Gore Vidal, hated by the right, had no use for Rand. He joined the ranks of Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley in that respect. In 1961, Vidal wrote a piece that shredded Rand.
“…Now, before I’m investigated for having taken the un-American stand that sex is a minor department of morality, let me try to show what I think is morally important. Ayn Rand is a rhetorician who writes novels I have never been able to read. She has just published a book, For the New Intellectual, subtitled The Philosophy of Ayn Rand; it is a collection of pensées and arias from her novels and it must be read to be believed. Herewith, a few excerpts from the Rand collection.
• “It was the morality of altruism that undercut American and is now destroying her.”
• “Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society. Today, the conflict has reached its ultimate climax; the choice is clear-cut: either a new morality of rational self-interest, with its consequence of freedom…or the primordial morality of altruism with its consequences of slavery, etc.”
• Then from one of her arias for heldentenor: “I am done with the monster of ‘we,’ the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame. And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: ‘I.’”
• “The first right on earth is the right of the ego. Man’s first duty is to himself.”
• “To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you, and your passkey to trade your effort for the effort of the best among men.”
• “The creed of sacrifice is a morality for the immoral….”
This odd little woman is attempting to give a moral sanction to greed and self interest, and to pull it off she must at times indulge in purest Orwellian newspeak of the “freedom is slavery” sort. What interests me most about her is not the absurdity of her “philosophy,” but the size of her audience (in my campaign for the House she was the one writer people knew and talked about). She has a great attraction for simple people who are puzzled by organized society, who object to paying taxes, who dislike the “welfare” state, who feel guilt at the thought of the suffering of others but who would like to harden their hearts. For them, she has an enticing prescription: altruism is the root of all evil, self-interest is the only good, and if you’re dumb or incompetent that’s your lookout.
She is fighting two battles: the first, against the idea of the State being anything more than a police force and a judiciary to restrain people from stealing each other’s money openly. She is in legitimate company here. There is a reactionary position which has many valid attractions, among them lean, sinewy, regular-guy Barry Goldwater. But it is Miss Rand’s second battle that is the moral one. She has declared war not only on Marx but on Christ. Now, although my own enthusiasm for the various systems evolved in the names of those two figures is limited, I doubt if even the most anti-Christian free-thinker would want to deny the ethical value of Christ in the Gospels. To reject that Christ is to embark on dangerous waters indeed.
For to justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil. For one thing, it is gratuitous to advise any human being to look out for himself. You can be sure that he will. It is far more difficult to persuade him to help his neighbor to build a dam or to defend a town or to give food he has accumulated to the victims of a famine. But since we must live together, dependent upon one another for many things and services, altruism is necessary to survival.
To get people to do needed things is the perennial hard task of government, not to mention of religion and philosophy. That it is right to help someone less fortunate is an idea which ahs figured in most systems of conduct since the beginning of the race. We often fail. That predatory demon “I” is difficult to contain but until now we have all agreed that to help others is a right action.
Now the dictionary definition of “moral” is: “concerned with the distinction between right and wrong” as in “moral law, the requirements to which right action must conform.” Though Miss Rand’s grasp of logic is uncertain, she does realize that to make even a modicum of sense she must change all the terms.
Both Marx and Christ agree that in this life a right action is consideration for the welfare of others. In the one case, through a state which was to wither away, in the other through the private exercise of the moral sense. Miss Rand now tells us that what we have thought was right is really wrong. The lesson should have read: One for one and none for all.
Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society. Moral values are in flux. The muddy depths are being stirred by new monsters and witches from the deep. Trolls walk the American night. Caesars are stirring in the Forum. There are storm warnings ahead. But to counter trolls and Caesars, we have such men as Lewis Mumford whose new book, The City in History, inspires. He traces the growth of communities from Neolithic to present times. He is wise. He is moral: that is, he favors right action and he believes it possible for us to make things better for us (not “me”!). He belongs to the currently unfashionable line of makers who believe that if something is wrong it can be made right, whether a faulty water main or a faulty idea. May he flourish!…”
There is a myth about austerity, according to Paul Krugman.
“...It started when Hugh Hewitt, a right-wing talk-radio host, interviewed Mr. Ryan. In that interview, the vice-presidential candidate boasted about his fitness, declaring that he had once run a marathon in less than three hours.
This claim piqued the interest of Runner’s World magazine, which noted that marathon times are recorded — and that it was unable to find any evidence of Mr. Ryan’s accomplishment. It eventually transpired that Mr. Ryan had indeed once run a marathon, but that his time was actually more than four hours.
In a statement issued by a spokesman, Mr. Ryan tried to laugh the whole thing off as a simple error. But serious runners find that implausible: the difference between sub-three and over-four is the difference between extraordinary and perfectly ordinary, and it’s not something a runner could get wrong, unless he’s a fabulist who imagines his own reality. And does suggesting that Mr. Ryan is delusional rather than dishonest actually make the situation any better?
Which brings us back to the real issues of this presidential campaign.
Obviously nobody cares how fast Mr. Ryan can run, and even his strange marathon misstatement wouldn’t be worth talking about in isolation. What makes this incident so striking is, instead, the way it resonates with the essential Rosie-Ruizness of Mr. Ryan’s whole political persona, which is built around big boasts about accomplishments he hasn’t accomplished.
For Mr. Ryan, as you may recall, has positioned himself as an icon of truth-telling and fiscal responsibility, while offering policy proposals that are neither honest nor responsible. He calls for huge tax cuts, while proposing specific spending cuts that, while inflicting immense hardship on our most vulnerable citizens, would fall far short of making up for the revenue loss. His claims to reduce the deficit therefore rely on assertions that he would make up for the lost revenue by closing loopholes that he refuses to specify, and achieve further huge spending cuts in ways that he also refuses to specify….”
