Friday, June 3, 2011

Ayn Rand & the Christian GOP

A few months ago I wrote this article about how Ayn Rand's bloated opus (almost wrote corpus, because it sounded so good after the word bloated) Atlas Shrugged provides aid and comfort to conservative populists (i.e., Tea Partiers) who may be feeling like sacrificial victims of America's fiscal policies. One of the (like, three!) thoughtful commenters was a fan of Rand & took me to task for conflating Rand's philosophies with conservatism, since she isn't, by any stretch, a post-Fallwell-Reagan conservative. She was an atheist and a classical liberal in the same sense as Milton Friedman was a classical liberal: In being severely suspicious of government interposition of any kind beyond setting the ground rules for making money and living life.

If you read my article carefully, I never call her a conservative--I'm simply pointing out the obvious in saying that her writings (as well as Friedman's) have been embraced by those who are. Alas, the Atlas Society has me on their "perp walk" list, alongside Roger Ebert and Michael Gerson, for perpetuating the myth that she was conservative.

It seems to contradict no known law of physics to say that someone influences conservatives without being conservative.

I'm gonna let that debate float away for now, but the Ayn Rand/conservative discussion has picked up again during the recent political battles over the government budget. Only this time religion has been thrown into the mix. Liberal Christians have made the case that Christian leaders in the GOP have forsaken Jesus for Rand.

The American Values Network, for example, just produced this video for . . . well, it's hard to say who their audience is or what their purpose is:

It's fair to challenge what could be considered ideological inconsistency, but this video is corny.

RNS has reported that 6,000 progressive Christians have signed a petition calling for House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan to put down his Atlas and pick up his Bible. Considering the size of both books, Ryan would get pretty buff picking up one while putting down the other, over and over. (Perhaps that's how consistency is maintained if you want to be both a Christian and a Rand Fan.)

At any rate, the charge is incompatibility: The Christian left-leaners argue here that one cannot identify as Christian and legislate as Christian while at the same time embracing anti-Christian ideology. Continuity of identity is broken in the attempt, and the person loses credibility. Perhaps the GOP leaders like Ryan could counterargue that taking up Rand's opinions about fiscal policy and federal budgets doth not mean taking up her opinions on Jesus. What do you think about these arguments?


  1. The only demographic for whom Ayn Rand poses a problem is the one that justifies its political views by a version of Christianity or Judaism. That is a large demographic, I know, but I assume that the Ayn Rand Society, or whoever put you on their perv list, doesn't care to justify their economic outlook by Christianity. The "true" Randys probably fit in nicely with the Dawkins followers--all over the internet but not to be found in the real world (I suppose I could make a theory out of this, like how those ideologies have no practical use, therefore the internet is a much better forum for them. What do you think?)

    One thing is for sure--that video is painful. If GOP leaders were to justify their economic views based on Rand, and they admitted that she had no use for religion but they like her ideology anyway, their consituents may not enjoy the cognitive dissonance, which is probably why the GOP doesn't shout her name from mountaintops. She seems more like an internet phenom than a legitimate force. I do know that when Ron Paul swept through Iowa recently, his Randish views had to take a back burner to VanderPlaats' agenda of anti-gay marriage, and Paul looked uncomfortable with the social issues rather than the fiscal.

    Has Beck touted his Fountainhead? Seems like Beck's strange Christian-Political worldview would have a hard time incorporating her into his sweep. But if he does, it would confirm my theory that people with monosyllabic names have more sympathy for Ayn Rand than others. I guess it depends how many syllables you give the "Ryan" of Paul Ryan.

  2. Yep, Beck is a Randy. (Love that neologism.) He's had Yaron Brook, Pres. of the Ayn Rand Society, on his show. My favorite line from Beck from the episode: "But you know what? I think it goes further than that, because — I mean, quite honestly — I mean, if Ayn were here, I'd say, OK, I don't — it's like Tom Clancy."

    Cognitive dissonance does not seem to be a problem for public figures of any stripe, or maybe for most folks. CD comes from a recognition that you may have it wrong, and who wants to live like that?