Ayn Rand as Author
Let it be said at the outset that I have never been an Objectivist nor am I now a Libertarian, albeit, obviously, I share many of their aims. There is much in Ayn Rand’s philosophy I admire, and much I despise. She has the odd ability to write pages and pages of very insightful wisdom argued with almost Thomistic rigor and logic, and then to stagger like a screaming drunk into page after page of vituperation and nonsense based on an apparently inability to distinguish radically unalike concepts, such as selfishness versus self-interest, or altruism versus communism.
But this is neither here nor there when it comes to judging her as an artist. I am continually flabbergasted by those who say they either admire, or at least do not find offense with, her philosophy, but who think her novel writing trite or cardboard or boring or hectoring.
With all such condemnations, I disagree in the strongest terms. Ayn Rand is — and I say this without qualification — among the best novelists of the Twentieth Century. Those who surpass her in skill and craftsmanship perhaps can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Ayn Rand was a better novelist than she was a philosopher, and she was the only philosopher worthy of that name since Kant, the only one to my knowledge who used logic to deduce moral truths, logic which she carried out with remorseless precision.
In terms of her novel writing, hers is the most exactly structured book I have ever read, with the sole exception of Dante. Every paragraph, every metaphor, practically every sentence and word puts forth and re-emphasizes her moral point and dramatic point.
She has the clean economy of simile that reminds me of Art Deco, that is, classic themes such as Atlas and Atlantis, reinterpreted into her modern pro-individualist moral code.
The characters were chosen with a delicate care of balancing themes: each heroic individualist character has his opposite among the collectivists: Hugh Akston was the antithesis of Robert Stadler in philosophy; Richard Halley the antithesis of Mort Liddy in the arts; Orren Boyle is the head of Associated Steel, antithesis of Hank Rearden; Dagny is the antithesis of her brother, and so on, and on.
The book was written as a detective story, which might lack action and adventure, but certainly was not boring.
This was also the best love story I had ever read, except for its regrettable climax (the heroine picks the wrong fellow). Her characterization of what women want out of men is the only one unblinkingly honest enough to say it, and her decision to cast the love story as a choice based on the philosophy and values of the men involved, giving it both a romantic and a symbolic subtext, was simply brilliant. (I am, of course, disgusted that it is a love story is like that of Lancelot and Guinevere, an adultery, but this should be no bar to anyone corrupted by modern theories on the matter.)
The characters are perfectly well realized, and a critic undermines his credibility to call them flat or cardboard. Ayn Rand has greater insight into the motivations of the despicable people allured to Leftist and Collectivist projects more than anyone else I know.
The ambitious and entrepreneurial folk I know act EXACTLY as she depicts, even down to little matters. They differ from her imaginary characters only on one point: They cannot make striking, and strikingly logical, long speeches justifying and explaining their behavior.
And, more to the point, Ayn Rand is the only author who moves with grace and perfect mastery between the genres and tropes of science fiction, detective story, pulp, romance, adventure, railroad stories, philosophy, and morality play. In three places, stories are told of John Galt which have the flavor and substance of ancient myth: the most difficult of all genres, which Rand carries to perfection.
There is even a scene where the cigarette collector announces that the mysterious brand of cigarette stamped with the image of a dollar sign is a blend and a brand does not exist on earth; or where a typewriter repairman unwittingly prophecies the downfall of the city whose days are numbered. At that moment the mood and tone become one of Gothic horror, or the supernatural, and even that Ayn Rand carries that off perfectly and with perfect aplomb.
The only thing the book does not have in it is humor. She is Russian, so the author is somber.
I am aghast that even those who disliked the book would dismiss its craftsmanship. There is no one who has even attempted anything this ambitious and universal since Milton tried to marry Moses and Homer in his PARADISE LOST.
Ayn Rand is the only novelist I have ever heard of who invented her own theory of aesthetic principles and then wrote a huge and hugely successful novel according to those principles without any smallest deviation from them.
There is an old saying. “Even Homer nods” which means even the greatest of poets makes lapses in craftsmanship. The saying is not true in this case. She makes no lapses, that is, not a single page has a word she does not intend to be there for a reason she could no doubt articulate.
This reader or that may not care for what she is trying to articulate, but, even a bored or hostile reader, is he is honest, must be astonished at the precision of a book like a vast garden of many acres without a leaf or a grass blade out of place.