Like a critical, if at times exasperated admirer of the novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, I am interested to read books by people who are sharply critical of her work because it is a sign, as far as I can see, that she is starting to attract proper, scholarly attention. That is surely better than blind hatred or for that matter, Randroid hero-worship.
Hence I was quite intrigued when I came across the book, entitled “Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature.” Unfortunately, as this review of it at Amazon demonstrates, the author of the book mirrors a trait of the woman he criticises in one key respect: he writes in a state of furious anger and sarcasm, whiich rather undermines his own effort to take her arguments apart. Rand, for sure, was an angry writer – she had a lot to be angry about – but she was often guilty of abrupt dismissals of philosophers one might regard as giants or at least want to consider more gently: David Hume, for instance. And some of her judgements on aesthetic matters make me rub my eyes in amazement. For example, she regarded Beethoven as “malevolent”, which is a pretty bizarre comment on the creator of “Ode To Joy”, about as unmalevolent bit of music you can ever hear.
But the fact is that in my mind, much of what she stood for and argued about is as relevant and useful now as it was half a century ago. Her impact on driving a libertarian movement, even if she spurned the term, cannot be denied. On art, for example, I find a lot of her ideas very fruitful in explaining why I respond to some works of art and cannot abide some others. I like the way that she understood, for example, the appeal of so-called “bootleg romantic” culture such as pulp thrillers and popular action film heroes and heroines. I think she played an important role in invigorating the Aristotelian tradition in philosophy and has encouraged me to follow this up by reading writers such as Henry Veatch and these fellows. Meanwhile, I keep coming across references from people saying that the present credit crisis and the governments’ response to it is something out of Atlas Shrugged. So it clearly annoys leftists that she is still cited in this fashion. The fact that Rand is part of the current intellectual conversation is one reason why I am not quite as gloomy about the state of affairs in this world than I might otherwise have been. Let’s face it, had one of her former acolytes, Alan Greenspan, stuck to his early disdain for central banking before he became part of the system, we might not be in this mess today.
This blog looks pretty interesting for critical fans of Rand.