The resistible return of Ayn Rand

It’s been fascinating to read that the writings of Ayn Rand – in particular her dystopic novel Atlas Shrugged – are gaining currency again.  Celebrities queue up to be numbered among her admirers.   In many ways, of course, she’s never been away; she’s one of the great influences on neocon ideology, and it’s well known that Alan Greenspan was among her most influential cheerleaders, although no academic philosopher takes her work remotely seriously. But it’s widely reported that as the world sinks into economic depression, sales of her books are booming.

Atlas Shrugged is about individualism, and sets out the Rand philosophy most fully.  It describes a society in which the “men of the mind” – really a euphemism for entrepreneurs – withdraw from a society which is intent on bleeding them dry with regulations and taxes into their own mountain fastness.  The world descends into a mire of war and bureaucracy, until those same bureaucrats beg the entrepreneurs’ leader to bring them back out of exile.

So, what’s the appeal?

One explanation is that there is a similarity to what is happening today, with vast handouts to failed bankers at the expense of the prudent.  And there’s always been a tendency for the Right in the United States to hitch itself to any ideology which legitimises the refusal to pay taxes and condemns public altruism.   This is a body of work which is uniquely useful to anyone who wants to legitimise private greed and avoid any guilt about those whom society leaves behind.

But I think the issue goes a bit deeper than that.  One of the really interesting things about this work becoming more popular now is that what is happened in the real world is the complete antithesis of what Rand predicted.  The current crisis is above all the creation of the “men of the mind” who have increasingly been let of the leash; who have pursued their version of entrepreneurship without the petty burden of regulation, in an environment in which the ruling ideology has been that their enrichment of themselves has been beneficial to society.  Rational self-interest on Rand’s model has proved to be irrational and destructive.

So where does this leave us?  I think Atlas Shrugged is the security blanket of the neocons, a desperate attempt to find some vestige of legitimacy amid the chaos they have created.  The renaissance of Ayn Rand is a spasm of deluded resistance.

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2 thoughts on “The resistible return of Ayn Rand

  1. Wow. A post with nary a single word of truth in it. Most anti-randian screeds refer dismissively to the fact that “no academic philosophers take her remotely seriously”. Well, excuuuuuse me! Not that I accept that statement, but even if true, why should I care about the opinion of a bunch of academic snobs? I am a free, well educated individual, and I don’t let other people dictate what philosophy I should subscribe to. To try to link neocons to Ayn Rand is merely a compliment. I’m not sure it is deserved, but if it is, good for them. I am no Randian “cultist”, nor are many of those who admire and respect her ideas, but it is a useful, selfserving slur by her pygmy-brained critics.
    None of that is a big deal, but the one slanderous insult to Miss Rand’s philosophy that caused me to bother commenting is the assertion that the current unpleasantness was caused by “men of the mind (entrepeneurs)” gone wild. The perpetrators were above all cheating their shareholders by looting the companies they were hired to protect. They are thieves and secondhanders (one of her great insights into human nature). To imply that she would have approved is false, libelous, and shows no understanding of her ideas.

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