Thursday, April 26, 2012

How was Ayn Rand ever an acceptable figure to cite?

Republican House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan disavowing Ayn Rand strikes me as a very positive sign that the ideological ground has shifted.  Or maybe not, his quote is a bit hard to parse:
“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview.
Now it could be that it is Rand's atheism that is causing Ryan to flee her, though the second part of that statement is a more general rejection of her worldview.  Further, Ryan's move seems likely to be in reaction to this letter signed by over 90 members of Georgetown University faculty criticising Ryan's budget from Catholic grounds (which isn't even the first time someone has embarassed Ryan with the discordance between Jesus' teachings and Rand's).  That letter does not mention Rand's atheism, though there is a reference to her "antagonism" to religion.  It makes sense for Ryan to cite the atheism angle first, since that evades the discussion about Rand's vision of economics.  But it's not like her atheism is news to anyone, it has always been something conservatives just conveniently ignored (which I don't actually mind, because it's frankly irrelevant to the content of her world view - plenty of "prosperity Gospel" Christians embrace an economic system that isn't so different from Objectivism and plenty of atheists reject Social Darwinism).  Her atheism is an awfully convenient excuse to forswear her though.

Really though, either way is progress.  The question of whether it is Rand's atheism or her philosophy of socipathy that is most responsible for her now becoming radioactive on the right is an important one, the deeper question is how she was ever an acceptable figure for elected politicians to cite approvingly?  It's not like Ryan is an aberration, the list of prominent Republicans in high office who have praised Rand is pretty long.  Never mind merely praising her or just having read her books, let's not forget former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan, who was actually part of Rand's little cult-of-personality of acolytes.  How did that ever happen?

Think of the reverse:  Try to find an elected or office holding Democrat who would even credit say, Chomsky or Marx as being influential on their thinking, never mind bragging that they made their staffs read their works.  Unlike Rand, Marx of course is a colossal figure in the intellectual history of the world, and anyone of any ideological persuasion is wise to at least be familiar with his ideas.  I won't even get into the ridiculous demonization of Saul Alinsky (and back to Greenspan, let's just ponder what would happen if Obama appointed a member of Alinsky's inner circle to some prominent post). 

If Rand really is being driven to the ash heap of bad ideas, it is none too soon, and while I'd prefer it be over the awful content and consequences of her ideas, I'll settle for it being over her atheism if it means Objectivism and everything it represents becomes an electoral millstone.  I'm sure it doesn't represent the actual death of her ideas among conservatives, but even having them feel uncomfortable using her name is progress.  At last we have a right edge to the bounds of acceptable thought among the powerful.   Rand is one hell of a far right edge, but before this it really wasn't clear there was a limit at all. 

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