Up until a few years ago, right-wingers who needed to believe in something larger than themselves chose Jesus. But with the evangelicals fading from the Republican coalition, and Obama’s social programs making the whole "compassionate conservative" thing suspect, it look like Jesus is out and Ayn Rand is in.
Yes, Ayn Rand, author of big books about noble capitalists who triumph over the masses, and tomes of "philosophy" like The Virtue of Selfishness, in which she beat Gordon Gekko to Greed is Good by decades. Rand always seemed like a good fit for conservatives, but until recently their fandom was a love that dared not speak its name — either out of fear that the born-agains would be alienated by Rand’s atheism, or that literate people would giggle at them.
What happened? The Republican collapse, and the arrival of an activist liberal administration in D.C., set conservatives scrambling for compelling new story lines to sell the public. Jesus, unfortunately, had been rendered inoperative by all the family-values Republicans caught in sex scandals. With Him out of the way, the atheist, market-worshiping Rand was their best bet.
The transition has been seamless. Glenn Beck regards Rand as a prophet. Tea Party people carry her name on signs. Rightbloggers talk, seriously it would seem, about Going Galt — a phenomenon previously known as "early retirement," but now judged a political act of resistance against the socialism of our moderate Democrat president.
They’re the wave of the future, so let’s get to know the Randroids. What kind of people are they?
To follow are the 10 most cringe-inducing — but sincere! — Randian tributes I could find. There were some that were crazier, but they tended to be tens of thousands of words long and boring beyond belief. Believe me, this is probably as much as you’ll want to hear from them — ever.
1. Paul Ryan: The most powerful Randroid in politics
You may have heard about Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan and his "roadmap" — the closest thing to an economic answer to the Democrats an elected Republican has yet produced. Few Republicans seem to want to be caught supporting it, perhaps because Ryan’s roadmap basically privatizes Social Security and Medicare. It’s not just an assault on the Obama plan; it’s meant to destroy the New Deal.
That seems a little hot for your average voter. But Ryan’s got a safe seat. He’s also got a hero to inspire him to feats of pro-capitalist derring-do.
"The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person," he said at a Rand 100th anniversary party, "it would be Ayn Rand." He also said that "Almost every fight we are involved in here on Capitol Hill" boils down to "individualism versus collectivism."
We may assume that Ryan’s not on the collectivist side, which explains why he wants to gut Social Security — he says it’s a "collectivist system."
You’d think that, with such strong Randian credentials, Ryan would have also resisted the bailouts of 2008. But in fact he voted for the original TARP — and he was moved to do so by another great literary figure.
Ryan told the Daily Beast that in 2008 he believed without TARP, "Obama would not only have won, but would have been able to sweep through a huge statist agenda very quickly because there would have been no support for the free-market system."
The author who convinced him of this? Jonah Goldberg, and his right-wing libruls-r-Hitler stroke book Liberal Fascism.
That’s gotta be the most embarrassing Customers-Who-Bought-This-
If modern life has taught us anything, it’s that science can always make things worse. What if, for example, we were — by grafting — able to create a monstrous hybrid of Ayn Rand and the very worst of American conservatism?
"This is a real life Dagny Taggart who built herself up from nothing," writes Living Jersey. He is speaking of…Sarah Palin.
"[Palin] is an American original," sighs View from the Right, "almost like, say, an Ayn Rand heroine, Dagny Taggart, the beautiful young woman who runs a transcontinental railroad." (Actually Palin only ran a car wash — and badly — but you get the idea.)
"I speculated a while back that Sarah Palin was positioning herself as a new Rush Limbaugh," says Amused Cynic in "Sarah Palin as Dagny Taggart," "probably not a radio personality, but something like Rush, a rallying point, a Joan of Arc sort of figure, Neo in The Matrix." "Sarah Palin sounds like Dagny Taggart," said Ben Barrack.
