... and then I'll quit talking about her, I swear!
I just wanted to say that I've had second thoughts about a post I published in March, titled Was Ayn Rand Evil? In the post I raised the possibility that Rand might fit the textbook description of a sociopath. I now think it was unfair and wrong of me to make that suggestion.
Why the change of heart? I was talking with a politically liberal friend who was telling me that George W. Bush matches up with the definition of a sociopath. And it occurred to me that just as liberals say this about Bush, conservatives were saying similar things about Bill Clinton when he was president. Reason magazine even published an article by Edith Efron titled "Can the President Think?", arguing that Clinton was pathologically incapable of setting priorities or reaching decisions.
It seems that our tendency today is to psychoanalyze anyone we dislike. It's not enough to say we disagree with Clinton or Bush - or Rand. We have to demonize them. "Sociopath" is the modern equivalent of "warlock" or "witch" - a subhuman category to which we consign our enemies.
The truth, as I see it, is that neither Clinton nor Bush is anywhere even close to a sociopath. Both men have strengths and weaknesses. Personally I am more comfortable with Bush's style of leadership and core values. But Clinton has his good points, as well; his handling of the Bosnian war, for instance, was efficient and praiseworthy. And Bush has certainly made mistakes - like reiterating the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction even after the evidence began to clearly show that there were none. And, let's face it, anyone who aspires to the presidency is going to have a strong ego and an ability to rub some people the wrong way.
My point is, it's not helpful to caricature one's opponents. In suggesting that Ayn Rand was "evil" or a "sociopath," I was engaging in unnecessarily heated and provocative rhetoric. I certainly do not recommend trying to live by her philosophy, and I think that in the real world an architect as unyielding as Howard Roark in The Fountainhead would be unemployed, but I do have a grudging respect for Rand's tenacious pursuit of her literary career and her refusal to be cowed by opposition or criticism (even if much of the criticism was justified). She had her flaws, and they became more pronounced in her later years; she damaged many of the people around her and many of the people who followed her; but none of them had a gun held to their head. They could have left her ranks at any time. And whatever damage she did to others, she probably inflicted at least equal harm on herself.
Besides, name-calling is one of the things I criticize Rand's followers for doing. It's hardly consistent of me to be doing the same thing myself.
And now - really - I'm ready to move on.