It’s rare for PhD theses to be turned into good books, but I am glad to report that with Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right Jennifer Burns has beaten the odds. Her book is readable and interesting throughout.
There was one paradox of Rand’s work and legacy that particularly caught my eye after last year’s discussion of liberalism and the emotions. Rand thought that the emotions should always come from rationality; even sex was to be inspired by a recognition of shared values rather than physical attraction (a convenient idea for a woman in love with a much younger man). It sounds like an extreme version of the liberal emphasis on reason and rules over prejudices and passions.
Far more than any other of the libertarian figures of the 20th century (though because you could only be with Rand or against her, she refused to have anything to do with the libertarian movement as it did not adhere to her philosophy of Objectivism), in her novels Rand spoke to the emotions of her readers. Burns writes: ‘Be true to yourself, Rand’s books teach, sounding a resonant note with the power to reshape lives.’ She says that Rand has always appealed to the ‘accomplished yet alienated overachiever’.
Even in libertarian circles, relatively few people are lasting adherents of Rand’s political philosophy. In my experience, those who do are often, like Rand herself, dogmatic personalities unwilling to listen to other people’s ideas. But Jerome Tuccille’s book title It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand nicely captures her effect. Rand’s novels engage teenagers and early 20-somethings in a way that more theoretical books cannot, but often lead them to more mainstream libertarian or classical liberal ideas.
I first came across Rand in my teens, but though then a prolific novel reader I could never finish Atlas Shrugged’s thousand pages. Perhaps my temperament is just too far from Rand’s. But for many others Rand’s books, if not Rand herself, were inspirations.