Commenters are all over it: "BTW, does anyone else see vague similarities between Palin and Dagny Taggart?" "Sarah shares a lot of the plainspoken, free market tenets of Dagny Taggart." "…she is the embodiment of Dagny Taggart." "Sarah Palin is Dagny Taggart incarnate," etc.
Despite her self-evident tendency to make a virtue of selfishness, some Randroids don’t see the relevance of the early-retiring former governor to Objectivism. ("Interest any which way in Sarah Palin, from my perspective, is the litmus test for one’s irrelevance to me and my life," sniffs Save The Humans.) But that hardly matters. For the new conservative Randians, Palin and Rand share the one key attribute that trumps everything else — they can both pull a crowd in election season. And as far as philosophy goes, "Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing" isn’t exactly Ayn Rand, but — for both the purists and the political fixers — it’s close enough.
3.The rise of the Randroid op-ed
Once upon a time, you’d find Randian rants only in conservative and libertarian publications, where only true believers would see them. But since the dawn of the Obama socialist menace, Randroids have actually been recruited to spread the gospel of Chairman Ayn in major papers and magazines via op-eds.
As overheated as conservative writers have gotten lately, it’s still weirder to see full-on Rand cultists raving in the pages of, say, the Wall Street Journal. It’s like opening the New York Times and seeing the estate tax discussed in terms of the works of Carlos Castaneda.
An excellent example is this March 2010 nugget from the Christian Science Monitor: "Apple vs. GM: Ayn Rand knew the difference. Do you?"
You may wonder what "Apple vs. GM" means. (God help us, not an iCar!) But Yaron Brook and Don Watkins of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights aren’t talking about anything so dull as a market conflict — they’re talking about a moral struggle between "producers" like Apple — those few, sterling individuals who wrest value from the earth — and "looters" like GM, whom they describe as "pseudobusinessmen" whose "business isn’t business, but political pull."
You’d think Brook and Watkins could find better examples of looters than GM — Enron, say, or Goldman Sachs, or Jack Abramoff. But Randroids are generally quiet when such people use political pull to amplify profit, even illegally. (In fact, way back in the scandal-ridden days of 2002, USA Today did a story about suits who found themselves harassed by "prosecutors, regulators" and "a Republican president"; these poor, rattled execs read Ayn Rand, USA Today said, to "remind themselves that self-interest is not only the right thing to do from an economic standpoint but is moral, as well.")
Back to Brook and Watkins: Firms like GM are the real looters, they say, because they’re given to "demanding tax dollars to prop up their failing companies." Firms like Apple, conversely, are producers because "don’t need special favors, only freedom."
Of course Apple, like a lot of companies, isn’t averse to government largesse — and usually gets it by going into a downturned local economy and demanding tax breaks, as it did in North Carolina.
Meanwhile the "looter" GM has not only managed to keep most of its workers — who otherwise would probably have been scattered to the winds by bankruptcy — it just posted its second straight quarterly profit after years of losses, and plans an IPO to pay off its bailout.
A business and the little looters who work for it, both pulled out of disaster with the help of the government! In you’re a Randroid, it’s the worst possible outcome.
With single-chromosome sites like Mancouch ("stuff for guys"), you can’t always tell whether the writers are kidding. But I poked around, so to speak, and Mancouch seems legit, with tried-and-true testosterone-rich titles like "Indian Women are Underrated" and "Tips for Attracting Hot Women: Does it really work?" (There’s nothing more butch than contempt for subject-verb agreement!)
Mancouch’s Atlas Shrugged essay starts smoothly enough — the author is turned on by Dagny Taggart, because she’s "smart, respectable, and a strong willed woman." We’ve all been there, right, fellas?
But then the author admits, "this kind of woman is something I have never really encountered before." Well, of course you haven’t, guy — she’s a fictional character, written by a pillhead blowhard. But he can’t let it go: He doesn’t want the kind of "whore or drunken slut" he normally gets — he wants Dagny! And life has cruelly deprived him of her, he explains as we slowly back out of the room:
This book is illuminating me to my own wants and needs. I want a woman who will challenge me… both physically and intellectually… there is something truly desirable about a woman who has a great deal of self respect… especially in today’s filthy dumpster of what we call the dating world.
