In comments on a post on The Imaginative Conservative (Whittaker Chambers and the Strenuously Sterile World of Atlas Shrugged) the question has been raised as to the value of discussing Ayn Rand and her teachings on a site dedicated to conservative thought. Below, in brief, is my thinking on why this discussion is worthwhile. Ayn Rand’s philosophy of selfishness, materialism and denial of the created nature of the human person continues its pernicious mischief fifty-four years after Whittaker Chambers’ (1957, National Review) powerfully condemning review of Atlas Shrugged. So what is the conservative to do? To quote Sun Tzu: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.” Simply dismissing her is not enough.
In my youth I tried to follow her philosophy and it took me far from the True, the Good and the Beautiful for almost two decades. Fortunately, I knew just enough of Russell Kirk’s books that the seeds were planted for a true conservatism. But, first the Rand weed had to be torn from my mind.
Rand has been dismissed as an inferior intellectual and literary talent yet her influence on young minds remains. These young people, often of conservative inclination, are seeking a muscular presentation of the purpose of human life. Nothing less than a bold conservatism anchored in the best of Western, dare I say, Christian tradition will suffice.
I recently had the opportunity to speak at a conservative Christian college to seventy or so of their brightest students. When I finished my talk of thirty minutes, which ranged from Russell Kirk to Will Durant, from ancient Rome to the dimming liberal arts tradition in today’s academy, I took numerous questions from the students. More than half of the questions were regarding Ms. Rand. This even though my mention of my experience with her philosophy was less than five minutes of my lecture.
It seems that among these young people were “recovering Randians” who wanted to know what to read to further their recovery. A few had “Randian” friends that they wished to persuasively offer the Truth of Faith. Also, there were students who wanted to know why today’s “conservative” talk show hosts keep recommending Rand’s books when her philosophy is incompatible with conservative principles.
The new movie version of Atlas Shrugged will most likely bring an increased interest in her destructive “Objectivism.” While I would rather discuss greater thinkers, it is worthy of our time to offer a principled conservative tradition, rooted in Christian faith, as an alternative to the “Virtue of Selfishness” Ms. Rand offers to another generation of young people. For they are really seeking understanding and Truth (even if they don’t know it.)
I am grateful to the always brilliant Stephen Masty for his very clever comment on this topic:
We have all been exposed to the so-called Randroid Virus (identified by pathologists at The Mecosta Laboratory for Bacteriological and Viral Ideology as Libertariensis Boobus Objectivus, Type R). Then our conservative antibodies rejected it immediately, or (with G2 therapy, God’s Grace) our culturo-philosophical auto-immune systems built up resistance over time. Either way, now we are safe. Not so for the young (apart from those souls fortunate enough to hear you live on campus tours). To ignore the peril would be, as you imply, to abandon America’s youth to a particularly communicable and pernicious strain of ideo-pathogen and the metastasizing, psycho-cultural mutations that often follow infection. This much is simple science.
What is needed desperately is a vaccine such as Dr. Jonas Salk’s 1952 polio treatment. Nowadays administered on a tasty sugar cube, a similarly pleasant and painless delivery system for any ideocide must be an integral part of pharma-cultural design if we wish to eradicate this or any ideo-endemic disease. Without going deep into the bio-chemistry, like any vaccine it must prime the recipient’s conservative auto-immune system with an immunogen, an infectious agent that mimics (safely) the dangerous virus, so that the patient’s own body can recognise and eliminate the targeted ideo-pathogen. So far, modern conservative science understands the religio-molecular structure of an optimal ideo-immunogen but not the ideal delivery system for which the most effective media may be media (print or broadcast: see Leubsdorfer, Die Biologisch Mechanismus der Ideologie, Leipzig, 2002). Meanwhile, many top researchers known to this website are working around the clock to generate a conservative, culturally-borne vaccine that can awaken a young patient’s/reader’s immature defenses against this potentially disabling disease.
Books on this topic may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.