- Paperback: 396 pages
- Publisher: Open Court Publishing Company; 1st edition (December 30, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0812693906
- ISBN-13: 978-0812693904
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,549,947 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Ayn Rand Cult 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
According to this devastating and often heavy-handed critique, Ayn Rand, whose novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged exposed millions to her philosophy of virtuous self-centeredness and capitalist freedom, was an oppressive personality whose Objectivist movement demonstrated all the classic elements of a destructive cult (its messianic leader and its separation of group members from family and friends). Walker presents his subject as an arrogant, dogmatic bully who brooked no criticism and as a repressed narcissist who feared her own emotions and hid behind a glorification of reason. He concludes that Rand was no more than a third-rate pop-novelist of propaganda fiction and that her "vulgar Nietzschean" philosophy's obsessive concern with the overachiever?who requires protection via absolutized individual rights?contributed to the movement's cultish aspects. Walker also savages self-esteem guru Nathaniel Branden, who was Rand's protege and extramarital lover; their explosive breakup in 1968 pulverized the Objectivist movement, whose contemporary schisms and crosscurrents he ploddingly tracks. In a vitriolic chapter on Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan?a one-time member of Rand's inner circle?Walker unpersuasively contends that this banker's "inflation-obsessed" policies grew out of Rand's theories. Those who find Rand's self-styled philosophy outre may not find much of interest in this scathing, albeit clumsy, expose. Others will find it a useful corrective to the Rand mystique. (Feb.) FYI: Branden's tell-all account of his affair with Rand and his role in the Objectivist movement is being reissued in a new edition in March as My Years with Ayn Rand: The Truth Behind the Myth (Jossey-Bass, $19 480p ISBN 0-7879-4513-7). While he does criticize Rand personally, his treatment differs from Walker's in that he still reveres her as a philosopher.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Ayn Rand's novels and philosophy have been the object of widespread popular interest since the 1950s. After her death in 1982, there was a spate of biographical and critical interest; her popularity continues with a U.S. postage stamp and a television documentary, both scheduled for this spring. These two books offer divergent perspectives on Rand, her followers, and the Objectivist movement. Branden (The Art of Living Consciously, LJ 3/1/97) offers a revised version of his 1989 memoir. A personal account of his intellectual and romantic relationship with Rand and their famous break, it is useful for its insider's view of the Objectivist movement and may appeal to those interested in gossipy details of the protagonists' lives. While objectivity isn't expected in an insider's account, this memoir nonetheless lacks critical distance, even after nearly 50 years, and is marred by plodding narrative and wooden dialog. Canadian journalist Walker makes a more valuable and original contribution to Rand studies. He analyzes the Objectivist movement, Rand's leadership role, and the politics of her inner circle in terms of the cult dynamic. This analytical perspective avoids the common extremes of hagiography and vilification that mark many accounts of Rand's schismatic movement. Walker also does a credible job of placing Rand's ideas in the context of philosophies that preceded and followed her, and it offers insightful chapters on three of her major followers: Branden, Leonard Peikoff, and Alan Greenspan. His account is well researched and clearly written, though it is sometimes weighed down by an unsynthesized accumulation of detail. A solid contribution to 20th-century intellectual history.AJulia Burch, MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, MA
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
The experience of talking to the surviving Rand followers and researching their stories gave Walker the creeps when he realized that they had belonged to a classic mind-control cult, and he used his interviews and research to write this book about what he discovered.
Basically Rand hired Nathaniel Branden circa 1960 to create an alternative society-turned-cult to promote the value of her work, especially Atlas Shrugged, which he proceeded to do with surprising efficiency, though complicated by the fact that Rand also expected sex from Branden despite their 25 year age difference. Branden's brain processed the signals projected by Rand's unhealthy postmenopausal body, and it simply refused to cooperate sexually with such a ridiculous request. But when the 20-something, fertile-looking Patrecia came into Branden's life, Branden had no trouble at all doing what the human male evolved to do sexually. As neuroscientists have discovered, the part of the human brain which controls speech and "reason" doesn't really run the overall brain, though it acts as if it does. Refer to Michael Gazzaniga's famous experiments with "split brain" patients, for example.
