Mother of Republicanism recast the powerful as the oppressed
AMERICA:The massive influence of the writer Ayn Rand on Republican thinking shows how lightly America wears its contradictions
TO UNDERSTAND today’s Republican party, you must read Ayn Rand (1905-1982), a Russian Jewish immigrant, née Alissa Rosenbaum, who extolled what she called “the virtue of selfishness”.
Rand believed America was saved by “producers” and “creators” who were weighed down by “the incompetent”, “parasites” and “moochers”. She counted business executives as “creators” on a par with writers and artists.
The word still resonates in the constant evocation by Republican politicians of “job-creators” who would deliver us from economic decline, if only government halted taxation and regulation.
Since Barack Obama’s election, US banks and corporations have squirrelled away trillions of dollars which they refuse to lend or invest on the pretext of uncertainty. They resemble the railway heiress, steel tycoon and engineer-inventor who withdraw to the Rocky Mountains in Ayn Rand’s best known novel, Atlas Shrugged.
John Galt, the hero of Atlas Shrugged, persuades America’s “prime movers” to go on strike, “to stop the motor of the world,” thus proving how indispensable they are to the millions of leeches who thrive off their work and ingenuity. “We have granted you everything you demanded of us, we who have always been the givers,” Galt complains. “We have no demands to present you, no terms to bargain about, no compromise to reach. You have nothing to offer us. We do not need you.”
Atlas Shrugged ends with Galt’s 60-page paeon to capitalism and tirade against collectivism. When Rand’s publisher suggested she cut the speech, she replied, “Would you cut the Bible?” Indeed. A 1991 survey for the Library of Congress found Atlas Shrugged to be the second most influential book in the US, after the Bible. Tens of millions of copies have sold throughout the world since 1957, and several hundred thousand still sell annually in the US.
Rand groupies are like a cult, which worships the almighty dollar. John Galt makes the sign of the dollar “over the desolate earth” from his mountain top in Colorado. Ayn Rand wore a gold dollar sign as a brooch. And when she died, a six-foot floral dollar sign stood beside her casket.
Rand’s novels promote a dual sense of superiority and grievance among readers. “Rand’s particular genius has always been her ability to turn upside down traditional hierarchies and recast the wealthy, the talented, and the powerful as the oppressed,” Mother Jones magazine explains.
Generations of American youths have devoured Rand’s books, which cloak a philosophy of self-reliance in steamy romance. Among them were Paul Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential candidate. After finding the body of his father, who died from a heart attack when Ryan was only 16, the young man sought meaning in the books of Ayn Rand. In his early years in Congress, Ryan gave Atlas Shrugged to staff members for Christmas.