Who Is Ayn Rand?

I occasionally see T-shirts emblazoned with "Who Is John Galt? as if the wearer signals a secret code to other Ayn Rand admirers. I am not one of them. In fact, I find as pathetic her philosophy, if it can be called that. Her novels are long sermons with wooden characters divided against one another, some for the forces of good (adventurous, heroic capitalists who scorn government interference and public mediocrity), some for the forces of evil (just flip adventurous, etc., over). Hers is a Nietzschean view of the world and her heroes are Übermenschen.* Never mind that she plods along for page after page in strident praise of rationalism when in fact, her narrow understanding of the world reveals she is anything but rational. Hers is a belief, an ism, rather than a practice. All progress, all public good, she says, depends on the elite spirits in our midst, whom we should leave alone so they can make the unwashed masses prosper.

Still, she has a certain following among those who, faut de mieux, had their philosophy of life shaped by her sermons. There is a certain adolescent appeal in carving the world into those who are right and those who are wrong. They don't see that she is a Russian writing to Americans.

Her family a victim of the Revolution, she emigrated to the United States and wherever she looked in her adopted country she found a retort to Marx. Never mind that she didn't look too deeply or too widely. She lived through the Depression; she traveled through slums. Her experiences were bent to fit her thinking. Believers in the proletariat had usurped her middle-class family's place in the Russian status quo. So, then, she would extoll those who rise above the soup lines of proles.

Mind you, Rand was an intellectual force, and she gathered around herself quite a coterie, including Alan Greenspan--who seems to have fallen away from her ideas because of the recent financial house debacle on Wall Street. A woman not unsympathetic, Anne C. Heller has written a book about Rand as intellectual force. It is titled, Ayn Rand and the World She Made. Note that: The World She Made. With Rand's thought-saving ideas and with her persuasive rhetoric, an entire political perspective has been shaped. Though fair to her subject, Heller is well aware of Rand's shortcomings.

Here is a review of the book.

*Bertrand Russell dismissed Nietzsche and his supermen as "mere power-phantasies of an invalid."

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