha.

    Any Rand. “An Naydr” says the anogram. Darkness visible.

    Boowaha ahhah ahaha hahah. Panem et Circenses.

    I wonder how he got roped into the bells. Maybe it was a long process of step-by-step rationalizations, you know, the kind that lead to . . . well . . . NINJA loans and AAA CDOs. Ecce Homo said Fred. ha ha ha.

  9. DownSouth

    Rand’s Jewishness also presents another great irony. It makes the similarities between her ideology and the racial ideologies of the National Socialists all the more glaring, since they both glorified “strength” and lambasted “weakness.”

    Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that he felt “the obligation in accordance with the Eternal Will that dominates this universe to promote the victory of the better and stronger, and to demand the submission of the worse and the weaker.”

    Of course in Hitler’s world the “worse and the weaker” were the mentally and physically handicapped, the Gypsies, the Negroes, homosexuals, and especially the Jews.

    “The large mass of Jews is as a race culturally unproductive,” Hitler proclaimed in 1938 at the national Party meeting.

    “The National Socialists were masters at inventing and imposing stereotyped concepts,” Peter Adam observed, and summarizes the Manichean worldview of the National Socialists as follows:

    The opposite of the shining Aryan was the dark Jew. Uncreative, driven only by commercial thoughts, the Jew was the archenemy of culture, the parasite, bare of any idealism, without cultural roots.
    –Peter Adam, Art of the Third Reich

    “The new age of today is at work on a new human type,” wrote the Nazi propagandist Walter Benjamin. “Men and women are to be more healthy, stronger: there is a new feeling of life, a new joy in life.”

    “He who would win the great masses must know the key which opens the door to their hearts,” Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf. “It’s name is not…weakness, but will power and strength. One can only succeed in winning the soul of a people if, apart from positive fighting for one’s own aims, one also destroys at the same time the supporter of the contrary.”

    “Hitler’s notions…appealed to popular taste and prejudice,” Peter Adam went on to explain, “and could therefore count on solid support. Here suddenly was a man who had the answer to everybody’s problems. Everything was going to be different in this brave new world.” Painters and sculptors, infected by this new spirit, abandoned their “softer and more naturalistic style” for the “steely renderings of men from the SS and SA.”

    As Adam goes on to explain, the Great Depression set the stage for the National Socialists:

    World depression hit Germany harder than most countries. Hitler understood how to fire up the dissatisfied masses when unemployment reached the 6 million mark. A nation weighted down by anxiety and poverty, filled with resentment…was an easy target for a party that promised change and renewed pride…

    Hitler came to power on January 31, 1933. The National Socialists lost no time in putting their cultural politics into practice… They began with a number of demonstrations of strength. They set about eliminating what they rejected…

    For the opening of the 1938 “Great German Art Exhibition,” Hitler gave one of his famous speeches. In it he summed up once more the National Socialist theory and repeated the same old clichés. Hitler stressed again and again that the German people have a new affirmation of life. They are filled with admiration for the “strong and beautiful, the healthy and those capable of surviving”—-all thoughts that aligned the arts theory with the theory endorsing the annihilation of the sick and the “racially inferior.”

    Perhaps the commonalities between the ideologies of Ayn Rand and those of the National Socialists can best be summed up in the word “parasite,” which they both deployed with great frequency.

    1. Dan Duncan

      There’s a mathematical form of argument—proof by contradiction—which, when extended to plain logical argumentation is often called “Reductio ad absurdum”.

      DownSouth has extended this line of reasoning yet again, and now we have “Reductio ad Hitlerum”.

      But of course, Godwin’s Law (aka Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies) has long since provided the necessary proof, so the term “Reductio ad Hitlerum” is a bit of a redundancy.

      For the uninitiated, Godwin’s Law is an elegant mathematical masterstroke:

      “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”

      The only surprise in this instance is just how quickly (and transparently) DownSouth managed to invoke The Fuhrer.
      It’s almost Pavlovian.

      Ring the bell with a RING! DING! DING!

      And watch the accumulated saliva get disseminated as the Internet Automaton spits out “HITLER! HITLER! HITLER!”

