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One of the hallmarks of the cultural neo-rightists is their tendency to condemn the entire liberal movement because of the misguided few among them who make heroes of people whose behavior is questionable or outright reprehensible. A few hundred dipshit hippies and punks make an icon out of Charles Manson; therefore, the entire civil rights movement is tainted. A few thousand poseur college students wear t-shirts with Che Guevara's face on them; therefore, all leftist thinking is suspect.

At this point, it would be easy enough to bring up any of the vast and bloody crimes of colonialists, anti-communists and capitalists who cut a deadly swath through the 20th century and ask if it therefore means that anyone who reads New Republic or supports a capital gains tax cut is therefore an accomplice to the butcheries of Augusto Pinochet, Jonas Savimbi, or Suharto. But I'm more interested in what they think of Ayn Rand's admiration of W. Edward Hickman.

Rand was a big admirer of Hickman's; in her journals, she expressed the opinion that one of his public statements ("Like the state, what is good for me is right") was "the best and strongest expression of a real man's psychology I have ever heard". She based one of her first novels -- an unpublished work called The Little Street -- on Hickman, and the main character was based on him even down to their background and appearance. In the notes she kept around the time of writing The Little Street, she continues to gush admiration for Hickman, and formulates the opinion that anyone so widely reviled by society must be doing something right ("No matter what the man did, there is always something loathsome in the 'virtuous' indignation and mass-hatred of the 'majority'... it is repulsive to see all these beings with worse sins and crimes in their own lives, virtuously condemning a criminal"). She describes the jury that tries her hero as full of fat ugly women and thin soulless men, stupid and hypocritical.

Of Hickman, the man upon whom she based her superior, altogether wonderful hero, she blames society for his maladjustments -- an excuse she hardly extends to others whose flaws she finds contemptible: "The worse he is, the worst must be the cause that drove him to this. Isn't it significant that society was not able to fill the life of an exceptional, intelligent boy, to give him anything to outbalance crime in his eyes?" Hickman had "a brilliant mind, a romantic, adventurous, impatient soul and a straight, uncompromising, proud character. What had society to offer him? A wretched, insane family as the ideal home, a Y.M.C.A. club as social honor, and a bank-page job as ambition and career." In a long paragraph displaying arguments Objectivists never seem to extend to the poor, the sick or criminals other than Mssr. Hickman, she speaks of the horror the poor lad faced in a future that involved actually having to work for a living like everyone else, a "long, slow, soul-eating, heart-wrecking toil and struggle; the degrading, ignoble road of silent pain and loud compromises".

Of course, Ayn Rand was a young woman when she wrote this, and perhaps a bit foolish and flighty. You know, much like the callow punks who idolize Charlie Manson, or the trust fund kids who put up Che posters in their dorm rooms. So it would be wrong to judge Ms. Rand, or her followers, or the rightness or wrongness of her theories and beliefs, based solely on this youthful fascination for a man who...well, what did William Edward Hickman do, anyway? Who was this famous young fellow who so captured her imagination?

Nothing much. He was just a lowly clerk who kidnapped the twelve-year-old daughter of the president of the bank where he worked. He sent a number of taunting ransom notes to the girl's father, saying he was a terrible parent who didn't truly love his child, and blaming him for anything that would happen to young Marion Parker if he contacted the police. He swore he wouldn't harm the girl if he was paid his $1500 ransom, which, finally, he was, and as promised, he turned Marion over to her loving, anxious family -- by throwing her out of the car in which he fled the scene. Marion had been dead for days. Her legs were hacked off and her arms torn out at the sockets. Her eyes were pried open with pieces of wire. She'd been gutted and all of her internal organs were removed; Hickman crammed the empty cavity of her corpse with wet towels to soak up all the blood. Before he dangled for the crime, he confessed to another murder, and explained how he'd killed Marion even before writing the ransom letters in which he promised no harm would come to her, imperfectly strangling her and then tearing off her limbs in a bathtub while she was still alive. That's who Rand talks about in her journals, cooing over his bad-boy good looks.

Just something to keep in mind next time one of these apes starts barking about Che t-shirts again.


