Category Archives: Ayn Rand Centennial

Assessing Ayn Rand at the Philadelphia Inquirer

Writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Carlin Romano takes a stab at assessing Ayn Rand’s life and influence. Characteristically focusing on some of the more lurid details of her personal life, Romano does manage to give an account of Rand’s life that is generally balanced and on target, calling her a “champion of individualism, rational self-interest and atheism.” Romano also mentions the centenary events planned by both The Objectivist Center and the Ayn Rand Insitute. Romano ends by citing the increasing influence of Rand in the academy.

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Ayn Rand’s Contribution to the Cause of Freedom

Writing for the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Roderick T. Long discusses Rand’s positive influence and contributions to the pro-freedom movement. Long also elaborates on Rand’s relationship with Mises and with academic philosophy. Though the Mises Institute is sometimes critical of Objectivism and Objectivists, this piece is generally laudatory. Long notes that since Rand began writing:

the philosophical mainstream has moved in Rand’s direction. Professional philosophers are far more likely today than they were in the 1960s to agree with Rand about the directness of sense-perception, the relation between meaning and reference, the incompatibility of utilitarianism with individual rights, or the prospects for a neo-Aristotelean ethical theory (or indeed a neo-Aristotelean philosophical approach generally)

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Ayn Rand & the Atlasphere in the Orange Co. Register

The promised article in the Orange County Register (“Rhymes with ‘mine’“) has just been published, and includes information from an interview with Atlasphere member Dan Edge.

It begins:

When Michael Berliner was a grad student in the 1960s, followers of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of rational self-interest were routinely ridiculed, denounced or shunned.

“If people found out that you were an objectivist, it was like you were some religious cultist,” says Berliner, former director of the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, about the philosophy she created.

“No, it was worse than that. Professors would sneer at me in class and make nasty comments on papers when I mentioned her.”

Fast-forward to present-day Stanford University, where Francisco LePort, 19, of Newport Beach, is a Ph.D. student in physics.

When a fellow student recognized the name of the hero of Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” on the license plate of LePort’s 2002 Subaru sedan, he left a note under the windshield wiper, and the two became friends. LePort met his girlfriend at a Rand conference two years ago. And all three of his roommates in the Stanford dorms happened to be Rand fans, much to his surprise.

These days, fans of Ayn (rhymes with “mine”) Rand are no longer alone. That’s right, 100 years after her birth, followers of Rand – the advocate of radical individualism, the”morality of selfishness,”laissez-faire capitalism and atheism – are winning friends and influencing people.

There are dozens of Internet chat rooms devoted to Rand, where fans discuss how her ideas play out in such mainstream Hollywood movies as “The Incredibles” and “The Aviator.” There’s even an online Ayn Rand dating service, the Atlasphere, to match up admirers of “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” – her best- known novels – with their soul mates.

“Objectivists date other objectivists. It’s the essential thing,” says Dan Edge, 26, a computer broker and salesperson, from Charlotte, N.C., one of the Web site’s more than 2,000 paying members.

This is a slight misquote; there are over 2,000 members in the dating service, and over 5,000 in the member directory, but not all of our members are paid subscribers.

And the article ends on this note:

While she went on to write serious philosophical works, she didn’t aim to be an academic philosopher.

“Her focus was, as she called it, man in the world, not ideas separated from physical realm,” Berliner says. “When she thought about characters, they were always people who were active and doing things in the world. Her philosophy was consistent with that. She was always much, much more popular with the general run of people than with intellectuals.”

Rand scholars believe that since her death in 1982, her influence has been building for a range of reasons, from the political to the social to the technological.

Joshua Zader, who founded the Atlasphere two years ago after meeting his wife at an Ayn Rand conference in 1999, credited the growth of the Internet.

“It’s a technology and a medium that fosters the spread of ideas. Ayn Rand worshipped ideas and knowledge. The Internet provides a way for people who admire Ayn Rand to share their excitement with each other and others who have never heard of her,” Zader says.

Brook points to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the demise of communism.

“Generally, the global trend is toward more capitalism, and more freedom than we’ve seen. In very collectivist cultures like Japan and China we’re seeing more individualism come out,” he says, adding that new translations of Rand’s novels are due out in both countries.

But he’s not stopping there. He’s looking toward the next 100 years.

“This is just going to be a long process,” he says. “It could be decades. I hope it’s not a century, but it could be before we have a real impact on the culture.”

The full article (registration required) is available on the web site.

CATO on Ayn Rand at 100

David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, pens a thoughtful tribute to Rand’s influence on libertarianism and the pro-freedom movement. After highlighting how Rand stood up to the culture of her times by vigorously promoting a principled freedom, Boaz sums up Rand’s importance:

She infused her novels with the ideas of individualism, liberty, and limited government in ways that often changed the lives of her readers. The cultural values she championed—reason, science, individualism, achievement, and happiness—are spreading across the world.

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New York Times on Ayn Rand’s Centennial

The New York Times has published its piece on the Rand centennial ? “Considering the Last Romantic, Ayn Rand, at 100,” written by Edward Rothstein.

