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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5134/does-the-name-ayn-rand-ring-a-bell/

Does the Name “Ayn Rand” Ring a Bell?

June 3, 2006 by

In his New York Times column of June 3, Joseph Nocera asks:

who among our better novelists has put business front and center? . . . Tom Wolfe comes to mind, of course; his first novel, “Bonfire of the Vanities,” tackled Wall Street in the 1980′s, while “A Man in Full,” his second novel, had real estate as its backdrop. Surely, though, there must be others that are escaping me.

Does the name “Ayn Rand” ring a bell? You know, the author of Atlas Shrugged, the novel that describes the collapse of our entire civilization on the basis of its hostility to business and businessmen? It’s only sold several million copies and has reportedly had a more profound influence on more people in the United States than any other book ever written, with the exception of the Bible.

Perhaps Mr. Nocera is simply ignorant of these facts. If so, that should be considered astounding, given his position as a professional business writer who is presumably familiar with a wider intellectual world than exists within the confines of his newspaper and the universities which have shaped the minds of its personnel.

Or perhaps he is aware of these facts but simply chooses to ignore them. If this is the case, it would be a classic illustration of the mentality of those once aptly described as “an effete corps of impudent snobs.” That is, a collection of ignoramuses feigning knowledge while going back and forth between ignoring and ridiculing those, such as Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises, who actually possess it.

There may also be a third possibility: a seemingly inexplicable failure of memory on Mr. Nocera’s part. If that is the case, let us hope for his sake that it is nothing more than a bizarre, isolated instance and not an indication of a developing permanent condition.

This article is copyright © 2006, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author’s web site www.capitalism.net is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.

{ 16 comments }

Frater Plotter June 4, 2006 at 3:39 am

Objectivists are no more interesting or relevant now than ever they were. The world is so full of beautiful and inspiring reasons for liberty; we have no need for those who would concoct ugly and spiteful arguments for it.

Curtis Plumb June 4, 2006 at 5:06 am

Instead of “intelligent and civil,” your comment
appears “ugly and spiteful.” Not to mention, in error.

Matti Linnanvuori June 4, 2006 at 5:22 am

Joseph Nocera wrote: “among our better novelists”. Maybe he does not think Ayn was among them.

tarran June 4, 2006 at 6:59 am

Ten years ago, I read “Atlas Shrugged” and it significantly altered my world-view. I found it full of some amazing insights. That led me to read a few of her other novels and to purchase o collection of her essays. Reading her works were my introduction to the collection of ideas behind true freedom, and started my journey to anarcho-capitalism.

I found her books interesting because of the ideas contained within and very much despite the awful quality of the fiction. The characters were all one-dimensional. They broadly fell into two categories, heroes and villains of action who were logical and directive, and emotional people who were malleable and generally manipulated. The interactions between the characters never struck me as being particularly “human” but rather a caricature of human interaction.

I categorize Ayn Rand’s fiction alongside Plato’s dialogues, as works of philosophy expressed through fictional conversations and actions. I certainly would not call her a “good” novelist, I would rate her as mediocre at best.

M E Hoffer June 4, 2006 at 7:01 am

Nocera is also on record calling Roger Clemens a “choke-artist”, in essay form, no less.

To me, past wanting to see Nocera’s own “heater”, that alone is enough to call, fairly, the invidual’s own cognitive faculties, to say nothing of the faculties that except him among their ranks.

M E Hoffer June 4, 2006 at 7:04 am

“into question”

Atlas Falling June 4, 2006 at 8:57 am

“…and has reportedly had a more profound influence on more people in the United States than any other book ever written, with the exception of the Bible.”

I have heard this before and have seen the so called statistics that it was gathered from – I suspect it is not true.

David C June 4, 2006 at 9:42 am

I never read “Atlas Shrugged”, so perhaps I’m wrong. But the impression I get from talking to Ayn Rand’s followers is that money is an end in itself, not liberty. One place that this shows up is in the copyright debate, where for her followers it all cneters arround compensation and not around liberty and freedom from information controlls. While I have no doubt that wealth is a consequence of liberty, making wealth an end in itslef will always leads to these kind of painfull mistakes. People who believe in copyrights will get hurt very badly as society enters the information age.

Matt H June 4, 2006 at 10:36 am

I’m a bit of a reformed objectivist, and I would say that the end is life. Liberty, property, and money are logical extensions of living. Her defense of copyright and patents is more because she believed that the value of property came from its utility. That use was made possible by the human mind. So, to her, intellectual property was not an oxymoron. I’m being awfully imprecise, but I’d say that’s the gist of her point of view.

Curt Howland June 4, 2006 at 1:18 pm

Matt H., there’s also a very real aversion to “anarchy” that pervades her work. I believe it came from growing up at a time when “anarchists” were bomb-throwing types. The fact that the “libertarian” idea of purely voluntary interaction would lead to no “state” at all, actual “anarchy”, caused her to reject it out of hand.

