Conor Friedersdorf takes issue with my Ayn Rand obsession:
Over at The New Republic, Jonathan Chait continues his long-running jihad against Ayn Rand. One key to understanding the many people who cite her as an influence is that most of them, if forced to confront the whole of Objectivist philosophy, would reject large chunks of it and acknowledge its manifold flaws.
So why do they consider themselves fans?
The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged offer radical challenges to society as currently organized and morality as it is commonly taught. For that reason alone, I'd encourage everyone to read the books in high school or college, along with Marx, Freud, Mere Christianity, The Gospels, and The People's History Of The United States.
The critical reader will come away from all these works cognizent of their flaws. That doesn't mean that useful insights cannot be drawn from them. Indeed, the radical nature of the material helps the reader to question all his or her assumptions, and to come away thinking about the world differently.
We've all met people who invoke Ayn Rand to justify behaving like a sociopath in their personal relationships. I'd still recommend that any adolescent suffering from Catholic guilt read the passages about Hank and Lillian Reardon's relationship as a primer on a kind of manipulation to which they should never succumb. In typically ego-maniacal fashion, Rand use to insist that her philosophy must either be accepted or rejected wholly. Her most sycophantic devotees and her staunchest critics both make the curious mistake of believing her.
I agree with Freidersdorf that it's wrong to view Rand's philosophy as a whole that must be accepted or rejected. Huge swaths of Rand's philosophy -- her critique of science and music, various esoteric elements of her philosophy -- have virtually no influence, and it's not fair to use those elements to taint the parts of Rand's philosophy that do have influence.
But the whole point of my focus on Rand has been to call attention to those elements of her philosophy that have been absorbed by the conservative movement. Her lionization of the rich, her abhorrence of redistribution, and her general inverted Marxist political-economic model are precisely the areas of her contemporary influence. When I point out that Paul Ryan is deeply influenced by Rand's philosophy, I am not suggesting he distrusts physics or abhors Mozart. I'm trying to help explain Ryan's public philosophy.