October 18, 2012
AT The Orthosphere, Bonald wonders why Paul Ryan has not more emphatically rejected his previous enthusiasm for Ayn Rand:
[A]ren’t we entitled to a major speech in which he totally renounces her and all her works and all her empty promises?
—– Comments —–
Daniel S. writes:
Paleocon writer Thomas Fleming addressed this same subject earlier in the summer:
What sours the taste of Paul Ryan’s name on my lips is his repeatedly declared affection for Ayn Rand. Some of this praise was, undoubtedly, part of a pandering outreach to Randians and other libertarians. In more recent years, he has said repeatedly that as a Catholic he is not an “Objectivist,” that is, a follower of Rand’s drab and unoriginal pseudo-philosophy, and I am willing to take him at his word.
Then what is the problem? As young people, we are all more or less stupid and do stupid things. Some take drugs or steal cars, and we forgive them. Why not forgive a smart kid who is so depressed by America’s collectivist culture that he falls for an individualist guru?
If Congressman Ryan wants my forgiveness, he has it, assuredly, but what he does not have is my understanding or sympathy. Ayn Rand was dreadful in every way. As an intellectual, she offered a warmed-over version of Nietzsche seasoned with borrowed bits of Isabel Patterson. Her ideology of “Objectivism” can be summed up in Rand’s own words as “the virtue of selfishness.” In other words, greed is good, look out for number one, charity is bunk. Yes, I get it. It is the creed of the selfish jerks who make everyday life in America so unpleasant.
Then there are her really dreadful novels. I did succeed in finishing The Fountainhead, and if someone has a taste for cheap romantic fiction with improbably larger-than-life characters, he might actually like such stuff, though Rand faces stiff competition from the likes of Jacqueline Susann, Harold Robbins, and Victoria Holt. As for Atlas Shrugged–the book Paul Ryan professed to like–it is really awful beyond words. I well remember my own reaction to the over-quoted first sentence, “Who is John Galt?” Who could possibly care?
The less said of Rand’s personal life, the better. The long-running soap opera of her marital infidelities with her disciple “Nathaniel Branden” (not his real name) have been disclosed in excruciating detail by Branden’s wife. From the bits I read, it was a lot like the cheating and lying that caused the breakup of the rock band Fleetwood Mac. It is bad enough that such tacky people exist in our society. What effrontery they have to parade their dirty little secrets in public.
Perhaps the worst thing about Rand is the character of so many of her followers: nerdy little dweebs (as we used to call them back them) who imagine themselves to be supermen. I used to run into Objectivists all the time, and I could never decide which of their offensive qualities was the most prominent. Rudeness, arrogance, or imbecillity.
The whole time that Rand’s beloved disciple, Alan Greenspan, was Fed chairman, I lived under a cloud of dread. What sort of political class would tolerate a Randian? This bizarre and inarticulate person had never repudiated his mentor, and here he was, steering the world’s economy until just before the recent crash. (Must be a coincidence.)
So, frankly, Congressman Ryan, I am not entirely satisfied with your disclaimer. To be an ex-admirer of Ayn Rand is a bit like being an ex-admirer of the Marquis de Sade. There was nothing in Rand to attract a sane, much less a mature human being.
I suppose, in making my mind up to vote for the Republican presidential candidate for the first time since 1980, I should be more charitable. Better men than Paul Ryan were involved with Rand. My late friend Murray Rothbard, a great economic historian and libertarian guru, was in Rand’s circle for a time. One evening, when the cult was gathered, Rand asked all of them to repudiate Jesus Christ as the source of all evil. All the Randian leaders, duly paid homage to Rand by rejecting Christ, until it was Joey Rothbard’s turn. Murray’s wife was a good Christian and she boldly declared that she had accepted Jesus Christ as her personal saviour.
“Repudiate her now, Murray!” snarled Rand. By his own telling, the only response from the unbelieving Rothbard was, “Come on Joey, we’re getting out of here. She’s crazy!”
Indeed, she was, and a whole lot worse than crazy. Only in America, whose educational system had collapsed before WWII, could someone like Rand can pass herself off as a philosopher and a novelist. And only in America could Paul Ryan’s political enemies fail to understand what a black mark on his record it is ever to have fallen for such a fraud.
What the supposedly devout Catholic Paul Ryan is doing legitimizing the crazed, immoral, rabidly anti-Christian Ayn Rand is beyond me.
Thank God that Mr. Fleming took the time to set me straight, and that Ayn Rand is so obviously crazy and evil. Otherwise thousands of people would be continuously analyzing, posting and otherwise writing about her and Atlas Shrugged. This could go on for another uninterrupted fifty years.
