Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Mainstream Smearing of Ayn Rand

More famous words from one of our wannabe Platonic guardians:

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi looked like a deer caught in the blinding headlight of an oncoming freight train, her expression frozen in either ignorance or fear. It has always been difficult to distinguish between the two in her. But the malice in her words was palpable.

CNSNews.com: “Madam Speaker, where specifically does the Constitution grant Congress the authority to enact an individual health insurance mandate?”

Pelosi: “Are you serious? Are you serious?”

CNSNews.com: “Yes, yes, I am.”

Pelosi then shook her head before taking a question from another reporter. Her press spokesman, Nadeam Elshami, then told CNSNews.com that asking the speaker of the House where the Constitution authorized Congress to mandate that individual Americans buy health insurance was not a "serious question."

“You can put this on the record,” said Elshami. “That is not a serious question. That is not a serious question.”


His iterating mockery of the reporter is indeed on the record. Elshami, deputy communications director and senior adviser to Pelosi, later issued a press release stating that Congress was empowered by the commerce clause in the Constitution to mandate individual health insurance. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), however, differed from that dubious specificity, instead likening the power to compel all Americans to buy health insurance to federal authority to impose speed limits on interstate highways (???), adding that “nobody questions” Congress’s authority to impose controls of any kind. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) linked the power to the general welfare clause.

All in all, nobody in Congress, it seems, treats questioning Congressional powers as a serious matter. Pelosi, Leahy, Hoyer, not to mention President Barack Obama, dismissively deflect any suggestion that particular members of Congress are violating their oaths to uphold and defend the Constitution. A handful of words that meant something entirely different to the authors of the Constitution -- in fact, the exact opposite of Congressional renditions -- is their sole sanction for expanding government powers. (And where is the Supreme Court on this issue? Absent from the bench, of course.)

Recounting this episode in crass contempt and learned ignorance is an overture to the subject of the mainstream critical establishment’s reception of the two biographies of Ayn Rand, Anne C. Heller’s Ayn Rand and the World She Made (Doubleday), and Jennifer Burns’ Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (Oxford University Press). As most of our lawmakers consider raising the subject of the unlawfulness of their actions as beyond the bounds of polite or legitimate enquiry, the overwhelming consensus of contemporary critics is that Ayn Rand’s philosophy of reason and individual rights cannot -- should not -- be taken seriously and must be treated with similar contempt and ignorance. And, as with the libertarians (see my previous commentary), the mainstream press’s chief purpose in paying any attention to the Heller and Burns books is to attack Rand by cadging supporting statements from both biographies.

(I shall repeat here that I have not yet read the Heller and Burns biographies, but plan to. The subject here, again, is the reviewers, not the books or their authors.)

Late last year and early this year, when observers were reporting the uncanny similarities between current events and the events in Atlas Shrugged, there was nothing to do but report the phenomena. The parallels were undeniable and untouchable. But the appearance of these books now is propinquitous.

Her stalwart critics cannot refute her philosophy. The best of them, such as British philosopher Anthony Clifford Grayling (discussed below), can only dazzle the gullible with mental whirligigs. Some critics are so unread and illiterate that they can never grasp the philosophy, but only sense its danger to their intellectual and moral lethargy in an animalistic, feral manner. So they all adopt the policy of ad hominem, frequently interspersing their attacks on her person with generous ad captandum monologues. As I suggested in my previous commentary, imagine if it were reported that Aristotle beat his wife (as claimed, perhaps, by Roman biographer Suetonius in a newly discovered fragment), then that would constitute sufficient refutation of his work.

So it is with the mainstream media and literary treatment of Rand. In all instances, the fear, ignorance and malice in these reviews are palpable. For the present, their authors monopolize the podium of the culture.

TIME’s review of both biographies, “Ayn Rand: Extremist or Visionary?” (October 12) is perhaps the shortest. It does not so much review the books as borrow indiscriminately from them. After attempting to make Rand look comical in the first paragraph, the review goes on:

The bad economy has been good news for Rand's legacy. Her fierce denunciations of government regulation have sent sales of her two best-known novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, soaring. Yet her me-first brand of capitalism has been excoriated for fomenting the recent financial crisis. And her most famous former acolyte--onetime Fed chairman Alan Greenspan--has been blamed for inflating the housing bubble by refusing to intervene in the market.


Does the author of the review attempt to rebut the charges that Rand’s philosophy of laissez-faire capitalism was responsible for the financial crisis, and suggest instead that government intervention was and remains the culprit? No. If she had, she would not have insinuated that Alan Greenspan still believed in free markets, and that blame for the crisis could be pinned on them. An ounce of acuity in the author about Greenspan’s position would have led her to suspect that the former Federal Reserve chairman had abandoned laissez-faire in favor of intervention.

The TIME review goes on:

In the midst of the newly rekindled debate, two excellent biographies have just been published: Ayn Rand and the World She Made, by Anne C. Heller…is a comprehensive study, in novelistic detail, of Rand's personal life, and Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, by Jennifer Burns…leans more heavily on Rand's theories and politics.


