The Rich, the Poor, and Ayn Rand

Steve Horwitz has a very interesting post about Ayn Rand over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians. He notes that Rand is often caricatured as an advocate of the rich and an enemy of the poor. So, according to the caricature, Atlas Shrugged is about rich heroes vs. poor moochers. But, as Horwitz points out,

This, of course, is simply wrong. It’s not “the rich” who go on strike, but the producers. The good and evil divide for Rand is not between rich and poor, but between producers and takers. There is no remotely plausible reading of Atlas Shrugged where the “1%” are unambiguously heroes and where everyone else is a “moocher.”

At the Volokh conspiracy, Ilya Somin picks up on Horowitz’s post and adds his own views. Both Horwitz and Somin have serious reservations about Rand’s philosophy, but they’re fans of some of her novels and some aspects of her ideas. Somin describes Rand as “the most successful modern popularizer of libertarian ideas.”

There’s certainly a whole lot more to Rand than the caricatures we get from her most vehement critics, so it’s good to see people like Steve Horwitz and Ilya Somin pointing this out. But there’s an aspect of their view of Rand that I’ve always found curious. I’d sum up the view this way: Rand the novelist is interesting and insightful, but Rand the philosopher isn’t worth our time. The reason I find that curious is that Rand, the novelist, is dramatizing the ideas of Rand, the philosopher. The novels are applications of the ideas. Of course, there’s much more to the novels than just applying a philosophy — among many other things, as Horwitz notes, are Rand’s psychological insights. But a large part of the reason the novels are interesting and insightful is that the philosophy behind them is interesting and insightful. I think that’s why, as Somin points out, the novels are so popular. They are like nothing anyone has ever read before. In short, both the novels and the philosophy are very much worth our time.

But so are Horwitz’s and Somin’s posts. So go check them out.