As the 2012 Presidential conventions and election draw near, Jonathan Chait’s 2009 essay on Ayn Rand for The New Republic casts light on the timely issue of whether and to what degree the achievement of wealth and the possession of moral virtues go together. 

By Jonathan Chait, The New Republic


The current era of Democratic governance has provoked a florid response on the right, ranging from the prosaic (routine denunciations of big spending and debt) to the overheated (fears of socialism) to the lunatic (the belief that Democrats plan to put the elderly to death). Amid this cacophony of rage and dread, there has emerged one anxiety that is an actual idea, and not a mere slogan or factual misapprehension. The idea is that the United States is divided into two classes–the hard-working productive elite, and the indolent masses leeching off their labor by means of confiscatory taxes and transfer programs.

You can find iterations of this worldview and this moral judgment everywhere on the right. Consider a few samples of the rhetoric. In an op-ed piece last spring, Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, called for conservatives to wage a “culture war” over capitalism. “Social Democrats are working to create a society where the majority are net recipients of the ‘sharing economy,’ ” he wrote. “Advocates of free enterprise . . . have to declare that it is a moral issue to confiscate more income from the minority simply because the government can.” Brooks identified the constituency for his beliefs as “the people who were doing the important things right–and who are now watching elected politicians reward those who did the important things wrong.” Senator Jim DeMint echoed this analysis when he lamented that “there are two Americas but not the kind John Edwards was talking about. It’s not so much the haves and the have-nots. It’s those who are paying for government and those who are getting government.”

Continue reading

Announcing the Paperback

Dear Friends and Readers,

I hope this letter finds you well; I am pleased to announce the paperback edition Ayn Rand and the World She Made (Anchor Books, Reprint edition, October 2010).

Ayn Rand and the World She Made is widely acknowledged to be the first complete and impartial biography of one of the most significant, controversial, and underexamined figures of the twentieth century, a woman whose ideals of radical individualism, limited government, and heroic self-restraint, expressed in her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, have permanently altered the American cultural and political landscape.

As many of you already know, the book is based on original archival research in Russia, scores of interviews with Rand’s former colleagues and acolytes, and previously unexamined collections of tapes and letters. In the words of The Wall Street JournalAyn Rand and the World She Made is “…a thoroughly researched, immensely readable portrait of a sui generis thinker who was fiercely committed to her ideals yet whose life contained fascinating contradictions.”

Among the highlights contained in Ayn Rand and the World She Made are:

  • Access to private, unpublished taped interviews with Ayn Rand
    reminiscing about her life
  • Important discoveries from the Russian National archives
  • Hundred of hours of personal interviews with Rand’s now-aging followers

As our political dialogue about the size of government, rich vs. middle class, and freedom and security becomes increasingly polarized, Rand’s ideas are once again at the forefront of the American conversation. Ayn Rand and the World She Made examines how a young, non-English speaking Jewish immigrant from Communist Russia became a literary giant, cultural icon, and irrespressible influence whose theories continue to reverberate today.

I invite you to purchase a copy and as always I welcome your thoughts and comments.

All the best,

SiFy.com: Ayn Rand Remains a Divisive, Embarrassing Figure

An Indian Connection

By Sarita Ravindranath

Her two major novels are often quoted to be the most influential books after The Bible.

She has been revered – by a legion of followers that range from Alan Greenspan to Angelina Jolie, from students to CEOs to pop icons to anyone who wants to defy convention or authority – as passionately as she has been reviled by literary critics.

But there was very little the world knew about Ayn Rand, philosopher and author of the still-bestselling The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), till recently. When she died in 1982, even her closest associates weren’t aware of the Russia-born Ayn Rand’s real name: Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum.

It was only in 2009 that the first “critical” biography of this writer, whose books returned to the bestseller list after recession hit the world in 2007, was published.

Journalist Anne C Heller‘s Ayn Rand and the World She Made,( Nan A. Talese/Tranquebar), escaped the fate of Rand’s own novels, which were trashed by newspapers and literary magazines of the day. Critics loved the book (“Far more interesting than anything in Rand’s novels”, said the New York Times) and a paperback edition of the biography is out this week.

