Thursday, February 5, 2015

American Randstand

No, this is not about the stylings of Rand Paul, but about those of the woman for whom he was so happily named, the operatic Ayn Rand.  She is beloved by many in our Glorious Union who would likely be appalled at some of the opinions she spouted so dramatically while reviling so many in her time on this Earth.

While not quite the equal of Frantic Freddie Nietzsche (one the philosophers she borrowed from) when it comes to histrionics, she was a marvel of melodrama and self-promotion.  It's sad, in a way, that she failed in the Hollywood career she hoped for when first in this country.  It may be argued she was made for Hollywood.  But I think she would have succeeded there only as an actress in silent movies, making the grand gestures and casting the feverish and longing glares and glances required in that medium; not as a screenwriter.  One shudders when one thinks of the author of the immense and preposterous Atlas Shrugged writing screenplays.

While she said and wrote many sensible things, I can only wonder how and why she has become a kind of totem of the American Right Wing.  The fact she is not popular with others is not so difficult to understand.

Her philosophy seems to have been almost entirely derivative, mostly of Aristotle and certain of the ancient pagan philosophers who lauded happiness as the greatest good, but with some Nietzsche and others thrown in.  Aristotle it is said was something of a dandy in his dress, and so may be considered a bit showy, but it's hard to imagine him as a hero to this woman who seemed to feel that only heroes, and spectacular ones at that, are worthwhile (or perhaps it's more accurate to say worthy of her, or desirable to her).  She was not a careful, analytic writer, preferring like Nietzsche to make grand statements and proclaim what she felt was the truth.  Although a proponent of reason, she seemed uncomfortable or impatient with reasoning.  For her, truth was self-evident, and it was or should have been self-evident that she knew the truth.

Her fiction is filled with heroes, but strangely self-regarding heroes, all of whom are geniuses and beautiful, and all of whom are beset by evil, dwarfish figures out to thwart them in their unending production of works of genius, or at least to leech off them.  Her novels are overblown, garrulous fairy tales where all is black and white, good and bad.  The fairy tale is sometimes interrupted by lectures given by a stern, elite figure.  She seems to me to have been an elitist of the first order.

That's one of the reasons why I wonder at her popularity among those on the Right.  I would think that her vision of a world dominated by a kind of technological and scientific elite, along with her atheism and favorable view of abortion, would appall her political admirers.  She is not a democratic thinker at all, and her hatred of collectivism seems tinged with a contempt for the "common herd."  But this doesn't bother those who claim to be her followers or devotees.  They seem to be very selective in their enthusiasm for her work.  But perhaps this implacable admiration of her is a peculiarity of the modern Right only.  Whittaker Chambers, a communist who became a conservative and so something of a zealot of the conservative cause, wrote a devastating critique of Atlas Shrugged when it first appeared.

Henry Hazlitt, a friend of hers for a time at least, wrote an engaging little book about the Stoic philosophers.  Rand was clearly not a Stoic, though, as she seems to have been excessively focused on people and things not in her control.  She certainly allowed them to disturb her mightily, and resented them greatly.   Her worship of greatness (or her view of it) is also problematic from the Stoic perspective, as it devolves into a desire for success of a material kind.

Perhaps this is what makes her attractive to some.  She is a kind of apologist for success and the successful, and better yet is one who attributes success to self-regard and the disregard of others but oneself and those few who merit one's attention or are one's respectful followers.  It must be gratifying to learn from someone who believed herself to be and is considered by many to have been a great philosopher that one owes to others nothing at all.  Philosophers have speculated regarding the attributes of the ideal or wise man, the man of virtue.  The Stoics' ideal man was the virtuous Stoic Sage.  If her novels are any guide, Rand's ideal man was essentially an asshole.

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