NR: The Right's 'Safe Space' for Rand Bashers

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The president-elect and many of the people he is consulting with about forming his cabinet profess admiration for Ayn Rand. Naturally, commentators are noticing and, against the run of post-election play so far, the left is looking marginally more sentient than the right regarding the matter.

But that's not saying much.

Don Watkins of the Ayn Rand Institute puts his case succinctly in a long post addressing commentary about Ayn Rand by Jonathan Chait: "Attacking Ayn Rand Is Easy, If You Distort Her Ideas: Jonathan Chait Edition." His post is well worth a read, but for the moment, let me condemn Chait with the following faint praise: At least he's pretending to address the substance of her ideas.

Kevin Williamson of the National Review mocks leftists for their concern about Rand's influence on the culture, whatever its actual extent, by asserting the following: "Rand's Ideas Don't Have Nearly as Much Power on the Right as Liberals Imagine." (And if his piece is a representative example, he is correct, and that's not a good thing.) Here's a taste:

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who once said that reading Rand is what got him into politics, is usually trotted out as Exhibit A in the case of the closet Randian. But Paul Ryan is not a Randian. Paul Ryan is a Roman Catholic Crosscut bro. (He has been officially categorized as a non-believer by the Ayn Rand Institute.) There isn't anything particularly Randian about his politics. And, contrary to the cartoon version, he and his allies are not anti-government as such. They believe that our current government is too large, too expensive, and too intrusive. There are many people who believe that, and they are not Rand cultists. They are ordinary people who pay taxes and stand in line at the driver's-license office.

The Left tries to create a false dilemma that opposes progressivism to Rand-ism -- or what they imagine to be Rand-ism, a blend of authentically Randian moralizing about moochers and takers with a kind of Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism, an atomistic society that denies community and despises the philanthropic impulse. Actual conservatives are more likely to be found in church, where, among other things, they exercise the philanthropic impulse in community. [bold added]
Agreed. Paul Ryan is no closet "Randian," but the above passage is about as close as Williamson gets to addressing Rand's actual ideas at all. And observe Williamson happily piggybacking on the left's caricature of Rand's politics (bolded) even as he pretends to disavow it. I, too, pay my taxes and have wasted part of my life at the DMV. I don't pretend that's some kind of virtue. I do it because I respect rule of law, and I realize that, as perverted as our government is from its proper purpose, it is not beyond the means of repair we have at our disposal. But I am no conservative, and Williamson's buffet tray of flame sandwiches -- slices of fact or entertainment here and there around the pot-shots at Rand and her "cultists" that he tries to pass off as meat -- make me especially proud of that fact.

Ayn Rand once outlined her philosophy while standing on one foot as follows:
  1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality
  2. Epistemology: Reason
  3. Ethics: Self-interest
  4. Politics: Capitalism
If you want this translated into simple language, it would read: 1. "Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed" or "Wishing won't make it so." 2. "You can't eat your cake and have it, too." 3. "Man is an end in himself." 4. "Give me liberty or give me death."
I'm not sure which of these Williamson has a quarrel with, but it speaks volumes that he chooses to marginalize Rand by not even addressing what she has to say. This reminds me of how the left used to avoid dealing with Rand in academia, where her work is now beginning to be taken seriously. And, from the negative side of the ledger of cultural trends, it reminds me of the "safe spaces" -- worthy of mockery -- at so many college campuses. But at least people hiding with crayons and coloring books aren't posing as serious commentators.

Williamson and his ilk on the right, for whatever reason, hope to mock Ayn Rand out of existence. Those of us who take her seriously would do well to remember that.

-- CAV

P.S. Both Don Watkins of the Ayn Rand Institute and Craig Biddle of The Objective Standard have weighed in. Watkins, noting that, "Ayn Rand Has Influenced Conservatives More Than They Admit, but Less Than the Left Thinks," says in part:
He doth protest too much. As someone who has spoken to (and with) thousands of conservatives, including no small number of conservative intellectuals, admiration for Rand is the norm.
This is music to my ears: I've been a stay-at-home dad -- Yes. Objectivists have been known to reproduce. -- and trailing spouse for the past few years, and haven't gotten to speak with many conservatives. Watkins elaborates on what they generally like and dislike about Rand further on.

Biddle elaborates on the sleazy modus operandi practiced for nearly a half-century by The National Review concerning Ayn Rand -- one we Objectivists would love to forget about, if only they wouldn't remind us of it every time they open their traps about Ayn Rand.

Both pieces offer plenty to think about, for anyone interested in thinking.


12-16-16: Added PS. 

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