THE VIRTUE OF AYN RAND: There’s a negative review of Ayn Rand’s 1975 book, The Romantic Manifesto by James Russell in Blogcritics today. While I haven’t read that particular book of Rand’s, I’ve read a bunch of them, and posted the following in the comments section. Since it touches on topics that may be of interest to our regular readers, I figured I’d repost it here as well:
While I’m far from an Objectivist, in college, Ayn Rand was my introduction to any kind of political/philosophic discussion that leaned towards the right of what liberalism evolved into in the 20th century, as it was for many people who eventually came to identify as libertarian, conservative, or a bit of both.
In the essay directly preceding yours on [Blogcritics], Dean Esmay quotes Lionel Trilling in 1950, who wrote:
In the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition. For it is the plain fact that nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation. This does not mean, of course, that there is no impulse to conservatism…but [they] do not, with some isolated and some ecclesiastical exceptions, express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.
That was the environment that Rand wrote in. As Orrin Judd wrote (and he’s no Randian, himself, incidentally), in his sympathetic review of Rand’s “The Virtue of Selflessness” (which was the first Rand book I read, incidentally),
In considering the philosophy of Ayn Rand, it is always important to keep in mind the prevailing intellectual climate against which she was forced to push. Though her absolutist vision of individualism may appear overly harsh and dogmatic to us now, it may well have been a necessary counterweight to the general acceptance of statism in the West in the wake of the Great Depression. At a time when European nations succumbed, disastrously, to the various allures of fascism, communism, and socialism, and even the United States experimented with the big government programs of the New Deal and Great Society, maybe her rigid espousal of freedom was a required response.
As far as racism, Rand herself wrote:
Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage – the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.
Incidentally, Rand’s writing changed considerably over the years. After she completed her magnum opus, “Atlas Shrugged”, she never wrote fiction again. And several her closest associates claimed she suffered from severe bouts of depression in her last decade. So that may explain some of the extreme harshness of her later stuff. You might want to check out some of her early books, as well as the 1999 documentary film, “A Sense of Life”, available on DVD, which serves as a pretty good (if whitewashed) introduction to her life and the environment she wrote in.
That’s my take on Rand. Of course, my wife sums her up in a slightly more terse style: “Ayn Rand was a cranky old bitch with some good ideas, but she’s her own worst enemy in presenting them.”