OPEN Magazine: “Reason is All”

Book review published by Sudha G. Tilak of OPEN Magazine:

A new biography of Ayn Rand takes us closer to one of the more complex literary personalities of the last century.

Revisiting Rand has never been as interesting as reading Heller’s striking biography.

Revisiting Rand has never been as interesting as reading Heller’s striking biography.

It is impossible to have not known or read Ayn Rand. For most readers, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged were an introduction into the muscular world of Rand and her approach to individualism against collectivism. The appeal of Howard Roark, the young architect hero of The Fountainhead (published in 1943), who chased an individualistic approach, resisting the traditional, was enormous on her readers. Atlas Shrugged (1957), led by the hero John Galt, again spoke of a world where the government takes over collective control and the individual is expected to toe in, giving up on his mind and desires.

Rand’s influence on America had been a powerful one as a polemicist on objectivism, and her philosophy of staunch individualism, reason, capitalism or market economy found many supporters, especially among right-wingers. Rand’s compelling and persuasive philosophy about the pursuit of money and her career as a Hollywood screenwriter added to make her one of the most interesting personalities of our times.

At 19, Galt and Roark’s petitions as young rebels seeking subjective gratification against a monochromatic social or governmental order held great appeal for her supporters. Both in her times and later, Rand’s theories were challenged for advocacy of vulgar, selfish satisfaction and egoism. Whatever the position, Rand’s influence remains powerful and her books continue to sell in thousands.

Revisiting Rand has never been as interesting as reading Heller’s striking biography. It takes us closer to the creature that Rand was, a compelling entity whose advocacy of rebellion and individualism held a mesmeric quality over those around her, even detractors who rejected her idea of wealth. Heller includes interesting details of how Rand would wear dollar pins on her dress to advocate her support for capitalism, though she did not attach much importance to wealth when she gave up her royalties. Heller points out that for Rand, the wealth of ideas amounted to the intellectual capital she so cherished in her own life. Alan Greenspan might find her ideas appealing, but at heart Rand’s philosophy owed more to Nietzsche, hints Heller.

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Fox & Friends: The Morality of Money

On the subject of Ayn Rand and money, more remains to be said than time permitted on Fox & Friends on April 30 (video below). Here are a few essential passages from Rand that I especially like and that illuminate her views. The first, a fictional scenario,  comes from a 1963 essay called “The Money Making-Personality”:”*

“Suppose you have observed two young men on their way through college and, on graduation day, are asked to tell which one of them will make a fortune,” Rand proposed. “Let’s call them Smith and Jones. Both are intelligent [and] ambitious. . . . Smith is aggressively social and very popular. He belongs to many campus groups and is usually their leader. Jones is quiet, reserved; he is usually noticed but neither liked nor disliked; some people resent him for no apparent reason. . . .

“Smith adjusts himself to people easily, but finds it harder to adjust himself to changing circumstances. Jones adjusts himself to circumstances, but is inflexible with regard to people.

“Smith’s scholastic grades are uniformly excellent. Jones’s grades are irregular: he rates ‘A plus’ in some subjects and ‘C’ in others.

“Smith’s image in people’s minds is one of sunny cheerfulness. Jones’s image is grimly earnest. But some rare, fleeting signs seem to indicate that in the privacy of their inner worlds their roles are reversed: it is Jones who is serenely cheerful and Smith who is driven by some grimly nameless dread.

“Which would you choose as the future fortune maker?

“If you subscribe to the currently prevalent ideas, you would choose Smith–and you would be wrong. Jones is the archetype of the Money-Maker, while Smith is a deceptive facsimile who will never make money, though he may become rich; to describe him accurately, one would have to call him the ‘Money-Appropriator.’

Rand’s readers will recognize more than a trace of Peter Keating and Howard Roark in these descriptions. For Rand, the person of reason, purpose, and independent self-esteem is able to create value–add something new to the world–and so cannot only  acquire money but also create wealth.

As to making money, here is what Rand wrote in Atlas Shrugged:

“If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose–because it contains all the others–the fact that they were the people who created the phrase, ‘to make money.’ No other language or nation had ever used these words before. Men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity–to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted, or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created. The words ‘to make money’ hold the essence of human morality.”

Finally, also from Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged, there is this:

“An honest man is one who knows that he can’t consume more than he has produced.”

As to the Francisco d’Anconia quote that Fox & Friends flashed onscreen at the beginning of the Rand segment (“‘Let me give you a tip on a clue to men’s characters. The man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it'”), the statement doesn’t exclude the possibility that some people who have obtained their money dishonorably–by extracting rather than adding value or new wealth to the economy–will extol it, such as CDO gamblers Richard Perry and John Paulson may well do.

President Obama’s videotaped cry that “at a certain point, I do think you’ve made enough money,” is surely naïve: Who has made enough money? At what point in the wealth-creation cycle is enough enough? And who will collect the “excess,” whatever that means?

Yet I did not intend to suggest or agree with Gretchen Carlson and Steve Doocy that Obama is right for the part of Ellsworth M. Toohey, attempting to “squash the American Dream.” The national dream is of making money, not appropriating it. I think Obama, confused as he may have been, made it clear that he agrees.

* “The Money-Making Personality” appeared in the April, 1963 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. (That was two years before the less idea-driven Helen Gurley Brown took over). It was republished in The Objectivist Forum in February, 1983.

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