HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY, AYN RAND
Ayn Rand, the late novelist-philosopher, militant advocate of liberty and reason and ferocious iconoclast, would have been one hundred years old on Wednesday. Rand merits remembering not because she swam against the intellectual currents of her day but because she, in no small part, reversed them.
Today, a former disciple of Ayn Rand, Alan Greenspan, is the world's most powerful economist and most successful Federal Reserve Chairman in history. Her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged is one of the greatest selling books of all time and the broad Right has displaced the broad Left at the center of American political institutions. The Soviet Union is gone and Communism is discredited, existing in only a few remote hell-holes like North Korea, looking every bit as evil and incompetent as any villain in an Ayn Rand story could hope to be.
Ayn Rand's career arc covered much of the twentieth century and her thinking and writing changed followed that path, rising from gloomy realism to an idealistic optimism of a heroic scale and a descent into bitter realism of her final years. She died just as the world, which had celebrated collectivism for her whole long life, began turning more in her philosophical direction. She had an inkling but would never see that her cultural influence would become wide and deep even as her system, Objectivism, in its pure form, retained only a very small following. While Ayn Rand exhibited a number of blind spots at times, as an abstract logician and systemic thinker, she was of a caliber matched only by people like Herman Kahn. For me, my first reading of Ayn Rand at 18 or 19 was like turning on a light.
in the Chicago Tribune wrote:
"In her eyes, there was no greater good than the integrity and self-fulfillment of each person. One of her essay collections had the surprising title, "The Virtue of Selfishness."Looking back, it's hard to recapture how jarring that phrase was a generation ago, when altruism and self-sacrifice were seen as the central elements of an exemplary life.
Today, Americans take it for granted that they are entitled to live for their own happiness, without apology.It may seem curious to honor a writer who merely defended free markets, preached the superiority of reason over blind faith and extolled the American ideal of the pursuit of happiness. David Kelley, head of the Rand-oriented Objectivist Center, jokes that he's reminded of the theatergoer who complained that "Hamlet' was full of cliches. Rand's beliefs have been so widely disseminated and absorbed that we have forgotten where they originated."
Stephen Cox at the antiwar-libertarian HNN blog, Liberty & Power, wrote:
"Add to Rand’s heroic intellectual independence the other distinctive features of her personality: her stubbornness, her bad temper, her growing and eventually triumphant inability to tolerate criticism, her depression and agoraphobia, her unacknowledged puritanism, her very unevenly developed sense of humor, her narrow range of literary interests, her lack of common sense about friendship, politics, and even money, her startling naivete about many aspects of history, intellectual and otherwise, her complete ignorance about many aspects of human psychology, her remarkable ability to believe almost anything she wanted to about herself, then create a history to support her beliefs . . . How could someone with these traits--and with the shyness, ingenuousness, and fragile charm that Rand also had, and preserved--ever have made an impact on our culture? And the qualities I’ve just listed were not superficial, as I found when researching the part of my book, “The Woman and the Dynamo,” that has to do with Rand’s relationship to [ Isabel] Paterson. The more you know about Ayn Rand, the more you see both the brilliant light and the eerie shade."