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What is going on in America today?

I've asked myself a lot in the last couple of years.  I'm old enough to have vague memories of watching the 1968 Republican convention on TV, and how strange it all seemed, with the balloons and the boring speeches and the serious tone of it all.  I have much clearer memories of the 1972 election, and the disastrous aftermath as first Agnew, then Nixon resigned, and America had her very first non-elected President.  Carter, Reagan, both Bushes, Clinton...I've seen a lot of strange, strange things promulgated by our leaders, and I thought I'd seen it all.

And then came the 2010 elections, and I knew I was wrong.

The rollback on workers' rights in Wisconsin and New Hampshire...the removal of a mural on labor history in Maine...a presidential candidate advocating the repeal of child labor laws...bankers sipping champagne and laughing as demonstrators flooded Zuccotti Park....

Oddest of all was the sudden questioning of issues that had seemingly been settled decades ago, like child labor laws, worker's compensation, public pensions, the right of unions to negotiate, and the necessity of a social safety net.  What was going on?  Why were conservatives seemingly hellbent on dismantling every single protection the average citizen had won since the 1930s?  And why were so many politicians acting as if nothing was wrong, that winning the midterm elections meant they had a mandate to repeal the 20th century?

There were hints in the signs at Tea Party rallies, in the viral marketing campaign for a terrible movie based on a book that my mother wouldn't have allowed in the house, in the confidence of the 1%.  But last week I read a book that went a long way to answer my questions.

The book is Ayn Rand Nation:  The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul, by financial reporter Gary Weiss.  It's a lucid, thoroughly, and utterly terrifying investigation into the movement that is destroying America, bit by bit, in accordance with the vision of a woman who believed in nothing and no one except herself.

Gary Weiss is no stranger to the greed and venality of the financial industry; formerly a reporter for Business Week, Weiss has broken important stories like the 1991 bond trading scandal at Salomon Brothers, the infiltration of Wall Street by organized crime in the 1990s, and the poisonous influence of hedge funds on American finances.  His previous two books, Born to Steal: When the Mafia Hit Wall Street, and Wall Street Versus America: The Rampant Greed and Dishonesty That Imperil Your Investments, pull no punches in describing how the financial industry looks after its own interests before those of its clients.  It's little wonder that Weiss worked as the Muckraker columnist at Forbes.com from 2006 to 2008, or that he's decried Wall Street excesses like naked short selling and hedge funds.

Ayn Rand Nation is the logical extension of his previous work.  Weiss uses the book's seventeen chapters, each concentrating on a single figure or event, to investigate the work of Russian-American author Ayn Rand (born Alyssa Rosenbaum) and her little known and increasingly pervasive influence on American life and thought.  Rand, who came to the United States in 1925 on a student visa and never left, wrote novels, screenplays, and essays advocating what she called Objectivism:  an atheistic philosophy that regarded reason as the highest virtue, called for self-reliance and "rational self-interest" in all aspects of life, and held that any sort of collective endeavor, whether governmental, ethnic, or other, was a form of "statism" that stifled individual rights.  Works such as The Virtue of Selfishness decried altruism and self-sacrifice as evil, worthless, and utterly incompatible with human happiness.

Although this philosophy might seem incompatible with American values and history, Weiss's odyssey reveals that Objectivism has tapped a vein of good old American self-reliance.  Through interviews with old school Objectivists, disgraced followers like Rand's former lover Nathaniel Branden, current Randian powers like Yaron Brook, and Tea Party activists like Mark Meckler and anti-Islamist Pamela Geller, Weiss unearths how thoroughly Rand's ideas have come to permeate the American Right.  Lower taxes for the wealthy, a government responsible only for law enforcement and national defense, self-reliance so complete that the social safety net is yanked out from under the vulnerable, the sense that the vulnerable and the old and the sick have no one but themselves to blame if they fail...it's all there as person after person describes reading a Rand novel, feeling as if s/he'd found the answers s/he was seeking, and then adopting Rand's philosophy of selfishness as a way of life.

