Friday, 24 August 2012 00:00
Representative and presumptive Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan has stated numerous times that his thinking about government and about life in general was greatly shaped by the late novelist and essay writer Ayn Rand. He actually credits her writing and philosophy as the “reason I got involved in public service, by and large….” He gave copies of Atlas Shrugged, Rand’s signature novel from 1957, to his Congressional staff as Christmas gifts.
From the giddiness displayed in self-described libertarian circles, it’s clear that many people see this as a Romney-Ryan-Rand Republican ticket. During the Republican Presidential primaries, several candidates repeatedly associated themselves with Ayn Rand, especially Representative Ron Paul, who adopted the “Who is Ron Paul?” slogan as a play on the “Who is John Gault?” mantra from Atlas Shrugged.
Ayn Rand, whose works were almost universally panned by literary critics and who died in 1982, is clearly resurgent. So who is Ayn Rand?
Rand and her followers advocated a pure capitalism, in which individuals pursue their own self-interest. In fact, the highest duty of the individual is to realize their own personal potential. Although the Rand code does not exactly endorse doing whatever one pleases at any time, it does emphasize that moral behavior should not be compelled and rejects every obligation and form of personal sacrifice.
In the pure Rand view, capitalists produce all wealth; workers are parasites and moochers. Altruism, which places others above self, is immoral and leads to slavery. There should be no economic safety net at all, even if people we could help suffer or die. They are a drag on economic efficiency.
Rand named her philosophy “Objectivism,” because it was based on cold, objective reality without the fetters and biases of personal morality or religion. Many Rand adherents who profess to be Christians seem to not know or not care that Rand was not only a committed Atheist, she was a fierce anti-Christian.
When times get tough, many people become more willing to consider off-the-beaten path and extreme philosophies. Ayn Rand’s books are big bestsellers. There are Rand clubs everywhere. There is an Ayn Rand Forum for Independent Thought at Hofstra University.
A common caricature of Rand fans used to be obnoxious twerps from rich or upper-middle class families who believed that only their own talents and efforts were responsible for their cushy positions in life. Not any more. Being called a “Randroid” used to be mildly insulting. Rand Paul’s 2010 U.S. Senate campaign adopted the word for its caps and T-shirts. The now-Senator Paul posted his own personal video explaining that though he “cut my teeth on Ayn Rand,” his first name is really just a shortening of Randall. It’s still online. He goes on to discuss his admiration for the late Austrian economist Murray Rothbard, Rand’s close friend, who broke with her to advocate even purer Objectivism. Condemning taxation as coerced theft, Rothbard advanced a theory of “anarcho-capitalism” in which the state is eliminated in favor of complete free market forces. Rothbard even called for elimination of police forces so that individuals can take responsibility for their own personal security.
Annual sales of Atlas Shrugged, in which the talented and super wealthy go on strike and watch lesser society collapse without them, more than doubled starting in 2009, as Glen Beck and others urged followers to study the book, and advocacy organizations distributed many thousands of copies. The title of a 2011 feature-length documentary, Ayn Rand & the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged (“It’s Happening Now,” said the tagline), just about says it all. Prophesy.
Paul Ryan says in a video he himself posted in 2009 that it wasn’t enough to say that President Obama was wrong. The administration was mounting “an attack” on “the morality of individuals working toward their own free will to produce, to achieve, to succeed….” He says we need Ayn Rand’s kind of commentary “more than ever.” This is moral war.
In a 2005 address to the Atlas Society, a Rand advocacy think tank, Mr. Ryan summed it all up: “And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.”
There is no soft, squishy middle.
Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org