Getting over Ayn Rand

Those schlocky paperbacks are a residue of my adolescence. Mixed in with Hubbard and Asimov and other mid-century know-it-all entertainers, Ayn Rand’s novels peered from the racks at Horton’s Shop’n Basket on Oxford Road in Atlanta. Facing the Emory University campus, Horton’s always carried an abundance of cheap literature for the young, self-infatuated idealist. It was a great resource while I was in high school, and I consumed its paperbacks zealously — but somehow, as if guided by instinct, I avoided Ayn Rand.

A case of erroneous premises, no doubt.

There’s a beautiful essay on the erstwhile Alisa Rosenbaum (Ayn Rand) by Jenny Turner — three years old, but new to me — here at the London Review of Books site. If you don’t have time for it, at least read this:

The great thing about Objectivism, according to its fans, is that it offers ‘a moral defence of capitalism’. Objectivism proves that capitalism is good and necessary, and more, a moral inspiration. It does away with the need for nationalism, war, religious fundamentalism. It does away, too, with bourgeois sentimentality, that tiresome mime-act of having to pretend that one cares deeply about the little people.…

Objectivism is at least modern, with no harking back to thatched cottages or yeoman militias; and it does claim a horror of political violence, and nationalism and racism, the last denounced as ‘collectivism of the very lowest sort’. You can see, in a way, how it might offer a sense of life’s grandeur, coupled with a thrilling disdain for guilt, duty, service and so on. One can just about see how such ideas might have struck small-town 1950s teenagers – as astonishing as Elvis, in their way.

But really, storytelling was Rand’s talent, and it is in her novels that her vision takes its truest shape. …

Nasty sex and scenes of wanton cruelty and destruction are not unusual in novels and movies. But Rand’s nastiness has an earnestness to it, a desire to transform naughty frisson into iron principle. And as for sex, so for politics. Popular stories of the 1940s and 1950s are full of people being rapacious and unkind, but for Rand, noir has to become a system of world history. Her ethics are doggedly, insistently supremacist…. Good guys recognise other good guys immediately: the novels are full of heart-warming chats between a hero and a noble tramp or plumber. Bad guys stammer, and bluster, and let their weak chins wobble as their dull eyes look down at the floor.… 

Post-Rand, Objectivism has become more secular and suburban, but as is the way with suburbs, also more widespread. If nothing else, Objectivism might inject romance, victimhood, entertainingly bohemian personal chaos, into the otherwise uneventful right-wing life — …

Slavoj Žižek sees Rand as one in a line of ‘over-conformist authors who undermine the ruling ideological edifice by their very excessive identification with it’. Rand’s mad adoration of capitalism ‘without its communitarian, collectivist, welfare etc, sugar-coating’, he argues, actually serves only to make the inherent ridiculousness of capitalism ever more plain.

But it’s not just capitalism that Rand makes ridiculous by her worship. It’s also the mystique of Modernism, the idea that ‘good’ taste in aesthetic matters equates, somehow, with ‘good’ morals. And it’s also intellectuals and intellectualism. Especially that model of intellectualism that goes with bohemianism and free love and swirling garments, and cigarettes and cigarette-holders, and making much of one’s personal freedom, and having a position on everything, because that’s what being an intellectual is all about.

We’ve all met that kind of intellectual in the academy. Some of us have been that person, at least for a little while.

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6 thoughts on “Getting over Ayn Rand

  1. Many unpleasant things have been said about Ayn Rand and her “Objectivist” cult; almost all of them deserved: Nietzsche for the semi-literate with a dash of Plato thrown-in for extra dickishness. Let us put aside her loquacious driveling and ham-handed, overbearing prose for a moment. She was a woman who surrounded herself with sycophants, even holding “trials” for her followers who disagreed with her publicly on any topic from politics to art; that or the unforgivable crimes of not adequately defending her from criticism or associating with those who offered any.

    It is important to remember who her supporters were and are, folks like Ronald Regan and Alan Greenspan (Alan was actually a member of her inner circle), the architects of the greed-driven “Masters of the Universe” economy that has brought the entire world to the brink of ruin. Look at who praises her now: The likes of Sean Hannity, Glen Beck and Anne Coulter, barely sane wannabe demagogues who preach the suppression of all liberty but the freedom to exploit.

    Her arguments universally fall under the “strawman” heading, railing against some nebulous “liberal” that exists only in her mind. From one side of her mouth she denounced violence but still never failed to exalt robber barons like Andrew Carnegie who hired men to butcher good, hard working people so they couldn’t benefit from their own labors. Two standards based on the money you’re born with. One is “violence” and “horrid,” the other is “business” and “necessary.”

    A man makes money and becomes rich. He then raises his children to think they are a superior breed and should do anything possible to keep all wealth within their own class, casting all others as “looters” and “moochers” to justify it. You end up with an aristocracy that is made up of privilege by birth, not “men of the mind.” We don’t need a Hilton family to have hotels. Indeed, if we didn’t have them, those hotels would all be there and owned by dozens of people who could advance through their work, not to mention treat their people FAR better.

    Those who do the ACTUAL WORK are completely cut out of the profits of that work with no meaningful way to advance. Now, you might point to this one or that one who has “overcome” poverty but in a country of 300,000,000 people, a certain percentage are going to be struck by lightning, eaten by sharks, hit by meteors, and become rich; Doesn’t mean anything. And I would bet most of those people tell you their success (even if well deserved) had more to do with dumb luck then any hard work on their part.

    My real problem with Rand and her ilk is this: All the arguments you might make about how something like communism doesn’t work can be made about capitalism with equal accuracy: It only works on paper.

  2. Thanks, Doc. I see that you also posted this at your blog, where it drew several comments. You also got a little more profane there than here. Thanks for the restraint.

  3. I aim to please and shoot to kill, Mr. alarob. I understand restraint, I just don’t care for it that much. 😉

  4. Hello, this is Barry from Debt Prison and I’m following from your comment at my blog. Here’s a response I posted to one of your comments. And thanks for sharing your views with me.

    “Alarob,

    I checked out your blog and found it impressive. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. Yes America has come to be a place driven by debt and corporate consumption. In fact our entire economic engine is maintained by an immoral system of credit creation designed to enslave the people. What can you say of a society that claims to be free but denies its citiznes the right to use what they’d like as currency? Who are these men that claim such power over our lives?

    Using gold backed currencies doesn’t play into the hands of bankers and their exploitation of the citizens. Therefore it is banned.

    0% interest is used in some Middle Eastern countries and is a wonderful concept… I hope it works out and please keep me posted about your endeavour.

    I believe in capitalism when the people are free to make choices. In America, our economy is designed to benefit corporations and rich men by denying freedom of choice to the people. The choice to choose what they’d like as a currency (which might be different things in different parts of the nation). The people are denied starting their own business due to a multitude of laws designed by established business owners (upper-class) that insure the poor and uneducated are blocked from ‘stealing’ their customers. Having to go to cosmetology school for a year so you can cut someone’s hair for profit is a simple example.

    I believe in freedom and honest capitalism. But we have neither in the U.S..”

  5. For those who’ve read this far — Debt Prison is worth a look. Barry’s post The Poor People I Know elicited a long response from me. He even got me to mention a scheme I’m involved in but haven’t yet found time to blog about here, viz., an alternative bank or credit union, on the Islamic model, that will do micro-lending at 0% interest.

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