Weiss goes on to describe the (very minor) differences between two competing Rand Groups, the Ayn Rand Institute and the Atlas Society, the attempts of both groups to work with similar but competing movements such as Libertarianism and the Tea Party, and the chilling possibility that these disparate movements could unite and become more than a passing force in American politics.  At the same time, he makes it clear that some of the differences are deep enough that the odds of anything more than a temporary alliance are slim; Objectivism abhors what it calls "spiritualism" and advocates strict atheism, making it unlikely that the strong Christian strain in the Tea Party will allow itself to become co-opted by Objectivism.  Even the Libertarians are not committed enough to individualism for the Ayn Rand Institute, even though Weiss learns the ARI is more than willing to use Libertarian politicians to achieve its goals.

Along the way, Weiss debunks the myth that the early Tea Party was permeated by Objectivism (Tea Party Patriot co-founder Mark Meckler had never read Rand, while another Tea Party activist sees the books as advocating old fashioned American values like self-reliance and sticking up for the little guy, an interpretation that would have likely reduced Rand herself either to laughter or rage).  At the same time, he confirms the truism about Objectivists reading Rand's books as teenagers or young adults; almost every true believer he encounters read Rand's novels in high school or college, with some (most notably Yaron Brook) undergoing a near-religious conversion from socialism or liberalism to Objectivism.  

The conversion experience is not the only similarity to fundamentalist religion that Weiss finds in Objectivism; Rand's early followers, the Collective, engaged in punishments like shunning and banishment, regularly examined each other for deviations in thought, and willingly overlooked their leader's penchant for young lovers like Nathaniel Branden in their zeal.  Even the split between the Ayn Rand Institute and the Atlas Society resembles a religious schism, although facetious comparisons to the Judean Peoples Liberation Front vs People's Liberation Front of Judea pale when one realizes that ARI in particular is about as lighthearted as the East German Stasi.  Objectivism has been compared by other writers to a cult, and after reading Ayn Rand Nation I can't help but agree.

Perhaps the most valuable, and chilling, part of the book is the chapter where Weiss, after months of trying, finally manages to interview ARI president Yaron Brook.  Brook, a skilled debater and public speaker, makes it crystal clear that the ARI's ultimate goal is the complete dismantling of the American safety net and most of the functions of the American government.  This is why the ARI has sent so many books to teachers and professors, why they confidently debated the liberal think tank Demos last year, and why they believe they are closer to achieving their goals than at any other time in American history.  The ARI and other Objectivist groups have been planning their takeover of American culture, politics, and institutions for decades, and they have no intention of stopping until America is a land of glittering promise for the wealthy and the educated, and a hell of poverty, ignorance, and destruction for the less fortunate, the old, and the sick.  Leading Objectivist and Rand disciple Alan Greenspan headed the Federal Reserve for decades and nearly managed to destroy the world financial system by applying her ideas, after all, so why shouldn't a world where young people read and believe in Rand's philosophy become a reality?

One question ran through my head as I read Ayn Rand Nation:  why?  Why would anyone, especially any American, actually think that selfishness was good?  That letting the sick die, that letting the old starve, that letting our cities crumble and our democracy mutate into an oligarchy controlled by the ultra-rich, was a good thing?  Ayn Rand herself was raised in a well off Jewish family and surely knew of the Jewish emphasis on charity, compassion, and caring for the sick and the weak.  What had happened?

The answer is revealed by, of all people, filmmaker Oliver Stone.  Stone worked for years to bring The Fountainhead, Rand's novel about a groundbreaking architect, to the screen with Brad Pitt and Angeline Jolie as the leads.  Stone tells Weiss that his version of the story would have stripped away the selfishness to the the core of Rand's vision:  a man fighting for his ideals against long odds, with the ultimate goal of benefiting the less fortunate through his work.  He goes on to explain that, as he saw it, Ayn Rand's vision of American government and institutions was irrevocably colored by her flight from Soviet Russia in the 1920s, when the idealism of the collectivist state yielded to the reality of Stalin's dictatorship.  She was so traumatized by her family losing its possessions that she was never able to see government as anything but evil, and any efforts by government or the people to band together as the first step toward the horrors she had seen as a young woman.  

And although neither Stone nor Weiss says this in so many words, it's hard to escape the conclusion that Rand, who fled Stalin for America, wanted nothing more than to restore her vanished childhood of wealth and privilege under the Czars in her adopted homeland.

