Antioch was a hotbed of student radicalism and curricular innovation. You can get schooled at Twitter if you have the right friends.
Two years later, four miles southeast, my “Christian” college would try to fire me for publishing a book on feminism, yet here I was in conversation with the editor of an indomitable woman from Russia, herself among the first women to be admitted to university after the Russian Revolution — an atheist and fierce critic of religion — who was nevertheless the guiding light of some of my evangelical Christian students. Additionally, they were having difficulty with the concept of Jesus of Nazareth having compassion for the poor, like, say, Mother Teresa. Naively, and un-Rand-like, I said yes to everything Macmillan and Prentice Hall told me.) Ayn Rand wanted approval of copy, advertising, art, you name it, O’Connor said. The other day someone tweeted that Facebook is the people you went to school with, and Twitter the people you wish you went to school with. the other day, Maud Newton tweeted: “Irony of Atlas Shrugged, movie about great people laid low by mediocre jealous people, is that it is wholly mediocre.” It’s been years since I spoke with Patrick O’Connor.
Ayn Rand took herself seriously and produced dreck—really dangerous stuff. The year before I met Patrick O’Connor, Mary Gaitskill published a novel called , which featured a thinly disguised Rand character, Anna Granite, and her philosophy of “Definitism.” Like the character Justine in her novel, Gaitskill had actually interviewed followers of Ayn Rand.
I asked Mary Gaitskill: what I was inspired in part by realizing how important Ayn Rand’s ideas still were, and how deep they got into the American psyche.
A self-professed Trotskyite and anti-Stalinist from the old radical ‘30s left wing of the Democrat party, he was Ayn Rand’s editor at New American Library in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
We quickly discovered we had something in common: our aversion to Ayn Rand’s philosophy.
Holly and Mark were becoming royal pains and I wanted to kick Patrick O’Connor in the ass. Here’s the thing you gotta know about publishing, kid. A libertarian whose ideas are as wacky as Rand’s (who in fact is named Rand) is now a United States senator in Kentucky.
So when he told me that he was a Trotskyite, a Communist, and from the democratic wing of the Democratic party, I knew he was as misplaced with Rand as I was at my college. The publishing industry itself is basically left, but true publishers publish what they think will sell. They’d like to convert all of godless Russia to Christianity. And of course, they wanted to “win America for Christ.” The irony of this: these good Christian kids admired an evangelical atheist who believed in conversion. Former Fed Chairman and economist Alan Greenspan is a devotee of Ayn Rand.
I was an insecure young professor of philosophy at a conservative evangelical college, with a troubled marriage and two kids.
Cedarville College was four miles from Antioch, but so distant ideologically from the famously radical Antioch that it might as well have been four light years.