Friday, June 11, 2010

Even I didn't realize Ayn Rand had been this weird

Dave Johnson has a good post on "Statism" and the Ayn Rand Cult Seeing the Forest 05/23/2010. He mentioned one thing about the far-right libertarian guru that hadn't registered with me before. I'm pretty sure I hadn't heard it before, because it probably would have registered.

Thriller writer Michael Prescott explains in Romancing the Stone-Cold Killer: Ayn Rand and William Hickman (2005). It seems that one of her early models for the ideal individualist was a particularly sadistic mass murderer, William Hickman. It's an ironically relevant twist to his story that Hickman used an insanity defense against the murder charges against him. (Prescott actually says Hickman was the first person in US history to attempt an insanity defense but I'm not sure that's the case.)

Corey Robin at Alternet has a long article devoted to the question, Like Glenn Beck, Ayn Rand Peddled Garbage As Truth -- Why Did America Buy It? 06/07/2010. His sketch is interesting for the biographical background he provides. It's a good piece, though I don't think he necessarily picked the best examples to show parallels between her thinking and Nazi ideology. It's true that the Nazis promoted notions of individual heroism and of life as an unending, dangerous struggle as an ideal. But these were trends in conservative thought that had taken a radical turn in Germany in the 1920s among advocates of what was known as the Conservative Revolution.

Those and other broad ideas from the Conservative Revolution thinkers and ideologues were picked up by the Nazis. But they gave them a particular application: struggle as struggle on behalf of the Master Race, heroism as embodied above all in the F├╝hrer (Leader), Adolf Hitler. After all, the praise of heroes long predated the 20th century, and only a very narrow type of the adulation of heroes became part of fascist/Nazi doctrine. Even leaving loons like Glenn Beck aside, there are way too many superficial characterizations of what fascism and Nazism were about. So if people are going to make comparison like Robin does between Rand's ideology and the Nazis', it's worth making some effort to be clear.

And on the mass murderer study ... It's not sinister in itself that Rand studied a notorious killer. She was a writer and was looking to make money with her writing in Hollywood. There are lots of reasons someone might want to study some aspect of the psychology of violence, most of them not related to glorification of homicide. But it's not entirely accidental that Rand found her notion of radical individualism reflected well in a violent psychotic, who had no healthy emotional connection to his fellow human beings and recognized not even the most basic social rules restraining people from destroying one another.

Her Roark character in The Fountainhead is anti-social to the extreme. One of the twisted things about that story is that he rapes the heroine early on, and she becomes completely committed to him because he raped her. The preferred reading of that story by Ayn Rand disciples sees that as an aspect of Roark's marvelous, admirable individualism. He comes off to me as a sadistic, destructive, hate-filled freak.

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