2

Buckley and Big Sister

William F. Buckley on Ayn Rand.  During his lifetime Buckley functioned as a gatekeeper for the conservative movement.  Get on the wrong side of Buckley and a group on the right could quickly find itself relegated to the fringes of American life.  So it was with Ayn Rand and her Objectivists, a movement whose main tenet seems to have been to say “Yes Ma’am!” to anything that came from her mouth or pen.  Rand made her reputation and fortune by writing two novels:  The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957).  The poorly written novels, with stick figure characters, were immense financial successes, combining Rand’s anti-collectivist libertarianism with heaping helpings of, for the time, explicit sex, her heroines, always Rand think-a-likes, having multiple lovers.  Between the sex Rand specialized in long, bloviating, didactic speeches:

“Did you want to see it used by whining rotters who never rouse themselves to any effort, who do not possess the ability of a filing clerk, but demand the income of a company president, who drift from failure to failure and expect you to pay their bills, who hold their wishing as an equivalent of your work and their need as a higher claim to reward than your effort, who demand that you serve them, who demand that it be the aim of your life to serve them, who demand that your strength be the voiceless, rightless, unpaid, unrewarded slave of their impotence, who proclaim that you are born to serfdom by reason of your genius, while they are born to rule by the grace of incompetence, that yours is only to give, but theirs only to take, that yours is to produce, but theirs to consume, that you are not to be paid, neither in matter nor in spirit, neither by wealth nor by recognition nor by respect nor by gratitude—so that they would ride on your rail and sneer at you and curse you, since they owe you nothing, not even the effort of taking off their hats which you paid for? Would this be what you wanted? Would you feel proud of it?”

Atlas Shrugged, page 453

Buckley assigned Whittaker Chambers to review Atlas Shrugged.  His review, entitled Big Sister is Watching You, appeared in the December 28, 1957 issue of National Review.

Several years ago, Miss Ayn Rand wrote The Fountainhead. Despite a generally poor press, it is said to have sold some four hundred thousand copies. Thus, it became a wonder of the book trade of a kind that publishers dream about after taxes. So Atlas Shrugged had a first printing of one hundred thousand copies. It appears to be slowly climbing the best-seller lists. Continue Reading

24

Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been, A Libertarian?

 

Libertarians

 

As faithful readers of this blog know, I have absolutely no use for the late Ayn Rand, a  puerile novelist who got rich on the formula of writing didactic libertarian novels like Atlas Shrugged, and filling them with smut at a time when smutty mainstream novels were still a rarity.  I also have little use for libertarians, the perfect political philosophy for fifteen year old nerds.  However, , at The Stream, is quite correct about a new form of “red baiting” going on in Saint Blog’s today:

 

Today Catholic circles are seeing the exact same tactic, except that now the use of guilt-by-association and false implication is serving the cause of big-government statists. The targets are conservative Catholics who distrust the modern secular state, and the smear-word is not “Communist” but “libertarian,” which is then connected with the thought of Ayn Rand. Welcome to the age of the Rand-baiters.

An entire conference held last summer at Catholic University of America was devoted to such Rand-baiting, to speeches that said, implicitly or explicitly, that Catholics who oppose the expansion of government and the large-scale redistribution of wealth are “dissenters” from Catholic Social Teaching. Listening to them speak one would imagine that opposing the leviathan state was a heterodoxy on par with supporting partial-birth abortion and euthanasia. Austin Ruse wrote a fine response to this conference, which provoked a sneering answer from Matthew Boudway at Commonweal.

Go here to read the rest.  Can we supply an example of this Rand Baiting?  Can we?  (Mark, you are missing your cue!)

