Commentaries on Ayn Rand’s Centenary

 Posted by on 31 January 2005 at 9:14 am  Uncategorized
Jan 312005

In my “Ayn Rand” Google News Alert, I’ve noticed a bunch of articles on Ayn Rand as the 100th anniversary of her birth approaches. (It’s this Wednesday.) Most have been positive, but this passage from a Chicago Tribune article struck me as particularly interesting, even pleasant:

Read at the right moment in one’s life — usually in late adolescence, when the world seems like a tangled mess of hypocrisy and confusion, and you hate your parents and especially that stupid assistant principal who is seriously on your case — “Atlas Shrugged” is a tonic, a dream, a throat-scalding draft of pure, radiant clarity. You feel as if you’ve been walking upside down for most of your life, seeing things the wrong way, and now — now — suddenly you’re right-side up again and everything starts to make sense. Turns out it was the world that was upside down, not you.

But here’s the funny thing: Re-reading Rand as an adult in 2005 is not what you thought it would be. It’s not a “Oh, wow, what a chump I was!” feeling. In fact, the ideas from “Atlas Shrugged” you thought you had outgrown don’t seem all that outlandish, after all. The themes you abandoned as hopelessly naive and almost comically operatic — all those fist-shaking tirades about human destiny, all those “Greed is good!” screeds that predate Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” by three decades — somehow start making a bit of sense again, in a world upended by religious fanaticism and a nation crippled by soaring government deficits.

Flaws and all, “Atlas Shrugged” still is a powerful novel, a sweeping epic that either pulls you into its sphere or scares the bejesus out of you, or maybe both.

Generally, I have little patience or respect for people who dismiss Ayn Rand’s ideas as an aberration of their youth. Upon reading this passage, I suspect that many (if not most) of them would be just as captivated by The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged now as they were so many years ago. In at least some cases, I suspect that that’s precisely why they stay away: Ayn Rand would upset the fuzzy, compromising, pragmatic life they’ve made for themselves.


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