Making the World Safe For Christian Objectivists

Well, I guess it had to happen. After conservative pols (most famously Paul Ryan) learned the perils of proclaiming their love for the works and/or the philosophy of Ayn Rand, and began backing away from her, somebody had to come forward in her defense, arguing she was being unfairly smeared. That somebody, it seems, is Hunter Baker, writing at The Federalist.

The best way to defend an unpopular figure, of course, is to create a straw man and burn it right down. Baker does this by suggesting the main reason people think ill of her is that they watched the movie Dirty Dancing and identify Rand with the snotty rich-kid character who holds up a copy of The Fountainhead and intones “Some people count and some don’t. Or perhaps they read Whittaker Chambers’ famously negative review of Atlas Shrugged which was published by National Review in 1957. In either case, Rand wasn’t actually guilty of expressing contempt for people based on class or race. Nor did she actually exhibit the fascistic tendencies Chambers saw in her enormous intolerance for anyone who disagreed with her.

Her point of view is far more defensible if properly understood. Rand extols the captains of industry, the men and women who have a drive to change the world for the better and to get rich in the bargain. That much is certain. But the novels also make clear her love for any man or woman who performs a job well. She sees dignity, joy, and love in work rather than in wealth per se.

Fair enough; Rand hated–and nobody hated more intensely than Ayn Rand hated–“unproductive” people regardless of race, class or national origin. Feel better about her?

Baker also more feebly defends her from charges she was anti-Christian:

She was an atheist and clearly had an insufficient appreciation for (and accounting of) human solidarity, but she loved freedom and she understood the importance of work for human flourishing. And finally, although some accused her of fascism, she ardently opposed the cut-rate philosophy that makes an idol of the state.

True: she made an idol of the almighty individual, and a golden calf of absolute private property rights.

So I guess we can give Baker credit for defending Rand from the charge of being a crude Nietzschean (though that’s probably what she was up until about the time she wrote The Fountainhead; her full “Objectivist” philosophy came later), but there’s still this little problem that she celebrated “selfishness,” despised religion as a sign of mental and moral depravity, and–a problem her casual appropriators like Ryan never seem to get–regarded her philosophy as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition that could not be amalgamated to anything else.

Her books speak for themselves; they’re clear enough in their mind-numbing redundancy, and most educated Americans have encountered enough apostles of her relentless creed that we need not correct the impressions left by Dirty Dancing or Whittaker Chambers.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.