      1. The Barefoot Bum

        Hitler was not, of course, an actual human being. His exact origins are unknown; the two leading hypotheses are that he is a space alien or a rabid wolverine exposed to mutagenic radiation. Any comparison to actual human beings, therefore, is *necessarily* fallacious, regardless of the strength of the similarities.

        /sarcasm

        It’s unfortunate that so many idiots on the internet have made obviously specious comparisons to the Nazis; it robs legitimate comparisons of their value.

        Rand’s explicitly eliminationist ideology and her open advocacy of mass death both wholesale and retail (witness her unconcealed glee at the deaths in the tunnel disaster) makes a comparison to Hitler both accurate and relevant.

      2. attempter

        And the Pavlovian appeal to “Godwin’s law” is itself one of the most noxious examples of the ad hominem fallacy.

        “You compared someone to Hitler! That proves you’re wrong! (And the comparison itself is by definition wrong.)”

        Of course the only rational question in a case like this is whether the Hitler comparison is valid or not, not the fact that someone made such a comparison, which is (fraudulently) alleged to rule someone’s position existentially out of bounds.

        As promiscuous as Hitler comparisons often are, the invocation of “Godwin’s law” is a flat-earth debate-killing fallacy used to shut down criticism of arguably fascistic positions.

  10. skippy

    Master-slave morality: Master morality weighs actions on a scale of good or bad consequences unlike slave morality which weighs actions on a scale of good or evil intentions.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master-slave_morality

    Rand a Homeric hero with a skirt…ha ha ha.

    Skippy…DS these guys are still very popular in your hemisphere…wounder why.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTYsElEGswc&feature=channel

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxaIGvI6Y8Q&feature=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCNBObnj5QI&feature=channel

  11. Douche inspector

    They are fucking books. Fiction. I enjoyed them. Some don’t. Fine. Quit making such a big goddamn deal of trivial opinions. I don’t give a flying fuck of your opninion on the books, or my opinion of the books or your opinion of my opinions. The people who bash Rand are as bad as the people who worship her. I find no clear distinction in the two groups. Cheerio!

    Douche Inspector #23

    1. Mista B

      And anyone who thinks Greenspan represents Rand’s view of economics doesn’t know the history between the two. The responses to this article are astounding. It’s pretty obvious these people haven’t read any of Rand’s non-fiction, for they’re entirely focused on their interpretation of her politics based on a cursory reading of Atlas (or, more likely, a cursory reading of a negative review of Atlas). To discuss Rand’s politics without first addressing her metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics (all of which she discusses at length in her non-fiction) is to pointless. She consistently railed against the Peddlers of Pull–e.g. banks committing fraud then using their connections to bilk the taxpayers. That said, if people are against honesty, integrity, independence, justice, productiveness, and pride (the virtues she identifies due to their relationship between existence and consciousness), well, I hope it works out. First and foremost, Rand supported rational argument–as opposed to attacking or shouting down the opponent. Hmmm, what’s more evident in both the article and the responses? I see not one reference to Rand’s own words. I wonder why that is.

      1. The Barefoot Bum

        “To discuss Rand’s politics without first addressing her metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics (all of which she discusses at length in her non-fiction) is to pointless.”

        Agreed. All three are complete bull****. Now that I’ve addressed the rest of her philosophy, may we go on to criticize her politics?

        1. Mista B

          Sure, BB. I’ll follow your lead. Yours are complete bull####. Hers actually makes sense.

          Isn’t it terribly clever to insult, make fun of, and use expletives?! Not to mention patting oneself on the back while doing so!! Congrats!!

          1. itzybitter

            “The Barefoot Bum says: “To discuss Rand’s politics without first addressing her metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics (all of which she discusses at length in her non-fiction) is to pointless.”

            Mista B says: “Sure, BB. I’ll follow your lead. Yours are complete bull####. Hers actually makes sense. Isn’t it terribly clever to insult, make fun of, and use expletives?! Not to mention patting oneself on the back while doing so!! Congrats!!”