Heller, the former fiction editor of Esquire and Redbook, discovered Rand and her speech in defence of money (Atlas Shrugged) as an adult in her forties – unlike most of her peers who read Rand in their teens. “I became a strong admirer, albeit one with many questions and reservations,” she says.

Ayn Rand and the World She Made traces Rand’s early life, her escape from Communist Russia and her life as a Hollywood screenwriter before she found fame with The Fountainhead. The book exposes the terrible contradictions that built the Ayn Rand cult: The champion of individuality expected and demanded total conformity from her acolytes. Rand was a cheerleader for the free market economy, but never got around to investing her own money.

Heller writes of how Rand first found her hero – not in America – but between the pages of an illustrated story set in British-ruled West Bengal that she read when she was nine. Cyrus, the brave, arrogant British hero of The Mysterious Valley who slays “savage” Indian villains, was her “first love”. The template for her fictional heroes and the ones she looked for in real life.

Anne Heller is the first outside Rand’s inner circle to chronicle the writer’s explosive extra-marital affair with her former fan Nathaniel Branden, 25 years her junior. Their spouses consented to the affair and were the only ones who knew of it during Rand’s lifetime.

In an exclusive interview with sify.com, Heller speaks about the larger-than-life world that Ayn Rand created, her philosophy and the curious appeal of her novels to the young.

Read the Interview >


Book Review: Balancing the Books, Noble Solitude


Magatte Wade reviews Anne C. Heller’s new book, Ayn Rand and the World She Made.

This biography of immigrant, novelist, philosopher and moral crusader Ayn Rand should fascinate even those who have never cared about Rand’s novels or philosophy. Devotees of such perennial bestsellers as The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged should find Rand’s own story just as compelling, although for somewhat different reasons.

An ambitious young woman arrives from Russia and works her way to success. Along the way she marries Frank O’Connor, a devoted suitor, only to indulge in a series of crushes on younger men while married, culminating in the nightmarish affair with her associate Nathaniel Branden. The affair between Rand and Branden, conducted with the full knowledge and approval of both their spouses, reveals the tragic flaw in this larger-than-life woman.

Rand made rationality the foundation of her Objectivist philosophy. But she was in fact the slave to her vanity, egotism, pride and lust. It is heart-wrenching to watch Rand destroy her husband, who is gradually reduced to drinking himself to death while Rand and Branden conduct their liaisons. When Branden finally broke with Rand after having an affair he kept secret from both her and his wife, Rand becomes increasingly brittle, breaking off with all but her most obsequious followers.

It is hard not to admire Rand’s extraordinary strength of will. She was a visionary who saw the value of capitalism and entrepreneurship when virtually all of the intelligentsia had turned against these principles. She was a powerfully sexual woman at a time when traditional sex roles still reigned–and for that reason alone, feminists ought to respect her. But by believing only in herself, she gradually separated herself from everyone except Frank O’Connor and supporter Leonard Peikoff, a young man who was too weak to take a stand against her.

With Frank incontinent and suffering from dementia, the thinker who emphasized “the virtue of selfishness” was left in her old age lying on rubber sheets next to the man she had destroyed. The novelist who stood above all for the dignity of the individual human spirit ended her late years largely alone and without dignity.

Anne Heller’s biography is an unforgettable portrait of a great woman who inspired noble ideals, but who was personally undone by her own dark side. •

Senegalese entrepreneur Magatte Wade, founder of Adina World Beverages, writes for the Huffington Post and blogs at magatte.wordpress.com.

Read the Original >



Book Review: Exasperating But Necessary

Ayn Rand was a kind of 20th-Century Jonathan Swift, with a keen eye for the inhumane underbelly of the humanitarian project

Published :1 November 2010

AYN RAND WAS ONE OF THOSE WRITERS who exert immense influence in spite of being burdened with an unenviable critical reputation. The consensus among literary types is that her novels and essays are utterly derivative, two-dimensional and dogmatic. This has not prevented her from becoming a heroine to thousands of activists on the libertarian wing of conservative politics in the USA and elsewhere. No other apologist for ‘free markets and free minds’ has been loved quite so ardently by the battalion of youthful ideologues who regard capitalism as God’s greatest gift to mankind. The likes of Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman are all more highly esteemed by academics, but their work remains the property of the few. Only Rand has won the hearts of the rank and file.

