Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right Hardcover – Oct 27 2009
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Selected as one of the Denver Post's Great Reads of 2009
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"Impressive .Burns's excellent book helps us to discover the real Ayn Rand."--American Historical Review
"A smart assessment of Rand's life and ideas and how they influenced each other... As Ms. Burns successfully demonstrates, Rand's ideas have remained an important part of the American ideological mix, especially in how she honored the creative powers of American business in a free market to improve human lives. Ms. Burns' readers will see Rand still has the power to instruct on the meaning and scary implications of government growth in the age of Barack Obama.--Brian Doherty, The Washington Times
"Burns thoroughly engaging biography of writer, philosopher, and all-around controversial figure Rand delves deeply into both Rands life and her fervent devotion to capitalism and individualism.... Burns clear, crisp writing and piercing insights into Rand and her motivations make this eminently readable biography a must-read not only for Rand devotees but for anyone interested in the merging of literature and politics."--Booklist (starred review)
"Burns... spent 8 years researching the development of Rand's thinking and principles, and she has produced a terrific book--a serious consideration of Rand's ideas, and her role in the conservative movement of the past three quarters of a century, that is empty of academic jargon and accessible to those unfamiliar with Rand's life or ideas."--The American Thinker
"Burns... situates Rand in a rich intellectual and cultural tradition that predated the New Deal and eventually gave rise to a revitalized limited-government movement that culminated in figures such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Burns is particularly sharp at analyzing how Cold War conservatives such as Buckley rejected Rands rationalism but eventually benefited from her popularity with college students during the 1960s. Since the demise of their common foe, the Soviet Union, conservatives and libertarians increasingly find themselves at odds with one another over precisely the same issues that Rand and Buckley fought over decades ago. These range from questions about the proper role of religion in a secular society to whether the state should be used to restrict alternative lifestyles to the legitimate circumstances for military action."--Nick Gillespie, Wilson Quarterly
"What University of Virginia historian Burns does well is to explicate the evolution of Rand's individualist worldview, placing her within the context of American conservative and libertarian thought: from H.L. Mencken to William Buckley and later the Vietnam War... Overall, this contributes to an understanding of a complex life in relation to American conservatism."--Publishers Weekly
"Burns... thoroughly analyzes her ideas."--Jonathan Chait, The New Republic
"Burns has assembled a book that will interest anyone who was influenced by Ayn Rand. When a major academic publisher, like Oxford University Press, sets out to explore to the impact of Ayn Rand on American politics, that alone is a significant event... Jennifer Burns has produced a fascinating work. It is the first serious study of Rands ideas that had full access to Rands own papers. As such it is valuable. I would recommend all those interested in Ayn Rand, and Objectivism, to place their order for the book today."--Laissez Faire Books
"One of the most influential, most infuriating figures in the history of American conservatism has finally met her match. Goddess of the Market is both insightful scholarship and a compelling piece of writing. Jennifer Burns has created a model for intellectual biographers to follow."--Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan
"This provocative intellectual biography is must-reading for all those interested in the life and work of one of the most controversial thinkers of the 20th century. Drawing carefully from primary and secondary sources, Jennifer Burns has made a significant contribution to Ayn Rand scholarship."--Chris Matthew Sciabarra, author of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical
"Jennifer Burns has written a brilliant book about Ayn Rand--why many men and women praise her, but others despise her. She places Rand in the intellectual and political history of her times, moving adroitly between Rand's fiction, non-fiction, and the people with whom she interacted."--Martin Anderson, Hoover Institution
"Ayn Rand has always been a difficult figure to fit into the history of conservatism, but surely she mattered--and matters still. This important and beautifully written book shows how. It seamlessly links Rand's operatic personal life with her political ideals and influence of those ideas, conversations, tirades, friendships, fights, and intimacies with finely-drawn and memorable characters. This is biography, intellectual history, and political genealogy that gets the story right, told with drama, skill, and insight."--Paula Baker, Ohio State University
