Some 2007 and 2010 articles edited by Andy Ross
Ayn Rand's Literature of Capitalism
By Harriet Rubin
The New York Times, September 15, 2007
One of the most influential business books ever written is a
1200-page novel published 50 years ago. The 1957 novel
Shrugged is Ayn Rand's glorification of the right of individuals to live
entirely for their own interest.
For years, Rand's message was
attacked by intellectuals who argued that individuals should also work in
the service of others. But the book attracted a coterie of fans.
One of Rand's most
famous devotees is Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal
Reserve, whose memoir,
The Age of Turbulence, will be officially released September 17.
Mr. Greenspan met Rand when he was 25 and working as an economic forecaster.
She was already renowned as the author of The
Fountainhead, a novel about an
architect true to his principles.
Shrugged was published in 1957, Mr. Greenspan wrote a letter to The New
York Times: "Atlas Shrugged is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice
is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality
achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose
or reason perish as they should."
The book was released to terrible
reviews. Critics faulted its length, its philosophy and its literary
ambitions. Both conservatives and liberals were unstinting in disparaging
the book; the right saw promotion of godlessness, and the left saw a message
of "greed is good." Rand is said to have cried every day as the reviews came
Darla Moore, vice president of
the private investment firm Rainwater Inc. and a benefactor of the
University of South Carolina, spoke of her debt to Rand in 1998. Rand's idea
of "the virtue of selfishness is a harsh phrase for the Buddhist idea that
you have to take care of yourself."
James M. Kilts, who led
turnarounds at Gillette, Nabisco and Kraft, said he encountered
Shrugged in college. He found her writing reassuring because it made
success seem rational. "Rand believed that there is right and wrong," he
said, "that excellence should be your goal."
Every year, 400,000
copies of Rand's novels are offered free to Advanced Placement high school
programs, paid for by the Ayn
Rand Institute. Last year, bookstores sold 150,000 copies of the book.
By Charles McGrath
The New York Times, September 13, 2007
Ayn Rand's two most famous novels The
Fountainhead (1943) and
Shrugged (1957) are among the greatest word-of-mouth hits in American
publishing. Both were scorned by the critics when they came out, went on to
become enormous best-sellers.
The reason for the books' success
probably has less to do with their novelistic merits than with the way they
package in fictional form a philosophy Rand called Objectivism, which in
effect turned the Judeo-Christian system on its head. In Rand's view,
selfishness was good and altruism was evil, and the welfare of society was
always subordinate to the self-interest of individuals, especially superior
Rand was born in 1905 in Russia. Her life changed overnight when the
Bolsheviks broke into her father’s pharmacy and declared his livelihood the
property of the state. She fled the Soviet Union in 1926 and arrived later
that year in Hollywood. She sold several screenplays and intermittently
After Rand's death in 1982, the books continue to be
rediscovered and passed from one initiate to another. Among the many people
influenced by Rand are Camille Paglia, Hugh Hefner, Alan Greenspan and
Why is America falling apart? Ask Ayn Rand
By Adam Lashinsky
Fortune, August 14, 2007
Our country is having an Atlas
Trapped coal miners in Utah, smashed levees in
New Orleans, busted steam pipes and flooded subways in New York City, a
collapsed bridge over the Mississippi River in Minnesota, an
air-traffic-control system stressed to its break point. Could this really be
a description of the most prosperous country on the planet?
The thing to remember about
Shrugged is that the country was disintegrating in front of the eyes of
our various capitalist heroes. The rail lines in particular were in peril in
this 1957 book, a turgid ode to selfishness nonetheless considered a
masterpiece by Rand's followers, who call themselves Objectivists.
Shrugged, society was falling apart because the elites weren't allowing
the markets to function. A drumbeat of deadly railroad accidents punctuated
and emphasized the calamity.
Cut to the present. Barely a day goes by
that some disaster or another doesn't strike, usually having nothing to do
with any natural act. Might it be that greedy capitalists, comfy in their
private jets and third, fourth and fifth vacation homes, aren't paying
attention to the national infrastructure that they don't think they need to
for the political leadership, infrastructure spending is one of those rare
instances where President Bush's take is spot-on correct. The president
chastised Congress for favoring attention-getting new projects over boring
Today's Randians have an answer to our woes:
Privatize everything. No way a bridge falls if a profit-seeking company,
properly incentivized, had been charged with maintaining it. But that's
dangerous thinking. There are certain things the market just can't be
trusted to handle.
The markets don't always work for the public good.
Just ask CEOs of mortgage lenders that pushed no-documentation loans. The
solution is to make government work better.
Atlas Shrugged — 50 Years Later
By Mark Skousen
Christian Science Monitor, March 6, 2007
Shrugged set off an intellectual shock wave that is still felt today.
Many readers say it transformed their lives. A 1991 poll rated it the
second-most influential book (after the Bible) for Americans.
Atlas Shrugged is a steamy soap opera fused into a political thriller.
At nearly 1,200 pages, the epic is merely the vehicle for Ms. Rand's
philosophical ideal: "man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the
moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest
activity, and reason as his only absolute."
Rand is honored as the
modern fountainhead of laissez-faire capitalism, and as an impassioned,
uncompromising, and unapologetic proponent of reason, liberty,
individualism, and rational self-interest.
I applaud her effort to
counter the negative image of big business as robber barons. Her
entrepreneurs are high-minded, principled achievers. Rand rightly points out
that these enterprising leaders are a major cause of economic progress.
History is full of examples of "men who took first steps down new roads
armed with nothing but their own vision."
