It is our eternal shame as country that such intellectually weak sauce as Ayn Rand should attain an almost mythical status among the very people who should revile her the most. But attain it, she has, and it’s got to be pushed back on. Vigorously.

I have shrieked for years that if something wasn’t done to disembowel the mystique of this legendary mistanthrope, her fast food fascism would nourish future generations of video game addicts who are more far comfortable reacting to ideas than having or ever questioning them.

While many a social writer has taken stabs at her over the years, George Monboit has carved up this phony icon with a economical precision in a all-too-brief essay entitled:

How Ayn Rand’s Bizarre Philosophy Made the New Right so Toxic
Rand’s psychopathic ideas made billionaires feel like victims and turned millions of followers into their doormats.

Without mincing any words, George gets to the point straightaway:

It has a fair claim to be the ugliest philosophy the post-war world has produced. Selfishness, it contends, is good, altruism evil, empathy and compassion are irrational and destructive. The poor deserve to die; the rich deserve unmediated power. It has already been tested, and has failed spectacularly and catastrophically. Yet the belief system constructed by Ayn Rand, who died 30 years ago today, has never been more popular or influential.

Of course, no discussion of Ayn Rand can even begin without mention of her most famous manifesto, the ponderously overwrought, yet absolutely seminal work for the “Only Job Creators Matter” Tea party crowd:

Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957, depicts a United States crippled by government intervention in which heroic millionaires struggle against a nation of spongers. The millionaires, whom she portrays as Atlas holding the world aloft, withdraw their labour, with the result that the nation collapses. It is rescued, through unregulated greed and selfishness, by one of the heroic plutocrats, John Galt.

If you never really knew this, it is from her wretched political screeds that too much of the churlish partisan drivel emanating from Fox News, Redstate.com, TheBlaze, Rush Limbaugh, and most other celebrated wingnut emporiums of hate and mindless greed is so often derived.

And turning a blind eye toward its appeal to the uneducated and culturally embittered has helped lead us down a path of pure evil. And the trail guide on this trip into an ahistorical black hole, from which a healthy American middle class may never emerge? Why none other than that pied piper of objectivist voodoo economics, Mr. Alan Greespan:

There is no need for the regulation of business – even builders or Big Pharma – he argued, as “the ‘greed’ of the businessman or, more appropriately, his profit-seeking … is the unexcelled protector of the consumer”. As for bankers, their need to win the trust of their clients guarantees that they will act with honour and integrity. Unregulated capitalism, he maintains, is a “superlatively moral system”.

While Monboit gets right to the core of this cancerous legend very efficiently,  one essay can’t counteract the impact of her screeds on our culture, if not our planet. Recognizing the power that this seducative pap has had with people who get their world history from cereal boxes, I’d like to create a site that helps educators teach high school students why her rancid polemical fiction is not reasoned political philosophy, nor even valuable social commentary.

Rand’s works are little more than the angry ravings of a cold-war era, anti-collectivist relic who knew how to make mean-spirited cliches into compelling narratives for people who have rarely read more than one book. It’s the perfect propaganda for a dumbed down electorate that values feelings over facts, and will alway high-five some plutocratic diatribe, while being outwardly dismissive and hostile toward anything bordering on mature pluralism and dialectic process.

Progressives cannot laugh at this kind of thing any longer. It has much too much traction already, and it’s only growing. If you want to help me discuss how we might make tools that can mitigate some of her ruinous impact on younger—or just vulnerable—minds, if not our entire culture, please post a comment, or contact me on Twitter.

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  • http://twitter.com/jdvanlaningham James VanLaningham

    Excellent post. A major difficulty in refuting Objectivism, or any ideology lies with our cognitive processes; particularly the way in which we process information. Humans “store” information in “bundles” of related concepts called “schema”. If I say “Dubya” to someone on the street, it will immediately trigger a flood of memories, opinions and emotions associated with the former President. These schema not only serve as an aid in storing information, they also help us interpret new information; if you notice your chicken breast is pink, past experiences and information may lead you to conclude it’s a bad idea to eat it.

    The problem with this neurological structure is that information which is inconsistent with or which contradicts existing schema is likely to be forgotten, disregarded or altered so as to make it consistent with one’s existing preconceptions. If you’ve been told that biological evolution is a lie dreamed up by secular humanists working for Satan by people you admire, if you’ve been fed Chick Tracts that falsely claim there are no “transitional” biological species, if you’ve been told that radio-carbon and other dating techniques don’t work…

    then any contrary evidence will quite literally be forgotten or dismissed. It is worth noting here that racial and ethnic stereotypes are forms of schema.

