A Little Perspective, Please

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In a recent article on LRC, the author ascribes to Ayn Rand an epithet directed at Ludwig von Mises: "bastard." If anyone should take this as her basic attitude to Mises, it would be a very serious mistake.

In the 1950s and 60s Ayn and, following her, the Randian group, strongly endorsed and promoted Mises in print and lectures. She must have introduced the great Austrian to thousands of new readers. In the few years I had personal contact with her, I never heard Ayn refer to Mises with anything but respect. Two recollections come to mind: once Barbara Branden, in her persona as a half-educated grand inquisitor, was attacking Mises for being a utilitarian. Ayn retorted, “Leave him alone. He’s done enough.” One time she attended the NYU seminar and sweet old Mises went off topic to comment on how important creative writing was for spreading our ideas. Then he said something like, "I mention this because we happen to have present a great creative novelist." Ayn looked around, all huge smiles and bursting with pride. It was so cute. The lady loved flattery, most especially from someone of the stature of Mises.

I am dismayed that with the new books on her, there is all this personal gossip about Rand making the rounds on the net. A little perspective, please.

She was a refugee to America from the Bolshevik terror-state, and loved her new country from first to last. For years, she worked her way through menial jobs, and had her first great novel, The Fountainhead, rejected by some dozen publishers. Finally, Bobbs-Merrill in Indianapolis came out with it. The Fountainhead was a runaway best seller and made into a movie, and Ayn became a millionaire. She’d married the man of her dreams, Frank O’Connor, who was true to her to the end. She worked for years on the magnificent Atlas Shrugged, the title of which I am certain was inspired by the statue in Rockefeller Center of Atlas holding up the world. (It’s right on Fifth Avenue — opposite St. Patrick’s!). Living in midtown Manhattan, she must have passed it many dozens of times.

Rand was self-centered and had a complex emotional life, not unusual in great writers and other geniuses. When she broke with Branden, true to his nature he behaved as the cad he was. This nonentity, who was nothing without her and her ideas, repaid her by revealing intimate details of their relationship. Ayn was deeply hurt, and, characteristically and understandably, she lashed back.

Yes, she had quirky opinions, vastly preferring Rachmaninoff to Mozart and calling Beethoven "the Tolstoy of music" — meaning it as insult to both. Nobody but her zombified acolytes took them seriously. I thought they were funny.

Fifty or 100 years from now do you think any of that junk will be remembered? What will remain of this great woman are her writings and her contributions to making the libertarian movement what it is today and what it is on the road to becoming.

Ralph Raico [send him mail] is a senior fellow of the Mises Institute. You can study the history of liberty under his guidance here: MP3-CD and Audio Tape.

The Best of Ralph Raico

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