Happy Birthday, Ayn

Okay am I missing something here? Am I just, like, hopelessly out of touch? Why are people taking Ayn Rand seriously? What do they mean by it?

Carlin Romano, for instance. What’s up with that? Carlin Romano’s not an adolescent or a Wall Street Journal addict or the chairman of the Fed, so why is he treating Rand like someone who is worth paying attention to?

Well he is cagey about it. He doesn’t actually say he thinks she’s any good himself – he just says other people do. She’s famous, she’s influential, she made a big noise. But a hasty reader might get the impression that he agrees with those other people. It’s actually a somewhat interesting bit of journalistic sharp practice, I think. ‘Write us a thousand words on Ayn Rand for the centenary.’ ‘Oh hell – do I have to?’ ‘Come on – she’s important. Just hold your nose and do it. You don’t have to say she’s a second Hume or anything.’ ‘All right, all right – I’ll tell them how damn influential she was. I can certainly say that without lying! Unfortunately.’ And that’s all he does say. It’s quite amusing in a way. Like any bit of fan-dom. Hey, she’s famous, she’s really famous, she’s very very famous. The end.

No one, however, now doubts that she pulled off a major, enduring American career as both novelist and thinker, and that her influence and popularity have persisted among readers since her death in 1982…A 1991 survey by the Library of Congress found Atlas Shrugged to be the American novel most influential on readers’ lives. Her books have sold more than 30 million copies around the world and sell hundred of thousands every year in the United States.

Err…yeah. Notice how consistent all that (and the rest of the article) is with thinking her books are piles of crap. Notice how resolutely Romano never says what he actually thinks. Quite funny in a way.

Scott McLemee is much less coy.

My own outlook, of course, being more of the “first, let’s tax the rich to death” variety. We’re all doomed — doomed, I tells ya — until there is a rigorous program of confiscation of incomes above (let’s say for starters) a million dollars. If that is a political fantasy, certainly it is no more so than Rand’s utopian capitalism. The more I think about it, the more her worldview resembles a Soviet era socialist-realist novel with the word “communism” scratched out and “capitalism” written in. The joke has it that they were “boy meets tractor” romances. In her case, it’s more like “masochistic girl meets skyscraper.”

That’s more like it.

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