"Goddess of the Market by Jennifer Burns just arrived. I ripped open the package and got stuck reading and reading and reading. The emails, phonecalls, and IMs just had to wait. Let me just say that this is a wonderful book: beautifully written, completely balanced, extensively researched. The match between author and subject is so perfect that one might believe that the author was chosen by the gods to write this book. She has sympathy and affection for her subject but treats her as a human being, with no attempt to cover up the foibles. It is quite wonderful. I so look forward to getting back to it. It is hard to imagine that it can be surpassed as a history of Rand, her ideas, and life."--Mises Economics Blog
"Burns has the edge, though, in identifying Rand's intellectual legacy. She describes Rand as 'the ultimate gateway drug to life on the right, ' elaborating: 'Just as Rand had provided businessmen with a set of ideas that met their need to feel righteous and honorable in their professional lives, she gave young people a philosophical system that met their deep need for order and certainty.'"--Washington Monthly Magazine
"Timely, well-researched"--Bloomberg News
"It seems only fitting that two simultaneously published versions of Rand's life story must battle it out in the free market. She wouldn't have wanted it any other way."--The Tablet.com
"One of the strengths of Burns' book is that she, unlike some other liberal scholars, has an excellent understanding of the issues that divided libertarians and conservatives, and also of the distinctions between different types of libertarianism. Burns' book is a great analysis of Rand's place in history, and I certainly recommend it to anyone interested in Rand or the history of libertarian and pro-free market movements."--The Volokh Conspiracy.com
"A well-written and absorbing biography of Rand, it also places her ideas and influence in three overlapping contexts. Goddess of the Market goes a long way toward explaining both the popularity of Rand's ideas and their somewhat marginalized status.--U.S. Intellectual History
"Hardly anything else in the world can be interesting if you are reading Jennifer Burn's biography of Ayn Rand called Goddess of the Market. It's the kind of book that while reading a bomb could go off around you and you wouldn't notice. It is that engaging, page after page. She manages to be once objective and compelling, reconstructing Rand's amazing life and work along with her relations with colleagues. It is also a fascinating psychological portrait of an ingenious but fallible self-made intellectual who had a far larger impact on American life than most people know." --Mises Economics Blog
"Burns, a professor of history, more ably situates Rand within and against the world of American conservatism."--The New Yorker
"A lovingly crafted piece of scholarly work, thrifty and concise, that follows Rand's shifting sands of ideology."--News Blaze
"Historian Jennifer Burns's GODDESS OF THE MARKET--the stronger of the two [biographies]--situates Rand in the 20th-century American political scene, painting her as an influential advocate for capitalism and freedom."The Weekly Standard
"Although it is hard to imagine that Rand would have been pleased with either of these biographies, both should have satisfied her desire to be treated respectfully, as a woman of ideas. The two books cover much of the same ground despite their methodological differences: Heller relies more heavily on interviews, whereas Burns has done more work in the archives (both Rand's and those of other conservative thinkers). Heller's book also emphasizes the affair with Nathaniel Branden, which has been explored before in memoirs by both Brandens. Burns seeks instead to tell the story of Rand's intellectual development, situating her in the constellation of postwar conservatism, and in this way her more academic treatment is also the more original."
"Burns does a remarkable service by shedding light on Ayn Rand's long-neglected early career...This sets the scene for an Ayn Rand much closer to the political mainstream than her reputation has suggested." --History News Network
"An important study... Burns's dispassionate intellectual history makes a persuasive case that Ayn Rand was no joke; she was a forceful and original thinker, and a gifted manipulator of fictional conventions for ideological ends."-Elaine Showalter, Times Literary Supplement
About the Author
Jennifer Burns is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Virginia. She has published extensively on the history of conservative thought, and her podcasted lectures on American history have won an appreciative worldwide audience.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
with my then-husband, we operated and ran the los angeles chapter of NBI in the 60's. when the 'break' with the brandon's occurred, we were astonished to find that unless we 'sided' with AR, we were excommunicated (their words). we refused to side with anyone. after that we were not even allowed to subscribe to the publications of AR and her cohorts. it was truly heartbreaking; we were being asked to take sides without knowing anything about anything except that AR had denounced NB. we could not do that, and so we were kicked out of an organization that we had been steadfastly loyal to for a number of years.