As far as I’ve been able to tell, an “objectivist” and a “libertarian” can coexist perfectly well, since neither advocates coercion on a grand scale. There may be disagreements about such things as patents and copyrights, but if we ever reach a point where that is all that is left to bicker over I’ll be a very happy man.

Chris P. June 4, 2006 at 1:52 pm

Ayn Rand’s philosophy is absolutely beautiful: it is too bad her conclusions aren’t.

My opinion is that she ultimately failed to consistently adhere to her principles and came to the wrong political conclusion many a time.

When it came to intellectual property for instance, instead of contemplating the nature of property and arriving at the correct pro-freedom conclusion, she concluded that the government had to impose monopolies to protect inventors, as if society owes them a profit.

When it came to considering the nature of the state or what happens to innocents in war, she threw out her beliefs and arrived at the conclusion that murdering innocents could be justified.

On those and other issues, where she could have arrived at the correct conclusion simply by following her own philosophy, she didn’t.

I am inclined to think that hers was more an error of knowledge than of principle though. I believe that part of her problem was not having any solid foundation of economics knowledge. She made the moral case for capitalism better than almost anyone and arrived at many correct conclusions. But when it came to actually going and examining certain things, like what effect patents really had, I don’t think she had much of an idea. I think sticking by Rothbard would have helped her in making some of the correct conclusions.

I choose to remember Rand as a great woman, who would have been darn near perfect if she would have rejected the state.

averros June 4, 2006 at 9:08 pm

Ayn Rand’s books is something to be read by teenagers – romantics and stuff. A mature person who stays with Rand (instead of moving onto reading and comprehending the arguments of Mises and Rothbard; or simply deciding that it’d make for a simpler life to stay with the herd and puts the whole issue out of his mind) cannot but look like a case of arrested development.

Besides, hero-worship is silly. There’s no Superman, neither there’s any John Galt. Both are cartoons, nothing like flesh-and-blood people, and utterly unbelievable.

UpyoursEconboy June 4, 2006 at 9:53 pm

Does the Name “Ayn Rand” Ring a Bell? Does Racism start with a R? The Klan would be proud of you.

Aaron June 5, 2006 at 12:25 am

David C – I’m sorry that’s the impression that you’ve gotten. Objectivism recognizes a person’s life and happiness as the proper end. Liberty is a condition necessary for best achieving this. Intellectual property specifically can be a hot-button topic for advocates and opponents, but I think it’s peripheral to first understanding what the fundamental ideas are. If you find ‘Atlas Shrugged’ daunting but are interested in reading any of Rand’s material to get a first-hand impression, I’d suggest either ‘Anthem’ (for fiction) or ‘Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal’ (for non-fiction).

Chris P – IP is apparently a hot issue here. For the objectivist viewpoint, I’d say Greg Perkins (referenced from the blog a month or so ago) did a better job of presenting it than did Rand herself. Your statements sound as if you’re solidly against patents as property, but suggest that you are Rothbardian. Do you also disagree with his views establishing IP (effectively via contracts enforceable upon 3rd parties) ?

(voices of unfounded negativity) – I recommend reading Rand, von Mises and Rothbard. If you encounter ideas you disagree with – try to logically argue against them. This does require more thought and effort than simply waving them away as childish or ugly.

Curt – There are unfortunately some who despise and denigrate Rand or Objectivists out-of-hand. They also have some counterparts who treat non-objectivist libertarians with a similar degree of consideration and civility. However, like you I don’t consider that conflict essential or productive while collectivism and statism have the influence that they do; I’d be pretty damned happy if IP was the biggest political issue left to argue about.

Vanmind June 5, 2006 at 2:35 am

Ayn Rand’s talent for fiction was lacking.

CD June 5, 2006 at 2:58 am

Rand is a doorway. The doorway needn’t be a perfect one. It need only be one that people can pass through easily. Especially young people who can benefit from formative concepts that are easily accessible to them. Once through the door, it is far easier to become further enlightened. Anyone who criticises Rand for imperfection, or asks any pilosophy to be complete, has a fundamental misundersanding of the nature of knowledge. It is quite possible to criticise someone as wise as Mises justifiably, even though Human Action is one of man’s greatest works. Imperfection in a set of ideas does not mean that there is not substantial value to the whole of it despite it’s imperfections. No philosopher in history has stood up to that test. And it is an error to attempt to apply such a test. Rand has great value despite her imperfections. She is like many in history, who if they had the knowledge of economics that we do, could have come to better conclusions. I can forgive her ignorance just as I can forgive Aristotle. I am not sure I can forgive the quality of her writing so easily. But she was a door for me, and for many others, and without her, this movement would have far fewer supporters. Given the ocean of Krugmans and Galbriaths out there, we should not be so critical of our friends and allies.

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