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October 18, 2017

Ayn Rand Redux

On this day in 1982 Ayn Rand died, at the age of seventy-seven. Whatever might be said about Rand's controversial philosophy, difficult personality and long books, her life-story is a remarkable one. In 1926, twenty-one-year-old Alice Rosenbaum fled Communist Russia for Hollywood America, determined to be a writer. She arrived there six months later as Ayn Rand -- Ayn for the nice sound (rhymes with "mine," one biographer says without irony), Rand for the Remington Rand typewriter she brought with her. On her second day, she got a lift and a job from Cecil B. DeMille; in her first week, she met the man to whom she would be married for fifty years. Before long she had given up screenwriting for other kinds: The Fountainhead (1943), Atlas Shrugged (1957), nine books on her Objectivist beliefs, and more. By newsletter, talk show, Institute and disciple, she became the champion of egoism and laissez-faire capitalism, beloved by those who like the self-made, freely-chosen, squarely-told view of things:
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  • "Reason is man's only means of acquiring knowledge."
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  • " This means that A is A, that facts are facts, that things are what they are. . . ."
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  • "Men must deal with one another as traders, giving value for value, by free, mutual consent to mutual benefit."
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  • "Money is the barometer of a society's virtue."
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  • "The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it's yours. But to win it requires total dedication and a total break with the world of your past, with the doctrine that man is sacrificial animal who exists for the pleasure of others. Fight for the value of your person. Fight for the virtue of your pride. Fight for the essence, which is man, for his sovereign rational mind. Fight with the radiant certainty and the absolute rectitude of knowing that yours is the morality of life and yours is the battle for any achievement, any value, any grandeur, any goodness, any joy that has ever existed on this earth."
This last is from John Galt's sixty-page speech in Atlas Shrugged, an excerpt used at the conclusion of the last talk Rand gave, a few months before her death, to a New Orleans meeting of millionaires and economic elite. Her theme, as described by one biographer, was that of the novel: "the producers, who carry the world on their shoulders and keep it alive, are being destroyed by their acceptance of the morality of altruism [and] the insults and accusations of materialism hurled against them, instead of proudly asserting their moral right to the profits they earn."

Paul Erdman and Louis Rukeyser were there. Alan Greenspan was one of Rand's followers, and there at her funeral to see the six-foot flower arrangement in the shape of a dollar sign. A recent book about Greenspan by Jerome Tuccille is titled Alan Shrugged. As USA Today recently reported, Atlas Shrugged and the attendant websites have been receiving increased attention from business executives looking for comfort in a cold, post-Enron world.

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