TIME’s reviewer, however, does not dwell on the theories and politics, but rather on Rand herself, quoting more often from Burns’ book than from Heller’s. Among other inaccuracies, it asserts that Rand’s horrible experience in Soviet Russia was the genesis of her “hatred of communism and any sort of collectivism,” which hatred “would guide her life” and somehow lead to the formulation of a philosophy. If the review’s author had bothered to investigate further (and perhaps read the biographies a little more closely), she would have seen that Rand abhorred collectivism before the Bolshevik coup and the imposition of communist rule in Russia. The reviewer does not attempt to answer whether Rand was an “extremist” or a “visionary.” She simply concludes that Rand’s emotions trumped reason and that, consequently, she was a pathetic person.

Janet Maslin in her New York Times review, “Twin Biographies of a Singular Woman, Ayn Rand” (October 22), emulating TIME’s review, opens with the same ridiculing reference to Rand’s appearance, stressing her gold dollar-sign pin, calling it a “Halloween-ready costume.” That more or less sets the tone of Maslin’s review.

Repeating the error that Rand’s antipathy for any kind of collectivism was the foundation of what would become her philosophy of Objectivism, Maslin writes:

Ms. Heller’s book is worth its $35 price, which is not the kind of detail that Rand herself would have been shy about trumpeting. When Russian Bolshevik soldiers commandeered and closed the St. Petersburg pharmacy run by Zinovy Rosenbaum [Rand‘s father], they made a lifelong capitalist of his 12-year-old daughter, Alissa [Rand], who would wind up fusing the subversive power of the Russian political novel with glittering Hollywood-fueled visions of the American dream.


Maslin, like Andrea Sachs of TIME and other reviewers, fairly gloats over Rand’s affair with Nathaniel Branden, her “foremost acolyte and officially anointed intellectual heir,” and predictably attaches more importance to it than to the body of Rand’s work.

Both books characterize Rand’s long relationship with Branden as the most important connection in her life. And both use it to illustrate how drastically Rand’s personal ties could rupture. The amphetamine-addicted, self-styled goddess in both books becomes so moody and volatile that her associates do not simply part ways with her. Some, like Branden and his wife, Barbara, wind up excommunicated.


Maslin concludes that Rand had “an hypnotic effect on those in her orbit,” implying that her ideas and logic were of less importance than her need to have “acolytes” and her “acolytes” needing her brand of religion. Referring to Rand’s first days in Hollywood -- a “fishy story” which Maslin writes was investigated by Heller -- Maslin concludes that Rand’s chief asset was her “charisma”:

Rand might have expressed disdain for that charisma, but it was enough to stop [Cecil B.] DeMille in his tracks. She would have been nowhere without it.


Sam Anderson’s New York Magazine review, “Mrs. Logic” (October 18), is arguably worse than either Maslin’s or Sachs’. Anderson, who confesses that he was once a student of Objectivism, reviews only Heller’s book, and mooches from it with scanty attribution and imposes his own evaluation on the information he gleans from it, so that rarely can one distinguish between his and Heller‘s evaluations. Beginning his review with a snide narration of what people could expect upon first meeting Rand, he writes:

….[S]he would open the conversation with a line that seems destined to go down as one of history’s all-time classic icebreakers: “Tell me your premises.” Once you’d managed to mumble something halfhearted about loving your family, say, or the Golden Rule, Rand would set about systematically exposing all of your logical contradictions, then steer you toward her own inviolable set of premises: that man is a heroic being, achievement is the aim of life, existence exists, A is A, and so forth—the whole Objectivist catechism. And once you conceded any part of that basic platform, the game was pretty much over. She’d start piecing together her rationalist Tinkertoys until the mighty Randian edifice towered over you: a rigidly logical Art Deco skyscraper, 30 or 40 feet tall, with little plastic industrialists peeking out the windows—a shining monument to the glories of individualism, the virtues of selfishness, and the deep morality of laissez-faire capitalism. Grant Ayn Rand a premise and you’d leave with a lifestyle.


Among Anderson’s numerous egregious and vicious statements about Rand, two stand out:

It’s easy to chuckle at Rand, smugly, from the safe distance of intervening decades or an opposed ideology, but in person—her big black eyes flashing deep into the night, fueled by nicotine, caffeine, and amphetamines—she was apparently an irresistible force, a machine of pure reason, a free-market Spock who converted doubters left, right, and center. Eyewitnesses say that she never lost an argument.


Thus the subtitle of Anderson’s review: “Ayn Rand never got into an argument she couldn’t win. Except, perhaps, with herself.” Harping again on the allegedly subjective, virtually neurotic origins and nature of Objectivism, he notes:

Anne Heller’s new biography…allows us to poke our heads, for the first time, into the Russian-American’s overheated philosophical subbasement. After reading the details of Rand’s early life, I find it hard to think of Objectivism as very objective at all—it looks more like a rational program retrofitted to a lifelong temperament, a fantasy world created to cancel the nightmare of a terrifying childhood….No one, according to Heller’s portrait, struggled with the unreality of Objectivism more than Rand herself. She wept, throughout her life, at the world’s refusal to conform to her ideal vision of it. Although she claimed that “one must never attempt to fake reality in any manner,” she repeatedly withheld or distorted facts to feed her own mythology.


This is the theme of Anderson’s whole review: Ayn Rand created her own “mythology”; ergo, she was as phony as her philosophy. He can’t take her seriously, nor should anyone else.