But there's a dark side to
Rand's teachings. Her defense of greed and selfishness, her diatribes
against religion and charitable sacrificing for others who are less
fortunate, and her criticism of the Judeo-Christian virtues have tarnished
her advocacy of unfettered capitalism.
Rand is truly revolutionary
because she makes the first serious attempt to protest against altruism. She
rejects the heart over the mind and faith beyond reason. Indeed, she denies
the existence of any god or higher being, or any other authority over one's
own mind. For her, the highest form of happiness is fulfilling one's own
dreams, not someone else's.
Rand makes a key point about altruism. A
philosophy of sacrificing for others can lead to a political system that
mandates sacrificing for others. That leads to a dysfunctional society of
deadbeats corrupted by benefits and unearned income, who tax the productive
citizens to pay for their pet philanthropic missions.
But is the only
alternative to embrace Rand's philosophy of extreme self-centeredness? No.
If society is to survive and prosper, citizens must find a balance between
the two extremes of self-interest and public interest.
the founder of modern economics, may have found that Aristotelian mean in
his system of natural liberty. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he
identifies sympathy or benevolence toward others in society. In his later
work, The Wealth of Nations, he focuses on self-interest, which he defines
as the right to pursue one's own business. Both, he argues, are essential to
achieve "universal opulence."
Smith's theme echoes his Christian
heritage, particularly the golden rule. The golden rule is the correct
solution in business and life.
AR Subtract the
sub-Nietzschean social Darwinism and the positivistic philosophy and what
you have is a celebration of selfishness. Ayn Rand lived in tune with her
genes! There is a serious moral to draw here. Having examined one's own self
and doubted its motives sufficiently, the proper course is to universalize
it in accordance with the golden rule and then proceed to act with utter
selfishness on the grounds that everyone should do the same. Thus "to thine
own self be true" is a good maxim, once gilded by a suitably methodical
episode of prior reflection. The proper course for others is to react
mercilessly to such a self, on the principle that the victim has only
him/herself to blame. I suspect the Randian perspective will soon erode into
something more tolerable. (2007)
Who is Ayn Rand?
By Charles Murray
Claremont Review of Books, Spring 2010
Edited by Andy Ross
Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right
By Jennifer Burns
Ayn Rand and the World She Made
By Anne C. Heller
In 1991, the book-of-the-month club conducted a survey asking people what
book had most influenced their lives. The Bible ranked number one and Ayn
Atlas Shrugged was number two. In 1998, the Modern Library released two
lists of the top 100 books of the 20th century. One was compiled from the
votes of the Modern Library's Board. The two top-ranked books on the Board's
list were Ulysses and The Great Gatsby. The other list was based on more
than 200,000 votes cast online by anyone who wanted to vote. The top two on
that list were
Atlas Shrugged and The
Fountainhead. The two novels have had six-figure annual sales for
decades, running at a combined 300,000 copies annually during the past ten
years. In 2009,
Atlas Shrugged alone sold a record 500,000 copies and Rand's four novels
combined sold more than 1,000,000 copies.
Who was this woman? How did
she come to write such phenomenally influential novels? What are we to make
of her legacy? These questions have been answered in two new biographies
published by Jennifer Burns, an assistant professor of history at the
University of Virginia, and by Anne C. Heller, a former executive editor at
Condé Nast Publications.
In both accounts, the vibrant, brilliant
woman of ideas shines through. Hour after hour the talk would continue in
her New York apartment during the 1950s, sometimes all night, with Rand
surrounded by her acolytes. Charismatic is an overused word, but with Rand,
it fits. But Rand made a big deal about living a life that was the
embodiment of her philosophy. As both books document, that statement was
self-delusion on a grand scale.
After 1957, Rand and her chief
disciple Nathaniel Branden converted the themes of her novels into a
philosophy that they labeled Objectivism. Its metaphysical foundation is the
existence of reality that is unchanged by anything that an observer might
think about it — "A is A." Its epistemology is based on the capacity of the
human mind to perceive reality through reason, and the adamant assertion
that reason is the only way to perceive reality.
In Russia, Rand was
born Alissa Rosenbaum in 1905, spent her childhood as the daughter of a
prosperous Jewish pharmacist in pre-Revolutionary St. Petersburg,
experienced the Bolshevik Revolution as a teenager, and graduated from
university in Lenin's new USSR. Little Alissa, nicknamed Ayinotchka and
sometimes called Ayin by her father, was a brilliant but socially awkward
child who found her escape in books and, later, films.
predilection for faking reality as an adult first emerged in the conflict
between the reality of her husband, Frank O'Connor, and her image of him.
The extent of her dependence on amphetamines is peripheral, but a good way
to get a really distorted sense of reality is to swallow a couple of
Dexedrines. By insisting that Objectivism had sprung full blown from her own
mind, with just a little help from Aristotle, Rand was being childish, as
well as out of touch with reality.
Rand got a few huge truths right,
and expressed those truths in her fiction so powerfully that they continue
to inspire each new generation. They have only a loose relationship with
Objectivism as a philosophy. First, Rand expressed the glory of human
achievement. She tapped into the delight that a human being ought to feel at
watching another member of our species doing things superbly well. Second,
Ayn Rand portrayed a world I wanted to live in, not because I would be rich
or powerful in it, but because it consisted of people I wanted to be around.
The novels are what make Ayn Rand important. Better than any other
American novelist, she captured the magic of what life in America is
supposed to be.
AR I guess you could say
Atlas Shrugged is the Great American Novel of literary legend. Eat your
hearts out, Philip Roth and all you other scribblers.