Why Ayn Rand is appealing–and why the appeal is dangerous

The appeal of Ayn Rand is simple and obvious, as most heresies are. Here it is:

Philadelphia woman faces $600-a-day fine for feeding needy neighborhood kids

Any normal healthy person reading a headline like that thinks “May God swiftly destroy a state system that completely screwed up.  What the hell are they thinking *penalizing* somebody for doing a simple corporal work of mercy?” Ayn Rand gets right there in the cheering section with you, calling for the destruction of ridiculous Nanny State systems that not only keep decent people from doing the obviously right thing, but which actually punish and penalize them for doing so. Indeed, she is so loud and shrill and domineering in her catcalls against such an absurd system that many people fall back in awe as she strides out of the crowd, brimming with confidence, to challenge this Goliath and boldly tell it to go to hell. She is a natural leader and most of us prefer to defer to natural leaders.

Problem is, while she hates the overbearing state, she also hates the Philadelphia woman. Sure, she will affirm the woman’s abstract right to feed the neighborhood kids, because she affirms the right of the individual to act without the constraints of the Nanny State. But she also deeply believes that caring for these poor kids is simply one more instance of the grave evil of caritas, putting food into the mouths of useless Takers. She will do battle with Goliath because Goliath threatens her godlike autonomy. But she will also berate the privately charitable woman for perpetuating the evil system of charity. “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine” is a credo that doesn’t *just* reject the overbearing Nanny State. It rejects, as a matter of principle, all of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, the entire economy of salvation, and all acts of charity as morally evil. It is, like all heresy, a piece of the gospel (in this case, personal responsibility), blown up to insane proportions and used as a weapon against the rest of the gospel.

Does this mean there is *nothing* of value in Rand?  On the contrary, I just said there is.  All heresy is a truth or set of truths ripped from the whole cloth of the Tradition.  It’s a sort of Truth Cancer.  And a healthy approach to Truth Cancer is to parse what is true from what is contrary to the Faith.  The problem is that it’s just not the case that everybody who appreciates what is true in a heresy also parses what is false.

So: You can, if you like, sign on to the hastily-cobbled-together new Party Line that Ryan enthusiastically recommending Rand is just exactly like Aquinas reading Aristotle. You can also labor to persuade yourself that any Catholic who pores over the collected works of Larry Flynt is a brilliant guide to Catholic teaching on sexuality who clearly and easily distinguishes the less savory aspects of his work from the brilliant diamonds of Catholic truth to be found there.  If you want, you can also strain to persuade yourself that a Liberation Theologian who takes Stalin as a guide to Catholic teaching on the state’s responsibility for the Common Good is similarly doing exactly what Aquinas does with Aristotle. But not all of us will buy these propositions uncritically.

Again: Here’s reality.  Aquinas understood that any insights mined from human tradition had to be subordinated to Sacred Tradition and the teaching authority of the Church.  Anybody you want to claim as a Really Truly Deeply Catholic[TM] needs to do that.  If they do not do that, then apply the “wise as serpents, innocent as doves” principle.  Don’t assume them to be enemies of the Faith (most likely they are just confused syncretists and, when politicians, always partly motivated by the question “how will this get me votes?”).  But do assume the intellectual posture “Trust, but verify”.  For many conservative Catholics, “orthodox” means “prolife”.  Period.  That’s because many conservative Catholics have adopted the de facto heresy “Opposition to abortion takes away the sins of the world”.  So if a pol says he is against abortion, that’s it.  He can be pro-torture.  He can launch pre-emptive war.  He can, as Ryan does, advocate policies that, as the bishops very clearly say, fail to meet a “basic moral test” (namely, it spits on the poor).  Doesn’t matter to the “Ryan is Aquinas, Rand is Aristotle” agitprop crowd.  We are to uncritically believe he completely lines up with Church teaching and then go to bat trying to claim that this Rand-inspired contempt for the poor is really the second coming of Aquinas reading Aristotle.  Result: Our Political Hero winds up being our real Magisterium while the actual teachers of the Church are ignored and even sneered at as “liberals”.

What we American conservative Catholics generally find very hard to do is acknowledge that there are other grave moral issues as well as abortion (for instance, the erection of a torture/security state which claims the right to indefinitely detain, torture and murder whoever it likes) or that issues which, while not quite as grave, still have huge and grave implications which must be considered (such as the looting of the economy by Caesaroligarchs and the subjection of a greater and greater portion of the populace to poverty, which is a great seedbed for abortion and the target demographic of Planned Parenthood).  Nonetheless, though it’s hard for us to grasp in our simplistic party spirit (a spirit only fostered and encouraged by our Ruling Class) this remains the concern of the bishops.

Recently, in my comboxes, people have been at sixes and sevens, attempting to imitate Ryan in his pretense that Rand was never a massive influence on him and that any perception to the contrary is an “urban legend” propagated by his evil liberal enemies.  To this end, we are now asked to swallow the newly minted meme that Rand is Aristotle and Ryan is Aquinas, her sanctified interpreter and purifier.  As I have said, I’m all for his distancing himself from her.  It demonstrates clearly that he knows she is poison.  But that he refuses to accept responsibility for spreading her poison and instead wants to blame somebody else for noticing that he has spread her poison, sets off warning bells, just as Obama’s denial, rather than repudiation, of  Jeremiah Wright’s influence set off warning bells.  And the weird attempts to argue “He not a pure Randian, but is Aquinas to her Aristotle” are bollixed up by the fact that he is most certainly not doing a bang up job of subordinating her thinking to the Church’s teaching.  Oh sure, he’s not an atheist but a pious Catholic and he’s got a good anti-abortion record for which he deserves praise.  Duly noted. But that does not nail down the sudden claim that he is Really Truly Deeply Catholic[TM] and is Aquinas to her Aristotle.  Because when it comes to the specific place in which Ryan is most deeply in debt to her–her analysis of the relationship of Makers and Takers (“Producers” vs. “Looters” in her parlance)–Ryan comes out as a completely orthodox disciple of John Galt.

