The New Clarion

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Ayn Rand: Not A Conservative

By Myrhaf · November 13th, 2009 9:53 am · 16 Comments ·

National Review continues its jihad against Objectivism. Peter Wehner has opined at the Corner that Ayn Rand was a nut.

Yet there are some strands within conservatism that still veer toward Rand and her views of government (“The government should be concerned only with those issues which involve the use of force,” she argued. “This means: the police, the armed services, and the law courts to settle disputes among men. Nothing else.”), and many conservatives identify with her novelistic hero John Galt, who declared, “I swear — by my life and my love of it — that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

But this attitude has very little to do with authentic conservatism, at least the kind embodied by Edmund Burke, Adam Smith (chair of moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow), and James Madison, to name just a few. What Rand was peddling is a brittle, arid, mean, and ultimately hollow philosophy. No society could thrive if its tenets were taken seriously and widely accepted. Ayn Rand may have been an interesting figure and a good (if extremely long-winded) novelist; but her views were pernicious, the antithesis of a humane and proper worldview. And conservatives should say so.

Religious people tend to see Objectivism as “brittle, arid, mean and ultimately hollow.” It is none of these things, but when your emotions and self-esteem are wrapped up in the metaphysical fantasy of religion, it must seem that way.

Wehner is absolutely right about one thing: Objectivism has nothing to do with authentic conservatism. He says conservatives should say so; I’ll second that motion. Authentic conservatism was the first enemy of capitalism, and Marx merely secularized its arguments. Religion’s enemy is not just Ayn Rand, it’s capitalism, human nature and ultimately the facts of reality.

UPDATE: Revised one sentence for clarity.

16 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lionell Griffith // Nov 13, 2009 at 10:07 am

    Clearly, he thinks Rand’s ideas are important and a threat to his way of thinking. One does not attack that which is thought to be unimportant and powerless.

    Bad publicity is better than no publicity at all. Even the generally thoughtless sense that where there is smoke there is fire. Who knows? They might take a look at the ideas and catch a spark.

  • 2 madmax // Nov 13, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    I think there is a direct ratio of how much a conservative respects Edmund Burke to how little they respect Ayn Rand. As I have come to learn from reading many Conservative blogs the past year or so, Conservatives are steeped in Burkean skepticism. They believe that reason is limited (or “unaided reason” as they will put it – unaided by faith and revelation which are worshiped by conservatives) and that society must develop “organically” out of its traditions and institutions. The most important institutions are church and family (which is why they despise gay marriage and sexual liberation – because they threatens the family which is the foundation of society – not the individual – as they see it). Only “liberals” believe in the use of “unaided reason” to build an ideal society. To many conservatives, believe it or not, Rand is a “utopian liberal.”

    They hate Rand because she argued for absolutes without god, a completely secular morality that along with a laissez – faire political system must all be based on an unfailing commitment to “unaided reason” (or “materialist reason” as the Platonist Conservatives will put it). In that way Rand rejected the three fundamental premises of Conservatives: 1) god and supernaturalism, 2) mindless tradition (ancestor) worship, 3) Original Sin (innate depravity).

    True conservatives (especially those of the 19th century European variety) hate Ayn Rand. They have no choice given their premises. In fact, as Rand becomes more popular, I expect the religious/traditionalist conservative response towards her to be just as hate-filled as the Leftist one. If Ayn Rand should ever gain any kind of extreme intellectual influence on the Right, religious conservatives will have no choice but to remove themselves from the Right’s big umbrella and strike out on their own. That would actually be a great thing.

  • 3 Andrew Dalton // Nov 13, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    There is a strange tension in the dual influence of skepticism and faith upon conservatives. Of course, we recognize these as two sides of the same false coin (unreason) — and yet there is still an irreducible conflict between saying on the one hand that one should avoid certainty because it’s cold and dogmatic, and on the other hand that the fate of your immortal soul depends on your certainty (dogmatic, in fact!) about some specific things.

    I’m glad that this mess isn’t my problem.

    I also agree with Lionell that this sort of periodic and unprovoked lashing-out from National Review is a good sign. I used to be infuriated at those kinds of posts, but now I see them as protesting too much. Didn’t Buckley declare Objectivism to be dead decades ago?

    “Even the generally thoughtless sense that where there is smoke there is fire. Who knows? They might take a look at the ideas and catch a spark.”

    In fact, one of the other Corner bloggers later posted a link to an ARC/CEI workshop that includes speeches by Yaron Brook and John Lewis, along with Q&A. If readers follow that link, they’ll be able to see for themselves how full of crap the NR crowd has been.

  • 4 madmax // Nov 13, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    Andrew,

    I hate to mention Auster again, but he has written frequently on this tension and he has, what he thinks, is a reasonable explanation for it. He says that conservatism and all of Western Civilization is based on the “truths” uncovered by Plato and Augustine. Namely, that there is a “City of God” which is the divine, “transcendent” realm where exists truth and goodness and order. Our realm – the “City of Man” is but a reflection of this divine, perfect realm. “Materialist reason” applies to the City of Man. It helps man build bridges and cities, etc. But it is useless to explain the origins: 1) the origins of the universe, 2) the origins of life, 3) the origins of consciousness. For those things, one needs faith, or more accurately a revelations based acceptance of “transcendent truths.”