An unsigned review of the Heller and Burns biographies in The Economist, "Capitalism's martyred hero" (October 22), repeats but does not dwell on the “mythology” theme:

But her most important attribute was her talent for myth-making. Rand perfected her literary art as a screenwriter in Hollywood. And she dealt in Hollywood-style dichotomies between good and evil, between white-hatted capitalists and black-hatted collectivists. Greys don’t interest me, she once said. “Atlas Shrugged” conjured up a world in which all creative businessmen had gone on strike, retreating to Galt’s Gulch in Colorado, and culminated in a dramatic court scene in which Galt detailed the evils of collectivism.


The reviewer obviously had not read Atlas Shrugged to the end; John Galt does not appear in any courtroom scene. (Perhaps the reviewer had read The Fountainhead, but Galt and Howard Roark are emphatically not the same.) The swipes taken against Rand in this review are less offensive than those in the Anderson and Maslin reviews. The Economist reviewer at least concedes that Atlas Shrugged especially has permanent relevance and that Rand was right.

Jennifer Burns is better versed in conservative thought. Both are well worth reading, partly because Rand’s life was so extraordinary and partly because the questions that she raised about the proper power of government are just as urgent now as they ever were….Rand was the single most uncompromising critic of the collectivist tide that swept across the capitalist world in the wake of the Depression. For her, government was nothing more than licensed robbery and altruism just an excuse for power-grabbing. Intellectuals and bureaucrats might pose as champions of the people against the powerful. But in reality they were empire builders who were motivated by a noxious mixture of envy and greed.


The review concludes:

Yet Rand’s appeal has been undimmed by either the vituperation of her critics or the peculiarity of her admirers. Her insight in “Atlas Shrugged”—that society cannot thrive unless it is willing to give freedom to its entrepreneurs and innovators—has proved to be prescient.


Nick Gillespie, former editor-in-chief of Reason magazine and now editor of Reason.com and Reason.tv, in his Fall Wilson Quarterly review, “Ready for Her Close-Up,” asks:

Has any major postwar American author taken as much critical abuse as Ayn Rand? Her best-known novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, have sold more than 12 million copies in the United States alone and were ranked first and second in a 1998 Modern Library reader survey of the “greatest books” of the 20th century. Yet over the years, Rand’s writing has been routinely dismissed as juvenile and subliterate when it has been considered at all.


Later on, Gillespie notes:

Despite—or perhaps because of—such persistent mass appeal, critics have never been kind to Rand.


And:

Contempt has long been the standard literati response to Rand. Like Jack Kerouac, Rand is typically written off as a writer whose basic appeal is to maladjusted adolescents, a sort of vaguely embarrassing starter author who is quickly outgrown by those of us who develop more sophisticated aesthetic and ideological tastes. There’s more than a small degree of truth to such a characterization, but the extreme prejudice with which Rand is dismissed belies a body of work that continues to reach new audiences.


Of all the reviews discussed here, Gillespie’s is the fairest, not only to Rand, but to the Burns and Heller biographies. But the writer still feels compelled to take swings at Rand’s persona; it is the fairest review in terms of there being in it the least number of sneers and snorts directed at Rand. It is almost as though Gillespie were under some editorial obligation to include them (otherwise the review might not have passed muster in the Quarterly). He quotes Burns early in the article:

That Rand’s life story is in many ways more melodramatic, unbelievable, and conflicted than one of her own plots certainly helps to keep the reader’s attention. As Burns puts it, “The clash between her romantic and rational sides makes [her life] not a tale of triumph, but a tragedy of sorts.”


And, remarking on both biographies, ends it with:

Together, they provide a rounded portrait of a woman who, as Burns writes, “tried to nurture herself exclusively on ideas.” As Rand’s biography underscores, she failed miserably in that, even as she helped create an ideological framework that continues to energize debate in contemporary America.


By far the longest and most irrelevant review of the Heller and Burns biographies appeared September 14 in The New Republic, Jonathan Chait’s “Wealthcare.” It is a lengthy, bilious protest against the recent revolt of the “right” against an economically and politically carnivorous White House and Congress, a revolt which Chait blames almost exclusively on Rand. At the same time, it is the most honest of all the reviews, for Chait doesn’t hide behind cowardly chortles and guffaws to argue his position. However, lumping her together with conservative politicians, betrayed Obama supporters, and Tea Partiers, Chait writes of the uprising:

There is another way to describe this conservative idea. It is the ideology of Ayn Rand. Some, though not all, of the conservatives protesting against redistribution and conferring the highest moral prestige upon material success explicitly identify themselves as acolytes of Rand.


A few more clicks to the left and The New Republic’s masthead could very well read The Daily Worker. Chait, a senior editor of the publication, has apparently read Rand’s novels -- perhaps even some of her non-fiction essays on politics -- for he contrasts free market economics with socialist economics, and almost gets John Galt’s speech right. He handily explicates Rand’s ethics of productive work. For example:

It was Atlas Shrugged that Rand deemed the apogee of her life’s work and the definitive statement of her philosophy. She believed that the principle of trade governed all human relationships--that in a free market one earned money only by creating value for others. Hence, one’s value to society could be measured by his income. History largely consisted of "looters and moochers" stealing from society’s productive elements.


