Ayn Rand Writes Worthless Book

by Roderick T. Long

[writing as Ellsworth M. Toohey]

[Note: I wrote this piece (simultaneously a parody of Rand, of her admirers, and of her critics) in 1982 (age 18, Cambridge MA), during the height of my Randian period – which I guess means that its height was never prodigious.

At the time I wrote this I mostly agreed with Rand’s interpretation of Kant, and Peikoff’s interpretation of the Nazis (though not with Rand’s views on the sexes – or Beethoven).

What I have Rand saying about frisbee here parallels what she says about chess in the book.

There actually was a fairly well-known Randian parody (not by me) circulating at the time titled “Twenty Ways to Sell Your Friendship”; I’m surprised it’s not online.

The bit about Peikoff’s editing plans proved all too prophetic.

Around the same time I wrote a parody of Rand’s fiction, starring the heroic Ripslash Goldklanger; I’ll post that too if I find it.]

Needless to say, the publication of Ayn Rand’s latest book, a collection of posthumous essays, will not prove the literary event of the season. Philosophy: Who Needs It (no question mark; it’s rhetorical) consists primarily of reprints of “Objectivist” articles from The Ayn Rand Letter – and pretty boring articles, at that (with the single exception of Twenty Ways to Sell Your Friendship, a Randian classic). As for the new material, the five original essays reflect Rand’s growing senility in her later years. In the first, “Zen and the Art of Laissez-Faire Capitalism,” Rand defends free enterprise by claiming that “under capitalism, the market is continually in a state of indeterminate flux – just like the world.” In “The Metaphysics of Frisbee,” Rand condemns the game of Frisbee for “focusing mental effort on a single disc-shaped concrete, and demanding such complex calculations that a mind has no room for anything else.” She traces these shortcomings to the irrationalism inherent in the “lousy, depraved, boring music of Beethoven.” In “I’ve Got a Little List,” Rand claims that her study of language-using apes has led her to conclude that their thinking process is “more conceptually oriented than that of the average college professor.” She consequently revises her old doctrine that the anti-conceptual mentality is the missing link between man and ape – and declares, instead, that the ape is the missing link between man and the anti-conceptual mentality. Thus, those who hold a non-objective view of things are not truly human after all, and it is morally permissible to exterminate them. (The essay is accompanied by a list of persons whom Rand considers morally expendable.) In the book’s most amusing essay, “A Critique of Kant,” Rand ineptly attempts to show that Immanuel Kant, the noted Enlightenment scholar and defender of reason, was really – get this – a mystic! (One occasionally wonders whether Rand is playing for laughs – but, as always, she is deadly serious.) Finally, in “A Titled Letter: I Didn’t Tell You So,” written shortly after Rand’s death, the patron saint of selfishness revises her views on life after death. (Unfortunately, this anthology does not include Rand’s one and only worthwhile essay, An Answer to Readers About a Woman President, in which she explains that man’s natural role is one of reason and dominance, while that of woman is emotion and submission.)

This entire collection of nonsense is prefaced by an extremely embarrassing Introduction – or eulogy – by Rand’s “intellectual heir,” Leonard Peikoff, whose sole claim to fame is an obscure book purporting to “prove” that the much-maligned Nazis were really altruistically motivated. The first sentence of the Introduction reads: “If ever there was a God on Earth, Ayn Rand was she.” Peikoff explains in a footnote that, although the rules of grammar require that he say “Ayn Rand was he,” i.e., that the pronoun should agree with God, who comes first in the sentence, he, Peikoff, instead makes the pronoun agree with Ayn Rand because, says he, “everything and everyone damn well ought to agree with Ayn Rand.” The rest of the Introduction continues in the same vein – and in equally dubious taste. At its conclusion, Peikoff announces his intention to release a number of “new” books by Ayn Rand, consisting of various quotations and/or paraphrases reassembled in a new context. He claims he got the idea from Rand herself, who in the early Sixties issued a “Revised Bible” abounding with such dismal witticisms as “And Jesus said, ‘I come not to bring peace, but the sword.’ / ‘They that live by the sword shall die by the sword.’ / And they crucified him.” (In her final days, Rand appended an “Open Letter to Jesus Christ” to her Revised Bible, requesting that the Son of God, whom she was convinced was on Earth, revive her after her death. Although summoned to the funeral, J.C. did not show up.) Peikoff also commented on the firing of the entire crew of the “Atlas Shrugged” miniseries. “They wanted to cast former actor Ronald Reagan as John Galt,” Peikoff explains, “but I’d firebomb the studio sooner than allow such a travesty.” Instead, Peikoff has cast himself as the loquacious hero. “John Galt should be played by a totally rational person,” declares Peikoff, “and I am the only man on Earth who fits that description.”

Former Objectivist disciple Nathaniel Branden chose the date of publication of Philosophy: Who Needs It as an occasion to announce his intention to construct a five-mile-high dollar sign over Beverly Hills as a tribute to Ayn Rand. The project will be funded by a Federal grant.

Branden’s ex-wife Barbara had a somewhat different reaction: “Ding! Dong! The Witch is dead! Which old Witch? The Wicked Witch! Ding! Dong! The Wicked Witch is dead!”

To which this reviewer can only say: “Amen.”

          – Ellsworth M. Toohey

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