Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ayn Rand vs. the Right-Wing Idiots Who Love Her

The right-wing's obsession and idolization of Ayn Rand is curious. It's also ridiculous considering that many of her own beliefs directly contradict many of what her most ardent followers themselves profess.

Ayn Rand was a self-avowed, proud, and unequivocal atheist. She saw religion as immature and ignorant philosophy, developed by ancients lacking in sophisticated awareness and insufficient respect for reason.

Rand herself believed, "Faith is the worst curse of mankind, as the exact antithesis and enemy of thought." In the right's beloved Atlas Shrugged, Rand wrote, "If devotion to truth is the hallmark of morality, then there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking...the alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind." During a March 1964 interview with Playboy, Rand stated, "Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason." Four years later, in March 1968, Rand wrote a piece entitled "Introduction to The Fountainhead," in which she stated that "religion has pre-empted the field of ethics, turning morality against man, so it has usurped the highest moral concepts of our language, placing them outside this earth and beyond man's reach."

The most important of the three theological virtues in Christianity, as articulated in 1 Corinthians 13:13, is charity. In her 1964 Playboy interview, Rand made clear her feelings about charity, saying, "My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue." It would be a gross understatement to think that Jesus, St. Augustine, or Thomas Aquinas might disagree with her on this.

Unless Rand hadn't been clear already, a letter she wrote entitled "Thought Control" condemned "religion" not only as an ideology that "holds sex as such to be evil" and "that is the source and cause of anti-obscenity censorship," which she abhorred, but primarily as one that "opposes man’s enjoyment of his life on earth."

Leonard Peikoff - the world's leading Randian Objectivist, founder of the Ayn Rand Institute, and heir to the Rand estate - has this to say about religion:

Every argument for God and every attribute ascribed to Him rests on a false metaphysical premise. None can survive for a moment on a correct metaphysics...

Existence exists, and only existence exists. Existence is a primary: it is uncreated, indestructible, eternal. So if you are to postulate something beyond existence - some supernatural realm - you must do it by openly denying reason, dispensing with definitions, proofs, arguments, and saying flatly, “To Hell with argument, I have faith.” That, of course, is a willful rejection of reason.

Objectivism advocates reason as man’s sole means of knowledge, and therefore, for the reasons I have already given, it is atheist. It denies any supernatural dimension presented as a contradiction of nature, of existence. This applies not only to God, but also to every variant of the supernatural ever advocated or to be advocated. In other words, we accept reality, and that’s all.
Furthermore, regarding the Religious Right's contention that "scientific evidence" will soon prove the existence of god, Peikoff had this to say about the subject in an essay called "Maybe You’re Wrong," written 30 years ago:
It has often been noted that a proof of God would be fatal to religion: a God susceptible of proof would have to be finite and limited; He would be one entity among others within the universe, not a mystic omnipotence transcending science and reality. What nourishes the spirit of religion is not proof, but faith, i.e., the undercutting of man’s mind.
Considering its supposed populist nature, the Tea Party's enthusiasm for Rand is also strange insofar as she strongly believed that ordinary people were "savages," "refuse," "inanimate objects," and "imitations of living beings," as opposed to her beloved rich people, who she saw as "really alive." As her heroic pirate Ragnar Danneskjöld says of Robin Hood in Atlas Shrugged, "He was the man who robbed the rich and gave to the poor. Well, I'm the man who robs the poor and gives to the rich – or, to be exact, the man who robs the thieving poor and gives back to the productive rich." Is this the kind of person the right-wing believes should be idolized and emulated? Do they believe, as does Rand, that "money is the root of all good" (Atlas Shrugged) and that "every ugly, brutal aspect of injustice toward racial or religious minorities is being practiced toward businessmen" ("America's Persecuted Minority: Big Business," Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal)?  Apparently.

Is the right-wing aware that Ayn Rand was staunchly and unapologetically pro-choice when it came to abortion rights?

In The Voice of Reason, Rand wrote, "Abortion is a moral right - which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?"

Rand, who often wrote that "a human being's life begins at birth," was appalled by those who opposed a woman's right to choose, writing in an 1981 essay, "I cannot project the degree of hatred required to make those women run around in crusades against abortion." She elaborated:
Hatred is what they certainly project, not love for the embryos...I would say that it is an issue of self-esteem and that their fear is metaphysical. Their hatred is directed against human beings as such, against the mind, against reason, against ambition, against success, against love, against any value that brings happiness to human life. In compliance with the dishonesty that dominates today’s intellectual field, they call themselves "pro-life." By what right does anyone claim the power to dispose of the lives of others and to dictate their personal choices? ("The Age of Mediocrity," The Objectivist Forum, June 1981)
The "pro-life" claim that "an embryo has a 'right to life,'" was deemed "vicious nonsense" by Rand, who wrote that "by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives." In her letter entitled, "A Last Survey," she explained her position:
The task of raising a child is a tremendous, lifelong responsibility, which no one should undertake unwittingly or unwillingly. Procreation is not a duty: human beings are not stock-farm animals. For conscientious persons, an unwanted pregnancy is a disaster; to oppose its termination is to advocate sacrifice, not for the sake of anyone’s benefit, but for the sake of misery qua misery, for the sake of forbidding happiness and fulfillment to living human beings.
According to an analysis by the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, "a pregnant woman, like every other individual, has the right to determine her own destiny and the destiny of her body, to choose what constitutes her own best interest and private happiness and to work for its achievement, so long as she respects the same rights in others."