    Actually, Auster attacked one of your blog posts for this because you rejected religion as primitive and barbaric. His argument was that a proper philosophic worldview looks at nature through the lens of “materialist reason”. But it looks “at the order of being” not through reason but through the lens of “the transcendent”.What that is and how exactly that is done, well Auster and his fellow religionists are silent on. Of course they have to be because what they are advocated is following pure emotionalism; ie submitting to their irrational fantasies and desires for a heavenly father.

    But the skepticism/intrincism tension that you speak of exists because of their dual-world metaphysics. In fact, I think Jim May nailed it on the head in a comment to Gus Van Horn’s blog a year ago or so. He said that conservatives have the “calculator” view of reason. Its something you can use for material success on earth (like a calculator), but it can never answer the big questions. For those you need some non-rational access to the “transcendent realm” (again what that amounts to is pure surrender to feelings – although they will never admit that). And as you know, most religious conservatives have a Platonic conception of consciousness, the mind, and even abstractions themselves. Everything that is not material (like mathematical theorems) to them is something spooky and mystical.

    In the end though, I have come to the conclusion that religionists (and religious conservatives) are a type of skeptic. By believing in a non-rational means of knowledge they have to deny human knowledge on earth. So Edmund Burke would be naturally appealing to them. His skepticism fits right in with the limitations they have placed on man.

  • 5 Andrew Dalton // Nov 13, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    For those things, one needs faith, or more accurately a revelations based acceptance of “transcendent truths.”

    Ah, like “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet”?

  • 6 Steve D // Nov 14, 2009 at 6:52 am

    “Bad publicity is better than no publicity at all.”

    I think the bad publicity is actually a great thing. They must be worried!

    I’ve brought this up on other blogs but the key here is the same as with many other issues. Stress the metaphysical and epistemological foundations of Objectivism!

    “I think Jim May nailed it on the head in a comment to Gus Van Horn’s blog a year ago or so. He said that conservatives have the “calculator” view of reason. Its something you can use for material success on earth (like a calculator), but it can never answer the big questions.”

    Yes, he nailed it. It always comes down to the epistemology.

    “Ah, like “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet”?”

    Yes, but they got the names wrong. They should say “There is no god but Socialism, and Obama is his prophet.”

    Steve

  • 7 madmax // Nov 14, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    “Ah, like “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet”?”

    Only for them it is “Jesus is the word of God made real and is sent to lead man back to His goodness and wisdom.” The scary thing is that they actually believe that this is “objective” and that to reject this is to automatically be a subjectivist. And then they link individualism to atheism and subjectivism. Auster uses the same argument that Whittaker Chambers uses; that only in god is there permanence and “objectivity” and that a proper world view must revolve around god and not man. Since Rand’s philosophy revolves around man it must therefore reject the transcendent realm and all foundations for truth and goodness and is the worst manifestation of “liberalism”. Traditionalists and sundry other anti-individualist conservatives actually think Rand is worse than the average leftist because by rejecting god she rejects the very base of moral goodness.

    It never ceases to shock me when I read theists write this garbage. They say it with such sincerity. Dismuke has perfectly captured the essence of Leftist psychology with his “the Man” analogy. I wish I could grasp the essence of the psychology of theists like Peter Wehner and Larry Auster, etc.. What is going on inside their heads I wonder?

  • 8 John McVey // Nov 14, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    madmax:

    Paternalism and fear of parental abandonment? Imagine this:

    There is a household in which a 9yo goody-two-shoes has to deal with his unruly 6yo brother and his equally unruly best friend when neither mummy and daddy are in the house for a few minutes and who have told this 9yo to keep an eye on the pair of 6yo’s while they’re gone. The 6yo’s, formerly afraid of what mummy and daddy would do, and partly of what the 9yo would do, are increasingly making a nuisance of themselves and starting to wreck the furniture because they’ve started to think mummy and daddy are real and aren’t afraid of the 9yo any more because they’ve discovered he’s generally powerless. The conservatives hate Ayn Rand because they see her as undercutting what’s left of the authority of the 9yo in the eyes of the two 6yo’s.

    Not that any of this constitutes an argument against conservatism, and indeed, occasionally (and by accident) the 9yo is right.

    JJM

  • 9 Andrew Dalton // Nov 15, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Dismuke has perfectly captured the essence of Leftist psychology with his “the Man” analogy. I wish I could grasp the essence of the psychology of theists like Peter Wehner and Larry Auster, etc.. What is going on inside their heads I wonder?

    While I don’t think that the religious right has a catchphrase as readily caricatured as “The Man,” I think that some insight can be had in the way that they use the pejorative label “materialist.” It reminds me of that quote from Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    To a conservative, a “materialist” seems to be anyone who insists upon either the absoluteness of the law of identity in metaphysics, or upon the supremacy of reason in epistemology. In other words, you get slapped with this label if you leave no room for miracles or faith.

