Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ayn Rand Nation: A Celebrity Roast

Imagine a lecture on the ideas of Ayn Rand – or on those of Immanuel Kant, or John Locke, or Plato, or Aristotle, or on the philosophical system of any major thinker of the past – delivered by Ronald MacDonald in full clown regalia. Pretty ludicrous?

Picture it combined with the rhetorical equivalent of “death by a thousand chortles,” punctuated with spittle-spewing Bronx cheers. Pretty disgusting? Not very amusing?

Then you will have an idea of the nature and purpose of Gary Weiss’s book on Rand and Objectivism, Ayn Rand Nation: The Hidden Struggle for America’s Soul. (St. Martin’s Press, 2012). Weiss presumes to be a kind of modern day Dante Alighieri who will show you the “truth” about Rand and her philosophy. What he actually is, is a pretentious stand-up comedian who’s cadged the words and sentiments of a host of malicious detractors who went before him.

The title itself is misleading. At first glance, it suggests an in-depth study of how Rand’s ideas have permeated the culture, especially in politics, in terms of opposition to federal economic and social policies. But it is no such thing. The book is mocking, sneering screed, two hundred and ninety-nine pages long, penned by a nihilist posing as an “investigative” journalist. Or muckraker. Better copy can be found in any supermarket tabloid.

The first part of the title also is an exercise in calculated tackiness. Roll it off your tongue. “Ayn Rand Nation” slurs into “Alienation.” This is called syllabic autosuggestion, and is meant to worm its way into one’s mind like an aural earwig. If you are susceptible to that kind of psychological manipulation, it might work.

In his Huffington Post column of March 7th, “Why You Shouldn’t Dismiss Ayn Rand,” Weiss claims that his book is about why Ayn Rand’s ideas should be taken seriously. But once one has the book in hand and is read from page one, one will see that it is actually a plea to not take her ideas seriously. It is a long-winded warning, written as an “exposé,” to stay away from Rand’s ideas, lest one be branded as a kook or a cultist or a zombie. Weiss coined several other disparaging names for Rand and Objectivists in this book, which will not be repeated here.

Nor will any of the book’s contents be discussed here. There is not a single page in which Weiss does not employ his disdain and malice. And what would be the point of actually reviewing such a book? It is a hatchet job from beginning to end on Ayn Rand, on Objectivism and Objectivists, and on many of the interviewees, whom I suspect were interviewed under the false pretense of a serious interest in Rand.

A Barnes & Noble ad for Weiss’s book glowingly reads:

Weiss provides a strategy for a renewed national dialogue, an embrace of the nation’s core values that is needed to deal with Rand’s pervasive grip on society.

Yes, that’s right. Weiss wishes people to “deal with” Rand’s allegedly “pervasive grip on society.” If it were true that her ideas had such a “pervasive grip,” the country would not be in as bad a shape it is in. But the ad does identify the fact that Weiss regards Rand as an enemy to “deal with.” The “strategy”? Guffaws unlimited. Snickers by the dozen. Countless calloused elbows and sore ribs.

Publishers Weekly also gave Weiss a pass.

Weiss poses an important question: will we be a country that values human life and dignity, or one that values only the dollar?

There’s a dichotomy? A conflict? Rand wrote there needn’t be one, but neither Publishers Weekly nor Weiss understands this. Well, perhaps Weiss does, which would partly explain why anyone so desperate to derogate Rand and her ideas would stoop to writing a two-hundred and ninety-nine page celebrity roast.

To attempt to refute or rebut anything said in Weiss’s book would merely dignify an insult by elevating it to the level of a philosophical proposition worthy of an answer.

Caveat emptor.


jayeldee said...

"To attempt to refute or rebut anything said in Weiss’s book would merely dignify an insult by elevating it to the level of a philosophical proposition worthy of an answer."

Thank you for refraining from any review. There is genuine value to be had, in simply ignoring malice. (I've not seen the book, but have every reason on earth to "take your word for it"--and, therefore, don't intend to see it.)

revereridesagain said...

Sounds like what we used to get from the '60s pseudojournalists back in the days when Objectivism was getting started. They're gone, we're still here, they can't stand it, so the new bobble-heads have to get their two cents in and it's the same blather it was back then. Pathetic. What they are incapable of realizing is that the stuff you quoted from B&N and PW would set off alarm bells for anyone who might be genuinely interested in the philosophy. If the sort of people who babble about "renewed national dialogue" hate it, it's probably worth a look. Of course these review hacks have no clue about philosophical issues, they just fill in the blanks with some kerect-sounding lines from the "narrative". If that's the best B&N can do these days, they can't slide down the chute that ate Borders fast enough.

Edward Cline said...

I must confess that, after reading just the initial chapters of Weiss’s book, the prospect of criticizing it was so distasteful and repellent that I could not bring myself to cite a single sentence or paragraph. It would have been sheer agony. That’s how awful the book is. But, don’t let me finickiness stop others from reading the book.

Neil Parille said...


Weiss is a man of the left, a fact he doesn't hide. Nonetheless, he attempts (or so he claims) to be "fair and balanced" and even somewhat sympathetic to Rand and Objectivism. I do think he is more accurate in discussing Rand and Objectivism than almost any other leftist I've read.

But underneath it all there is a level of contempt for Rand and the constant implication that there is something malicious about Rand and her ideas.

For example, in the chapter about John Allison he discusses Rand's principled opposition to US involvement in WWII. Of course Rand was Jewish, so he can't accuse her of anti-Semitism. But he asks, "Here I was a few days before Yom Kippur, discussing [with Allison] whether or not there was something fouled up about the war that prevented Nazi German from turning more of my relatives into soap."

Putting aside the urban legend about Nazis making soap out of Jews, what's the point of this? Then there is a discussion about Rand's admiration of the apparently anti-Semitic Henry Ford.

You can almost hear Weiss saying, "Damn, I wish Rand weren't Jewish."

(And is Weiss really ignorant of the scholarship showing that Roosevelt, notwithstanding his claims of not wanting to get the US involved in WWII, was working behind the scenes to accomplish that?)

-Neil Parille