Ayn Rand

Rand Brings Converts, the Hate

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get 'em young!

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."

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  1. I was already inclined toward a libertarian worldview when my German teacher suggested I read Ayn Rand. The great benefit for me was finding that other people had similar views to mine.

    I continue to sell books by Ayn Rand, but we really do need a new generation of intellectuals that can make more modern arguments for freedom and individualism than we have from Rand, Rothbard and the other older thinkers.

    1. Yes, we definitely need a new breed. The old thinkers get taken out of cultural context so they become parodies of themselves. For example, Rothbardians who want to imprison bankers who don’t keep 100% reserves, or Randroids who hold Sunday morning worship services.

      1. Too many young, great minds are too focused on writing software code or contemplating the creation of new intelligence in a microchip. Capitalism is the key to their success.

    2. Rand made a moral, philosophical justification for capitalism that will always be true, and will always be the best way to justify capitalism. You can’t judge it based on its ability to convert people to libertarianism; that’s not what it was made for. If you want to convert liberals, just appeal to their emotional consequentialism and altruism, but don’t tarnish Rand by trying to bring philosophy into the picture.

      1. The best way to justify capitalism is to point to all of the prosperity it has created. Practical arguments always beat out high-falutin’ abstract arguments, and capitalism is practical.

        1. Principles drive the practical.

  2. I didn’t read Rand until well after I started realizing my libertarian tendencies. Peter McWilliam’s book ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do…’ is what ‘converted’ me from liberal to libertarian. And I still recommend it on this basis.

    1. “I didn’t read Rand until well after I started realizing my libertarian tendencies.”

      Generally the same, though I had read Anthem in high school and loved it. My conversion was when Clinton called the Republicans bluff during the budget impasse and they caved instead of keeping the government shut down.

      From that point on, it’s been Democrats and Democrat-lite.

  3. Right, get ’em when they’re young. The Jesuits said it first, though.

  4. Scratch a libertarian and your odds of finding a teenage Rand reader are astronomically high

    Not in my case. I got there all by myself. All the way to anarcho-capitalism, that is.

    but she’s the best recruiting tool libertarians have at the moment

    Hurr…you called Rand a tool.

  5. I have been muddling through my first Rand book lately.

    1. Read Anthem if you want a quick read that distills much of her individualist arguments.

  6. The Rev. Robert Sirico, head of the free-market Acton Institute, agrees…. I wouldn’t want to take an order from her in a restaurant, let alone negotiate a political point.”

    This from a religious man? Who woulda thunk it.
    Rand and sundry practitioners of primitive, canned philosophies are polar opposites.

    1. I was wondering the same thing. What is this guy a reverend of?

  7. And what exactly has Brink Lindsey gotten done? Whom has he inspired to get something done?

  8. In today’s Wall Street Journal, the super-smart Heather Wilhelm contributes a well-written, interesting article

    I read that article. Let’s just say I would have described it (and its author) differently.

  9. My dad gave me a copy of Atlas
    when I was about eighteen. I don’t think I made twenty-five pages in; I found it to be utterly unreadable.

    Still haven’t read it.

    1. I don’t think I made twenty-five pages in; I found it to be utterly unreadable.

      Still haven’t read it.

      Exactly my experience and impression.

      1. Great principles/philosophy; clunky, clunky prose and characters.

    2. You might want to give it a try (I’m assuming 18 yo was a while ago) — she becomes more interesting as you age.

      1. You might be right.
        Aging greatly improved my appreciation of Gone With The Wind.I made it a little further into that book as a teen before discarding it.I’d call it the 2nd or 3rd greatest work of American Literature now

    3. Give your copy to your mother. Mine was able to comprehend it, and she never went to college!

      1. Damn! Imagine that – never went to college! I didn’t think anyone learned to read unless they went to college first.

    4. Forget who pointed this out in some reason article, but you’d get the best experience from skimming through the book, reading only the parts about the collectivist bad guys. She was pretty good at portraying them; much better than she was at drawing up heroes. You may find yourself picturing Tim Geithner or his ilk when you read the Wesley Mouch parts.

