The Literature of Capitalism

A piece in the New York Times' business section today about author Ayn Rand and her economic legacy got us thinking.

We read all of Rand's fiction back in high school, when we were feeling rebellious and anti-establishment and hating on adolescent suburban sheep (even though, duh, we were one of them). And while we don't live by her philosophy, we've long been fans of her writing. This has gotten us into trouble before. People who deem themselves literary taste-makers have yelled themselves blue in our faces trying to explain why Rand is a horrible writer who deals in primarily in clichés. Plus, she has no morals, and how can we stand that? We try to defend her.

Well, we say. The Fountainhead is a beautiful book, and when we try to explain why, we wind up talking a lot about Rand's aptitude for description and her ability to zoom into the hearts of her characters. Yes, she makes people villains and heroes, and most people in the real world aren't all Bad or all Good, but if you sit down to read one of her books, it's just something you have to expect of her style. You accept that, and you can accept the liberties she takes. Then - for us, at least - you can really take pleasure in what she has to say, whether you agree with it or not. If you ask us, she earns that right in the way she can weave a plot and a mystery. The Fountainhead is a true thriller, as are most of her novels.

Oh, and let's skip all the scary-creepy stuff about her affair with her (former) intellectual heir Nathaniel Brandon. We know. We read her biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand (written by Brandon's ex-wife Barbara), and if you care to learn the gossip, you can read it too.

What's more interesting to us, though (more interesting than gossip - we must be turning over a new leaf!) is that tons of high-powered CEOs and government figures have been harboring this secret passion for Objectivism in the years that Rand's novels have continued to sell and sell and sell. Rand's philosophy is a controversial one, which could explain why they're secretive about it - although it's common knowledge that recently-shamed Alan Greenspan counts her as one of his mentors.

But beyond that, is it possible that the movers-and-shakers of the business world could ever get together - not just at informal meetings - and do what Rand envisioned in Atlas Shrugged? Pull back, stop the motor of the earth, trample self-sacrifice, and rule by self-interest? We think perhaps, yes, although it's also just as possible that they would be doing it for reasons that Rand would despise.

Here's Part I of a conversation Rand had with Mike Wallace in 1959. We think she sounds a bit shrill at times, although we're fascinated by the fervor and belief you can practically see burning through her eyes. Not so unlike the religious fanatics she derides, if you ask us, but form your own opinion:


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