The book ends with a dystopian epilogue describing an Objectivst America, one with no public services, no public transportation, no charity hospitals, no safety net, no food and drug laws, nothing but the ultra-wealthy in their gated communities and the undernourished, half-savage masses toiling for their masters.  It is a profound un-American world, one closer to the hellish society of The Handmaid's Tale or Heinlein's If This Goes On - than the one the Founders dreamed of, and it is far closer to reality than most Americans know.  Weiss urges his readers to oppose this by asking the question over and over again until the old American ideals of helping one's neighbor, of banding together for the common good, of striving toward a common goal, overcome the Objectivist ideal of working for one's self and only one's self:

What sort of America do you want?  The world of the Founders, or the world of Ayn Rand?

Tue Mar 06, 2012 at 8:50 AM PT: Looks like I've gored an ox, because we have a real, live Objectivist visiting my little diary!  Give JOHN DONAHUE a great big DKos welcome, and treat him as he'd treat a progressive who started trolling the ARI's website.

Have fun!

Originally posted to Ellid on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 08:13 PM PST.

Also republished by DKOMA and Readers and Book Lovers.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I wrote a diary earlier today, (11+ / 0-)

    that touched on Rand's role in movement conservatism. Funny how coincidences work sometimes.

    Tip, Rec, Hotlist so i can come back to this and digest it fully.

    Thanks!

    "when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro"

    by gravlax on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 08:16:31 PM PST

  •  Very well done. (8+ / 0-)

    Rand's followers are scary, and the scariest of them all are these people who claim to admire Rand and yet have never read her over-worked, clunky, utterly worthless as literature novels--or anything else by her, for that matter. THAT is SCARY.

    Santorum: Man on Dog; Romney: Dog on Car. Ren and Stimpy: Dog on Cat equalitymaine.org

    by commonmass on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 08:31:21 PM PST

  •  I despise Rand, but I have to disagree on this: (8+ / 0-)
    And although neither Stone nor Weiss says this in so many words, it's hard to escape the conclusion that Rand, who fled Stalin for America, wanted nothing more than to restore her vanished childhood of wealth and privilege under the Czars in her adopted homeland.
    I understand why you'd come to that conclusion, but I think it paints an unfairly narrow view of Rand as someone who developed a philosophy out of pure self-centered greed (not that she'd see anything wrong with that.)  There's much more to that story, though:

    First, consider that Rand was no fan of the deposed regime.  She's definitely not clinging to old privilege, given that she supported the transitional government in the wake of the overthrow of the tsar.  Things got more complicated within a few short years: before she left Russia, Rand saw firsthand the dangers of the new regime policies both as they affected her family (as you noted), as they affected her (she was purged from the university, along with a lot of other students), and as they affected her colleagues (she saw the banhammer come down on works that were not sufficiently ideological).   Rand was a writer and had first-hand experience with the special difficulties faced by early Soviet writers.  The long slog of Soviet censorship began in 1921 with the banning of Zamyatin's We by Goskomizdat (the state committee on publishing-related matters); Rand lived in the country for another three or four years.  It's not so much a return to luxury that fuels Rand's indignation as - and this may be the only thing I'd ever give her credit for - a just and righteous anger at the level of control that the government was beginning to exert over its intelligentsia.  She's in America by the time the official doctrine of Socialist Realism is fully developed, but she certainly knew it, and it's the pure antithesis of her own work in terms of theme (though uncomfortably close in execution).   All that is to say, her objections do have a legitimate base outside of her own narrow self-interest.

    I've mentioned this before on the site, but it's really hard to understand Rand without looking at the literary context she grew out of.  She's basically the granddaughter of Nikolai Chernyshevsky and, to a lesser extent, Dostoevsky; this is the great tradition of Russian literary idealism, which tries to find the solution to all of life's problems in a thousand page novel.  Rand's solutions are infantile, half-baked, and dangerous; but her motivations were quite a bit more complicated than a desire to return to a childhood of wealth and privilege.  

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 09:04:58 PM PST

    •  Maybe so, but (7+ / 0-)

      it doesn't change the fact that many of the elite on the right here in America view her as a goddess and interpret her ideology to fit right in line with their own.  An ideology which espouses the survival of only the strongest and the smartest and to hell with anyone else.

      "Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." - John F. Kennedy

      by helpImdrowning on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 09:18:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, sure. (5+ / 0-)

        I'm not defending Rand's conclusions at all.  I just think she comes out of a more a complicated set of motivations than are usually ascribed to her.  

        Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

        by pico on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 09:35:36 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Exactly. Her utopia would be hell for so many (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Monsieur Georges, RunawayRose

        Also, Weiss points out that she was perfectly willing to use America's social safety net and institutions when it suited her, like going on Medicare to treat her cancer, or Social Security to supplement her income.

        •  There is a certain mindset (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose

          that these works appeal to, a mindset that won't compromise, and can see only black and white.  These folks argue that any system with a hint of socialism must end in something like Stalinism.  The evidence amassed right here in the USA since the 1930s would seem to be enough to refute that, but Randians are apparently not evidence-driven.

      •  I first read AS at 15, once a year for 20 years (0+ / 0-)

        after that.
        The people who claim to be the like the "heros" in are actually the advisories of the "hero's"in the book.

        What I got out of it was that each person no matter in what job that did it well was to be applauded.

        Also that those with abilities others did not possess were responsible for caring for them, as people have different abilities.

        I ignored most of the political stuff in the book except for Government not having the right to take the product of a person's work from them and giving it away, Like Bill Gates, no one has been able to do what he has done and it should not be taken away from him because of that fact.

        As Bill Gates shows us, he cares for Humanity.
        That is what I have done in my life, did the best I could, but encountered people at work who could not do it get raises and promoted due to azz kissing, which I did not do.

        I think those goofballs who are claiming to be the product of Atlas Shrugged haven't even read the entire book. I is a BIG book with small type, I cannot immagine the people in the tea party putting down their beers and actually reading every word.
        I have always been a big reader, reading a book a day these years (no longer working) and it took me a long time to read it even the last time, so...
        I guess it is like any book, you take out the good things and ignore the BS hype you do not agree with.
        Whenever I saw or read about Rand I always felt sorry for her for being so emotionally messed up.

        •  She had "issues," to put it mildly (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Monsieur Georges, RunawayRose

          The whole mess with the Brandens was the stuff of grand opera, except that the Objectivists would buy up all the tickets and close the opera house if they got wind of it.

          •  It's all in Barbara Branden's The Passion of Ayn (0+ / 0-)

            Rand. It's not grand opera. It's soap opera, a typical love triangle.

            "Mistress of the Topaz" is now available in paperback! Link here: http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/single.php?ISBN=1-55404-900-8

            by Kimball Cross on Wed Mar 07, 2012 at 11:58:45 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  I tried to read AS at the ripe old age of 17 (0+ / 0-)

          which was perfect for a conversion. I thought it was terrible as literature. The characters had no subtlety and the narrative came to a stop periodically so the author could lecture the reader through the mouth of a character.

          I readily saw through the politics of it. She treats all who disagree as men of straw to be effortlessly knocked down.

          "Mistress of the Topaz" is now available in paperback! Link here: http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/single.php?ISBN=1-55404-900-8

          by Kimball Cross on Wed Mar 07, 2012 at 12:00:40 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  I stand corrected (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Monsieur Georges, RunawayRose, pico

      At the same time, I do think Stone has a point:  the state she rails against is a lot closer to Stalinist Russia than Depression-era America.  

    •  Libertarianism and Objectivism are the same. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      helpImdrowning

      At least, not entirely. I don't have the URL, but the Libertarian columnist and blogger Cathy Young has criticized Rand for despising private charity just as much as she hated welfare programs. It's a valid point. If you don't think the government should help the poor, that's no reason why each of us in our own way could give the less fortunate a helping hand.

      "Mistress of the Topaz" is now available in paperback! Link here: http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/single.php?ISBN=1-55404-900-8

      by Kimball Cross on Wed Mar 07, 2012 at 11:57:17 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is so strange, (7+ / 0-)

    I was just thinking these very thoughts myself over the past several days and was thinking what a great diary it would make.  You have done a great job!  Thanks.  I have been an avid reader all my life and read a wide range of subject matter.  I have tried and failed to get through even one of Rand's novels.  I found them incredibly difficult to like enough to want to finish.  I have picked them up from time to time and put them back down.  Of particular note has been the people I know who have suggested that I read them, ambitious, wealthy (or wanna be wealthy), cold, and selfish people.  I will have to read Ayn Rand Nation:  The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul.  I think you and Gary Weiss have hit the nail squarely on the head.  This is a very scary time indeed.  We all need to keep our heads and our hearts on high alert and never waiver in the continuing struggle for fairness and decency in America, and around the world.  There is right wing war for supremacy taking place, not just in America, but around the world.  I hate to sound dramatic, but I really believe this to be true.  Look at Europe, Canada, Australia, etc.  Even in the socialist Scandinavian countries right wingers are making noise.

