Debate Magazine

Ayn Rand - the Conservative Contradiction

Posted on the 25 June 2012 by Mikeb302000
cross posted from PenigmaThe right claims to love Ayn Rand, to be inspired by Ayn Rand, to promote the ideas and ideals of Ayn Rand. Except they do not, and one has to wonder if the right has bought Ayn Rand's books so as to appear to have read them, or perhaps to use as doorstops or to stabilize wobbly table legs. Because they appear to DISAGREE with pretty much every thing she stood for, wrote, or DID in her life.
This documents the superficial love affair between the extremist right GOP and Libertarians with Ayn Rand, and the inherent contradictions of that relationship.
Among the contradictions, we have one of the core premises of Ayn Rand's movement of Objectivism is that we must use reason, and objective reality, as the ultimate desideratum. Republicans and other conservatives profoundly reject any and every form of objective reality, of fact, that does not conform to their ideology, to what they WISH to believe. This is evident in their rejection of science, particularly among the religious right with creationism and intelligent design. The rejection of objective reality has been well documented in a variety of venues, notably in non-fiction books like those by science writer Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science, and his well-researched work, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science--and Reality.From the precis of the latter book (from
From climate change to evolution, the rejection of mainstream science among Republicans is growing, as is the denial of expert consensus on the economy, American history, foreign policy and much more. Why won't Republicans accept things that most experts agree on? Why are they constantly fighting against the facts?
Science writer Chris Mooney explores brain scans, polls, and psychology experiments to explain why conservatives today believe more wrong things; appear more likely than Democrats to oppose new ideas and less likely to change their beliefs in the face of new facts; and sometimes respond to compelling evidence by doubling down on their current beliefs.
Goes beyond the standard claims about ignorance or corporate malfeasance to discover the real, scientific reasons why Republicans reject the widely accepted findings of mainstream science, economics, and history—as well as many undeniable policy facts (e.g., there were no “death panels” in the health care bill).
Explains that the political parties reflect personality traits and psychological needs—with Republicans more wedded to certainty, Democrats to novelty—and this is the root of our divide over reality.
Written by the author of The Republican War on Science, which was the first and still the most influential book to look at conservative rejection of scientific evidence. But the rejection of science is just the beginning…
Certain to spark discussion and debate, The Republican Brain also promises to add to the lengthy list of persuasive scientific findings that Republicans reject and deny.
There is an expanding body of work, not just the writings of one science author, on the intellectual disconnect between the right and reality. There is no more core premise than objective reality if one is truly an adherent to the intellectual body of work of Ayn Rand, and to reject it is to reject the foundational premise of Objectivism.
In contrast Ayn Rand's position was "If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows." That is a position that is neither anti-intellectual, nor anti-science, and certainly not anti-objective reality or anti-fact. It puts Ayn Rand strongly in opposition to our current crop of conservatives.
The right rabidly embraces religion, including the subordinate role of the U.S. government to "God's Law", sometimes disguising their religious preferences as embracing "Natural Law". They don't REALLY mean any law found in the world of nature of course, like animal homosexuality or bisexuality or transgenderism. The right promotes the notion that the U.S. Constitution is derived from Christianity, notably expressed in quotations like this one from Noah Webster, one of our original dictionary authors, educator, political writer and patriot, back in the early 1800s:
The brief exposition of the constitution of the United States, will unfold to young persons the principles of republican government; and it is the sincere desire of the writer that our citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament or the Christian religion.1
Which is interesting, when one views this little bio-excerpt from wikipedia's opening paragraph on him (my emphasis added at the end):(October 16, 1758 – May 28, 1843),was a lexicographer, textbook pioneer, English spelling reformer, political writer, editor, and prolific author. He has been called the "Father of American Scholarship and Education." His blue-backed speller books taught five generations of American children how to spell and read, and made their education more secular and less religious.
Noah Webster, Jr.
