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I Hate Ayn Rand But Here's Why my Fellow Conservatives Love Her
The Week ^ | July 23, 2014 | Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

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.


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Editorial; Extended News; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: aynrand; rand
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1 posted on 07/24/2014 7:25:22 PM PDT by nickcarraway
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To: ADemocratNoMore; Aggie Mama; alarm rider; alexander_busek; AlligatorEyes; AmericanGirlRising; ...

Rand ping.


2 posted on 07/24/2014 7:29:02 PM PDT by Publius ("Who is John Galt?" by Billthedrill and Publius now available at Amazon.)
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To: nickcarraway

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.


3 posted on 07/24/2014 7:31:24 PM PDT by Cringing Negativism Network (http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/balance/c5700.html#2013)
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To: nickcarraway
This means that, much like democracy, capitalism is a deeply morally righteous system. …
What part of the Christian spectrum does the author fall on?
4 posted on 07/24/2014 7:31:54 PM PDT by Olog-hai
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To: nickcarraway
It's been said that Atlas Shrugged is the most influential book of all time, after the Holy Bible.

Of course leftists hate her, because her works completely dismantled their arguments.

5 posted on 07/24/2014 7:33:09 PM PDT by Extremely Extreme Extremist
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To: Cringing Negativism Network

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.


6 posted on 07/24/2014 7:33:42 PM PDT by Olog-hai
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To: Publius

I tried 3 times to read Atlas Shrugged. I failed.
I did however read The Fountainhead ... twice!


7 posted on 07/24/2014 7:35:22 PM PDT by Liberty Valance (Keep a simple manner for a happy life :o)
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To: nickcarraway

I read this yesterday and it makes sense.


8 posted on 07/24/2014 7:36:54 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet (The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself.)
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To: Liberty Valance; Billthedrill
Buy the book that Billthedrill and I wrote -- Who is John Galt? -- and read it at the same time as Atlas Shrugged. It's an exceptional companion to the book. By the time you're done, you will understand it.
9 posted on 07/24/2014 7:37:34 PM PDT by Publius ("Who is John Galt?" by Billthedrill and Publius now available at Amazon.)
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To: Publius

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.

But

She pegged the bad guys. Government and crony capitalists and lefty weenies of all stripes.


10 posted on 07/24/2014 7:38:19 PM PDT by GeronL (Vote for Conservatives not for Republicans)
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To: nickcarraway
Like the author, my problems with Rand are her views of altruism and empathy. No great civilization has been founded or sustained without heroes believing in things greater than self, and willing to subordinate their, "self interest," to what Rand decries as the notion of, "greater good."

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.

11 posted on 07/24/2014 7:38:56 PM PDT by Joe 6-pack (Qui me amat, amat et canem meum.)
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To: Publius
Thanks Publius, when I get some spare cash I will get your book!

And it's dedicated to JimRob I see!

12 posted on 07/24/2014 7:40:33 PM PDT by KC_Lion (Build the America you want to live in at your address, and keep looking up.- Sarah Palin)
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To: nickcarraway
I love this Ayn Rand quote:

"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

13 posted on 07/24/2014 7:40:49 PM PDT by South40 (Hillary Clinton was a "great secretary of state". - Texas Governor Rick Perry)
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To: KC_Lion

Without JimRob and FR it never would have happened.


14 posted on 07/24/2014 7:41:00 PM PDT by Publius ("Who is John Galt?" by Billthedrill and Publius now available at Amazon.)
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To: Publius
So you really compiled F.R's Discussions into a book?!

WOW!

Free Republic truly IS the primer Conservative Website.

15 posted on 07/24/2014 7:43:28 PM PDT by KC_Lion (Build the America you want to live in at your address, and keep looking up.- Sarah Palin)
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To: Cringing Negativism Network

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.


16 posted on 07/24/2014 7:49:44 PM PDT by formosa
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To: formosa

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


17 posted on 07/24/2014 7:52:10 PM PDT by Cringing Negativism Network (http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/balance/c5700.html#2013)
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To: nickcarraway
Clueless. You can criticize Rand for any number of things but if

There is no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is to crack down on criminals. When there aren’t 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.

18 posted on 07/24/2014 7:54:35 PM PDT by denydenydeny ("World History is not full of good governments, or of good voters either "--P.J. O'Rourke)
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To: Publius

Why would someone put so much effort into hating a long dead person?


19 posted on 07/24/2014 7:57:25 PM PDT by ully2
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To: Extremely Extreme Extremist
It's been said that Atlas Shrugged is the most influential book of all time, after the Holy Bible.

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.

20 posted on 07/24/2014 7:59:51 PM PDT by usconservative (When The Ballot Box No Longer Counts, The Ammunition Box Does. (What's In Your Ammo Box?))
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