Another Ayn Rand Nut For Our Times

Last Monday’s Joplin Globe featured a piece by a guest columnist named Scott Holleran.  The piece was titled, “Another Ayn Rand novel for our times,” which was ostensibly a rather untimely review of Rand’s 73-year-old novel, We the Living.

I am not sure how the column ended up in the Globe because there is no indication that Mr. Holleran has any ties to our community, and he certainly isn’t a nationally syndicated columnist.  But I would like to know.

I’m not going to critique the philosophy of Ayn Rand, since old-style conservatives like William F. Buckley and Whittaker Chambers dismantled it long ago to my satisfaction. But I do want to ask the question, “How the hell did this monstrosity end up in the Joplin Globe?”  I mean, this isn’t Rita Crowell sending in her latest dispatch from Our Father in Heaven. This stuff was imported from California, for God’s sake.

Here is a few paragraphs culled from this stunningly stupid commentary, which shows all the effects of someone infected with ruinous Randian thought: 

Kira’s [the heroine of We the Living] choice is an expression of what Ayn Rand called the virtue of selfishness—an idea scorned by America’s current administration, which has adopted collectivism and self-sacrifice as the nation’s governing principles.

President Obama has intervened in the economy more than any president since the 1930s—while courting catastrophe by incurring astronomical debt. The administration plans to ask Congress to raise taxes, has effectively forced out CEOs and has effectively nationalized some of the nation’s largest banks, insurers and automobile companies. There’s a major step toward an economic dictatorship like Soviet Russia’s every other day.

Intestingly, the version on Mr. Holleran’s Website was different from above, so someone did some editing on the piece, but not enough to save the author from phantasmal folly.

Among other things, Mr. Holleran fails to mention that it was George W. Bush who popularized “compassionate conservatism,” which out of necessity culminated in his action to “effectively nationalize” most of the financial industry last year in order to keep our economic system from collapsing.  In my view, Bush’s intervention would constitute post-1930 unprecedented intervention, since Obama’s actions were essentially just an extension of what Bush began.

And Mr. Holleran is either simply a cultist, hynotized by Ms. Rand’s brilliance, or he is grossly ignorant of history or both, when he writes, “There’s a major step toward an economic dictatorship like Soviet Russia’s every other day.

Anyone who has read three sentences of the history of the defunct Soviet Union would not utter such contemptible nonsense.  But there it was on the editorial page of the Joplin Globe.

But the most offensive and stupid claims awaited us:

The U.S. has been heading toward totalitarianism for a long time. The government controls every aspect of an American’s life, from what car to drive to how much money one can earn. A home may be seized by the state under eminent domain. A radio or television show may be censored. Air travel must be approved by the government. Americans have been incrementally losing their rights for decades; Obama is simply and rapidly hastening the demise.

I’m not sure what state of consciousness Mr. Holleran was in when he wrote this pap, but it undoubtedly is an example of what happens to one’s mind when it falls hopelessly in love with Ms. Rand and her “virtue of selfishness” philosophy.

I just don’t have the slightest idea how it came to be printed on the pages of our local paper, but I’ve had it with the Obama-as-Stalin meme.

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  1. Wants

     /  October 26, 2009

    I’ve never read your blog before so I’m not familiar with whatever arguments you infer the reader take for granted when debunking this piece. I would be most interested to read why you think these quoted passages are “contemptible nonsense” and can only result from a state of being “hopelessly in love with Ms. Rand”.

    The only counter-argument I can deduce from this piece is that Bush might be more to blame for the current policies, but you immediately follow that statement with “Obama’s actions were essentially just an extension of what Bush began.” How does it then follow that the quoted passage is “stunningly stupid commentary”? Is it because Obama is not entirely to blame, or rather that all the claims in the passage are false?

    Also, what makes the second quoted passage “the most offensive and stupid claims”?

