Was Ayn Rand Nothing More Than a Nihilist? A Review of Aaron Weinacht’s “Nikolai Chernyshevskii and Ayn Rand: Russian Nihilism Travels to America”
Research requires that one peruses all relevant secondary literature, at least to the extent possible—and if there is not that much secondary literature available, scholars must have a comprehensive overview of all publications on their subject. At least that’s the rule I adhered to until I discovered very good reasons to only skim some books: working on Ayn Rand, I often dug through articles and books whose authors had a clear agenda and were mostly interested in either hailing or damning their subject. In the latter manner, Lisa Duggan (2019) condemned Rand, as the title of her book said, as a Mean Girl, and journalist Gary Weiss (2013) blamed Rand’s thought for the financial crisis, fearing America to turn into an Ayn Rand Nation (Gary Weiss; St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013). Consequently, when I came across How Bad Writing Destroyed the World: Ayn Rand and the Literary Origins of the Financial Crisis (2016), I had very little patience for Adam Weiner’s (admittedly compelling) argument that Rand drew heavily from Russian nihilist Nikolai Chernyshevskii’s (1828-1889) dystopian novel What Is to be Done? (1863). As I was still interested in a thorough analysis of Rand’s intellectual debt to Chernyshevskii, though, I was more excited to explore it anew through historian Aaron Weinacht’s lens.
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Nikolai Chernyshevskii and Ayn Rand: Russian Nihilism Travels to America