Rand’s America

Ayn Rand (then Alisa Rosenbaum) arrived in the United States from Russia on this day in 1926. Rand’s biographers recount the story of her January 1926 bon voyage party, at which a man instructed her, “When you get there, tell them that Russia is a huge cemetery and that we are all dying.” No doubt Rand’s messianic anti-communism had larger inspirations, but the statement gave Rand the title for We the Living (1936), her first and most autobiographical novel. At the end of the story the heroine, Kira, vows to escape Russia and communism forever, pledging to a Party official that she will spread the word about her homeland:

“Why do you loathe our ideals?”
“For one reason, mainly, chiefly, and eternally, no matter how much your Party promises to accomplish, no matter what paradise it plans to bring mankind. Whatever your other claims may be, there’s one you can’t avoid, one that will turn your paradise into the most unspeakable hell: your claim that man must live for the state.”
“What better purpose can he live for?”
“Don’t you know,” her voice trembled suddenly in a passionate plea she could not hide, “don’t you know that there are things, in the best of us, which no outside hand should dare touch? Things sacred because, and only because, one can say: ‘This is mine’? Don’t you know that we live only for ourselves, the best of us do, those who are worthy of it?”

The most recent books on Rand, Ayn Rand and the World She Made (2009) and Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (2009), suggest that she was successful in getting her message out. That her novels are now in print even in her homeland, that “Who is John Galt?” can be seen on Lululemon shopping bags and on the Republican campaign trail, suggests that the book titles have a point. Though perhaps not always the full point, given that Rand was contemptuous of all organized politics: “The conservatives want to rule man’s consciousness; the liberals, his body”:

The conservatives see man as a body freely roaming the earth, building sand piles or factories — with an electronic computer inside his skull, controlled from Washington. The liberals see man as a soul freewheeling to the farthest reaches of the universe — but wearing chains from nose to toes when he crosses the street to buy a loaf of bread.… Neither camp holds freedom as a value. (Philosophy — Who Needs It).

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.