that is not to say that NB was such a saint either; he did his share of humiliating and abusing those who he felt were 'less' than he; even to the point of admitting to us one day that yes, he and AR did believe, as did Nietszche, that there were those who were 'more deserving' than others; more worthy of life, more elite. they believed in a hierarchy which allocated a special level of entitlement. AR and NB being a part of, if not THE, hierarchy of course. this said while sprawled on our sofa, chewing on radishes. he could be a charmer, but he could be a SOB just as easily.
by then, i was heading out the door and out of the realm of objectivism. i learned a lot from both AR and NB (i truly liked barbara and found her to be a classy, warm woman who did not need to intimidate and humiliate others in order to feel good about herself). they were my education and taught me how to think --- for myself. i had to pull away from them because they were poison to a young person trying to find her way in the world. i felt that my very soul was in danger of being completely sabotaged. it was their way or 'the highway' --- meaning: you were irrational, unethical, immoral --- not worthy of existing. on the other hand, they also gave me the greatest tools in the world --- how to think about thinking. how to approach ideas in a rational manner. and how to NOT let myself ever, ever, ever again be dragged into a cult such as objectivism had become.
AR was a brilliant, angry, disturbed, troubled woman. i loved her and loathed her. most especially, i loathed 'the movement' and all that it represented. a great example: one time i had worked for NB doing secretarial services for him (after the break) in l.a. i had typed up a letter he dictated, signed the letter (he was out of town) and mailed it. he came to our house the following saturday morning when my husband and i were having breakfast and still in our robes. he sat down, had coffee and then expressed his extreme displeasure with me. "You used an exclamation point in the letter!" he practically screamed at me. "What?" I responded, stunned and confused. "You used an exclamation point! Do you know what an exclamation point is?" "Well, it signifies an important statement, one that is strongly felt." "It's a scream!" he barked at me. "And that tells me something about YOUR psycho-epistomology."
I looked at him like he was crazy. (i actually thought he was.) "But you said you had never been so happy in your entire life. i thought it was deserving of an exclamation point." i said. "it was a strong statement and it was about your feelings and it was an exclamation." he went on to state that he was horrified and embarrassed beyond belief that that letter was sent with that piece of punctuation in it. that was when i realized, fully and clearly, as if a light went on in my head, that he and AR and everyone around them, were so full of their own self-worth (actually so full of crap) that they had lost sight of everything rational. that was when i became not only an ex-objectivist, but practically an anti-objectivist. i let NB know what i thought of his opinion and especially his nerve in blustering his way into our apartment only to insult me, while drinking my coffee (feel free to laugh). (i made really good coffee...smiles...) a few days later he apologized to me, but by then, i didn't care what he thought.
i have no doubt that both BB and NB have changed considerably in their methods of dealing with people since 'those days.' but nowhere near as much as I have. i threw off the yoke, the heavy burden, of trying to conform to all of the guidelines of objectivism and finally became my own, my authentic self.
i highly recommend this book for those who have read AR's books and especially those who were involved with Objectivism in the 60's. it kind of puts things in place and doesn't take sides or kneel down in abject adoration of its subject. it's a refreshing and clean read. and it helped me with a lot of my sad feelings about 'that time' in my life. Jan Richman Schulman (prev in l.a.: Jan Crosby)
The book marshalls a remarkable amount of information: Professor Burns has consulted 18 collections at 10 archives - and was given access to the Ayn Rand Archives themselves. She has read, audited, or conducted 89 interviews. She also cites more than 200 books in her bibliography, and there are 48 pages of footnotes for those who want to know the exact sources for her information. The book examines Ayn Rand's work and ideas closely; but it also traces their many connections with and influences upon America's political and cultural right wing. If scholars who come after her wish to be taken seriously, they will really have to do their homework - as she has.
Burns is a historian, not a philosopher - and she approaches Rand from a historian's viewpoint. As a historian, she shows the influence that Rand's ideas have had on the right wing of American politics; but - also as a historian - she shows how Rand's personality and character affected the way that message was received. If you disregard either the person or the ideas, you're not writing good history. Burns gives full attention to both aspects of her subject in this book.