Yet never fear:  he is not a *pure* Randian.  As a career politician, living off the public teat, and not a Producer or Maker of any kind, he comes out as a perfectly orthodox specimen of our Ruling Class who only picks and chooses at Rand as he only picks and chooses at Catholic teaching.  So we find him laboring to enrich the rich with your taxes via state bailouts, laboring to crush liberty with support for the Patriot Act, supporting the rise of a police/torture state by throwing his weight behind a man who eagerly supports torture, voting for pre-emptive war and expanding our already massively huge military (as powerful an expression of fealty to the state as can be given), and enriching himself immensely by magically profiting from the collapse of the economy as so very many other members of Congress magically managed to do. So no.  He is not a *pure* Randian.  He basically likes the “You aren’t the boss of me” parts of Rand, while taking a much more lax view of using the state to get riches and power when it is useful.  But he definitely makes clear that in the Manichaean Randian world of Makers and Takers, he will pretend that Caesaroligarchs are Makers and side with them over the weak and vulnerable. And in that triumph of the Powerful over the Weak, Rand’s ethos is also clearly discernible, though again, not in pure form. In contrast, when the bishops tell you that what matters to you most fails a basic moral test, Really Truly Deeply Catholic thinkers re-think, whereas addicts of party spirit blow off the bishops and labor to parse Ryan’s Thomistic brilliance in analysing the genius of Rand.

Please get this: I am *not* saying that abortion and the sanctity of human life is not the gravest issue of our time.  But I *am* saying that party spirit seems to make it extremely difficult for Catholics to evaluate candidates in light of the Tradition, instead of raiding the Tradition to prop up their candidate and then ignore the rest of the Tradition as “perfectionism”.  So we get hogwash about Ryan as Really Truly Deeply Catholic instead of the honest recognition that he is a very mixed bag, enamored of (and currently denying his debt to) a human tradition that he has, with very dubious success, attempted to syncretistically amalgamate with Catholic teaching.  Once people’s heads have cleared of party spirit and the need to gin up enthusiasm for the Sucks Less ticket with inflated claims of  Ryan’s passion for Catholic teaching, I hope we can get honest assessments instead of shrill demands for people to fall in line.  Ryan is not Aquinas and Rand is, emphatically, not Aristotle.  Aquinas would not propose something that fails basic moral tests.  But a disciple of Rand who subordinates the teaching of the Church to her erroneous human tradition would.

Therefore, I offer this swell assessment of the Romney candidacy:

“If a man finds it necessary to eat garbage, he should resist the temptation to call it a delicacy.” — Wendell Berry, “Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer”"

PS: For an actual serious attempt to rake the one or two diamonds out of the immense pile of dung that is the work of Ayn Rand, I recommend Lee Penn’s very thorough work here.

PPS: For those baffled by how I draw a distinction between Ron Paul (also a zealot for Rand) and Ryan, the answer is rather simple.

First, Ron Paul does not ask me to embrace any grave intrinsic evils.  Ryan does (since, among other things his future boss uses enthusiasm for torture as an applause line, not to mention having a long history of support for abortion that only “changed” when he needed to capture the GOP base nationally. His boss also is indifferent to gay marriage, tells the Boy Scouts to admit homosexuals, and is surrounding himself with all the Bourbon advisors who got us into out our last catastrophic wars of Empire).

Second, Paul does not ask me to believe that his zeal for Rand is an “urban legend” spread by his evil enemies.  He takes forthright responsibility for his enthusiasm for this enemy of God.

Third, Paul does not ask me to believe that he is a Really Truly Deeply Catholic thinker, and I do not try to pretend to myself that he is because (surprise!) I’m not looking for the Perfect Candidate.  All I’m asking for is a candidate who does not ask me to support sins worthy of the everlasting fires of hell.  My requirements are actually quite modest.  That said, however, I regard Rand’s influence on Paul as a very bad thing too.  As I wrote months ago:

Ron Paul, to his credit, stands against both these evils [abortion and war crimes]. Like a good  revolutionary, he knows what is wrong with the current system.

I’m not so sure, however, that he knows what is right. For he is a  Libertarian, and Libertarianism is, generally speaking, a philosophy for people  with no children. He is, alas, almost right, but not quite. His sacred text is  not Scripture but the Constitution, and his magisterium is the authors of the  Federalist Papers, some libertarian economists, and the odious Ayn Rand, whom  only Paul’s personal decency keeps from exerting a more baleful influence than  she already does on his thinking.

Ron Paul is appealing because Ron Paul is an antidote to current statist and  collectivist ills of a metastasizing corporatist and national security state.  He’s quite incisive about what is wrong. The trouble, as is often the case with  revolutionaries, is that his solutions are as blind to some essential aspects of  Catholic teaching as are the things he criticizes. Just as they forget  subsidiarity, so Libertarianism tends to forget solidarity and conceive of the  individual—atomized, isolated, unbeholden to all communal ties—as the the basis  of civilization.

But, in fact, it is the family (something Ayn Rand hated) that is the basis  of civilization. So the Church emphasizes both subsidiarity and solidarity in a  balance our demented age finds nearly impossible to strike. For this reason, I  am cautious about Paul, while still honoring his many virtues—particularly in  contrast to the rest of the Parliament of Whores who constitute our Ruling  Classes.

