Thursday, October 30, 2003

The Culture: Ayn Rand's impact

I missed this when it first came out, but Caspar Weinberger praises William F. Buckley and attacks Ayn Rand at Forbes:

Getting It Right--by William F. Buckley Jr. (Regnery, $24.95)--continues Bill Buckley's series of turning the history (perhaps too narrow a canvas here) of 20th-century American politics into exciting novels. And, of course, the author himself is a participant in many of the incidents. In Getting It Right we see what Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society, and the impressive, puzzling and enormously influential (for a short time) Ayn Rand were really like. Rand's novels about the beginning of the conservative movement rivaled the Harry Potter novels in sales. Now it's hard to know quite why, as Rand's writing was unexceptional. Probably her loss of fame is because conservative thought and philosophies--so unusual at the time--have become so much a part of the conventional wisdom that her writings have lost their shock value. Welch and Rand had offshoots that had to be exorcised and dealt with before conservatism could be accepted. Buckley was the major force behind making conservatism appealing, understandable and respectable.
And pointless. Despite controlling the Congress and the White House, conservatives are ineffective at defending individual rights. Proof? The prescription drug bill alone is an indictment of conservatism. Practically any new expansion of government power is an indictment of conservatism. The failure to reduce even the rate of increase of one government agency is an indictment of conservatism. If this all can happen under the conservatives’ watch, just what does conservatism stand for that William F. Buckley deserves any credit?

Weinberger’s dig against Ayn Rand is all the more ironic when one considerers that she is mentioned in Forbes here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. (William F. Buckley turned up in one other article, written, of course, by Casper Weinberger.)

But the real measure of a person’s impact--a Google search--revealed 49,000 hits for “William F. Buckley,” while a search for “Ayn Rand” produced 212,000 hits. And I have the nagging suspicion that Ayn Rand sold more books last year than William F. Buckley, despite the minor inconvenience of being dead for the past 20 years.

I’m sure in Weinberger’s circles, Ayn Rand has faded from view. And in my mind, that explains a lot.

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