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Ayn Randroids and Libertarians Join Forces: Will Her Noxious Philosophy Further Infect America?

John Allison, a former bank CEO and a leader of the Rand movement, has just become president of the influential Cato Institute.

Gary Weiss has published a new book about the influence of Ayn Rand on U.S. society, Ayn Rand Nation.

Ayn Rand is a toxic figure to many people in America today, even on the right. Look how Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, backpedaled furiously (and unconvincingly) to deny that he was an acolyte of the Russian-born novelist. Though her extremist, atheistic vision of laissez-faire capitalism has gained traction from the Heartland to the intelligentsia, she remains a controversial figure. 

That's why this recent bit of news is so startling:  John Allison, a former bank CEO and a leader of the Rand movement, has just become president of the Cato Institute, the oldest and most influential libertarian think tank. This received only a modest amount of attention when it surfaced late last month, and you had to be a real political junkie to even be aware of it. But it is a seminal event in recent political history—a dramatic indication of the mainstreaming of the radical right.

What it means is that the Rand movement, which was little more than a cult when the Atlas Shrugged author died thirty years ago, has effectively merged with the vastly larger libertarian movement. While many differences are likely to remain—particularly as far as Ron Paul’s fading candidacy is concerned, given the Randers' support for abortion and opposition to his foreign policy views —this means that  Objectivism, Rand’s quasi-religious philosophy, is going to permeate the political process more than ever before.

Allison, former CEO of North Carolina’s BB&T Bank, is not just going to be the Cato Institute’s sugar daddy. He replaces Ed Crane as president, meaning that he will have day-to-day control over the most significant libertarian organization in the country. Allison is a board member of the  Ayn Rand Institute, the orthodox, no-compromise  Randian organization, and is best known for his foundation donating free Rand books to thousands of schoolchildren across the nation—a crass exploitation of the fiscal troubles besetting primary schools.


Ayn Rand hated libertarians, so it would be easy to suggest that Rand would be rolling over in her grave at this news. But I don’t think so. I think she’d exult at the news, because it means that the  Randers have effectively gained control over what had once been the “enemy.” Rand despised others on the right who didn’t march in lockstep with her extremist brand of no-government capitalism, laced as it was (and is) with strident atheism and rejection of humanist and Western values . Her most bitter enemy was the pious Catholic William F. Buckley  Jr. She sneered at the John Birch Society for failing to promote capitalism with sufficient aggressiveness, and was contemptuous toward Barry Goldwater (even though she endorsed him). But she reserved some of her most heated invective for libertarians.

In 1971, she wrote in her newsletter: “I disapprove of, disagree with and have no connection with, the latest aberration of some conservatives, the so-called ‘hippies of the right’ who attempt to snare the younger or more careless ones of my readers by claiming simultaneously to be followers of my philosophy and advocates of anarchism.” The libertarian economist Murray  Rothbard , once a Rand acolyte, became a fierce critic of Rand, and the antagonism toward  Rothbard lingers today among  Randians, 17 years after  Rothbard’s death.

But as far as the Rand movement is concerned, the libertarians have reformed in a serious way since then. The reason for that boils down to one factor: foreign policy.

Rand herself was very much an isolationist during the  1930s, and opposed U.S. entry into World War II.  You can always tell a  Randian True Believer because he or she will always agree with Rand on that, or at least not disagree, and Allison passed that test with flying colors when I interviewed him for  Ayn Rand Nation. Allison explained to me that Rand argued that if we hadn’t entered the war, “the Germans and Russians would have killed each other off, and we would have been better off. Which is possible.”

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