I missed out on the Objectivist phase of growing up, not glomming on to Rand’s insipid ideas saved me a great deal of fuss and bother as following Randian ideology tends to make one into a large swirling vortex of petty narcissism (see asshole).  However, as Skye C. Clearly argues in her essay, ignoring Rand is not the solution, but rather critical nuanced refutation is the key, so we can learn from Rand’s arguments and hopefully come up with more pro-social solutions to the problems she presents.

 

   “Vilifying Rand without reading the detail, or demonising her without taking the trouble to refute her, is clearly the wrong approach. Making her work taboo is not going to help anyone to think critically about her ideas either. Friedrich Nietzsche – a philosopher sometimes aligned, albeit superficially, with Rand, partly due to her Übermensch-like protagonists – warned in 1881: ‘The innocent will always be the victims because their ignorance prevents them from distinguishing between measure and excess, and from keeping themselves in check in good time.’

Rand is dangerous precisely because she appeals to the innocent and the ignorant using the trappings of philosophical argument as a rhetorical cloak under which she smuggles in her rather cruel prejudices. Her writing is persuasive to the vulnerable and the uncritical, and, apart from the overextended set-piece monologues, she tells a good story. It’s her novels that are the bestsellers, remember. Almost two-thirds of the thousands of reviewers on Amazon give Atlas Shrugged a five-star rating. People seem to be buying it for the story, and finding a convincing philosophy neatly packaged within, which they absorb almost without thinking. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine what people find admirable in her characters: Rand’s heroes are self-interested and uncaring, but they’re also great at what they choose to do, and they stick by their principles. It’s a prime example – and warning – of fiction’s influential power.

Hoping that Rand’s ideas will, in time, just go away is not a good solution to the problem. The Fountainhead is still a bestseller, 75 years since first publication. And perhaps it’s time to admit that Rand is a philosopher – just not a very good one. It should be easy to show what is wrong with her thinking, and also to recognise, as John Stuart Mill did in On Liberty (1859), that a largely mistaken position can still contain some small elements of truth, as well as serving as a stimulus to thought by provoking us to demonstrate what is wrong with it. Rand’s rhetoric continues to enthral millions of readers, so we need compelling language and stories to provide counterarguments with eloquence. Imagine if a writer could persuade the millions who are reading Rand today to come to different, kinder and more compassionate conclusions, to see through her self-serving egoism rather than be seduced by her prose. We need to treat the Ayn Rand phenomenon seriously. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Its effects are pernicious. But its refutation should be straightforward.”