For the Theological Masochists in My Audience

here is a link to Ayn Rand’s marginalia in her copy of C.S. Lewis The Abolition of Man.  Painful, awful stuff from a shrill harridan ignoramus.

Recall, as you read the “thoughts” of this deeply evil and demented enemy of God that she was, according to the man nominated by the Thing that Used to be Conservatism to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, the principle driving force in his intellectual development.

  • “I just want to speak to you a little bit about Ayn Rand and what she meant to me in my life and [in] the fight we’re engaged here in Congress. I grew up on Ayn Rand, that’s what I tell people.”
  • “I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are.”
  • “It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff. We start with Atlas Shrugged. People tell me I need to start with The Fountainhead then go to Atlas Shrugged [laughter]. There’s a big debate about that. We go to Fountainhead, but then we move on, and we require Mises and Hayek as well.”
  • “But the reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”
  • “And when you look at the twentieth-century experiment with collectivism—that Ayn Rand, more than anybody else, did such a good job of articulating the pitfalls of statism and collectivism—you can’t find another thinker or writer who did a better job of describing and laying out the moral case for capitalism than Ayn Rand.”
  • “It’s so important that we go back to our roots to look at Ayn Rand’s vision, her writings, to see what our girding, under-grounding [sic] principles are.”
  • “Because there is no better place to find the moral case for capitalism and individualism than through Ayn Rand’s writings and works.”

Recall that this man, as a Catholic Randian, obligated Catholic supporters, in my comboxes, to attempt to portray this enemy of God Rand as “Aristotle” to Paul Ryan’s Aquinas. Recall how much effort there was to pound the square peg of his completely Randian division of humanity into “Makers and Takers” into the round hole of Catholic social teaching.  Recall the sheer and utter contempt for the weak and poor that animates Rand and that nobody in their five wits could possibly square with “Blessed are you the poor”.

Now: contemplate how much *less* likely it is that this bowdlerized and third rate “thinker’s”  influence is going to be squarable with *this* Pope.

Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig on Ayn Rand and her Christian devotees
Why Ayn Rand is appealing--and why the appeal is dangerous
"Connecting the Dots" is on at 5 PM Eastern
Stephen Colbert Cuts up with Fr. James Martin
  • Cinlef

    This is actually darkly amusing in that it is pretty clear that Rand’s reading comprehension is abysmal, she isn’t just critical of the text but entirely misses the point in several places… also it takes someone hilariously un-self-aware to write a marginalia note denouncing an argument as an ad-hominem and to have the subsequent note on the text eschew argument in favor of referring to the author as a “cheap driveling non-entity” and a “bastard” [In fairness I should probably confess that were I to write marginalia notes on The Virtue of Selfishness they'd also probably be littered with invectives against the author but as a result I'd probably avoid criticizing ad hominems]
    Still considering that in Screwtape C. S. Lewis gave us literature most compelling “Objectivist” you’d think Ayn Rand would have been fonder of him.

    • TheRealAaron

      It looks like all the comments here are on the final chapter. I wonder if she didn’t read the preceding chapters.

      Where Lewis criticizes knowledge, he has made it clear that he means knowledge unconstrained by an objective morality. When he claims it would lead to the oppression of minorities by majorities, he doesn’t mean that hasn’t ever happened before. He means that it would inevitably happen and the oppression would be more brutal when the leaders would have no understanding of what a human is or that their fellow humans have any innate rights.

      Cinlef, I’m sure you knew that. I’m just clarifying in case anyone sees that article and thinks things the quoted passages are just asserted outright (which it might appear from the way Rand replies). These conclusions have been built up by argumentation in the previous chapters.

  • James H, London

    That woman was insane – or stupid. I guess sin makes you that way.

    Her understanding was so stunted, it looks like her father Down Below had a hand in it!

  • John Burd

    Mark, you’re not the type to ignore a good point coming from an otherwise broken clock.

    Ayn Rand was also right about a few things. And some of the few things she was right about were among the great evils of her time. Statements like “Ayn Rand, more than anybody else, did such a good job of articulating the pitfalls of statism and collectivism,” are not an embrace of the entirety of her political philosophy. Atlas Shrugged lacks in many ways, but in others it’s an impressively perceptive portrayal of the abuses of power and the justifications for destructive collectivism. Ryan isn’t wrong to have been influenced by it. It should be read discerningly, but it should be read.

