Ayn Rand’s Popularity

New York Times 

Crucially, both authors understand the reasons that Rand’s popularity has endured, not only among college students dazzled (and thronged into packs) by her triumphant individualism but also by entrepreneurs. From the young Ted Turner, who rented billboards to promote the “Who is John Galt?” slogan from “Atlas Shrugged,” to the founders of Craigslist and Wikipedia, who have found self-contradictory new ways to mix populism with individual enterprise, it is clear that (in Ms. Burns’s words) “reports of Ayn Rand’s death are greatly exaggerated.”

Ms. Burns gives a lucid account of how Rand set herself at odds with religious conservatism, how Rand-inspired libertarianism has shape-shifted, and even how Rand disciples of the 1970s adopted a hippie aspect to rival that of Students for a Democratic Society, confounding everyone, Rand included. She referred to libertarian fans as “scum,” “intellectual cranks” and “plagiarists.” Rand also complained, “If such hippies hope to make me their Marcuse, it will not work.”

That era was one Rand moment. This seems to be another. Both of these books cast light on why Rand’s popularity can be rekindled by economic turmoil, and on how much her real life and reputation diverged. Both capture the temperament of a woman once described as “the Evel Knievel of leaping to conclusions.” But of these two authors, it is Ms. Heller who comes closer to conveying what is missing from most images of Rand: “a personal warmth and charm that Rand most assuredly possessed,” on the evidence of her hypnotic effect on those in her orbit. Rand might have expressed disdain for that charisma, but it was enough to stop DeMille in his tracks. She would have been nowhere without it.

To begin, let us move away from a discussion of We the Living to the much more familiar, Atlas Shrugged, about which Glenn Beck said on his radio show several months ago:

Ayn Rand understood and identified the deeper causes of the crisis we’re facing, and she offered in “Atlas Shrugged” the principled and practical solution consistent with American values.

Ayn RandThe core idea of Atlas Shrugged is that, in the words of Whittaker Chambers, “the Children of Light win handily by declaring a general strike of brains, of which they have a monopoly, letting the world go, literally, to smash.

I can’t imagine a more arrogant or elitist conception of life, and it is a weird irony that many of the contemporary proponents of such a view would also see themselves as populists, much like Glenn Beck does.  The idea that without these “brains” (those who “get it”) the rest of us will make a mess of the world is a sentiment echoed (sometimes thunderously, sometimes faintly) throughout the world of right-wing talk radio and television.  

But no matter the intensity, there exists the notion that those of us on the outside—who are “asleep”—cannot  possibly survive without those insightful, productive, clear-eyed egoists leading the way, and it is incumbent upon us to subordinate ourselves, if we wish to have any kind of decent life.  And the grand irony is that they present the necessary subordination of ourselves and our ideas to their views in the language of liberty.

Admittedly, this hybrid philosophy is believed only by a relatively small group of people, but many of its propagandists have a rather large megaphone, sometimes influencing professional politicians who call themselves Republicans.  And I have often argued that they are doing irreparable harm to the Grand Old Party, like Darwin’s parasitic wasp feeding on its host.

[...]  If you doubt the influence of Ayn Rand on some of those who are leading the New Right, here is a short video of Glenn Beck conversing with Yaron Brook, Executive Director, The Ayn Rand Center:

That first publication date of 1957, and the fact that Atlas Shrugged is more popular now than ever, might be a source of pride for the Ayn Rand Institute, but the fact that American conservatives are returning to this novel at all suggests to me a retreat from the 21st century—and a turning back towards the 20th century, and to an era in which white Baby Boomers have a lot of nostalgia. The antiquated gesture is akin to imagining liberals in large numbers, nostalgic for early 20th century progressivism, reading John dos Pasos during the Bush years. It wouldn’t have been a sign of liberal strength that such a novelist was being rediscovered, but a sign that liberals were oversimplifying, and withdrawing psychologically from the challenges and perplexities of their own era.

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Even more relevant than when she said it in 1961.

Hopefully, we will see in our lifetimes a realignment of the GOP in favor of reason and individual rights and away from faith and tradition. Religion is a private matter.

As the Tea Party movement takes hold- we’re seeing the ugly specter of religious intolerance gaining strength to rip apart the coalition of patriots we’ve assembled. Commentator Glenn Beck has openly declared that religion is the only basis on which the movement can proceed. At the same time, he depends on Objectivist commentators and secular pro-capitalists to make his economic and ideological case. You can’t use rational men and women’s ideas and simultaneously damn them for being rational.

When “The Colbert Report” took on the recent increase in the reported popularity of the late Ayn Rand’s philosophy in “The Word” segment last week, it reminded me of my own rejection of Rand’s “Virtue of Selfishness” back in my college days and made me think of how that value judgment affects our economic choices as epitomized by a remark from Pulitzer prize winning Washington Post economics reporter Steve Pearlstein on last week’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colb…

You can see the entire March 11, 2009, segment of “The Word” titled “Rand Illusion” from which I took the two short clips for my video on the Colbert Nation website at

And, although the March 13, 2009, broadcast is not available on the HBO website, you can find more information about HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” at http://www.hbo.com/billmaher/

Finally, you can read my old college paper titled “The Vice of Selfishness” in which I reject Ayn Rand’s philosophy at http://www.liberalviewer.com/AynRand.htm

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