Many people briefly go through an "Ayn Rand phase" where they devour Anthem, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and dream of being a heroic architect standing athwart mediocrity. But government expansion in 2009 has touched off a remarkable revival of interest in Rand, spurring endless speculation that her philosophy of self-interest and free-market economics will come back in vogue. Writers point to a spate of Rand-themed releases, including two new biographies, uncountable articles, talk-show bits, merchandise, even a videogame. Here's a history:
- The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore got the ball rolling early, in January 2009: "Many of us who know Rand's work have noticed that with each passing week, and with each successive bailout plan and economic-stimulus scheme out of Washington, our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that "Atlas Shrugged" parodied in 1957, when this 1,000-page novel was first published and became an instant hit."
- In March, the Atlantic's own resident libertarian writer Megan McArdle observed the trend: "Perhaps predictibly, Ayn Rand is making a comeback on the right, with Congressmen handing out her books, and loose talk of rich people 'Going Galt'…What's interesting to me, though, is how many details Rand did get right--like the markets in "unfreezing" Ukrainian bank deposits, so similar to the frozen railroad bonds of Atlas Shrugged. Or the cascading and unanticipated failures, with government officials racing to slap another fix on to fix the last failing solution. If only the people in her novels had acted remotely like actual people, rather than comic book characters, I, too, would be rereading the thing now."
- CNN's Doug Ganely caught on in April: "In the midst of the credit crisis and the federal government's massive bailout plan, the works of Rand, a proponent of a libertarian, free-market philosophy she called Objectivism, are getting new attention."
- In May, Washington Times writer Scott Galupo denounced the resurgence and Ayn Rand overall: "That this turgid, tedious novel, published in 1957, has continually found fellow travelers on the right is a great oddity of American intellectual life…Conservatives' embrace of "Atlas Shrugged" today is nothing more than blinkered escapist fantasy — rather like a besieged army turning to Norse mythology or J.R.R. Tolkien to boost morale."
- The Ayn Rand revival really kicked off in October, however, with the publication of two new Ayn Rand biographies within a week of one another. Thomas Mallon reviewed both for the The New Yorker, also using the opportunity to scorn her: "These objective looks at the first Objectivist, Anne C. Heller’s “Ayn Rand and the World She Made” (Doubleday; $35) and Jennifer Burns’s “Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right” (Oxford; $27.95), have different strengths and a shared weakness. Heller does the better job dealing with Rand’s early life in Russia and her later personal dramas. Burns more ably situates Rand within and against the world of American conservatism. Both biographers overestimate the literary achievement of their subject, whose intellectual genre fiction puts her in the crackpot pantheon of L. Frank Baum and L. Ron Hubbard."
- Disgraced and publicly-evasive N.C. Governor Mark Sanford surprised favorably reviewed the new Rand books, and professed his admiration for her philosophy, in an article for Newsweek: "I think at a fundamental level many people recognize Rand's essential truth—government doesn't know best. Those in power in Washington—or indeed in Columbia, S.C.—often lead themselves to believe that our prosperity depends on their wisdom. It doesn't. The prosperity and opportunity we enjoy comes ultimately from the creative energies of the country's businessmen, entrepreneurs, investors, marketers, and inventors. The longer it takes this country to reawaken to this reality, the worse we—and in turn, our children's standard of living—will be."
- A few days later, GQ's Andrew Costello penned a colorful article explaining Rand's enduring appeal as a youthful indiscretion of sorts: "The days during which that 19-year-old has Rand's worldview vectored into his cerebral cortex are feverish and sleepless. Days of beautiful affliction during which the intransigence of others—roommates, a coed the patient has been hitting on, professors, parents, everyone—are shown to be the product of their shortcomings, their idiocy and sublimated envy of the patient's intelligence and talent. Days during which the infected comes to see himself and Roark/Galt as avatars of one another: superheroically mirthless protagonists in a drama of historical import. It's the damnedest thing. One day you've got a bright young kid dutifully connecting the dots of his liberal-arts education; the next, he's got Roark and Galt in the marrow and has become…an insufferable asshole."
- At the beginning of this month, Reason's vocal libertarian founder Nick Gillespie created a video paying homage to Rand's impact on American culture and intellectual life, preceded by the following hagiographic lead-in: "Decades after her death, Rand's work is hotter than ever. In an age of massive government intervention into every aspect of the economy and personal lives, sales of her books are way up and a movie version of Atlas Shrugged is in the works. References to Rand are everywhere from Mad Men to The Colbert Report to The Simpsons and there's even a new critical appreciation, as evidenced by two new biographies, Ayn Rand And The World She Made and Goddess of The Market: Ayn Rand And The American Right."
- Finally, Kendra Marr recently belatedly announced Ayn Rand's ascension to "mainstream" acceptance at Politico Click: "While interest in Rand may simply be cyclical, this round comes at a time of renewed government intervention in the private sector — from bailouts to salary caps to health care reform. It’s an era of big government all too similar to the dystopia described in 'Atlas Shrugged.'"