Ayn Rand – prophet of selfishness
Jeanette Strong, September 27, 2013
The Tea Party has a patron saint. Her name is Ayn Rand, and if you’re not sure who she is, just look at some of the signs at a Tea Party rally. “Atlas is Shrugging” and “Atlas Shrugs” are direct references to one of her most famous books, Atlas Shrugged. “Who is John Galt?” is a reference to one of the heroes in that book. “Ayn Rand was right” goes to the heart of what Tea Partiers believe.
Many spokesmen on the Right claim Rand as their inspiration. Paul Ryan has said Rand was the reason he got into public service. He bragged, “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.” In June 2010, Glenn Beck said, “Ayn Rand, you’ve got to love Ayn Rand. She’s great.” Rand Paul and Ron Paul quote her frequently. In his autobiography, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas held her up as an influence in his life.
Other right-wing spokesmen who quote her and think she was brilliant are Andrew Napolitano, John Stossel, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, was very close to Rand herself; her philosophy influenced much of his economic policies. So since Rand seems to be so popular and influential with the Tea Party and much of the mainstream Republican Party, just exactly who was she and what did she advocate?
Rand believed in what she called “enlightened self-interest.” This basically means it is a virtue to do whatever it takes to get what you want, short of breaking the law, and offensive to practice any form of self-sacrifice. She even wrote a book called The Virtue of Selfishness, a collection of her essays on the subject. Rand identified selfishness as concern for one’s own interest, regardless of the consequences to others. She believed unselfishness had held mankind back in its moral development. Rand thought abortion and adultery were valid practices, because having an unwanted child would hinder someone’s goals, and not giving in to temptation would cause unhappiness, a serious violation of Rand’s beliefs.
Rand was also a militant atheist. In a March 1964 Playboy article, she was asked if religion had “ever offered anything of constructive value to human life.” Her response was, “No… faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life.” She actively discouraged any of her followers from any form of religious beliefs or actions. Jesus’ ideas of caring for the poor and those who were outcasts in society were the exact opposite of Rand’s belief in doing whatever makes you feel good. It’s kind of ironic that many of the same people who claim President Obama is anti-Christian are actively embracing a woman who despised everything Christianity stands for.
Rand also believed no one should receive anything they hadn’t actively earned, including love. Again, Jesus never commands us to decide on the “worthiness” of recipients before we help them. He just commands us to help those in need, a philosophy completely at odds with Rand’s world view.
Rand even believed a baby must earn its mother’s love. From the same Playboy article:
PLAYBOY: “In Atlas Shrugged, you wrote that “one neither asks nor grants the unearned.” Did you mean this to include unearned love as well as unearned aid and material support?
PLAYBOY: Well, then, why should a mother love her newborn infant who is still too young to have done anything to earn her love?
RAND: You don’t really mean this as a serious question. To begin with, if the mother is a responsible, rational human being, she does not have a baby by accident; she has him by choice. At first, a child has a value to her simply because it is a human being created—physically, at least—by her. The child’s parents owe him support until the legal age of 21, which means until such time as he can support himself. This is a chosen obligation that rational parents accept when they decide to have a child. They have to accept the consequences of their own decision. But do they have to love the child? No, not necessarily. That will depend on their evaluation of his character, as he grows up. He has to earn their love—as they have to earn his.”
Tea partiers claim they want to go back to the values of the founders. That would be true if the founders were atheists who believed atheism, adultery and selfishness were virtues. In reality, most of the founders believed in God, and they definitely believed in self-sacrifice. They risked their lives and fortunes for others, without any assurance that they would benefit personally. They believed in an ideal, and were willing to take risks for the benefit of future generations. When Tea Partiers say Rand was right, they are denouncing everything the founders lived and died for. There is no way to reconcile these two foundational philosophies.
Any Tea Partier who doesn’t hold the same beliefs Rand did, might want to ask themselves if they want to belong to a group that holds her in such high regard. If you are a Tea Partier and understand how skewed Rand’s beliefs were, you might ask yourself why she is held in such high regard and who is behind the whole thing.
The next time you see someone holding an Ayn Rand banner, think about the values she championed: atheism, adultery, abortion, avarice. Then think about the kind of people who would invoke her name as a symbol of everything they believe. Is this the America we want to live in? I hope not.