After the 2012 election, what's next for Ayn Rand?
Rand became the center of the cultural debate again when her books became a part of the 2012 presidential election. Where will the controversial author and her influence go from here? Rand biographer Anne C. Heller offers her take.
The presidential election may mark the beginning of the end of Ayn Rand's renaissance. Or could it be the beginning of something even bigger?Skip to next paragraph
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Whatever the case, one thing is certain: Rand's never played a larger role in national politics than during this year, when her ideas about personal liberty and limited government became major players in the presidential campaign.
This week, I asked biographer Anne C. Heller, author of 2009's "Ayn Rand and the World She Made," about the ever-present power of the Russian-American philosopher. Heller dips into Rand's psyche, explores her antipathy toward politicians and reveals how her followers ignore many of her lessons.
Q: I'll start with the most vital question of all. How on earth do you pronounce Ayn Rand's first name?
A: In the early 1960s, a young engineer worked at a radio station when Ayn Rand recorded half-hour shows. He tells a story about her calling up after he'd announced her broadcast and called her "Ann."
"My name is Ayn," she said. "It rhymes with swine."
I don't know if it's true, and I rather doubt it. But it does tell you how to pronounce her name.
Q: My impression of Rand's philosophy is this: Our first priority is our individual selves. As for the second priority: Please see first priority. Is that correct?
A: That's exactly right. The preservation of individual rights was her first concern and her last concern.
By individual rights, she meant those rights that can be exercised without trampling on anyone else's rights. The minute you cross that line, she was against you.
That's one of the reasons why she was terribly suspicious of government. She thought its only function was to protect and preserve the right of the individual to do as he chose, as long as he didn't harm anyone else. Once he did, it became an issue of crime or breach of contract.
That was government's role was far as she was concerned: Punish crime, enforce contracts, and defend the national borders.
The Paul Ryans of the world, however her writing appeals to them, would never the limit the government that way.
Q: How else would she differ from her followers today?
A: The idea of putting armies around the world, not only to protect American vital interests but to promote other kinds of things, was anathema to her. And she wanted to privatize the roads. She thought we should go back to the old English system.
I remember interviewing her physician, who loved to quiz her: What would you do about this street right out front, East 71st Street? If someone wanted to buy this street, and someone else owned Broadway and another owned 72nd Street, would you have to pay a toll every time you turned the corner?
She said yes, that would be fine. She supports a free market to an extreme degree, and very few politicians do.
Q: What did she think about politics?
A: She was a person who didn't have a politics. She had what she thought of as a philosophy. How it all played out on a stage that she had little respect for, in Washington, wasn't of much interest to her.
Q: Did she like any politicians?
A: She supported Barry Goldwater, whom she thought was the best embodiment of her principles, but he disappointed her thoroughly.
He was religious and unable to, as she felt, speak about conservative principles in their purest sense. In some ways, he was like Paul Ryan – unable to divorce his conservative ideas from his religion and sense of a kind of Christian morality.
That annoyed her thoroughly. She was an atheist and believed that God, if he existed at all, would be a dictator.
Q: She's known for being sexually free. Would you say she was not only an atheist but a hedonist too?
A: She was a Russian to a core. She grew up in a time of free love in Russia, and she felt that was everybody's right, as long as they weren't hurting anybody else.
But I don't know that you'd call it hedonism. She wasn't a person for whom fine clothes, good food and living well were important.
Q: Why is she so popular among politicians who don't fully embrace what she believed?
A: A lot of them – Paul Ryan is an example – read her when they're quite young, the way most people do, at 13, 14, 15 or even 18.