Who’d have thought that a frumpy Russian woman, dead some three-plus decades, would continue to be a significant and relevant force in political debate?
Predictably, the Left have seized on Paul Ryan’s affection for Ayn Rand to try to paint him as a fringe whacko unfit for office. Excellent. This is EXACTLY what we want them to do. We want the debate to turn ideological. Ryan’s a whacko for liking Rand? OK, remind me who your pastor was for twenty years. Forget talk of marginal tax rates at the debate podium. I want discussions of individualism versus altruism. The progs couldn’t handle a discussion like that. The progs have no underlying philosophy, no inspirational figures. What are they going to do? Quote Soviet-loving John Kenneth Galbraith? The plagiarist Fareed Zakaria?
A question remains for the pro-Ryan camp, however. Is Ryan a whacko for liking Rand?
My own views on Rand and Objectivism are the following: the essential spirit of her philosophy is correct, the particulars and style of execution often nutty and clumsy. The moral premises of her individualism, as laid out in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal and other books, are valid and well stated. Some of the finer points of her philosophy–the ideas about romanticism in literature, for instance–are superfluous and ridiculous. An agnostic, I nevertheless found Rand’s atheism to be of the childish, grating college-boy variety. She, a philosopher, knew no philosophy other than basic Aristotle (her laughable mangling of Kant is something even Objectivists try to revise nowadays).
The interpersonal aspects of Objectivism are something to avoid even more: its slavish dogmatism and Randian personality cult are of no interest to me and shouldn’t be to anyone professing individualism. As a fiction writer she started out awful and became great. Her early novels–Anthem and We the Living–are dreadfully slow and boring. The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are excellent, if overwritten.
So, what’s a conservative/libertarian/classical liberal to make of all this? Well, Rand loved America. She defended American traditions and American exceptionalism. She defended Israel. She despised identity politics. This is good enough for me. Rand’s ideas continue to be relevant because, well, she was right about a lot of things. I have many Rand books on my shelf. I’d say I take one down at least once a month and read back over pages I have marked. When someone badmouths Rand, I always feel compelled to defend her, even though I don’t identify as an Objectivist. This is the true test of whether you have an affinity for someone. It’s hard to be a classical liberal nowadays and not have at least some Objectivist in you.
Most progs have not actually read Rand. Like children playing a game of telephone, they rely on one another’s hearsay about what Rand wrote, instead of actually doing the hard work and hitting the books themselves. This means that there is a steady stream of garbage in the blogosphere (and on your friends’ Facebook pages) about Rand. Whenever Rand becomes a part of the larger political discussion, every prog blogger in the country runs to his little keyboard and taps out a 2,000-work screed about how evil Rand was, how she hated poor people, etc. The best way to tell if you’re in the company of a prog who has not read Rand (other than the fact that you’re talking to a prog) is that he or she will say that Rand was evil for rejecting “altruism.” What the prog doesn’t realize–because he never read the books–is that Rand was using her own idiosyncratic, somewhat tendentious definition of altruism. She did NOT mean helping other people; to Rand, altruism was the collectivist idea that you have no right to exist as an individual. Progs think they are scoring a point when they mention Rand’s hatred of “altruism,” not realizing the difference in definition–kind of like me criticizing Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn for not liking “workers’ democracy.”
In short, give me Ayn Rand over Bill Ayers or Jeremiah Wright any day of the week. An anti-tax Russian woman is always better than a domestic terrorist and a racist sicko.
Long live Rand.