Exactly because nobody asks me to believe that Ron Paul is Mr. Catholic, I don’t have to expend energy arguing against any cock-and-bull attempt to adapt Catholic teaching to the needs of his Randian kookery with the pretense that he is the Second Coming of St. Thomas.  But because Ryan is being hailed as the second coming of Aquinas and his Randian kookery is being defended instead of subjected to the skepticism it richly deserves I have to take a different tack.  In short, I have to be wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove with both men, as we are called to be with every pol, and especially the ones who tell us what our itching ears want to hear.

  • Thomas R

    ” He takes forthright responsibility for his enthusiasm for this enemy of God.”

    Yeah, I don’t entirely get that. Trying to deny you ever were something could at least possibly indicate embarrassment or shame. I know of elderly or deceased German writers who denied they were ever in the Nazi Party when they were. Does that make them worse than being “enthusiastically Nazi.” I don’t think so. I mean unless they are covering up for war crimes. So if Ryan let needy people he knew suffer due to his Rand influences, and lies about it now, that might be worse than believing in callousness in theory. But if he just spoke at gatherings, and lies about it, while Paul now says he’d let disaster victims fend for themselves I think he’s worse.

    That said I don’t think Paul was ever precisely a Randian. As I recall he was more influenced by Ludwig Von Mises and Hayek. Not all libertarianism is Randian. I do think Paul was a truly appalling choice which only makes sense because you have a really profound distrust of the US and its people. (I don’t make Anti-American charges lightly, but it’s apt here because the people agree with much you dislike the most. To be honest if you would just be honest with yourself that yes you don’t like America, I think I might respect you more)

    • Mark Shea

      Right. As I say, Ryan’s internalized the “You aren’t the boss of me” part of Rand, but obviously has no problem living off the public teat (rendering him a Looter or Taker in Randian taxonomy), nor with massively underwriting huge corps and the military (and himself) with your taxes. He does use the power of the state to punish the poor, which is deeply Randian, but doesn’t hesitate to likewise use the power of the state to enrich the rich and empower the powerful. In that, he is deeply… Congressional.

      And yeah, as I discussed here, Paul’s “tough luck” libertarianism is individualism run amok: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2012/01/just-so-people-understand-my-take-on-ron-paul-vs-the-party-of-crazy-and-the-god-king.html

    • Ted Seeber

      I have as many problems with Mises and Hayek as I do with Ayn Rand. She’s just more shrill and loud about it; both Hayek and Mises equally deny caritas as a motivating factor in economics, and the world is deeper in poverty because of it (and I’m not talking *fiscal* poverty, but rather *spiritual* poverty- I know several very materially rich men whose souls are quite dead).

      • Thomas R

        Well yes I could see that, but it’s a different problem. What I have read of Hayek he seems less psycho about it than what I’ve gathered of Rand. To be honest I think Hayek is possibly misunderstood as what I got from reading him was an overreaction against totalitarianism not necessarily a belief that the government should do nothing and charity is bad. More like people should be as “free” as possible, but not necessarily to the point of total egoism. I could be mistaken.

        Von Mises I have not read. What I know of him sounds a tad crackpot, but I don’t know if it struck me as contradictory to being Christian.

  • http://irishpapist.blogspot.ie/ Maolsheachlann O Ceallaigh

    Catholics for Rand are as ridiculous as Dawkins’s “Atheists for Jesus” tee-shirt.

    • Mark Shea

      NO! Ryan is Aquinas! Rand is Aristotle! This is the New Reality! Oceania has alway been at war with Eurasia! Comply! Comply! Comply!

  • Scott

    Using your criteria, not one decent Catholic would ever get elected to be even dog catcher of Smallville.

    • Mark Shea

      Please. Don’t say stupid crap like this. The whole “You’re a perfectionist” line of bullshit is so tired. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2012/01/just-so-people-understand-my-take-on-ron-paul-vs-the-party-of-crazy-and-the-god-king.html Stop shouting down people with this fascist “get in line” rhetoric for failing to endorse your candidate’s preferred grave intrinsic evil. My criteria are incredibly low: don’t ask me to vote for grave intrinsic evils worthy of the fires of hell. That’s it. That’s all. That American Catholic routinely insist that candidate who support grave intrinsic evils are “decent Catholics” is exactly why American Catholics are lapdogs of political parties instead of Christian challengers of a corrupt system.

      • Thomas R

        I think the person is exaggerating, but I think this criticism is common enough it would be odd if you haven’t wondered about it at all. If you really do just dismiss it with ease that’s a bit of confidence I don’t have. I’ve been called “passive aggressive” online and although I know that’s bunk I have wondered if how I’m presenting myself online comes off like that.

        I don’t think you’re perfectionist, you couldn’t have supported Paul and be that, but I do think you are very unrealistic or overly idealistic about politics and American reality. To the point you imagine some elite conspiracy for opposition to your ideals. (Paul doesn’t support them, but wouldn’t harm them) The reality, both in polls and in my life experience, is Americans often do dislike the ideals of Catholic-Social-Teaching or dislike your ideals more specific. Americans problem with wars, to me, is they go on too long. There were complaints about Clinton bombing nations, but I don’t think those ever risked hurting his approval rating that much. Drones is the same. Invasions take time and cause American deaths. So Americans will go against them. If the violence is quick and doesn’t risk Americans the voters are less likely to care about it. This is going by what I know of polls and just talking to people. I really doubt that many Americans share your views on nuking Nagasaki for example. That is seen as saving American lives and was done fast.

        Most any viable US Presidential candidate is going to have to, at least, support retributive use of the death penalty and be willing to bomb our enemies without a just-war-theory justification. Because the electorate wants those things.

