I feel the definite word on Rand has been said here:
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
Yet I press on.
It’s understandable that a girl whose family was roughly treated by the Bolsheviks during the Russian revolution would develop a hatred of anything smacking of “collectivism” to such a degree that she’d lionize “the individual” to the extent of psychopathy. What’s far less understandable, and far more frightening is that she would be taken seriously and that the seed of her philosophy would find fertile ground in the United States in the 21st century.
It’s not that greed and self interest need a good salesman. Those things do tend to sell themselves to humanity, usually within limits. But why Ayn Rand? Why such a transparently vicious ideology, explicated in a critically panned, overheated romance novel? Whittaker Chambers wrote in the conservative National Review:
It is the more persuasive, in some quarters, because the author deals wholly in the blackest blacks and the whitest whites. In this fiction everything, everybody, is either all good or all bad, without any of those intermediate shades which, in life, complicate reality and perplex the eye that seeks to probe it truly. This kind of simplifying pattern, of course, gives charm to most primitive story-telling. And, in fact, the somewhat ferro-concrete fairy tale the author pours here is, basically, the old one known as: The War between the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness. In modern dress, it is a class war. Both sides to it are caricatures.
It does make sense that in the marketplace of extreme ideologies, subtly, nuance, and good taste may not be kindly rewarded. And Rands personal story, growing up within the crucible of the Bolshevik revolution, the collectivist bogeyman of the 20th century, can’t hurt. But successful national politics in the United States does not generally intersect with extreme ideas. So what does a Rand follower who is running for Vice President of the United States do? Turns out he pulls back, obfuscates, and ostentatiously sings the praises of entitlement programs.
Paul Ryan, Congressman from Wisconsin and Republican Vice Presidential candidate, spoke in 2005 at the Atlas Society’s “Celebration of Ayn Rand.” (Audio can be found here) He had a few things to say about the woman of the hour:
I just want to speak to you a little bit about Ayn Rand and what she meant to me in my life and [in] the fight we’re engaged here in Congress. I grew up on Ayn Rand, that’s what I tell people..you know everybody does their soul-searching, and trying to find out who they are and what they believe, and you learn about yourself.
I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are. It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff. We start with Atlas Shrugged.
But the reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.
That last bit about Rand being the reason for a career in public service seems odd given Rand’s low opinion of government bureaucrat types. Rand as high school guidance counselor is more likely to suggest careers like “genius industrialist”, “genius copper mine baron”, or “genius architect”. I can only figure that Rand can inspire a person to go into public service in the sense that the walls of Troy inspired the Greeks to build and gift the city with a horse. Sincerity is not likely part of the equation.
But on August 14 of this year, Ryan went on Fox News and Brit Hume asked him about Rand (video here), and this is what he had to say:
I really enjoyed her novels, Atlas Shrugged in particular, it triggered my interest in economics, that’s where I got into studying economics, that’s why I wanted to study the whole field of economics. I later in life learned about what her philosophy was, it’s called Objectivism, it’s something I completely disagree with, it’s an atheistic philosophy.
Put to the side that this is like saying you enjoyed the New Testament, but only later if life learned about this whole Christianity thing. Why would Ryan speak at “Celebration of Ayn Rand” in praise of a woman whose philosophy he completely disagrees with? In 2005 did he still think Rand was just a writer of crackerjack novels with interesting economic themes and hadn’t figured out that she had this whole philosophy thing going? Not likely.
Not only have we been saddled, in the person of Alan Greenspan (Rand stood next to him when he was sworn in as Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers), with a Rand acolyte at the center of monetary policy for two recent decades, not only do we have Rand followers in congress, we now have one who may be Vice President, or who knows, President of the United States. So to answer the enigmatic question posed in Atlas Shrugged, “Who is John Galt?”…it looks like he is a tragically unfunny, adolescent joke, played on us all.