    Shoq astutely identifies the horrific social costs of having public policy made by people buying into the Objectivist schema. Fortunately, schema can be broken down over time, despite the fact that they are largely impervious to evidence.

    The technique for doing so is called “expectational disconfirmation”. It depends on forcing the subject to make predictions based on his existing beliefs. An objectivist like Greenspan repeatedly predicted that unregulated finance would behave ethically because of market constraints. Events have proven him so utterly mistaken that even a schema based on 50 years of accumulated items was shaken. 

    “Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder’s equity — myself especially — are in a state of shocked disbelief… I have found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.” 

    The key here is in forcing Objectivists, or anyone imprisoned by a fact-free ideology like political conservatism or fundamentalist religion, to make predictions. If they blow enough predictions, and if those gaffes are constantly pointed out to them (and to potential adherents of the erroneous belief system)…

    they are at least more likely to alter their beliefs.

    • Jgassen15

      In theory that would be wonderful, but it’s not like conservatism doesn’t already have its fair share of misgivings, going not only largely ignored by the party and its adherents, but in many ways distorted into some sort of success: e.g. Reagan and “God Bless Income Disparity”

  • Anonymous

    Good luck.
    Far far more virulent and establishment-entrenched writers than you — and the ridiculous Monbiot and the parasite Gary Weiss — have tried to “kill” Ayn Rand. The reason Objectivism is immortal is: it is correct.

  • Dks7785

    I wonder how many people on the religious right are aware that Ayn Rand was an inspiration for Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan and author of the Satanic Bible
    .  “I give people Ayn Rand with trappings” - Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan (to Kim Klein of the Washington Post, 1970) “Anton LaVey is quoted as having admitted that his religion was “just Ayn Rand’s philosophy with ceremony and ritual added.” “I imagine it would be pretty mind-blowing for some.More here:   
    http://www.talk2action.org/story/2011/5/4/9476/33834

    and here

    http://books.google.com/books?id=1ovVPyL6AmwC&pg=PA2&lpg=PA2&dq=%22Ayn+Rand+with+trappings%22&source=bl&ots=ZfZNSoetFM&sig=Vfk6rFuxyEAu5iBNlXQ8ii_EMTM&hl=en&ei=lRjBTaKODKbq0QGCluyPDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CDYQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=Ayn%20Rand&f=false 

  • Wes

    When I was young, foolish and college age, I bought into religious fundamentalism and Ayn Rand. If I’d known that one of her idols was a sociopathic killer, I might have felt differently about it. Now, years later, I know better than to believe simplistic nonsense like libertarianism. It has never worked in practice for anyone except the wealthy elite, and the more it’s practiced, the greater the wealth divide in the crippled society that tries it.
    There are two concepts that everyone must understand to see where libertarianism fails. The first is “the tragedy of the commons.” This refers to areas that everyone uses and no one owns, and in the macro sense includes the environment, atmosphere, the oceans, the water supply and so forth. The “tragedy” is that when they can be exploited by everyone because no one owns them, they will be overused for profit and eventually destroyed. One of the main functions of government is to prevent this – a duty that libertarianism denies because libertarianism claims that enlightened self interest will cause unregulated businesses to always, or usually, do the right thing. Historical evidence for this is, of course, absent. It’s a policy based solely on “trust me.”
    The other concept libertarianism misrepresents is freedom. The fact is that in even the best societies, the strong tend to dominate the less strong, the minorities. History clearly shows that without civil rights laws on public behavior, minorities will be poorly served. This applies to racial groups, religious groups, gender groups, and LGBT groups. Libertarianism would remove the legal anti discrimination protections for all minorities in two ways. First, that free speech is more important than anything else, so hateful, abusive, vicious discriminatory speech shouldn’t be limited. Secondly, business owners have the right to determine who they serve, period. We’ve seen how that works, and we’re not willing to live in a country like that any more.
    Any Rand had one thing right – the real enemy of all of us is the unholy alliance of big business and corrupted regulatory agencies. We, the people, and the representatives we elect must do a better job with that. But that’s the price we pay for a healthy society.