“Ayn Rand is not going to go away, and neither are her millions of admirers nor the increasing number of scholars now seriously investigating her work. To your readers I respectfully suggest: take a look for yourself. Your youthful admiration for Ayn Rand tapped into something good in your soul. It’s time to re-explore — on your own — both that spirit in yourself, and the voice that was given to that spirit by this immensely rich and rewarding author.” — Allan Gotthelf

On October 5, 1997, the New York Times Book Review section published a “review” of the Journals of Ayn Rand, ed. David Harriman (Dutton 1997) by conservative hack, David Brooks, of The Weekly Standard.

The Standard, and related conservative groups, have embarked on a campaign publicly to distinguish themselves from individualist social/political thinkers and movements, and one vehicle has been to tar all individualists — including now Ayn Rand — with the brush of the ethical subjectivism that is so typical of the “libertarian” movement, and which was always one central reason why Ayn Rand disowned that movement. Brooks’ review is clearly part of that campaign, and it is difficult to understand why the New York Times allowed themselves to become a party to the conservative campaign. One can only assume that the Book Review editors knew that this sort of review would be the result. In any case, the Times disgraced itself further by printing not a single letter in response to the “review”.

Here is the letter I sent in:

To The Editor:

Where in your review of the Journals of Ayn Rand (Oct. 5, 1997) is there any sign of the invaluable evidence it offers of the development either of Rand’s literature or of her philosophy? The Journals show, for instance, how Atlas Shrugged evolved from a social-political focus to its dazzling integration of issues such as sex and economics, ethics and epistemology, heroic romanticism and this-worldly action, in a grand-scale plot structure with the more metaphysical theme of “the role of the mind in human existence”. The review gives not a clue of that.

Where is there notice of Rand’s ideas for a last, sadly uncompleted, novel, To Lorne Dieterling, on the theme of how one preserves, in a world too populated by people whose greatest joy is to debunk and sneer, the sort of inner soul that made her heroes, and her own struggle, possible — a uniquely radiant love of existence, and of values, and of one’s ability to pursue them. Your reviewer throws up his hands at the fact that millions respond so intensely to Rand — could it be that she taps into elements in her readers of such a quality of spirit, one that too many of today’s intellectuals long ago lost and now resent the sight of?

Scholars of Rand’s ethical theory will be fascinated by the evidence the Journals provide of the development of its crucial foundational thesis — the derivation of the concept of value from the concept of life, first presented in Atlas Shrugged (1957). By the time of The Fountainhead (1943) , Rand could write that “The code of the creator is built on the needs of the reasoning mind which allows man to survive”, but she did not have a theoretical case for viewing life as the locus of all value. We get not a hint from your reviewer that the drafts (1943-45) of a never-completed ethical treatise show her struggling with this problem, and first hitting the philosophical nerve that later pointed the way to the far more sophisticated account in Atlas, in which her newly developed theory of concepts dictates the proper mode of grounding a theory of value.

Instead, all we get from your reviewer is the usual sneers. To all who share in your reviewer’s sentiments: give it up. Rand is not going to go away, and neither are her millions of admirers nor the increasing number of scholars now seriously investigating her work. To your readers I respectfully suggest: take a look for yourself. Your youthful admiration for Rand tapped into something good in your soul. It’s time to re-explore — on your own — both that spirit in yourself, and the voice that was given to that spirit by this immensely rich and rewarding author. And these deftly edited Journals of Ayn Rand are one good place to start.

Yours sincerely,

Allan Gotthelf

Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy,
The College of New Jersey

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Allan Gotthelf

Allan Gotthelf is a Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy, The College of New Jersey.