Why is Ayn Rand Respected More in India?
Posted by Jerry on September 16, 2006
Ayn Rand is rather well-known in India, though of course not as widely known as she is in the US; however, it can be argued that Rand is certainly viewed more respectfully and with admiration here in India than in the US.
The reasons for that are probably not quite straightforward: it’s not just because Rand’s reputation in India has escaped the lies, mischaracterizations, and attacks of the intellectual and academic elite in the US.
I think most people in India who like reading books, who are intellectuals (whether “elite” or not), who value ideas, etc. have read Ayn Rand. Rand’s works can be described as part of the canon for any serious Indian intellectual; I think I read an article in an Indian newspaper website someday that said something like reading Ayn Rand is the mark of an intellectual thinking person.
However, just because so many have read Rand does not imply that they all have come to admire her. In fact, I mentioned in my earlier post regarding the Ayn Rand at 100 book launch that though many of my colleagues had read The Fountainhead, some of them hated the book–and Ayn Rand–with a passion. Some others found her ideas very unrealistic, impossible, idealistic, and therefore, worthless.
Now, having said that, I would still claim that Rand enjoys much greater respect and admiration here in India today. In my opinion, the main reason for this is that the Indian people who read her actually understand the truth of her arguments, for the most part. Because Indians live in the collectivist, pseudo-statist, tradition-bound, mystic society that India is, the readers grasp the validity of Rand’s ferocious criticisms of these states and agree with her description of life under these conditions.
For example, Indians see the reality around them–of a massive bureaucratic government, socialist and collectivist policies, the influence of mysticism and religion in politics and in every aspect of life, the burden of tradition and familial obligations, the parasitic oppression of “needy” and the lazy on the hard-working average man–and they see how well Rand describes these very scenarios and reveals the root causes of them.
I think the Indians who read Rand identify with her because they feel she is exactly right; because they see what she denounces occurring in their own lives and in their societies. Moreover, Rand’s uniquely powerful, persuasive, bold, and lucid style of writing is perfect for the tastes of the Indian audience who are not into obfuscations, meandering musings, and equivocality. As a culture in general, Indians are rather direct in their communication (verbal and nonverbal), almost to the point of being tactless and crude. Thus, Rand’s admirable style of revealing things as they are, never faking reality, and calling a spade a spade, seems superbly customized for the Indian readership.
The American culture, on the other hand, does not have any of these contexts from which to understand the power of Ayn Rand. Americans have never encountered quite the conditions described in We The Living or that which is the reality in India. Americans have never really had to stand in long lines of ration to obtain food and groceries, face the corruption and stagnation of huge government bureaucracies, deal with corruption as a daily part of living, or have to deal with the politics of a collectivist mob. Americans do not face oppressive familial obligations arising from a collectivist and tradition-bound mentality; neither have they had the kind of mysticism rampant in this part of the world.
In short, Americans haven’t really experienced the full intensity of the consequences of bad ideas–the bad ideas that Rand exposed and harshly denounced. Therefore, to the Americans, Rand comes off as being “shrill” and “extreme”; to an Indian, perhaps, Rand comes off as being relevant, true, and like a “voice in the desert,” the voice of a brilliant mind.
Moreover, Americans are not “direct” people; as a culture, it seems that Americans like facades, appearances, euphemisms, pleasantries, vacuous conversations, avoiding uncomfortable remarks, and being polite. Thus, Rand’s blunt and bold style understandably comes off as being foreign and confrontational, and therefore, unlikeable.
These, in my opinion, are the reasons why Rand is accepted with considerable respect here than she is in the US. Moreover, in India, there is a dearth of intellectuals–much less intellectuals who write brilliant and successful books. Thus, Rand is respected right from the get-go as an intellectual who has published world famous books.
However, I must add this one final observation I have made: Indians also love ape-ing the West, especially America, in many aspects. And by “ape-ing”, I not only mean imitating, I also use it to refer to the Indian’s level of thinking as being at the functioning level of the Apes. Thus, I have noticed that some of the modern “elite” intellectuals in India who have read Rand–and have probably investigated some more about Rand via the internet or other sources–may have come to percieve the famine of interest in Rand-scholarship and lack of respect for her ideas in America. Some of them may have also read misleading reviews or heard of the straw-man criticisms against Rand (like, she was too “black & white,” or too “utopian,” or “teenagers read Rand, then one grows out of it), and they blankly repeat these criticisms and consider themselves “over” Rand, as in, “oh, I’m over her already.”
So, yes. I have noticed some Indian “elite” readers use the same criticisms against Rand that I have read on the Internet and in the US. I believe the “fashion” of being “over Ayn Rand” might be catching on in India also. But let’s hope that that does not happen.