I am similarly dubious. When I hear Ryan a) ceasing to pretend that he was never an acolyte of Rand and b) doing more than paying lip service to Thomas and citing more than the word “subsidiarity” to give his rhetoric a veneer of Catholic respectability, I will take his Sister Souljah Moment with regard to Rand seriously. Till then, I’m not buyin’ Ryan. He seems to me to be a particularly odious epigone of the Randian Class Warrior against the weak, dressing his class warfare with a few rags from Catholic social teaching to make it look nice. When the Randian jargon goes and is replaced with actual Catholic social teaching beyond the bare repetition of the sacred word “subsidiarity” (interpreted to mean “individualism and hostility to the state”) I’ll start to trust that he is serious. Continue Reading

14

Ayn Rand Rants Against CS Lewis

“Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.”

CS Lewis

I have always found amusing a fifth rate mind coming up against a first rate mind in a debate and being reduced to muttering imprecations with all the intellectual content of scrawlings on a bathroom wall.  Such was the case when Ayn Rand decided to read CS Lewis’ Abolition of Man and scribbled out her hate in the margins:

C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man Ayn Rand’s marginalia
I am considering what the thing called ‘Man’s power over Nature’ must always and essentially be. No doubt, the picture could be modified by public ownership of raw materials and factories and public control of scien­tific research. But unless we have a world state this will still mean the power of one nation over others. And even within the world state or the nation it will mean (in principle) the power of majorities over minorities, and (in the concrete) of a government over the people. And all long-term exercises of power, especially in breeding, must mean the power of earlier generations over later ones.… So in the pre-science age, there was no power of majorities over minorities – and the Middle Ages were a period of love and equality, and the oppres­sion began only in the U.S.A. (!!!) The abysmal bastard!!!
The later a generation comes – the nearer it lives to that date at which the species becomes extinct – the less power it will have in the forward direction, be­cause its subjects will be so few. There is therefore no question of a power vested in the race as a whole steadily growing as long as the race survives. The last men, far from being the heirs of power, will be of all men most subject to the dead hand of the great plan­ners and conditioners and will themselves exercise least power upon the future. … It is unbelievable, but this monster literally thinks that to give men new know­ledge is to gain power(!) over them. The cheap, awful, miserable, touchy, social-meta­physical mediocrity!
There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who fol­lows the triumphal car.… So when you cure men of TB, syphilis, scurvy, small pox and rabies – you make them weaker!!!
In the older systems both the kind of man the teachers wished to produce and their motives for producing him were prescribed by the Tao – a norm to which the teachers themselves were subject and from which they claimed no liberty to depart.… And which brought such great joy, peace, happi­ness and moral stature to men!! (The bastard!)
We do not look at trees either as Dryads or as beautiful objects while we cut them into beams: the first man who did so may have felt the price keenly, and the bleeding trees in Virgil and Spenser may be far-off echoes of that primeval sense of impiety. The stars lost their divinity as astronomy developed, and the Dying God has no place in chemical agriculture. To many, no doubt, this process is simply the gradual discovery that the real world is different from what we expected, and the old opposition to Galileo or to ‘body-snatchers’ is simply obscurantism. But that is not the whole story. It is not the greatest of modern scientists who feel most sure that the object, stripped of its qualitative properties and reduced to mere quantity, is wholly real. Little scien­tists, and little unscientific followers of science, may think so. The great minds know very well that the object, so treated, is an artificial abstraction, that something of its reality has been lost. This is really an old fool – and nothing more!  

 

 

Ad hominem!

And what does he think an abstraction is, that great “advocate of reason”?

Here’s where the Kor­zybski comes out in him

 

Continue Reading

46

George Washington, Howard Roark and George Bailey

[34] But the Pharisees hearing that he had silenced the Sadducees, came together:

[35] And one of them, a doctor of the law, asking him, tempting him:

[36] Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?

[37] Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.

[38] This is the greatest and the first commandment.

[39] And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

[40] On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets.

