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Ayn Rand and the American Right by Jennifer Burns
Capitalism Magazine, United States Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jennifer Burn's biography of Ayn Rand is suppposed to be objective as she has no axe to grind. However, it would be disappointing to those who have thought so. Burns has no personal interest in Ayn Rand's philosophy. Burns is a determinist, doesn't base politics on philosophy and thinks that ideas doesn't matter, writes Robert Mayhew in Capitalism Magazine.


Jennifer Burns’s Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right is the first biography to appear since the Brandens’.3 As Burns has no personal ax to grind, is a professor of history, and had nearly unprecedented access to the Ayn Rand Archives, those interested in Rand had reason to expect Burns’s book to tell much about the life and thought—especially the political thought—of the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. And although, in the 21st century, it may be too much to expect an academic biography that “canonizes”4 Rand, it is reasonable to hope for a portrayal that steers clear of vulgarization. Unfortunately, those who have such expectations will be disappointed.

What readers might have expected—what such a book could have been—is a presentation of the development of Ayn Rand’s political thought and its basis in her more fundamental philosophy, a history of her political activities and interactions with others on the right explained largely in terms of her philosophy, and a discussion of how she compares to others on the right in terms of essentials. The successful execution of such a project would not require agreement with Rand’s philosophy or political views; but it would require at least a basic understanding of, and interest in, her philosophical fundamentals and her arguments for her political ideas. Burns, however, has no grasp of or interest in Rand’s philosophical ideas or arguments, and chose to write a different sort of biography. Consider just a few of the book’s major problems:

(1) Burns’s determinism. She is a determinist with respect to the source of a person’s ideas.As Burns describes them, Rand’s political views are not the result of her own, firsthand thinking and a genuine attempt(whether successful or not) to arrive at the truth; rather, they are consequences of external forces. In addition to asserting that some of Rand’s ideas were caused by her social experience, Burns implies that others were caused by her encounters with the ideas of other thinkers.

... ...

(2) Politics without philosophy. Related to Burns’s determinism and her consequent failure to appreciate Rand’s originality is Burns’s disregard for fundamental philosophy. Rand argued repeatedly and consistently that political philosophy occupies the upper floors of any philosophical edifice (most emphatically her own), resting on the more fundamental branches: metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Burns, however, consistently ignores this foundation and Rand’s emphasis on it. She treats Rand’s political philosophy as opinions divorced from any philosophical foundation. The book is, in fact, a constant stream of opinions—those of Rand and those of sundry libertarians and conservatives whose opinions Burns compares to Rand’s.

... ... ... ...

(3) Burns’s selectivity. What a biographer selects for inclusion is by that fact granted importance and relevance, and affects how the subject in question is portrayed. Burns’s choices in this respect not only further reveal her disregard for philosophical ideas, but they also portray Ayn Rand as something out of a soap opera.


On the first page of this biography, Burns writes of Rand: “Ideas were the only thing that truly mattered, she believed, both in a person’s life and in the course of history.” That is true. And Ayn Rand deserves a biographer who believes, at the very least, that ideas matter.

This article was published in the Capitalism Magazine on Wednesday, July 21, 2010. Please read the original article here.
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