"Despite the media frenzy surrounding Sarah Palin's autobiographical Going Rogue, the real rogue warrior making a political conservative comeback today is not Palin, but the Russian immigrant turned champion of American conservative principles, Ayn Rand.
"You can no more understand the right without Rand than you can understand it without Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan. The dismissal of Rand by both the left and the right as mind candy for college kids is fatuous. It may be true that many of us (myself included) were first introduced to Rand in college, but that's when most of us are introduced to most of the philosophical and literary figures in history. So what?
"What are Rand's principles and which of her books should you read to understand the modern conservative movement? Start with Atlas Shrugged. According to a survey conducted by the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month club, readers ranked it #2 behind the Bible as the most influential book they had ever read. It is a murder mystery, not about the murder of a human body, but of the murder of the human spirit."
I addressed, in my comments below, Mr. Shermer's erroneous (in my view) contention that modern conservatism is a good surrogate for Ayn Rand's ideas. Though he did his best, Mr. Shermer doesn't seem to have a firm grasp of the many fundamental differences between Objectivism and conservatism. There are, too be sure, many areas of agreement, as well, especially in economics (although few, if any, conservatives would embrace full laissez-faire capitalism, or the separation of state and economics). That she is decribed as making a "political conservative comeback" is an indication of how much must still be learned about her.
There are some other errors in this piece, such as this quote from Burns:
"Rand intended her books to be a sort of scripture, and for all her emphasis on reason it is the emotional and psychological sides of her novels that make them timeless."
"Scripture" is an odd, and utterly wrong, description of a philosophy that has as a prime fundamental tenet to think for yourself.
Her books do have powerful emotional appeal, but if that is mainly what one gets out of her writing, then you're likely to ... as they say ... "outgrow Ayn Rand".
All in all, though, this is a decent piece that captures the the reason for Ayn Rand's enduring relevance.
Here are my brief comments:
Thank you, Mr. Shermer, for a pretty good article, although the appropriate term to describe Ayn Rand is not rogue, but radical. You make a crucial point all too often forgotten: “Criticism of the founder of a theory does not, by itself, constitute a negation of any part of the theory.” I agree that Sarah Palin (who I am not a fan of) cannot hold a candle to Ayn Rand.
It should be pointed out that many people of various political persuasions in what today passes for the American "Right" - from conservative to libertarian to Republican to "Tea Partyers" - cherry-pick aspects of Rand’s ideas for their own purposes, while ignoring the rich depth of her comprehensive philosophy. Also, a large swath of American Conservatism abhors Ayn Rand for her secularism, social “liberalism”, and the challenge she hurls at Judeo-Christian morality through her ethics of rational self-interest.
You’ll learn little about Objectivism (Rand’s philosophy) by listening to conservatives. So, take some advice from an Objectivist husband, father, and grandfather who never “outgrew” Ayn Rand. If you’re seriously interested in understanding Rand’s enduring appeal, you’ll just have to study her works yourself, and exercise a cardinal virtue of the Objectivist ethics – your own independent judgement.