What makes this just one more example of right wing intellectual dishonesty is that to give attribution for ideas to a variety of sources, is very different from the premise that government should be SUBORDINATE to any religion, much less specifically Christianity (from the same source - again emphasis mine):
America sees the absurdities--she sees the kingdoms of Europe, disturbed by wrangling sectaries, or their commerce, population and improvements of every kind cramped and retarded, because the human mind like the body is fettered 'and bound fast by the chords of policy and superstition': She laughs at their folly and shuns their errors: She founds her empire upon the idea of universal toleration: She admits all religions into her bosom; She secures the sacred rights of every individual; and (astonishing absurdity to Europeans!) she sees a thousand discordant opinions live in the strictest harmony ... it will finally raise her to a pitch of greatness and lustre, before which the glory of ancient Greece and Rome shall dwindle to a point, and the splendor of modern Empires fade into obscurity.
The right tries to impose religion, specifically Christianity, on the nation; Ayn Rand rejected, vehemently, theocracy and was an avowed and outspoken atheist.
The conservative right is vigorously anti-abortion, attempting to eliminate all freedoms for reproductive choice, and anti-sexuality; Rand was emphatically NOT pro-life; she supported abortion rights. Rand was not anti-sex and not anti-contraception either - these are anathema to what she wrote and how she lived her life.
Rand was no supporter of homosexuality, per se, but she opposed laws against it or discrimination on the basis of it, and from her statements on the topic she would have most likely supported marriage equality for same sex couples. Ayn Rand supported the candidacy of Barry Goldwater, who had a gay grandson; Goldwater also supported equal rights and anti-discrimination against gays, including advocating for allowing them to openly serve in the military. That puts both Rand and "extremism is no vice" Goldwater squarely oppositional to the right wing culture wars.
Libertarians, like Ron Paul and Rand Paul LOVE Ayn Rand; Ayn Rand rejected and denounced Libertarians. It is a fair and accurate statement to assert therefore that Libertarianism does NOT represent or include the thinking and philosophy of Ayn Rand, regardless of how they claim to admire her ideas:
(quoting again from wikipedia, emphasis added is mine):
Although her political views are often classified as conservative or libertarian, she preferred the term "radical for capitalism". She worked with conservatives on political projects, but disagreed with them over issues such as religion and ethics.[103] She denounced libertarianism, which she associated with anarchism.[104] She rejected anarchism as a naïve theory based in subjectivism that could only lead to collectivism in practice.[105]
Pretty much the only area where the right and Rand genuinely agree is the anti-altruism / social darwinist 'survival of the fittest' premise that we should not have any form of social safety net. And yet, even there, the right does not genuinely reflect the thinking or actions of Ayn Rand who accepted both Social Security payments and Medicare.
Another area where the REAL Ayn Rand, versus the revisionist right wing myth Ayn Rand are in conflict is the militarism of the right. 'Dubya' is now linked for posterity with the concept of pre-emptive military action, of initiating military violence. Rand in contrast was emphatically AGAINST initiating violence, against our military action - including taking a strong position against the war in Viet Nam. Rand emphatically opposed pre-emptive war and regime change military action. That puts Rand squarely in opposition to the political and military agenda of current right-wing candidates, including Mitt R-money, who has almost entirely retread Bushies espousing that same shaping his foreign policy agenda.
Rand is just one of the 3Rs who are glorified on the right, but who would in fact be far too liberal the conservative extremists, especially the tea partiers -- (chronologically) Teddy Roosevelt, Ronald Ray-gun, and Ayn Rand. Roosevelt advocated for national health care, Reagan raised taxes - repeatedly, and Rand opposed pretty much everything the right has been promoting, especially the hawkish military and the culture war positions.
The only area where there is any overlap is the anti-altruism / pro-capitalism positions of Rand. That is not because of any legitimacy to Rand's notions of capitalism; it is because the corrupt political right is squarely in the pay and the pockets of big business and special interests, and the puppets of right wing billionaires. It is more about corruption of our elected government than political philosophy.
