There’s a new biography on Ayn Rand just hitting the book shelves: Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right by Jennifer Burns which takes a look at Rand’s influence within the libertarian and conservative movements. Sounds pretty interesting and Ilya Somin over at Volokh Conspiracy has a nice review that should be read in its entirety. Here’s a piece:
I was never much influenced by Rand or impressed by her writings. I became a libertarian in high school primarily as a result of reading Friedman, Hayek, Nozick, and Thomas Sowell – and because being a refugee from communism prevented me from becoming a left-liberal, as would otherwise have been likely. I also read some of Rand’s books at that time. But I wasn’t impressed with her effort to defend free markets based on her theory of the “virtue of selfishness.” or her “Objectivist” philosophy. Many of her ideas seemed poorly developed or superficial. I was also turned off by her intolerance for disagreement and her lack of serious effort to engage with opposing points of view.
I still think these criticisms of Rand are largely accurate. There was, however, one important point that I underrated: Ayn Rand was the greatest popularizer of libertarian ideas of the last 100 years. Many more people have read Rand’s books than have read all the works of Friedman, Hayek, Mises, Nozick, and all the other modern libertarian thinkers combined. In becoming a libertarian without any influence from Rand, I was actually unusual. Over the last 15 years, I have met a large number of libertarian intellectuals and activists of the last two generations, including some of the most famous. More often than not, reading Rand influenced their conversion to libertarianism, even though very few fully endorse her theories or consider themselves Objectivists. Burns quotes Milton Friedman’s perceptive assessment of Rand as “an utterly intolerant and dogmatic person who did a great deal of good.” I think he was probably right.
Indeed. Rand’s life almost took on an Animal Farm feel as she escaped the intolerance of communism to form her own ideology that made her incredibly intolerant. Nevertheless, libertarianism without Rand is like a burger without the bun. Interestingly, today you really have two factions of libertarianism which I call left-libertarian and right-libertarian. The Libertarian Party and publications like Reason Magazine tend to go the left-libertarian route with a strong dislike of any and all military action and covert intelligence operations, along with sprinkles of Ron Paul paranoia about the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderbergs. Right-libertarians, of which I consider myself one, are strong defenders of capitalism, justifiable military action and personal freedom with occasional sprinkles of pro-lifers and term-limit supporters. Granted, I am biased on the issue, but libertarianism’s natural partnership is with conservatives and not liberals. Ultimately, libertarianism has to stand not just on ideology but rationality, i.e. going with what works.
But hey, that’s my opinion. If you don’t agree, that’s cool. Rand wouldn’t stand for it, but I take a different approach. As long as I have some good cigars in the humidor and some aged whisky on hand, I know I’ll be relatively content while I watch the world burn.