Anne Heller, as long ago as 2009, published her biography of Ayn Rand. I have finally gotten around to reading it and will at some point make a post or two commenting upon it. In this post I want to turn to another issue --- namely, one of the two organizations tasked with the propagation of Rand's ideas, The Atlas Society. I had not realized the extent to which Heller had used TAS in research for her book. It is notorious that ARI refused Heller access to their archives until long after her book was finished. But it appears Heller didn't need ARI because she had TAS and David Kelley, who explained Rand's philosophy to Heller. It wouldn't be that much of an exaggeration to call Ayn Rand and the World She Made the official Rand biography of the Atlas Society --- although technically that's not true.
Now in recent years, as interest in Objectivism has seemed to wane, one would think that the Atlas Society would at some point disappear. Is there really a need for two organizations devoted to the advancement of Rand's ideas? Yet the years go by and TAS stubbornly remains among us. David Kelley, the founder of the Atlas Society, retired in 2016. In his place as CEO of TAS is the redoubtable Jennifer Grossman, formerly a speechwriter for the elder Bush, Director of Education at the Cato Institute, Senior Vice President at the Dole Food Company, and Health Editor at Laura Ingraham's website, LifeZette. That's quite a resume. Notice that it has virtually nothing to do with Rand. Grossman is not a philosopher or a professor or Rand expert. Her experience is primarily as an executive. Curiously enough, she worked closely with the late philanthropist Theodore J. Forstmann to launch something called the Children's Scholarship Fund. Try to image Rand involved in such a venture and you have imagined something that's grossly implausible.
In her videos, Grossman comes of as likeable and non-threatening. She certainly cuts a more attractive figure than Yaron Brook. But it is difficult to understand what exactly the broader appeal of this more reasonable (if not altogether convincing) version of Rand's thought is supposed to be. By portraying Rand's thought as primarily advocating rationality in the pursuit of objective knowledge and selfishness in the pursuit of benevolence, what have the denizens of TAS in fact achieved? Is this really a philosophy of life, or is just a series of platitudinous cliches laced with Randian memes?
In a broader sense, what we are witnessing is the institutionalization of Objectivism. Organizations dedicated to the spread of Rand's ideas are no longer run by philosophers, professors, and/or Rand nerds. They are now run by professionals. But for what purpose? The professionals are there to increase funding, which means: find and secure donors. But isn't there a danger, when the very life blood of these organizations rests on bringing as much money in as possbile, that a few wealthy donors could effectively take over the Objectivist movement and fashion it to their inclinations? And isn't it rather odd that less than forty years after Rand's passing, those charged with the advocacy of her philosophy are neither philosophers nor experts in her thought?