Readersforum's Blog

March 6, 2012

How Ayn Rand became the new right’s version of Marx

Illustration by Daniel Pudles

Her psychopathic ideas made billionaires feel like victims and turned millions of followers into their doormats

By George Monbiot

It has a fair claim to be the ugliest philosophy the postwar world has produced. Selfishness, it contends, is good, altruism evil, empathy and compassion are irrational and destructive. The poor deserve to die; the rich deserve unmediated power. It has already been tested, and has failed spectacularly and catastrophically. Yet the belief system constructed by Ayn Rand, who died 30 years ago today, has never been more popular or influential.

Rand was a Russian from a prosperous family who emigrated to the United States. Through her novels (such as Atlas Shrugged) and her nonfiction (such as The Virtue of Selfishness) she explained a philosophy she called Objectivism. This holds that the only moral course is pure self-interest. We owe nothing, she insists, to anyone, even to members of our own families. She described the poor and weak as “refuse” and “parasites”, and excoriated anyone seeking to assist them. Apart from the police, the courts and the armed forces, there should be no role for government: no social security, no public health or education, no public infrastructure or transport, no fire service, no regulations, no income tax.

Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957, depicts a United States crippled by government intervention in which heroic millionaires struggle against a nation of spongers. The millionaires, whom she portrays as Atlas holding the world aloft, withdraw their labour, with the result that the nation collapses. It is rescued, through unregulated greed and selfishness, by one of the heroic plutocrats, John Galt.

The poor die like flies as a result of government programmes and their own sloth and fecklessness. Those who try to help them are gassed. In a notorious passage, she argues that all the passengers in a train filled with poisoned fumes deserved their fate. One, for instance, was a teacher who taught children to be team players; one was a mother married to a civil servant, who cared for her children; one was a housewife “who believed that she had the right to elect politicians, of whom she knew nothing”.

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September 1, 2011

So when does academic publishing get disrupted?

    By Mathew Ingram

Anyone who has been following the travails of the publishing industry knows that the business is in the throes of widespread disruption, thanks to the rise of the web and digital publishing, and what Om has called the “democracy of distribution.” But as author and academic George Monbiot points out in a recent piece in The Guardian, there is one large publishing market that not only remains undisrupted but continues to produce huge returns for those who control it: the publishing of academic journals. Why has this market been able to resist the tide of change sweeping through the rest of the industry, and what will it take to finally disrupt it?

As Monbiot notes, while newspapers like the New York Times  and Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times  have erected paywalls that are aimed at charging readers pennies per copy for their digital content, reading a single article in an academic journal published by a company such as Reed-Elsevier or Wiley can cost you as much as $40. And it’s not just the end reader who pays: the libraries that subscribe to these journals and magazines have to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year for access to each title — in some cases as much as $20,000 for a single journal.

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