Skip to comments.I Hate Ayn Rand — But Here's Why my Fellow Conservatives Love Her
Posted on 07/24/2014 7:25:22 PM PDT by nickcarraway
And no, liberals: It's not because they're greedy jerks who loathe the poor By Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry |
Many of my fellow conservatives love Ayn Rand. And many of my liberal friends love to hate her.
You can understand why progressives enjoy blasting Rand's presumably nefarious influence on the conservative movement. She makes for a convenient punching bag for progressives, because she embodies the caricatured version of what progressives imagine conservatives really think: that egotism and greed are good and that the parasitic weak deserve to be trod upon by the capitalistic powerful.
And then there are people like me: Conservatives who view themselves as Christians first. To us, Rand's worldview is repellent, and the fact that her works are so widespread on the right is beyond annoying.
I hate nearly everything Rand stands for. I find her prose unbearable. But I also, unlike Rand, believe in the virtue of empathy, and have decided to apply it to people who like her work. To that end, here are a few different perspectives on why so many conservatives like Ayn Rand.
1. It's a wish-fulfillment fantasy
In Ayn Rand's books, the main character is typically an implausibly awesome version of the person many conservatives would secretly like to be. Wish-fulfillment fantasies exert a powerful influence on us. There is something in our souls that tells us that we are inadequate, that reminds us of our many failures and the ways the world fails to appreciate our precious gifts. Works of fiction in which the main character unleashes our fantasies touches something deep.
For me as a geeky, bullied preteen, Ender's Game fulfilled this need. Here was a book about a supersmart, supertalented kid who is recognized for it, whose skills are groomed and appreciated, and who eventually goes on to save the world. (Dune was also great for that.) Even now, as I find all sorts of inadequacies with the Ender books, I can't help but retain a deep fondness for them, and will probably recommend them to my teenage kids.
Ayn Rand's fantasy stories work the same way for young conservatives. A figure like John Galt reaches into deep places inside yourself, and produces intense feelings.
This type of fiction is the ice cream of art: Harmless enough if we don't mistake it for a nutritious meal but, if we're honest with ourselves, we probably recognize that we're a bit too attracted to it. And remember, there's almost certainly a piece of schlock that does for you the same things that Atlas Shrugged does for many conservatives, so cut them some slack.
2. It's possible to dissociate a book from its politics
According to my totally nonscientific sense of things, the singlemost popular work of fiction among Silicon Valley geeks is The Lord of the Rings. (And even if it's not the MOST popular, it's still undeniably popular.) Much has been written about the techno-utopianism of Silicon Valley culture. But Lord of the Rings is profoundly and explicitly anti-technology; Tolkien clearly associates the forces of evil with industrial modernity, and his picture of Eden, whether the Hobbits' Shire or the Elven realms, is pre-technological. Peter Thiel, who may be the most techno-utopian futuristic billionaire in Silicon Valley, has also named not one, not two, but three companies after items or characters from Lord of the Rings. How does he reconcile these contradictions?!?!?!?!?!
It's probably very easy for him, because you don't have to love a piece of art's politics to love the piece of art itself.
In the case of conservatives and Ayn Rand, then, if you combine this with point one, a narrative falls into place: A young conservative finds an Ayn Rand book; because it is a wish-fulfillment fantasy, it exerts a powerful pull on her and she starts to love it, perhaps a bit too much; as the conservative grows up and reads more (and better) conservative books, her politics hopefully separate a bit from Rand's extreme and insane Objectivism, even as she retains a great fondness for the books.
3. There are too few works of art in popular culture that have conservative values
Progressives often obsess over the notion of "checking your privilege," and I believe by and large it is a healthy instinct, because many of us are indeed beneficiaries of privilege. But here's one type of privilege I wish progressives would check: The privilege of growing up in a world where the vast majority of culture, both high and low, reflects your worldview.
I was amused when the blogosphere collapsed in a heap of disbelieving LOLs when it was revealed that Paul Ryan (also frequently indicted for his love of Ayn Rand) loves the band Rage Against the Machine. I too love RATM. Tom Morello is a musical genius, and Zack de la Rocha indisputably has a gift from God.
To grow up as a conservative with an omnivorous yet discerning aesthetic palate is to get a never-ending, and I mean never-ending, education in the sometimes-difficult process of appreciating works whose political (if not metaphysical) worldview is deeply at odds with your own. This is an education that progressives (especially if they don't study the classical liberal arts) by and large don't get.
I think the shock that so many progressives experience when they find out a conservative can love RATM and, conversely, the implicit notion that if someone likes Ayn Rand that automatically makes them a Randbot, is due to this form of privilege. There remains a deep strain in left-wing aesthetics of judging a work's value by the politics it promotes. (Case in point: the Academy Awards.)
