[Marxism] Ayn Rand

Wayne S. Rossi felianan at yahoo.com
Mon Nov 28 15:45:39 MST 2005


The piece is a reasonably good introduction to Rand's peculiar place in
popular philosophy.  Objectivism, as I have encountered it, is
principally a sort of misplaced philosophy mostly adopted by young
people without much prior background in the subject.  It differs
sharply from ruling class orthodoxy mostly in its atheism and its
failure to bow and scrape about charity.

Profoundly absent from Turner's analysis is the Cold War setting of
*Atlas Shrugged*'s success.  Rand was an anticommunist, and the book
was at heart an extended tract against socialism (workers in the
society of *AS* are trying, clumsily, to implement socialist measures;
the crudity of Rand's drawing of this has to be read to be understood).
 It has at heart what is nearly a *reductio ad absurdum* of the Great
Man Theory of history; the disappearance of the heads of industry
literally causes society to start falling apart.  This is laughable,
and it has no real polemic value, but the book's heroicization of
capitalism is intimately linked with the strawman version of socialism
that it defeats.

Rand's anticommunist roots permeate *We the Living* - which is, of
course, a screed against the early Soviet Union - and *Anthem*, which
begins in a weird parody of a kind of socialist society.  Its
philosophical basis is nil; the critique of socialism given by Rand
extends only as deep as the popular parody of it that she offers in her
novels.  It is reiterated in *Atlas*, and presented on a social scale
that is almost unimaginable; implicit in Rand's view of socialism is
the idea that it is inherently, deeply and truly *evil*.  The villains
of her novels do not actually hold any of the ideals they profess; they
are simply a smokescreen for their basically destructive impulses. 
Ellsworth Toohey in *The Fountainhead* is the type of this:  a man who
speaks volumes of altruism but truly hates mankind.  Only a naïve like
his neice Katie can genuinely hold any ideology other than Rand's. 
This point is borne out in her (wretched) philosophical writings, where
we find that Rand's ideology is the only one arrived by "focusing" on
the facts, the mental act that is man's essential free will decision,
and that differences of ideas are not intellectually honest but are
caused by ceasing to "focus."  Literally anyone disagreeing with her is
intellectually lazy or dishonest.

The Manichaean worldview this creates is inherently obvious.  But I
would submit, contra Zizek, that it is not an ideology that is so
fanatical for capitalism that it is harmful.  Objectivism is not a
major movement; most of its adherents are college students who read
Rand in high school before having any rigorous philosophical training. 
It is not really a movement of the ruling class, but of ruling class
wannabes - young 20-somethings drunk on a mix of libertarian
individualism and newly-justified greed.  It does not have a serious
impact outside this group; the best known follower of Rand, Alan
Greenspan, obtained his high position not by being an orthodox
Objectivist, but by abandoning the laissez-faire trappings that
conflict with his role as the head of a massive state bank.  The
majority of Objctivists grow up to be normal Republicans, and no one
else does much but get bored by Rand's poor prose and 1-dimensional
characters.

More telling, aside from Greenspan it has produced mostly mediocrities.
 Nathaniel Branden is a second-rate self-help guru; heir Leonard
Peikoff mostly regurgitates Rand's ideas.  I had the misfortune of a
philosophy class with Allan Gotthelf, a professor outside orthodox
Objectivist circles, whose major accomplishment was the toadying *On
Ayn Rand* in the Wadsworth Philosophers Series.  I can say with
certainty that all his lengthy and boring discussions on Rand's
philosophy revealed was that Rand had some screws loose and Gotthelf
liked to hear himself talk.

-Wayne S. Rossi

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