Why all the angst about such a dreadful fraud and nut job’s terrible novel? Could it be that millions of people from all walks of life have found her too compelling to ignore? For more than fifty years Atlas Shrugged has never been out of print. Seven million sold and not every top one hundred list, but what philosophy book is? The board at Random House doesn’t include AS in their top one hundred, but the readers rank it number one. AS doesn’t come close to the top one hundred in sales, but there are no books in her unique category. Lawrence Auster is torturing himself by re-reading and parsing AS. Why would he do that? With what other book has he ever done the same? Why does anyone re-read or recommend AS? To turn the reader away from God? I don’t think so. In spite of her dark and “evil” self, she describes the essential nature of one of our greatest threats. She dissects and lacerates collectivism/communism/socialism like no one else. That single element is worth all of the tedious dialogue that one must endure in the reading of AS. I don’t care what she thinks about God. I bet that most don’t care what she thinks about God. I doubt that anyone recommends the book as a ploy to undermine someones faith in our Creator. She has not one wit of effect on my faith. Forget her inane nihilism. But pay close attention to the main thread of that story. It’s power is exactly what more should be reading. Any reasonably intelligent reader can separate the wheat from the chaff. God is not threatened by Ayn Rand. And if readers are, then they had no real faith to begin with.
All the railing about Paul Ryan being under Rand’s spell, ala Alan Greenspan, flies in the face of what Ryan says. Is he lying? Google “Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand” and read the top ten articles and the links within those articles. You’ll get a very muddled picture. Ryan says it’s myth. But, he’s a politician.
Paul Ryan is a political hack who will say what he needs to say. That’s his job description. If he’s in a room full of Randians, what’s he going to say? Paul Ryan is himself the classic “moocher.” I love much of what he has to say about correcting our economic problems. But, the man has never had a career outside of politics. He’s been on Capital Hill since he was twenty-two, and has been an career elected politician since 1998. Waiting tables and fitness training has been his only real out-of-government work. He’s forty-two years old. He’s no better than Obama in that regard. So, how is the world can he be made out to be a hair-shirted Randian?
“Pay close attention to the main thread of that story.”
I can’t. Atlas Shrugged is one of the worst novels I have ever read. Rand is the Danielle Steele of libertarianism. I am convinced, on the basis of its literary flaws alone, that AS will not endure, no matter how many millions have loved it.
Lawrence Auster has done a good job in recent posts of describing the nihilism and self-worship, Rand’s worthy objections to collectivism, and the literary flaws of Atlas Shrugged.
Regarding Ryan, as Fleming says, it may have been a passing thing in his life. That’s understandable. It would be admirable if he explained the problems with Rand’s views to the many libertarians who are her followers. But perhaps he has. I have not closely followed his recent statements on Rand.
Lawrence Auster writes:
Lawrence Auster is torturing himself by re-reading and parsing AS. Why would he do that? With what other book has he ever done the same?
I’ve explained clearly why I am doing it. Atlas Shrugged is a unique combination of worthwhile and terrible:
The purpose of the article I’m planning to write about Atlas Shrugged is to separate what is good in the book from what is bad. Reading the entire book from beginning to end, underlining, taking notes, and thinking about every passage, is a very strange experience, because of the mixture of things in the book that are terrific or good, and things that are bad or horrible. Sometimes on the margin of one page, I’ll write something like “Great,” or “brilliant,” and on the next page I’ll write, “Insane, unreadable.” And part of my purpose is to explain why what is good in the book, and what is insane in the book, are so closely intertwined.
Also, I want to rescue the book from its uncritical fans and followers, to whom I object as much as Thomas Fleming does; and also from the people who mindlessly trash the entire book, as Thomas Fleming does. As I wrote in the same entry:
[My purpose is] to differentiate the good and the bad, so that, on one hand, some people will not reject the book wholesale and miss the good parts; and, on the other hand, so that some other people will not accept the book wholesale and be led astray by the bad parts.
I don’t think Fleming mindlessly trashed her books in the above, however extreme his opinion was. He didn’t justify his opinion at length, but he did provide some reasons.
Mr. Auster adds:
Also, I agree with Buck’s evaluation of the book and with his thoughtful objection to Fleming’s cheap dismissal of the book.
Again, I don’t think Fleming cheaply dismissed the book or Rand’s work. In fact, he didn’t dismiss it at all, anymore than Terry Jones dismissed the Koran. He was highly criticial of it.
But this statement of his is far too extreme:
There was nothing in Rand to attract a sane, much less a mature human being.
There are sane admirers of Rand.
Mr. Auster writes:
He says that it is utterly worthless and that no sane human being could find anything worthwhile in it. If that is not dismissal, what is?
And he cheaply dismisses it, in that, in his usual manner, he just throws a lot of adjectives at it and does not bother considering why sane people would find worthwhile things in it.
I agree he went too far in saying no sane person could be attracted to Rand. That’s ridiculous. However, comparing The Fountainhead to “cheap romantic fiction with improbably larger-than-life characters,” whether one agrees with it or not, doesn’t seem to be just throwing adjectives at it. Also, I guess I see his emphatic rejection of her work as a response to the cult of Rand. There would be no Terry Jones if people always read the Koran in a reasonable way, noting its truths and falsehoods, and never fell under its spell.
That’s not to say there isn’t a place for more measured assessments of her work. There is.