Should Ayn Rand be Defended?Monday, April 18, 2011
With the movie Atlas Shrugged, Part I being released this weekend, and with statism becoming abundantly visible to the masses since the financial-economic meltdown and ensuing bailouts, Ayn Rand has become more popular than ever – among the older folks who grew up reading Rand and attending Objectivist Club meetings, as well as the young folks who grew up with the Internet but are rediscovering Rand’s ageless ideas.
As far as Rand’s fans go, there are blind followers who worship her every word, others who are merely curious about her, and some people who are often critical of her system. I tend to be critical of her system in general, however, I also tend toward defending her and many of her ideas from her harshest critics. People, in fact, like to say that many libertarians have come to the freedom philosophy because of Rand, which is entirely correct. This is why Jerome Tuccille wrote It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand. Others, however, swear that Randians are not necessarily friends of freedom because of their cold warrior status and perpetual defense of big business as the persecuted minority. Much is true in all that, but that is beyond the scope of this post.
There are a few different types of Rand fans, here, that we can acknowledge. There are Randroids, Randians, and those that are Randian sympathetic. A Randroid tends to be a mindless follower who parrots the same old schtick via the approved phraseology and symbolism. Randians, on the other hand, tend to be more like Tibor Machan, Chris Sciabarra, and maybe even Roderick Long: they are interested in Rand; knowledgeable of her system, yet critical at times; always fair; and sensible on Rand and her overall philosophy. I would consider myself to be, say, Randian sympathetic.
Here’s a point about folks who discovered libertarian ideas because of Rand (me being one of those): Most of us who aren’t twenty-something were exposed to little else concerning individual liberty, which is why I defend her. I’m talking about a time way (way, way!) before the Internet days, and before the Mises Institute was visible, when there were very few resources from which to obtain any tidbits of the freedom philosophy. Reading Rand led me to Mises and a whole string of other great thinkers because I dared to read Anthem in high school. Unless you were in a grad program back in the 70 or 80s, the trail to the freedom philosophy was mostly dark shadows and barricaded roads. Rand was a lamp post in the night, opening a lot of educational doors to intelligent, young, inquisitive minds. She was only one means to an end, but a very visible and accessible one at that. So I guess “accessibility” is the key. Nowadays, the younger set has complete access to all the great thinkers and ideas through the Internet and all that it has spawned (used book exchanges, eBay, private book sales, educational institutes, personal web pages, conferences, forums, social media, YouTube, iTunes University, podcasts, etc). Many of us had no such thing. Rand opened many doors for those of us who came before the Internet age.
Still, the first book I give people to introduce them to freedom (through individualism vs collectivism) is Anthem. It takes an hour to read, and it’s both compelling and ironic considering our current times.
In 2009, the Financial Times wrote about the growing influence of Atlas Shrugged, especially since 2007 when the book began flying off the shelves in response to the surge of statism as the economic crisis blew in and the government’s bubbles lay waste to the middle class.
In a January 1944 issue of Reader’s Digest, Rand wrote: “Totalitarianism is collectivism. Collectivism means the subjugation of the individual to a group.” Pretty powerful statement for a family magazine. Even South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford wrote favorably about Ayn Rand in a 2009 Newsweek article.
Ayn Rand, even with her faults and rigid image, was important as a social scientist and a messenger for the masses. For that, she did much good. This concludes my short defense that Ayn Rand deserves.