Thursday, May 27, 2010

One Cheer for Ayn Rand

It seems I've been running into Ayn Rand everywhere lately. There are at least a couple of new biographies out, of which I've read several reviews, as well as seen the authors interviewed on C-SPAN. In fact, I just listened to an interview with one of them on MarsHillAudio. (More about that in my next post.) It's no wonder, I guess. As the current Administration, along with the liberal Democrat congressional leadership, seem hell-bent on marching us ever closer to their socialist dream-country utopia, there was bound to be a backlash, intellectual as well as political.

You need to know about Ayn Rand. I also think you need to appreciate something about her work, even if you were never completely seduced by her hyper-individualist, hyper-capitalist philosophy. (She purposefully wore a pin the shape of a dollar sign instead of a cross to symbolize her ethos.)

I, like many, went through a phase during my college years in which I was intrigued by her work: Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, The Virtue of Selfishness, etc. In fact, I tackled The Fountainhead just a few years ago. It's thick and intellectual, but a very quick read nevertheless. I asked my wife and a few other women friends of mine to read it for their reaction. There was something about the work that read more like a bodice-ripping romance novel than a sober piece of modern fiction in which little happens but lots of people talking and arguing, arguing and talking. (By the way, none of them have taken me up on it as yet. Such are my powers of persuasion.)

As I say, I was intrigued by her philosophy, but never seduced. That is, I never became a Randian, or anything like it. I'm too fundamentally religious, I guess. While I think Whittaker Chambers' very famous and very critical review of Rand's Atlas Shrugged for National Review, "Big Sister is Watching You", is a little over the top, I, by and large, agree with the conservative critique of her individualist philosophy.

So, why do I say, "One cheer for Ms. Rand"? Her achievement is this: Her work, the two novels, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, especially, manage as often as not to grip their first-time readers by the collar, shake them violently, and make them realize that the underlying altruism in which socialism prides itself is not altruism at all. Rather, it is envy. Ugly, pathetic, soul killing, society destroying envy. Nothing more. For that alone she deserves, if not a brass plaque in the Conservative Cooperstown, at least her due.

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