In an economic crisis, two writers will automatically have their names bandied about and both will see their posthumous sales go through the roof: Karl Marx and Ayn Rand. As soon as the shit hit the proverbial fan a few years ago, many went out to buy Capital and The Communist Manifesto. And more recently, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are back in the limelight.
On the left, you have people waving Marx and shouting I told you so (while complicit in their own downfall) and on the right you have people hoisting Rand aloft in order to justify their ‘rational self-interest’. And, until recently I had both on my shelves at home. I read The Communist Manifesto as an undergraduate and it now sits among the other classics. It just seems like on of those books that everyone should own, alongside Machiavelli’s The Prince and Orwell’s political essays: works that give you a wider political perspective.
I say ‘recently’ as Ayn Rand now lives in my local charity shop (irony of ironies!) after my last cull of reading material. The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged were big favourites of mine when I was younger. I totally bought into the objectivist message and the justification for being a selfish arsehole. Howard Roark was a hero, to be admired and emulated and his uncompromising vision was an inspiration – even if Rand’s prose was a little too overwrought. But time hasn’t been kind to Roark. Revisiting him a few years ago, I found him to be a bit of a dullard and a misogynist. He’s not so much single-minded as a sociopathic and monomaniacal in his outlook. I found a great quote from Nora Ephron on this same realisation: “[The Fountainhead] is better read when one is young enough to miss the point. Otherwise, one cannot help thinking it is a very silly book.”
This sums it up really. You either have – in my opinion – to be an adolescent to love her work, or merely adolescent in your view of the world. At the stage when Rand is at her most convincing, most are also convinced that the world does indeed revolve around them, that they are completely misunderstood, and that the world owes them something.
An article on Alternet today has further criticism of Rand: How Ayn Rand Brought You Kim Kardashian and the Cult of Self-Obsessed Celebrity.
Now, I can forgive her for her awful prose and her misguided philosophy, but I’m just not sure that I’ll ever get past her birthing the like of Kim Kardashian and her vacuous and narcissistic ilk. It’s just too much to ask…