Category Archive 'Jennifer Burns'

22 Oct 2009

The Influence of Ayn Rand

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Ayn Rand, young and svelte, in Hollywood

Ilya Somin, at Volokh, having just finished Jennifer Burns’s excellent new biography of Ayn Rand, makes a point of recommending it, and offers his own view of Rand.

Ayn Rand was the greatest popularizer of libertarian ideas of the last 100 years. Many more people have read Rand’s books than have read all the works of Friedman, Hayek, Mises, Nozick, and all the other modern libertarian thinkers combined. In becoming a libertarian without any influence from Rand, I was actually unusual. Over the last 15 years, I have met a large number of libertarian intellectuals and activists of the last two generations, including some of the most famous. More often than not, reading Rand influenced their conversion to libertarianism, even though very few fully endorse her theories or consider themselves Objectivists. Burns quotes Milton Friedman’s perceptive assessment of Rand as “an utterly intolerant and dogmatic person who did a great deal of good.” I think he was probably right.

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Fellow Volokhian David Bernstein, responding to Ilya, adds his own personal tribute to Ayn.

Rand turns Marxism on its head. While Marxists argue that “capitalists” make their profits on the backs of the working class, Rand illustrates that the working class, as such, makes almost no contribution to wealth, but relies on the efforts, risks, sacrifices, and most of all the genius of the entrepreneurial class. Consider, as a thought experiment, what living standards would be like if every person in the world had an IQ around the median of 103, and otherwise had average talents and ambition. Does anyone seriously doubt that “workers,” and everyone else, would be a lot poorer than they are today, and indeed would likely be living as poorly as our hunting and gathering ancestors?


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