    • Mark Shea

      Nobody is wrong about absolutely everything. Even Hitler managed to get a few things right, trains running on time and all that. But I wouldn’t recommend attempting to ‘reconcile’ Nazism with the Faith. Rand’s philosophy is jam-packed with evil enmity to God. Nothing she has to say is not found in other–real–thinkers and there it nothing lacking in the Faith that she supplies. All she does is make people stupider and more vicious and drag them away from the Faith. You have to unlearn, not learn something if you hope to make the transition from her evil cult to the Faith.

      • Andrew

        If I want to read something explaining the evils of statism and collectivism, then perhaps John Paul II. Or watch “The Killing Fields.” No need to pour through 1,000 pages of Crazy Ayn.

  • Faith

    Wow, I just read The Abolition of Man not too long ago and it absolutely bowled me over with how prophetic it was. Why does Ayn Rand keep calling Lewis the bastard? She sounds like a raving comboxer before the internet.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      She sounds like a raving comboxer before the internet.

      Yes! That was exactly what I thought!

      I thought that raving sociopathy masquerading as insight was a uniquely Internet phenomenon. It looks like Ayn Rand beat them to it.

    • Bob LeBlanc

      I love C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man. It’s a solid defense of natural law (which he calls the Tao). In my not so humble opinion, it should be required reading by all Christians, especially in these trying times.

      For a deeper understanding of Abolition of Man, I suggest the novelization of it, That Hideous Strength, which is part of C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy.

  • deiseach

    The most amusing comment to me was that Professor(?) Rand thought Lewis wanted a science subservient to the Pope.

    Considering the man was an Ulster Protestant (yes, Church of Ireland background rather than Presbyterian, and yes, converted to the Church of England after that, but the formation of his early history was very much “No Pope Here!”) – that had me laughing my head off. To quote from one of Tolkien’s letters about meeting Roy Campbell, who spoke about his experiences in Spain during the Civil War there:

    “C.S.L.’s reactions were odd. Nothing is a greater tribute to Red propaganda than the fact that he (who knows they are in all other subjects liars and traducers) believes all that is said against Franco, and nothing that is said for him. Even Churchill’s open speech in Parliament left him unshaken. But hatred of our church is after all the real only final foundation of the C of E – so deep laid that it remains even when all the superstructure seems removed (C.S.L. for instance reveres the Blessed Sacrament, and admires nuns!). Yet if a Lutheran is put in jail he is up in arms; but if Catholic priests are slaughtered – he disbelieves it (and I daresay really thinks they asked for it). But R.C. shook him a bit…..”

    As he said earlier in the letter “There is a good deal of Ulster still left in C.S.L. if hidden from himself.”


    • Dustin

      Is Tolkien implicitly supporting Franco in this letter, or just, as quite a few were, so anti-Communist that he’d take any one who opposed it, too?

      • Jon W

        In the strictest logic, the upshot of Tolkien’s statement here would seem to be that he thinks there is at least something positive to be said for Franco and that not everything said against him is true. I would hesitate to go further than this without more evidence from Tolkien himself.

      • ivan_the_mad

        In a collection of his letters he wrote of learning that the Republican government was killing priests and nuns and burning Church properties (which it was, 6000+ I believe). That probably made him more sympathetic to Franco and the Nationalists.

      • deiseach

        Dustin, he was referring to Roy Campbell telling them about his experiences living in Spain and the kinds of things the Communist government was doing (like closing down monasteries and convents, shooting priests, and the rest). I’m not saying Franco was misunderstood or wrongly criticised, I’m saying that even today, a lot of support is given to the leftist side in the Spanish Civil War with no attention to any crimes or atrocities committed by some of them (for one example, this song by Christy Moore, where the sides are very explicitly Good on the Internationale side and Evil on the Nationalist sides, rich/Fascist/oppressive/Catholic = Evil, opposition = Good).