Matthew 22: 34-40

Joe Carter at Catholic Education Resource Center has a wonderful post entitled The Fountainhead of Bedford Falls, which compares the fictional characters Howard Roark and George Bailey:

Not surprisingly, Roark has become something of a cult figure, especially among young nerdy males entering post-adolescence. Although Roark is artistically gifted and technically brilliant, he prefers to take a job breaking rocks in a quarry than sell out to The Man. He provides a model for the underemployed, misunderstood, twenty-something misfit by choice. These see themselves in the uncompromising sulker, believing it better to vandalize and destroy than allow society to co-opt their dreams.

Rand herself would have certainly envisioned things differently. She would have sneered in disgust at the idea that Roark was anything like the slacker working at Starbucks the populists marching at Tea Parties. Her hero was a cross between the modernist architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the serial killer and child rapist William Hickman. Rand’s ideal was the nonconformist who exhibited sociopathic tendencies. She dreamed of the minority of brilliant, atheistic ubermensch who would “eventually trample society under its feet.” The vast majority of the people who read The Fountainhead might admire Roark, but they’d never emulate him.

Similarly, Capra’s audience flatters themselves by believing the message of Wonderful Life is that their own lives are just as worthy, just as noble, and just as wonderful’ as George Bailey’s. In a way, they are as delusional as the Randian Roark-worshippers. Despite the fact that they left their small-town communities for the city, put their parents in an assisted living facility and don’t know the names of their next door neighbors, they truly believe they are just like Capra’s hero.

Such delusions are the reason these characters have remained two of the most dominant archetypes of American individualism in pop culture. The pendulum of popularity is swinging back toward Rand but it’s Capra’s creation that should be our model for inspiration.

Roark is nihilistic, narrow-minded, and something of a bore. Bailey is far darker, more complex, and infinitely more interesting.

What makes George Bailey one of the most inspiring, emotionally complex characters in modern popular culture is that he continually chooses the needs of his family and community over his own self-interested ambitions and desires – and suffers immensely and repeatedly for his sacrifices.  

 Although sentimental, Capra’s movie is not a simplistic morality play. It’s true that the movie ends on a happy note late on Christmas Eve, when George is saved from ruin. But on Christmas Day he’ll wake to find that his life is not so different than it was when he wanted to commit suicide.

 He will remain a frustrated artist who is scraping by on a meager salary and living in a drafty old house in a one-stoplight town. All that has really changed is that he has gained a deeper appreciation of the value of faith, friends, and community – and that this is worth more than his worldly ambitions. Capra’s underlying message is thus radically subversive: It is by serving our fellow man, even to the point of subordinating our dreams and ambitions, that we achieve both true greatness and lasting happiness. Continue Reading

23

That Radical Ryan

Carl Olson has an extensive post tackling the “radical” nature of evil right-winger Paul Ryan. He starts by quoting one of Ryan’s more extreme statements.

[We] will confidently proceed to unshackle American enterprise and to free American labor, industrial leadership, and capital, to create an abundance that will outstrip any other system.

Free competitive enterprise is the most creative and productive form of economic order that the world has seen. The recent slow pace of American growth is due not to the failure of our free economy but to the failure of our national leadership. …

Economic growth is the means whereby we improve the American standard of living and produce added tax resources for national security and essential public services. …

The American free enterprise system is one of the great achievements of the human mind and spirit. It has developed by a combination of the energetic efforts of working men and women, bold private initiative, the profit motive and wise public policy, until it is now the productive marvel of mankind. …

We will seek further tax reduction—and in the process we need to remove inequities in our present tax laws. In particular we should carefully review all our excise taxes and eliminate those that are obsolete. Consideration should be given to the development of fiscal policies which would provide revenue sources to hard-pressed state and local governments to assist them with their responsibilities.

Every penny of Federal spending must be accounted for in terms of the strictest economy, efficiency and integrity. We pledge to continue a frugal government, getting a dollar’s value for a dollar spent, and a government worthy of the citizen’s confidence.

Our goal is a balanced budget in a balanced economy.

Wow, that is extreme. What is Carl’s response?

