Coined by the American writer Ayn Rand, the so-called ‘virtue of selfishness’ may well be indicative of a certain literary legacy that shapes the populist discourses of the right. Such statements maintaining that self-interest is self-esteem – and particularly Rand’s way of legitimizing egotism and greed – are very much alive in Romanian political communication, being loosely associated with notions of unregulated capitalism by center-right parties. As the literary muse of individualism, Rand proves that her fiction and philosophy of objectivism can be appropriated by right-wing populist discourses inasmuch as they validate capitalistic adventurers, arguing for profit maximization. Mainstream Romanian media elaborate on political opinions that expose and rationalize this pursuit of self-interest in politics: achieving one’s own happiness at all costs, which is (intuitively) embraced by the local apostles of the free market idea, is politicized despite being an aversive experience for (most of) the people. The local elite’s perceived command of English and insight into American culture could be construed as the reason The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957) – Rand’s two famous novels – are literary ambassadors of self-interested behavior framed as freeing the people from the oppressive weight of the state. Since the popular understandings of Rand’s writing are especially understudied as a means to come to terms with notions of right-wing populism as cultural diffusion from the USA to Romania, the purpose of this paper is to contribute to a wider debate about the significance of American literary cultures in legitimating an emerging (post)capitalist culture of greed and social inequality across post-communist Romania.
Onoriu Colăcel is Senior Lecturer in English at Ștefan cel Mare University of Suceava, Romania. He has written on the contemporary English novel and on the Romanian and Moldovan literary cultures and visual media. His authored books include Postcolonial Readings of Romanian Identity Narratives (2015) and The Romanian Cinema of Nationalism. Historical Films as Propaganda and Spectacle (2018). He co-edited (with Anastasiya Astapova, Corneliu Pintilescu and Tamás Scheibner) Conspiracy Theories in Eastern Europe. Tropes and Trends (2021).