    "Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." - John F. Kennedy

    by helpImdrowning on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 09:11:09 PM PST

  •  I remember knowing about how, a million years (7+ / 0-)

    ago, anyone not knowing about how everyone needed to work together just died outside the fold. No genes passed on, nothing.

    True fact!

    A funny old world, ain't it!

    And now any old fool (Ron Paul, that's you) can advocate going back to a time when he would have not survived past early adulthhod. (And good riddance.)

    There can be no protection locally if we're content to ignore the fact that there are no controls globally.

    by oldpotsmuggler on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 09:28:02 PM PST

  •  I have an entire file of mocking comments (7+ / 0-)

    ...about Rand, her books, her beliefs, and her followers.  Now I have to search for the best ones to repay you for the ones I've collected from your diary and from the book.

    Fat Cat goes Galt

    "There are two novels that can transform a bookish  14-year-old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a  childish daydream that can lead to an emotionally stunted, socially  crippled adulthood ...in which large chunks of the day are spent  inventing ways to make real life more like a fantasy novel. The other is  a book about orcs."~Raj Patel in The Value of Nothing.

    This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
    ~Dorothy Parker on Atlas Shrugged

    "Who is John Galt?" A two dimensional character in a third rate novel written by Alan Greenspan's dominatrix.~Inventor on Daily Kos.

    Ah, yes, Alan Greenspan. This is where the post turns a little more serious. The late Paul Samuelson had the following to say about him:

    And this brings us to Alan Greenspan, whom I've known for  over 50 years and who I regarded as one of the best young business  economists. Townsend-Greenspan was his company. But the trouble is  that he had been an Ayn Rander. You can take the boy out of the cult but  you can't take the cult out of the boy. He actually had  instruction, probably pinned on the wall: 'Nothing from this office  should go forth which discredits the capitalist system. Greed is good.'
    Greenspan also makes a cameo in Maureen Dowd's comment on Atlas Shrugged, along with Paul Ryan.
    Congressman Ryan has said the reason he got involved in  public service was “by and large” because of Rand, and he has encouraged  his staffers to read “Atlas Shrugged.”

    You’d think that our fiscal meltdown would have shown the flaw in Rand’s philosophy. She thought we could derive morals from the markets. But we  derived immorality from the markets.
    ...
    What Rand and acolytes like Alan Greenspan failed to realize is that if  everyone acts in self-interest and no one takes into account the  weakness to the entire system that occurs when everybody indulges in the  same kind of risky behavior, the innocent and the guilty are engulfed.

    Speaking of the cult-liike nature of Objectivism, I have a sublime to the ridiculous comparison of Objectivism and Scientology.

    "The party of ideas has become the party of Beavis and Butthead." ~ Paul Krugman.

    by Neon Vincent on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 11:10:28 PM PST

    •  Here's something more serious (7+ / 0-)

      Brad Hicks on LiveJournal had the following to say about "Atlas Shrugged."

      Atlas Shrugged, for those of you who never read it, can be summarized entirely fairly as follows. Unknown to our viewpoint characters at first, an inventor named John Galt has invented a "free energy" machine, a motor that runs on ambient static electricity and the Earth's own inertia and puts out enough electricity in a fairly small unit to power almost anything, including vehicles, force field generators, energy weapons, even an invisibility cloak if you use a big enough unit. He invented this while working at a company where his contract gave them rights to stuff he invented on the clock, like most professional engineers and inventors, but he assumed that as the inventor, he was entitled to all of the profits from this fabulous new invention. The company's management and other employees, though, saw just how much resentment would happen if one company owned the monopoly on an invention this valuable, and started making plans for how to invest some of the profits into charitable ventures, so they wouldn't get the whole thing taken away from them via eminent domain. John Galt, outraged that anybody would even suggest that he or the company he worked for owed anything to the nation that provided his education, protected him from infectious disease outbreaks, protected him from Communist invasion, built the roads that got him to work each day, provided the police that kept him safe, and provided the court system that protected his property rights at all, sabotaged the Galt Engine, so nobody could have it.

