Ayn Rand: engineer of souls

Dalrymple is on quite the tear these days, writing one great piece after another, and it’s been hard to keep up. The latest is a new essay on Ayn Rand for The New Criterion, and it already seems to be drawing a lot of attention around the web. Conservatives have long had an uneasy relationship with Rand, embracing many of her conclusions but disavowing much of her reasoning and expressing concern for the places to which that reasoning ultimately leads. Dalrymple makes many of those same criticisms and, interestingly enough, also places her “outlook and intellectual style” firmly within the Russian rather than the American tradition — and not Chekhov or Turgenev but “angry literary and social critics, pamphleteers and ideologues”. He notes her megalomania, fanaticism and philosophical intolerance are “almost Soviet.”

Like so many of Dalrymple’s criticisms of various intellectuals, this one is all the more devastating for its fairness. He has obviously thought deeply and objectively about her work, ideas and behavior and does not hesitate to identify her admirable qualities.

A conservative can hardly discuss Rand without mentioning Whitaker Chambers’s famous criticism of Atlas Shrugged in National Review in 1957. While perhaps not as historically significant as Chambers’ critique, Dalrymple’s essay is, to me at least, a clearer and better explanation of her intellectual shortcomings.

Read it here (free of charge)

Update: Dont’ miss the discussion raging via the comments to Dalrymple’s article and New Criterion editor Roger Kimball’s take on it all.

9 thoughts on “Ayn Rand: engineer of souls

  1. Mary

    She had her Marx element too. Except that instead of thinking labor the sole element in productivity, she thought genius was.

    Trouble happens whenever you try to reduce the economy to one element.

  2. Steve

    Mary, that’s a great point and something I had not considered. I’ve long believed that the attempt to reduce inherently complex issues down to a few simple philosophical principles is normally a recipe for disaster, and I suppose that’s why I eventually came to disregard Ayn Rand (with whose ideas I was enthralled as a young person) as a serious thinker, but I had never noticed that specific example of it.

  3. clay barham

    As for me, I would marry Ayn Rand with John C Calhoun and come up with a well rounded libertarian governing system with individual freedom, the interests of individuals being far more important than are the interests of community as the old and new leftists call for, such as Obama. This translates to what America had under the libertarian 19th century Democrats who followed Jefferson and Madison. claysamerica.com

  4. Mary

    And how long would your libertarian society last?

    How on earth can individuals who are absorbed in their own interests raise children who will continue this tradition? People who exploit their children for their own interests will produce children unfit for liberty, and why would any libertarian submerge his own needs for a child’s?

  5. JB

    While I give Dr. Daniels credit for some of his points in this article, I believe he fails to address head on the fundamental components of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. As usual, too many criticisms of the woman’s erratic persona and private life. AD was more fair to her than a lot of critics are, particularly those on the Left, but I believe he misses the big picture. He levels criticism of The Fountainhead but what about her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged? It sometimes seems like I am the only person who understands what Ayn Rand was all about, crazy as that sounds. Regarding the parenting issue, it should be obvious that one’s child should be treated differently than a stranger (when she talked about ‘selfishness’ she meant rational self-interest). That’s one thing I wish would Leonard Peikoff would pursue – fully explaining Objectivist parenting, since he has a child. All this being said, I am not an Objectivist but respect and admire Ayn Rand greatly. I also truly enjoy Dr Anthony Daniels/Theodore Dalrymple’s writing (magnificent in style and content) and observations.

  6. Louis

    This is the archetypal Randian manoeuvre: only you, the Randian, understand what Rand was saying, which you don’t say, and she failed to say clearly, so all the non-Randian criticisms are invalid as they fall at the first hurdle of not being sufficiently Randian to make the cognitive jump necessary. Marxists used to use the same little trick in arguing. What it does, effectively, is to delimit a nice little ideological patch of grass on which the Randians can picnic without being bothered by the flies of common-sense objection.

    This criticism is meant in good faith, by the way, and if you go to the original NC article you can see in the hundreds of comments on TD’s Rand piece that it is a very common tactic among the Randians (they just keep saying “you’re wrong!”, “you don’t understand!”, “this is a hit-piece, a smear!”, “if you read Atlas Shrugged closely you’d get it!” etc. It’s all, well, rather adolescent.


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