Ayn Rand, best known for writing really really long books, and by college students who quote her without having even read them,is back in the political conversation lately. As one of GOP VP-pick Paul Ryan’s favorite authors, Rand’s capitalistic philosophy of individualism is earning new scrutiny these days, primarily by liberals trying to tear down Mitt Romney’s running mate. In any case, thinkers on both sides of the political spectrum are sounding off on Rand, her philosophies, and their place in American politics lately. The best defense of Ayn Rand comes from Cathy Young, and the harshest criticism, from Paul Krugman.
Though most copies of Atlas Shrugged probably find their utility somewhere between “conversation piece” and “drink coaster,” it’s a good chance that you probably have an opinion about the author and philosopher who wrote it. That opinion may or may not be based on actual facts, and Cathy Young of Reason Magazine maintains that most opinions of Rand qualify as “grotesque caricature,” at best.
Young concedes that Rand’s individualism is “too radical,” and that her hyper-rich and hyper-selfish characters are “pathetic, repulsive, or both,” but she criticizes liberals for forgetting that “great insights can come from flawed thinkers.”
“When pundits alarmed by Rand-style individualism scoff at the ‘myth’ of individual autonomy, we should remember that this ‘myth’ gave us freedom and human rights, and unleashed creative energies that raised humanity’s welfare to once-unthinkable levels,” she argues.
On the other side of the spectrum is media darling Paul Krugman, a left-leaning Nobel economist.
Krugman’s op-ed for the New York Times is more about Paul Ryan than Ayn Rand, as he uses the Russian-born author to discredit the VP nominee. Krugman argues that Rand’s philosophies are “adolescent boys,” and that most “eventually outgrow it.” But not Paul Ryan, argues Krugman, who concedes that Ryan’s characterization as a “man of many ideas” would normally be a good thing, except that Ryan’s ideas come from “fiction” and “fantasy.”
Krugman says that “it should worry us that Mr. Ryan holds monetary views that would, if put into practice, go a long way toward recreating the Great Depression,” arguing, “And, beyond that, consider the fact that Mr. Ryan is considered the modern G.O.P.’s big thinker. What does it say about the party when its intellectual leader evidently gets his ideas largely from deeply unrealistic fantasy novels?”
(It might just be a layman’s observation, but for our nation’s most recognizable economist, what would he call the economic situation we’re in now?)
What do you think? Is Ayn Rand fair game in politics or should we disregard her in the conversation? Sound off!