How can you describe Ayn Rand

The healthy and the living

In the German-speaking world, the novels of the Russian-American thinker and writer Ayn Rand have long been out of print. In America, however, the "goddess of the market economy" is currently experiencing a renaissance.

In order to gauge the extent of an economic crisis, more unconventional American economists have come up with all sorts of things. For example, they compare the sales figures of used cars or check how much spam - not the e-mails with obscure offers or viruses, but the cheap canned meat - is eaten. The lipstick indicator also provides good data - in difficult times, it has been statistically proven that women are more likely to buy make-up for less than ten dollars.

In order to understand the great crash of America, one can also pursue another question, namely this: "Who is John Galt?"

It was originally created by the Russian-American writer Ayn Rand in her novel “Atlas Shrugged” (which appeared in German under the somewhat crooked title “Atlas throws the world off” - significantly, all of Rand's works in German are out of print). The question is the first sentence of the original in the smallest font size over 1000 pages long.

You have to wait a long time for the answer in the book, but this has not done any harm to the literary success of the work published in 1957 and Rand's downright uncanny popularity. The sales figures, on the other hand, show very quickly how things are going with the American economy and the political and social mood.

Broadside against social reforms

Rand experienced its first big time in the late 1930s during Franklin D. Roosevelt's social democratic "New Deal". The wave swept up again when Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed the Great Society in 1964. With Barack Obama there is again a Democrat with ambitious reform plans in the White House - and sales of Rand's works have risen sharply again. Over 800,000 copies of her books were sold last year.

The prospect of higher taxes and tighter government controls on companies led a Republican MP from California to recently diagnose that people felt as if "we are witnessing what has happened in them." In Rand's main work, the government confiscates the wealth of particularly productive entrepreneurs in the hope of getting an idle economy running again, whereby the regulatory-mad state bureaucrats abhor private profit on principle - Rand's nightmare of a Bolshevik Soviet Union in America. The Wall Street Journal recently wrote in connection with the temporary nationalization of banks and car companies that the world had begun to emulate Rand's novels. And also the furious anti-Obama faction of the tea parties and town hall meetings and their media speakers Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh appeal in their fear of the imminent introduction of socialism through health insurance for everyone and one who squandered taxpayers money , obsessed with the state obsessed with control, on the petite, chain-smoking woman who always wears a dollar sign as a pin on her black cloak. Who was Ayn Rand?

Jennifer Burns names her in her book “Goddess of the Market. Ayn Rand and the American Right ”(Oxford University Press, New York) the“ ultimate gateway drug ”for a life on the right-wing spectrum of American politics. For Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve Chairman and arguably the most important exponent of the “cheap money policy” that made the housing boom and the speculative bubble possible, Rand was of immeasurable influence.

Memories of the "red danger"

Burns' biography is only one of two life stories of Alisa Rosenbaum, who was born in St. Petersburg in 1905 and called herself Ayn Rand after she emigrated to America - the name she imagined after the hard and pure, was published in the USA at just the right time Sound of a Hollywood starlet. In “Ayn Rand and the World She Made” (Nan A. Talese, New York), Anne Heller understands the early days in Russia in particular. Alisa dreamed of Hollywood as a little girl during the last idyllic years of the tsarist empire. Rand's Jewish father was a successful pharmacist, the mother had fantasies of an aristocratic life and had little love for her three daughters.

The family lived in constant fear of anti-Semitic attacks, but in the end it was the Bolsheviks who "in the name of the people" confiscated the father's business. The wealthy family who once employed servants and maidservants went hungry. Alisa's father reopened a pharmacy, it was again confiscated, whereupon the father decided to “go on strike”. Shortly before her twenty-first birthday, the Rosenbaums sent their spirited daughter to live with relatives in America, fearing that she might get into trouble. Alisa became Ayn.

Rand's diaries and private notes from this period, which Jennifer Burns was the first to fully evaluate, contain innumerable fragments of Vulgar Nietzschean ideas, although Rand himself denied any influence. Only once did she say of the German philosopher that he had anticipated her in all of her ideas. So Rand began to speak too - and hardly stopped. After a few plays and a novella, the novel "The Fountainhead" was published in 1943 (the German translations were titled "Der Ursprung" and "Der Ewige Quell"), with 720 pages not exactly narrow either. The immaculately heroic architect Howard Roark (who wears Frank Lloyd Wright's features) wants to build tall, mighty buildings. The plans for a social housing project, which the architect plans not out of compassion but in an effort to build something overwhelming, are easily changed, whereupon Roark blows up the entire structure. The purity of his vision, he believes, has been tainted by evil government bureaucrats. In court, Roark pleads for acquittal: "The only good thing," he says, "that people can do to one another, and the only expression of their appropriate relationship to one another is - hands off!"

