Recently there was an explosion of bilious joy on Twitter at the news that among the four million or so Paycheck Protection Program loans that the government handed out to keep people employed during the coronavirus shutdown of the economy, there was one that was accepted by the Ayn Rand Institute.
“Today seems like a good day to remind you that Ayn Rand has provided the justification for unbridled selfishness and contempt for the common good,” wrote former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who served in the Clinton administration. “Her ideas must be firmly and unequivocally rejected – not subsidized by American taxpayers.”
Leaving aside the point that the PPP loans are not a subsidy of anyone’s ideas, it’s interesting that a writer provokes this level of hostility so many years after the publication of her work.
“‘Ayn Rand’ is trending now so maybe we’ve finally hit rock bottom in this awful year,” was one of the printable comments posted by the angry crowd on Twitter.
Who was Ayn Rand?
Ayn (rhymes with “fine”) Rand was born in Russia in 1905 and died in New York City in 1982. In between, she wrote books, articles and newspaper columns. She created a philosophy that she named “Objectivism,” and people like Robert Reich are still attacking her over it.
Reich tweeted a five-minute video that he created in 2018 to attack Rand for her influence on people in and around the Trump administration, including then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and President Trump himself. During the 2016 campaign, Trump told USA Today that Rand’s 1943 novel, “The Fountainhead,” was his favorite book.
“Donald Trump once said he identified with Ayn Rand’s character, Howard Roark, in ‘The Fountainhead,’” Reich sneered in his Twitter video, “an architect so upset that a housing project he designed didn’t meet specifications that he had it dynamited.”
Actually, the book is about the battle of a individual who thinks independently and builds great achievements against a world filled with frightened and officious “secondhanders” who try to tear him down for not doing things the way other people do them.
Luckily for people who think independently, the written word is an immortal communication from one mind to another. No interpreter or intermediary is required. “The Fountainhead” still speaks to people who find in its pages the inspiration, encouragement and strength to follow their own path.
Another of Rand’s books that Reich said people must reject is “Atlas Shrugged,” published in 1957. It’s the story of what happens to the world when the long-abused people who think independently are quietly persuaded to withdraw their services. The individual who persuaded them later tells the rest of the world, suffering for lack of solutions, “No, you do not have to think; it is an act of moral choice. But someone had to think to keep you alive…I have removed your means of survival, your victims.”
In the last lecture she gave before she died, Rand addressed a group of businessmen on the topic of “The Sanction of the Victim.” We saw a recent illustration of this concept when Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther was told by a judge that she could avoid a jail sentence for operating her “non-essential” business in violation of the law only if she apologized. But Luther, who said she and her stylists had had no income from March until May because of the stay-at-home order, defended her actions. “Feeding my kids is not selfish,” she said.
The judge desperately sought the sanction of the victim. He wanted her to say the law was right and she was wrong. She didn’t think so, and she wouldn’t say it.
Which of those two people would you want in the room if you were trying to accomplish something?
Ayn Rand’s essays and newspaper columns, in addition to her novels, are available to anyone who would like to think independently about her ideas instead of accepting someone else’s characterization of them. “The Voice of Reason” is one collection. “The Ayn Rand Column” is another.
In August 1962, Rand wrote a column for the L.A. Times about the death of Marilyn Monroe. “If ever there was a victim of society, Marilyn Monroe was that victim — of a society that professes dedication to the relief of the suffering, but kills the joyous.” Rand writes of the “limitless swamp of malice” that the actress found when she reached the top. “It was much worse than envy,” she wrote, “it was hatred of the good for being the good — hatred of ability, of beauty, of honesty, of earnestness, of achievement and, above all, of human joy.”
In “The Romantic Manifesto,” Rand writes about film, theater, music, fiction and the meaning of the messages in our culture. If you’d like to read her thoughts about the reason for the enduring popularity of superhero and detective stories, pick it up.The intensity of the hostility to Rand’s work is an acknowledgment of the power of ideas to change long-held beliefs. In “Atlas Shrugged,” Rand writes of the misery caused by the “Morality of Death,” a code that “begins by damning man as evil, then demands that he practice a good which it defines as impossible for him to practice.”
Measure those words against modern calls for everything from “reducing your carbon footprint” to “social distancing.”
In her final lecture, Rand concluded by quoting from “Atlas Shrugged”:
“The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours. But to win it requires your total dedication and a total break with the world of your past, with the doctrine that man is a sacrificial animal who exists for the pleasure of others. Fight for the value of your person. Fight for the virtue of your pride. Fight for the essence of that which is man: for his sovereign, rational mind. Fight with the radiant certainty and the absolute rectitude of knowing that yours is the Morality of Life and that yours is the battle for any achievement, any value, any grandeur, any goodness, any joy that has ever existed on this earth.”
Why are so many people so hostile to the ideas of Ayn Rand? Take nobody’s word for it. See for yourself.
Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. Susan@SusanShelley.com. Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.