What Does Ayn Rand Have to Offer to Our Era?
I mentioned recently that I use The Tracinski Letter as a base of support from which I can bring rational ideas and a defense of individualism out into the wider culture. Here's an example of that. Just before the holidays, Quillettepublished a—well, let's just say a not very good article about Ayn Rand. I thought of writing a rebuttal, but there's really nothing to rebut. The piece ignores the substance of her philosophy and bounces off the superficial details of her biography, usually presented in an unflattering way. We have all seen stuff like this before.
So instead of a response, I decided to send Quillette a better article on Ayn Rand, which they recently posted. My goal was to explain to people why there is all the fuss about Ayn Rand, and particularly what I think she has to offer in the context of today's culture war. Here is the central point:
A few years back, sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning published an influential study in which they described three kinds of cultures, each defined by what lends people status and gives their lives meaning and value. A culture of honor is epitomized by the practice of dueling, using violence to answer a perceived insult. In a culture of dignity—think of Frederick Douglass or Martin Luther King, Jr.—one's sense of value is primarily internal and one can patiently bear injustice without diminishing it. Campbell and Manning call our current culture one of victimhood, in which the source of status and meaning is one's claim to oppression, suffering, and "marginalization." Hence the obsessive ferreting out of "microaggressions," no matter how trivial.
This describes the activist Left, but it also increasingly describes resentful American conservatives, who have adopted their own obsession with victimhood and martyrdom—an insecure fixation on the fear that somehow, somewhere the "elites" are looking down on them.
Rand's answer lies in her advocacy of productive work. In place of a culture of honor, or dignity, or victimhood, she offered a culture of achievement, in which work, innovation, and productiveness give life its meaning and value.
Howard Roark makes a lot of appearances in this article, and I found his image very useful. He so clearly is not there either to signal his virtue or to "own the libs," but simply to do "my work done my way."
This is one of the services I offer my readers. When Ayn Rand comes up in discussion, as she has recently because of this article—and because of an offhand reference to her by a star quarterback—I'll be there to help make sure her actual ideas get a hearing. So please consider offering your support.
But of course, the everyday focus of The Tracinski Letter is to cover the news. I'll be returning to that next week, and there is going to be a lot to cover: congressional hearings about the insurrection last January 6, the omicron wave, an uprising in Kazakhstan, China's continued self-destruction, the ongoing rebellion against "woke" conformity, and much more. If you want content like this in your inbox, this is your very last chance to take advantage of our sale.
I hope you'll come along and see what opportunities 2022 offers us.