Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ayn Rand: The Adolescent Uber-Frau

The introduction of my 35th Anniversary edition of Atlas Shrugged is not like any other introduction I've read. It's "written" by a disciple of Rand, and is most notable for a complete unwillingness to in any way presume to say anything about her work. Providing historical commentary or giving any sense of where the book fits in the history of Western thought would have been nice, but that jes' weren't happening. Instead, we hear that only Ayn Rand can meaningfully tell us about Ayn Rand. Copious quotations from her notes are then provided, as evidence of her amazing and unparalleled mind.

Skirting around the edges of the book are similar praises, many written by herself. The "about the author" section? She wrote it. We hear her pronounce, on the back cover, that her thoughts were so unique that she was obligated to "..originate a philosophical framework of my own." She admits that she bears a philosophical debt to Aristotle, who also loved reason, but that's the only influence we hear her express. Everything else springs from her own totally new and previously unarticulated font of critical reason.

This strikes me as painfully adolescent. Pretty much every pubescent humanoid passes through a stage where they are utterly convinced of their own uniqueness. No one before has ever thought as they think. No one has ever loved as intensely as they've loved, or been so sad. The fires of teen hormones and the transition to adulthood create an intellectual and emotional self-absorption that most of us, thankfully, grow out of. We connect to other human beings. We realize the common struggles we all share, and we grow up.

For Ms. Rand and the adherents to her movement, that appears not to have happened. Admitting a sense of connectedness to other thinkers would have required admitting conceptual dependence on others...and that might have messed with the fevered self-esteem that lies at the heart of objectivist morality.

If she had made that leap, she'd have realized that the philosopher she is most indebted to isn't Aristotle. Instead, "objectivism" and the themes it sounds of the heroic individual standing above the weak and slavish masses have their strongest conceptual connection to the Dark Philosopher, the Master of the Aphorism, Mr. "God Is Dead" Himself, my old pal Fredrick Nietzsche. Sure, Rand's schtick is filtered through some radically capitalist presumptions. But her nihilism and his are peas in a pod.

Having recognized that fundamental kinship, I wonder if my own Will to Power will permit me to muster the Will to Keep Reading Ayn Rand. I figure it will. If I can manage to choke down books by Joel Osteen, I'm sure I can manage Atlas Shrugged.