April 12, 2011


Atlas Shrugs Off an Opportunity, Alienates Viewers (Joy Pullmann, April 12, 2011, American)

Rand attacks both liberals and conservatives (take, for example, her speech, “Conservatism: An Obituary”); but it’s her attack on conservatism that’s worth visiting here, since it’s so out of touch with the American character. She appeals to the natural and highly American intolerance of abused authority; but she locates a replacement authority inside the individual himself, stripping away any mediating institutions, deity, or natural law. Man becomes his own measure; yet somehow never disintegrates in her fiction the way he does so often when adopting this mentality in real life.

This Rand hallmark makes her extremely attractive to young people and those whom government has abused or burdened. Rand is an intellectual Siren; she attracts travelers with the sweet songs of freedom, individual responsibility, and creativity; yet her narrow worldview in the end also hacks these ideals to bits.

The case against Rand was perhaps most forcefully made by Whittaker Chambers in National Review in 1957. Benjamin Wiker makes a more recent, and more biographical, case against her in chapter 15 of his recent 10 Books Every Conservative Must Read. And AEI’s own Charles Murray discussed her relative merits and demerits in the context of two excellent new Rand biographies in the Claremont Review of Books.

Rand’s philosophy is solipsist: since, for consistency if nothing else, man must have guiding principles, institutions, or ideas, she removes all others and places herself in their stead. Rand preaches innovation, creativity of thought and expression, self-direction, and the overruling demands of Nietzschean super-geniuses. But she never allowed deviation from her rules and preferences among her followers, even to the most minuscule instances. She liked Chopin and disliked Bach; therefore for anyone else to enjoy Bach indicated mental weakness. She wanted to have an affair with Nathaniel Branden, a married man; therefore, it was rational for her to do so and destroy his marriage and wife.

This mode of living she celebrated as exemplifying the “virtue” of selfishness. As she said, “My personal life is a postscript to my novels; it consists of the sentence: And I mean it.” If anything, her life and novels as illustrations of and promotions for her philosophy illustrate exactly the dangers and shortcomings of Objectivism, not just personally, but morally, and for society. Perhaps Rand didn’t care for society, except of her own making—that’s probably why her geniuses in Atlas Shrugged withdraw to a secluded mountain to let the rest of humanity crumble under its own weight. But most Americans, as human beings and citizens with a national heritage of voluntary community resourcefulness and charity, would find this not only distasteful, but immoral and absurd.

Affluent white teenage boys don't.

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Posted by at April 12, 2011 6:12 AM

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