Gushing Over The Fountainhead

Stephen Moore wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, published on the 9th of January: Atlas Shrugged: From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years.   Mr. Moore, formerly of The Cato Institute begins with paean to Ayn Rand, of Russian extraction, with the bona fides of fisthand experience of russian totalitarianism.  He then mentions that Rand’s work and philosophy were central to the mission at the think tank.  Next, he tells us that while government invents new programs to deal with poverty and inequality, new programs invariably engender further poverty and inequality (a sorry vicious circle) but that the programs are all given virtuous-sounding names, which fools everyone and draws support.

Next up, the so-called ‘rescue plan’ is saving incompetent business managers, and the managers who are competent are taxed into bankruptcy.

Yet one pertinent warning resounds throughout the book: When profits and wealth and creativity are denigrated in society, they start to disappear — leaving everyone the poorer.

One gets the impression that doom is just around the corner.  This opinion piece has been among the most-read, most-emailed pieces at the journal since it was published.  No surprise, I suppose.  I’m still interested in the intensity of the reaction.

I read “We, the Living”, “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead” when I was 16, devouring them and everything else I could find on the author and her circle.  It seemed that this was so fundamental to human existence (and so sexy).   So what if she had surrounded herself with sycophants and had taken a much younger man as a lover?  She was self-defined: pretty forward-thinking for the 1950’s.  So what if her life devolved into a nasty little puddle?  She was a great thinker.

She was just so jejeune.  Clearly, a lot of people still think she’s da bomb.

Central to the books is the idea of the great man, the progenitor, holding up civilization with brilliance and 110% effort.  And he does it all by himself.    Extraordinarily appealing.   The bedrock of capitalism, and Calvinism.  And it’s all silly.  But it’s got hooks.  Ideology is easier than everyday.  It makes no allowances for equivocation.  Saint Ronald marked the beginning of the great man romance.  Great things were to be expected of great men, and they should receive great things as a result of great achievement (loyalty, remuneration, etc.), and everything would be great.  Part of the reward for the not-so-great was not having to worry about anything; just follow and have fun.  The great man had matters well in hand.

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