Friday, April 15, 2011

Ayn Rand the Hypocrite

Today, Tax Day, a remake of Ayn Rand’s best seller opens here in Orange County. As might be expected, there’s been a lot of excitement among the local Objectivists, libertarians, and other pro-capitalists, who cherish having a feature film to call their own. I, on the other hand, am not exactly jumping up and down for joy.

Although I’ve self-identified as a libertarian for a nearly a decade now, my opinion of Ayn Rand has not improved as I’ve gotten to know more about her. Her position on religion was blasphemous, making man into God. Her tyrannical nature was antithetical to principles of liberty. And her greatest legacy is a Stalinistic personality cult that can only be described as laughable.

But most people prefer to focus on Ayn Rand’s libertarian ideas rather than her more embarrassing views. Whenever I met a faithful follower or passing admirer, I avoided conversation because a critique against her was always twisted into a rejection of laissez-faire economics and individual rights. But something changed this past January.

The Boston snow prevented me from doing a lot of sightseeing, so I spent time off work browsing at Borders and cooped up in the hotel reading my purchases. One was Ayn Rand and the World She Made. The author, Anne C. Heller, although confessing to be a non-Objectivist, is clearly an admirer and at times even an apologist for the literary icon. I expected to get a better understanding of Rand’s life, but I found more. Ayn Rand was no supporter of free markets.

Heller tirelessly recounts Ayn Rand’s unsuccessful career in Hollywood, editing others’ screenplays and trying to promote her own work. It’s not surprising that her books and screenplays were often not well received. She unabashedly wrote propaganda for her own views when audiences wanted to feel good about themselves. Her characters lacked proper development, primarily because she – like many female romance novelists – shied away from tarnishing her precious flawless heroes. And just like B-moviemakers today resort to tasteless jokes for cheap laughs, Rand fell back on an age-old promotional ploy: exciting “non-rape” rape scenes, the only reason why highschoolers ever read her books now.

Now, were many unfavorable reviews of her work a liberal media plot? Possibly. Was the mockery she received by the critics justified? Maybe not. But it still stands that the literary and film industries were unimpressed with her talents, and she was just too stubborn (or perhaps too perfect in her own eyes) to improve.

Any free-market economist worth his salt would say that the producer (Rand) should change to meet the wants of the consumers, find new consumers, or go out of business. Instead, Rand used the strong arm of the law to eliminate the competition and essentially force studios to purchase her work. How? By testifying for the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Heller makes it clear that Rand’s stance towards real and imagined members of the Communist Party was unfair and inconsistent with her own political views. However, Rand did her best to discredit her opponents so that Hollywood was rid of screenwriters and screenplays that promoted ideas different from hers. And in the aftermath, when studios were frantically searching for “pro-capitalist, anti-Communist screen material,” Heller tells us that Rand was only too happy to comply.

So why even argue? Ayn Rand was not a champion of free markets. She actively used the state to gain monopolistic control when few people were interested in consuming her product. I’m not na├»ve enough to imagine that her many followers will ever come to terms with this fact, just as they choose to be blind about her deception and disregard for others’ individual rights. But perhaps from their perspective, the Objectivist she-god is not subject to her own laws.