Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ayn Rand's Greatest Defender?

Ayn Rand is all the rage these days (and unbeknownst to me, has apparently been all the rage in certain circles since her career as an author began), with current interest jacked up thanks to the publication of Anne Heller's biography of Rand.

In catching up with my reading this weekend, I noticed Newsweek had a review of Rand cleverly called "Atlas Hugged." As I read it, I found myself irritated by some of the thoughts of the reviewer, who found The Fountainhead "a stunning evocation of the individual and what he can achieve when unhindered by government or society."

The reviewer pulls a quote from The Fountainhead to support the assertion, a claim by Roark:

"I do not recognize anyone's right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy. Nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need... I recognize no obligations toward men except one: to respect their freedom and to take no part in a slave society."

As a working mother, I find such sentiments to be appallingly unrealistic - in all honesty, once one becomes a parent one is engulfed by responsibility toward others - one's children. To pound one's chest and brag about having no obligations at all in life except oneself - well good luck and all, but one needs relationships in life in order to survive. Show me a man who lives as independently as Howard Roark and I'll show you a Travis Bickle.

I wondered who was so inordinately drawn toward this rather heartless and impossible ideal. And then discovered that the reviewer is none other than Mark Sanford, the disgraced governor of South Carolina, the man who vanished over Father's Day weekend so he could hang with his mistress instead of his children.

I suppose that such a man would be a fan of Rand. That such a man as Sanford would love an author whose books proclaimed the primacy of self-obsession.

I read The Fountainhead a million years ago - it was not a book that changed my life or offered me a phenomenal new philosophy to follow. In truth, I thought the book highly unrealistic. I don't know a person alive who could live as isolated a life as Roark did. We're not built for isolation - rugged independence is the American myth, not the reality of our culture. There is not one CEO who could go it all alone, without any support or alliances - or without a fabulous admin assistant to schedule the CEO's life and act as the keeper of the gate.

I've yet to read Atlas Shrugged, apparently the book that replaced the Bible over on Wall Street. I started it, but it's lengthy; my life is full; the demands of my own personal schedule meant I had to return the book to the library before I could finish it. I WILL finish it... some day.

The capitalists have it hard in Atlas Shrugged - the dreck also known as the laboring class throws up millions of obstacles in the way of progress, damn them! And then there are the wives of the capitalists and the mothers of the capitalists and the "friends" of the capitalists. Life sucks when you just want to work all the time and exploit labor to get ahead. No one "gets" you!

But in Atlas Shrugged, the capitalists overcame the obstacles set in play by all those collectivist types. Heroes, those capitalists, every last one of them! The saviors of America. Saviors we could use today, of course.

Today, in Mark Sanford's eyes, there is only one enemy to blame for our current malaise and that is government itself. Strange that a governor, a person actively engaged in the workings of government, feels government is the problem. He might want to think about a new career, come to think of it. Governors who loathe government are best suited for careers outside of government. He might just want to go with that particular flow...

Anyway, back to Rand. Back to Sanford's review of Rand. Here's what he has to say:

"As Rand shows in [Atlas Shrugged], when the government is deprived of the free market's best minds, it staggers toward collapse."

Sanford seems to have forgotten that the best minds of the free market (Goldman Sachs power structure) tend to end up in government - and precisely at the moment our economy was collapsing, a great free market mind - Henry Paulson - was leading the Treasury, and apparently listening intently to what another great free market mind - Lloyd Blankfein - had to say.

Sanford points out a major flaw in Rand's thinking: "She believed that man is perfectible – a view she shared with the Soviet collectivists she hated."

As Sanford himself knows all too well, man is inordinately flawed. And so, too, is Rand's philosophy. A society filled with people who believe they're beholden to no one is dangerous, not empowering. And if a man like Mark Sanford, who so clearly lacks ethical standards, is so inspired by Rand, we should question the source of his inspiration.

2 comments:

Patrice Ayme said...

Indeed, the funny thing about Rand is that her definition of the perfect hero fits perfectly, and better than anybody else, uncle Joe Stalin himself.

I detail this in my next post on my blog, complete, with incriminating Rand's quote.

Human beings are social creatures, theycannot leave without. That Rand did not realize this makes her much irrealistic than her mentor Nietzsche.

Patrice Ayme
http://patriceayme.wordpress.com/

jake chase said...

The society Rand feared is the one which has evolved in the sixty-two years since Atlas Shrugged. Her capitalists should not be confused with the guys who captured the go'mint with hot air and payoffs. Imagine what would have happened to the banksters without the bailout. By controlling govt they get to win by losing. Rand's point was relatively simple: a small handfull of great minds have made technological and hence economic progress possible for about three hundred years. Collectivists preach altruisim to create a society of pull and in the process kill the geese who lay the golden eggs. What about it? We really haven't had any progress since the transistor, but we now have roughly 1,000 times as many dollars circling the globe at the speed of light while well over 90% of the population is hopelessly in debt and fifteen percent is unemployed. If I were you I would read the book and then write about it.