This dearth of conservative values in popular culture, then, doesn't just mean that conservatives will latch onto comparatively inferior cultural works that reflect their worldview, although it surely plays a role. But even as a conservative's politics deviate from Rand's, she will be more able to maintain her enjoyment of Rand's works, to an extent that may seem inexplicable to a progressive.
4. Rand's work does get at a crucial truth that almost everyone misses
Again, as a Christian and as a conservative, I find Rand's Objectivism, to use a word she so liked, despicable. But I still must recognize that Rand's work emphasizes one crucial truth about the world that almost nobody else does: Free enterprise is key to human flourishing, not just because it enables the most material prosperity, but because it encourages human creativity.
Most defenses of free market capitalism are typically made in a utilitarian lens; partly because it's such an easy case to make and partly because that is the lens of most academic work in economics. And it is most certainly true that, yes, with some important caveats, the freer the markets, the more prosperous the polity.
But that is not the whole truth. The whole truth takes into account that part of our human nature is a deep drive to find meaning through work, productivity, and even creativity, and that the free enterprise system enables this. That makes free enterprise morally, not just empirically, superior. From the Etsy merchant and the blogger to Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, the free enterprise system, more than any other system that has ever been tried, enables people to express their creativity and flourish by producing work that other people want and makes their lives better.
This means that, much like democracy, capitalism is a deeply morally righteous system.
This discourse is almost never heard in contemporary society, certainly not in the realm of culture. And yet, for all its many shortcomings, it is found in 500-proof form in the works of Ayn Rand. And I think this is a key reason why so many experience her books as a revelation, despite all their shortcomings.
I think Rand is a great author, but the world has changed so much recently.
America cannot “shrug”, unless we want China to take everything away from us.
We need to compete. Bigtime. Buy American.
This means that, much like democracy, capitalism is a deeply morally righteous system.What part of the Christian spectrum does the author fall on?
Of course leftists hate her, because her works completely dismantled their arguments.
Would be nice if that were enough. But we do need a resurgence of moral righteousness, otherwise we merely sow our seed in vain. We don’t need God fighting against us.
I tried 3 times to read Atlas Shrugged. I failed.
I did however read The Fountainhead ... twice!
I read this yesterday and it makes sense.
I do not love her or hate her.
Her story had a huge amount of shlock and way too much talking. Her “good guys” were immoral cardboard cut outs.
She pegged the bad guys. Government and crony capitalists and lefty weenies of all stripes.
I often wonder if put in a position to do so, would Rand have sacrificed her life to defend and sustain her beliefs and world view? If she would have, then she would have betrayed the very beliefs she was defending, and if she declined to do so, then she would have allowed others to run slipshod over them.
I just don't see her pledging her life, her fortune and her sacred honor (if she even believed in such a thing) with the same eagerness or zeal that our founders did.
And it's dedicated to JimRob I see!
"The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities." ~Ayn Rand
I use that quote as a response to this. It drives my liberal friends nuts.
"Any African-American who votes Republican is a turncoat. ~ Jesse Jackson
Without JimRob and FR it never would have happened.
Free Republic truly IS the primer Conservative Website.
The point is that we live in a country that now openly despises free enterprise and individual expression. We will fall to China if we cannot change this insanity and get back to a free and visionary society once more.
I’m just saying.
Last year Americans bought 440 billion in goods etc, from China.
Last year Chinese bought 122 billion in goods etc, from America.
This has been going on now, for four administrations.
Buy American. :D
There is no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is to crack down on criminals. When there arent enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking the law.
doesn't inspire you, and doesn't go through your head every time some new nanny-government regulation affects you personally--then I don't think you can call yourself a conservative.
Why would someone put so much effort into hating a long dead person?
I could certainly agree with that statement.
Many Christians have an issue with Rand as a whole because of her professed atheism. That by itself does not mean Rand is incapable of declaring one economic system immoral while another is moral.
BTW I'm a Christian. I completed reading Atlas Shrugged long before I completed reading my Bible. I would absolutely admit that Atlas Shrugged shaped much of my political and economic world view while the Bible shaped my moral and spiritual world view.
None of those world views are incompatible and I've no issues resolving and placing Rand's views in political and economic context which is really where they belong.
I just get tired of Christian's who declare her political, economic and moral objectivism views "irrelevant" because she's an atheist. Those are the folks who've typically not read a single page of Atlas Shrugged.
Oh Thank you. How big of you. How - how, um - condescending. ("to behave as if one is conscious of descending from a superior position, rank, or dignity. ")
I have been reading Rand for over 60 years. I find her personal life abhorrent. I find her writing brilliant. I find her postulations solid.
And I am puzzled why a 'Christian' would "HATE" Rand, the person. Maybe hate her work, hate her ideas, etc - but HATE HER?
