Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Taranto Responds...

James Taranto responded today to my email criticizing his comment about Ayn Rand in yesterday's Best of the Web Today. He quotes my email in full, and after quoting another critical response from this blog, he responds to both of us as follows:

We must admit, we're surprised. Aren't Ayn Rand admirers usually known for their
jolly sense of humor?

That's his total response, which is very typical of Taranto. Any time he encounters a question for which he has no ready answer, he resorts to snark and sophistry. Still, I would have expected more sophistry and less snark if he were going to bother to respond at all. Does he really expect his readers to be as dismissive of Rand as he is?

Why the lack of substance in his reply? Is it because he hasn't read Rand, and he's embarrassed to admit it? Perhaps he only knows her as someone who defended the morality selfishness, and he has no idea what she meant by it, or what she said about it. It could be that his use of her name in his column was merely intended as a humorous reference to the uninformed stereotype in his head, and he does not know how to respond to criticism other than to try to laugh it off. We could then ask what do James Taranto and Barack Obama have in common?

Another possibility is that he knows full well what Ayn Rand believed, and he knows his misrepresentation would be obvious to anyone who has read her. Conservatives have a history of misrepresenting Rand's views that goes all the way back to the book review of Atlas Shrugged that appeared in National Review. It's something they have in common with leftist academics. It serves two purposes: 1) it gives their followers an excuse not to read the books in the first place; and 2) it gives their followers cover to dismiss Rand's views out of hand if they do happen to read her. They don't have to engage with her arguments, because they have a ready-to-wear defense against her. They can read through her writings in a fog, and repeat the mantras they were taught:

"She was a fascist."
"She was an atheist."
"She preached selfishness."
"Her admirers are humorless cultists."

Well, a sneer isn't an argument, and in this case it is just a confession of intellectual impotence.

In spite of those sneers, Rand's writings continue to sell. Her ideas continue to spread. New books are being published expounding on her ethical theory (see here, here, and here). Atlas Shrugged is being read in college classrooms around the country. University philosophy departments are opening up to her ideas. The political outlook may not be all that bright right now, but I'm looking forward to the day when we can all have a jolly old laugh at Mr. Taranto's expense.


Sigivald said...

Well, I've read a good share of Rand, and while I don't agree with the first three of those things, a huge number of her admirers really do act like humorless cultists.

I don't know that I'd use sales as an argument as such; lots of writings continue to sell despite their lack of serious merits.

(Well, that and her fiction is mostly terrible, as fiction.

Paper cutout characters, interminable speeches - my copy of Atlas Shrugged was missing about 30 pages, and it didn't matter... she was a far better philosopher than author of fiction.

But I prefer Hayek anyway.)

Ardsgaine said...

She was certainly an atheist and she did preach selfishness. My point was that they take the criticisms as given. That atheism and selfishness are bad is just assumed, and her arguments for those positions are not given due examination.

As for the "humorless cultists" bit, I don't know how many Ayn Rand admirers you've actually met, but if you told them that her fiction is terrible, I'm not surprised you got the impression that they were humorless cultists. Next time you might try a different method of introducing yourself other than, "Hi, I'm Sigivald. Ayn Rand's novels suck."

I won't debate the merits of her work with you, but I'm curious as to what you consider good fiction. Give me some examples, if you will.