            This is the perfect illustration of the conflict between libertarian and non-libertarian, and what ultimately frightens me. These two worldviews are diametrically opposed and incapable of peaceful and respectful coexistance. Debate and the tools of the liberbal democracy are inadequate.

  12. Jesse

    I think we are entering the ‘hysteria’ phase, in which scapegoats are sought and delivered by those inside the fraud which caused the crisis to deflect their own guilt.

    Those who have lost money are looking for retribution, and those who seek power feed the mob. We have some way to go yet, before they start burning books. And if there is no reform, no justice, then the madness returns.

    And you will never believe it until it has taken a firm grasp of your hands.

  13. itzybitter

    The common threads between Rand, libertarianism, and neoliberalism are what interest me. I can best characterize it both as glorification of the omnipotent adolescent, with the attendant struggle with human grief, the acceptance of the necessary life losses. At its heart is deep and dysfunctional pathology.

    Cynicism is one of its most obvious manifestations, the inability to emotionally deal with our ultimate fragility. The libertarian thus must define the terms of every engagement, vainly seeking to empower himself.

  14. In Hell's Kitchen

    >The people who bash Rand are as bad as the people who worship her.
    >I find no clear distinction in the two groups.

    except those who “bash” her didn’t get to almost cause the 2nd Great
    Depression with their actions which they base on Rand’s “theory” of
    economics.

    Nobody remembers Greenspan’s mea culpa ?

  15. Froggy

    Ayn Rand is a starting point for a framework of libertarian thought. Her philosophies are unimplementable and fantastical, but she properly constructs and characterizes (if hyperbolicaly) the agents at work in an ideal free capitalist society. She does however, miss a key element and protagonist in her theory, the moral person. Rand is amoral and coldly calculating and humans are not this way and could therefore never create or live in Galt’s Gulch. Her expositions on bureaucrats and government are on balance quite adept. Their false motives of altruism (which gives her amorality its structure) used to “loot” are the visages that we see today in Obamacare et al. It is that kernel of her vision that did come true. She could never see people for what they were as individuals, but she could see organizations with perfect clarity.

  16. Valissa

    What is all this collective projection of all kinds of good & evil intentions onto Ayn Rand really all about? I have to say that I don’t understand why the Libertarians, Conservatives or Liberals gets so worked up about her one way or another. I read Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead when I was 13-14 years old. I read Stranger in a Strange Land when I was 14 also, and I have to say that Robert Heinlein’s(a different sort of Libertarian) book had a much greater impact on me. Why more Libertarians don’t point to “The Moon is Harsh Mistress” for inspiration is another thing I don’t understand… although TANSTAAFL, a phrase from that book is a popular economic meme and probably the first economics I ever learned.

    Back to Rand… I outgrew most of her ideas by the time I got to college. In today’s world, I find it hugely entertaining that she has become an iconic or archetypal intellectual figure for people to project all kinds of ideology onto. Goddess of the Market? How New Agey and ridiculous can you get? She is not even a primary or original thinker (perhaps a ‘derivative’ thinker?), she was merely reflecting a certain type of intellectual approach of her historical time period and acting as an intellectual “brand” of sorts. This has brought her both followers and haters… who can now enjoy arguing about her, what she said and what she represented. Just another ideology war for those who like that sort of thing.

    1. The Barefoot Bum

      Like it or not, Rand’s work and brutal, eliminationist ideology is extremely influential.

      We have to care about ideology, because it is a powerful motivating force for behavior. Furthermore, ideology is like masturbation: there are only those who admit to an ideology and those who pretend they don’t have one.

      1. Valissa

        A major hobby of mine for many years now has been the study of religion and spiritual philosophy, or to put it another way, I have spent alot of time investigating ideologies and the nature of human belief systems. All ideologies have some very good points, or they wouldn’t become popular. However what’s of more interest to me is why a certain ideology becomes popular or unpopular at a certain time in history, what drives cultural trends and attitudes. Personally I have become rather un-ideological (though not completely anti-ideological) as I observe the power of emotional attachments to ideologies and the often negative consequences of that (the eternal problem of “us vs them”).

