Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Brief Review: Ayn Rand at 100

Posted by Jerry on September 26, 2006

I had finished reading this book of around 150 pages quite a while ago. And though I had originally intended on offering a detailed review of the book–perhaps of even each easy therein, having read the book made me realize that I have very few nice things to say about it.

First, on the whole, the book is appallingly poorly edited. It’s easy to overlook a few misspellings and grammatical errors, but not when the book is rife with them! The most shocking misspelling? — “Howard Roard”! (pg. 147, note 1). Now, before the reader begins to judge my own writing and errors therein, I must point out that this is a blog–not a published book of essays; further, I am not the pedantic kind to exaggerate minor typographical errors. But on the scale that Ayn Rand at 100 exhibits, it is not only distracting but also a poor reflection on Rand scholarship in general. I mean, getting the spelling of the name of the greatest heroic figure of modern times wrong, especially when that figure is the creation of the author whose centennial this book purports to celebrate is a terribly neglectful oversight.

Anyway, moving on. All of the essays in this book seem rather disparate–a forced compilation of disparate themes and thoughts. There are a couple of essays that attempt to establish an Indian connection with Ayn Rand’s ideas, then there are others that do little more than provide a summary of Rand’s ideas and her novels. Still others, are decidedly more libertarian than Objectivist.

The first essay that opens the book–besides the Preface–is Bibek Debroy’s Ayn Rand–The Indian Connection; a complete bore. In fact, as I came upon the last line of the essay, I asked myself, “Is that it? What did I just read? Almost nothing of substance was said in all of those words!” The essay is an intellectually empty roster of famous Indians who have read Ayn Rand’s books. Nothing more can be said of this essay.

Another terrible article was this laboriously long one written by Roderick T. Long (no connection with the last name) on Ayn Rand and Indian Philosophy. The essay was so lost in eastern mysticism. It takes the lovely, bright, radiant clarity of Objectivism and wraps it under thick and muddled layers of eastern, Indian, mythologies and mysticisms. Objectivism is served as a nauseatingly new-agey kind of “feel good” philosophy. Take this claim, for instance: “Indian moral philosophy is generally “egoistic,” in the broad sense that benefit to the individual agent is regarded as the proper purpose of morality.” This statement is representative of the mental gymnastics undertaken to tie Rand’s Objectivism with Indian and eastern crap. Egoism defined in this “broad sense” is not only utterly meaningless such that anything and anyone (even a sick hermit in the Himalayas) can be considered an “egoist” but also more specifically, it is not what Rand defined it as.

Moreover, I would argue that it is patently false to ascribe any sensible notion of “egoism” to Indian moral philosophy, let alone the proper notion of “egoism” that Rand championed. If anything, Indian moral philosophy is pathetically anti-ego, anti-self, mired in maya or illusion, thoroughly collectivist without much room of individual egos to develop, and rampantly altruistic.

The essays that I did appreciate were Ayn Rand’s Contribution to Liberal Thought by Robert White, Why Ayn Rand Matters–Metaphysics, Morals, and Liberty by Elaine Sternberg, and Ayn Rand’s First Great Hit–The Fountainhead and Introduction to Individualism by Douglas J. Den Uyl. All these essays exhibited more than a cursory summarization of Rand’s works and ideas. I liked Den Uyl’s elucidations of the different facets/aspects of individualism.

I liked Robert White’s insightful interpretations of Anthem and We The Living. I agree with him that these books are often overlooked by Rand critics and admirers, even though they contain some very important philosophical points in them. Robert White correctly points out the important reason behind Anthem being set in a pre-technological age. White notes that Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and George Orwell’s 1984 are both set in technologically advanced dystopias. However, Rand “believed that if individual thought is not permitted then the products of individual thought, such as technology, has to disappear.” Thus, Rand chose the setting of her dystopian society to be one that has retrogressed to pre-technological conditions.

In sum, this book is not worth spending one’s money on. However, it might be of some minor value to a person entirely new to the philosophy; however, even then, I’d direct the individual to more substantial and valuable introductory works by Rand and others, such as The Virtue of Selfishness, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand [even the title of this book by Peikoff is incorrectly mentioned in the appendices], Philosophy: Who Needs It, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, and The Romantic Manifesto.

Having said all this, I am still glad that I attended the Ayn Rand at 100 book launch and participated in its promotion.

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