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Objectivism in the June 2013 Reason Papers: part 4 of 6

Item 4 in the RP preview: my review essay of the second edition of Robert Mayhew’s Essays on Ayn Rand’s We the Living (2012). Mayhew is, as many readers will know, also the editor of anthologies on Rand’s other fictional works, including Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged. The first edition of Mayhew’s book came out in 2004, and was reviewed by Susan Love Brown in JARS and by Fred Seddon at the website Objectivist Living. (It may have been reviewed elsewhere; I haven’t done a systematic search.) Discussion of the first edition also finds its way into Anne Heller’s Ayn Rand and the World She Made, and Jennifer Burns’s Goddess of the Market. The second edition of Mayhew’s book fixes some editorial mistakes in the first edition, and adds three new essays to the original mix.

mayhew.wtl

I organize my review around a rather high-handed remark of Jennifer Burns’s from the bibliographical essay of Goddess of the Market: “Although they are clearly written by partisans of Rand and thus lack a critical edge, the essays in Mayhew’s books are based on historical evidence and [are] carefully argued. They represent a significant step forward in Objectivist scholarship” (p. 296).

Despite its authoritative tone, this claim misleads the reader both ways around. In fact, the best material in Mayhew’s book isn’t merely “based on historical evidence,” “carefully argued,” or a “significant step forward in Objectivist scholarship.” At its best, Mayhew’s book represents the best scholarship on We the Living in print—a lot better than anything in Goddess of the Market. On the other hand, the worst features of Mayhew’s book don’t just “lack a critical edge.” At its worst, Mayhew’s book practically replicates the methods of Soviet-style propaganda, with paradoxical results that might well be called “Objectivism with a Leninist face.” My review is an attempt to process both sets of facts—each, in my view, entirely compatible with the other—and to integrate them into a single coherent verdict on Mayhew’s book.

I don’t know if I’ll have the space (or if a review of Mayhew’s book is the right place) to comment on Jennifer Burns’s discussion of We the Living in Goddess of the Market. I found Burns’s discussion of the novel trivial and uninformative, and her comments on Rand’s supposed “Nietzscheanism” incoherent and uninformed. If I don’t discuss Goddess in the RP review, I’ll probably post an extended out-take on it here, and explain why.

Irfan

P.S. I couldn’t find an online version of it, but Susan Love Brown’s review of the 2004 edition of Mayhew’s book appears in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 8:1 (2006).

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2 Comments

  1. irfankhawaja says:

    Thanks, I’ll take a look.

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