Pick of the Day: “Ayn Rand Nation” by Gary Weiss
Could a book be more timely than journalist Gary Weiss’ “Ayn Rand Nation: The Hidden Struggle for America’s Soul?” The Republican vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, is an unabashed fan of the “objectivist” philosopher and novelist Rand. Simultaneously, another Rand fan, blogger Pamela Geller, has made headlines by purchasing ad space in San Francisco and New York City to promote a barely modified quote of Rand’s about Israel: “In any war between civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” (For the record, in Rand’s original comment, “man” and “savage” were pluralized, and “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” are added on by Geller. But the spirit is the same). Furthermore, Rand is often cited as the intellectual inspiration for the Tea Party.
In this context, Weiss’ book is a welcome effort to sort through her intellectual legacy in the U.S. In journalistic fashion, Weiss describes many facets of the Rand phenomenon, including the author herself, who comes across as thin-skinned and traumatized by her family’s fate in post-revolutionary Russia. There is also the inner circle which she gathered around her, “the collective,” riven by purges sparked by her own extra-marital affairs. Among the most notable members of the collective was Alan Greenspan, the former chief of the Federal Reserve, who Weiss portrays as unrepentant about his Randian past. Weiss also describes those who have preserved and promoted Rand’s intellectual legacy. And certainly not least, he describes her growing prominence among the grassroots of the American right. Here Weiss directs attention to the contradiction between Rand’s atheism, considered a core tenet of her “objectivist” philosophy, and the religiosity of the American right. He suggests that if this contradiction can be reconciled, Rand’s influence in American life will deepen. It should be noted here that Paul Ryan does in fact both embrace Rand and the religiosity that is so essential to the contemporary American right. The gulf between Rand’s objectivism and libertarianism, once vast, has already shrunk, although the hostility towards neoconservative military adventures among libertarians remains a source of tension.
I can’t say reading “Ayn Rand Nation” left me with greater respect for the author of “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged.” However, it did alarm me to learn of the growing extent of her influence in the U.S. Weiss has a point in urging left and liberal critics of this influence to sharpen their arguments against her philosophy, and promote them widely. It would also be relevant to examine what has happened in the U.S. that a “philosophy” that amounts to a tribute to selfishness has taken hold so widely. It is all the more ironic given the widespread religiosity of the American population. Not only her atheism, but her moral perspective is utterly at odds with all major religions, including the forms of Christianity most prominent in the U.S.
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