Oh, wait. My apologies; the quotes above were all taken from the 1960 and 1964 Democratic Party Platforms. How did that happen? Whoops. Well, consider it a quick journey down memory lane.

• I actually started writing this post three days ago, not long after the news broke that the most right-wing, narrow-minded conservative in the history of the world had been chosen by Mitt Romney as vice-president candidate for the “Hate the Women!” party (yes, I’m struggling to control the sarcasm). A man so radical that in the early 1960s he would have been reasonably positioned and perceived as a moderate to conservative Democrat. A man so far to the Extreme Right that he is re-elected on a regular basis—by substantial margins—in a district that voted for Obama in 2008. Chew on that for a few seconds and then ask yourself, “Do the Dallas Cowboys have a shot at the Super Bowl this year? How much has changed in the U.S. in the past fifty years?”

Anyway, please read the rest.

 

33

Randians on the Right

Speaking as a former Rick Perry supporter, I promise you that not all of us are petulant brats.  I cannot speak for others, unfortunately.

Red State’s all-out assault on Santorum comes as no surprise.  This is a blog that perceives all who fail short of achieving purity as a conservative (whatever that’s supposed to mean) as heretics.  So they have taken a few incidents where Santoum fell short – and in some cases, he did cast a wrong vote or endorsed the wrong candidate – and have now transformed Santorum into some kind of statist.

The shrill attacks on Red State are to be expected.  What’s disappointing is seeing an otherwise insightful blogger like Ace of Spades hyperventilate ignorantly about Santorum.  What set Ace off was this comment by Santorum from much earlier in the campaign:

One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea … Many in the Christian faith have said, “Well, that’s okay … contraception’s okay.”

It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, for purposes that are, yes, conjugal … but also procreative. That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that’s not for purposes of procreation, that’s not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can’t you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure. And that’s certainly a part of it—and it’s an important part of it, don’t get me wrong—but there’s a lot of things we do for pleasure, and this is special, and it needs to be seen as special.

Ace is displeased: Continue Reading

13

Big Government? No. Big Exaggerations? Yes.

Now that Rick Santorum has basically tied Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucus, the knives are really out for Rick.  On the one hand, he will undoubtedly experience a surge in the polls and in fundraising.  On the other hand, as every conservative who has ascended in the polls has before, he will face a firestorm of criticism from both left and right.  I discussed this in my post yesterday, and now things have only gone into overdrive.  As someone who reads secular conservative blogs, there is a lot of concern that Santorum is some kind of “big government” conservative.  I think this is absurd, as does a pretty famous conservative figure not known for particularly liking big government types: Rush Limbaugh.  Here’s what he had to say about the big government charge on his program today: Continue Reading

33

"Objectivism"

Over at CrankyCon, Paul Zummo offers a brief review of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged:

The atheism is only a small part of the issue with objectivism. Galt (and thus Rand’s) objection to the concept of original sin is naive, but even absent this aspect of objectivism, it remains a dehumanizing and abhorrent moral philosophy. Rand detests totalitarianism, it is true, but other writers have written better and less repugnant works in defense of capitalism and against totalitarianism. If libertarians and conservatives wish to seek out inspirational works on the topic, they are better off with the likes of George Orwell, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Sowell, Wilhelm Roepke, F.A. Hayek and countless others.

The fundamental problem is that Rand is as naive about human nature as the socialist utopians. After all, a utopian is a utopian, whether they are Marxian or Randian utopians. Therefore the rejection of the concept of original sin is something of a problem because it blinds Rand to the idea that human beings cannot simply shut off their passionate desires. If totalitarians are blind to the reality that human nature cannot be perfected, Rand is blind to the fact that the altruistic tendencies of humans cannot similarly be wiped out. Believe it or not, we are social beings (Aristotle and Aquinas being right), and it is simply unrealistic – and Rand is supposed to be about reason and realism – to expect humans to simply ignore these aspects of their personality.

Continue Reading