You know, I think if this fella ever did hook up with Dagny, there’d be fireworks. Or at least gunfire.
5. Objectivism Online forum’s debate about whether .9999999999 = 1
Objectivism Online is a fun site — go to the main page, and you’ll find links to the sort of thing you’d expect: A guy complaining that his essay on detective fiction was rejected because of Marxism, an argument that cap and trade will "destroy America," etc. It’s good fun for wingnuts, with a little side of Rand to spice up the dish.
But burrow down into the forums, and there you’ll find the true Randroids sitting cross-legged around a copy of The Fountainhead like it was a Ouija board, engaging in the sort of debates most of us long ago left in our dorm rooms along with the stems and seeds.
One of Rand’s big philosophical tenets/laugh-lines is "A=A" — that is, nothing can be anything but what it is. That seems to be the inspiration for this recent post in the forum, "But what does .9999999999… MEAN?":
Before discussing if .999… is or is not 1 (or equal to 1), we must specify and agree about what we do mean by this string of signs, the mysterious part being the three dots at the end…
Post after post after post in the thread goes on like that. But the kicker actually comes in the frontispiece:
My posting is about the importance of definitions. We had a thread about .9999999999… which extended over 5 years — unnecessarily so.
FIVE YEARS? These guys talked about this for FIVE YEARS? That must have been some party.
I used to haunt alt.talk.libertarian back in the ’90s, and not even those wild men got into anything like this. But the Internet was young then, and users still sometimes got out of the house.
6. Amity Shlaes’ Randfic
If you’re a young, or emotionally retarded, admirer of a bigtime writer, you may find yourself writing in that author’s style, or at least adopting his or her japes. How many college decadents have been inspired to write their own Thompsonesque Fear and Loathing or Ellisonian Less that Zero ripoffs?
Amity Shlaes is a credentialed right-wing scribe, best known for The Forgotten Man, her book about how FDR fucked up the Great Depression, thus earning him four presidential election victories (if you’re bored sometime, run this thesis past your grandparents). But even she is not immune when it comes to the Goddess of the Greenback.
Like all good conservatives nowadays, Shlaes is a subscriber to the "Going Galt" idea. But, because she is too exalted and well-paid a wingnut to admit affiliation with so common and bloggy an idea, in a 2009 essay on the subject she eschews Galt and uses a different Rand title for her hook: "You get the feeling plenty of Atlases are shrugging these days," she writes, "in part because their tax burden is getting heavier."
That’s not so special. But then Shlaes starts to draw parallels between Rand characters and real people:
The hard-money monologue of Rand’s copper king, Francisco d’Anconia, used to sound weird… Now, D’Anconia’s lecture on the unreliable dollar sounds like it could have been scripted by Zhou Xiaochuan, or some other furious Chinese central banker…
Wesley Mouch, the Washington fringe-character-turned-
politician who unexpectedly makes his way to center stage, recalls Timothy Geithner at Treasury in his early days…
Perhaps realizing that these characters are only going to appeal to econ dorks, Shlaes makes her Hollywood move: "Of all American governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California is the one who most resembles Rand’s outsized characters."
Unfortunately, having cited this famous name, Shlaes has to admit that he doesn’t really fit: "Schwarzenegger seems to be missing the Rand gene." So to keep the crowd from leaving before the final curtain, Shlaes actually writes a scene between Dagny Taggart and Schwarzenegger. Listen and learn, David Mamet:
Dagny: "Start decontrolling."
Dagny: "Start lifting taxes and removing controls."
Schwarzenegger: "Oh no, no, no, that’s out of the question."
Dagny: "Out of whose question?"
That’s telling him, Dag! I wish she’d brought me in as a consultant. My version would have been much shorter: "Dere iss crazy voman in mein office. Bring ze tasers, schnell."
