Aynrandish Behavior

Posted: 28 February 2010 in Faith and Life
Tags: , , , , ,

In his intriguing book, Help: the Original Human Dilemma, Garrett Keizer speaks of “The Dream we No Longer Admit”.  The dream, summarized in an essay by Joan Didion, is the “Howard Hughes dream of being “asocial”, of being totally private, of having “absolute personal freedom.”  Keizer goes on to say that, perhaps, this dream is now one we actually do admit–indeed, it is increasingly one which we “dream with a vengeance.”

Autonomy

Personal Freedom

In contrast to the “dream” we have the story of the “good Samaritan” or the community of Le Chambon (read it and marvel) that stand as alternative narratives to the dream.  And yet, the dream is powerful and, arguably (as Keizel admits) an increasingly dominant theme in our current downturn/recession/deep recession/mild depression/depression (your choice).

And this brings us to Ayn Rand. I will admit that I can’t get through her writings (Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged), less because of their philosophy and more because the “heroes” are plastic people–props–in a morality tale that is far from anything I can relate to.  And yet, Rand IS important today as recent biographies, reviewed in the New Republic and Harpers (only available to subscribers) reveal. Okay, these are “liberal rags” but they do a good job dissecting Rand’s lasting influence today (including the fact that Milton Friedman was a devotee).

Rand expressed the “dream” as morally superior to the slave religion of Jesus.  This excerpt from the Mars Hill Audio interview with one of the biography authors (Jennifer Burns) by Ken Myers reveals both her project and the major influence on her writing:

Why does all this matter?  Read the reviews and you will see… Bottom line–popular commentators who command a significant following (yes, I am talking about Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh) have lauded Rand’s work. In a recent speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference Beck (while not quoting Rand directly) reviled any notion that community (i.e. Good Samaritan type work) matters, and that all talk of community is actually the vanguard of a socialist takeover.  Beck, eerily channeling Rand from beyond the grave, conflated the idea that a concern for the effects of one’s actions on the community matters, with socialism.  You may consider Beck a “nut-case”, or worse, but his ideas carry weight with many and he is willing to support Rand’s thought while championing some form of “Christian ethics” in a way that gives his acolytes permission to feel no compassion for anyone while claiming some vague moral high ground.  Yes, the gospel of Rand is alive and well and her work merits our attention.

What kind of society will we be?  Will we succumb to “the dream”? These are important questions.  Rand believed that altruism was not merely misguided but that it was morally wrong.  Is it in this spirit that we will face the days ahead?  I hope not.  Otherwise I don’t know what to do with Jesus’ life and teaching… “When he saw the crowds he felt compassion for them…” These “crowds” were the people Rand (and presumably Beck et. al.) revile–the poor (who clearly deserve it), the sick (who never thought it necessary to buy health insurance), the weak (who wait for the hard working to meet their needs).

Where does Rand’s brand of “freedom” lead?  As Kim Phillips-Fein asks in her review of two books about Rand in the December 2009 Harpers (Ayn Rand and the World She Made, by Anne C. Heller and Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, by Jennifer Burns.)

Should there be any lingering shame or sadness at our modern Gilded Age, at the material gaps that place some in luxury skyscrapers and others out on the streets, she (Rand) encourages her readers to renounce that discomfort as the true immorality. Her work offers a way of making sense of a profoundly unequal society, of making it tolerable, even virtuous.

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