How relevant is Ayn Rand’s Objectivism to the Nationalist Right?
An important question for the elders of the movement considering how many of us were some species of Randite when we young.
Sixty years ago, when it was first published the question would have been what relevance does her philosophy have at all. The answer at that time, according to the National Review was none whatsover.
… Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal. In addition, the mind which finds this tone natural to it shares other characteristics of its type. 1) It consistently mistakes raw force for strength, and the rawer the force, the more reverent the posture of the mind before it. 2) It supposes itself to be the bringer of a final revelation. Therefore, resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final (because, the author would say, so reasonable) can only be willfully wicked. There are ways of dealing with such wickedness, and, in fact, right reason itself enjoins them. From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: “To a gas chamber–go!” The same inflexibly self-righteous stance results, too (in the total absence of any saving humor), in odd extravagances of inflection and gesture-that Dollar Sign, for example. At first, we try to tell ourselves that these are just lapses, that this mind has, somehow, mislaid the discriminating knack that most of us pray will warn us in time of the difference between what is effective and firm, and what is wildly grotesque and excessive. Soon we suspect something worse. We suspect that this mind finds, precisely in extravagance, some exalting merit; feels a surging release of power and passion precisely in smashing up the house. A tornado might feel this way, or Carrie Nation.
-Whittaker Chambers, National Review 1957
Yikes! Terrifying stuff. Clearly this insane Russian Jew should buried in a peat bog and every copy of crazy book with her.
And that opinion held for a while. Although, there was always an intellectual cadre that found Atlas Shrugged on the high side of “kind of interesting,” it didn’t really amount to much.
Then came a subset of hippies who liked drugs and sex with hippy girls (at least the ones who shaved) but after a bit of self reflection courtesy of some really amazing shrooms came to the conclusion that Communism was a just bummer and they actually liked having money (hell even the Maoists they knew got real excited whenever they got a check from Mom). They discovered the Bill Rights was righteous. And that shooting guns was groovy. This was the birth of Libertarianism.
As a movement it was always lacking in a few things. Warm bodies principally, it was pretty much a fringe movement at the time but it was also lacking an intellectual bedrock. Then one of them sobered up long enough to read Atlas Shrugged.
Suddenly, Libertarianism had it’s philosophical base even if Ayn Rand herself seemed to have little or no use for them at all:
For the record, I shall repeat what I have said many times before: I do not join or endorse any political group or movement. More specifically, I disapprove of, disagree with and have no connection with, the latest aberration of some conservatives, the so-called “hippies of the right,” who attempt to snare the younger or more careless ones of my readers by claiming simultaneously to be followers of my philosophy and advocates of anarchism. Anyone offering such a combination confesses his inability to understand either. Anarchism is the most irrational, anti-intellectual notion ever spun by the concrete-bound, context-dropping, whim-worshiping fringe of the collectivist movement, where it properly belongs.
Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to “do something.” By “ideological” (in this context), I mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and, usually, contradictory) political goals. (E.g., the Conservative Party, that subordinates reason to faith, and substitutes theocracy for capitalism; or the “libertarian” hippies, who subordinate reason to whims, and substitute anarchism for capitalism.) To join such groups means to reverse the philosophical hierarchy and to sell out fundamental principles for the sake of some superficial political action which is bound to fail. It means that you help the defeat of your ideas and the victory of your enemies. (For a discussion of the reasons, see “The Anatomy of Compromise” in my book
Ayn Rand was under the impression that you can pick and choose your fans. You cannot.
Regardless, neither Objectivism or Libertarianism made much headway until Generation X started going to college. That was also about the time that Free to Choose suddenly topped the best seller lists. There was a brief period in the Eighties where a world that was drowning in Marxism came up for air and gave Adam Smith a shot. Atlas Shrugged seemed a perfect fit in this new world. The corporate raiders wanted a moral band-aid for the thousands of lives they ruined by gutting out companies. The junk bond dealers wanted the same thing when they convinced little old ladies to sink their life savings into a surefire money making raid that would turn a huge profit once Disney was bought up and it all gets parceled out, oops that didn’t work, sorry you’ve lost everything but technically you knew the risks. College girls for their part liked it because Libertarianism combined with The Pill gave them consequence free sex with the alpha of their choosing if they were at least a six and he was drunk enough. The college boys for their part liked it because they foolishly hoped that since girls in their twenties were now acting like gay men in the forties some of that sex that was all over the place, would land on them…it did not. However there were other attractions to Rand.
Annoying Boomer TAs with it was always fun, we had rejected their bullshit liberalism although it was more accurate to say we rejected their idealism. And it tickled us immensely when they would drone on and on about how we were cynics who lacked their noble mindedness.
Sadly, none of it worked out in the end.
It turns out that Milton Freeman’s ideas about free trade were a good way to pour wealth out of country like piss out of a horse. The Boomers consolidated their position as to maximize their wealth at the expense of all the generations that have the misfortune to follow them. The TAs became tenured professors and proceeded to destroy higher education. Papa Bush faked Right and went Left then got his walking papers in consequence. So Bill Clinton slimed his way into the White House and Marxism began it’s inevitable come back now that the parasites had a healthy host to feed upon.
By the time Bill Clinton left office Gen X was forced to accept the reality that it was going to be the first generation of Americans who didn’t do better than their parents. Maybe that’s all right. The number of people who get everything they want and DON’T fall to pieces are vanishingly small. Humans are built for desire not satiety.
While all this was going on something odd happened. Rand became mainstream. People who were too stupid to have heard of her in the 1980s had very strong opinions about Atlas Shrugged by the mid Double-0s rolled around. They were very stupid opinions of course because these were as I already mentioned they were the opinions of stupid people. Witness the popularity of Bioshock. Rand was finally well known enough to become the villain of mid-wits.
And yet the Nationalist Right is now in process of leaving her behind. Devout Atheism is Objectivism’s biggest short fall. The cult of the self and that no one and no being may stand in judgement of the self you create is at it’s core, hollow, soulless evil.
Objectivism’s second worst problem is it’s implicit Gloabalist outlook. The brotherhood of achievers had an international flavor to it.
And just as trains and steel have become a ridiculous symbol of America’s capitalist might. The economic problems we face, (which I grant Rand did predict), are nothing compared to the social ones that have divided the American peoples.
While Atlas Shrugged is still a thinking man’s read and should be required reading for anyone who has taken the Red Pill, we are largely leaving it behind.
However it’s words still have the power to move:
“If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders – What would you tell him?”
I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?”