Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Is Ayn Rand Too Smart to Believe Her Own Crap?

On March 9, in anticipation of the release of the movie version of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” Fox News’ Sean Hannity addressed his fellow traveler, John Stossel:

There were certain writers that just had this vision of the future. It seems like this out-of-control, know-no-bounds government ... they got it, they understood what could happen.

Stossel’s response:

Oh my God, how could she see 50 years ago what would happen now in America?

The answer is simple, really. As I mentioned in my most recent piece, Ayn Rand could easily foresee the situation because she in fact helped cause it. The architect of the 2008 financial-economic meltdown was Rand’s protege and one-time acolyte, Alan Greenspan. As long-serving Chairman of the Fed and de facto economic Czar answerable to virtually no one, Greenspan personally oversaw the dismantling of regulatory control of the finance industry and the American economy.

But instead of a golden age of the type of hero capitalism that Rand extolled, we witnessed rat bag opportunists running amok. We are still paying in full measure for their legalized sociopathy. As a result, we are in for years of the type of dragged-out economic stagnation that hit Japan in the nineties. The possibility of the apocalypse envisioned by Rand is not out of the question, either, particularly if the likes of Fox News is successful in promoting her timeless appeal.

Okay, let’s examine this timeless appeal:

Ayn Rand grew up in St Petersburg, Russia. She was 12 when the Czar was deposed in 1917. Soon after, Lenin’s Bolsheviks seized power and confiscated her father’s pharmacy. Ayn’s family sought refuge in Crimea - then beyond the reach of the Soviets - where she completed high-school. Back in St Petersburg the Soviets had opened up universities to women and Jews. Her family was destitute, but - of all things, thanks to Communism - she was among the first generation of women in Russia to obtain a higher education.

In 1925, Rand emigrated to the US and broke into movies as a budding screen-writer. During the thirties, as the depression deepened, various movers and shakers in the US looked to Europe for alternative political/economic models. Facism was a strong favorite of the reactionary wing of the Republican party. Henry Ford was a Nazi sympathizer. Various liberals, with equal naivete, advanced an idealized view of Soviet Communism.

It was against this backdrop of misguided communist sympathizers that Rand was reacting to. She had witnessed first-hand the brutal reality in turning over the reins of government to collectivist thugs. This experience formed the basis of her 1936 novel, “We the Living,” set in Soviet Russia, which she describes as “near to an autobiography as I will ever write.”

But of course, this is where Rand’s “objectivist” philosophy is unmasked as a fraud. Rather than pointing to an “absolute reality” revealed by the powers of reason, Rand’s world view is highly colored by emotion and personal experience. Had she and her family been victimized by Hitler’s Germany or Mussolini’s Italy, instead, she would have been singing a highly different tune.

As it was, even those mildly sympathetic to FDR’s New Deal were seen by her as the enemy.

This decidedly anti-objectivist view of reality was the basis of her 1943 “The Fountainhead” and her 1957 “Atlas Shrugged,” both which idealized hero capitalists and visionaries ruggedly acting in their own rational self-interest, and which vilified liberals as effeminate schemers and back-stabbers.

But as morality tales, both novels work and work exceptionally well, on a similar level to Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm.” These were novels for their time, hardly novels for all time. Ironically, “Atlas Shrugged” was published during the second term of Eisenhower’s successful Presidency, what is regarded by many as a golden decade. The rich paid high taxes, the nation was gainfully employed, opportunities were expanding, the economy grew beyond expectations with regulations in place, and very few seemed to be complaining.

Nevertheless, there is universal appeal in Rand’s warning about being highly skeptical regarding those who claim to act in the greater good. Inevitably, we the gullible find our pockets picked and our freedoms taken away. But in this day and age, the enemy turns out to be Rand’s own legacy.

If Ayn Rand were alive today, would she fall for her own crap? Interesting question ... 

More to come ...


Tony Previte said...

I once told someone that I knew that I was in trouble when I started believing my own bullshit.

That was quite some time ago, and I've become a really good bullshit detector these days.

Now I call people on it... in a way that doesn't reek of asshole.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Tony. A very fine crapitudinal finding. :)

Atlanta Roofing said...

Actually I am surprised you enjoyed it without having read the book. To be honest, I would actually recommend against seeing the movie if one has not read the book. Yes the book is a difficult read as you can't read it as you would a mass market paperback. In order to understand Atlas Shrugged, the book must essentially be studied.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Atlanta. Of course I read the book. My blogs explicitly state this.