And Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand So Far Away …

By Tim Ballingall

“We shouldn’t just give our people a government that’s more affordable. We should give them a government that’s more competent and more efficient. … There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different agencies that deal with housing policy. Then there’s my favorite example: The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in freshwater, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater. I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.”

This excerpt from President Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address—despite the now-famous salmon joke—echoes the sentiment of conservative-minded citizens across the country. In his State of the Union address last year, Pres. Obama also said this: “Families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same.”

The call for conservatism can be seen elsewhere. In this article from The Economist, sales of one particular book dramatically rose from 2007 to 2009. Spikes in sales of this book coincided with news stories of government intervention in the economy—the $700 billion bailout for banks, the stimulus package in January. The book was Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

A novelist and philosopher, Rand is a controversial complexity. You either love her writing or hate it. The self-described core of and very reason for her fiction is the dramatization of her philosophy of Objectivism. Objectivism exalts atheistic individualism and laissez faire economics. A Russian native, Rand denounced Bolshevik revolutionaries. As an American, ardently opposed to FDR’s New Deal, she campaigned for Wendell Wilkie, the Republican candidate in the 1940 election. She also sat as a cooperative witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and at the trial of the Hollywood Ten.

Rand’s philosophy is bold, uncompromising. It venerates creativity and the egotism that creativity requires. This quality is embodied by Howard Roark, the outside-of-the-lines architect of 1943’s The Fountainhead. What would happen if society suddenly lost people like Roark is played out over the 1300-plus pages of Atlas.

It’s difficult to put your finger on the Rand anomaly. Leftists denounce Rand’s pro-capitalist politics while conservatives denounce her atheism. Rand, who frequently wore a cape in public and puffed a Cruella de Vil cigarette holder, fashioned herself as a quasi cult leader, amassing followers of Objectivism that called themselves The Collective. The Ayn Rand Institute, established in 1995, three years after Rand’s death, stands as a remnant of The Collective.

Tea Party protest in Chicago, Ill.

Sales of Rand’s books per year hovered around 300,000 in the years before 2007. Pop culture references have popped up on The Daily Show and The Simpsons. Legislatures and innovative businessmen have often cited Atlas as having a lasting impact on them. If you’ve ever played the game, BioShock, you are familiar with Atlas’ premise.

According to the Ayn Rand Institute, the number of Atlas copies sold in 2009 totaled 500,000. The fifty-three-year-old book made Amazon.com’s bestseller list. It seems the Randian skyscrapers were built to last.

There’s more to discuss about Ayn Rand. Feel free to leave a comment.

And don’t forget to peruse the Rohrbach Library’s great resources on Ayn Rand: Gale Virtual Reference Library, EBSCOhost, Project MUSE, ProQuest, JSTOR, and, of course, the card catalog:

813.52 R152a; Atlas Shrugged
PS3535.A547 F6 1968; The Fountainhead
PS 3535 A547 A5 1988; Anthem
BD 161 R36 1979; Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology
814.52 R152f; For the New Intellectual; The Philosophy of Ayn Rand

This is a belated blog post due to the snow day. Rand’s birthday is Feb. 2.

21 Responses to “And Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand So Far Away …”


  1. 1 MichaelM February 4, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    Tim,

    All in all, a nice summation with only a few minor errors I would like to correct.

    1. just a typo … ARI was founded in 1995 not 1895

    2. Rand surely “amassed followers,” but they are not The Collective that was actually the original inner circle of intellectuals who gathered in her salon, applied her ideas to their respective fields, and contributed lectures and/or essays to the body of applied Objectivism …

    3. the “cult” reference is naive and uninformed to the extreme—the near ubiquitous false assumption of so many who fail to grasp the difference between dogmatic certainty based on faith and Rand’s contextual certainty based on reason. Since rationality and independence are primary virtues of the philosophy, anyone from Rand to the least of her followers who acted cultish in any way would be ipso facto precluded from qualifying to be an Objectivist. Be very careful not to judge Rand and her ideas by the actions of some who profess to agree with her but do not yet understand her.

    4. Finally, that Rand is anathema to both left and right is not an anomaly. In the context of philosophy, liberals and conservatives are on the same side. Both distrust the capacity of reason to discern objective truths and devise opposing aspects of man’s life to regulate for the sake of their view of a just order; but the underlying common denominator is that both condone the use of force and/or the threat thereof against their fellow man to achieve their goals.

    Rand’s ethics recognizes the fundamental need of every individual to be autonomous in the application of reason to effort in the service of life—to be free from interference by other fallible men. So the only role of government in her politics is to remove force from society, to use it only defensively to stop the use of initiated force, guaranteeing that every human interrelationship shall be voluntary.

    Thus she identified the single most fundamental alternative of politics to be freedom v. force. She alone advocates absolute individual freedom for all who reciprocate likewise to others. The left and right always have and always will oppose that notion and opt for coercion.

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