CRF Blog

Altruism Shrugged

by Bill Hayes

In Altruism Shrugged, the New Republic reviews one of Ayn Rand’s first works, Ideal.

For a writer with the kind of cultlike following that Rand maintains, the quality of the prose was never really the issue. Rand’s fan club has always been filled out not by committed literary critics, but by insecure sulkers and powerful people with enough self-awareness to know their prominence is in some sense accidental, but without enough insight to accept that there is some randomness in all life outcomes. Rand’s philosophy splits society into makers and takers, producers and leeches, the fit and the unfit, designating the rich and powerful society’s most virtuous class, and the weak and vulnerable its most wretched — a handy set of dichotomies for anyone looking to abandon the poor and hurting, and it has been used to do that very thing. Whenever there’s a sneer of disgust at the disadvantaged, the ghost of Rand is hovering near.

Ideal is a partially epistolary noiresque thriller set in Los Angeles during the golden age of Hollywood. Arranged in a series of vignettes, the mercifully slim volume follows movie megastar Kay Gonda through what must be the longest night known to humankind. Gonda, a Garboesque exotic beauty, is an enigmatic blank, the canvas onto which each fan projects his “ideal.” Over the course of her improbably lengthy evening, the actress presents herself to six such adorers. She is a fugitive on the run from police, having been accused of the murder of a former lover, and she needs shelter for the night. Will any of her fans — her most ardent devotees — really live up to their admiration? [more]