Growing Up Objectivist, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 12 2011 @ 11:54am

It's time for a qualified defense of Rand. A reader writes:

Ayn Rand was Russian.  Her family lost everything in the revolution.  She was well aware of what happened under forced collectivism.  So I think that those experiences freaked her out a bit.  She was a very determined, confident woman who probably wasn't nearly as bright or well educated as she believed herself to be.  But I think she came by her nutty opinions honestly.

That's right; and why, like many popular but misguided thinkers, she endures. I grew up in a culture where socialistic values were endemic. Personal achievements, success, wealth … were all regarded by the ruling elites – socialist, liberal and high Tory – as vulgar or products of luck or things to be quietly ashamed of or embarrassed by. Rand is a kind of gut-level response to this, an assertion that some people are actually better at some things than others, and need not feel ashamed or guilty when their own abilities and talents are rewarded. There is a little Rand in my referring to the income-rich as the "successful" rather than as the wealthy – because I don't hold that personal achievement is morally suspect.

It is a form of injustice to deny individuals this success, or to denigrate and disdain it. But for me, the drop shadow to this truth is Christianity. And so I see no reason why someone should feel guilty for being talented or hard-working, but still believe that this kind of success is not the highest value. I do not mistake material worth for moral achievement. And it is that philosophical move – to give worldly success and achievement ultimate moral standing – that leads Rand astray.

Which is why, of course, Rand held religion and Christianity in such contempt. Which is why the current Republican coalition – between self-described Christians and Randian objectivists – is so inherently unstable and incoherent. It seems clear to me that objectivism got the better of the deal. You had to transform Christianity into Christianism or American exceptionalism to make sense of this fusionism at all.

Another reader defends Rand:

It really bothers me when people call Objectivism a cult (or compare it to Scientology), or disparage its ideas on the simple basis of its most ardent practitioners, as if every other system of thought is devoid of the same.  That Muslims are separated from Islamists, Christians from Christianists, as a means of justifying the more moderate (and sensible) practitioners' sense of faith and grounding in reality, while all Objectivists are lumped together as emotionally stunted, seems to me rather unfair. For example, this quote from one of your links strikes me as particularly idiotic:

Our objectivist education, however, was not confined to lectures and books. One time, at dinner, I complained that my brother was hogging all the food. “He’s being selfish!” I whined to my father. “Being selfish is a good thing,” he said. “To be selfless is to deny one’s self. To be selfish is to embrace the self, and accept your wants and needs.

This is idiotic not only on the part of the father, but of the author for citing it.  In Objectivism, all things are earned through one's work.  We get no sense that either the daughter or son earned any part of that meal, so what the father is teaching is that his son is being rightfully selfish for hoarding unearned goods, which is exactly the opposite of Objectivism. 

These are the Islamists of Objectivism, who cling most dearly to their "faith" while understanding the heart of it the least, and who are unfortunately cited the most.