Ayn Rand's sphere of influence

April 20, 2011

The always brilliant David Bentley
Hart skewers the thought of Ayn Rand in the latest First Things.

The occasion is the release of a
movie based on Rand's 1,000-page novel Atlas
. Hart doesn't seem to have seen the new movie, however, devoting
his attention instead to the 1949 film version of Rand's other major novel, The Fountainhead.

No matter. Either is sufficient for
the critic to dissect Rand's aesthetically clunky and morally empty celebration
of capitalist entrepreneurs, whom she imagined to be Nietzschean supermen,
courageously shaping the world according to their own laws and necessarily
trampling on any lesser breeds who get in the way. As Hart says, with what one
takes to be a neat understatement, "I cannot
find much common ground with someone who believed that the principal source of
human woe over the last twenty centuries has been a tragic shortage of

Yet only in a passing reference--to
images of Rand held up at Tea Party rallies--does Hart acknowledge the
political context of the film and the reasons for the renewed interest in Rand.
Hart notes that the new film premiered at "this year's CPAC convention," but he
doesn't pause to spell out that this means the Conservative Political Action

Rand has never been taken seriously
by those who know philosophy or care about fiction, but plenty of people take
her seriously as a guide to politics. That number is on the rise, and it
includes people like House budget chair and GOP economics guru Paul Ryan. Ryan
has cited Rand's novels as the reason he got into politics, and he reportedly
encourages his staff to read her books.

Other prominent politicians inspired by Rand
include libertarian lawmakers Rep. Ron Paul and Sen. Rand Paul. The Atlas Shrugged film has
been pushed
by Fox News host Sean Hannity, by the Heritage Foundation and by
FreedomWorks, the Tea Party organization headed by former House majority leader
Dick Armey.

Few people are worried that Rand's
"in praise of selfishness" ideas will take over university philosophy
departments or that her novels will be hailed as great art. Hart and the rest
of us can rest easy on that score. But there are reasons to worry that her
thinking is shaping American economic policy and inspiring political leaders.
Why didn't First Things call
attention to that?

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