Wednesday, January 16, 2008

So Atlas Shrugged. . .

The problem would have been clearly illustrated to you a couple of days ago had you heard our local conservative talk-show host; a self-described Christian conservative.
He was enthusiastically recommending the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.
Now, apart from a snide suspicion that he was trying to display his intellectualism by discussing such a highly regarded but daunting book, I do not understand his connection of conservatism, (most particularly, that much maligned "compassionate" conservatism) with the ideology of a committed humanist.
But then, he is not alone.
Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, Tom DeLay, Trent Lott, Bill Buckley, Ann Coulter, Laura Schlessinger, George Will, Cal Thomas, Michael Reagan and Rush Limbaugh are all fond of quoting Rand and consider her a great influence on their thinking. I am aware that one can admire certain ideas of a particular person while discarding the rest of their ideas, but this goes deeper than that.
Some years ago, I heard Limbaugh discussing the book Atlas Shrugged. The only difference, he said, between he and Rand was that Rand did not believe in God and he did.
Small difference, that.
Hot or cold, night or day, living or dead, heaven or hell.
Ayn Rand's whole objective in life and the motivation for the book Atlas Shrugged, was the advancement of the complete autonomy of man.
"My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." thus stated Rand in the appendix to Atlas Shrugged.
Having relayed that quote is sufficient proof of the problem we have here. I would consider it a small problem indeed had Limbaugh simply misspoke when he stated the difference between he and Rand, but I don't believe he did. I think that he simply thought that the one difference between them was of great insignificance.
So, let me ask, how solid is a conservatism based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand?
Were this an isolated incident, or if this propensity for Rand was limited to Limbaugh the subject might not be worth broaching. But in reading the who's who of conservative ideology and finding all those disciples of Rand, I'm troubled.
Add to that list Clarence Thomas, and you compound the problem. He supposedly requires all of his first year law students to watch the movie version of The Fountainhead, one of Rand's earlier works.
I have watched The Fountainhead. It is an old black and white starring Gary Cooper.
Don't waste your time. Unless you really like over-the-moon melodrama.
The problem is not a minor technicality, it is not the i dotted or the t crossed.
It is a foundational defect. It is a matter of structural integrity.
The reason Rand was an objectivist and championed individualism was because she hated the idea of God.
In her early life, she found inspiration in the works of Neitzche and shared his "reverence for human potential and his loathing of Christianity and the philosophy of Immanuel Kant."
Kant believed that we cannot have certain knowledge about the true nature of reality ("things-in themselves"), but only of the manner in which we perceive reality.
Rand was decidedly more arrogant. She believed that if any perceived object interacts with the senses, everything there is to know about that object can be gained by your sensory interpretation. What you see is what is and only what you see, feel, touch is what is.
Kant believed that reason could lead you somewhere. Rand's objectivist epistemology worshipped reason as lord of the pantheon.
Rand diverged from Nietzche in a curious manner. In the minds of many, she out Neitzched Neitzche. She supposedly transcended his philosophy and considered him too enslaved to emotion and a subjective interpretation of reality. Unlike Neitzche, she believed that if anyone would gain power by achieving control of the masses, and in doing so, sacrificed their ideals and standards, they then unintentionally became a slave to those masses.
Bottom line, Rand created a religion of breathtaking arrogance.
Rand may be forgiven for some of her excess when you take into account a large part of her "theology" was in reaction to communism.
However, she arrived at a conclusion that is inherently more antichrist than communism or socialism.
It is a clever twist on an old argument.
You shall be as God.
Whether you care about the particulars of Randian philosophy is beside the point.
I think the reason that this grand scope of humanity, this rugged individualism, appeals to such strong personalities as Limbaugh, Reagan, Buckley, and Thomas should be fairly obvious.
It is a philosophy of vibrant, brimming pride; pride in capitalism, pride in patriotism, pride, most of all, in self.
Thus the seduction of Ayn Rand. She takes away God with her left hand and hands you the key to your inner power in the other.
The phenomenon of objectivism is symptomatic of a big problem with political conservatives.
They would see the objection to Rand's humanism as hair-splitting.
Whereas I see it as the difference between right and wrong.
The manifestation of the larger problem with conservative ideology is the excitement of today's leading conservatives over the prospect of lower taxes and balanced budgets at the expense of moral issues.
I listen to these intelligent people and I hear them hold forth on fiscal policy, constructionism, civil liberties and immigration and they make sense on most of these issues.
I wish they would devote the same amount of intelligence to the problems of our nation's heart.
You talk about what you care about. Out of the abundance of the heart. . . .
Next time you hear a conservative hyperventilating over the genius of Ayn Rand, remember how foolish she really is, and remember the folly of placing too much trust in our uneasy alliance with libertarian leaning Republicans.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

You almost went over my head with this one, but I think I ended up understanding. The sad truth is that very few people know what a personal relationship with God is; therefore, they only really feign interest in moral issues. And since I'm behind on my commenting, I thoroughly agree with the previous two posts. However, after the e-mail you sent us, I felt like quoting that profound statement made by a young lad from the great metropolis of Empire OK -"It's all so confusing." Have a good week.

Anonymous said...

The thing that troubles me most is the fact that so many christian people have been cought up in this same error.In fact only a few days ago I heard one say "Bush is no conservative". Tell me one leader that has done more to stand for moral principle and against moral degradation i.e.homosexuality,abortion,fornication,adultry.And besides all this His common sense stand on gun control ,terrorism and environmeantalism (the worship of mother earth)Bush is no conservative? Who is?

Nathan Carpenter said...

In regards to the conservative consensus that Bush is no conservative, I've noticed an amusing trend among right-wing pundits. With the name "Reagan" starting to sound like an incantation, they have begun invoking another stalwart conservative legacy; that of George Bush, Sr.
This would be the same Bush who was pro-choice until he underwent a life-shaking epiphany. He was chosen to be Ronald Reagan's running mate. And the same Bush who uttered the immortal no tax pledge. And the same Bush who enthusiastically endorsed a "new world order."
I'm beginning to think that conservative pundits are closet Bush haters.

Nathan Carpenter said...

W haters, that is.

Anonymous said...

This blog is like Ayn Rand 101, which I'm sure many illustrious Ivy League institutions do in fact offer. It feels like an en expert wrote this blog. The content is intriguing, but mainly I came away from this with a great appreciation for your abilities. I always look forward to reading your blog, and anticipate further discourse on all things pertinent to the decay of society. :)
Thanks.

Blake

Nathan Carpenter said...

Thanks Blake.
I'll probably pick up the thread later on because I feel that Randian philosophy permeates much of conservative thought and bleeds through in a lot of conservative commentary.
And the reason I think this is important is because I think a lot of Christians take their cues from conservative talk and print media.