But much as Rand craved appreciation for her work (as sadly reflected in the worshipful eyes of The Collective and her bitterness about every negative book review she ever received), it’s hard to imagine that she would have been terribly happy about its current appropriation by a motley assortment of conservative populists, who mix quotes from The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged with Christian Scripture and the less-than-cerebral perspectives of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. In her own view, Rand was nothing if not a systematic philosopher whose ideas demanded an unconditional acceptance of her approach to metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, psychology, literature, and politics.
Rand’s famous intolerance should not be dismissed as simply the psychological aberration of a flawed genius. She feared, for good reason, what lesser minds might do with the intellectual dynamite of her work when divorced from its philosophical context. The prophetess of “the virtue of selfishness” made rigorous demands of herself and all her followers to live self-consciously “heroic” lives under a virtual tyranny of reason and self-mastery, and to reject every imaginable natural and supernatural limitation on personal responsibility for every action and its consequences. Take all that away–take everything away that Rand actually cared about–and her fictional work represents little more than soft porn for middle-brow reactionaries who seek to rationalize their resentment of the great unwashed. This is why Rand was so precise about the moral obligations and absolute consistency demanded both of her fictional “heroes” and her acolytes. She hated “second-handers,” people who borrowed others’ philosophies without understanding or following them.