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Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Modern Method

Robert Mayhew, an old Objectivist hand I met years ago, begins this book review, of a recent biography of Rand, with a very appropriate quote from Oscar Wilde.

Every great man nowadays has his disciples, and it is always Judas who writes the biography. . . . Formerly we used to canonise our heroes. The modern method is to vulgarise them. —Oscar Wilde, “The Critic as Artist” (1891)

What follows is an effective dissection of Jennifer Burns' Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right. The problem, as Mayhew sees it, is not that Burns is hostile to Rand, simply that she fails to appreciate that Rand was, after all, a philosopher. Instead of attempting to analyze the system of ideas Rand proposed, Burns simply gives a series of disconnected opinions. She, so to speak, fails to see the forest for the trees.

Burns does acknowledge that “Rand and Hayek had very different understandings of what was moral” (p. 105), but she does not bother to ask and answer what those differences are, or how Rand came to her conclusions, or why Rand insisted so fervently that such questions matter. To Burns, Rand and Hayek had roughly the same political opinions—they were both pro-freedom of one sort or another—and they both used the same language. They may have differed on why they supported freedom, but surely they could have banded together to fight for common goals—if not for Rand’s unreasonable demands for consistency and proof.

Posted by Richard Anderson on December 17, 2009 | Permalink


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