Bears repeating, screamed at full volume from each mountaintop until every single human being has heard it.
Nothing against Rand, but I have about 15 other books on the "still need to read" list.
Here's something from Ayn Rand's 1936 "Autobiographical Sketch."
"If a life can have a theme song, and I believe every worthwhile one has, mine is a religion, an obsession, or a mania or all of these expressed in one word: individualism. I was born with that obsession and have never seen and I do not know now a cause more worthy, more misunderstood, more seemingly hopeless and more tragically needed. Call it fate or irony, but I was born, of all countries on earth, in the one less suitable for a fanatic of individualism, Russia."
Now, I can't speak for the author, but for my post to which you were replying, I think I clearly stated, "Like the author, my problems with Rand are her views of altruism and empathy." That does not mean there aren't a lot of things of value in her writings, but there are also some pretty odious ideas that emerged from her mind as well...
I guess the ones that aren't worthwhile are the ones she vocally advocated aborting.
Here are the cliff notes
“The man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it.” —Ayn Rand
I am not of the absolutist point of view that one must love everything about Rand in order to appreciate her work. Atlas Shrugged is the best effort of a brilliant woman to tell it exactly as she saw it, and in doing so we have a work where the characters are true to their personalities and whose narrative occasionally conflicts with Rand's overall philosophical case. I find that delightful enough to restate: Rand's characters behave in ways that occasionally contradict the philosophy they're espousing. It is that - and nearly only that - that makes them human.
One rather back-handed testament to the power of Atlas Shrugged is the hysteria with which it is received on the Left. Noam Chomsky called it the most evil thing ever published, a statement that is so rich in irony that it ought to be the topic of an entire volume of its own. What Rand most certainly got right was that the tool of the moochers and looters was and is the ability to make the rest of us feel guilt, and that someone who does not feel guilty for achievement is beyond the power of those for whom it is their only tool. "You didn't build that" is a perfect example, and the preening cretin who uttered it could have stepped right from the pages of the novel. Rand nailed that one and will never be forgiven for it.
Thanks to all who helped Publius and I shape our book. It is HERE, available for Kindle as well. It is not a paean to Rand; in fact, it is likely to infuriate certain of her over-earnest followers. It is certain to annoy her detractors. We think that's good ground to stand on.
sorry - my post was meant to the author = who states “I Hate Ayn Rand ...”
This dude is way too full of himself
True in only the emotional respect. I feel absolutely no guilt over anything I've ever accomplished, yet I'm not safely beyond the reach of the gibsmedat crowd and the rest of the moochers (witness Obamacare).
Nice analysis, but this:
“Tom Morello is a musical genius, and Zack de la Rocha indisputably has a gift from God.”
The American consumer is only obligated to buy whatever brings him the most value. If I have to choose between a POS Government Motors vehicle and a BMW, I will chose the Beemer every time.
chose = choose
Right there with you. Atlas Shrugged is a horrible diatribe, poorly written, and pompously pedantic. My guess is that most of those who proclaim it the greatest work of literature ever have never gotten as far as you or I did.
See my tagline and buy the book. (Billthedrill and I need the royalties.)
See post 10
It’s what is making radio host Jason Lewis to become more and more obnoxious too. Every time I turn him on, he seems more anti-religious than the last time. A couple of days ago, the took the opportunity to take a slam at Christianity. While making the point that resources are worthless while lying dormant in the ground until someone works and digs them up and processes them to make them into something, he told a typical unfunny Jason Lewis joke about a preacher who went by a farmer’s place several times and each time he was saying, “thank the Lord for all the bounty he’s giving you.” Lewis said the farmer grew tired of hearing this daily “thanks to God” business and told the preacher God didn’t do much of anything until he got busy and worked the land. Lewis and his stupid galt website can crash for all I care. Lewis thinks he’s a self-made man. That man was just a local hostile jerk of a radio host who continually berated even fans until Rush Limbaugh let him fill in for him. That gave Lewis a leg up. And Lewis has benefitted these years by appealing to his conservative Christian audience and they have given him a great deal of support. Now that Lewis has taken to mocking Christianity, going Galt, I think he’s going to be suffering a little bit. Good grief, he’s insufferable. For example, when he has a guest on the line for an interview. Jason feels he has to dominate the discussion. There he has an expert in some field and Lewis comes across as an arrogant know it all. Insufferable.
Indeed democracy is not a morally righteous system. Government itself is a necessary evil. Our form of government is not morally righteous, it is merely the least evil form of government. Since power corrupts, it is better to have many little tyrants fighting each other for power, rather than one all powerful tyrant.
Capitalism is also not inherently morally righteous. It can be but it doesn’t have to be. For every person who finds meaning through work and productivity there is also someone else who doesn’t. Both winners and losers are necessary to the capitalist system because, “there can be no real freedom without the freedom to fail.”
