Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“Why do they always teach us that it’s easy and evil to do what we want and that we need discipline to restrain ourselves? It’s the hardest thing in the world–to do what we want. And it takes the greatest kind of courage. I mean, what we really want.”
― Ayn Rand
There are people I dislike at a visceral level but after reading a biography or memoir I at least understand them. I may even discover redeeming qualities in them. Not so with Ayn Rand – she was a hideously heartless human being.
A Russian immigrant, she came to the United States as the best hope her family had for immigrating after she succeeded in making a comfortable life for herself. Her father’s favorite, she was intelligent and well educated. Every member of her family sacrificed their own aspirations in order for her to complete her education and to immigrate. She did not repay their sacrifices. Instead she rationalized that, as a superior person, she deserved what she received. Furthermore, she rejected anyone who did anything against their own interest as inferior. Not one member of her family immigrated to the U.S. after her.
Throughout her life this scenario repeated itself. She accepted help from American relatives, took advantage of friend’s offers, and used her meek husband to achieve her goals. Ultimately, she used, abused and abandoned admirers and followers without even blinking an eye. Hers was an ego so large that there was no room for a conscience. Self aggrandisement and a hatred for communism colored her world view.
Incomprehensibly, she did have charisma. Her followers adored her and hung on her every word. A great many influential conservative men – Alan Greenspan and William F. Buckley among them – were not only “acolytes” but went on to give her “philosophy” credence. I say “philosophy” because she never actually wrote any academic works delineating her beliefs.
She is best known for her early screenplays and fiction – Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, for example. She also self-published non-fiction and essays and gave speeches in favor of conservative candidates. It is from these that her admirers have cobbled her philosophy of Objectivism – objective self interest. It is now variously misinterpreted by the Tea Party, many conservative Republicans and Libertarians. Interestingly, she would have rejected all of her current admirers. In fact. in more than one occasion she talked and wrote that she despised Libertarians and rejected anyone who believed in religion as inferior.
While the content of the book was interesting, the writing itself was gossipy, tedious and repetitive. Good editing would have cut the size of this book by a third. Three stars.
September 23, 2013 at 6:04 am
Excellent review Elizabeth! Well said.