What was Ayn Rand's IQ

Simone de Beauvoir, Hannah Arendt, Simone Weil, Ayn Rand: Four women for freedom

The book, which follows on from Eilenberger's international bestseller “Zeit der Zauberer” from 2018, is not just something for philosophy experts. It's written like a novel that you read through on three or four evenings and don't want to put it down. Eilenberger combines the varied and hardship-rich biographies and presents the life stories of his protagonists. From this he skilfully derives their philosophical thought patterns.

All of them are about the relationship of the individual to the community. While Simone de Beauvoir slowly develops into an existential philosopher who later writes a feminist classic with the title “The Other Sex” from it, Hanna Arendt is much about identity. In their view, philosophy and ethics are only conceivable as two. Simone Weil, who was socialized in the French trade union movement, at some point discovered spiritual Christianity as her anchor of thought for herself.

Ayn Rand is the real star of the book, but a sinister one. Anyone who wants to understand the spirit of American capitalism must know their thoughts. The Jewish Russian was born in St. Petersburg in 1905 as Alissa Sinowjewna Rosenbaum. Her family had to experience firsthand what the totalitarian Soviet Union means. Her father, a respected pharmacist, was deprived of his bourgeois existence in Stalinist Russia.

Wolfram Eilenberger: Fire of Freedom.
Stuttgart 2020
400 pages
25 euros

Ayn Rand emigrated to the USA in 1926, where he devoted himself to the American dream. Eilenberger gives an impressive description of the Russian who underwent a philosophical self-experiment. She wants to completely reinvent herself and immediately gives up her maiden name. For them it is clear: “Everything, just not mediocre! Everything, just no modesty! "

In her own life she places the ego radically above the collective. Anyone who swims with the crowd and shows empathy for the needs of others is considered enslaved to the freedom fanatic. An ultra-radical counter-model to communism. She starts out as a screenwriter in Hollywood, then moves on to New York. There she dreams of Gary Cooper playing the lead role in the film adaptation of one of her novels.

Until that happens - Cooper then really played the leading role in “The Fountainhead” in 1949 - she got by with poorly paid jobs before she could make a living from writing. Always worried about her family, who she left behind in Leningrad and who are in danger of falling victim to the Stalinist purges.

Column saints in Silicon Valley

While Simone de Beauvoir and Hannah Arendt in particular belong to the European canon of thought, little attention is paid to Ayn ​​Rand. It is very different across the Atlantic. Her novels are still sold in huge editions to this day. In the English-speaking world alone, Rand's books have sold over 25 million copies today, “Fountainhead” with more than eight million copies. Her second major work, "Atlas Shrugged" (German: "The Strike"), has been the best-selling book in the United States since the 1960s, after the Bible.

With her individualism and unconditional belief in creative genius, Rand is the pillar saint in Silicon Valley today. The idea that one individual can change the world fits into the narrative of tech believers in the Valley.

Rand is the priestess of the internet tycoons. In particular, the German-born investor and PayPal founder Peter Thiel from California is an admirer of her works. The founder of the transport operator Uber, Travis Kalanick, also orientates himself on her.

Ayn Rand's heroes of novels pay full attention to their thoughts. In the famous monologue, which Eilenberger also quotes, Ayn Rand's alter ego and novelist Howard Roark says, referring to Prometheus, the guardian of fire in antiquity: “Thousands of years ago, a person was the first to discover how to make fire. Presumably he was burned at the stake that he taught his brothers to light. The innovative individual is therefore the real force behind progress. The courageous self, willing to progress, stands against the fear-driven longing for stagnation of the masses, ”said Eilenberger.

At the time, it was Rand's answer to an America that, in their view, was collapsing under government overregulation. She extolled the importance of business leaders in her novels. A rarity then, now a matter of course in the US, if you look at the fact that the late Apple founder Steve Jobs is now a public icon.

Even Trump reads Ayn Rand

The downside, as the author works out excellently, is the lack of empathy. This has nothing to do with the social market economy as we know it. The admirers of the atheist Rand thus come to believe in a tech capitalism that can save the world. Any deviation from one's own convictions is like betrayal.

Rand assumes that there are individual geniuses who make progress. The great majority oppose this development for fear of having to leave their own comfort zone. Eilenberger speaks of the fact that his book is a message in a bottle and is therefore relevant to the present.

He does not call US President Donald Trump by name. But the self-centeredness and the lack of empathy of the American president fit the novel hero Roark from "Fountainhead". Trump, who is considered to be poorly read, describes her novel "The Eternal Source" as one of his favorite books. His Foreign Secretary Mike Pompeo is also considered a fringe fan.

In this respect, Eilenberger's book has an unexpected topicality shortly before the presidential elections in the USA. Anyone who wants to understand the historical roots of Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo and the conservative Republicans will find in “Fire of Freedom” an easily accessible and at the same time frightening interpretation from the point of view of a non-libertarian reader.

Greenspan in her closest circle

Such an approach can hardly be conveyed in Europe. But Rand's influence in the United States was so great that a man of her inner circle made it to head the US Federal Reserve. His name is Alan Greenspan, he was head of the US Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006. In Rand's first novel, he belonged to a select group who practically co-wrote the work.

Unlike Trump, Eilenberger calls Greenspan by name and suggests the aisles that Rand's thinking has left with him. One would have liked to know more about that. But the temporal setting of the book from 1933 to 1943 does not allow that.

With his book, Wolfram Eilenberger sharpens the view that philosophy does not necessarily have to be part of systematic works. Simone de Beauvoir and Ayn Rand processed their philosophical approaches primarily in novels and thus exerted a great influence. At Eilenberger, it is not Prometheus who guard the fire, but his four heroines.

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