      Then he went further and, in a fit of offended pique, promised to "stop the motor of the world," to kill 90% or so of Earth's population by intentionally wrecking the economy. Which he then did. How? By finding every other competent engineer or manager in the US and persuading them to be just as selfish as him, just as unwilling to pay back or protect their country; he declared a covert "strike of the mind," as he called it. He hid them all in a secretive compound in the Rocky Mountains, protected by force field and invisibility cloak, and waited for the US economy to collapse, which, obligingly, it did -- because John Galt had carefully sabotaged the bridges and railroads that made it possible for fuel and seeds to make it from the coastal cities to inland farms, and make it possible for food grown on inland farms to make it to the coastal cities. And as chaos was breaking out, he and his fellow inventors hijacked every radio transmitter in the US to broadcast his manifesto: You all deserve to die, for asking us to pay you back even one nickel, because we are all so selfish we don't consider any of the things you all paid for out of your taxes and that you did with your labor to have been at all helpful to us as entirely self-sufficient brilliant inventors and managers. So die.

      I told you.  Deliberately engineered collapse in the service of Objectivist goals is all there in the manual.  Furthermore, John Galt, the mastermind behind this plan, is someone that Objectivists think is a hero.  Lovely.

      Furthermore, George Monbiot noted that efforts to prevent collapse, especially environmental collapse, absolutely enrage Objectivists.

      A new movement, most visible in North America and Australia, but now apparent everywhere, demands to trample on the lives of others as if this were a human right. It will not be constrained by taxes, gun laws, regulations, health and safety, especially environmental restraints. It knows that fossil fuels have granted the universal ape amplification beyond its Palaeolithic dreams. For a moment, a marvellous, frontier moment, they allowed us to live in blissful mindlessness.

      The angry men know that this golden age has gone; but they cannot find the words for the constraints they hate. Clutching their copies of Atlas Shrugged, they flail around, accusing those who would impede them of communism, fascism, religiosity, misanthropy, but knowing at heart that these restrictions are driven by something far more repulsive to the unrestrained man: the decencies we owe to other human beings.

      Even worse, they have elite help as Stranded Wind stated on Daily Kos.
      How did we get here? You’ll find the Friedmanite free market ideology, lacking in merit for many of the situations to which it has been applied, yet its followers continuing howling that we ought to let the market decide, marketwide credit constipation be damned. The handmaiden of this foolishness, Rand’s objectivism, provides the ideological zombie virus that created many of the Freidmanite ideology’s true believers.
      I'm in the middle of reading Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine," in which Milton Friedman's free market ideology plays a starring, albeit villainous, role, so I found the juxtaposition of Friedman and Rand particularly striking.  When I finish the book, I promise to blog about it.  I just hope it doesn't take seven months.

      Of course, what comes around goes around.  One of the quotes collected on Mike Huben's site comes from Bob Black, "Smokestack Lightning" and is most apt.

      As it happens there is light to be shed on the libertarian position on breathing. Ayn Rand is always inspirational and often oracular for libertarians. A strident atheist and vehement rationalist -- she felt in fact that she and three or four of her disciples were the only really rational people there were -- Rand remarked that she worshipped smokestacks. For her, as for Lyndon LaRouche, they not only stood for, they were the epitome of human accomplishment. She must have meant it since she was something of a human smokestack herself; she was a chain smoker, as were the other rationals in her entourage. In the end she abolished her own breathing: she died of lung cancer.
      The above is an excerpt of my blog post Collapse is all there in the Objectivist manual.

      "The party of ideas has become the party of Beavis and Butthead." ~ Paul Krugman.

      by Neon Vincent on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 11:15:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Speaking of Representative Ryan (4+ / 0-)

      I was one of the picketers of his visit on behalf of Pete Hoekstra yesterday.

      Detroit Free Press: Candidate Pete Hoekstra rallies support

      About a dozen protesters, including some senior citizens, picketed the event at the Westin Hotel in Southfield and were more than happy to talk about their fear of spiraling health care costs.

      “All I have is Social Security and my husband’s pension and now I feel like I’m being squeezed out,” said Deanna Tachna, 73, of Birmingham. “I always thought that I was part of the middle class, but with this, there’s not going to be a middle class anymore.”

      The reporter came at the end of the demonstration as people were starting to leave. If she had counted five minutes earlier and included the people demonstrating by the entrance to the parking garage less than 100 feet away, she would have recorded twice as many.