      1. I don’t know about that…I would love to meet a woman half as interesting as Dagny.

    5. Start with “The Virtue of Selfishness”. If that book doesn’t change your life then you can forget about her novels.

  10. “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.”

    I’m 42, and have considered myself a libertarian for about 15 years.

    Never read any Rand, and only know bits in passing from talking to my wife.

    Go figure.

  11. Harry Browne’s How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World was my first real libertarian reading (and it was an old 1st edition from the library, complete with the goofy jacket picture of Harry in his bearded pseudo-hippie days). Though like many, I was already well on the path to the lowercase l before I knew there was a term for it.

  12. Oh yeah, I tried reading one of Rand’s non-fiction works (might have been Romantic Manifesto) some years back, but found her tone too angry and exclusive to get more than a few pages in. Maybe I’ll try her fiction sometime.

    1. I recommend Anthem. Very fast read.

  13. So, if I understand correctly, you’re saying that Atlas Shrugged should properly be viewed as a YA title?

    1. You can find Atlas in the YA section of the Hawaii library, along with such “juvenile” books as Lord of the Flies, Heart of Darkness, 1984, Pride and Prejudice, and so on.

      Dunno how such adult classics get labeled YA.

      1. Because those others are often assigned in high school. Atlas is sometimes recommended in high school, but it’s a bit long to assign.

        1. “The Fountainhead” may be an easier transition…

          We were assigned “The Fountainhead” in one of my English classes at a Hawaii public high school. I’m glad it was, because it’s now one of my all-time favorite books.

  14. Katherine, don’t you know almost everyone you meet is a libertarian: “I’m a social liberal, and a fiscal (sometimes even “physical”) conservative.

    I had know idea who Ayn Rand was before I had already arrived at my libertarian views. Before the Reasonoids have cardiac arrests: I had heard of The Fountain Head and Atlas Shrugged. I simply prefer a chess board to reading. I would say the biggest influence on me would be my simple, predominate assessment of policy making and social agendas (left and right, and especially the current zeitgeist that ushered Obama into office) – “that doesn’t make any fucking sense!” I am also quite fond of the “mind your own fucking business” doctrine.

    I think I would have liked to have met Rand. I’ve watched as many interviews with her as possible on the ole Internet. I think she had sort of a dispicable charm to her. I’d love to see her blow a fat puff of smoke into Pelosi’s face, followed by a huskie, Ruskie accented “you seem to have damaged your brain while ironing your face.”

  15. BTW, that’s “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” The other version doesn’t make any sense.
    I’m done being pedantic now.

  16. Scratch a libertarian and your odds of finding a teenage Rand reader are astronomically high.

    Count me an exception.I was a youthful anarchist and veered into libertarianism by a combination of things including: William Manchester’s mini-bio of Karl Hess in The Glory and the Dream, a fascination with the political history of Goldwater’s 1964 campaign,regret at casting my first vote for John Anderson(I realized after the election my vote would have been better wasted ideologically on Ed Clark), and (perhaps the most significant) Thomas Szasz’s Ceremonial Chemistry.

  17. When I was deciding what type of asshole I’d be when I grew up, Rand showed me one kind not to be.

    Maybe I’ll try her fiction sometime.

    Don’t do that if you’ve ever read any other books. It’s wretched shit in comparison.

    1. When I was deciding what type of asshole I’d be when I grew up,
      Rand showed me one kind not to be.

      Who, then, showed you how to become the one you evidently became?

    2. You have shitty taste in books.

      I tend to like books that have interesting ideas.

  18. I got to full-on libertarianism (purt near anarcho-capitalist) by working for the state government. I’m baffled that there are lifers working there who are still liberals after watching politicians at close range, year after year.