        • Tom R

          My understanding of Tolkien is that, for someone born in South Africa in 1892, he was opposed to racism. He wrote a contemptuous reply when his German publisher asked him to certify that he was of “Aryan” blood (no, Tolkien replied mockingly, he was not Persian or Indian… oh, wait, they mean did he have Jewish ancestry? No, he regretted that he could claim none).
          He was, however, a very conservative, pre-Vatican II Catholic with all that entails about his politics. (The recent allegations flying around about who did or didn’t do what under the Argentinean junta shows the dangerous temptation many throne-and-altar Catholics can feel for a pious general who promises to deal sternly with the communists, the secularists and the radicals.)
          Admittedly, the Spanish Civil war falls into the “can’t they both lose?” category, especially once the republicans started getting assistance from Stalin (Orwell, who fought against Franco, had no illusions about the price that would be extracted in return). On balance, with eight decades’ hindsight, I’ve probably reluctantly side with Franco, too, as the lesser evil (Spain democratised 15 years before the Eastern bloc), but since Tolkien was Catholic he wouldn’t be able to use that as a justification, or at least would have to re-word it in double effect-compatible terms.

          • Tom R

            As for the argument that Lewis was a stooge of the Pope, a few seconds’ acquaintance with Shift the Ape in “The Last Battle” would have refuted that particular theory. (“Aslan doesn’t want to speak to all of you! He only speaks to me!” – and note that the Ape steals the King’s sword and crown for himself. It is surprising that Lewis doesn’t have Shift purport to annul Tirian’s marriage to Rishda Tarkaan’s niece and be done with it).
            It’s as risible as Phillip Pullman’s claim that Lewis favoured Western imperialism and colonialism at the expense of lesser races, a theory that no one over eleven could maintain with a straight face after reading “Out of the Silent Planet”.

            • deiseach

              I suppose it could be taken as a back-handed compliment that when Ms. Rand thought of Christianity, her mind immediately leapt to the Pope as representing it :-)

          • deiseach

            Here’s what I was trying to say about the situation in Spain (and what Tolkien was trying to say re: Lewis’s views on the Leftists versus the Church there); from the decrees from the the Congregration of the Causes of the Saints, signed by Pope Francis:

            - Servant of God Manuel Basulto y Jimenez, bishop of Jaen, Spain, and five Companions; killed in hatred of the faith in Spain between 1936 and 1937.
            - Servant of God Jose Maximo Moro Briz and four Companions, priests of the Diocese of Avila, Spain; killed in hatred of the faith in Spain in 1936.
            - Servant of God Joaquin Jovani Marin and 14 Companions from the Diocesan Labourer Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; killed in hatred of the faith in Spain between 1936 and 1938.
            - Servant of God Andres from Palazuelo (ne Miguel Francisco Gonzalez-Diez Gonzalez-Nunez), professed priest of the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor, and 31 Companions; killed in hatred of the faith in Spain between 1936 and 1937.

            It’s easy to look back on Franco with hindsight. At the time, it was a Communist insurrection against and usurpation of a legitimately elected government, which attacked the Church as an ally of the oppressors. For Catholics (including those in Ireland), it could and did look like the cause of religion versus (quite literally) militant atheism, not Fascism versus Progressivism (and again, we know the evils of where Fascism was going, but in the early and mid 30s, it looked like a new political movement that was maybe too much emphasis on nationalism and was very right-wing, but very few had an idea of where it would be taken).

  • Benjamin

    I think Christopher Hitchens got Rand and “objectivists” dead to rights when he said that anyone who seriously proposes that the problem with American society is that we’re not selfish enough can safely be ignored.

    • j. blum

      Another example of the stopped clock.

    • Cinlef

      She also basically thinks the ultimate problem with Stalinism was its overabundance of caritas.

  • Mike in KC, MO

    One of the worst things that Ayn Rand has done to political discourse in this country is that now you can’t attack the atrocious welfare state that creates and fosters dependency with suggestions for reform without being totally disregarded by people saying ‘Oh, you’re just one of those Ayn Rand people who hate the poor.’

    Thanks… Thanks a lot.

    • Dustin

      One of the worst things that Ayn Rand has done to political discourse in this country is that you can’t support so much as a meager local tax hike to fix your city’s roads without someone calling you a Communist. From attacks on public education to investment in infrastructure, we’re quickly losing the ideal of the commons.

      • s.w.

        “Common” isn’t everyone’s ideal. Many people have “mine” as their ideal.

      • Jon W

        And you are both absolutely right.