    • Ted Seeber

      I agree, but I think they’d be elected Abbot of St. Benedict, Oregon.

    • Irenist

      “Look, deal with political reality. If we’re ever going to have a Christian Emperor, he’s going to have to offer some incense to the divine Caesars. Stop asking for perfection.”

  • Dan C

    1. Ayn Rand denies community. Christianity is all about community. From the functions of the early Jerusalem Christians to Benedict’s monastic revolution and onward. I have found Ayn Rand-lovers to lack community interest.

    2. Ayn Rand lovers fail to educate folks about who exactly are the “Takers.”. It’s pretty much everyone. “Takers” is not synonymous with the other conservative icon-”the welfare momma”. That was conservatism in the 1980′s. Today’s conservatism has the movement’s leader, Grover Norquist, openly discussing the way in which he will deprive the middle class of its libraries, college assistance, and public schools. He thinks the middle class is the real sponge off the wealthy and wants them deprived of their assistance.

    3. Entitlements constitute in today’s parlance everything provided by the government except bullets and nuclear weapons. This is a new shift in the language of Ryan and his confreres. In such parlance, bullets and nuclear weapons retain a sacramental reverence. The military, as long as such is defined as the young and hale, are reverenced. Once the military men become injured, they are bottom-feeding Takers who live on entitltements, Ll of which need to be stripped away.

    4. Paul Ryan is unlikely a deep thinker, in that he really doesn’t have a huge amount of time to spend on philosophical pursuits. As such, he is no Aquinas. He just polluted his mind with Rand without being able to test or evaluate in a thoughtful manner all her philosophy.

    • Mark Shea

      No argument from me.

    • CJ

      Yup. Pretty much.

    • Pancho

      “Entitlements constitute in today’s parlance everything provided by the government except bullets and nuclear weapons. This is a new shift in the language of Ryan and his confreres.”

      “Entitlements” is itself a shift in language. It wasn’t that long ago that they were called “benefits”.

  • http://irishpapist.blogspot.ie/ Maolsheachlann O Ceallaigh

    I’m a terrible Taker– from the moment of my conception, to the nine months my mother lugged me around in the womb, to the many years where my schooling and shelter and feeding was singularly non-contractarian in nature, to the time last month when some guy let me use his cellphone because I desperately needed to get in touch with someone and I didn’t have mine. Even now, to be perfectly honest, every word I speak, every concept I use, the very peace and security I enjoy, pretty much all the inventions that make my life comfortable, were gifted to me by literally millions of people who aren’t around to pay back. Even the air I breathe and the food I eat only exists because countless organisms sacrificed their lives through millions of years. I’m not sure exactly how I can pay that back, except through being intensely grateful and making some symbolic return in helping others. Really, how is anyone so extraordinarily arrogant as to claim they’ve Paid Their Way?

  • Cinlef

    Open question

    Can anyone name a philosopher (using the term broadly) whose philosophy is as (or more) fundamentally anti-Christian as Rand and her “Objectivism” with its condemning of caritas?

    [This is not rhetorical I genuinely can't think of any]

    • Ted Seeber

      Nietzsche. And the Eugenics movement he spawned.

      • CJ

        I’d not only agree, but I’d say that Nietzsche is WORSE than Rand. As Mark notes, Rand knows what’s wrong but has terrible ideas about how to fix it. Nietzsche is wrong about everything that matters.

        If Rand is Truth Cancer, Nietzsche is a bullet of to the brain.

        • Andy, Bad Person

          Rand knows what’s wrong

          I’m not so sure about that. Rand thinks that charity itself is wrong. By that line of judgment, the entire Christian worldview is immoral to her.

          Who cares if Nietzsche, Rand, Stalin, or Hitler were worse? I’ll have none, thanks.

      • Irenist

        On the subject of Nietzsche, consider this nugget from the WaPo story on the Family Research Council shooter who when in there with a Chik-Fil-A bag ready to oppose “hate” with gunfire:
        “Allan P. Chan, 28, a former George Mason student, said he met Corkins at a campus gym about six years ago. They worked out together, lifting weights, and began to socialize and watch television together. Chan described Corkins as secretive and somewhat odd. Corkins’s Facebook page included no photos, not even his own, and he displayed an intense interest in the 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
        “He was a fanatic of Nietzsche,” Chan said.”
        Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/family-research-council-guard-shot-by-gunman-in-dc/2012/08/15/e420527e-e719-11e1-a3d2-2a05679928ef_print.html

    • http://irishpapist.blogspot.com/ Maolsheachlann O Ceallaigh

      The Marquis de Sade might be even worse. And what little I can understand of Micel Foucault seems positively diabolical, in both senses.

      • Irenist

        Yes to both of these.

    • Irenist

      Alfred Rosenberg (the Nazi ideologue), Peter Singer (who thinks adult chimps are more worthy of live than 1 year old babies), Aleister Crowley (the prolific occultist), Alfred Kinsey (the hack “sexologist” who defined deviancy as normal), and Richard Rorty (the most articulate recent proponent of relativism). Rand is no worse than (though frankly no better than) these.

      • http://irishpapist.blogspot.com Maolsheachlann O Ceallaigh

        I used to be a fan of Nietzsche and he had some insights and even (in certain, very restricted ways) almost touched the Christian message. In Thus Spake Zarathustra, he wrote: “That man be delivered from revenge, that to me is the bridge to the highest hope”. Of course, in most ways, his teaching was obscene and evil (as I well knew even when I was a partial admirer), and I think the only thing that can be said in his defence is that he didn’t see the Holocaust and other modern horrors– I think he was merely striking a pose to some extent. Of course, Our Lord has told us that we shall be called to account for every idle word on the Day of Judgement.