Jonathan Haidt has published a book about the psychological differences between people and political parties. The scientific studies on the libertarian mind are terribly revealing. Libertarians have a psychological profile that has a lot in common with psychopaths. They are interested in “liberty”. Because of this, they see it as a means to an end, justifying what they do, regardless of the fact that they must sometimes lie and cheat to achieve that goal.
“...Perhaps more intriguingly, when libertarians reacted to moral dilemmas and in other tests, they displayed less emotion, less empathy and less disgust than either conservatives or liberals. They appeared to use “cold” calculation to reach utilitarian conclusions about whether (for instance) to save lives by sacrificing fewer lives. They reached correct, rather than intuitive, answers to math and logic problems, and they enjoyed “effortful and thoughtful cognitive tasks” more than others do.
The researchers found that libertarians had the most “masculine” psychological profile, while liberals had the most feminine, and these results held up even when they examined each gender separately, which “may explain why libertarianism appeals to men more than women.”
All Americans value liberty, but libertarians seem to value it more. For social conservatives, liberty is often a means to the end of rolling back the welfare state, with its lax morals and redistributive taxation, so liberty can be infringed in the bedroom. For liberals, liberty is a way to extend rights to groups perceived to be oppressed, so liberty can be infringed in the boardroom. But for libertarians, liberty is an end in itself, trumping all other moral values….”
Paul Ryan is the real problem. His adoration of Ayn Rand simply mimics what every good Randian libertarian thinks. In a speech to Randians, he once said:
“..On the contrary. Ryan said that Rand’s writing “inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff. We start with Atlas Shrugged … We go to Fountainhead (note: that’s the one whose hero commits a terrorist act) … (and) I always go back to… Francisco d’Anconia’s speech [in Atlas Shrugged] on money when I think about monetary policy.”
What did d’Anconia say in Atlas Shrugged? “Do not envy a worthless heir … Do not think (his wealth) should have been distributed among you; loading the world with fifty parasites instead of one … ” Rand/d’Anconia also says “To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you … “
Here’s what Rand-as-d’Anconia says about any wealthy person with a conscience: “Swarms of looters that stay under rocks for centuries come crawling out at the first smell of a man who begs to be forgiven for the guilt of owning wealth. They will hasten to relieve him of the guilt — and of his life, as he deserves.” (Rand’s writings frequently exult in the deaths of anyone she considers inferior.)
The speech also says that “Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue,” adding: “The words ‘to make money’ hold the essence of human morality… Now the looters’ credo has brought you to regard your proudest achievements as a hallmark of shame, your prosperity as guilt, your greatest men, the industrialists, as blackguards… “
For those who prefer democracy to being subjugated by the wealthy, Rand/d’Anconia offers these words: “The rotter who simpers that he sees no difference between the power of the dollar and the power of the whip, ought to learn the difference on his own hide — as, I think, he will.”…”
In Bloomberg, Ezra Klein wrote something that has been on The Pink Flamingo’s mind for some time now.
“...In a psychology experiment from 15 years ago, participants were asked to remember a number – the number was randomly selected to either be a short two digit number or a seven digit number – and then to walk down a hallway to another room for an interview. As a seeming afterthought, they were told there is a snack cart in the hallway and to help themselves to one of the snacks. The snack choice was either fruit salad or chocolate cake. The subjects asked to remember the two-digit number selected the fruit salad in equal proportions to the chocolate cake. The subjects tasked with remembering the longer seven digit number overwhelmingly chose the chocolate cake.
“How bizarre” I thought when I first read this study, “but what does this have to do with our understanding of poverty?” The answer, perhaps, is that the cognitive control or willpower necessary to resist the affective impulse to consume the cake is a depletable resource. When attention is focused elsewhere, such as on retaining a long number, there is less of this resource available to guide the decision over snack choice.
An emerging strand of thought in behavioral economics suggests that, akin to remembering the long number, the conditions of poverty exact a heavy toll on cognitive resources through the everyday challenges of scarcity. The repeated trade-offs confronting the poor in daily decision making – i.e. “should I purchase a bit more food or a bit more fertilizer?” – occupy cognitive resources that would instead lay fallow for the wealthy when confronted with the same decision. The rich can afford both a bit more food and a bit more fertilizer, no decision is necessary….”
Pope Benedict XVI warned against the type of selfishness exhibited by the worship of Rand.
“...In a culture that is ever more individualistic — like that in which Western societies are immersed and which is spreading throughout the world — the Eucharist constitutes a kind of “antidote,” which operates in the minds and hearts of believers and continually sows in them the logic of communion, of service, of sharing, in a word, the logic of the Gospel. The first Christians, in Jerusalem, were an evident sign of this new way of life because they lived in fraternity and held all of their goods in common so that no one should be indigent (cf. Acts 2:42-47). Where did all of this come from? From the Eucharist, that is, the risen Christ, really present with his disciples and working with the power of the Holy Spirit. And in the succeeding generations, through the centuries, the Church, despite human limits and errors, continued to be a force for communion in the world. We think especially of the most difficult periods, the periods of trial: What did it mean, for example, for countries that were under the heal of totalitarian regimes to have the possibility to gather for Sunday Mass! As the ancient martyrs of Abitene proclaimed: “Sine Dominico non possumus” – without the “Dominicum,” that is, the Sunday Eucharist, we cannot live. But the void produced by false freedom can be dangerous, and so communion with the Body of Christ is a medicine of the intellect and will to rediscover taste for the truth and the common good….”
Part III, and the conclusion, tomorrow.