More than a few people have pointed me to this supposed review of Jeff Britting’s short biography Ayn Rand, recently published in the London Review of Books. The essay isn’t actually a review at all, since the author “Jenny Turner” spent just 2 of 44 paragraphs discussing the book. That’s the least of its faults, unfortunately.
The only good news about the essay is that Front Range Objectivism is mentioned in a neutral way, albeit in the midst of a mixture of genuine and pretend Objectivist organizations and publications. All the rest is nothing but bad news.
For example, she dismisses and condemns Objectivism without any explanation of Ayn Rand’s ideas and without any argument against them.
The basic principles of Objectivism, as enumerated at the back of Atlas Shrugged, are:
1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality
2. Epistemology: Reason
3. Ethics: Self-interest
4. Politics: Capitalism
Apparently, Rand originally gave these answers while standing on one leg, having been challenged to do so. The relationship with reality, the universe, whatever, is cribbed from Aristotle, and isn’t very interesting. The ethics and politics, on the other hand, are bizarre. Conservative, the Americans call them, except that there are respects in which they aren’t; ‘right-wing’ would be more accurate, except that it sounds so relative and mealy-mouthed. ‘Rational selfishness’ was a phrase Rand used. ‘Egotism’ and ‘egoism’ — not a native speaker of English, for a long time she didn’t know the difference — were others. The Virtue of Selfishness (1964) is a key text in the Objectivist canon. So is 1966′s Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.
Pardon my French, but… what the fuck?!? Jenny Turner hems and haws for a nice long sentence about the proper description of the Objectivist politics, but cannot be bothered to tell her readers what Ayn Rand’s advocacy of capitalism means! Similarly, she doesn’t even offer a sentence on egoism, but instead snipes at Ayn Rand for the innocent mistake of confusing terminology?!? And before any of that, she dismisses both as “bizarre”!
Later, in a discussion of The Fountainhead, the author cannot be bothered to explain Dominique’s attempts to destroy Roark, but merely describes her as “the beautiful, rich, super-intelligent heiress who loves [Roark], and thus, for reasons too baroque to go into, spends hundreds of pages marrying his enemies and doing all she can to destroy him.” Yet she feel perfectly safe declaring, after a paragraph of such mostly irrelevant one-sentence summaries of the major characters:
So The Fountainhead is trash, but trash of the most bewitchingly odd lines and angles. Concrete and steel, housing projects and department stores, left-wing intellectuals and Irish construction workers, Citizen Kane–like newspaper headlines–all these are forced between the blades of a gigantic shredder, flying out kaleidoscopically in odd new configurations. Characters move in and out of each other’s airspace, ranting and declaiming. It’s a mad and maddening farrago of sex and Modernism; it’s like Tamara de Lempicka’s compellingly horrible Art Deco paintings, but because it’s done in words, not brushstrokes, it leaves you with a feeling that it must somehow be amenable to sense.
The first sentence is at least comprehensible, but the rest is utterly meaningless literary garbage. To complete the injustice, she is falsely accusing Ayn Rand of perpetrating her kind of nonsense in the novel.
I cannot bear to detail the horrors of the rest of the essay, but let me close by quoting the final awful paragraph, which begins with a quote from Ayn Rand from “Inexplicable Personal Alchemy”:
‘One feels: “This injustice (or terror or falsehood or frustration or pain or agony) is the exception in life, not the rule. One feels certain that somewhere on earth . . . a proper human way of life is possible to human beings.”‘ Thus the voice of utopian idealism, heard most often, during the last century, from the left. But hearing it in Rand’s accent may cause us to apprehend in it a different note: the nag nag nagging of a life lived and squandered in fantasy, never to be satisfied by any happiness on this earth.
Although the content of the article consists of little more than stomach-turning dishonesty, the basic methodology of the author is so much more revolting. She never offers any clear and comprehensible statements of Ayn Rand’s views, so that her readers may judge them for themselves. She never offers anything remotely resembling an argument against them. Instead, she relies upon vague insinuations, nasty sniping, and outright lies. And that tells us far more about Jenny Turner than Ayn Rand.