  • Ted Seeber

    On facebook I recently had a conservative Catholic complain that he’d lose his faith over Archbishop Dolan’s imitation of Christ in inviting Obama to dinner.

    If you can’t show charity to your political enemies, give up on Christianity- because Christ asks you to show charity to your physical enemies.

    • Irenist

      Seriously, lose his faith? That’s a grave situation. Does anyone in his life appear to be reaching out to help your friend?

  • AyntRandy

    I think that Rand was a refugee from Stalin. I think that is an important point; that in her experience might be more the landscape for her philosophy than 1950′s America.

    But I think her deepest point is about the will of the individual to decide. Mark has decided that Catholic teachings are the lens through which he will examine the world. Fine!

    There is nothing in any Rand that says that charity is parasitic. For Rand, it was Takers confiscating the wealth of Makers and *deciding* what to do with it. Rand was highly suspicious of institutions, not because the form itself is inherently evil. But rather that institutions, because they are concentrations of power tend to attract Money Power and sociopaths like slugs to stale beer.

    Din’t make the mistake of conflating the template Rand uses with the underlying content it contains. The questio is as always, “which is to be master, that’s all.”. Who in the end, gets to decide?

    • Cinlef

      There is nothing in any Rand that says that charity is parasitic.

      ____________________________________________________

      False

      To quote from “Objectivist Ethics

      Objectivist ethics is the morality of life—as against the three major schools of ethical theory, the mystic, the social, the subjective, which have brought the world to its present state and which represent the morality of death.

      These three schools differ only in their method of approach, not in their content. In content, they are merely variants of altruism, the ethical theory which regards man as a sacrificial animal, which holds that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value. The differences occur only over the question of who is to be sacrificed to whom. (b)Altruism holds death as its ultimate goal and standard of value—and it is logical that renunciation, resignation, self-denial, and every other form of suffering, including self-destruction, are the virtues it advocates. And, logically, these are the only things that the practitioners of altruism have achieved and are achieving now.(/b)

      • Cinlef
      • Dan C

        “(b)Altruism holds death as its ultimate goal and standard of value—and it is logical that renunciation, resignation, self-denial, and every other form of suffering, including self-destruction, are the virtues it advocates. And, logically, these are the only things that the practitioners of altruism have achieved and are achieving now.”

        The problem is that Rand absolutely “gets” Christianity. And declares it her enemy. How far is this assessment of altruism from my daily Rosary mystery of the Proclamation of the Kingdom with a foretaste of the Sorrowful Mysteries tomorrow? I think she describes my understanding Christian life better than I’ve heard in a while. And she hates it. That is the problem.

  • SouthCoast

    Rand readers I knew in college were all young men who were Invincibly Earnest, wore turtlenecks, and couldn’t understand why I refused to date them.

    • Irenist

      You went to college with Alan Greenspan?

      • SouthCoast

        Hey! I’m not THAT old! Greenspan was roomies with Alley Oop!

  • AyntRandy

    Again, Altruism is a specific word with a specific meaning. It means selflessness. It’s origin is from the French word which means “to the other” which certainly has no connotation of individual choice. It should not be confused with charity, which means the voluntary giving of help. The origin of that word is “dear.” Never once did Rand speak out against charity. She spoke out against confiscational altruism, or socialism, which is a cover for corporate socialism; its true purpose as a social theme. Altruism has damaged the Catholic Church. Why in the world would anyone prefer altruism to charity?

    • Irenist

      So altruism = kenosis? Yeah, the Crucified One wasn’t big on kenosis. Sheesh.

      • Andy, Bad Person

        Post of the day. You win all the internets.

        • Irenist

          Thank you. Now that I’ve won all the internets, I intend to donate them to charity. Take that, Ayn Rand! This series of tubes is going out to all the Takers!

          • Cinlef

            I’d argue you just topped you previous post. Well played :)

    • MarylandBill

      In the sense that being altruistic is a moral obligation enjoined on us by God, then yes, you are right, however, altruism cannot be imposed upon someone by another man. No one can make anyone else altruistic.

      You also are wrong about Rand and charity… at least in so far as charity is understood in the Catholic Church. Charity is the obligation of all men according to Christian morality.

      Here is what Ayn Rand says about charity:
      “My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.”

      In other words, to embrace the Objectivist view of charity is to clearly reject the teaching of the Church regarding charity (that I have a moral obligation to help other people). I also note the horrific notion that some are worthy of help and others not.

  • James Dominick

    Discussions can go back and forth how pure Paul Ryan’s allegiance to Ayn Rand philosophies are ,bottom line ,I may not be a ‘pure’ killer but if I take a gun and blow your brains out,I have still killed you .Embracing the teachings of Ayn Rand was and is bad for America as is The Romney/Rand ticket .Working together in unity for the greater purpose of the common good for all men/women is the only thing that will continue to advance America.

  • James Dominick

    The Mindset of Paul Ryan in a Nutshell:
    (…seeking the position of being a heartbeat from being President of the United States !)