  17. The Barefoot Bum

    “I don’t understand why it has to be either-or with Rand.”

    It doesn’t *have* to be either-or, it just happens to be the case that Rand is either trivial or completely wrong.

    “[Rand] made brilliant, prophetic points about government. Credit where credit is due.”

    Seriously? Name one. Having read a considerable amount of her work, I’ve yet to stumble on any brilliant prophetic points about anything, much less government. It is, however, possible I’ve missed something.

    “Objectivism and Atlas Shrugged is an incomplete and partly flawed defense of the concept that the nature of man is to yearn to be free.”

    It boggles my mind that anyone could read Atlas Shrugged and come away with the image of Hank Rearden, Dagny Taggart or John Galt groaning under the lash of their brutal oppressor.

    Rand’s work in a defense of the concept that the nature of the *superior* man is to be free from the presence of the inferior man. The characters in Atlas Shrugged are not rebelling against any form of enslavement; they rebel only against having to share their air with lesser men, and the only remedy is to literally kill them all leaving a pure whi… er… capitalist paradise.

    “Like any person’s work, it does not represent the alpha and the omega.”

    I believe Rand would have disagreed with you on this evaluation of her work.

    “A lot of the trashing of Rand seems unnecessary and inaccurate.”

    Seems? Who cares how things *seem*. Is any trashing *actually* unnecessary? Is any *actually* inaccurate?

  18. Jugo1502

    Enough about Rand’s novels and non-fiction. I recommend a foray into her stab at knee-slapping comedy. The Romantic Manifesto never ceases to draw forth a chuckle or two on a bad day.

  19. sherparick

    Rand’s ideas have really do influence are current elite (just read the Washington Post’s editorial page). It is why Wall Streeters feel no guilt about their huge, rent-seeking bonuses while official unemployment is at 10%. Whether they have read the books are not, as Keyness said, their heads are filled with ideas of a long dead, half-baked, writer.

    By the way, James Hill was a remarkable, if flawd, man who actually built and created wealth, in the 19th century, as opposed to today’s wealth destroyers. But even he got some Government help, if not for the Great Northern, then for the railroad that became the Great Northern, the St. Paul and Pacific. “It connected with a Canadian Pacific branch from Fort Garry at St. Vincent, Minnesota in 1879. Canadian Pacific’s transcontinental route was not completed yet so all traffic through Fort Garry had to use Hill’s route. Hill received two million acres of land in the Minnesota Land Grant for completing the rail line on time.”

  20. Greg

    Over the past 5 years, a few dozen US universities have accepted substantial grants from BB&T that require students to study Ayn Rand’s books and her philosophy. Maybe that explains some of the revival of her reputation.

    See

  21. Stephanie

    Have not read Atlas Shrugged. Did read The Fountainhead, at the age of 14. Have not re-read it since. My impression at the time was that Roark seemed like a crappy businessman. Of course, in my mind the point of business being, I thought, to provide goods and services for which people were willing to pay, NOT to force one’s artistic vision on customers and then whine when said customers didn’t appreciate it. At least, I couldn’t imagine how anyone would make money doing the later… and as I recall, Roark didn’t (please correct me if I’m wrong) — but this was supposed to be some kind of tragedy of the system, not an indictment of Roark’s narcissism. Maybe that was because Rand was able to successfully substitute narcissism for salesmanship in her own life?

  22. Eric L. Prentis

    I read all of Ayn Rand’s novels and other works the year after I graduated from college and thought utopian Objectivism was “the true way.” Implementing her naive ideas was however a complete fiasco for me, so, ironically, my egoism required rejecting her ideas. Rand’s final denouement was my reading true philosophers, such as, Socrates, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Kierkegaard and Pascal who said, “The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing,” which Rand would—-paradoxically—-have intellectually rejected but would have had to agree with, since that is how Rand, disastrously, handled her Branden affair.

  23. JTFaraday

    The way I see it, Tom Paine (“government is a necessary evil” and whatever laws are devised to limit freedom, all are subjected to them equally) is a libertarian.

