The Greatly Ghastly Rand
From the Aug. 30, 2010, issue of NR.


It’s not just the gas chamber. She piles offense upon offense, and they all come down to this: Instead of bringing forth the best within her, she brings forth the barely comprehensible hatred of her derangedly insecure ego.

How do we see this?

In her contempt for her creation. There is no Ellsworth Toohey, no villain we can respect and — as readers — enjoy. These looters possess, at best, “the cunning of the unintelligent and the frantic energy of the lazy.” Their chief speaks in a voice “high with anger and thin with fear.” You know by looking at them that they are evil, the physical signs of evil being obesity, baldness, round-facedness, and soft- or watery-eyedness. The heroes, by contrast, are flawlessly, violently beautiful. The men invariantly have sharp features; the heroine’s hair slashes across her face. This projection of virtue and vice into physiognomy and physique disfigures The Fountainhead as well, but less. In Atlas Shrugged Rand seems to grow more spiteful with every page turn, so that the looter on page 7 has “a small, petulant mouth, and thin hair clinging to a bald forehead,” while the two on page 560 have a “pendulous face . . . with the small slits of pig’s eyes” and a “doughy face . . . that scurried away from any speaker and any fact.” Even their names are belittling: Buzzy Watts, Chick Morrison, Tinky Holloway.

Then there is the fact that some of the heroes are first-class haters. Foremost here is Francisco d’Anconia, who is pretending to be a worthless playboy so that the looters won’t respect him enough to notice how he is tricking them into destroying their copper supply. He charms with such proclamations as: “The rotter who simpers that he sees no difference between the power of the dollar and the power of the whip, ought to learn the difference on his own hide — as, I think, he will”; and, of women he has manipulated into falsely claiming affairs with him and so destroying their reputations: “I gave those b**ches what they wanted.” How I long for the boring Roark, who is almost incapable of anger. (“It’s because of that absolute health of yours,” a friend tells him. “You’re so healthy that you can’t conceive of disease.”)

And of course the damnation. Rand calls to mind Thomas Aquinas’s notion that the righteous in Heaven will be able to observe the torments of the wicked in Hell, the better to enjoy their blessedness, with the difference that Rand, as the creator of this world, is analogous not to the righteous but to God. One suspects God would feel less pleasure damning people. You don’t do this with the word “little,” for example, unless you are really having a good time: “The man in Roomette 3, Car No. 11, was a sniveling little neurotic who wrote cheap little plays into which, as a social message, he inserted cowardly little obscenities.”