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NYT vs. Ayn Rand

November 1, 2009 11:22 AM

At the urging of a friend, I just read a book review of Anne C. Heller's new attack on the ideas of Ayn Rand. The review, entitled "Capitalist with a $ [Dollar Sign]" appeared in the November 1, 2009 issue of the New York Times Review of books. What I am writing here is a review of the review, and the reason I am writing it is to criticize the recent surge of mainstream media attacks on Rand's ideas, because Rand was unique in spelling out a detailed moral justification for capitalism. Many pro-capitalist writers of the past regarded capitalism as a kind of necessary evil, but Rand made the case for capitalism as the best choice of a political philosophy, in fact the only choice which, in her view, is not evil.

At the outset, I must express my opinion that Rand's biggest, most powerful, and most famous book, Atlas Shrugged, is not an easy read. Over a thousand pages long, it is packed with ideas which require some serious use of the brain, and which are not always intuitively obvious. As I wrote in this weblog, I feel I wasn't really ready for it until my third attempt to read it. Rand's harsh written and verbal dismissals of religious faith and "whim-worshiping hippie" libertarians as potential underminers of capitalism also made it easier for socialists to turn her pro-American readership against her.

Nevertheless, for anyone willing to acknowledge the current "Democrat" party attempt to hijack these United States of America, with Barack Hussein Obama as their public face, Atlas Shrugged is a fun read. It is full of characters whose statements and actions are very much like those of Obama and his "czars." It is an endless source of quotes for tweets skewering the Obama/Pelosi/Reid junta. The Times book reviewer recognizes this when he writes, "plotting and characterization in her books may be vulgar and unbelievable." Vulgar, yes. Obama and his czars are indeed vulgar.

Unbelievable? That's a good question. I still find it unbelievable that 69,492,376 Americans were hornswoggled into voting for Obama (if they were indeed all live Americans.) His appointees, his self-contradictory statements, his occasional admissions of his true beliefs ("we've gotta spread the wealth around,") his bizarre "birth certificate," his enemies list consisting of almost any conservative American, and so forth, strain credulity. But believe Obama I must because, in reality he does occupy the Oval Office, he has access to the nuclear football, and he commands the might of the United States armed forces.

Because the otherwise redoubtable "Atlas" is a fun read, its readership is skyrocketing, provoking a nervous reaction from "Progressives" including the author of the attack book being reviewed and its Times reviewer, who quotes a senior New Republic editor, "Rand is everywhere in this right-wing mood." He also quotes California Republican John Campbell, "people are starting to feel that we're living through the scenario of Atlas Shrugged." And indeed, we are.

Heller and her reviewer trot out the usual socialist Rand-bashing talking points: her close friends and personal students comprised a "sect" or "cult;" she preached "elitism" because she insisted on moral judgments and placed a high value on the mind of the individual; her novels are "uninteresting;" her admirers were distinguished by "ardor," not by critical thinking as she recommended, and so on. (As for "ardor," one of Rand's favorite slogans was "check your premises.") And, like all the other Rand-bashing hit pieces, it makes much of Rand's betrayal by her former student Nathaniel Branden, who, in my opinion, was and is a major sleazebag.

In essence, the traditional socialist Branden attack on Ayn Rand amounts to the following statement.

"You see, Ayn Rand was not so smart. She let a jerk like Branden take advantage of her, so it is obvious that capitalism is every bit as evil as we say it is, whatever Ayn Rand might have written to praise it. We need to spread the wealth around, we need universal health care, we need 'cap and trade,' and we need to lower our obscenely high standard of living."

The reviewer makes a particular point which, in my opinion, completely nullifies his attack on Rand. He describes Rand's negotiation with Atlas Shrugged publisher Bennett Cerf, concerning Galt's Speech, a book-within-a-book which details Rand's defense of capitalism from a philosphical viewpoint. I could see where Cerf was coming from: Galt's Speech is a very hard read within an already difficult book. In my experience, it must be chewed and digested sentence by sentence. But I also see Rand's point. Galt's Speech is the absolute core of the book, the nitty gritty of the point she was trying to make. It was also a masterpiece in the genre of the philosophical novel, because it tied in with the story line and the characters in the rest of the book. Most philosophers, from ancient Greece to the present, put their ideas into essays to be read by the philosophically inclined. Rand, on the other hand, attempted to make them accessible to the general reading public, and, with many individuals, she succeeded. So, from her viewpoint, and I am with her on this, the speech had to stay in the book.

Rand cut a deal with Cerf: Galt's Speech would stay in the book, but she would take a cut in royalties of seven cents per copy.

Here is where the reviewer reveals his total ignorance of what Rand stood for. He wrote, "Giving up her royalties to preserve her vision is something that no genuine capitalist… would have done."

Who does the reviewer see as an example of a "genuine capitalist"? Bernie Madoff? George Soros? Warren Buffett? Donald Trump? Charlie Rangel? Rand did not write about "capitalists" but about capitalism, as an ideal in political philosophy. According to Rand, in a capitalist economic system, where individual rights are protected, every person would be free to pursue his highest values. Money, though important, is a medium of exchange, not a be-all and end-all in itself. Rand did indeed champion the dollar sign as a symbol of productivity and freedom, but not as a symbol of a quick buck, and especially not as a symbol of an unearned, mooched or looted dollar. Rand's exchange (not a sacrifice, an exchange) of seven cents per copy of Atlas Shrugged for inclusion of Galt's Speech in the book, was one of the best deals ever made by an advocate of capitalism.

As the New York Times reviewer is aware, more copies of Atlas Shrugged are being sold than ever before, and what is seven cents worth these days in the age of the Bamster Buck? Every purchaser of the book gets a chance to read Galt's Speech if they want to, and if they don't want to, they don't have to. Because it's still a free country.

[Keywords: impeach-them-all.org atlas book capitalism rand read reviewer speech ]