Alternately condescending and confused, the article is not flattering, but does contain some intriguing photos from the Ayn Rand Archives.

It begins:

What did Ayn Rand want?

Today is the centennial of her birth, and while newsletters and Web sites devoted to her continue to proliferate, and while little about her private life or public influence remains unplumbed, it is still easier to understand what she didn’t want than what she did. Her scorn was unmistakable in her two novel-manifestos, “The Fountainhead” (1943), about a brilliant architect who stands proud against collective tastes and egalitarian sentimentality, and “Atlas Shrugged” (1957), about brilliant industrialists who stand proud against government bureaucrats and socialized mediocrity. It is still possible, more than 20 years after her death, to find readers choosing sides: those who see her as a subtle philosopher pitted against those who see her as a pulp novelist with pretensions.

She divided her world – and her characters – in similarly stark fashion into what she wanted and what she didn’t want. Here is what she didn’t want: Ellsworth M. Toohey, “second-handers,” Wesley Mouch, looters, relativists, collectivists, altruists. Here is what she did want: Howard Roark, John Galt, individualism, selfishness, capitalism, creation.

But her villains have the best names, the most memorable quirks, the whiniest or most insinuating voices. At times, Rand even grants them a bit of compassion. Toohey, the Mephistophelean architecture critic in “The Fountainhead,” could be her finest creation. And when she argued against collectivism, her cynicism had some foundation in experience: she was born in czarist Russia in 1905, witnessed the revolutions of 1917 from her St. Petersburg apartment and managed to get to the United States in 1926. Her sharpest satire can be found in some of her caricatures of collectivity.

But the good guys are another story. Are “Fountainhead’s” Roark and “Atlas’s” Galt really plausible heroes, with their stolid ritualistic proclamations and their unwavering self-regard? Did Rand really believe that the world should be run by such creators while second-handers (ordinary workers like most of us) humbly deferred?

These are not abstract questions. Fifteen million copies of her books have been sold. “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” still sell 130,000 to 150,000 copies a year. In 1999, Rand even made it onto a United States postage stamp. Her moral justifications of capitalism shaped the thinking of the young Alan Greenspan (now Federal Reserve Chairman) and other conservative acolytes. She declared it permissible to proclaim “I want” and to act to fulfill that demand. But the question remains, what did she really want?

And it ends with this pronouncement about Rand’s heroes:

But ultimately, these men find their ideals only in isolated rejection of democratic society, as cardboard reincarnations of the Romantic hero. Perhaps Rand really believed democracy was hopeless and wanted a government ruled by such men. Perhaps she never really cared about working any of this out. Or perhaps, in the end, she really didn’t know what she wanted. At any rate, the failure to reconcile democratic culture and high achievement has not been hers alone: it is one reason readers are still choosing sides.

Leave it to The New York Times to turn a celebration into a highbrow lemonade-fest.

See the full article for more commentary.

Reason Mag on Ayn Rand at 100

Writing for Reason Magazine, Cathy Young offers a frankly critical tribute to Ayn Rand’s legacy in her article “Ayn Rand at 100.” The article is sure to be controversial among admirers of Rand’s work.

It begins:

A hundred years after her birth and nearly 25 years after her death, Ayn Rand remains a fascinating and enigmatic presence. She has been ?mainstreamed? enough to have been honored by a U.S. Postal Service stamp in 1999 and to have been featured on C-SPAN?s American Writers series in 2002. Her novels figure prominently in readers? lists of the 20th century?s greatest books. Notably, in a 1991 survey of more than 2,000 Book-of-the-Month Club members about books that made a difference in their lives, Rand?s magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, came in second?albeit a very distant second?to the Bible. Rand, a devout atheist, might have seen that as an insult rather than an honor.

Yet in many ways Rand remains an outlier and an oddity on the cultural scene, a cult figure with plenty of worshippers and plenty of desecrators. No other modern author has had such extravagant claims of greatness made on her behalf: Followers of her philosophy, Objectivism, regard her as the greatest thinker to have graced this earth since Aristotle and the greatest writer of all time. Mainstream intellectuals tend to dismiss her as a writer of glorified pulp fiction and a pseudo-philosophical quack with an appeal for impressionable teens. Politically, too, Rand is an outsider: Liberals shrink from her defiant pro-capitalist stance, conservatives from her militant atheism, and conservatives and liberals alike from her individualism. Libertarianism, the movement most closely connected to Rand?s ideas, is less an offspring than a rebel stepchild. In her insistence that political philosophy must be based on a proper epistemology, she rejected the libertarian movement, which embraced a wide variety of reasons for advocating free markets and free minds, as among her enemies.