    Forgive me if I am missing the obvious, but I do not understand what you are basing your claims on. I don’t yet have a well-formed opinion on the matter being discussed, but I am most interested in understanding both sides of the argument so that I can hopefully develop my own opinion from a more well-informed position.



  2. Duane Graham

     /  October 26, 2009


    You are probably right that I assume regular readers understand where I’m coming from by now, after 8 months of blogging, so I apologize for not making it clearer. But you have to understand that it isn’t possible to clarify every critique of foul-smelling political commentary in one or two posts. I can only encourage you, if you’re interested, to either go back and read other pieces or stay tuned for more.

    (I suppose I could cop out like Rush Limbaugh does and say it takes about 6 weeks of steady “listening” to “get” the gist, but that’s utter bs. I am simply a former conservative who has a lot of penance to do.)

    When I said the second quoted passage was “stunningly stupid commentary,” it is because of what I later added at the end of the piece (oddly, to make it clearer):

    …I’ve had it with the Obama-as-Stalin meme.

    If you read carefully the passage of his I quoted, beginning with the idea that the “U.S. has been heading toward totalitarianism for a long time,” then it should be obvious what I am saying:

    1. Anyone who thinks that our country is heading toward totalitarianism, even in the most attenuated sense of the word, either doesn’t understand totalitarianism or has never cracked a history book detailing real totalitarian societies. Just to make a small point about this, just yesterday I heard the esteemed conservative thinker, George F. Will, discuss the medical marijuana issue in terms of our society’s larger drift toward permissiveness, allowing things today that would have been unthinkable a couple of generations ago. Does that sound like we’re slouching toward totalitarianism to you?

    2. He wrote that the government controls every aspect of an American’s life? Huh? Every aspect? Is it necessary to explain how utterly foolish this notion is?

    3. The government controls what car we drive? I’ve owned several cars in my life; I know other people who have owned many cars in their lives; I have plans to buy a car in the future. But never have I been approached by a government official, or been ordered by government decree, nor seen one single statute that empowers the government to determine my or anyone else’s preferences in purchasing a car. Just because the government attempts to control emissions (which work to serve all of us, as we breathe government-owned air, perhaps?), or just because the government stepped in earlier this year to save a few million auto industry-related jobs, doesn’t mean Barack Obama is going to hold a gun to my head and force me to buy a Chevy.

    4. Eminent domain in America is as old as our Constitution, even though some municipalities have attempted to expand it’s scope. But just look at the reaction, when the Supreme Court sided with one such municipality. Does anyone think that reaction would happen in a totalitarian society? What?

    5. Censorship of radio and television? Has this guy actually watched television or listened to the radio? Sure, showing naked breasts on broadcast television is still somewhat taboo, but it has been since the dawn of television, even back in the good old days, when we weren’t so far along the totalitarian road.

    And there are still forbidden words on broadcast television, but compared to the 1950s, we are much more permissive, not less so. How does that correspond with censorship? And not to mention the fact that it is still quite legal to present misleading and highly biased reporting as supposedly authentic journalism (read: Fox “News”), or to foment discord through outrageously distorted presentations of “facts” on right-wing radio and television programs (pick your favorite broadcast demagogue). And it is still legal to write such nonsense as Mr. Holleran wrote and submit it to a newspaper, and amazingly it is still legal to print it.

    6. Air travel must be approved by the government? I hope the government doesn’t catch me the next time I board an airplane without its approval. Or does the fact I have to take off my shoes or the fact that I can’t bring my shotgun on board mean that the government is “approving” my travel?

    You can see, I hope, just why I’ve had enough of the Obama-hates-America nonsense, or the Obama and the Democrats are destroying-the-country crap. The fact is whether one thinks Ayn Rand is a talented writer, a brilliant thinker, or just a libertine woman out to make a buck, her “prediction” of an America embracing totalitarianism—just because we have not adopted her fanatical philosophy—is patently false, and it is so patently false that anyone who can’t see that fact is either sadly mesmerized by her magic charms or incorrigibly ignorant, which is a fancy way of saying “stupid.”

