Feminism With an Iron Fist

Aronowitz and Willis

Feminism With an Iron Fist

Aronowitz and Willis

Feminism With an Iron Fist
An email conversation about the news of the day.
April 6 1999 5:09 PM

Aronowitz and Willis

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Granted that a time of capitalist triumphalism is going to throw a spotlight on the prophets of capitalist triumphalism, and that Ayn Rand's metaphysic of freedom as domination is in tune with today's cultural unconscious; who better (speaking of what we've been writing about) to represent the darker psychosocial strains of post-Cold War Eastern Europe? Yet the effort to rehabilitate her as an academically respectable figure appears at least to be a bit incongruous, given her blunt dogmatism and the cult that formed around her. This Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand anthology that's been published would seem to be something of a shift in the academic winds, as if scholars at mainstream universities started putting together anthologies about creationist thought.

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I find Rand a riveting popular novelist, even though her characters are basically walking ideas, even though she is absolutely humorless and ultimately sentimental. The energy and passion she pours into those Nietzschean characters makes them memorable. She is an avatar of desire, which is the driving force, the fountainhead as it were, of the popular novel. Her philosophy, on the other hand, is clunky and mechanistic, like vulgar Marxism. There's a coldness about it that's the flip side of the heat of The Fountainhead. Selfishness is not only a moral act, it becomes a kind of moral duty; the will to power is purged of pleasure. If Rand takes the right-wing version of libertarianism to its logical extreme, in which liberty is indistinguishable from the iron fist, I'd guess that most right libertarians will find comfort in considering her an eccentric.

Ellen Willis directs the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program in the department of journalism at New York University. Her latest book, Don't Think--Smile! Notes on a Decade of Denial, will be published this fall. Stanley Aronowitz is author of From the Ashes of the Old: American Labor and America's Future (click here to buy the book), and he teaches social and cultural theory at the City University of New York Graduate School. His forthcoming book is Knowledge Factories.