Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ayn Rand at 110

Ayn Rand at 110 | Cato Institute - David Boaz:

February 2, 2015 - "In the dark year of 1943, in the depths of World War II and the Holocaust, when the United States was allied with one totalitarian power to defeat another, three remarkable women published books that could be said to have given birth to the modern libertarian movement. Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who had written Little House on the Prairie and other stories of American rugged individualism, published a passionate historical essay called The Discovery of Freedom. Isabel Paterson, a novelist and literary critic, produced The God of the Machine, which defended individualism as the source of progress in the world.

"The other great book of 1943 was The Fountainhead, a powerful novel about architecture and integrity by Ayn Rand. The book’s individualist theme did not fit the spirit of the age, and reviewers savaged it. But it found its intended readers. Its sales started slowly, then built and built. It was still on the New York Times bestseller list two full years later. Hundreds of thousands of people read it in the 1940s, millions eventually, some of them because of the 1949 film starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal, and many of them were inspired enough to seek more information about Ayn Rand’s ideas. Rand went on to write an even more successful novel, Atlas Shrugged, in 1957, and to found an association of people who shared her philosophy, which she called Objectivism....

"George Gilder called Atlas Shrugged 'the most important novel of ideas since War and Peace.' Writing in the Washington Post, he explained her impact on the world of ideas and especially the world of capitalist ideas: 'Rand flung her gigantic books into the teeth of an intelligentsia still intoxicated by state power, during an era when even Dwight Eisenhower maintained tax rates of 90 percent and confessed his inability to answer Nikita Khrushchev’s assertion that capitalism was immoral because it was based on greed.'

"Rand’s books first appeared when no one seemed to support freedom and capitalism, and when even capitalism’s greatest defenders seemed to emphasize its utility, not its morality. It was often said at the time that socialism is a good idea in theory, but human beings just aren’t good enough for socialism. It was Ayn Rand who said that socialism is not good enough for human beings.

"Her books garnered millions of readers because they presented a passionate philosophical case for individual rights and capitalism, and did so through the medium of vivid, can’t-put-it-down novels. The people who read Ayn Rand and got the point didn’t just become aware of costs and benefits, incentives and trade-offs. They became passionate advocates of liberty.

"Rand was an anomaly in the 1940s and 1950s, an advocate of reason and individualism in time of irrationality and conformity. But she was a shaper of the 1960s, the age of “do your own thing” and youth rebellion; the 1970s, pejoratively described as the “Me Decade” but perhaps better understood as an age of skepticism about institutions and a turn toward self-improvement and personal happiness; and the 1980s, the decade of tax cuts and entrepreneurship.

"Throughout those decades her books continued to sell — 30 million copies over the years, and they still move off the shelves. The financial crisis and Wall Street bailouts gave Atlas Shrugged a huge push. A Facebook group titled 'Read the news today? It’s like Atlas Shrugged is happening in real life' was formed. More than 50 years after publication, the book had its best sales year ever. And sales have remained high — more than a million copies of Rand’s books were sold in 2012."

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