  • Jamie R

    Reading this, it’s a little odd that someone who had a living memory of both Stalinism and WWII would be so critical of Lewis on this point. If there’s anything that Libertarian Russian emigres should be able to teach us about, it’s the evils of the modern scientific, technocratic state. Yet here she can’t understand that scientific “advances” give the central authorities greater power over the little guy. It’s almost as if her hatred of the poor or of God is so great that she would rather side with the centralized, authoritarian, scientific state.

    • Alexander Anderson

      I have a feeling that Rand wouldn’t object to a centralized, authoritarian, scientific state as long as it is run by “makers”. Let us remember that Rand’s moral system isn’t so much a code as a sort of bizarre Manicheism. There are “makers” and there are “takers” and C.S. Lewis is a dirty, rotten taker and we know this because he is Christian. Thus, his arguments are wrong. Takers can never be right. The worst part is that Mr. Lewis would most likely be, in Ms. Rand’s mind, at least, smart enough to be a maker, if not an objectivist. His failure show how evil of a taker he is, choosing to take when he has the power to make.

    • TMLutas

      Actually scientific advances are neutral. At that time they tended to act just as you say. Today, they are generally tilting the other direction. Science ebbs and flows without any stable direction regarding helping the big or little guy.

  • ivan_the_mad

    Section 20 sounds like something GKC might have written: “The whole point of seeing through something is to see some­thing through it.”

  • Kelly Franklin

    Oddly enough, I couldn’t get the voice of an exasperated Uncle Screwtape out of my head as I read Rand’s comments. Pretty unpleasant stuff.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    Rand was occasionally right about what is wrong, but I don’t see that she ever had any clue about what was right. Rand is the philosophical equivalent of advocating behading to cure migraines.

    You can’t fight evil with evil. You just get another kind of evil, not always lesser. And this is where Paul Ryan and much of the GOP part company with me. Yes, collectivism is not a good thing. But making selfishness a virture is not the answer.

  • Wills

    Do be a bit careful about drawing conclusions from books that are the principal forces driving intellectual development. The book that was principle in my intellectual development towards the Catholic Church was actually a book by John Shelby Spong: Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. Just because a book is influential in intellectual development doesn’t mean that one embraces every word of it is true Or even most of them. It means that it spurred something in one’s mind And moves one onto a different place.

    • Allan

      Really, John Spelby Spong? Are you GARRY Wills, by any chance?

      Sorry, I couldn’t resist. It’s interesting you say that though. I stopped shopping at my local Catholic bookstore because I was finding books by the likes of Spong and Chittister there, so even though I’m in Canada, I order everything in from US web sites (mainly Catholic Answers and Ignatius Press).

      • Cinlef

        The UK based Catholic Truth Society also has good stuff and pretty reasonable shipping rates to Canada.

  • Steve

    If I recall correctly (and I might not), Aristotle thought mercy wasn’t a virtue because it was weak. If that is the case, then perhaps the comparison between Aristotle and Rand isn’t so bad.

    So what can’t we do with Rand what we do with Aristotle. Take what’s good, throw away what’s bad?

    • s.w.

      I can agree with this. However, I’d like to see people who use this perspective to use it equally across all things and not just as a defense for their own worldviews and perspectives.

    • Irenist

      This is a fair point: Aristotle was a proponent of the idea that some people ought to be slaves. Happily, much of the rest of Aristotelian logic, ethics, and metaphysics (the physics, not so much) is worth keeping.

      With Rand, the situation seems different to me, although obviously others disagree. Rand’s vehement atheism and her opposition to the solidarity part of Catholic Social Teaching are not balanced (IMHO) by much good: her novels are terrible as literature, and her insights (subsidiary is good, markets are good, Stalinism is bad) are, where not merely ubiquitous, are available from less objectionable and far more precise, broad, and deep thinkers. If Rand were, like Aristotle, the key proponent of an important idea (like virtue ethics or hylomorphic metaphysics, in Aristotle’s case) than an Aquinas-like project of sifting for the good would be well worth the effort. In Rand’s case, her very few correct ideas are too commonplace and obvious, and her mediocrity and hostility to mercy too pervasive in her work, to make such a project worth it.

      Swimming through a little muck for unique, finely crafted golden artifacts (Aristotle) is one thing, swimming through a lot of muck for shoddy plastic trinkets (Rand) is another.

