Book by Jennifer Burns
[Editor’s note: This review is excerpted from The Objective Standard, Vol. 4, No. 4.]
Reviewed by Robert Mayhew
What readers might have expected—what such a book could have been—is a presentation of the development of Ayn Rand’s political thought and its basis in her more fundamental philosophy, a history of her political activities and interactions with others on the right explained largely in terms of her philosophy, and a discussion of how she compares to others on the right in terms of essentials. The successful execution of such a project would not require agreement with Rand’s philosophy or political views; but it would require at least a basic understanding of, and interest in, her philosophical fundamentals and her arguments for her political ideas. Burns, however, has no grasp of or interest in Rand’s philosophical ideas or arguments, and chose to write a different sort of biography. Consider just a few of the book’s major problems:
(1) Burns’s determinism . . . [Burns] is a determinist with respect to the source of a person’s ideas. As Burns describes them, Rand’s political views are not the result of her own, firsthand thinking and a genuine attempt (whether successful or not) to arrive at the truth; rather, they are consequences of external forces . . .
(2) Politics without philosophy. Related to Burns’s determinism and her consequent failure to appreciate Rand’s originality is Burns’s disregard for fundamental philosophy. Rand argued repeatedly and consistently that political philosophy occupies the upper floors of any philosophical edifice (most emphatically her own), resting on the more fundamental branches: metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Burns, however, consistently ignores this foundation and Rand’s emphasis on it . . .
(3) Burns’s selectivity. What a biographer selects for inclusion is by that fact granted importance and relevance, and affects how the subject in question is portrayed. Burns’s choices in this respect not only further reveal her disregard for philosophical ideas, but they also portray Ayn Rand as something out of a soap opera . . .
Goddess of the Market claims to be about Rand as a political figure and her connection to the American Right. Yet the book pays relatively little attention to what is distinctive about her political thought and a great deal of attention to her personal life.
On the first page of this biography, Burns writes of Rand: “Ideas were the only thing that truly mattered, she believed, both in a person’s life and in the course of history.” That is true. And Ayn Rand deserves a biographer who believes, at the very least, that ideas matter.
The full review is available at The Objective Standard.
See also This review by Edwin A. Locke.