Monday, November 02, 2009

Ayn Rand and the contradictions of the GOP

New biographies are out about Ayn Rand just as her objectivist philosophy is becoming resurgent within the rapidly shrinking Republican Party.
I first heard of Rand when I was in college working with a group of liberal, idealistic students in the Students Against Apartheid group at Texas A&M. One of the girls in the group had recently become intrigued by Rand after picking up one of her novels and showed it to the rest of us. Someone else in the group immediately dismissed Rand as the “Goddess of Greed.”
It is not hard to understand why Rand’s philosophy - expressed in her novels “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead” - would be popular among rightwingers today. Just like rightwing talk radio, it tells them exactly what they want to hear - that they (the readers) are privileged and special and that they should spend all their time and energy advancing their own interests and not worry about or bother with anyone else. It is the ultimate paen to greed and selfishness and that is pretty much what much of Republican political philosophy boils down to today.
But there is one big problem with this Republican infatuation with Rand and her objectivism philosophy. It is not in any way compatible with their supposed Christian beliefs. Ayn Rand was an atheist who was basically disdainful of Christian philosophy. Here is what she had to say on the matter in a letter from July 9, 1946:

There is a great, basic contradiction in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus was one of the first great teachers to proclaim the basic principle of individualism -- the inviolate sanctity of man’s soul, and the salvation of one’s soul as one’s first concern and highest goal; this means -- one’s ego and the integrity of one’s ego. But when it came to the next question, a code of ethics to observe for the salvation of one’s soul -- (this means: what must one do in actual practice in order to save one’s soul?) -- Jesus (or perhaps His interpreters) gave men a code of altruism, that is, a code which told them that in order to save one’s soul, one must love or help or live for others. This means, the subordination of one’s soul (or ego) to the wishes, desires or needs of others, which means the subordination of one’s soul to the souls of others.
This is a contradiction that cannot be resolved. This is why men have never succeeded in applying Christianity in practice, while they have preached it in theory for two thousand years. The reason of their failure was not men’s natural depravity or hypocrisy, which is the superficial (and vicious) explanation usually given. The reason is that a contradiction cannot be made to work. That is why the history of Christianity has been a continuous civil war -- both literally (between sects and nations), and spiritually (within each man’s soul).

So Rand rejected the core teachings of Jesus without any equivocation. At least she was honest. Most “Christian conservatives” reject his core teachings as well, but they are either too ignorant to realize it or pretend that they do not. Many simply ignore all the parts of the Bible that have to do with helping the poor and loving your neighbor - which takes up a sizable chunk of the New Testament - and instead focus on things like abortion and gay bashing which are hardly even mentioned in the Bible if at all.
There are also a lot of people who rush out and embrace Rand without any real understanding of what it means. It is not as if you can be a Randian and a Christian at the same time, kind of like being a fan of both Star Wars and Star Trek. These are two completely divergent philosophies that are opposed to one another. One says love your neighbor as yourself, the other says love yourself and screw your neighbor.
The way that many Republicans and conservatives today embrace Christ’s image while ignoring his teachings is similar to the way that they embrace the images and symbolism of America, but ignore or reject the actual workings of the government - the hard-fought, messy compromises, the diversity of races and cultures, and even the bloated bureacracy, without which there would be no country of which to speak.

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