Similarly, the Christian religion (of which I am a proud member) is not the single wellspring from which the ideals of the Enlightenment and the concepts of Natural Rights and Liberty flow.
I've absorbed plenty of "objectivist" philosophy, and while I may question Rand's presumptions regarding greed, altruism, etc., the conclusions regarding concepts of Individuality, Free Will, and the like are perfectly valid.
True Freedom transcends the tidy little boxes into which various "camps" feel compelled to place it sometimes. Nobody "owns" it, and many different people and "movements" have contributed to it.
IMHO, there is little cause for antagonism between Christians and libertarians, as the common ground is quite abundant.
If we fully embrace and understand the "Pursuit of Happiness", and we accept the fact that each individual must have an expansive right to to define that concept according to their own free will, the petty internecine squabbles disappear.
We are all sons and daughters of Liberty and, therefore, Brothers and Sisters whose birthright is Freedom. Nobody will ever have the right to take that away from us, and those who try will be resisted with all the force of our collective being.
Thus, whether somebody chooses to voluntarily practice an "extreme" philosophy of Christian love and service, or rather embraces an "extreme" notion of self-interested individual free will, we all have our roles to play, and we will very likely be shedding our blood together in the Tyrannical future which threatens to consume all of us who believe in this radical idea called Freedom.
But Hank Reardon had plenty of Christian charity. He gave selflessly and expected nothing in return save maybe an occasional thank you. He did not expect the guilt trip and hatred he received from the gibsmedat crowd. Dagny had compassion for Jim’s bride once the scales fell from Cheryl’s eyes. But her suicide cut short how that might have played out; she could not bear the horror revealed by James.
What bothered me at the end is that none of them came for Eddie Willers. I found that unforgivable.
~Right there with you. Atlas Shrugged is a horrible diatribe, poorly written, and pompously pedantic. My guess is that most of those who proclaim it the greatest work of literature ever have never gotten as far as you or I did.~
I’m kinda agree it is not the best peace of art but you have to see through if as it is a peace of philosophy, not a funny read.
I dislike Ayn on many levels and not particularly fond in her writing style but Atlas Shrugged was a life changing experience to me.
Nothing explains the perils of socialism as good as this book.
I disagree. That's a caricature used to dismiss what in many cases is legitimate criticism regarding the use of force.
There are many, more moderate, if you will, libertarians who are rather strongly in the hawkish camp when it comes to issues of war and peace, national security, and the like.
Similarly, there are numerous Christian groups who fall distinctly into the pacifist school.
These camps are not monolithic. They both have great respect for this Constitutional Republic which was formed over 2 centuries ago, and want to see it preserved and perfected. And any believer in ideal Liberty should have legitimate criticisms regarding the many specters of arbitrary authoritarianism which have reared their ugly heads throughout US history in a myriad of ways.
Anybody who doesn't have profound respect for the Constitution, and the Republic in general, I am dismissive of, because such people are truly lost.
~The problem with Rand is that she rejected the very idea of Christian charity. The very concept of self-sacrifice was abhorrent to her. The idea of sacrificing ones life for ones nation was to her just collectivism. This is the very idea that drives the anti-American isolationism of modern libertarianism. Libertarians never find any cause worth America fighting for because everything is not our problem. Nothing is their problem because they care only about themselves. So they just shrug and let civilization collapse.~
Look at her background. Where she came from? Rand disliked some aspects of communism such as collectivism but she was a full-blown cultural Marxist on other levels.
For a “caricature”, I have not seen too many libertarians diverge from it.
John Adams said that the US Constitution could not rule anyone who was not both moral and religious.
I read “Atlas Shrugged”. All I learned was that Rand was a self-worshipping blowhard living in a fantasy world.
Malcolm Muggeridge was talking in one of his books about Bertrand Russell and how he threw himself into great causes but cared nothing for Tom, Dick, or Harry. They are detached and heartless, driven only by their own desires. Russell was heartless. Jason Lewis, who I railed against earlier, is a cold, emotionless animal. I think that is the failing of Rand and the anti-God people who don’t know the real source of their blessings. They lament the collapse of society and fail to realize that a godless society will be selfish and mean.
I think everyone here knows what the trade deficit with Red China amounts to. Preaching to the choir on one point already accepted is omitting the other dimensions of the picture.
Furthermore, since onerous taxation and regulation are limiting our “Buy American” choices and enriching the leftist politicians here, never mind unions contributing to the detriment of the quality of American goods (which is why I’ve been driving Japanese cars for some time now), continuing to focus solely on buying American products will not enrich the country and will impoverish the consumer. So don’t forget “buy American plus” many other things.