WHATEVER THE DIFFERENCES between her former acolytes, there’s little doubt that Rand has found a new relevance today. David Kelley, who ran the Objectivist Center in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and is now the founder and chief intellectual officer at the Atlas Society, pointed out that the bank bailout of 2008 had eerie similarities to the plot of Atlas Shrugged. “Both the late Bush and early Obama administrations reacted to the crisis with the mix of panic, pragmatism and power-lust that Rand captured so well 50 years ago,” he said. “The government bailouts of banks and homeowners took funds from prudent, competent, responsible people to rescue those whose plight was often the result of imprudence, incompetence and irresponsibility.” That sparked what he called a “revolt of the producers.”
The term, he said, reflects a conceptual shift from “haves vs. have-nots” to “makers vs. takers,” adding, “It’s the distinction that Rand hammers home in Atlas. And that spirit seems to me the core of the Tea Party rallies.”
As for today’s leading politicians, Mr. Kelley figures Rand would have “credited Ryan for at least trying to frame political issues in terms of principles, but would have seen a contradiction between his religious views and his desire to promote individualism in politics—especially his pro-life stance.” As for President Obama, she “would have recognized Obama as a deep-dyed collectivist.” What would she have thought of Mr. Romney? She would have disapproved of his “pragmatism,” he said—“the absence of a clear and principled political philosophy.”
“He’s a middle-of-the road Republican who’s neither here nor there,” Dr. Brook agreed. “I think he’s from the pragmatic wing of the Republican party who will move where the wind blows him.”
Although Dr. Brook noted that he is not allowed to endorse candidates (ARI is a nonprofit), he added, “I can say I hate Obama. I think Obama’s the most anti-American—in terms of American principles, what America was founded on—president in history.”
While he thought Rand might have liked Paul Ryan, he was quick to point out that “he’s not an Objectivist.” Compared with Rand, he said, Ryan is moderate. “But the fact that he respects her and the fact that she had a positive influence on him, I think those are wonderful.”
DURING THE LAST DECADE of her life, Ayn Rand continued to lecture and appear on Donahue and Tom Snyder’s Late Late Show, but she spent most of her time in her Manhattan apartment. She worked on her stamp collection, read Agatha Christie novels, and watched Kojak and Charlie’s Angels. She wanted Farrah Fawcett to star in an Atlas Shrugged miniseries, but it never went into production.
Barbara Branden had one last visit with her, in 1981. “I was amazed,” she says. “It seemed to me then that she must have missed me. I think I was the one close woman friend she’d ever had. I walked in, and we both put our hands out and held each other’s hands. And then she twirled around and said, ‘Look at how thin I am? I weigh what I weighed when I came from Russia!’”
Ayn Rand died of heart failure less than a year later. At her funeral at Frank E. Campbell’s on Madison Avenue, a six-foot neon dollar sign stood next to her coffin.