Ayn Rand, the Russian-born writer and self-styled philosopher who died three decades ago, is back in the news as a favorite author of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. In recent years, the passionately individualist, pro-capitalist Rand has been embraced as a champion of freedom by many conservatives and libertarians, and denounced as a prophet of greed and narcissism by many liberals. Yet, if Rand admirers tend to ignore the flaws of her vision, her detractors reduce her to grotesque caricature—and invoke her popularity as proof of right-wing nuttiness.
One major misconception, writes Cathy Young, is that Rand worshipped the rich and saw moneymaking as life’s highest goal. In fact, most wealthy characters in her novels are pathetic, repulsive, or both: businessmen fattened on shady deals or government perks, society people who fill their empty lives with luxury.