Aimee brought up Ayn Rand in the Cinnamon Bear thread. Okay, she didn't really bring up Ayn Rand, but through the convoluted twistings of my mind, her comments led me to Ayn Rand. (Note: Ayn rimes with "mine", not "man".)
I went through an Ayn Rand phase once, soon after I graduated from college. It was early 1992, and I was working as a salesman for Custom Box Service. As I drove around the industrial areas looking for leads, I listened to Rush Limbaugh. (Believe it or not, he actually used to be funny. I never agreed with much of what he had to say, but he was very entertaining. Then he became vitriolic and single-minded: "Clinton sucks!" I was no Clinton fan, either, but I couldn't understand why Rush was so keen on forsaking all else in a blind hatred for the man.)
One day Rush had a caller who lauded the virtues of Objectivism, the pseudo-philosophical school of thought spawned by Rand and her novels. The caller believed her views meshed well with conservatism. Rush blasted the guy. He blasted Ayn Rand. He disavowed any connection between her and conservativism.
Soon after, in an issue of National Review (see, I really was on a conservative streak, wasn't I?), an entire article was devoted to debunking Ayn Rand's viewpoints. The writer even went so far as to make fun of her because she once cried when an editor of National Review challenged some of her positions. (That story's a little fuzzy; I may not be completely correct on the details.)
What, I wondered, could this woman have written that made these men so adamant that she was not one of them?
I'd read Anthem seemed slight, and obvious, with a simplistic moral against which few people would argue. It was a poor man's 1984. I'd made a go at The Fountainhead, but had given it up when I found the writing impenetrable. I spoke with Nick about Rand, and he suggested I try Atlas Shrugged (FAQ, her thousand page opus in which she posits a world in which the men of industry go on strike and civilization grinds to a halt.
I read Atlas Shrugged, or most of it. The writing was awful. The characters were one-dimensional in the worst possible way. Yet, through it all, Rand's philosophy emerged as something compelling and worth considering, perhaps not in its entirety, but at least as a starting point for conversation or deep thought. In the context of the period in which it was written, Atlas Shrugged is an important book.
I remember sitting in Dane's apartment discussing Ayn Rand and her views. "I don't like her," he told me. "I donít agree with her philosophy."
"What is it you don't agree with?" I asked, but he couldn't say. He'd never read any of her stuff himself, but he had a friend in high school who had, and Dane thought he was worse for it. "Why don't you read something of hers and tell me what you don't agree with," I suggested.
"I don't have to read her to know I disagree with her," he said. This was one of the only times I've been gravely disappointed with Dane/Dana. (It's awkward to write about Dana in this case, because she was Dane at the time, but is Dana now. Which name and pronoun do I use in which sentences?) It seemed frivolous for him to argue against a position with which he had no familiarity. (The only other time I can remember being disappointed with him is when he swore up-and-down that Charles Schulz' son was drawing Peanuts, when in fact this was not the case.)
I carried Atlas Shrugged around with me for weeks, reading it in my car on breaks, in restaurants at lunch. The going was slow. Then, in the middle of John Galt's momentous speech (excerpt), I gave up. I've never gone back to it since.
Sometimes I think I'd like to give the book another chance, but every time I try to reread it, I'm put off by the poor writing. Too, I always think of what Nick has to say about Atlas Shrugged: "Poor Eddie." When Dagny Taggart goes off to join the cabal in Colorado, she leaves behind her trusting assistant, Eddie. He may not be a railroad baron, but he's a pure and noble fellow, not worth of Rand's scorn.
So, why do Rush and the conservatives hold Rand in such low esteem? I think it's for those things that I find good about her philosophy. Her central tenet is this:
Man — every man — is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self-interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.This, too, is the central tenet of my life. "The achievement of his own happiness [is] the highest moral purpose of [a man's] life." Amen.
Yet this flies in the face of Christianity and most other modern religions. The conservative movement in the United States is tightly entwined with Christianity, so despite the other similarities Rand shares with conservative thought, her central tenet (and her professed atheism), earn contempt from the Right.
Rand's books are certainly food for thought, and it's quite possible that someday, perhaps soon, I'll choose one for our book group discussion.
Assorted Ayn Rand links, from googling:
- The Ayn Rand Institute
- The Ayn Rand Society
- All About Ayn Rand
- Ayn Rand biography
- Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand
- The Objectivist Center
- Objectivism Reference Center
- Atlasphere, the Ayn Rand dating service (!!!)
- Objectivist Blogs
On this day at foldedspace.org
2002 — Chasing the Sunset The sky is on fire: the clouds blaze electric pink against a pale purple field. The color is so intense that I lose my balance. I stare open-mouthed in awe.