Chait quotes from Galt’s speech about the pyramid of ability -- not a pyramid of intellect, as Chait implies, for ability presupposes a mind or an intellect, while ability or competence or productive work is the observable, measurable consequence of such a mind in action, and can be measured as a value -- and calls it an “inverted Marxism.” And even though Chait demonstrates a more than superficial understanding of Rand’s ethics -- certainly more than any of the other reviewers discussed in this commentary -- he still sides with collectivism. Earlier in his review he remarked about the revolt against Obama and his socialist agenda, before discussing Rand‘s role in it:

In these disparate comments we can see the outlines of a coherent view of society. It expresses its opposition to redistribution not in practical terms--that taking from the rich harms the economy--but in moral absolutes, that taking from the rich is wrong. It likewise glorifies selfishness as a virtue. It denies any basis, other than raw force, for using government to reduce economic inequality. It holds people completely responsible for their own success or failure, and thus concludes that when government helps the disadvantaged, it consequently punishes virtue and rewards sloth. And it indulges the hopeful prospect that the rich will revolt against their ill treatment by going on strike, simultaneously punishing the inferiors who have exploited them while teaching them the folly of their ways.


Chait’s epistemological errors include thinking that “society” is an actual, independent, volitional entity, and that the term “rich” does not include the middle class, that part of “society” which also performs productive work. This is to be expected of a committed collectivist such as Chait, and when he coheres to Marxist criticism, his arguments begin to disintegrate. To wit:

Rand’s political philosophy remained amorphous in her early years. Aside from a revulsion at communism [sic], her primary influence was Nietzsche, whose exaltation of the superior individual spoke to her personally….In essence, Rand advocated an inverted Marxism. In the Marxist analysis, workers produce all value, and capitalists merely leech off their labor. Rand posited the opposite….Rand’s hotly pro-capitalist novels oddly mirrored the Socialist Realist style, with two-dimensional characters serving as ideological props….Like her old idol Nietzsche, she denounced a transvaluation of values according to which the strong had been made weak and the weak were praised as the strong….Rand called her doctrine "Objectivism," and it eventually expanded well beyond politics and economics to psychology, culture, science (she considered the entire field of physics "corrupt"), and sundry other fields. Objectivism was premised on the absolute centrality of logic to all human endeavors. Emotion and taste had no place….Ultimately the Objectivist movement failed for the same reason that communism failed: it tried to make its people live by the dictates of a totalizing ideology that failed to honor the realities of human existence. Rand’s movement devolved into a corrupt and cruel parody of itself.


Ultimately, Chait, while he accuses Rand (perhaps influenced by the Heller and Burns biographies) of shutting out the world in order to sustain her “world view,” is himself ideologically insulated against the observable phenomenon that Objectivism is “on a roll,” that it has hardly failed. The balance of his review is largely a disjointed and distracting critique of conservative/Republican economic policies and an endorsement of Obama’s, only tenuously connected to the biographies.

Lastly, A.C. Grayling, a British professor of philosophy at Birbeck College, University of London, and a frequent book reviewer for, all of things, Barnes & Noble, of all the reviewers discussed her, fails the most miserably when confronted with the task of reviewing the Burns and Heller biographies of Ayn Rand, but chiefly in his misapprehension of Rand’s philosophy. That misapprehension is rooted in a natural hostility to objectivity and logic, and may be taken as evidence of the state of contemporary, “mainstream” philosophy.

It is noteworthy that Grayling tackles only Heller’s biography, not Jennifer Burns’, for the latter apparently delves in more detail into the development of Rand’s philosophy and thinking than does Heller‘s. Other than a pair of irrelevant remarks about Rand by the late leftist/neo-conservative philosopher Sidney Hook, Grayling shies away from any philosophical rebuttal. He lets Hook do his talking.

Grayling’ review is particularly insipid, for it falls back on pleas for altruism to combat the purported heartlessness of Rand and her philosophy.

As the Branden affair shows, Rand's life was indeed exemplary of her thought. It was, in line with her avowed principles, an entirely selfish life, to which she sacrificed her family, her good-natured husband Frank O'Connor, her friends, and all but the last of her devoted followers, Leonard Peikoff. Whoever was not wholly with her was against her.


Au contraire, Rand did value her family, still prisoners in Soviet Russia, and was faced with the conflict of maintaining contact with them at the risk of jeopardizing their lives. She loved her husband, and as Letters of Ayn Rand amply reveals, concerned herself with the well-being of friends and relatives (on her husband’s side, her own distant relatives in Russia being beyond help). She could be generous, but not to a fault.

As for her philosophy, all Grayling can ascribe to it is cruelty and brutality.

What is wrong with Rand's views is what is wrong with Gordon Gekko. The unregulated market coupled with unbridled individual self-interest adds up to something far from heroic in the would-be Roark/Galt mode; instead it adds up to the strong trampling the weak, to the callousness of the jungle -- and eventually to a mightily ironic paradox, which is that the weak have to rescue the strong because the latter's unrestricted rampaging has consumed their own hunting-grounds.


Whatever that might mean. Again, Grayling writes, willing to forgive Rand but for her philosophy of egoism (which he never names):

She had enormous talents, great charisma, courage and dedication -- all as apparent in her work as in her life, and all acknowledged by Heller -- and not all of her ideas were wrong: her secularism merits applause, as does her opposition to the use of force in world affairs, and as does her championing of liberty -- or rather, this latter might merit applause if it were not in fact a coarse and callous libertarianism merely, which means liberty only for the few strong enough to trample on the heads of the rest.