Feb. 15th, 2009 03:58 am (UTC)
Great quote from Confucius, FTW.

Interesting information on Rand. I pretty much came to the conclusion years ago the woman wasn't right in the head period, so this shocks me not in the least.

Feb. 15th, 2009 03:54 pm (UTC)
I came to a similar conclusion years ago, but I must admit to a bit of surprise that she spoke so glowingly of someone who was, at the time, one of America's most notorious killers. (Hickman did his crime in scandal-ridden L.A., so it got tons of publicity.)
Feb. 15th, 2009 04:25 am (UTC)
The Overman knows that there is no difference.
Feb. 15th, 2009 03:56 pm (UTC)
Ha! One of the funniest things about Rand's yammering about Hickman is that it shows how deeply immersed she was in Nietzsche -- and how little she really understood him.
Feb. 15th, 2009 05:15 am (UTC)
That's fascinating. How did you come across this information?
Feb. 15th, 2009 04:02 pm (UTC)
I've been researching notorious crimes of the noir era for a project I'm working on, and I was reading this book about crime in L.A. called Sins of the City by Jim Heimann, the same guy who does those great "All-American Ads" books for Taschen. It mentions the Hickman crime pretty prominently, and I was sort of idly Googling it to see if I could find out any more about it, and I came across this. (I could have just looked at Hickman's Wikipedia page, which mentions it, but I went about it backwards.) That led me to a number of other mentions, and they kept referring back to Rand's journal, which I own but I'd never gotten around to reading, so I looked it up, and sure enough...
Feb. 15th, 2009 07:16 am (UTC)
All the girls want to know, who's the cutest boy on Death Row?
Feb. 15th, 2009 04:10 pm (UTC)
"A brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy...a romantic, adventurous, impatient soul...a bad boy with a very winning grin...he makes you like him the whole time you're in his presence."
Feb. 15th, 2009 02:34 pm (UTC)
which (sigh) I own
Huh. They don't mention that in her diaries.
Feb. 15th, 2009 04:19 pm (UTC)
Re: which (sigh) I own
Are her diaries different from her journal? If not, and you have the same edition of the Journals of Ayn Rand as I do (Plume 1999 softcover), it's definitely in there, starting on page 20 and taking up bits and pieces of the next fifteen pages or so. If her diaries are a different thing, though, I dunno what to tell you.
Feb. 15th, 2009 06:25 pm (UTC)
Re: which (sigh) I own
Hardcover, but yeah.

I haven't read it in nearly a decade, though; it's buried in a box at my parents' house. I'll look it up.

I'm reasonably sure they don't mention the, uh, maiming.
Feb. 15th, 2009 06:43 pm (UTC)
Re: which (sigh) I own
Yeah, that's another pretty creepy thing about it -- the editors really gloss over what a horrific crime it was. They basically say Hickman was "accused of kidnapping and murdering a young girl" and was eventually found guilty and executed -- Rand never mentions the victim or even her name. She also doesn't mention that it was a crime of profit, which is especially odd considering how down she always is on people who take profit by force.

One funny thing is that she uses Hickman as a springboard for one of her anti-Christianity tirades, and ignores the fact that he claimed to be very religiously devout -- he even said during questioning that he wanted to use the ransom money to go to Bible college, of all things.
Feb. 15th, 2009 05:37 pm (UTC)
Nice work Leonard! Now I'm late for work, after spending the hour having a debate about this with my wife!
Feb. 15th, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
Ha! Sorry about that, man. What was the debate?
Feb. 17th, 2009 02:48 am (UTC)
That's one hell of a punchline. I can't imagine you don't know this, but this looks like the perfect length for a newspaper column, which gives me pleasant thoughts about Unlikely Possibilities.
May. 17th, 2010 05:43 pm (UTC)
Never thought one could top Albert Fish for sheer fucking evilness in the kid-murderer department.

I was wrong.

(Yes, this is a very old post. I'm late for everything.)


flavored with age
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Leonard Pierce is a freelance writer wandering around Texas with no sleep or sense of direction. If you give him money he will write something for you. If you are nice to him he may come to your house and get drunk.

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