      I also have two posts about him and his connection to Ayn Rand and Objectivism.

      A Day in Exquisite Insults of Objectivists

      More Krugman on Paul Ryan

      "The party of ideas has become the party of Beavis and Butthead." ~ Paul Krugman.

      by Neon Vincent on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 11:28:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Nice. n/t (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Neon Vincent, RunawayRose

      "Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." - John F. Kennedy

      by helpImdrowning on Tue Mar 06, 2012 at 12:15:27 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Weiss just about flaws Greenspan and his work (5+ / 0-)

      He takes particular care to point out that no, Greenspan has NOT repudiated Objectivism or laissez faire economics.  The "I was wrong comment" was taken out of context by the press, and Greenspan has subsequently insisted that the free market be allowed to work itself out despite clear evidence that the free market damn near collapsed the world economic system.

      Greenspan is a fanatic.  That isn't going to change.  Unfortunately, it's going to take decades to root out his influence at the Fed.

  •  This diary ought to be on the front page (4+ / 0-)

    Thank you, Ellid.  I always found Rand unreadable but I'm glad you and others have the stamina to examine her ideas.  I had no idea that Greenspan was a Randian!  No wonder the economy is in such lousy shape.

    The cult of selfishness is absolutely sickening. I'd rather be like my maternal grandmother:  poor as she could be, with 10 children to feed, she still shared her food with the hungry people who passed by her house in Texas on their way to California in the dustbowl 1930s.  Compare that with people who are loading up on guns and ammo so they can shoot such people.

    Tipped, rec'd, and shared on Facebook.

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Tue Mar 06, 2012 at 04:38:30 AM PST

  •  Over on Amazon (5+ / 0-)

    the Randites are already out in full force trying to make sure that this book is not bought or read.

    Predictable, of course.

    The thing about quotes on the internet is you cannot confirm their validity. ~Abraham Lincoln

    by raboof on Tue Mar 06, 2012 at 05:16:02 AM PST

  •  Hmm... (0+ / 0-)

    I just realized that Ayn Rand is that Antichrist everybody is always talking about.

  •  Your own construct (0+ / 1-)
    Recommended by:
    Hidden by:
    aravir

    You responded to the construct you WISH Ayn Rand stood for, not the actual. No problem, it is your blog. By the way, Weiss did the same thing. Just know that your essay is not about Ayn Rand or Objectivism.

    I won't bother to counter all the errors and rampant psychologizing, but here is an example:

    "One question ran through my head as I read Ayn Rand Nation:  why?  Why would anyone, especially any American, actually think that selfishness was good?  That letting the sick die, that letting the old starve, that letting our cities crumble and our democracy mutate into an oligarchy controlled by the ultra-rich, was a good thing?  Ayn Rand herself was raised in a well off Jewish family and surely knew of the Jewish emphasis on charity, compassion, and caring for the sick and the weak.  What had happened?"

    Here are your errors:
    1) Rand vehemently opposed oligarchy. Many of her "bad guys" are the essence of it.
    2) Just because Rand denounced coercion in 'caring' does not mean she opposed voluntary caring.
    3) "Caring" suffers under the coercive boot of the state; Rand pointed this out. Progressives heartlessly do not care.
    4) ----- [restraining from commenting on despicable racist psycholgoizing on "Jewish."] ----------

    Here is your correction:
    Ayn Rand's "selfishness" is rational self-interest. This means a healthy locus of identity, as opposed to the virulent co-dependant controllers in the collectivist camp. Why did she flaunt the word "selfishness?" For the very reason it causes fear and frothing at the mouth of those whose locus of control is outside themselves.

    John Donohue
    Pasadena, CA

    •  Welcome, Mr. Objectivist! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Monsieur Georges, RunawayRose

      Who sent you, Yaron Brook?  Or someone from the Atlas Society?  Either way, have fun, and don't forget to wipe your feet on the way out!

    •  I Feel Your Pain (3+ / 0-)

      I encounter the same kind of reaction all the time.  People criticizing my beliefs based on their conceptions of what I believe rather than the actual beliefs:

      "Christians are hateful!  Christians are mysogynists!  Christians want to enslave America in a theocracy!  Christians have no sense of humor and wear tacky shoes!"