But Branden still wanted to please Rand in other ways, while lying to her about the real direction of his erotic energies; so he crafted a bubble around Rand where everyone she came into contact with had to agree with her and praise her to the skies, or else face Branden's disciplinary measures up to excommunication as punishment for noncompliance. Eventually this mutually toxic relationship broke down, and Branden managed to land on his feet in California by re-careering as a self-esteem guru. No doubt his experience as a cult leader and enforcer of correct thinking had something to do with his new livelihood of telling the people who came to him for help about how to live properly.
Yet Walker points out Branden's essential charlatanry even here. Branden has a certificate in California as a marriage and family counselor, or something to that effect, apparently like the certification held by Dr. Laura Schlessinger. But his "doctorate" came from an unaccredited diploma mill called the California Graduate Institute. Branden apparently lacked the goods to get a real Ph.D. from just about any mediocre but accredited state university which would make the effort to enforce higher standards than a diploma mill.
Rand died over 30 years ago, but for some reason the Rand cultism persists, even though it lacks a rationale now that the men in the cult can't build up their status by servicing Rand's needs for sex and self-worth. Funny how that works. Today's alpha Objectivists, like the Israeli immigrant Yaron Brook who looks like an accountant and has a speech impediment, just don't seem all that compelling as representatives of Rand's philosophy. Neither does philosopher David Kelley, the leader of the "other" branch of Objectivism who looks like an aging alcoholic. (I don't mean to disparage people with speech impediments, BTW. I received speech therapy as a child, and I still have trouble pronouncing R-sounds in some words.)
The internet probably has something to do with keeping Rand cultism alive, though it can also work to the cult's disadvantage by publicizing alternative points of view about Rand and her ideas. This puts the Rand cultists in a bind because they harass everyone to read Rand's novels and other writings, yet they can become angry or upset when people act upon their admonitions, do their homework like Walker, apply some critical thinking to the material and then come up with interpretations and assessments of Rand's legacy which conflict with the cultists' beliefs about Rand's greatness. I have to laugh at these Kool-Aid drinkers for getting part of what they want - people who voluntarily read Rand's stuff - and then not liking it when these readers find the experience underwhelming.
He implies Rand was unoriginal because Jews believe in sanctity of individual rights and because H.G. Wells wrote about men of the mind going on strike. He implies that because Karl Jaspers warned that "... searching for one key to resolve all perplexities can yield only ideological madness .." , that Rand's quest for an integrated view of reality is crazy (Duh! Isn't that what philosophers do?). His take on psychology is interesting, too: he implies that since the drug Prozac can be effective, "... rooting out self-defeating cognitive content and replacing it with with life affirming content..." is not effective, and that too much self-esteem can be bad because "...there must surely be optimal levels for any biologically-based value, and even glowing health, happiness, and well-being may be inappropriate...."! He criticizes Leonard Peikoff both for being a blind Rand follower, and for not sharing Rand's taste in TV and music. He implies that Atlas Shrugged is poorly written because the 1200 page book contains 241 instances of the word "laugh" and 174 instances of "anger"!
I think the lives of Ayn Rand and her inner circle tell us important things about dangers in the quest for wisdom. We want truth so badly that when we think we're getting close, it can make us a bit crazy. You can find cult-like behavior in any big-idea movement, whether you revere the big idea or think it's wacky, whether it's religious or secular. This appearance of cults doesn't, in itself, invalidate a particular movement or truth-questing in general. I think Walker's analysis of "The Ayn Rand Cult" would have been much more illuminating if he hadn't attempted to discredit Rand, her ideas, her books, and her associates in a way that mainly illuminates his contempt for the human capacity to seek truth.
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