Shaidle Unchained

The Danger of Ayn Rand

April 18, 2017

“Now in her forties,” writes Burns of the author between novels, “Rand struggled with her weight, her moodiness, her habitual fatigue.” Already dependent on the crazy-making Benzedrine she’d been popping to help her meet her Fountainhead deadline, Rand was hurtling toward what we’d now recognize as a midlife crisis.

Enter Nathaniel Blumenthal. He’d begun corresponding with Rand while still a high school student, but unlike her thousands of other teenage fans, he’d even memorized The Fountainhead. At UCLA, he’d coauthored a letter to the campus paper, declaring that a professor with suspected Communist ties who’d killed himself deserved “to be condemned to hell.” Then he changed his surname to “Branden” because it had “Rand” in it.

So, basically a nut. But a young, studly nut by all accounts. (I don’t see it myself; the publicity photo of Branden included in the book shows him posed stiffly at a podium, looking like nothing so much as a Poverty Row day player, poised to announce the arrival of aliens. You can almost hear Ed Wood shouting, “Action!” in the background.)

Despite (for him) or because of (for her) their 25-year age difference, when they inevitably met face-to-face, a folie à deux was birthed. They announced to their respective spouses that they were embarking on an affair. It was the “rational” thing to do, you see, because they were soul mates in soullessness.

However, young Branden soon experienced predictable trouble in the bedroom. Objectivist philosophy taught that sexuality—like everything else in Rand’s universe—was a matter of Reason (with a very large, sans serif capital R, in bold). Sex was a physical response to shared intellectual values, not animal instinct. And certainly not physical attraction—what else would one expect from a worldview cooked up by a plain, brainy female?

It all ended badly, of course. When the whole sordid saga became public, some of Rand’s disciples fell away in disgust, but astonishingly, neither these revelations nor the ones about antistatist, anti-parasite Ayn raking in Social Security checks at the end of her days were enough to get Objectivism tossed onto the same homegrown utopian trash heap as the Shakers and Oneida.

Instead, Rand’s books continue to sell more than briskly. And now they’ll be required reading for the brighter slice of British kids—none of whom, alas, will be interested in my “menopause theory” of Atlas Shrugged. (Yet.)

As I say, the left is aghast, although I suspect many are quietly pleased, thinking that exposure to Rand will put enough students off capitalism to be worth any risk.

But we on the right have no right to blush. We’ve had well over half a century to create another body of writing—fiction or not—that conveys as contagiously (if as wackily and one-sidedly) as Rand did the glories of invention, intellect, and individuality.

We’ve failed.

And anyhow, anything—even as wigdoodle as Objectivism—that exposes young people to an alternative to the prevailing conformist, do-gooder, social justice culture can’t be all bad.

As an easily digestible purgative for impacted political correctness, we currently have no better at hand. But a diet of laxatives is a contradiction in terms, and ultimately fatal.

Like many poisons, Ayn Rand’s danger lies in the dosage.

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