One of the reasons for Rand’s cult status is the epic sweep of her life, which has now been recreated with great facility in Anne C Heller’s fascinating biography. Born in St Petersburg in 1905 to an affluent Jewish family, Rand spent her early years in a Russia traumatised by the decline of Czarism and the rise of communism. She seems to have been ferociously intelligent and unashamedly weird from early childhood onwards. Solitary, bookish and contemptuous of her mother’s social pretensions, she responded to the October Revolution with horror but took full advantage of the Soviet government’s policy of expanding the number of Jews in higher education. She had already sketched the outlines of what she would later call her ‘objectivist’ philosophy by the time she graduated from Petrograd State University in 1924.

American writer and philosopher Ayn Rand espoused her philosophy of objectivism and ‘rational selfishness’ in her novels, which included The Fountainhead.

Granted a visa to leave the Soviet Union in 1926, Rand fled immediately to the USA and remained there until her death in 1982. Her first three decades in the States were devoted to a tireless effort to achieve success as a writer of fiction. While working as a playwright and Hollywood scriptwriter she set out to dramatise her ideas in a series of novels, two of which—The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957)—became runaway bestsellers and remain her most widely read works. The latter in particular illustrates her enormously melodramatic cast of mind with great vividness. Set in an America where the smooth workings of the free market are increasingly undermined by industrial militancy, it lovingly depicts a co-ordinated attempt by the ruling elite to rid itself of the working-class menace. Its simple but arresting premise is that the best way for the capitalist class to reclaim control of society is to bend the strike weapon to its own purposes. Led by the improbably Promethean John Galt, Rand’s heavily idealised clerisy of industrialists, financiers and scientists simply remove themselves to a mountain retreat and refuse to put their talents (or their money) at the disposal of the common herd. The result is that America grinds to a halt as the limits of ordinary people’s competence rapidly become apparent. No other book has ever communicated love for the rich and contempt for the poor as vehemently as this.

Rand’s success as a novelist emboldened her into trying her luck as a leader of men. In the early 1950s she began to surround herself with a small group of disciples, each of whom was expected to play a role in popularising her objectivist philosophy. Among the most able of her early acolytes was the young Alan Greenspan, whose obdurate devotion to free-market principles came close to sinking the American economy when he served as Chairman of the Federal Reserve between 1987 and 2006. Inspired by the thought that she was doing more than anyone else to inoculate the public mind against socialism, Rand wrote voluminous amounts of non-fiction in her later years and eventually became the high priest of a substantial libertarian subculture. More than one writer has commented on the tension between her ostensible principles and her treatment of her followers. She was clearly the sort of person who loved the idea of individual liberty in the abstract but expected iron discipline from her associates in practice. As the British philosopher John Gray has recently reminded us, she even insisted—or at least was rumoured to insist—that her fellow objectivists use the same sort of cigarette holder as she used herself. Nor was she averse to inflicting terrible pain on the people closest to her. In her late 40s she openly embarked on an extramarital affair with Nathaniel Branden, the author and polemicist who later founded the Nathaniel Branden Institute in order to promote objectivist ideas. Rand’s position was that Branden’s wife and her own husband should accept the affair without demur. Why should the gifted be bound by the same standards as everyone else?

Continue Reading >

New York Times Profiles Pamela Geller, 10/10/2010

“The outrageous and the solemn are deeply intertwined in [Pamela Geller’s] character,” writes the Times. “Ms. Geller admits to using Atlas Shrugs (http://atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com/) to test topics significant (the conflict in Sudan) and outlandish (that a young Barack Obama slept with ‘a crack whore’). She has taken up arms against ‘honor killings’ as well as against a Disneyland employee who fought to wear a head scarf. She inspires laughs at sites like Loonwatch, but critics say her influence is serious: a spreading fear of Islam and a dehumanization of Muslims comparable to the sometimes-violent anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism of earlier eras. Even some of her former right-wing allies say she has gone too far.”

Continue reading at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/nyregion/10geller.html?_r=1&hp.