OK, it’s time to come clean. I used to be a humongous Ayn Rand fan.
I was 15 years old when my mom’s friend loaned me a copy of Rand’s first major novel, The Fountainhead. I devoured it in a week. A year later, I’d reread it several times and moved on to Atlas Shrugged.
I made my friends read Rand. I made my boyfriend read her. I talked about her books incessantly. If I’d been aware that they existed, I would surely have entered one of the many high school essay contests run by various Rand-associated organizations.
What was so great about her books? Well for one thing, they’re awesome romance novels. The rape scene in The Fountainhead, where wealthy heiress Dominique Francon is ravished by genius architect Howard Roark, is a little intense, as are some of the scenes in Atlas Shrugged (whose heroine, Dagny Taggart, at one point appears at a party wearing a diamond bracelet that “gave her the most feminine of all aspects: the look of being chained.”) – but heck, I was also reading Ann Rice’s vampire novels at the time. Even when she wasn’t writing straight porn, Rice doesn’t exactly shy from explicit, over-the-top sex scenes.
Also appealing was Rand’s belief, as I (mis)understood it, that smart people deserve to be on top. To a 15-year-old social outcast with a 3.7 GPA and an affinity for books, that sounded like a pretty great idea.
“Dirty Dancing” changed things. (Yes, I read The Fountainhead before I saw “Dirty Dancing.” “Dirty Dancing” is rated R. My parents were strict. So there.) It struck me as disturbing that Robbie, the womanizing Yalie waiter who shrugs off responsibility for an unwanted pregnancy he caused by saying, “some people count and some people don’t,” was depicted as an ardent fan of The Fountainhead as he offers Jennifer Gray his tattered copy of the book.
So after conducting some research and learning a more about what she really was about, I grew out of Ayn Rand.
Paul Ryan hasn’t.
I know, I know, in the wake of questions by Christian groups who about have called him out for his apparent elevation of Rand’s “philosophy” over that of a certain Jewish carpenter whose name shall remain unmentioned, Ryan’s been all over the place (here and here, for instance) denouncing her belief system, “Objectivism,” as “atheistic” and therefore despicable.
But as Lawrence O’Donnell observed the other night, “Only for a politician is Ayn Rand’s atheism a strike against her.”
So let’s turn to the parts of Rand’s works that Ryan hasn’t denounced – starting with the scene in Atlas Shrugged that prompted Jason Lee Steorts, managing editor of the ever-more-repulsive National Review, to shut the book two-thirds of the way through a 2010 attempt to reread it.
A train is carrying 300 passengers through the Rocky Mountains to San Francisco. America is falling altogether to pieces, its citizens starving to death, because the prime movers — Rand’s term for the productive men and women on whom economic creation and therefore life-or-death depend — have called a strike.
The train can’t make safely it through the tunnel because the strike has left the world without diesel engines. A government official demands that it be sent through anyway, and all of the passengers die of asphyxiation.
“But that isn’t why I stopped reading,” Steorts wrote. “I stopped because Rand thinks they deserve it.”
That’s not the only reason he shut the book:
Then there is the fact that some of the heroes are first-class haters. Foremost here is Francisco d’Anconia, who is pretending to be a worthless playboy so that the looters won’t respect him enough to notice how he is tricking them into destroying their copper supply. He charms with such proclamations as: “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”; and, of women he has manipulated into falsely claiming affairs with him and so destroying their reputations.
Steorts closes his essay by saying he “cannot damn Ayn Rand” entirely, and offering thanks “for the too few hours of deep inspiration she offered me.” But he concludes, “[i]t got too painful to look any longer, and so, exercising the right of any self-interested reader, I simply closed the book.”
Paul Ryan didn’t. Instead, he gave copies of Atlas Shrugged as Christmas gifts and made the book “required reading” for his interns and staff. He also credited Rand as the chief inspiration for his decision to enter public service.
In 2005, he told a group of Rand fans, “There is no better place to find the moral case for capitalism and individualism than through Ayn Rand’s writings and works.” As if to prove he meant it, in 2010 he proposed a Randian “Road Map For America’s Future” that would have privatized and drastically weakened America’s already-inadequate social safety net programs.
So even if the newly minted veep candidate is sincere in saying he rejects Rand because she’s an atheist – a much more important question remains:
Does he still admire the rest of her morality?
Does it bother him that she testified as a “friendly witness” before the House Committee on Un-American Activities?
Does he worry about that fact that, during a 1959 interview with Mike Wallace, Rand readily agreed that her purpose was “to destroy almost every edifice in the contemporary American way of life – our Judeo-Christian religion, our modified government-regulated capitalism, our rule by the majority will”?
Does he agree with her take on compromise, “There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil”?
How about the maxim, uttered by a major character in Atlas Shrugged, “Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue”?
I didn’t get the importance of these things when I first read Ayn Rand – but then, I was a 15-year-old high school kid. By the time I’d finished my “Dirty Dancing”-inspired research jag, I understood that while her books are nice romance novels, they are also propaganda for a monstrous worldview that I wanted nothing at all to do with.
How is it that Paul Ryan, whose sole objection (if he really has one) to Ayn Rand is that she didn’t believe in God, still hasn’t figured that out?