With the publication of two new biographies and amid unprecedented world wide interest in Ayn Rand, a predictable backlash has begun emanating from both the left and the right.
Blundering out of the ad hominem gate with title: "...Rand was a Nut", The National Review comes perilously close to offering a logical argument when it claims that "her philosophy is deeply problematic and morally indefensible." However, the author proceeds to resurrect the notoriously dishonest 1950's Whittaker Chambers hit piece then quotes William F. Buckley who wrote about her
desiccated philosophy’s conclusive incompatibility with the conservative’s emphasis on transcendence, intellectual and moral; but also there is the incongruity of tone, that hard, schematic, implacable, unyielding dogmatism that is in itself intrinsically objectionable.
It is not an aside that Mr. Buckley professed to idealize the concept of "transcendence". It was in his (or the Pope's) role as a Platonic-Christian Philosopher King that he channel God's revelations to the filthy masses. By rejecting Rand's secular approach , Buckley and his conservative followers tethered the religious right to capitalism by firmly entrenching the implication that no scientific, logical argument can be made in favor of rights and capitalism - a position that has all but destroyed freedom in America. Perhaps the only truth in his statement is that conservatism is indeed incompatible with Rand's philosophy - as it is incompatible with reality and freedom.
"Wait, you mean she thinks she's objectively right?" She's nuts - not serious - real life is grey.
"Wait, you mean she upholds selfishness?" She thinks the strong should wantonly crush the weak.
"Wait, she upholds capitalism?" She is a fascist shill for corporate cronyism
"Wait, she is an atheist?" To hell with this cold, implacable devil.
"Wait, she made mistakes in her life?" Her projection of a moral ideal is invalid and/or she is not worthy of my cultish devotion like Jesus, David Koresh, or Obama.
All of these fill different philosophic and psychological buckets that I have blogged about extensively. The most obvious and most fundamental is the epistemological false alternative between the subjectivist left and the dogmatist right which holds out for man the wonderful choice of becoming an acid-tripping hippie or a bible thumping zombie. The post modern rejection of absolutes leads these critics to dismiss any principled stand as dogmatic posturing while the conservatives charge Rand with "unyielding dogmatism" because as an advocate of reason and reality she will not yield to their brand of dogmatism, namely, religious mysticism.
Running a close second is the utter misapprehension of her view of selfishness which equates her conception of rational self-interest to the free wheeling hedonist whimsically asserting his Nietzschean ubermensch within.
And, of course, for the politically minded, there is always the false equation of America's mixed economy with her vision of laissez-faire capitalism such that she can be castigated as an apologist for any bizarre, market distorting catastrophe hatched by Washington's finest in collusion with Orren Boyle businessmen.
But, I have to say, the most grating to me is the hysterical emphasis on her personal life. After all, if Newton cheated on his girlfriend would it change the truth of his theory of gravity? If Aristotle shoplifted a toga, would it change the truth of the laws of logic? Certainly, the biographies of great people should and do hold interest for valid reasons, but obsessing over the details of another's life and disregarding the essential import of their ideas is the foundation of the cult mentality, is it not? (Ironically, "cult worship" and "fetishism" is the charge leveled by these people at her admirers!)
The deeper reason underlying the focus on Rand's personal life is epistemological. As I argued earlier, the left does not even entertain the possibility of objective truth and therefore regards any principled argument as equivalent to a form of religious dogma while casting principled adherents as naive bumpkins. I believe this philosophical skepticism has several primary consequences.
First, it leads them to dismiss Rand's popularity as a fad on par with a pop cult like Scientology and to smear her work as unserious within academia. Second, in their mind, debunking this "religion" consists not in objectively refuting its claims (the truly educated know truth is impossible), but rather involves outing the Revealer of the purported dogma as flawed or hypocritical. Consider the more recent academic obsession with airing the dirty laundry of revered figures such as Jefferson and the Founding Fathers. Emphasizing the Revealer's fallibility serves to reinforce their own their own flawed view of rationality and morality, i.e., it appears to further the notion that man's fallibility and lack of omniscience renders rationality and objective morality to be unattainable. In this view, man is destined to hopelessly stumble through the grey fog of life's eternal caprice.
Of course, such a view itself represents a flawed view of rationality. In a previous post, I quoted Professor Eric Daniels:
But rationality does not mean infallibility; it means that one is capable of choosing to observe the available facts and go by logic and that one does so. Nor does it preclude the possibility of mistakes; rather, it is the means of detecting and correcting mistakes.