      • Irenist

        To amplify the point about Rand’s insights being available from other thinkers: I disagree strongly with the libertarian economists of the Austrian School on many matters, but a reading of any of them is far, far more rewarding than time wasted reading Rand. Hayek is, wrong or not, an important economic thinker. Mises’ short, reader-friendly book “Liberalism” (i.e., libertarianism) a fine libertarian defense of free markets against the socialist thought of his day. If Congressman Ryan wants to give his interns something to libertarian to read, Mises would be a far better choice than Rand. It’s even available free online.

  • Stu

    Paul Ryan also recently said, ” “I reject her philosophy. It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview.”

    So I would say one has to either take him at his word or call him a liar.

    • s.w.

      That’s true, but isn’t Capitalism also something that reduces human interactions to contracts? At its core, EVERYTHING is a commodity and that includes relationships.

      I’m not advocating Communism, but what I am saying is that there’s this tension that Christians seem to force upon themselves that they have to espouse Capitalism as the economic choice of Jesus while Communism is straight from Satan. Rand has often been trotted out as the philosophy of choice for individualism and economic strength – those who do should also expect to reconcile her dim worldview with what is perceived as a “bright” economic framework. Not only this, but individualism grates against so much biblical material, it’s hard to justify seeing Rand’s works as nothing more than great fiction and A worldview, but not necessarily THE worldview, that Christians can embrace.

      Anticipating a common objection that we can’t just reject her economic perspectives because she had other flaws … the same could be said about the rejection of any other economic perspective. We’re humans … we abuse each other regardless of economic framework.

    • Mark Shea

      Paul Ryan said that when he was thrust into the spotlight by his Veep nomination and the chronically duplicitous Romney ordered him to tone it down with the Rand stuff. Given that he also ceased being prolife and embraced “anti-abortion except in cases that harm my chances of becoming Vice President” I think I will go with “liar”. I know. Shocking. A politician lied?

      • Stu

        I commend you for making a choice. I’m not ready to follow you in making such a definitive pronouncement because I just can’t read his mind. But all you say is certainly possible. But it’s always good to paint the full picture. Because it’s also possible that he has had a change of heart.

        I remember being exposed to Rand in the late 90s. At first I was intrigued by a countering voice to what I saw as a growing socialist outlook in world. But then I start to see some of the nonsense about charity being wrong and such and quickly came to the conclusion that her philosophy was shit. But I can understand the initial allure. Rand for the most part correctly identified the problem, she went wrong in trying to fix it without God.

    • Jamie R

      “Because there is no better place to find the moral case for capitalism and individualism than through Ayn Rand’s writings and works”

      I don’t see how you can reject her philosophy while holding that Rand has the best moral case for capitalism. I mean, I guess a socialist could. But if you’re a capitalist, you think Rand makes the best moral case for capitalism, and you reject her philosophy, you’re either a liar or muddled.

      • Will

        Or, according to her, a “concept-stealer”, like those awful libertarians.

    • Bob LeBlanc

      Here’s an article from when the story started claiming that Paul Ryan is a poor Randian.

      It appears that some Catholics are sure he is too Randian, and that some Randians are sure he is too Catholic.

  • Arnold

    I may be woefully misinformed but I do not recall observing that Paul Ryan has applied a Randian approach to his time in Congress in terms of social and moral policy. Mark seems to take that position because Ryan has praised Ayn Rand’s oeuvre regarding opposition to a statist society.

  • MasterThief

    Moral: Just because you are not wrong on some things does not mean you are right on everything else.

    Rand’s philosophy was charitably described by a professor of mine as “dangerously incomplete.”

  • Elmwood

    Karl Marx has been quoted by Pope Benedict where he had a valid insight too, but considering both the economic views of Ayn Rand and Marx are completely incompatible with catholic social teaching, I would question why any self proclaimed catholic would hold up either person as being formative in their value structure.

    I doubt many GOP social conservatives would be as forgiving if Ryan quoted Marx as being hugely influential to him in forming his values.

  • Barbara

    Wow! Ayn Rand is the official precursor to the Internet Atheist…..Mind Blown!

  • Mark R

    No Rand fan here, but come on! She never was nor pretended to be a Christian.