7. The Concerto of Deliverance (music inspired by Ayn Rand’s words in Atlas Shrugged) by John Mills-Cockell, lyrics by Blake Parker
In Atlas Shrugged, Richard Halley writes a "Concerto of Deliverance" based on individualistic themes. Halley and the Concerto only existed in the heads of Rand and her readers — until John Mills-Cockell (described by Wikipedia as a "Canadian composer in various media") wrote a for-reals version on a commission from Monart Pon, apparently a Randian with time and money to burn.
Of the music, as Jed Leland wrote in Citizen Kane, that is happily not the concern of this department. You can hear samples at the home page; in the words of one sympathetic reviewer at The Atlasphere, "What does John Mills-Cockell’s piece sound like? In a word, eclectic. But pleasantly eclectic." You know, like Graceland would probably sound if it were written on commission by a composer in various media.
But this concerto has an added advantage: Lyrics. Halley’s concerto didn’t have them — concertos generally don’t — but Mills-Cockell’s does. They were written by one Blake Parker, for "seven ‘canticles’ providing poetic ‘illumination’ for each of the movements," and they are a delight:
Oh to be a little child
& slip into a magic room
pretend that you’re bewitched
& in love with (a) crazy moon.
Rand was a capitalist; she’d understand why we made the concerto suitable for a children’s book tie-in. But where’s the Objectivism, you ask? It comes in hints:
I’ve got a technological soul & animal bones
I got numbers for software & eyes like stones…
The moon is on the hillside & the wolf calls my name
& I know that I’m the only one, the only one to blame.
See? There’s personal responsibility!
They call me the Lady Sorrow.
They call me the Lady in White.
They call me the Witch of the Morning.
They call me the Spirit of Light.
If this Galt thing gets big, there’s a good chance they can get Stevie Nicks for the lead. Look, if they can have American Idiot on Broadway, why not this?
8. A Randroid tribute to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
Sounds like a parody, doesn’t it? But even Randroids get sentimental — why, as documented in Ayn Rand And The World She Made, Rand herself went into fits over her doomed relationship with Nathaniel Branden ("You have no right to casual friendships, no right to vacations, no right to sex with some inferior woman!"). So why shouldn’t Atlas Society member Donald Cooper be allowed a touch of emotion for the old kid’s show, "Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood"?
Being a Randian, though, Cooper can’t just say he liked the thing — he has to tie it in with The Mistress’ philosophy:
Rogers also spotlighted industry, showing video tours of factories and workplaces and talking about all of the goods produced there. More popular factory tours included the production of crayons, toothpaste, backpacks, soup, clothing, and sneakers. He showed that production has value, that useful things come from factories, and that those who produce are important, contributing individuals whose work benefits us all.
Cooper has to admit that Rogers put a "premium on community (after all, he did always stress that we live in a ‘neighborhood’)," but on the other hand, Rogers also told kids that "You are the only person like you in this whole world," which is not merely a soothing thing to say to kids, but a "persistent reminder of the uniqueness of the individual."
To paraphrase the immortal Dr. Lao, the whole world’s Atlas Shrugged if you know how to look at it.
9. The Atlas Shrugged movie
You may have heard that the longtime dream of Randroids everywhere — a Hollywood film of Atlas Shrugged — was in production and destined for greatness. Several sources not normally given over to filmland gossip (including National Review and the Ludwig von Mises Institute blog) reported that Angelina Jolie was attached to the project. The budget was said to be $70 million.
Among Randroids the speculation got out of hand. "Liberal Actresses Line Up to Star in Atlas Shrugged," rejoiced Big Hollwyood’s Pam Meister. "Rumors about Angelina Jolie’s interest in the film have been swirling about for some time, but Charlize Theron?" gushed Meister. "Julia Roberts? Anne Hathaway? What’s up with that?"