And that represents Grayling’s summary view of the philosophical significance of Rand’s thinking, the hoary old collectivist chestnut, preached for decades from pulpits and in grade school “social studies” and in university classrooms, that unregulated freedom can only mean the oppression of the poor and “disadvantaged” and the average. No one but the “rich” and the “strong” could possibly profit from freedom -- a rather stultified and not very original position for a prominent philosopher to take.

Critics serve the function of cultural scouts, pointing out to the public what is significant, what is worth one’s attention, and what may be of value -- and also what is significantly not a value. Ayn Rand and her oeuvre are major contributors to Western culture, certainly the most significant in the last two hundred years, yet our culture has descended to such a state that its scouts are desperately and maliciously trying to persuade people that neither she nor her work should be taken seriously, for if they did, it would mean the end of the critics’ own importance.

Fortunately, few are heeding the advice of the critics, and countless individuals are discovering that there is an oasis over the horizon, and there, in Rand and her works, can be found life as it was meant and ought to be.

41 comments:

Jeff Perren said...

All of the reviews I've read to date (The Economist, The New Republic, Liberty, Barnes and Nobel, and many others) make an error I've not yet seen discussed (though Ed touches on it). All of them talk very little about the book and spend the overwhelming majority of the space touting their own views, and criticizing Rand and/or her philosophy.

I.e. none of them is actually a review of the book in question, which is necessarily - if done correctly - chiefly about the author's views of Rand and her work, and not their own.

Edward Cline said...

Jeff: This is true; the reviewers focus more on their own opinions of Rand than focusing on the books and what the authors have to say or report. I didn't state this specifically because it's a deduction any reader of my piece -- or of the reviews themselves -- should be able to reach himself.
Ed

Edward Cline said...

Also, one might wonder why anyone would expend so much effort on reviewing the reviewers, as I've done here. Well, it's dirty work, and someone must do it. These critics have the ear of the publishers and a franchise on the public pulpit, and taking them to task for their statements and positions is one way of countering their influence.

Ed

Lady Liberty said...

This seems to be a common atrocity these days – the dismantling of heroes. As a rule, the so called reviewers focus mainly on the personalities of those that they try to destroy. Instead of dealing with ideas, these Ellsworth Tooheys are dealing with certain alleged flaws of the heroes' characters that they themselves invent. Ayn Rand was a nicotine and amphetamine addicted maniac, the Founding Fathers, particularly Thomas Jefferson, were racists, rapists and hypocrites. No need to look for the facts or analyze philosophic contributions, just pour a bucket of dirt on a hero and you've made a name for yourself and you can feel warm and cozy in your own worthlessness. They feel better about their own mediocrity and they appeal to the mediocrity of their readers. These people are so corrupt that they have difficulty living with themselves. They try to make themselves feel better by bringing down others. Who better to bring down than a hero? Their own lives don't seem so pathetic when they can point a finger and say that Ayn Rand was cheating on her husband or that Thomas Jefferson repeatedly raped his own slaves. Consequently, by discrediting a person, they attempt to discredit their views as well. After all who can take seriously the ideas of a rapist or a slut?

Joshua Lipana said...

Great article and wonderful insight.

Neil Parille said...

I've read the Burns book and am up to page 130 on the Heller book (though I've skimmed most of the rest).

I can't recommend Heller's book highly enough. The portrayal of Rand thus far is balanced -- Rand comes across as hard working, intelligent, and a bit difficult. It seems that Rand got worse as the decades passed.

To me the "money quote" is Barbara Weiss leaving Rand and saying that she was "a killer of people." Weiss concluded that, after all, Rand knew what she was doing.

Jeff Perren said...

Japanese proverb: The nail that sticks up highest gets pounded down hardest.

There just happen to be an unfortunately large number of drunken carpenters around these days.

Lemuel said...

"Amphetamine addicted"?

This is the first I'm hearing about it. What's the real story behind that claim?

Anonymous said...

Lemuel asks: "Amphetamine addicted"? What's the real story behind that claim?

Nobody's who not read either Heller's or Burns' book can answer that question yet. Any takers among readers here? If Heller or Burns makes that claim, who or what's her source? And if it's true that Rand did take amphetamines to finish Atlas, so what? It's not a moral indictment, no more than Limbaugh being hooked on prescripton drugs was a moral matter or anyone else's business.

Ed

Neil Parille said...

Ed,

The source is the Brandens, Dr. Blumenthals, Isabel Paterson ("stop taking that dope") and others.

Heller appears to think that the pills helped bring out Rand's strange side:

____

Over time or in larger doses, they [amphetamines] can lead to mood swings, irritability, uncontrolled emotional outbursts, impaired judgment, and paranoia, all of which Rand was susceptible to without chemical assistance. [P. 146.]

____

-Neil Parille

jayeldee said...

Those "mood swings, irritability, uncontrolled emotional outbursts ... and paranoia" are more readily attributable to being surrounded by people like the Brandens. And the cited "impaired judgment"--to which any human is susceptible, particularly one trapped in a bankrupt culture and sorely in need of intellectual companionship--could be the reason she was surrounded by people like the Brandens.

Zabrina said...

An interesting and valuable article doing "the dirty job;" thanks much.