    Reading Rand came sometime during this looooong epiphany.

    1. Job security…don’t have to think much about it anymore.

      1. They don’t think much at all.

  19. the best recruiting tool for libertarians is now the internet. Maybe a few decades ago it was Rand.

    1. Right you are Steve. The Internet is quite possibly the most profound innovation for democracy since that little document called The Constitution was drawn up by Thomas and the “framers.” Unfortunately, it is currently being used as a doormat in Washington. It’s also done wonders for porn, prostitution, drugs …. damn, sounds like an auspicious job summit. Kudos to Al Gore for the Internet.

      1. Ira, I presume you refer to “Thomas” Jefferson; while he was one helluva important founding father of this country, he did not write the Constitution. In fact, he was not even in the country during the convention.

        1. *, Was he was busy pulling a Tiger Woods that week? I guess Martha never found his text messages.

        2. But he did write the DoI, did he not?

    2. Fair argument.

      The internet was where I had all sorts of political debates with all sorts of people when I was in college.

  20. It was Heinlein who first converted me in my teens, although I didn’t know it at the time. Read Atlas in my mid 20’s but didn’t really find my libertarian identity until my 30’s, toward the end of the Reagan era.

    The Fountainhead is in my stack of books to be read (re-read in this case).

    …. Hobbit

    1. Yep, Heinlein was probably my first serious exposure – and then “Firefly” in college. Never read any Rand, and in fact I’d bet quite a bit that the people I knew in high school who did never became libertarians.

    2. Yeah, Heinlein was a bigger influence. And more lasting.

  21. I have some friends and family that are looking at reading Ayn Rand. They’ve asked if they should start with _Atlas Shrugged_. I have cautioned them that, if they read _Atlas_, they can never read her other fiction books.

    Nobody should slog through 1200+ pages of _Atlas_, only to find out that she made pretty much all of the same major points (aesthetics excluded) in less than 100 pages in _Anthem_. It just leads to anger and a remarkably strong desire to piss on her grave.

    1. There’s a movie!?

    2. Read Anthem first.

      If you like that, read The Fountainhead.

      If you like that, read Atlas Shrugged.

      1. Start with “The Virtue of Selfishness”.

  22. I first read Rand well after I was a libertarian. As ve said before, CS Lewis is the author primarily responsible for me being a libertarian.

  23. Scratch a libertarian and your odds of finding a teenage Rand reader are astronomically high.

    I don’t care how much you scratch me, I’ll never reveal where I’ve got him locked up!

    1. Check Tulpa’s crawlspace.That’s where Gacy put ’em.

  24. Oooh oooh I posted this on the facebook page earlier today.

    My main objections to the article were that:

    1. Rand’s argument for capitalism IS a moral argument. The argument for capitalism that the author wants to see more of is a consequentialist argument, not a moral argument.

    2. Rand cannot be judged simply as a tool towards a political end. The purpose of her philosophy is to provide justification, not a method of conversion. The author wants a dumbed down version of Rand that will appeal to liberals’ emotions and altruism. This is a completely idiotic way to judge the merits of her philosophy.

    1. 1. Rand’s argument for capitalism IS a moral argument. The argument for capitalism that the author wants to see more of is a consequentialist argument, not a moral argument.

      But Rand’s system of morality is a consequentialist one.

  25. Katherine,

    John Stossel comments on the topic:

    http://stossel.blogs.foxbusine…..2/04/1767/

  26. The proof is in pudding here: Scratch a libertarian and your odds of finding a teenage Rand reader are astronomically high.

    Nope. Recovering Kennedy liberal here. Never read a Rand book in my life.

    Actually, I find myself getting more radical as I age. I just have less energy and time to act on it.

  27. Ayn Rand’s heros are more like comic book characters such as Spiderman and Batman. They were caricatures; free market superheros. None of them ever had kids or changed diapers.