Still more importantly, what this book gives back to Ayn Rand is context. Many Objectivists have withdrawn into a self-referential, self-ghettoizing circle where every word of Ayn Rand is viewed as inerrant and one takes note of cultural or intellectual trends in the wider world only in order to express one's contempt for it all. Many people attribute the same sort of intellectual solipsism to Rand - and during the last ten years of her life, this may not have been that far from the truth. But in the period up to 1970, Burns does an excellent job of documenting Rand's connections with many, many people on America's intellectual and political right wing. The connections weren't always friendly; but they were there. At the end of this book, a reader will understand how Ayn Rand fits into the story of America's culture and politics between 1930 and the present - and will understand this far better than he or she did at the book's beginning. It's an impressive achievement.
No review of this book, however, would be complete without commenting on Burns's "Essay on Sources". This is the part of any book that many readers don't bother with. That would be a real mistake this time. For Burns makes it clear in her Essay that the majority of the books published posthumously under Ayn Rand's name have been edited - changed, smoothed over and sanitized - without any indication within the texts themselves that such changes have happened.
The "Journals of Ayn Rand" comes in for especially heavy criticism. Chris Sciabarra raised concerns ten years ago about possible tampering with the texts of Ayn Rand's journals. He has been proven right, and with a vengeance. Burns reports that "On nearly every page of the published journals, an unacknowledged change has been made from Rand's original writing." She notes that in many cases, the editing "serves to signficantly alter Rand's meaning." She observes: "Even more alarming are the sentences and proper names present in Rand's originals that have vanished entirely without any ellipses or brackets to indicate a change."
Professor Burns concludes: "The 'Journals of Ayn Rand' are thus best understood as an interpretation of Rand rather than her own writing. Scholars must use these materials with extreme caution. They serve as a useful introduction to Rand's development and a guide to the available archival material, but they should not be accepted at face value." She adds that "Similar problems plague 'Ayn Rand Answers' (2005), 'The Art of Fiction' (2000), 'The Art of Non-Fiction' (2001), and 'Objectively Speaking' (2009). These books are derived from archival materials but have been significantly rewritten." Coming from a scholar, a more damning indictment could hardly be imagined.
It may well be that those who issued these books convinced themselves that they were acting in the best interests of Rand and her intellectual legacy: after all, English was not Rand's first language and Burns notes that there are awkward phrasings throughout the unedited journals. But as Rand herself never tired of pointing out, faking reality is in no one's best interest. What we have here is a major failure of stewardship on the part of those entrusted with Ayn Rand's literary estate.
So far, at many of the most militant Objectivist websites, there has been virtually no response to any of this. The silence is deafening. That's pretty depressing. Make no mistake about it: an editor who handled Thoreau's journals or Melville's journals the way Rand's journals have been handled would be committing professional suicide. At many universities or research institutions, he or she would risk dismissal. This is a Very Big Deal.
One of the more encouraging things reported by Burns is the professionalism and dedication to truth of those now working at the Ayn Rand Archives. That is a positive sign. It may mean that at some point in future we will have a complete, uncensored, scholarly edition of Ayn Rand's journals. But for now, those who edited five or more of Rand's posthumously published works will have to face the fact that the credibility of these books has been fatally compromised.
Having read the 1-3 star reviews here, I'm left wondering if a reader's more extensive knowledge of Ayn Rand and her philosophy, Objectivism, becomes a disservice in trying to read what one of these reviewers correctly labels a Reader's Digest version of Rand.
These reviewers are also correct that the work is not so much analysis and interpretation as a regurgitation of facts around Rand's life, relationships, and belief system. For the uninitiated such as myself, the regurgitation will naturally not come across as a repetition of well-known events. I can see that if the author is claiming "never before seen sources" as input to the work that there would be unmet expectations among the more knowledgeable, but for me the survey level was just fine. I take issue, though, with the complaints that the book (a) is laced with negative renderings of Rand and Objectivism, and (b) characterizes Objectivism as indistinguishable from "the right" or "the GOP". In this, perhaps because I'm less sensitive to it through distance from the philosophy, I thought Burns was extremely fair.
Were there negative statements about Rand and/or her behavior and/or her philosophy? Certainly, but there were also some very strongly worded positive statements. Did Burns imply/state that Objectivism influenced the development of "the Right"? Yes, but as a reader Burns also left me with the impression that Rand did not align her philosophy with others - she came across personally as extraordinarily consistent in her beliefs and behaviors through most of her actively influential years and, for example, refused to yield to the William F Buckleys of the new conservative right where she saw them going astray.
