Charles Murray on Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand’s books have been selling strongly for more than 50 years, a constant irritant to the literary and academic establishments. And since the acceleration in government growth about 18 months, they’ve been selling better than ever. In the middle of that surge of interest, two new biographies of Rand were published, whose authors were featured at a Cato Institute Book Forum last fall. Now Charles Murray, the author of such books as Human Accomplishment and What It Means to Be a Libertarian, reflects on Ayn Rand in a review of those books.

Murray does a great job of showing what was wrong – and what was very right – with Ayn Rand. To the certain annoyance of her fans, Murray insists that “there is a dismaying discrepancy between the Ayn Rand of real life and Ayn Rand as she presented herself to the world. The discrepancy is important because Rand herself made such a big deal about living a life that was the embodiment of her philosophy.” Nevertheless, he muses, “Why then has reading these biographies of a deeply flawed woman—putting it gently—made me want to go back and reread her novels yet again? The answer is that Rand was a hedgehog who got a few huge truths right, and expressed those truths in her fiction so powerfully that they continue to inspire each new generation.” He concludes:

Ayn Rand never dwelt on her Russian childhood, preferring to think of herself as wholly American. Rightly so. The huge truths she apprehended and expressed were as American as apple pie. I suppose hardcore Objectivists will consider what I’m about to say heresy, but hardcore Objectivists are not competent to judge. The novels are what make Ayn Rand important. Better than any other American novelist, she captured the magic of what life in America is supposed to be. The utopia of her novels is not a utopia of greed. It is not a utopia of Nietzschean supermen. It is a utopia of human beings living together in Jeffersonian freedom. 

Read the whole thing.

I note that the excellent new group blog Pileus got to this review before I did. Plenty of other good thoughts there, too, on topics ranging from Adam Smith to David Souter to a comparison between Rand and Marx.