The book was filmed in 1949 with Patricia Neal and Gary Cooper - but no couple of actors in the world could have saved the completely unsuccessful film, because ultimately there were no half-human characters in any of Rand's works. All of her protagonists are pure theses, and the author has repeatedly announced her theses in pamphlets: The world is divided into a small group of productive supermen and the "naked, lost, dull figure of incapacity". One should not show any sympathy for these "lice", the "savages", the "garbage". On the contrary, empathy is actually an evil and the only virtue is selfishness.

Power and morality

Rand's “philosophy” was eventually given the name “objectivism”, grew into a cult in the early 1950s and gave birth to a sect-like following, a kind of American George circle, including sexual debauchery. The group was led by Nathaniel Blumenthal, who changed his name to Branden to include that of his master, framed by the Hebrew ben - "son of". Branden married another disciple of the clan, but Rand asked the couple and her own husband to talk to them and told them that she and Branden would have a sexual relationship from now on, two appointments a week, pointless. The arrangement ultimately contributed to the decline of the circle, which, however, also suffered from the more conventional difficulties of a cult: the instructions from above, the deviations from pure doctrine that can be quickly observed in claustrophobic environments, and the subsequent exclusions from the community.

The cultural phenomenon Ayn Rand is something like the link between two currents of the American right. It connects the strictly market-based parliamentary group and its neoliberal laisser-faire policy of deregulation, tax cuts and social cuts with a "moral right" that mistrusts the state in principle and adheres to a crude, super-individualistic form of the American Dream: of happiness and its smith, of willpower and reasonableness, of complete independence from everyone else: you - and only you - are America. Neoliberal ideology underpinned with a feeling of moral virtue, this motto connected Wall Street with the little man, personified in the presidential election campaign by "Joe the plumber", who was angry about it before, under Obama with an income of over $ 200,000 a year Having to pay higher taxes - in fact, he hadn't even completed his apprenticeship, let alone opened his own business.

The real role model for Rand is probably not so much Nietzsche or Adam Smith, but Karl Marx. Rand completed the compulsory course in dialectical materialism at the University of Petrograd, and her ideology can be described as a Marxism turned upside down: it is not the workers who produce the surplus value that is siphoned off by the capitalists, but the parasitic workers who exploit the talent for business and the creative ideas of the heroic entrepreneur. Rand also orientated herself stylistically on the (Soviet) left: In a letter to a friend, she wrote that it was necessary to spread your own ideas in stories, just as the "Reds" did. She herself called her writing style with the stenciled characters and the plots that serve as a template for the “Avarice is cool” theses “romantic realism” - it was actually modeled on “socialist realism”.

In truth, as Anne Heller can show, Rand didn't really care for money personally. "What are the basic assumptions of your thinking?" Was Rand's favorite question, nothing was more important to her than ideas, and to that extent she was completely an intellectual. When her publisher pleaded with her to shorten the 60-page final chapter of the 1168-page work “Atlas Shrugged”, Rand preferred to forego seven cents tantièmen per copy. Even more significant is her comment to the head of Random House: "Would you cut the Bible?"

In second place after the Bible

“Atlas Shrugged” came in second in a major survey carried out by the Library of Congress in the 1990s for the most influential book, beaten only by the Bible. In the tome, which was initially to be called “The Strike”, the heroes, the best from business and science, industry and art, withdrew to Utopia in the Colorado mountains, where the cross was replaced by the dollar sign, each looking for himself and the verb "to give" is forbidden. After 643 pages, Dagny Taggart (Farrah Fawcett type) sees the great hero, the leader of the strike, exactly, John Galt, whom Dagny describes as follows: “A face that bore no trace of pain, fear or guilt. The shape of his mouth was proud, and more than that, it was as if he was proud to be proud. " Galt's face also has the expression "merciless innocence that would neither ask nor grant forgiveness".

Actually, Ayn Rand well-known, she didn't want to write about politics and the like, but rather romance novels, adventure stories and heroic stories such as those she had once seen in the American films in Petrograd. Howard Roark and John Galt are therefore also similar to the great loners of American literature - Salinger's Holden Caulfield, Melville's Ahab, Henry David Thoreau in his hut - at least in that they too do not allow themselves to be stopped by the unsuspecting, the doubters and the morality guards want to sing the big “I did it my way” at the end.

Who is John Galt today? In a deeply insecure country, Rand's hero is particularly suitable these days as a proud symbolic figure of "good capitalism", a worldview hardened to ideology, which believes itself to be economically and morally superior and only the evil state and the effeminate losers for the crisis, the others, then, want to blame.

Rand has also succeeded in creating something permanent and very American with her figure - she made elitist thinking, absolute individualism, compatible with the masses. Even without special qualities or skills, one can have the conceit of being different and better. In times of crisis, the reflection on such heroes is obviously particularly attractive.