“… man exists for his own sake … the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose …
he must not sacrifice himself to others nor sacrifice others to himself.” — Ayn Rand
What do Donald Trump, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, secretary of state-designate Rex Tillerson, secretary of labor-designate Andy Puzder and CIA director-designate Mike Pompeo have in common?
Admiration for the selfish “Objectivist” philosophy espoused by the controversial author Ayn Rand, whom they’ve credited with helping shape their world view.
Rand’s stuff was hot copy in the mid-20th century. Her books still are popular, especially in this country, and her philosophy still resonates among certain business people and lawmakers. You too may have read her tedious tomes, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, in your youth, marveling, perhaps even admiring, her brazen, unapologetic celebration of selfishness as the highest moral virtue.
Then, like most young readers initially captivated by Rand’s startlingly uncharitable, anti-social constructs, I’m betting you grew up, perhaps concluding that Rand’s approach is an unworkable blueprint for living successfully among other human beings.
But not these guys. Objectivism — which arrogantly celebrates elites and harshly disdains those who aren’t — apparently still influences their thinking.
Ryan, though, disavowed Rand’s influence on him as simply “an urban legend” in 2012 despite having told the Atlas Society in 2005 that Rand was required reading for his staff. “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” he told the society, according to a New Yorker account by Ryan Lizza.
We may know more about the truth of Ryan’s claim that Rand has had no effect on his values when we see who and what he proposes to tax and axe in his upcoming budget.
Born and educated in Russia, Rand came to the United States in 1926. Her parents’ properties were seized after the Russian Revolution, she was “purged” (but re-instated) from her university because of her “bourgeois” background, and her once-well-off family reportedly nearly starved to death under Lenin.
Little wonder she loathed communism. But she didn’t stop there. She detested all government — dictatorship, theocracy, democratic socialism, even libertarianism, which she equated with anarchism. Still, many libertarians have found something to like in her ideology.
Government is an evil construct designed to rob the morally superior elite of their free agency and their well-deserved wealth and give it to society’s undeserving parasites, according to Rand’s world view. Apparently she was blind to any difference between a communist state and a democratic republic. For her, life was all about having unfettered individual and economic freedom.
She equated altruism with weakness. An atheist, Rand particularly scorned Christianity. Of the Christian cross, she said: “It is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors.”
Rand’s own bankrupt religion was laissez-faire capitalism, as in very lightly regulated, if at all. Only it could protect individual and property rights, she argued. Left to their own devices, markets, and our economy, will rule themselves, we even now are assured — despite the embarrassing laissez-faire-inspired losses of the Great Recession. Remember those losses? Hello?
Too much already
Truth is, we’ve already swallowed too much of the rotten fruit of Randian laissez-faire style capitalism. Alan Greenspan retired in 2006 as chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank after 19 years overseeing the nation’s monetary policy. In his youth, Greenspan was part of Rand’s inner circle of ardent acolytes.
A laissez-faire capitalist who now describes himself as a libertarian, not an Objectivist, Greenspan favored easy money lending polices that many — though not all — economists blame for the dot-com bubble that burst in 2000 and for subsequently triggering the 2008 sub-prime mortgage collapse that brought our economy to its knees.
One year into his presidency, Trump will appoint a new Fed chair. The free marketeers surely are salivating.
Trump told USA Today early this year that he identifies with Howard Roark, the egotistic architect hero of Rand’s The Fountainhead who blows up his own housing development because he’s displeased with the finished product. “It relates to business, beauty, life and inner emotions. That book relates to … everything,” Trump said. Pity Roark is a rapist.
Pompeo, the Kansas congressman who is the CIA chief- designate, told Human Events magazine in 2011: “One of the very first serious books I read when I was growing up was Atlas Shrugged, and it really had an impact on me.” This novel depicts social collapse after business leaders strike against burdensome government regulation.
Tillerson listed Atlas Shrugged as his favorite book in Scouting Magazine in 2008.
Labor secretary-designate Puzde, CEO of Roark Capital Group’s CKE Restaurants, is known as a longtime Rand apostle. He opposes increases to the minimum wage and opposes expanding overtime pay to more workers.
Former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson wrote a blistering critique of Christians who espouse Rand’s Objectivist philosophy in the Washington Post in 2011:
“Reason is everything. Religion is a fraud. Selfishness is a virtue. Altruism is a crime against human excellence. Self-sacrifice is a weakness. Weakness is contemptible. If Objectivism seems familiar,” Gerson added, “it is because most people know it under another name: adolescence.”
Trouble is, these gentlemen are not adolescents. They’re our new government.
Solveig Torvik lives in Winthrop.