In recent years, at last, some analysis of Rand has appeared that is neither uncritical adulation nor unrelenting bashing. Some of it has come from unorthodox neo-Objectivists, such as the feminist scholar Mimi Gladstein or the political philosopher Chris Matthew Sciabarra. (The two edited the 1999 book Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, and Sciabarra wrote 1996?s controversial Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical.) The five-year-old Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, co-founded by Sciabarra, often features essays by mainstream intellectuals that treat Rand?s legacy in a non-hagiographic way. Two controversial books about Rand the person remain a good place to start for an understanding, but not adulatory, look at her life and work: The Passion of Ayn Rand (1986) by Barbara Branden, no doubt the first-ever sympathetic biography whose subject slept with the biographer?s husband, and Judgment Day: My Years With Ayn Rand (1989) by Nathaniel Branden, the husband in question.

In 1962, when they were still among the faithful, the Brandens co-wrote a book called Who Is Ayn Rand? More than 40 years later, the question still stands.

And it ends:

Rand herself was a creature of paradox. She was a prophet of freedom and individualism who tolerated no disobedience or independent thought in her acolytes, a rationalist who refused to debate her views. She was an atheist whose worship of Man led her to see the human mind as a godlike entity, impervious to the failings of the body or to environmental influences. (Nathaniel Branden reports that she even disliked the idea of evolution.) She was a strong woman who created independent heroines yet saw sexual submission as the essence of femininity and argued that no healthy woman would want to be president of the United States because it would put her above all men.

This is perhaps how Rand is best appreciated: as a figure of great achievement and great contradictions, a visionary whose vision is one among many, whose truths are important but by no means exclusive. Rand, it is safe to say, would have regarded such appreciation as far worse than outright rejection. But that?s just another paradox of life.

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Ayn Rand at 100: The Moral Defense of Freedom

In honor of Ayn Rand’s 100th birthday, Edward Hudgins of The Objectivist Center has written a commentary that briefly oultines Rand’s life and influence. Hudgins writes:

A century after her birth, Ayn Rand’s legacy lives on not only in her novels—The Fountainhead (1943), Anthem (1938), We the Living (1936) and Atlas [Shrugged] (1957)—but also in political and cultural ideas that are changing the country.

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Ayn Rand in Chicago Tribune: Rand is now Mainstream?

An article sympathetic to Ayn Rand was written by Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune, titled “The evolution of Ayn Rand.” It starts:

Has Ayn Rand gone mainstream? The radical champion of individualism and capitalism, who died in 1982, is no longer an exotic taste. Her image has adorned a U.S. postage stamp. Her ideas have been detected in a new mass-market animated comedy film, “The Incredibles.” And Wednesday, on the 100th anniversary of her birth, there will be a Rand commemoration at the Library of Congress–an odd site for a ceremony honoring a fierce anti-statist.

In her day, Rand was at odds with almost every prevailing attitude in American society. She infuriated liberals by preaching economic laissez-faire and lionizing titans of business. She appalled conservatives by rejecting religion in any form while celebrating, in her words, “sexual enjoyment as an end in itself.”

But her novels found countless readers. “The Fountainhead,” published in 1943, and “Atlas Shrugged,” which followed in 1957, are still in print. In 1991, when the Book-of-the-Month Club polled Americans asking what book had most influenced their lives, “Atlas Shrugged” finished second only to the Bible. In all, Rand’s books have sold about 22 million copies and continue to sell at the rate of more than half a million a year.

The article is short, but Chapman argues that Rand’s ideas, once so controversial, are now so mainsteam that “we have forgotten where they originated”.

Chapman mentions the 100th anniversary, gives a brief history, and quotes David Kelley of the Objectivist Center.

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Ayn Rand in NY Times: Howard Roark at Ground Zero

An article in today’s New York Times (“‘Sixteen Acres’: Rebuilding Ground Zero“) starts with a nod to Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark, and an unsubstantiated claim about the validity of her philosophy:

AYN RAND may be long discredited as a philosopher, but her ideas about architecture are still very much alive. Howard Roark, the protagonist of her objectivist fantasia ”The Fountainhead,” is the archetypal artist-hero, rendering society’s soul in concrete and steel. Since the 1940′s, his image has shaped our appreciation of everyone from Frank Lloyd Wright to Frank Gehry, defining even the competition to rebuild the World Trade Center site: the struggle between Daniel Libeskind and Larry Silverstein was seen as a veritable ”Fountainhead Redux” in which a valiant architect armed only with his dreams takes on a mega-developer.

The article contains this prediction for Ground Zero:

Flashy architecture became the smoke screen behind which the real deals were made. ”Though the process would churn on in search of a master plan,” Nobel writes, ”the only politically acceptable solution was already apparent in the summer of 2002. The site would be rebuilt as a crowded, mixed-use, shopping-intensive corporate development surrounding a large but compromised memorial. It was all over but the shouting.”

Just what Howard Roark would have recommended… Not!

The article ends with:

Still, if the selection process has so far produced a poor excuse for a monumental rebuilding, it is nonetheless a tribute to New York — messy, money-soaked, dominated by too many egos and too few level heads. ”When the politicians line up to cut their ribbons,” Nobel writes, ”whatever shades the dais that day will be at once stranger and more fitting than anything they had imagined when they set about to govern its birth. In a way it will be perfect.” Clearly, Nobel wishes things were otherwise. But he also recognizes that in New York, even Howard Roark couldn’t make it so.

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