Reading it reminds me of how distressing I find the widespread prevalence these days of dismal argumentation. Book reviewers, talking heads, politicians, media figures, ordinary folks--so many everywhere seem not to bat an eye at not answering substantive questions with a real answer, but instead purposely or ignorantly sidestep into non sequiturs, ad hominem rants or other fallacies and rhetorical gimmicks, with impunity, as if they are sure they will never be called on it and it doesn't really matter anyway.

How many people even notice this trend is growing? Are the schools still teaching logical argumentation and fallacies? Or is that yet another traditional "conservative" value about to go under as objective reason is devalued?

Anonymous said...

Zabrina remarked: "Are the schools still teaching logical argumentation and fallacies? Or is that yet another traditional "conservative" value about to go under as objective reason is devalued?"

I attended high school in the 1960's, and logical argumentation and fallacies weren't even being taught then. I shudder to think what students are subjected to today.

And if you want to see what contemporary reviewers would REALLY like to say about Rand, go to the GQ magazine site and take a look at Andrew Corsello's "review" of Ayn Rand -- not her books -- but of Rand herself. All the reviews I discussed in this commentary have that agenda as their core anti-value. That's what they'd like to permit themselves to do, if they didn't need to pose as literate critics and attempt to employ the English language.

Ed

Lady Liberty said...

"And if you want to see what contemporary reviewers would REALLY like to say about Rand, go to the GQ magazine site and take a look at Andrew Corsello's "review" of Ayn Rand -- not her books -- but of Rand herself. All the reviews I discussed in this commentary have that agenda as their core anti-value. That's what they'd like to permit themselves to do, if they didn't need to pose as literate critics and attempt to employ the English language."

I had no idea that people can be so malicious. It makes me sick. I couldn't even bring myself to read that obscenity...

jayeldee said...

Re the GQ "review": If there were ever any doubt, there isn't now: the referent of "G" is too obviously a gross misnomer; I think they should change it to "AQ".

jayeldee said...

I see a grammatical error in my above plaint--the "it" meant to refer, of course, to the title of the publication (and not the referent thereof).

A gentleman should always correct his mistakes.

Park said...

Every time I seem someone demonize the usage of pharmaceutical products to enhance productive work, I am horrified at the success of Harry Anslinger's propaganda machine. The modern condemnation of stimulant use is an incredibly pernicious ad hominem, and as morally backwards as the christian denunciation of physical pleasure (though attacking a different value). I'm curious as to how those cretins rationalize their morning cup of coffee while they condemn “stimulants.” I just can't wait until their anti-productivity snarling reaches the level where they decry a good night's sleep and Coca-Cola.
There is utterly nothing immoral about medicinally increasing your productivity, so long as it is done in a reasonable manner (illegal is another matter). To the contrary, you should embrace your ability to improve your capabilities, if you actually value productivity. Therefore, Ed, I would distinguish AR’s use of speed from Limbaugh’s use of pain killers. AR used the drugs to further her values, to achieve higher productivity, and to pursue her goals. Her use of speed, which until the DEA decided it was “evil” back in the 70’s was as legal as water, is only a much more effective and expedient version of my morning Pepsi Max or coffee. Limbaugh used his pain killers to evade reality in a hedonistic manner. Obviously, two entirely different motivations; AR’s was noble, Limbaugh’s was not.
-Park J.

Neil Parille said...

Park,

I thought Limbaugh's use of pain killers was due to back pain. Even if Limbaugh became addicted, I wouldn't say his continued use was to evade reality.

As far as Rand's use goes, it appears to have had an effect on her already unstable personality.

Anonymous said...

I had sworn that I would reply to no more comments here, but Park’s and Parille’s comments require answers. I will say here that the strongest “drugs” I’ve taken are aspirin and maybe Tylenol or some other brand of headache alleviator, and maybe antibiotics, if you want to include those as “drugs.”

Park: I agree with you up to a certain point. The government’s declaration of the illegality of drugs (cocaine, marijuana, etc.) is wholly unconstitutional and is responsible for several phenomena: the creation of violent drug cartels and drug distribution gangs here and abroad, the wastage of tax money to fight them here and abroad: e.g., spraying poppy fields in Colombia, raiding marijuana growing fields here, policing the drug trade here and abroad, and giving terrorist gangs the U.S. a source of income with which to fight the U.S., such as in Afghanistan. Before the creation of the FDA and the illegal empowerment of the federal government to regulate, control and even ban specific drugs, there was little or no drug-related crime in this country. Were the FDA and its powers to regulate, control and ban what are now crime-related drugs to disappear tomorrow, the whole bloated market for those drugs would evaporate almost overnight. Crime rates would plummet. Drugs such as cocaine could be bought over the counter at an infinitesimal fraction of what they cost now, as they once were.

But then you remark that I should “distinguish AR’s use of speed from Limbaugh’s use of pain killers. AR used the drugs to further her values…and that Rush “Limbaugh used his pain killers to evade reality in a hedonistic manner.” I don’t know. Is Benzedrine also called “speed,” or the amphetamines she’s alleged to have taken in Heller’s book? Why should I distinguish between the two goals? If Limbaugh was taking “pain killers,” well, what pain was he trying to kill? Pain can be as much a “reality” as joy. I’m certain that if he didn’t have some pain that was interfering with the pursuit of his goals, he wouldn’t have taken the drugs in a “hedonistic” or any other manner.