    Thanks for asking for an explanation, though. I want to make it clear that criticizing Democrats is not the issue. As I have written many times, it isn’t whether Obama or Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi or Barney Frank are beyond questioning. They need to be held accountable. But if people begin their criticism with “Democrats hate America and want to destroy it,” then I’m not only not going to listen to them, I’m going to call them out.



  3. Wants

     /  October 26, 2009

    Hi Duane,

    I appreciate the detailed response. I am very interested in the topic you are addressing here and so I appreciate having some more substance to attempt to understand your position.

    …I’ve had it with the Obama-as-Stalin meme.

    I totally understand that sentiment and agree that that particular meme is being thrown around by the Right like it is an undeniable fact (kind of like faith, right?).

    On the other hand I can understand the root of the fear. If totalitarianism is the absolute control of a government over it’s people, than the expansion of government can be viewed as moving in the direction of totalitarianism.

    Most people will agree that some form of government is necessary to protect and guarantee the basic rights of individuals in a society, but when it comes to modifying the power and reach of the government it is perfectly viable to question whether an expansion of power is needed and justified or whether it is over-reaching.

    I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with questioning government expansion, but I also don’t agree that it is inherently an irretrievable step closer to totalitarianism. I find it discouraging, though, that so many people tend to hop on one side of the argument and treat it as beyond debate.

    You are completely correct that most if not all of the statements the author makes in this exhortation are rediculous to state as pure fact. I would likewise be very interested to read more on why the author believes the things he preaches, especially since they are so dramatic.

    Unfortunately I think there can be a very productive debate on this topic and the majority of what I read in the media is just preaching or hand-wringing by one side or the other. There is a reason our country is so split on these issues and it’s not just because “the other side” is dumber than rocks. I just wish I could find more fora where a sensible discussion is taking place.

    I understand that that doesn’t have to be here on your blog though. You had every right to criticize this article for it’s wolf-cry and lack of real statements and facts. I do appreciate you taking the time to more thoroughly explain your thinking on the matter for me, even though it was unnecessary for your target audience and I’m just a passer-by.

    I will add your blog to my reading list though since I know you have a strong opinion on the topic and that you know how to make a well-reasoned argument for your beliefs. Those two qualities are an invaluable combination for a young, inquisitive mind to have access to.



  4. Wants

     /  October 26, 2009

    Just to be clear, I didn’t mean any of that to be a critique of your response article here. I was attempting to rather comment on the state of the debate in the media and how the opinion piece you are critiquing is an example of the degeneration of that debate. I hope that didn’t come off wrong.


  5. Anson

     /  October 27, 2009

    To Both,

    I cut my political teeth on Any Rand when I was in high school. I reread some of her books in college. I purchased and reread Atlas Shrugged about six months ago. While not an expert and have not read William Buckley’s “rebunking” of Rand, I think her ideas should be part of the political debate. The above exchange is constructive in that sense.

    For “wants”, I have been reading Duane’s blogs since the beginning when I too started blogging. I filter out some of what he says as “excess” as I did when first reading his blog above. I would never waste my time to try to convince Duane of Ayn Rands merits of which I believe there are some. I try to approach him in a more fundamental manner. For example,

    I believe, strongly, that government is trying to do far too much and is way beyond our means to “do” some of the things being attempted. While the “doings” may have merit, I do not believe we can “pay” for them. I thus ask Duane and others what they are willing to give up in order to “get” something “new”. Other than get out of Iraq and Afghanistan (not from Duane but others) I don’t usually get substantial replys.

    There are limits to what government can do despite the “should do” arguments. Ayn Rand suggests “individualism” as the sole answer. Well it may not be the complete answer, but there is partial truth in what she says, in my humble opinion.

    I once again, without expanding, offer up my example of “Susie” used in long past blogs.



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