      And when I point out that the teachings of Christ contain none of this, they make smug comments about "No True Scotsman" and point to the men in pointy mitres and wearing clerical collars and waving leatherbound Bibles in the air who do say things like this.

      They believe those other guys who claim to be Christian, and not me.

      So I really do feel your pain.

      That said, my actual reading of Rand has been very slight.  I read Anthem in a high school course and intensely disliked it.  Granted, Anthem is not one of her masterpieces and it's probably unfair to judge her entire philosophy by one slim novella, but it seemed to me that its overriding theme was that the Self was the most important thing in the cosmos and that co-operation was only a Weapon used by the State to oppress the Noble Individuals.  Which might have been more persuasive if the Genius Inventor of the story hadn't been a self-important and obsessive twit who made the Hidebound Elders look like prudent and sagacious men by comparison.

      As I said, it's unfair of me to judge Rand by that one book, but the impression of her that I came away with is one that Weiss, and Ellid's summary of Weiss's book, seems to confirm.

      "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

      by quarkstomper on Tue Mar 06, 2012 at 10:11:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  HR'ed for Objectivist spam (0+ / 0-)

      You need not troll this site to defend Rand.  

      Ancora Impara--Michelangelo

      by aravir on Wed Mar 07, 2012 at 07:08:27 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Item (2) is false. (0+ / 0-)

      Cathy Young of the Boston Globe in her largely complementary article on Rand on the occasion of the 100th birthday, had this to say about it.

      Politically, too, Rand's insistence on de-emphasizing, or even denigrating, family, community, and private charity is not a particularly clever tactic for capitalism's defenders. These are the very institutions that can be expected, in the absence of a massive welfare state, to meet those human needs that people prove unable to satisfy through the market. Rand did claim to be in favor of "benevolence," in contrast to altruism; but it would be fruitless to look for providers of private charitable aid among her "good guys," except for those who lend a helping hand to a friend. When charity is mentioned in Rand's fiction, it is nearly always in a negative context. In The Fountainhead, the chorus of "second-handers" eager to condemn her heroic, individualist architect protagonist, Howard Roark, include "the society woman dressing for a charity bazaar" who uses charity as an excuse to flaunt her virtue; in Atlas Shrugged, a club providing shelter to needy young women is mocked for offering help to unworthy sufferers such as drinkers, dope users, and unwed mothers-to-be.

      "Mistress of the Topaz" is now available in paperback! Link here: http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/single.php?ISBN=1-55404-900-8

      by Kimball Cross on Wed Mar 07, 2012 at 12:46:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  It is unclear why so many devotees of Rand's (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ellid

    graceless literature and objectivist philosophy are so drawn to government activities, a paradox, I would say, and one that betrays the true end product of the Randian belief system, controlling others.  And because they did not build the system of government, their attempts to tear it down look desperate and ignoble and dare I say weak.

    Romney went to France instead of serving in our military, got rich chop-shopping US businesses and eliminating US jobs, off-shored his money in the Cayman Island"s, and now tells us to "Believe in America."

    by judyms9 on Wed Mar 07, 2012 at 06:35:58 PM PST

  •  Elid, I am so sorry I wasn't able to come by (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ellid

    earlier to fully participate in the discussion.  Congratulations on attracting the Wrath of Rand from Pasadena!  You know  a nerve has been hit when even a review of Weiss' work draws out the little creatures.  And I fear that, like cockroaches we will have them with us always.

    As one who has read all of Rand's work, including her non-fiction, I can fully appreciate Weiss' thesis.  As progressives we have to continually be on guard and point out the fallacy inherent in her work.  

    The flaw that Greenspan stumbled over is one that Rand liked to ignore: not every person has at root the noble principles that she needs for her philosophy to work.  Her philosophy requires the "job creators" to have the same commitment to excellence and achievement that her storybook creations had.  They don't.  If they did, she could have written biographies instead of fiction.

    "I cannot live without books" -- Thomas Jefferson, 1815

    by Susan Grigsby on Wed Mar 07, 2012 at 10:13:54 PM PST

  •  The book is very good (0+ / 0-)

    Thanks to this review I downloaded the book and have found it, so far, to be very good. I agree with what was said earlier about the Amazon one-star comments. It seems that the Rand acolytes fear this book and don't want it to be read.

    Now that I've begun reading it I can see why.

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