Neil Parille’s gratuitous remark about Rand’s “unstable personality” is likely based on what he’s read in the Burns and Heller biographies. That alleged “addiction” is what mainstream reviewers are gloating over, together with her affair with Branden. Well, my value in Rand lies in what she accomplished and what she has left us, which is her work and a philosophy of reason. I couldn’t give a fig about her personality, unstable or not. Reviewers and academics and others are attempting to ascribe her entire oeuvre to a litany of contradictions and inconsistencies and failings, and this is being fed by information found in both biographies. Ergo, they conclude, no one should take her or her work seriously. (But note that Bill Clinton, JFK, and other politicians can behave as irrationally as they wish, but their statist and collectivist policies remain untouched by such behavior and quite apart from it. There‘s a contradiction people seem to be able to live with.)

If it were learned that Aristotle took drugs, beat his wife, had wine-keg parties with his students, and ran down fellow Greeks with his horse in downtown Athens while “under the influence,” would we be justified in discarding his philosophy? Which would you put a supreme value on: the sobriety it required to propound his philosophy, or his irrational

Grant Jones said...

Ed wrote: "Reviewers and academics and others are attempting to ascribe her entire oeuvre to a litany of contradictions and inconsistencies and failings, and this is being fed by information found in both biographies. Ergo, they conclude, no one should take her or her work seriously."

I would just like to add that such fastidious standards of behavior are never applied to leftist or "liberal" writers and scholars. For example, Gore Vidal has recently defended Roman Polanski's rape of a thirteen year old. Nevertheless, he will remain a literary icon.

Marx's loathsome character and behavior has not prevented him from becoming academia's favorite dead, white male.

Academics "scholars" who have openly stated their sympathy with the West's Jihadist enemies (or with the Communists during the Cold War) also remain respectable members of the "intellectual community.

But, writers and intellectuals on the "right" had better mind their Ps and Qs or their work will be dismissed as nothing but the product of an "authoritarian" mentality.

Michael Smith said...

According to Objectivist philosopher and long-time Rand associate Harry Binswanger, Miss Rand was prescribed amphetamine as part of a weight-loss program. Apparently, it was a successful program and Rand continued to take prescribed doses -- off and on -- thereafter. But she was not an addict.

And in light of these new biographies and their reviews, Dr. Binswanger has reiterated that the Ayn Rand he knew was fully as rational, passionate and virtuous as any of her fictional heros and heroines.

Neil Parille said...

Mr. Smith,

Does Dr. Binswanger dispute claims in the books such as Frank drank too much, there were trials in which people were purged, Rand drove away friends for no good reason, there is no evidence to support Rand's implication of fraud by Nathaniel Branden, etc.?

-Neil Parille

Michael Smith said...

Neil, I have not heard Dr. Binswanger directly address any of those claims yet. However, it's hard to believe he could have such a high opinion of Miss Rand's moral status if those things were true.

I expect to hear more from Dr. Binswanger on the issue in the future.

Ed said...

Michael Smith remarked: "I expect to hear more from Dr. Binswanger on the issue in the future."

Michael, since you are apparently on the HBL (I am not), you might request that he make an extended statement that rebuts not only the gratuitous statements made by some on this blog, but answer in some detail the allegations made in both biographies. Send him the link to my commentary here so he can read the remarks here. Miss Rand's reputation is at stake here, and I do not think that putting one's head in a hole or covering one's ears will do anything to preserve it, which, from what I have observed, is the "official" policy to date.

You ought to also see the number Reason.tv is pulling on Rand, complete with "friendly" interviews by Ed Snider, the Brandens and other drop-outs about the importance of an individual they have all done their best to denigrate and "humanize."

Ed

Anonymous said...

Michael Smith remarked: "I expect to hear more from Dr. Binswanger on the issue in the future."

Michael, since you are apparently on the HBL (I am not), you might request that he make an extended statement that rebuts not only the gratuitous statements made by some on this blog, but answer in some detail the allegations made in both biographies. Send him the link to my commentary here so he can read the remarks here. Miss Rand's reputation is at stake here, and I do not think that putting one's head in a hole or covering one's ears will do anything to preserve it, which, from what I have observed, is the "official" policy to date.

You ought to also see the number Reason.tv is pulling on Rand, complete with "friendly" interviews by Ed Snider, the Brandens and other drop-outs about the importance of an individual they have all done their best to denigrate and "humanize."

Ed

Ed said...

Michael Smith remarked: "I expect to hear more from Dr. Binswanger on the issue in the future."

Michael, since you are apparently on the HBL (I am not), you might request that he make an extended statement that rebuts not only the gratuitous statements made by some on this blog, but answer in some detail the allegations made in both biographies. Send him the link to my commentary here so he can read the remarks here. Miss Rand's reputation is at stake here, and I do not think that putting one's head in a hole or covering one's ears will do anything to preserve it, which, from what I have observed, is the "official" policy to date.

You ought to also see the number Reason.tv is pulling on Rand, complete with "friendly" interviews by Ed Snider, the Brandens and other drop-outs about the importance of an individual they have all done their best to denigrate and "humanize."

Ed

Michael Smith said...

Ed, I'll relay your concerns to Dr. Binswanger. I agree that we need a statement addressing these assaults on Miss Rand's character.