The report, entitled "Abortion: An Absolute Right," affirms: "These rights, and all rights, are absolute by their nature. It cannot be proper to negotiate moral principles. It cannot be proper to allow a man only a portion of the freedom he requires by his nature." Continuing, it finds that "the function of the law is to protect rights--not to dictate moral issues which involve no violation of rights," and concludes that "the Supreme Court should affirm abortion as a right that cannot be invaded or compromised."

Oh yeah, Rand was also a raging hypocrite when it came to government largesse and collectivism.  In 1972, she wrote, "Morally and economically, the welfare state creates an ever accelerating downward pull."  As Alternet's Josh Holland explained earlier this year, Rand - who he aptly dubs a "schlock novelist" - wrote books containing "wide-ranging parables of 'parasites,' 'looters' and 'moochers' using the levers of government to steal the fruits of her heroes' labor. In the real world, however, Rand herself received Social Security payments and Medicare benefits under the name of Ann O'Connor (her husband was Frank O'Connor)."

So, do these beliefs mesh with what the Right thinks it knows about Ayn Rand and her adolescent pseudo-meritocratic ideology? Perhaps a better question would be, are those who champion a 'World According to Rand' reformation aware of any of her actual writing or beliefs...or have they just been told about them from loud-mouthed, right-wing ideologues who want them to think that they would be one of the brilliant elites benefiting from Rand's ideal capitalist society, instead of what they actually are: the common, working "savage" who Rand loathed more than anything?



In 1961, Gore Vidal wrote a perfectly scathing assessment of Randian philosophy in Esquire:
She has a great attraction for simple people who are puzzled by organized society, who object to paying taxes, who dislike the 'welfare' state, who feel guilt at the thought of the suffering of others but who would like to harden their hearts. For them, she has an enticing prescription: altruism is the root of all evil, self-interest is the only good, and if you're dumb or incompetent that's your lookout.
He adds:
Ayn Rand's 'philosophy' is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society. Moral values are in flux. The muddy depths are being stirred by new monsters and witches from the deep. Trolls walk the American night. Caesars are stirring in the Forum. There are storm warnings ahead.
Such prophesy wasn't heeded half a century ago and the dark clouds are still gathering.



J. Chaffee said...

Stumbled across this in my internet wanderings. Very interesting and I think on point. As a Christian I hate to think of myself lumped in with Randians whose understandings of Christianity are less than basic. I can't think of a single tenet of Objectivism that is either true or Christian.
- J.

nevar said...

Interesting discussion. The right definitely cherry picks her writing to scapegoat subpopulations of the US citizenry. And Rand's one-dimensional characters and simplistic moral reasoning are only happy to oblige. Most of the people in the Tea Party have never read her work even though they're using her terminology now, and they probably lack the self-awareness to see themselves in Rand's dehumanizing depictions of ordinary people, kind of like how Romney voters lacked the self-awareness to realize that he was insulting them practically to their faces with his 47% comment. Cool article.

Muse Bewell said...

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with your article in so far as you point out the "we'll choose what to take from Rand" approach of my many conservatives. But that alone doesn't make that entire group idiots. And I don't think you've actually read Rand's longer works either, for that matter.

What wrecks an otherwise okay piece is your paragraph about how Rand is a "shocking hypocrite" because very late in life, she allowed herself to be signed up for Medicare and Social Security. If I had to guess, in her mind this was probably not so different than her character Ragnar Danneskjold's seizure of gold to pay back certain character's taxes. We pay into "entitlement" programs. Think about that for a moment. Is it really shockingly hypocritical to ask that some of the money taken from us actually be received back?

What interesting about many of the short blog pieces I've seen about Rand is the unstated premise: conservatives like her, therefore she must be evil and bad. You don't actually ever get to a discussion of her ideas or her writings in most of these pieces. In one such piece, the author admits he's never read her works, but he's talked to brainy friend of his about it. That's swell criticism and quite the basis for damning someone's writings and life.

A better article might have taken a deeper look at other aspects of Rand's thought that the right and conservatives are conveniently ignoring. But that would haven taken real work.