An engaging analysis of the new book by Gary Weiss, Ayn Rand Nation: The Hidden Struggle for America’s Soul, from The Columbia Journalism Review.
The author, Daniel Luzer, compliments Weiss as a movement historian but questions his assessment of Rand’s influence. He calls Ayn Rand “the GOP’s crotchety, misanthropic little immigrant grandmother.” (Yes, he calls the writer who devoted her career to the worship of man’s greatness misanthropic. For that bit of obtuse, dim-witted vitriol, I think we can reasonably tag him Daniel Loser.)
Weiss, an investigative journalist formerly with Business Week, has made a career exploring the underside of American finance. In this book he looks at the rise of Objectivism from its early days—when Rand’s small cadre of followers regularly gathered at the author’s midtown Manhattan apartment— through the rise of Rand acolyte Alan Greenspan, up to today, where John Galt signs predominate at Tea Party rallies, the Republican Party simply refuses to govern or increase taxes, and certain congressmen (e.g. Paul Ryan) propose austerity budgets influenced by the dead novelist.
Such an exploration, understandably, takes one fairly seriously down the rabbit hole of Objectivist ideas. It was a fascinating trip. I had no idea, for instance, about the weird, communist-style purges that took place in the movement when Rand was still alive. She had a loyal group of followers but she wasn’t terribly loyal to them. Objectivists denounced and then ignored members of the group who disagreed with her. Once people were removed from her inner circle (which they ironically nicknamed “the collective”) they simply ceased to exist; they were never to be mentioned again. Nathaniel Branden and his wife, who were initially very prominent Objectivists, were removed and vilified when Branden simply decided to stop sleeping with Rand. The purges continue; today there are different sects of Objectivists, including the Atlas Society, which is opposed by the main, de jure Objectivists, affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute. Objectivists and Libertarians also are bitter rivals.
. . .At times [Weiss] seems to argue that Rand is almost singlehandedly influencing most of the reactionary policy ideas we see today. Privatization of social security: Rand. Opposition to Obamacare: Rand. Hostility to consumer protections: Rand. Lack of sympathy for environmental safeguards: Rand. Support for weirdly low tax rates for the American superrich: that’s also Rand.
Despite his obviously miniscule understanding of Objectivism, Luzer demonstrates some level of insight by correcting Weiss’ with regard to any connection between Rand’s ideas and the policies of Alan Greenspan.
. . .[The] role of the chairman of the Federal Reserve is to supervise and regulate banking institutions, protect the credit rights of consumers, and manage the nation’s money supply in order to achieve maximum employment, stabilize prices, maintain the stability of the financial system, and contain risks in financial markets. Perhaps I’m missing something, but the very notion of the Federal Reserve therefore seems anathema to Rand’s doctrine.
Despite his antipathy to Rand, Weiss’ book (and reviews like this one) cannot help but stir increased interest in Rand’s books and ideas, and that has to be a good thing for Objectivism.