She’s back! Like a laissez faire zombie, 29 years after her death philosopher/ novelist Ayn Rand has risen from the grave.
A movie adaptation of Rand’s 1957 tome Atlas Shrugged opened on tax day this year, propelling her original novel onto Amazon’s bestseller list, and this week the DVD is released.
Tea Partiers, libertarians and conservatives have embraced the “goddess of the free market,” threatening to turn the GOP into the “Rand Old Party.” Idealistic college kids rediscover Rand and Atlas Shrugged year after year, tucking it beside their copies of Catcher in the Rye.
Despite decades of attempts to discredit her philosophies, she won’t stay dead; it is obvious something she says is still awfully relevant today.
Author Ed Rampell breaks down the Pro-Rand and Anti-Rand viewpoints to help explain this multi-faceted Rand phenomenon:
For true believers, Ayn Rand is an apostle of individual rights and liberties. Selfishness isn’t a vice; it’s a virtue. The collective mustn’t demand anything from or coerce the individual, who needs to be free to pursue his rational self-interest as the highest good and goal. Mass mediocrity mustn’t control the high achieving, innovative individual. In other words, society and its rules and regulations should go fuck themselves.
The best system for fulfilling man’s rational self-interest is pure capitalism, which Rand calls the unknown ideal. However, 21st century American capitalism is increasingly under attack by collectivists seeking regulatory controls over and taxation of society’s most productive members.
From Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to government efforts to takeover the auto industry and healthcare to the “Death Tax,” overreaching Washington bureaucrats threaten personal rights and free enterprise with totalitarianism. Government regulations aim to handcuff producers and to stifle the individual initiative that is our economic motor.
Rand is against the welfare state, rent control, unions, taxes, unemployment compensation, government regulation of the workplace and Wall Street. She calls recipients of government aid “moochers.” Rand believes that unless all nanny state social benefits are reversed and rejected, America is leading the world toward the disaster of complete collectivism or socialism, a system where everybody is enslaved to everybody. Rand opposes all forms of government control, advocating an absolute free economy, with the separation of state and economics.
Rand objects to majority rule and the idea that people have the right to vote on everything. Her “Objectivist” philosophy challenges the moral code of Altruism that believes man must live for and sacrifice himself for others. Rand considers the notion of self-sacrifice to be an evil that’s impossible to justify. There’s no reason why men should be their brother’s keepers; the free individual must live for himself, not others. That’s the new Golden Rule of the Gospel According to St. Ayn.
Atlas Shrugged clearly expresses Rand’s Objectivism, and the new film version reflects the radical right’s anxiety that President Obama is a “socialist” hell-bent on imposing the regulatory state and nationalizing industries.
For “Objectivism” the individual’s rational self-interest is the highest good. Capitalism is an unknown ideal, where man can fulfill the virtue of selfishness. Over the years Rand’s siren song of unadulterated, pure capitalism unbound has lured starry-eyed university students, economists from Milton Friedman to Alan Greenspan, and today’s new breed of Tea Party activists and Republicans, such as House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, who has made Atlas required reading for his staff. Rand’s rants resonate with that archetypal rugged individualist, “Don’t tread on me” spirit of America’s founding fathers and pioneers. Ordinary people should keep on moving or get the hell out of the way of the entrepreneurial Atlases.
The road to hell, however, is paved with good intentions. While Objectivist ideals may sound good in theory, when put into practice Rand’s free-market-on-steroids ideology proved catastrophic. Indeed, America’s current economic crisis can be directly traced to deregulation of our financial system.
Rand railed against New Deal-type programs and legislation, but the 1999 repeal of the FDR-era Glass-Steagall Act, which separated investment and savings banks, led to 2008’s financial meltdown. The lack of oversight from not only public watchdogs such as the Securities Exchange Commission, but also private ratings firms such as Standard & Poor’s, enabled the bubble of Wall Street credit default swaps, subprime mortgages, etc., that eventually burst.
And once their system neared collapse, with their hands stretched out like so many welfare queens and kings, the stock market’s “Masters of the Universe” turned to Big Government for taxpayer-funded bailouts. When the shit hit the fan, Atlas didn’t shrug – he hugged socialistic solutions from the collectivists. Who are the “moochers” now?
It turns out that pursuing one’s personal self-interest, the public be damned, is totally irrational. In 2008 brokers went for broke, triggering a breakdown. In 2011, as America teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, oil companies recording the highest profits of any corporations in world history called changing their tax breaks and subsidies “Un-American.” The notion that the economic activities of those who believe “greed is god” should go unregulated and untaxed is, in reality, nuts. It also goes against the patriotic grain of people who have pulled together and made shared sacrifices, especially when times are tough.
Like those so-called collectivists, social conservatives may find much that’s objectionable about Objectivism. Rand’s atheism does not compute with the religious right’s fundamentalism. Rand led a randy private life and candidly wrote about sex and sexually liberated female characters. Rand also strongly supported abortion rights she’d hardly be at home among today’s “family values” Republicans.
Worst of all, Ayn Rand was a world class hypocrite. The archenemy of the welfare state received social security and Medicare benefits when it suited Rand’s own rational self-interest to do so.
She’d declared, “Nobody should have the right, neither employers nor employees, to use state compulsion or force.” But during the Hollywood Blacklist she collaborated with the House Un-American Activities Committee and movie studios to deny work to leftist movie talents. Rand spoke about individual freedoms, but aided the witch-hunt that cited filmmakers for contempt of Congress, then fined and imprisoned them.
Rand also viciously stifled dissent and debate amongst her followers, as well as academics and others who committed the objectionable crime of disagreeing with the free marketer – who was really a racketeer.
Ayn Rand interviewed by Mike Wallace; 1959