Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Jonathan Chait of The New Republic takes the recent upsurge of interest in Ayn Rand — and publication of books about Rand — as an excuse to attack Rand and her followers — and anyone against government redistribution of wealth.

Some of his attacks on Rand and her Randroids could be considered fair:

  • She once wrote to a friend that “it’s time we realize — as the Reds do — that spreading our ideas in the form of fiction is a great weapon, because it arouses the public to an emotional, as well as intellectual response to our cause.” She worked both to propagate her own views and to eliminate opposing views.
  • Rand’s hotly pro-capitalist novels oddly mirrored the Socialist Realist style, with two-dimensional characters serving as ideological props.
  • The subculture that formed around her — a cult of the personality if ever there was one — likewise came to resemble a Soviet state in miniature.
  • Ultimately the Objectivist movement failed for the same reason that communism failed: it tried to make its people live by the dictates of a totalizing ideology that failed to honor the realities of human existence.
  • Her ideological purity and her unstable personality prevented her from forming lasting coalitions with anybody who disagreed with any element of her catechism. Moreover, her fierce attacks on religion — she derided Christianity, again in a Nietzschean manner, as a religion celebrating victimhood — made her politically radioactive on the right.
  • Ludwig von Mises once enthused to Rand, “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your condition which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.” Rand articulated the terror that conservatives felt at the rapid leveling of incomes in that era — their sense of being singled out by a raging mob.
  • Rand’s most enduring accomplishment was to infuse laissez-faire economics with the sort of moralistic passion that had once been found only on the left.

Other attacks misunderstand — or misrepresent — what Rand believed and professed:

In essence, Rand advocated an inverted Marxism. In the Marxist analysis, workers produce all value, and capitalists merely leech off their labor. Rand posited the opposite.

Rand clearly respected honest labor — the architect-hero of The Fountainhead chooses to work in a quarry rather than prostitute his artistic skills.

When she attacked the “looters and moochers” stealing from society’s productive elements, she was attacking politicians and their cronies — the same corrupt politicians, special interests, and corporate fat-cats the Left attacks.

The important difference was that Rand did not see The Rich as a monolithic — and evil — entity. She saw successful businessmen who became wealthy by creating wealth as heroes, while she saw political cronies who became wealthy by redirecting wealth to themselves as villains — “looters and moochers”.

But Chait would rather prop up Straw Men, like the notion that all conservatives support The Rich against The Poor, rather than supporting creators over thieves, or that all conservatives see wealth as a perfect reflection of someone’s contribution to society.

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