Is Ayn Rand important?

by on February 2, 2005 at 6:34 am in History | Permalink

No, I don’t mean historically, but rather as a thinker to read today.  Bryan Caplan tells me this is the one hundredth anniversary of her birthday, so here are my bottom lines:

1. Her greatest strength: Her analysis of the mentality of resentment.  She is, oddly, best as a sociologist, albeit in fictional settings.  Wesley Mouch is a brilliant character in his loathesomeness.  Her treatment of cocktail party conversations, while unintentional ridiculous parodies, also point to sad truths.

2. Her worst intellectual tendencies: The competition here is strong.  One could list sheer dogmatism, a necessity to make everything black or white, or an unwillingness to read others carefully or charitably.  More specifically, I will cite her tendency to redefine any favorable aspect of altruism as something other than altruism.

3. What do you really learn from her?  Most of her formal philosophy is wrong or at the very least underargued.  The true take-away message is a reaffirmation of how the enormous productive powers of capitalism — the greatest force for human good ever achieved — rely on the driving human desire to be excellent.  I don’t know of any better celebration of that combination of forces.

4. Her quirkiest yet correct view: That landing on the moon was an intrinsically wonderful thing to do, and libertarian objections be damned.

5. Her quirkiest yet incorrect view: That Mickey Spillane was a titan of American literature.

Addendum: Here are Bryan’s bottom lines, which with I cannot agree.  Try Alex also, directly above.  Here is Steve Chapman on whether Rand has gone mainstream.  Reason magazine weighs in too.  And here isa humorous treatment of Rand on food.

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