    The bankster class including Alan Greenspan, who inhabit every nook and cranny of government, either personally or through influence, in order to expand its powers and turn them exclusively to their own ends and personal benefit and to create loopholes that enable them (and them alone) to do whatever they want, are not libertarian. They are antinomian (anti-nomos, “against the law”) totalitarians. (Dick Cheney too!)

    Those would be my points of contrast.

    As for Ayn Rand, maybe she’d willingly underwrite the Greenspan cohort’s whole sense of self entitlement, irregardless of where it might lead them in life. I don’t know, maybe crimes against the state that substantially deform the state because it’s inhibiting the Greenspan cohort are just an objectively necessary evil.

    I can’t say, I haven’t read her.

    1. eric anderson

      You are correct, sir. Greenspan is a former acolyte of Rand. Former. Nothing in this cozy relationship between big finance and big government, call it what you will, has anything to do with Rand’s heroes, individualists who live and die by market forces.

      If people at Goldman or Citi or other TBTF institutions, having just had their chestnuts pulled out of the fire by a government bailout, think of themselves as some kind of Randian self-made men, earning their mega-bonuses through the products of their mighty brains succeeding in a free market, they are delusional. And so are the other “economic philosophers” who want to connect the two.

    2. NOONBALLOON

      It’s interesting, because I’d venture to guess that most of those who are so quick pop-off with the same old accusations of “sociopath” and “serial killer worshiper”, have probably never read her either.

      Of course her personality preferences (Myers-Briggs – INTJ) could lead many of the more “feeling” types to conclude: Isolationist + clever + no feelings + confidence bordering on arrogance + I don’t give a rat’s ass about what others think about me = sociopath, but I seriously doubt that being right has anything to do with these arguments either.

      And perhaps that’s just it, perception = reality. Her perception doesn’t fit their own little reality…”and it’s scary and dangerous too (serial killer lover)!” It becomes understandable why it would become soooo important to discredit her personally, her influence on others and her literary works in general. However, it’s difficult, even for those who hate the whole concept of the invisible hand of the self interests (self-loathers), to deny the parallels of Atlas Shrugged when juxtaposed against current day phenomena.

      So all of this accusation and whining about someone who was simply illustrating, from her own experience, and without any remorse, that freedom and self determination are the greatest gifts that a society can offer, and that SERFDOM SUCKS, seems a little bit contradictory…but hey, she’s dead! I’ll just laugh out loud for her and give her another point on the chalk board for another victory over those who subscribe to the immediate gratification of the moment.

      Oh…and there’s no such word as “irregardless”

  24. Benedict@Large

    Against overwhelming odds, a small band of the truly enlightened persevere, finally cleansing the world of their inferiors. In doing so, they succeed in creating a new and better society where the best can flourish unencombered by the weight of those who existed only by the grace of the honest labor and brains of others.

    Atlas Shrugged? Ayn Rand? No, The Turner Diaries, by William Pierce.

    Same story, different audience.

  25. MonkeyMuffins

    1) “Rand’s influence lives on in her book and also in the watered down elements of her libertarian philosophy that has penetrated liberal political thinking.”

    Should read:

    “Rand’s influence lives on in her book and also in the watered down elements of her libertarian philosophy that have penetrated liberal political thinking”

    2) In High School I loved Rand and Rush; then I grew up.

    We live at the end of empire, during the century of contraction, in a culture of make believe.
    We are not going to grow, consume and indebt our way out of the problems of growth, consumption and debt.

  26. steelhead23

    Weighty stuff, this Objectivism. Ayn Rand is long dead, but her worldview lives on – and it affects our lives. I assume that it dominates modern conservativism and its infatuation with pouty self-reliance. Lloyd Blankfein is filthy rich because “he earned it” and that which serves his objective (riches) is by definition, good. So, naked CDS are morally good. I just wanted to spell out exactly why Ayn Rand and objectivism have a place in this blog. And for Deep South, you are right, most of those submitting to this blog are NOT Objectivists, and some of us may not have read all Rand’s rantings. Mea culpa.

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