    1. Paul Ryan says,Ayn Rand was his greatest Mentor.
    2. Paul Ryan agrees to the statement that Liberals and Progressives are a ‘Cancer’.
    3. Ayn Rand did not believe in Faith,God or The teachings of Jesus Christ.
    4. Ayn Rand did not believe in The New Deal or any So
    cial Safety Nets like Medicare.
    5. Ayn Rand believed the Government was man’s greatest enemy and deadliest threat to individual rights.
    6. Ayn Rand believed that Government only purpose is for the protection of individual rights.
    7. Ayn Rand believed that Liberals and Progressives were Evil and had an Evil Agenda.
    8. Ayn Rand believed that Conservatives were good and superior to Liberals and Progressives.
    9. Ayn Rand believed in unregulated Capitalism(Remember the Stock Market Crash of 2008?).
    10.Ayn Rand believed that Conservatives are the Champions of Freedom.
    11.Ayn Rand believed that Liberals promoted Dictatorship.
    12.Ayn Rand believed that Liberals has the logic of a con-man.
    13.Ayn Rand did not believe in ‘Compromise’ between political parties.
    14.Ayn Rand believed Conservatives should Not Compromise but instead convince themselves of their beliefs and positions and fight with certainty.
    15.Ayn Rand charged that the only argument that has ever Won in any moral issues is the Argument from self esteem .
    16.Ayn Rand believed the Conservatives should adopt this mindset and the argument from self esteem as their ‘marching orders’ and ‘talking points.’

    THE MINDSET OF PAUL RYAN IN A NUTSHELL: (is this the vision we want for America?)

    • CK

      “4. Ayn Rand did not believe in The New Deal or any Social Safety Nets like Medicare.”

      Nor did the anti-Rand, Servant of God Dorothy Day. The spiritual and corporal works of mercy are too important to hand over the the Leviathan state.

      • Dan C

        Be wary of employing Dorothy Day in this conversation. She blamed the individual Catholic and the weak faith in action of Holy Mother Church for the rise of Holy Mother City which was doing the desperate necessary work that the Church didn’t do. Most conservatives replace big government with a presumed efficacy of Big Charity, also, with taxes moving instead to some efficacious charity network that has never been present and, watchng the current bishops and cardinals cut diocesan services, is unlikely to be present. Also, Day spoke of community. Most conservaives talk about “family” and “family responsibility” which is very different. Opening one’s home to one’s clan vs. one’s unrelated stranger in need is the difference.

        Ms. Day presumed everyone could bring a homeless person into a “Christ room.” That is part of her vision. Her mentor, Peter Maurin, described parish-based houses of hospitality supported by the parish and the parish priest to care for the needy. Again, this, in this day of wealth, has never been realized.

        Bringing Dorothy Day to bear in this discussion is very dangerous. She recognized the role of big government as a sad substitute for the failures of faith of individual Catholics and the diocesan Churches.

        • CK

          The Gospel was always a dangerous proposition.

  • CK

    It is sheer stupidity to claim that Ryan’s Rand is what Aristotle was for Aquinas. Those making such a claim are not thinking clearly. For one, the “Dumb Ox” was a serious philosopher who carefully made the case that, among other things, The Philosopher could be reconciled with The Apostle, The Theologian, and The Master.

    Paul Ryan has done no such thing with Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum in trying to reconcile her thought with say, Theresa Benedicta of the Cross.

  • AyntRandy

    Kenosis is defined as the renunciation of Man’s divine nature. It literally means “emptying.” Christ was against Money Power, the genetrix of socialism, so he would be opposed to altruism, because it assumes that man is kenostic and therefore *deserves* to be altruized.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      Kenosis is defined as the renunciation of Man’s divine nature.

      Now you’re just making shit up. Kenosis is self-emptying and becoming completely receptive to God’s will. Jesus Christ is the ultimate Kenosis, in that he “emptied himself,” becoming like us as Man, even unto death.

      Please don’t drag kenosis into your laundry list of bad words.

    • MarylandBill

      That doesn’t even make any sense. It is man’s divine nature (i.e., that we are made in God’s image) that enjoins our moral obligation to altruism. My moral obligation to help the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, etc. is not, indeed cannot be defined by their “worth”. As Children of God, they were already worth Christ dying for them. So I cannot choose to help say a bishop over a thief just because I think the latter is not “worthy” of my charity.

    • Irenist

      Are you Catholic, AyntRandy? If not, what denominational tradition, if any, are you reasoning from? Might help to clarify some things you’re saying.

    • Cinlef

      Kenosis is defined as the renunciation of Man’s divine nature. It literally means “emptying.” Christ was against Money Power, the genetrix of socialism, so he would be opposed to altruism, because it assumes that man is kenostic and therefore *deserves* to be altruized.
      ____________________________________________________
      Prima facie False

      Indeed Saint Paul describes Jesus using the word Kenosis .

      “(Jesus) Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied (ekenosen) himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as man.”-Phillipians 2:7

      See also Catholic Encyclopedia on Kenosis
      http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08617a.htm

  • R.C.

    James Dominick:

    Y’might want to drop #9; those who know something about that crash from a macroeconomic and policy perspective are aware that it had nothing to do with “unregulated” capitalism.

    Also, since she was right about #11 and #12, and half-right about #7, and held the same view of “conservatives” (as the word is popularly understood today), about which she was also mostly right, you might want to drop those; they don’t support your argument.

    And, since her views would have used the term “Objectivists” wherever you used the word “Conservatives” in #s 14, 15, and 16, and since the two groups have some overlap but not a majority overlap on either side, you might wish to drop those, also. Being inaccurate about her views doesn’t lend your argument much credibility.

    • MarylandBill

      The problem with the concept of “unregulated” capitalism is that it really doesn’t exist. What most people mean by that or by Laissez Faire Capitalism is a system where the government enforces contracts and I suppose regulates the money supply and that is about it.

      That being said, I think there is some evidence that government policies that strongly encouraged banks to lend to people with poor credit played a role in the housing crash.

      Over the last 100 years or so we have increased regulation in the financial markets to try to increase their stability… I am not convinced long term it has worked… or that it can work. So, if our choices are between an unstable market with minimal government regulation, and an unstable market with lots of government regulation, why should we choose the second option?

      • Irenist

        “So, if our choices are between an unstable market with minimal government regulation, and an unstable market with lots of government regulation, why should we choose the second option?”

