More Publicity for Ayn Rand

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

I'm a little late getting to this, but three more major news outlets recently carried articles that focused on Ayn Rand or featured her prominently.

What I liked best about this is that two of the three were about Ayn Rand, and those two were positive. In the first of these, two marketing consultants writing for Forbes magazine discuss the inroads that Ayn Rand and her philosophy are making into the culture, quoting Yaron Brook, Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Institute, along the way to explain why her ideas are gaining steam a half-century after the publication of Atlas Shrugged:

... Brook cites what he calls a cultural vacuum: "Today's left doesn't have anything positive to offer to young people. When they were socialists, there was at least something they were fighting for, and they believed in a right and a wrong. Today's leftist agenda is negative and nihilistic--focused on stopping industrialization, capitalism and even Western civilization. But young people want positive values. That's why religion is so strong today, because many view it as the only thing that promises a brighter future."

According to Brook, this gap between liberalism and religious conservatism goes far to explain the surge in interest. "Ayn Rand is the only voice that offers a secular absolutist morality with a positive vision and agenda, for individuals and for society as a whole," he says.
The second positive article appeared in The Orange County Register and focuses on the commemoration by Rand's many fans of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Atlas Shrugged, which will occur on October 10. Onkhar Ghate and Jeff Britting, both of ARI, are quoted extensively. Two images of interest to fans of Atlas Shrugged also appear: a page from the manuscript and an early ad for the novel.

Last but not least, there is a bonus for those of you who live in southern California:
While still in her 20s, and not long after she immigrated from Russia, Rand arrived in Los Angeles, seeking work as a writer in the film industry.

So it makes a certain sense that an exhibit on her most-enduring work will be staged at the Frances Howard Goldwyn Regional Library in Hollywood.
The article does also include comments by a professor who attempts to compare Atlas Shrugged to Catcher in the Rye and dismisses her work as not being serious literature, but even he concedes that her work is of major "cultural and historical" interest.

And then, in very sharp contrast (and bringing up the rear), is this self-parody of a book review that was somehow selected as this month's cover article for The Weekly Standard. (Don't conservatives oppose the use of hallucinogenic drugs?)

Reviewing Alan Greenspan's recently-released memoirs, Andrew Ferguson lives up to every stereotype of the conservative as unoriginal, tradition-bound, conformist, and unable or unwilling to confront original ideas on their own merits, aping such titans as Andrew Stuttaford of National Review, the same publication that not too long ago reprinted a famously inaccurate screed about Atlas Shrugged by Whitaker Chambers.

If you've seen one of these conservative hatchet jobs, you've seen them all. Rand, based on rumor or (if you're lucky) some out-of-context vignette from her life, is painted as weird: And therefore her ideas are "creepy". The next part of the formula invariably involves some shoehorning of her admirers into negative stereotypes about religion (e. g., by calling them acolytes). Is it just me, or does this seem like a really odd angle for a theocrat to take?

I've already addressed the essence of this approach before, so I'll just quote myself:
[When] confronted by the fact, obviously unpleasant to him, that a small group of people regularly met with Ayn Rand after she became famous to discuss philosophy[, he] makes the following scintillating observations: (1) Rand was (twitter) "the sage of selfishness." (2) Those people sure were creepy. Call me crazy, but here's what I find creepy: people who meet regularly "at the feet" of some cleric to take whatever he says on faith, and then practice ritual cannibalism. Oh! But I'm wrong because more people do the latter.
You might be tempted, perhaps, to give Ferguson some points for originality for implying that Objectivism is a vice of the young. But don't. For one thing, he is just borrowing the most common charge leveled against it by leftists. For another, as for this being sandwiched as he claims "between fits of social insecurity and furious bouts of masturbation".... Well, drawing upon one's own life experiences -- as Ferguson seems to be doing here -- is common to many authors and not all that hard to do, either.

But flights of fancy aside, Ferguson's review is curious for bringing up Rand at all, given that one of his main points (and one of the few that he gets right) is that Rand was not an enduring intellectual influence on Greenspan. He wastes half the article gratuitously (and ineptly) attacking someone he regards as irrelevant rather than discussing the book or Greenspan or his policies!

Why? For that oh-so-clever title? "Alan Shrugged." How did he come up with that? Or was he being paid by the word? And did the fellows at Marketing get together with the editors and tell them that the readership of The Weekly Standard hungers for snide opinions delivered with minimal wit, less research, and zero originality?

