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The Hidden Struggle for America’s Soul

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.

Frances Oliver

Ayn Rand Nation: The Hidden Struggle for America’s Soul Hardcover by Gary Weiss. St. Martin’s Press; 2012. ISBN: 978-0312590734

Volume 33 no 5 May/June 2019 pp 9-10

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Charles Daniels

Hi Frances,

I’m sure you’ve already seen this, but would appreciate you comment.
“ACLU Says Activist Was Detained After Reciting Poem Against US Immigration Policy.
José Bello was arrested less than 36 hours after criticizing the immigration enforcement and detention practices of ICE in a poem titled “Dear America.” His bond is set at $50,000”

Here is Jose’ Bello’s poem:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYIt-euHKuY

Can this be possibly be happening in a country that once was proud of its freedom of the press? Where are we going? I hope readers can contribute here with their comments en masse.

Steve Carmichael

Hi Charles,
Here’s the 2019 World Press Freedom Index with it’s ranking:
https://rsf.org/en/ranking Norway ranks number 1 for press freedom, while the US sadly ranks 48. Take a look.
It also made me think about journalism in the art world; there should be a ranking of art magazines according to which ones publish real reviews and articles that haven’t been paid for in some way by museums, galleries, art dealers and artists. However, the problem would be to find a disinterested ranking organization.

Derek Guthrie

I totally agree. The new Art Examiner since inception has struggled with the issue of Ethics in the Art World. It was not good in the 70ies now it is near hopeless. The art scene is near gutted by special interests. Academia is not interested as tenure takes priority over education. Long story, which will surface when artists and writers can find courage.

John Liem

Hello Charles,
You can get arrested for far less in Indonesia. Rius Vernandes was arrested for posting in YouTube an image of a handwritten menu he was given in business class on a Garuda Indonesia flight. Personally, I would love to receive a handwritten menu, as it would mean that the food was possibly chosen from available fresh food of the day for that flight, but the airline found his photo offensive.
Indonesia ranks 124 out of a total of 180 countries for World Press Freedom in the link you posted.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/18/indonesian-airline-bans-in-flight-photos-after-being-mocked-for-handwritten-menu

George Franklin

Thank you Charles for your comment and also many thanks to Frances Oliver for her excellent book review, which is very appropriate to this period of history we are living. We should ask these countries where freedom of the press is lacking what they are afraid of. What are they hiding? Human rights, money laundering, religious intolerance, racism, slavery, environmental issues or something else? Even our internet is at risk, something we should be proud to have for open communication, something we all believed in. Instead, we are super controlled, spied on at every possible waking moment.

May Delmonico

It’s been deemed non-inclusive to use the terms “America” or “Americans” at Colorado State University by its Inclusive Communications Task Force. I think we have a problem.

https://www.thecollegefix.com/colorado-state-university-terms-america-and-americans-are-non-inclusive/

The University fix has long existed.now it is more blatant and PR. Very little is left. Thank You May for the Lunk.Derek Guthrie

Andrew Walton

What a timely review! Poor Donald Trump is the epitome of greed, no wonder he likes Ayn Rand’s books so much. Thomas Jefferson must be turning in his grave with what’s going on in our land of selfish cupidity and materialism, once the land of the free and the brave. As Jefferson said, “Experience demands that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor.” This is exactly what is happening here today.

Derek Guthrie

Hi Andrew, What you say is true. I dread the news each day as it only gets worse. I notice stress enters into everyday life. Temper more easily surfaces. It seems the political system is moribund. The babble will continue and self-deception. Populist Art Fairs multiply. I take inspiration from Jane Addams a nearly forgotten American Heroine
Derek Guthrie co-founder of the New Art Examiner.

Frances Oliver

Thanks for your comments. Alas, Ayn Rand isn’t only a favourite of Trump’s, but also of Sajid Javid, British Home Secretary.