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Ayn Rand Overdose

Readers know I have long been fascinated by the writings and philosophy of Ayn Rand.  They may remember my blog entry on December 5th of last year called “The Little Russian Girl Who Changed America.”

This weekend, I have overdosed on her!  First, I watched a DVD entitled “Ayn Rand:  The Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged,” which was her landmark book published in 1957. This DVD, however, was a mere puff-piece about how wonderful she was and how great last year’s release of the movie Atlas Shrugged was.  Don’t bother seeing either!

Then, I read Gary Weiss’ excellent new book Ayn Rand Nation:  The Hidden Struggle for America’s Soul.  At first, I suspected this book would be an equivalent hatchet-job of Rand, but it is much more.  It really details the Rand infiltration of the Republican Party in general and the Tea Party in particular.  It shows how Rand united both the millionaires and the minimum-wage blue collar workers, the top and the bottom of the income scale, to create a powerful political force.  Weiss does not attack Rand and seems to marvel at the extent of her influence, as I do.  He also laments the fact that much of her philosophy is misunderstood and too often used for pure political purpose.  He even quotes famed film director Oliver Stone, who characterized Ayn Rand as an essayist disguised as a novelist of books which were over-shadowed by her politics.  This book is absolutely required reading for any serious student of contemporary Rand influence.

Lastly, I read the tightly-written but important Why Ayn Rand Is Wrong and Why It Matters by Levi Asher.  It was fortunate that I read it last, as it is deftly ties the dangling inconsistencies together.  In it, Asher goes for the Achilles heel of Rand’s philosophy and severs it with almost surgical precision.  One of Rand’s most controversial beliefs was her belief in the importance of self-interest, while routinely condemning altruism.  (For those of us raised in the Christian faith, any condemnation of altruism is hard to understand.)  Asher explains that there is the individual or atomic self, which fights for the interests of an individual.  But, there is also the collective or molecular self, which fights for the interests of groups of individuals.  The example of soldiers marching resolutely into a horrible battle and their probable death is an example of molecular self-interest.

Protagonists in Rand’s stories invariably stand alone against government, but is it possible the government might also be fighting for the collective interests of many people?  Not according to the Randians!

Fighting for the interests of the Republican party or Tea Party would be another example of the molecular self-interest and would be lauded by most of the Rand disciples, who are blind to the inconsistency of political parties and atomic self-interest.  But, I have never seen Rand as supportive of any partisan politics.  From the first time I read Fountainhead, I believed Rand glorifies the person who fights against over-whelming odds; those people who prefer outright defeat to a passive surrender.  Rand was about freedom from power, not the acquisition of power, which is the sole concern of political parties.  Besides, she was one of those consummate intellectuals, which no political party wants.

I have clearly overdosed on Rand this weekend.  My wife even wants to enroll me in a twelve-step program to kick the Rand habit.  I may have a Rand hangover today, but I’ll feel better tomorrow!