    This is just what teens and young adults like. They’re not going to read Goldwaters, “Conscience of a Conservative” much less Von Mises.

    I loved comic book heroes when I was a kid, and her novels have much the same appeal. They are great for introducing free market ideas to young people.

    Ayn Rand was a smart lady, but I wouldn’t say she is some sort of great creative Genius. She was the Stan Lee of libertarianism

  28. Scratch a libertarian and your odds of finding a teenage Rand reader are astronomically high.

    never read one book by her and probably never will.

    Plus my experience has been Randians generally are not the best libertarians. Or the most versed in the nature and benefits of liberty. They hit the idea that liberty is moral then generally stop thinking.

    They are the first to scream at inflation yet are the last to praise tax cuts. The whole time not realizing that tax cuts are liberty granting when inflation does nothing to limit an individual’s liberty.

    1. inflation does nothing to limit an individual’s liberty

      Ummmmmmm… yeeeaaaaaahhhhhh….

      Anyway, I don’t know what kind of Randians you’ve been talking to. Most of the ones I know argue that all taxation is immoral and should be abolished.

      I’m a Randian but I am of the Jim Grant view on taxation: if we must have a monstrous, colossal government, let it be paid for with money that’s honestly stolen from the taxpayers, fair and square.

    2. Go open your mind and read Anthem.

  29. FYI, “balls to the wall” is an aviation metaphor that does not refer to the gonads; thus, “ovaries-to-the-wall” is a mixed metaphor and should be avoided. KGR8thx.

    1. You could always put an ovary-shaped orb in the slip indicator ….

  30. Scratch a libertarian and your odds of finding a teenage Rand reader are astronomically high.

    Yup, that was me. Grew out of it, too; see her now as a big mashup of brilliant and whacky.

  31. “Scratch a libertarian”

    I would advise against this.

    Never read Rand. Course don’t really read novels at all except when in school.

    1. Never read Rand.

      Heh. I read that as advice…silly homographs!

  32. People should avoid holding anyone’s utterances as gospel.

    Rand had very keen insight into the political milieu and human nature, but was rather blind to her own subjective nature.

    I think the left hates her because everything she wrote is one big insult of the left, and they mostly deserve it. She nails them without mercy.

    But she was a hard-ass and we know how most people feel about hard-asses.

  33. Scratch a libertarian and your odds of finding a teenage Rand reader are astronomically high.

    Bad logic. If people say the same thing about gateway drugs, Reason would laugh. Scratch a rapist, and you’ll find someone who masturbated. Scratch a cokehead or heroin addict, and you’ll find someone who has drunk alcohol and smoked pot.

    Perhaps most people who would be libertarians later in life became so despite being advised to read Rand. Or something else entirely.

  34. “I don’t think I made twenty-five pages in; I found it to be utterly unreadable. Still haven’t read it.”

    From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.

  35. Brink Lindsey and Robert Sirico are supposed to be voices for libertarianism?

    Fuck those assholes. Rand has done more for libertarianism than they could ever hope to do in their lifetimes. They are just jealous little useless wimps.

  36. “But in an age where hope, change and warm-hearted marketing clearly resonate…”

    …with wrong-headed retarded cunts.

    Heather Wilhelm, are you one of them?

  37. Try reading “The Market for Liberty”. Easier read and a straight forward how to book.

  38. Sorry guys. She’s had a fun run I suppose, but ultimately – it just doesn’t work.

    The most prosperous years of the 20th century were under a 90% upper tax bracket, and every time we lower it, the economy becomes more erratic and disfunctional. The jig is just about up at this point.

    I give you maybe 4 more years of ‘respectability’ and then your entire movement will be shit canned for another 80-odd years after we dig ourselves out of the second Great Depression and the wave of protectionism, etc that it’s going to trigger.

    But seriously, enjoy it while you can. Take the money and run, or whatever it is you do when you’re done with the looting.

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