    Once “materialist” is debased in this way, there is no longer a way to make a distinction between anyone who sees the human mind (including volition) as a real and this-worldly phenomenon, versus others who deny the mind outright. Conservatives sow this confusion, and then they use it as a hook to sell the whole Bronze Age Sky-Wizard mythology to anyone who rejects Marx or Skinner.

  • 10 madmax // Nov 15, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    “In other words, you get slapped with this label if you leave no room for miracles or faith.”

    I would add that you also get slapped with the materialist label if you deny the existence of some “non-material” or “transcendent” realm. I think many Conservatives are trying to make the term materialist a stand in for the terms secular or atheist. They’re doing what the left does essentially. They are deliberately trying to destroy the meaning of a word for tactical reasons as the left has done with liberalism and capitalism.

    “Conservatives sow this confusion, and then they use it as a hook to sell the whole Bronze Age Sky-Wizard mythology to anyone who rejects Marx or Skinner.”

    Good point. They turn around and say “if you don’t want to be like those materialist atheists who are by definition all subjectivists, leftists and nihilists then you must believe in the permanence and transcendence that only the Judeo-Christian religions can provide.” Even a relatively benign figure like Dennis Prager uses this line of BS.

    I’ll end by saying though that if you actually read the materialist left’s garbage, you almost – almost – feel some sympathy for the religious conservative. Being stuck between the materialist leftist and his memes and hard wired altruism and egalitarianism (and thus “scientifically proven” leftist politics) and the religious Conservative and his Bronze Age Sky-Wizard is like being stuck between two deranged madmen. A no win situation that.

  • 11 Andrew Dalton // Nov 15, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    On this matter, the “intelligent design” creationists are cleaner than the typical conservatives, because they use the label “naturalist” to describe their opponents. This word gets closer to the heart of the issue (accepting or rejecting the supernatural).

  • 12 Lionell Griffith // Nov 15, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    MadMax,

    I had thought equating the Conservative’s concept of God with a belief in a Bronze Age Sky-Wizard placed it too late in the history of man’s belief in monotheism. Investigating the internet, I found that the Bronze age is identified to have begun ca 3000 BC. This was also about the same time writing began.

    Though the notion of a single God might have began during the preceding stone age, we have no written record of it. We do have Bronze Age records of such. At least we have reports of reports of … reports of such belief embedded in the Bible and other sacred texts. So, based upon the only existing evidence, I will concede. The God of the Conservative is truly a Bronze Age Sky-Wizard.

    As a consequence, I will have to change my commentary on the Bible. I have had the following published in a bible belt news paper almost 20 years ago: “The bible is a multiply transliterated report of the ravings of psychotic stone age shepherds.” I stand corrected. They were actually psychotic bronze age shepherds.

    My apologies to all the psychotic stone age shepherds out there. God and the Bible are NOT your fault. I am so very sorry I insulted you with such horrible slander.

  • 13 madmax // Nov 16, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Lionell,

    Hilarious and so true.

    But if you actually think about what the Christian god represents, it represents a divine being that makes a covenant with a supplicating people and cements that covenant with a blood sacrifice (see “The Passion of Christ” for details). This *is* a stone age worldview. In Christianity itself we can see the remnants of stone age primitivism. And think, religious conservatives think that without *this god* and *this religious mythology* there is no defense against the onslaught of the Left!

    If leftists are overgrown children who want to destroy “the man”, maybe religious conservatives are overgrown children that are desperately searching for a father figure to take care of their problems. One wants to kill their father, the other wants to worship him.

  • 14 Christian Prophet // Nov 19, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    Conservatives are foolish to distance themselves from Rand. Her fundamental teaching is the same as that of Jesus Christ. Read the article: “Jesus Christ and Ayn Rand: Brother and Sister”
    http://spirituallibertarian.blogspot.com/

  • 15 Grant // Nov 20, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    “Prophet”,

    You’re such a parasite. Just because Ayn Rand finally took all your marbles doesn’t mean that she’s going to let you have them back by agreeing with you that it was “just a game” and that in real life we’re on the same team. Your religion’s time is up. Accept it. Objectivism is it’s death knell. You’ve lost your marbles, and you don’t deserve to have them back.

    These are the kinds of tactics the Nazis used: be everything to everyone, and just count of the sheer, overwhelming irrationality of it all in order to intimidate anyone from pointing out the impossibility of such a thing.

    There really is no shame in just being a plumber. Not everyone has to “guide” people in order to be self-actualized. Why are people like yourself so pathologically, unscrupulously attracted towards the opportunity to manipulate other people’s souls?

  • 16 Atlantic Sentinel | Ayn Rand and the Christian Right // Dec 11, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    [...] Greeley, a blogger at the New Clarion is not impressed. “Authentic conservatism was the first enemy of capitalism,” he counters. Wehner has [...]