Were I a subscriber to The Weekly Standard, I would complain about this piece. Presumably, one would subscribe to a periodical for cutting-edge analysis and original thinking about current events that one could not get just anywhere else. Ayn Rand was a highly original thinker whom many academics are beginning to take seriously. Her ideas and the paying customers of The Weekly Standard (and Alan Greenspan's book, incidentally) deserve far better than the raving ejaculations of an all-but confessed recovering teenage wanker like Andrew Ferguson.

For decades, leftists and theocrats, unable to address Ayn Rand's ideas on their own merits, have alternately ignored or smeared her. But now that there is momentum on her side, the days when such shameful abdications of intellectual responsibility can go easily unnoticed are drawing to a close. Publications like National Review, Commentary, and The Weekly Standard continue their shabby treatment of Ayn Rand at the peril of their own credibility.

-- CAV


: Corrected some typos.


johnnycwest said...

Another excellent post - thank you. I am of two minds when I read or hear personal attacks on Ayn Rand. Initially my response is to defend her to the best of my knowledge. Then I think "so what" - I do not know the details of Ayn Rand's life intimately . It is none of my business and I don't really care that much. I am intrigued by this brilliant woman and genius who should be recognized as one of the greatest thinkers of any age. The details of her life interest me at a certain level, but ultimately Ayn Rand and Objectivism speak for themselves. I understand that Ayn Rand bristled at the idea of a "Randian" - I find the term repugnant. But I am very proud to say that I am an Objectivist and a follower of Ayn Rand's philosophy. Is it still considered a requirement that one say that he is a "student of Objectivism"?

So some consider Ayn Rand's early followers to be "creepy"? Even if I agreed with that judgment, if I knew the people, it would mean less than zero to me. Of many things I do find creepy is the adulation and frenzy that political campaigns ignite in people. As a youth, I did work on the campaign of a local politician who was much better than most - and his reputation has stood the test of time. Even so I could not understand fellow campaign workers enthusiasm and excitement for almost any candidate for political office. Now I am even more cynical - either I refuse to vote or hold my nose while I do.

Getting excited about almost any politician or the political process? Now that's creepy.

It is wonderful to see that the sleeping giant of Objectivism seems to be stirring in our culture and it is being noticed. The charge of creepiness in some followers is praising with faint damnation.

Gus Van Horn said...

You're welcome, Johnny.

As for your question, "Is it still considered a requirement that one say that he is a 'student of Objectivism'?" I feel the need to clarify it for all the people like Ferguson, who might take it in a religious light.

The use of the phrase "student of Objectivism" (and others like it) is used to indicate sympathy with Objectivism while admitting that one does not feel ready necessarily to defend it or put it forth.

There are no "marching orders" to use such phrases as one might have with a religious sect. However, if one is concerned with the need to express and defend the right intellectual ideas, one will surmise that there is an objective, practical requirement (for the goal of spreading rational ideas) that if one does not feel ready to comment on a given issue, one should not comment.

By extension, if what one says might be misconstrued as Objectivism, then one simply indicates in some way that (1) it is her philosophy and that she is the final authority on it, (2) whether one agrees with the it or some relevant part of it (to the best of his understanding), and (3) whether one is attempting to apply it to the issue at hand.

Along those lines, I consider myself more knowledgeable than most about Objectivism, but do not consider myself an authority on it.

johnnycwest said...

Thanks for your response - of course I know you better than you know me. I was not suggesting the student designation was any formal requirement. Maybe a colored belt system as they have in judo would be a good indication of Objectivist knowledge - particularly useful when one is heading into intellectual battle. "I cannot explain my answer on concept formation adequately, but I will refer you to Gus who is a recognized brown belt in Objectivism."

Kidding aside - it will likely become more of a problem on the web that bad information and simple misinformation will proliferate as Ayn Rand attracts more attention. It will make blogs such as yours even more valuable in the future. Keep up the good fight.

Gus Van Horn said...

Heh! Thanks again.

Jim May said...

And the beat goes on!

Clarence Thomas on Ayn Rand

The above is linked on Instapundit, which has the unusually high number of *two* separate Ayn Rand references on the front page as of now (Oct 2).

Gus Van Horn said...

I am actually in the process of blogging it now.