With the nomination of Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand has been in the news a lot lately. Apparently, Representative Ryan is a long-time fan of hers; he once even gave all of his staffers Atlas Shrugged for Christmas. And he isn’t the only free-market conservative to have rediscovered Ms. Rand recently: Glenn Beck has been promoting Ayn Rand regularly in recent years. In both cases, they swear off her atheism, but claim to admire her free-market, pro-capitalist, individualistic viewpoint.
And personally, I find that an incredibly scary statement. Why? Here is Ayn Rand’s viewpoint, in a nutshell:
1) Reality is defined only by what we can sense.
2) Self-interested egotism is the only true morality.
Note that atheism isn’t a side-belief that can be easily disregarded here; if one fundamentally beliefs that reality is defined only by what we can sense and that egotism is the only true morality, then religion itself is baseless and immoral–which is exactly what Ms. Rand believed.
Moreover, if you read her two most popular novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, you’ll discover the same basic theme:
1) There are certain select individuals who have won the genetic lottery, who are just that much smarter and better than everyone else. The great works of civilization rest on the shoulders of these individuals–the rest of us are simply doing our best to live out our daily lives and, at best, to support these men (and women) in their greatness.
2) These great people will find a way to rise to the top, if left to their own devices. The free market will identify them, eventually, while government can only get in the way.
3) It is in the best interests of civilization for these great people to act as selfishly as possible, to maximize their own pleasure and resources in order to leave the greatest mark possible on the world. Therefore any attempt to force them to share their resources (i.e. taxation) or even any attempt at altruism on their part (i.e. charity) is actually a waste and a detriment to the health of civilization.
In Atlas Shrugged, the great people in society go “on strike” and start their own utopia (led by John Gault), while the rest of America falls apart. The Fountainhead chronicles the rise of one great man (architect Howard Roark) as he struggles against the fools he is surrounded by, as he takes what he wants when he wants it (including raping a woman who eventually falls in love with him), until he finally rises to the top. I should note that Ayn Rand is often very popular among high school and college kids, who often imagine themselves to be the next Gault or Roark.
Ayn Rand isn’t a traditional free-market capitalist, as she is being portrayed by Mr. Beck or Rep. Ryan. She is something else entirely: a hyper-egotist, who is perfectly willing to embrace the extreme consequences of egotism as a societal framework.