By Jennifer Burns, Assistant Professor of History, University of Virginia. Burns blogs about Ayn Rand, libertarianism, political history, and more at www.jenniferburns.org.
Of all the second acts in American lives, perhaps none is more remarkable than the recent conservative embrace of Ayn Rand, the long-dead doyenne of American capitalism. During the market nosedive of 2008 it seemed her version of free market capitalism had been discredited altogether; even former acolyte Alan Greenspan had his doubts, famously telling Congress he had found "a flaw" in his Rand-inspired ideology. Yet in 2009 sales of her books began a ferocious climb, with Atlas Shrugged alone selling more than 300,000 copies. Signs referencing her hero John Galt dotted the tea party protests, and she's been a staple of right wing talk radio and a new favorite of rising stars like Glen Beck. On the campaign trail, candidate Obama would sometimes criticize the virtue of selfishness, making a veiled allusion to Rand's ideas. Now President Obama has wrestled firsthand with the virtue of selfishness, for it is Rand's ideas that have undergirded conservative response to his economic proposals from the auto bailout to health care reform. Nor is she likely to fade away anytime soon; the Washington Post just declared Randroids "in" for 2010.