Anonymous said...

Michael: Apparently someone or something moved Harry to weigh in on at least the Forbes Magazine review. His comments follow mine (or at least they are they first you will see, if no one else has commented). Go here: http://www.forbes.com/2009/11/03/where-ayn-rand-went-wrong-opinions-columnists-shikha-dalmia.html

Ed

Neil Parille said...

Over at SOLOPASSION I did a post (which I plan on updating frequently) to keep people informed on the various interviews and material about the new biographies.

I've also added audio, video and print material about Rand's life.

http://www.solopassion.com/node/7051

The material gatherd comes at things from a variety of perspectives, to say the least.

-Neil Parille

pomponazzi said...

Ed, over at HBL, Harry has clearly stated that things attributed to him in the Heller book were not correct. He says that Heller never so much as even approached him for an interview.

Neil Parille said...

Mr. Pomponazzi,

The index to Heller's book isn't great, but it lists Harry Binswanger on two pages, 405 & 408 (they are the endnotes)

On page 405, She cites HB for the claim that Rand used antidepressants at the end of her life. The source is a HB interview in the soon to be released ARI oral history 100 Voices.

On page 408, HB is cited for confirmation that Barbara Branden met Rand in 1981 (Rand told HB this). Again the oral history.

I recall thar there are a couple of places where she references an HB speech about Rand's life for a couple of facts. I recall one was something about Rand living in a small apartment when she moved to NYC.

Does HB say he is misquoted in 100 Voices, or that Anne Heller misquotes or misrepresents his 100 Voices interview?

-Neil Parille

miche said...

From Ed's article:

"Her stalwart critics cannot refute her philosophy. The best of them, such as British philosopher Anthony Clifford Grayling (discussed below), can only dazzle the gullible with mental whirligigs."

That's not true. The WORST of Rand's critics try to dazzle the gullible with mental whirligigs, where the BEST of her critics get banned or heavily moderated when they effectively criticize her ideas on pro-Objectivist websites and blogs, and their criticism mostly goes unanswered when they speak or write in fora that Objectivists can't control with banning and moderating.

Anonymous said...

People: I'm reviewing the Burns and Heller biographies for The Objective Standard. I will say no more about them here. Read the Winter Issue when it comes out. Yes, HB is cited twice in Heller's book, while in Burns' book he is listed once in the bibliography for the Lexicon.

Ed

William Scott Scherk said...

Can someone please spell out just what Harry Binswanger wrote in his claim of 'misuse'? The HBL webpage is pretty plain: "Heller biography misuses me as a source."

Is there some prohibition on reproducing his actual argument? Ms Heller would like to know what Harry Binswanger is talking about. Surely someone here who posts to HBL can give up the facts, with at least an accurate paraphrase, if not a quote.

Andrew Dalton said...

"the BEST of her critics get banned or heavily moderated when they effectively criticize her ideas on pro-Objectivist websites and blogs,"

Care to offer any evidence for this claim?

miche said...

I'm not going to waste my time trying to find the posts that prove that effective critics of Objectivism get banned from Objectivist sites, and I don't kknow how anyone COULD prove that posts have been deleted by moderators since they no longer exist. All I know is that I have been reading Objectivist sites for about four years now and I've seen a lot of critics of Objectivism banned or put on moderation, I've seen a lot of inconvenient posts disappear, and if you say that you haven't, then you haven't been reading the same sites.

Andrew Dalton said...

"I'm not going to waste my time trying to find the posts that prove that effective critics of Objectivism get banned from Objectivist sites,"

Translation: "I haven't a whit of evidence for my accusation, but I'll make it anyway and expect people to accept it on faith."

miche said...

My post was written in English and doesn't need translation. It means what it says, which is that I think it would be a waste of my time to hunt down specific examples of effective critics being banned or moderated on Objectivist sites.

Mike said...

"My post was written in English and doesn't need translation." What a red herring! No one's asking for a translation from you, but evidence, any evidence at all, even one little piece of it! Since you refuse to do so, we know all we need to know about you--which was summed up in the post you so notably failed to respond to.

miche said...

Here is one example wehre a person was placed on moderation at Rebirth of Reason and restricted to posting in what's called the Dissent Forum because he was an effective critic of objectivism:

http://solohq.org/Forum/Dissent/0102.shtml

Now I suppose I'll be told that I have to give more examples to prove my case. Then if I post examples from SOLO, Noodlefood, Objectivism Online and the Binswanger list I'll be told that I have to post even MORE examples. Like I said, it's a waste of my time to back up what I said with evidence. I think that no amount of evidence will convince my opponents.

Andrew Dalton said...

Your link provides no background and hardly counts as evidence for your claim.

Remember your original accusation:

"the BEST of her critics get banned or heavily moderated when they effectively criticize her ideas on pro-Objectivist websites and blogs"

This requires two pieces of evidence:

1) That some critics of Objectivism have been banned from Objectivist discussion boards and blogs, and

2) That these critics were banned because they were "effective."

Claim 1 is not controversial; lots of people get banned from various fora and blogs all the time. The matter that demands evidence is your assertion of *why*.

And note that one of your (unsupported) examples was Harry Binswanger's list (HBL), which is not, and does not purport to be, a public forum. It is a private email list specifically designed for Objectivists and people sympathetic to Objectivism.