Gary Weiss, ‘Ayn Rand Nation’
Gary Weiss was inspired to write his book when he realised, after the crash, after the orgy of deregulation and greed that led to the crash, there was a ‘missing piece to the puzzle.’
‘The philosophy of greed had a philosopher’ and that philosopher was Ayn Rand.
Like many others, Weiss had dismissed Ayn Rand as an obsolete crackpot of the far right. But Rand is still here, as are her disciples, and her popularity has never waned completely. Her book THE VIRTUE OF SELFISHNESS (an inversion of the meaning of virtue and a good one-line summary of Rand’s ideas) remains one of the most popular books
on philosophy and skewed ethics in the English language. A 1999 reader survey by Random House puts it at the top of the list for the best non-fiction book published since 1900.
The year 2008 saw a Rand revival, promoted by Fox News, and in 2009 sales of her turgid novel ATLAS SHRUGGED tripled. Gary Weiss decided to investigate the Rand phenomenon in good journalistic manner by interviewing her disciples, in as open-minded a way as he could.
Weiss expected to hate Rand’s followers. He often found them intelligent and likeable as well as dedicated. And there is money behind them. They have shipped 350,000 of Rand’s books to public schools, hoping to inspire a new generation of acolytes. He ploughed through ATLAS SHRUGGED, successor to THE FOUNTAINHEAD if not quite to its popular success and began to admire Rand’s skill ‘at pacing such an immense work of fiction.’
‘ATLAS and THE FOUNTAINHEAD made it easy to love individualism and no-government capitalism because it was a world of healthy young heroes and repulsive villains.
‘… Her books appeal to the best instincts of Americans as well as some of the worst.’
‘… They make it seem so natural, so easy, so moral, to be utterly self-centred and greedy…’ However, ‘By any reasonable ethical standard … taken as a whole, these are staggeringly immoral books.’
Rand, says Gary Weiss, thought libertarians were plagiarists but remains a founding parent. The reason Rand and Tea Party followers have not joined forces is Rand’s militant atheism and belief in abortion and adultery; but the gulf is narrowing. A leading Tea Party organiser admitted to Weiss how deeply influenced he was by Rand’s Objectivist ideology.
Rand’s family were refugees from the Russian Revolution, and it may well be that her fanatical hatred of government in any form was inspired by their hatred of the Communist regime that exiled them. Such a hatred certainly inspired the Objectivist world view.
Gary Weiss spells out what a country governed according to the tenets of Rand’s Objectivist philosophy would be like:
‘No government except the police,
No courts of law
No armed services
No regulation of anything by any government
No Medicare or Medicaid
No Social Security
No public schools
No public hospitals
No public anything.’
To put some of this agenda forward, a powerful voice was needed in Government, and Rand got one. Alan Greenspan, a devoted Rand follower from his youth, was appointed Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers by President Richard Nixon. He had not wanted a Government job, but Rand talked him into it. He went on to be advisor to Ronald Regan and later Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve. Under Greenspan’s watch, the top marginal tax rate was slashed, forever changing the progressive character of income tax; social security payroll tax increased, combined with a cut in benefits, and the law that separated investment from commercial banks was repealed, permitting commercial banks to under-write complex mortgage-backed securities. Greenspan opposed any examination of subprime lending, credit rating, or derivatives from mortgages. After the crash, Greenspan had to appear before the House, and apologised, admitting there had been a ‘flaw’ in his financial thinking – but other statements and his own books, says Gary Weiss, show Greenspan is as much a Rand disciple as ever.
I wonder what Rand would have made of climate change and the depletion of our planet’s resources, the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced. Like Trump, she would have said it was all just a plot against big business, and when sea levels rise twenty-five feet and are lapping at the foundations of Manhattan, which according to latest scientific findings may be much sooner than even the scientists feared, she would expect a Howard Roark style genius hero to do a technical fix and like the Christ she condemned, perform a miracle to push back the waves. Provided there were no altruists or regulations to stand in his ruthless way.
Now when we are in a climate emergency and desperately need a collectivist approach, now when we are in the age of her admirer Trump, Rand’s ideas have never been more dangerous, and nowhere to my knowledge, better denuded than in Gary Weiss’s fascinating book.
Ayn Rand Nation: The Hidden Struggle for America’s Soul Hardcover by Gary Weiss. St. Martin’s Press; 2012. ISBN: 978-0312590734