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From the Archives: UVA historian explains Ayn Rand's unusual popularity in 2010

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on April 16, 2010. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

UVA historian explains Ayn Rand's unusual popularity in 2010
April 16, 2010 5:03 PM MST

To many people, the unusually high level of interest in the works of Ayn Rand and her surge in popularity are puzzling.

In January 2009, the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore published an article called “'Atlas Shrugged': From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years,” in which he wrote:

Ayn Rand Jennifer Burns Rick Sincere objectivism
“Many of us who know Rand's work have noticed that with each passing week, and with each successive bailout plan and economic-stimulus scheme out of Washington, our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that 'Atlas Shrugged' parodied in 1957, when this 1,000-page novel was first published and became an instant hit.”

Two months later, The Economist reported that according to “data from TitleZ, a firm that tracks best-seller rankings on Amazon, an online retailer, the book's 30-day average Amazon rank was 127 on Feb. 21, well above its average over the past two years of 542. On Jan. 13 the book's ranking was 33, briefly besting President Barack Obama's popular tome, ‘The Audacity of Hope.’”

Earlier this year, Marsha Enright and Gen LaGreca noted in The Daily Caller that Moore’s 2009 article “seemed to ignite an explosion of interest in Ayn Rand. Sales of this prescient novel tripled; two Rand biographies have been selling like hotcakes; and references to her in the media have skyrocketed.”

Jennifer Burns Ayn Rand Rick Sincere Goddess of the Market
What explains this phenomenon: A philosopher/novelist who died in 1982 is more popular now than when she was actively writing and promoting her books?

Yesterday, the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner put this question to one of the authors of the two Rand biographies that were published last year, University of Virginia historian Jennifer Burns. Burns wrote Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right.

She replied to the question in Charlottesville on April 15, just after moderating a panel discussion on whether libertarians should seek an alliance with liberals (with the resulting combination called “liberaltarian”).

Burns said that Ayn Rand “has become a rallying point for the opposition to Obama. Definitely, she has become a really strong presence in the Tea Party. I think a lot of people are seeing her writing as prophetic, both predicting what’s happening now and warning about what can happen if the state gets too big.”

In Burns’ opinion, Rand’s “time has come, in many ways.” She cautioned, however, that “it’s probably a temporary boom. She may fade away and then she’ll probably come back the next time we see this kind of state expansion.”

Burns said that so far her book has received “a very enthusiastic reaction.” Rand, she said, “is a really important figure in American intellectual life [who] hasn’t been recognized as such [and who] hasn’t been treated as such. Most readers of Rand simply appreciate that I take her on her own terms and explain just why she matters.”

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