Today is Ayn Rand's 100th birthday. Bryan Caplan, who is smarter than you are, defends Rand's legacy at the EconLog. I especially like this bit:
Yes, many of her philosophical arguments are question-begging. Shocking… unless you've read the work of Descartes, Locke, Kant, or Mill. They all make plenty of embarrassingly bad arguments. If you don't want to dismiss their whole subject matter, you've got to judge philosophers based on their best work and/or the novel questions they raise. And by that standard, Rand more than holds her own.
Right on. Bryan mentions that he wouldn't be a professor if it wasn't for Rand. I certainly wouldn't have studied philosophy (and wouldn't be working at Cato) if Rand hadn't convinced me that philosophy really matters. But more than that, Rand more than anyone I can think of, makes philosophy seem downright romantic. John Galt's the bomb not just because he solves the problem of energy scarcity, or engineers the collapse of a parasitic corporate welfare state, but because he's a philosopher!
I think Tyler's right about what you really learn from Rand, even if you've given up on most of her particular arguments:
The true take-away message is a reaffirmation of how the enormous productive powers of capitalism — the greatest force for human good ever achieved — rely on the driving human desire to be excellent. I don't know of any better celebration of that combination of forces.
Rand teaches a deep-seated reverence for innovation and discovery, and a heightened sensitivity to the dark motives that often underlie appeals to the commonweal. After reading Rand, you cannot live in a capitalist order and fail to appreciate the great glorious gift of innovation driven by the self-interested pursuit of excellence and wealth. And you cannot live in DC, the town of ten thousand Mouches, and fail to see daily how the fuel of resentment, parasitic avarice, and powerlust blazes in the rhetoric of shared sacrifice and fires the black engines of the state.