In today's Wall Street Journal, the super-smart Heather Wilhelm contributes a well-written, interesting article on Ayn Rand's utility to the pro-market cause—and totally misses the point:
Rand held some insight on the nature of markets and has sold scads of books, but when it comes to shaping today's mainstream assumptions, she is a terrible marketer: elitist, cold and laser-focused on the supermen and superwomen of the world….
"Rand has this extremist, intolerant, dogmatic antigovernment stance," says Brink Lindsey of the libertarian Cato Institute, "and it pushes free-market supporters toward a purist, radical vision that undermines their capacity to get anything done." The Rev. Robert Sirico, head of the free-market Acton Institute, agrees. "If you want to offend, Rand accomplishes that. But if you want to convert—well, for instance, who could imagine Rand debating a health-care bill? I wouldn't want to take an order from her in a restaurant, let alone negotiate a political point."
True enough. But to argue against Rand on the grounds of her absolutism and irascibility misses a crucial fact: Political views are formed early and tough to change once settled. Simplicity and radicalism lose their appeal as people age—a fact amply demonstrated by the venerable Leonard Liggio: "She used strong, confrontational language, forcing people to react. Maybe that's not the best way to educate people."—but at the moment when most folks are settling into a political philosophy, their minds are well disposed toward Rand's ovaries-to-the-wall rhetorical style.
The proof is in pudding here: Scratch a libertarian and your odds of finding a teenage Rand reader are astronomically high. By and large, Rand is not the right person to win the hearts and minds of fully formed adults or to help with coalition building, but she's the best recruiting tool libertarians have at the moment, whether we like it or not.
As for the horror of trying to take Ayn Rand's Chinese food order, her one-time intellectual heir Nathaniel Branden said it best, in Reason's pages in 1978:
"The luckiest beneficiaries of [Ayn Rand's] work are the people who read her and never see her, never meet her, never have any reason to deal with her in person. Then they get the best of what she was."