Rand was rejected by the intellectual political right in her lifetime by the same figure who got rid of the right wing bigots founded by the father of the Koch Brothers, the John Birch Society. (From wikipedia);
She faced intense opposition from William F. Buckley, Jr. and other contributors for the National Review magazine. They published numerous attacks in the 1950s and 1960s by Whittaker Chambers, Garry Wills, and M. Stanton Evans. Nevertheless, her influence among conservatives forced Buckley and other National Review contributors to reconsider how traditional notions of virtue and Christianity could be integrated with support for capitalism.[162]
You can still read the reviews that were so critical of Rand from the National Review online, like this one by Whittaker Chambers.
The news about this book [Atlas Shrugged] seems to me to be that any ordinarily sensible head could possibly take it seriously, and that, apparently, a good many do. Somebody has called it: “Excruciatingly awful.” I find it a remarkably silly book. It is certainly a bumptious one. Its story is preposterous.
The intellectual right of Rand's day were far from the only legitimate critics.
Some negative reviews focused on the length of the novel,[3] such as one that called it "a whale of a book" and another that said "anyone who is taken in by it deserves a stern lecture on paper-rationing." Other negative reviews called the characters unsympathetic and Rand's style "offensively pedestrian."[129]
Rand's 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged was widely reviewed, and many of the reviews were strongly negative.[3][131] In the National Review, conservative author Whittaker Chambers called the book "sophomoric" and "remarkably silly". He described the tone of the book as "shrillness without reprieve" and accused Rand of supporting a Godless system (which he related to that of the Soviets), claiming "From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: 'To a gas chamber—go!'"[132] Atlas Shrugged received positive reviews from a few publications, including praise from the noted book reviewer John Chamberlain,[131] but Rand scholar Mimi Reisel Gladstein later wrote that "reviewers seemed to vie with each other in a contest to devise the cleverest put-downs," calling it "execrable claptrap" and "a nightmare;" they said it was "written out of hate" and showed "remorseless hectoring and prolixity."[3] Author Flannery O'Connor wrote in a letter to a friend that "The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail."[133]
Rand's nonfiction received far fewer reviews than her novels had. The tenor of the criticism for her first nonfiction book, For the New Intellectual, was similar to that for Atlas Shrugged,[134][135] with philosopher Sidney Hook likening her certainty to "the way philosophy is written in the Soviet Union",[136] and author Gore Vidal calling her viewpoint "nearly perfect in its immorality".[137] Her subsequent books got progressively less attention from reviewers.[134]
On the 100th anniversary of Rand's birth in 2005, Edward Rothstein, writing for The New York Times, referred to her fictional writing as quaint utopian "retro fantasy" and programmatic neo-Romanticism of the misunderstood artist, while criticizing her characters' "isolated rejection of democratic society".[138] In 2007, book critic Leslie Clark described her fiction as "romance novels with a patina of pseudo-philosophy".[139] In 2009, GQ's critic columnist Tom Carson described her books as "capitalism's version of middlebrow religious novels" such as Ben-Hur and the Left Behind series.[140]
Other than espousing being rooted firmly in objective reality and using reason, Rand was in reality a selfish, nasty, bitter woman who did not live what she espoused. She was apparently as repressive as any fascist she rejected; she was not strong, but rather was thin skinned to criticism and afraid to face her critics - most notably William F. Buckley Jr. - in person. Ayn Rand was a hypocrite in accepting the benefits of Social Security and Medicare. The right is wrong to claim her as their inspiration; they clearly did not pay attention to anything she actually espoused or promoted, and to the degree that they favor the raping and looting of our economy and the privatization of our public resources as capitalism and reject any clearly needed regulation, or the anti-taxation policies, they are cherry picking Ayn Rand to try to give cover to their corruption and ideological dishonesty.
Laissez-faire capitalism of the variety espoused by Ayn Rand should more correctly be termed anarcho-capitalism. It doesn't exist outside of theory, because it doesn't work.
The reality is that there is no 'pure' capitalism, it does not exist, has never existed. The extreme of the right is no more successful than the collectivism practiced by the USSR as socialism succeeded. The policies of extremism do not work; their philosophy is bad, their logic is worse, and their connection to fact and objective reality are tenuous - including Ayn Rand's, despite her protestations supporting it.
Like so much on the right, they are wrong on most things, including on Ayn Rand, what she wrote, what she stood for, her philosophy, and her poor notions about economics.

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