Nothing much was up with that, apparently: The role of Dagny Taggart finally went to Taylor Shilling, from the TV show "Mercy." Original director Stephen Polk was bounced for "One Tree Hill" actor Paul Johansson. (Polk threatened to sue.) And the budget has been scaled back to $5 million. (A nice account of the whole saga appears at DailyFinance, which explains one reason the film may have been greenlit in its reduced state was to keep the producer from losing the rights to the book.)
Not being a Zhdanovite myself, I hope the now indie-scale Atlas comes out well; look what fun King Vidor got out of The Fountainhead! But conservatives, alas, aren’t interested in quality — victory is all they want: Big box-office, and proof that America loves what they love.
And so at Big Hollywood John Nolte talks up the troubled production as a sure winner despite its "colorful history." As for the casting debacle, the producer suggests to Nolte that he was in fact happy to do without "the ‘distractions’ often associated with ‘A-List’ talent.’"
Spoken like a show-biz professional! Plus, more good news: The $5 million project is now only part one of a proposed Atlas Shrugged trilogy (the three parts to be titled Atlas Shrugs, Atlas Takes a Load Off and Atlas Shows All You Bastards, presumably). Mediaite’s Frances Martel is dazzled: "The progress on the set of Atlas Shrugged," she gushes, is really "a much more important story to both pop culture and the political world" than, say, the recent Shirley Sherrod scandal, which the damn liberal media chose to follow instead "because race is a sexy thing to cover," unlike wonkish subjects like Hollywood movies.
Of course, the real hardcore Randians don’t even want to see the picture made. "Every time they turn a novel into a movie," grouses Galt’s Gulch or Bust, "about 80% of the vital dialogue gets left out, and sometimes, when artistic freedom takes hold, the plot and underlying theme of the story take on a complete new form." Nonetheless, if it has to be made, GGOB wants John Galt to be played by…Rand Paul. (Well, Harold Russell never made a movie before The Best Years of Our Lives, either, and he won an Oscar.)
10. The ideal Randian art: Soviet and Nazi kitsch
In his 1998 paper "Unexpected Illustrations of Ayn Rand’s Philosophy of Aesthetics," presented to the International Society for Individual Liberty Convention in Berlin, Christian Michel says, "I will examine how Rand’s aesthetics can help us to reassess certain artistic works."
Rand, he explains, favored heroic art calculated to inspire "admiration, exaltation, a sense of challenge." Modern artists like Paul Klee and Joan Miro, with their crappy little squiggles, failed to rise to this standard. "Pure tomfoolery," Michel sniffs. (For obvious reasons, this low view of the moderns is shared by many Randians.)
Fortunately, Michel says, abstractionist buffoons weren’t the only artists working in the 20th century. "Rand’s aesthetics can help us to reassess certain artistic works that are for the most part spurned today," he writes, "specifically art produced under the National/Socialist and Communist regimes."
Hold on — does he mean the Nazis and the Soviets?
He does indeed. "Because the leaders of the Nazi and Communist regimes were mere thugs," he writes, "we find it difficult to believe that they could produce any culture, art, or beauty. In fact, quite the opposite is true."
Michel effuses over the art of these tyrant regimes, the kitsch as well as the Constructivism. Though he sometimes suggests that the artists were inwardly rebelling at their masters’ wishes, he swoons unironically over statues featuring rippling Hero Worker biceps, and finds Franz Klimtsh’s "Galathea" "the embodiment of beauty, full stop." He also likes the nudes Hitler commissioned for his apartment in Munich.
One lesson some of us might take from this is that Rand’s aesthetic vision was, to put it kindly, better suited to propaganda ministries than the atelier. But this was written for a Randroid conference, after all. So, in cheerful "Springtime for Hitler" mode, while admitting that Rand’s "artistic culture… seems limited to what she read as a teenager," Michel still endorses it, and suggests, "let’s look for the artists that bring out the hero that is inside each one of us."
Just, you know, try to take it only so far; if you get to the ovens, you’ll know you’ve passed it.
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