        B/c, assuming for argument’s sake that those are our choices, the unstable market with more regulation is less unstable–although countercyclical monetary and fiscal policy are also important. In short, b/c the crash of 2008 has been less bad than the Panic of 1873.

        • MarylandBill

          You mean it has been less bad so far. Ok, technically we are not in a recession right now.. but with Europe going the way it is, I wouldn’t be surprised if we are back in recession by the next inauguration.

          Also, the economy is very different now, as is fed policy and other factors. After all, in 1873 and in the Great Depression, most of the world still was on precious metal backed currency… not the fiat based money of the last 40 years.

  • quasimodo

    I read a little Rand many years ago and considered being a fan … until I saw her in a public forum talking to people who were her fans. She was simply too rude and arrogant to describe … a truly nasty person. I looked at her ideas with a more skeptical eye and easily saw that they were based on pride, arrogance, and not a shred of compassion or understanding of other people. yuck.

  • Lydia

    Mark have you read Bishop Morlino’s letter in defense of Paul Ryan?

    • Irenist

      Sensible letter; it draws on the distinction between intrinsic evil like abortion and prudential matters like politics. This paragraph is interesting:
      “Thus, it is not up to me or any bishop or priest to approve of Congressman Ryan’s specific budget prescription to address the best means we spoke of. Where intrinsic evils are not involved, specific policy choices and political strategies are the province of Catholic lay mission. But, as I’ve said, Vice Presidential Candidate Ryan is aware of Catholic Social Teaching and is very careful to fashion and form his conclusions in accord with the principles mentioned above.”

      This speaks well of Congressman Ryan. However, it also says that “specific policy choices and political strategies are the province of Catholic lay mission,” and those policy choices and political strategies are a lot of what the Catholic laity on this thread have been trying to hash out.

  • Marie

    I hope he has not only read the Bishop’s letter, but is preparing some kind of response…
    As Mark has gone on the record to praise Simcha’s article which defends Cardinal Dolan’s Obama-dinner-invite-decision against “laptop theologians”, I wonder what he might make of Bishop Morlino’s comments re: Ryan and the defamation of his character.

    • Irenist

      Well, Dolan has also invited Romney to dinner. Maybe Ryan will come, too. I’m sure Mark would be fine with that.

  • AyntRandy

    I was raised Catholic. But I am not anymore. Altruism gathers the fruits of people’s labors unto a coercive state – with threat of force – to take wealth and to spend it on war and occupations. So even if we feel christian charity, we have not the wealth to actualize it. Altruism is serfdom.

    • Cinlef

      “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”-Inigo Montoya (The Princess Bride)

      • Irenist

        Hey, man. A six-fingered altruist killed his father.

      • http://www.thegolemspeaks.com Peter Mains

        Rand, like many philosophers, used precise and nonstandard definitions. I believe that the primary reason in Rand’s case is that the evils she was condemning are frequently disguised using very cheery words like “compassion,” “charity” and “altruism.” Creating a precise and perhaps hyperbolic definition of “altruism,” she shocks her readers into realizing that many things we instinctively want to see as good are, in fact, evil. Mr. Shea’s column strongly implies that he would rather not understand this, and would rather burn the witch. As it happens, Atlas Shrugged allegorically explains the evil intrinsic in this scapegoating instinct (among other good moral lessons).

        The Ayn Rand Lexicon is online if you want to learn more.

        • Liam

          “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” – Lewis Carroll

          I am truly curious if, in reading the above passage, you understand that Carroll intended us to laugh at Humpty Dumpty’s silly semantics. To define Rand’s ravings as “perhaps” hyperbolic is itself another example of using words to mean what you choose. I’m failing to see the “perhaps” maybe because I’m blinded by the obvious.

    • Irenist

      “I was raised Catholic. But I am not anymore.”

      So how would you describe your worldview now, AyntRandy? Objectivist? Christian but not Catholic?

    • MarylandBill

      Moral obligation is not the same as external obligation. As soon as providing for the welfare of others stops being a moral requirement and starts being external compulsion, it ceases being Altruism.

      In fact, if we approach egoism the same way that you approach altruism (since in both cases, Rand is talking about ethical egoism) then selfishness becomes the moral imperative. Charity may be tolerated, but only so long as it is not truly sacrificial. If altruism leads to state socialism, then egoism will lead to a state where selfishness is made mandatory….

  • http://gladius-spiritus.blogspot.ca/ bear

    I can’t resist:

    “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”- John Rogers.

    • Irenist

      Love that quote.

      • MarylandBill

        Can you imagine what the Lord of the Rings might have been like if Ayn Rand had written the Lord of the Rings?

        • Andy, Bad Person

          Lots of stilted dialogue and awkward sex scenes.

        • Irenist

          “Sauron Shrugged”

  • John W. Bales

    One would expect a religious person to comment unfavorable on Ayn Rand’s atheism.
    But Ayn Rand’s detractors frequently seem compelled to buttress their arguments by misinterpreting Rand’s positions on certain issues. This writer perpetuates the misconception that Ayn Rand was opposed to charity. Here are two examples.

    “But [Ayn Rand] also deeply believes that caring for these poor kids is simply one more instance of the grave evil of caritas, putting food into the mouths of useless Takers.”

    “It [Galt's oath] rejects, as a matter of principle, all of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, the entire economy of salvation, and all acts of charity as morally evil.”

    Rand opposed ‘charity’ at the point of a gun. It’s that simple. And when she spoke of ‘moochers’ she made it quite clear she was talking about those expecting to receive, by right, coerced charity. She was not speaking about innocent children. She was not speaking against acts of personal charity–a practice she engaged in herself.

