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February 23, 1992|Charles Solomon

THE AYN RAND COLUMNS by Ayn Rand (Second Renaissance Books: $14.95). Most of the essays in this provocative collection were taken from the column the noted author/philosopher wrote for the Los Angeles Times in 1962. Rand dismisses the conventional virtues of altruism and self-sacrifice in favor of an assertive egotism that defines "the pursuit of his own rational self-interest and happiness" as the highest moral purpose of any individual's life. To readers 30 years later, her description of virtually all governmental activity as oppressive "statism" seems both extremely conservative (she despises all types of regulations) and exceedingly liberal, for she insists on absolute personal freedom. Rand defines her positions with an icy and remorseless eloquence: Reflecting on the 1962 elections, she concludes, with eerie prescience, "The United States, at present, is a country without political ideology, without any intellectual movement, without direction or goal. We are paralyzed by the unadmitted knowledge that we are trapped in the crumbling structure of a 'mixed economy'--and, while the girders are cracking under our feet, about to collapse, our political leaders are haggling over which rugs and drapes to loot from some rooms for the decoration of others." This seemingly pitiless woman, who opposed the creation of the Medicare program, reveals a surprisingly gentle side of her nature when she reflects on the joys of stamp-collecting, holiday gift-giving and the death of Marilyn Monroe, whom she calls the victim of "a society that professes dedication to the relief of suffering, but kills the joyous."

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