Aynal adventures


A couple paragraphs worth reading:

But much as Rand craved appreciation for her work (as sadly reflected in the worshipful eyes of The Collective and her bitterness about every negative book review she ever received), it’s hard to imagine that she would have been terribly happy about its current appropriation by a motley assortment of conservative populists, who mix quotes from The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged with Christian Scripture and the less-than-cerebral perspectives of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. In her own view, Rand was nothing if not a systematic philosopher whose ideas demanded an unconditional acceptance of her approach to metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, psychology, literature, and politics.

Rand’s famous intolerance should not be dismissed as simply the psychological aberration of a flawed genius. She feared, for good reason, what lesser minds might do with the intellectual dynamite of her work when divorced from its philosophical context. The prophetess of “the virtue of selfishness” made rigorous demands of herself and all her followers to live self-consciously “heroic” lives under a virtual tyranny of reason and self-mastery, and to reject every imaginable natural and supernatural limitation on personal responsibility for every action and its consequences. Take all that away–take everything away that Rand actually cared about–and her fictional work represents little more than soft porn for middle-brow reactionaries who seek to rationalize their resentment of the great unwashed. This is why Rand was so precise about the moral obligations and absolute consistency demanded both of her fictional “heroes” and her acolytes. She hated “second-handers,” people who borrowed others’ philosophies without understanding or following them.

Ed Kilgore combines two book reviews into a timely reflection on the latest resurrection of Ayn Rand’s “unhappy” holy ghost. The profiteers’ prophet apparently disdained the National Review and Ronald Reagan set.

Rand’s disdain for religion was as integral to her philosophy as her disdain for anything that remotely smacked of socialism. That’s made very clear in what she regarded as the most important writing of her life, Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged: “[T]here are two kinds of teachers of the Morality of Death: the mystics of spirit and the mystics of muscle, whom you call the spiritualists and the materialists, those who believe in consciousness without existence and those who believe in existence without consciousness. Both demand the surrender of your mind.”

To Rand, those who accepted “enslavement” to God–or for that matter, such conservative totems as family or tradition–had no moral standing to pose as fighters against socialism. This premise, more than any personal weaknesses, probably best explains her violent opposition to partial appropriation of her philosophy to suit the needs of the appropriator. As she said in 1966, “There can be no compromise on basic principles. There can be no compromise on moral issues. There can be no compromise on matters of knowledge, of truth, of rational conviction.”

Unfortunately for Rand’s posthumous wishes, the appropriation of her philosophy among today’s populist conservatives is full of compromises and incongruous combinations. From the other side of the divide on the American Right, Joe Carter of the influential Christian conservative journal First Things recently had this to say about the indiscriminate scrambling of right-wing memes in the Tea Party movement and beyond:

    [T]he truth is the vast majority of the right subscribes to a form of libertarian populism inflected with social conservative attachments–an unholy hybrid of Ayn Rand, William Jennings Bryan, and Morton Downey, Jr.

One thing to be said, Ayn Rand is far more interesting a way to waste one’s time than her adherents would otherwise suggest. Then again, we should not be surprised that it is the believers who most frequently overlook the most fascinating human details about their chosen deities.

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