    Articles such as this do a terrible injustice to Ayn Rand. And while I pay no attention to the rantings of trolls or ignorant people, when such misinformation is profered by otherwise well-read intellectuals the injustice is inexcusable.

    • http://www.thegolemspeaks.com Peter Mains

      Thank you for your saying what needed to be said. Unfortunately, I have tried to engage Mr. Shea on these points before, but he doesn’t really want to understand. His distaste for Rand apparently goes deeper than any factual case.

      • Cinlef

        To quote Rand, this one from the Ayn Rand Lexicon on Altruism (http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/altruism.html) which informs me that it is itself quoting from her essay “Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World,”

        _______________________________

        What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

        Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.

        Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: “No.” Altruism says: “Yes.”
        ___________________________________________________

        Are we seriously suggesting that this philosophy is in any way compatible with Christianity?

        • Cinlef

          Oh an even better one from the same source
          _________________________________

          “Now there is one word—a single word—which can blast the morality of altruism out of existence and which it cannot withstand—the word: “Why?” Why must man live for the sake of others? Why must he be a sacrificial animal? Why is that the good? There is no earthly reason for it—and, ladies and gentlemen, in the whole history of philosophy no earthly reason has ever been given.

          It is only mysticism that can permit moralists to get away with it. It was mysticism, the unearthly, the supernatural, the irrational that has always been called upon to justify it—or, to be exact, to escape the necessity of justification. One does not justify the irrational, one just takes it on faith. What most moralists—and few of their victims—realize is that reason and altruism are incompatible.

        • Thomas R

          No, but I have to admit that’s not as bad as I thought she was. It sounds more capricious and amoral than quite the absolute monstrousness I thought. (Like “Help people if you want or not, whatever, but don’t feel you ‘must’ do anything.”)

    • MarylandBill

      It wasn’t simply at the point of a gun. She opposed charity as a moral obligation. She opposed charity as being seen as a virtue. This is a complete rejection of the Christian ideal. For St. Paul, love, or more specifically charitable, self-sacrificing love was the greatest of all virtues. For Ms. Rand, it is the anthesis of a virtue.

  • Bill

    Nobody does an injustice to Ayn Rand

    • Andy, Bad Person

      Doing justice to Ayn Rand would be an act of charity, and thereby evil.

  • http://www.StevenAbell.com Steven T Abell

    Your understanding of Rand regarding charity and the family, among other things, is simply wrong. According to Rand, government charity is A Bad Thing. Note the adjective. I matters. And she did not have a family because she thought other things were more important for her to pursue. Note the pronoun. It matters. It would be better for you to put your ax down and read what she said, instead of spouting what you enjoy thinking she said. It is my understanding that you have an injunction against bearing false witness, which is generally pretty good advice.

    • Cinlef

      Nope she’s pretty clear in her condemnation of any ethical system that makes charity a moral obligation.
      See the quotes above, or the Ayn Rand Lexicon.

    • MarylandBill

      “I matters.” The Irony of appropriate typos :) .

      Why is it that the only people who don’t seem to understand what Ayn Rand were writing are those who claim to be Objectivists.

      Ayn Rand says, “What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.”

      What the Objectivist says: “Its only enforced charity, government charity that is wrong.”

      • http://www.StevenAbell.com Steven T Abell

        I never said I was an Objectivist. What she meant by “a moral duty and a primary virtue” is the idea that, whenever someone comes to you with their hand out, you are obligated to give them what they want. There are times when charity is simply foolish, and even destructive. There are other times when it makes the world a better place. She had a point to make, and wasn’t shy in making it. Her point was that you have a rational choice to make, not an obligation, and the result of that choice can be, and sometimes should be, a very guilt-free No.

  • Mark R

    You can be a fiscal and otherwise conservative without completely eschewing major aspect of the welfare state…F. von Hayek, the guru par excellance of free market economics bemoaned the United States’ lack of socialized medicine state pension schemes. (He was a European, what do you expect?)

  • Stephen Ketner

    The trouble is the mischaracterization of Rand’s view on charity. She said there is nothing wrong with it, and is a common attribute of rational beings. She just rejects it as the moral ideal, as the telos of all human activity as most religions and secular philosophies have made it out to be.

    An example, lets say there are some people about to be run over by a truck. Is it wrong to help them? Rand would ask first to define the context. Who are the people? Are they a value to you personally? For example, are they your loved ones? Someone you admire or esteem highly?

    In such a case, if you valued those people, it would be right and moral for you to help, even at the cost of your life.

    However, what if they were people you did not like? What if they were people who had murdered your loved ones? Should you help?

    Rand would say certainly not. And to do so would be to give sanction and primacy to their evil, as you would be sacrificing your goodness to their evil.

    You see, for Rand, the question of charity was to remove it from the common categories of duty and obligation against one’s will (as religion and modern philosophers like Kant had categorized it), and return it to its proper place as a voluntary act that one consciously and willfully chooses to engage in without coercion–philosophically or physically.

    Her appraisal of charity inevitably went much deeper. In Christianity, and most modern philosophy, charity was not only a duty or obligation, but the metaphysical justification of your very existence. Your right to exist, in these schools of thought, is only in proportion to how much of yourself you sacrifice to other people.

    Rand gives moral justification to your life and happiness outside of charity, justifying the value of your life by its own merits independent of a mere accidental relation to others by proximity or biology. She treats your life as an end to your own wants and needs as the first value. Your own existence as the highest moral value, rejecting the notion that human is nothing more than the tool of other humans, as the morality of the past taught.

    This view of the metaphysical nature of the question of charity is summed up in this statement by Rand:

    ‘Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: “No.” Altruism says: “Yes.”’


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