That said, the book did produce some lingering negatives for me. While Objectivism as a philosophy (based on my very limited understanding) advocates admirable overarching values, Rand and her tangible execution of Objectivism are portrayed as excessively pedantic, dogmatic and rigid. One reviewer doesn't argue with this portrayal; rather, says this is because she (and her inner circle) didn't truly live the principles of Objectivism. Here I believe we're splitting hairs - when any philosophy is used not as a set of guidelines; rather, as a user's manual for your life as Rand is portrayed as wanting her philosophy to be applied, it becomes difficult - perhaps unfairly - to separate the human error from the philosophical error. This is not unique to Objectivism. The difference from other philosophies, I suppose, is that Rand is shown to have been quick and merciless in culling the herd for these transgressions, allowing little dissent and tolerating no missteps. This doesn't appear to live up to the ideals of individualism to me; this seems like Orwell's 1984.
I leave "Goddess of the Market" impressed with Ayn Rand for her stalwart adherence to her personal convictions, and her energy and ambition in articulating her philosophy and extending its reach and influence through dogged determination. I also leave with the belief that Objectivism (or its tangible execution) sets the idealism bar too high for mere mortals to live their lives by in any meaningfully adherent way.
There's always been a missing piece of the puzzle, though, and that was that nobody had really undertaken a full-scale intellectual biography of someone who, even today, can sell 200,000 copies a year of her 1,000+ page magnum opus. There were personal biographies by Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden, but those both seemed to concentrate on the more lurid details of Rand's personal life and the circumstances behind the 1968 Objectivist Purge. The heirs of Rand's estate, meanwhile, have guarded her papers closely in an obvious effort to protect her legacy and reputation. Someone wanting to learn more about Rand's life, the development of her ideas, and her impact on American politics, had almost nowhere to go that wasn't totally biased in one direction or the other.
That's why Jennifer Burns' Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right is so welcome.
Instead of dwelling on the lurid aspects of Rand's affair with Nathaniel Branden, and without taking sides regarding the many controversies that followed Rand in years after Atlas Shrugged was published, Burns provides a thorough, well-written and well-researched survey of how Ayn Rand went from Alisa Rosenbaum of St. Petersburg, Russia, born just as Czarist Russia was beginning it's decent into chaos, to Ayn Rand, the woman about whom more than one person has said "she changed my life."
For people versed in the history of libertarian ideas, the most interest parts of the book will probably be Burns's documentation of Rand's interaction with the heavyweights of both the Pre World War II Right and the conservative/libertarian movement that began to take shape after the war ended. She corresponded with Albert Jay Nock and H.L. Mencken and, most interestingly, developed a very close personal and intellectual relationship with Isabel Patterson, best known as the author of The God of the Machine. For years, especially during the time that Rand was writing The Fountainhead, Rand and Paterson exchanged ideas and debated philosophy, and it's clear that they both contributed to the others ideas.
The Rand-Paterson relationship, though, also foreshadowed something that would happen all too frequently later in Rand's career, the purge. Paterson was among the first libertarian-oriented writers to experience Rand's wrath for the perception that she was not sufficiently orthodox. Over time, that would continue to the point where, at it's height, Objectivism displayed a level of orthodoxy and denunciation of perceived heresy that rivaled the religions that it rejected. It was, in the end, the reason why the movement's downfalls was largely inevitable.
Burns also goes into great detail discussing the process and the ordeal that Rand went through while writing both of her great novels. After reading that part, one marvels at the fact that she even survived.
In the final chapter, Burns shows that, even though Rand herself had flaws that led to the demise of Objectivism as a formal movement, her ideas have a staying power that has permeated throughout the conservative and libertarian movements in the United States. There is hardly a libertarian in the United States who has not read at least one of Rand's books and, it's clear that her ideas have taken hold in a way that she probably never expected and definitely would not have approved of. That, however, is the power of ideas, the creator can't control what people do with them once they're out there.
Burns does a wonderful job of filling in the missing pieces about Rand's life and her place in the wider context of the political and social history of Post World War II America. Whether you love or hate Ayn Rand - and I don't think you can have no opinion about her once exposed to her idea - this is a truly fascinating book.
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