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An Apolitical Reading

December 9, 2009

It seems as if everyone has gone through an Ayn Rand phase somewhere between adolescence and adulthood.  Mine happened in my sophomore year of undergrad and lasted until I was about half-way through Atlas Shrugged.  During that time (around about a year), I read all her major fiction (except the last half of the 60+ page monologue near the end of Atlas Shrugged, you know the one and I doubt you read it either) and found them enjoyable, if not inspiring.

Though I knew they were little more than anti-Communist propaganda, I was too unaware of politics to read much more than that.  For an very brief period of time, I bought into Objectivism (except for the whole atheism bit, which seems to be the current practice of the extreme Right as of late) but quickly gave that up.

A recent article in the New Yorker, “Possessed: Did Ayn Rand’s Cult Outstrip Her Canon?” (subscription required) by Thomas Mallon brought Rand back to mind.  Mallon paints a different Rand than I would have expected and recounts the lives and actions of her followers–each of which Rand alienated as she aged.  Along with her personal relationship troubles, Mallon points out Rand’s less-than-stellar literary skills and briefly touches on her works of non-fiction which indicate that she was not at all well read. All her characters, even those who are given hundreds and hundreds of pages to become real, are little more than stereotypes in her much-too-long allegories of the virtues of selfishness.

All that having been said, Rand’s work is widely read and wildly influential.  More than a half-century after its first publication, Atlas Shrugged–a doorstop of a book at 1200 pages–is #167 on Amazon’s bestseller list (though The Fountainhead, my favorite among hers, is only #1088).  As would be expected of an author beloved of Alan Greenspan and the rightest of the right-wing pundits, Rand’s sales–like Fox News’ ratings–skyrocket during a Democratic president’s term.  Some equate liberal lawmakers to the “moochers” of Rand’s fiction and predict a dystopian future of feckless, bottom-feeding rulers who leech from the best of society only to waste their best efforts on helping the lazy and incompetent. Please.

Me, I don’t put too much stock in Objectivism or the virtue of selfishness. I like to believe that there are greater things out there than personal gain and that the good in the world does more than warm the cockles of my self-interested heart.  You may espouse the glory and hope of Galt’s Gulch and you can keep it. They wouldn’t want me anyway.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Robert Taylor permalink
    December 10, 2009 4:50 pm

    liberal lawmakers to the “moochers” of Rand’s fiction and predict a dystopian future of feckless, bottom-feeding rulers who leech from the best of society only to waste their best efforts on helping the lazy and incompetent (your quote). You stated it perfectly…if you aren’t capable of seeing the parallels with current events…well, then I think it’s better for everyone concerned that you don’t become involved with Objectivism. You would intellectually be a drag.
    It’s amazing the echo chamber that you participate in that rails about the length of “Atlas Shrugged” (I’ve read it 3 times…length? no problem). Maybe small pamphlets with a veritable plethora of color pictures would better suit your mental lethargy. And, as for your invective on Rand’s personal life, let me quote Michael Shermer of “Skeptic” magazine, to-wit: “Criticism of the founder of a theory does not, by itself, constitute a negation of any part of the theory. By most accounts, Sir Isaac Newton was a narcissistic, misogynistic, egocentric, curmudgeon, and yet his theories about light, gravity, and the structure of the cosmos stand on their own and would be no more or less true had he been a saintly gentleman.”

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