Last night, Jennifer Burns — author of the new book Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right — was interviewed on The Daily Show. Honestly, I was expecting something awful, but I was pleasantly surprised.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
The interview was remarkably good until Jon Stewart said, “it’s almost as if [Ayn Rand] would have a totalitarian state of individualists.” Sigh. However, that was the worst of it. Stewart was seriously interested in the right’s appropriation of Ayn Rand when convenient, then ignoring other ideas like her atheism. (I’m glad he pointed that out!) In attempting to critique the philosophy as elitist, Stewart said, “Objectivism works really well for extraordinary people.” While Objectivism is not elitist — and Burns did a reasonably good job of defending Ayn Rand against that charge — that strikes me as praising with faint damnation. At least, it’s great PR. If more extraordinary people read Ayn Rand and become advocates of her ideas, I won’t complain!
More of all though, Jon Stewart took Ayn Rand seriously — far more so than I expected. He knew something about her ideas, and he did not treat her as an object of ridicule.
Consider this near-final exchange:
Stewart: “[Ayn Rand was] an incredibly impressive person. Sheer force of will to drive this entire framework. But in some ways, her body of work is a refutation of the society that she wants. Because I don’t think everyone, no matter what, could attain and accomplish what she did.”
Burns: “Right, well she was creating ideals, things to aspire to. That’s really what people take from her — this vision of ‘I can be the hero of my own life. I can aspire to be like John Galt or Howard Roark or Dagny Taggart.’ That’s what she wanted.
Stewart: She wrote “The Secret”!
Burns: “She sort of did. There is a lot of self-help and spiritual energy in these books, and a lot of people take that from her.”
Stewart: “And a lot of dirty, dirty, dirty sex.”
Burns: “This is true.”
Stewart (slyly): “Oh, I’ve read.”
That’s the kind of interview that will intrigue people about Ayn Rand’s ideas. Given what might have happened in that interview, I count it as a huge win.