Speaking of Rand (and her Odd Acceptance in Conservative Circles These Days)

As I noted yesterday, the pending release of Atlas Shrugged as a motion picture will likely spark a great deal of discussion of Ayn Rand.

An example if Donald Luskin’s column in the WSJRemembering the Real Ayn Rand.

The whole piece is worth a read, but I was especially struck by the following:

Rand was a devout atheist, which set her against the movement’s Christian bent. She got off on the wrong foot with the movement’s founder, William F. Buckley Jr., when she introduced herself to him in her thick Russian accent, saying "You are too intelligent to believe in God!"

This is striking to me for two reasons. 

The first is that I had an Objectivist friend during my undergraduate days who relished telling me this story.   (The funny thing was at the time I was trying to convert him in an Evangelical sense and he was trying to convert me to Objectivism.)

The second is that the current Rand craze in Republican/conservative/Tea Party circles is rather curious, as whatever else Rand may have been, she was no social conservative.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Chad S says:
  2. Axel Edgren says:

    There is a buddhist story about a miserly rich man who is asked two questions by a travelling monk.

    “What do you call a hand that cannot close?”


    “What do you call a hand that cannot open?”

    “Malformed, of course … ! ”

    After that day the miser was enlightened – he gave to charity and friends in duress, but not to such a degree that he would be bankrupt if business was poor or unable to be charitable in the future. Aristotle said the same – be only so charitable that you can be equally charitable in the long-term.

    “Taxation is theft!”. “Property is theft!” Both these phrases are equal threats to societies and nations. There is no solution to the equation, only adaptation.

  3. Tlaloc says:

    I often suspect that Rand is much like Nietzsche- an author who is much more quoted than understood. One who would probably spit on his/her most fervent modern admirers.

  4. Schismatism says:

    You can almost see the attraction to Ayn Rand and Objectivism among social conservatives. Social conservatives also tend to be economic conservatives. Objectivism is very anti-altruism which pits itself against Christianity but Ayn Rand and her economic ideals, which are anti-government taxation and anti-wealth redistribution, fit well with American social conservatism as far as the latter would rather not see blanket redistribution done by a third party and would rather do whatever redistribution they believe is fit themselves, for the sake of salvation. In essence, American social conservatives wish to keep the redistribution of wealth to themselves to benefit themselves selfishly, a very Randian idea.

    I’m done stretching things, but no one said people are logical. Well, some do… but they’ve got more faith in humanity than this misanthrope does.

  5. Muffler says:

    Social Conservatives are not economic conservatives and economic conservatives are not all GOP.

  6. Kylopod says:

    She wasn’t just not a social conservative. She was an atheist who hated religion. And this view wasn’t just something incidental, but absolutely central to her economic philosophy.

  7. Mark Plus says:

    Social conservatives display an orientation towards both ideas and practices which have endured long enough to become part of tradition, and towards success in the free market as a sign of moral worth. Ayn Rand’s novels have stayed popular for several generations now, and they continue to sell, so I conjecture that they meet both criteria for social conservatives to have to regard them seriously.

  8. G.A. Phillips says:

    The second is that the current Rand craze in Republican/conservative/Tea Party

    I get some good blank looks when I tell some of my Republican/conservative/Tea Party/Christian friends that she was an atheist.

    “You are too intelligent to believe in God!” lol, thats my line, but it goes like this”your too smart not to believe in God”.

  9. Alex Knapp says:

    Two words: Prosperity Gospel.

  10. G.A. Phillips says:

    She was an atheist who hated religion. And this view wasn’t just something incidental, but absolutely central to her economic philosophy.

    I kinda got that from the few interviews I have seen of her.

  11. Axel Edgren says:

    lol, thats my line, but it goes like this”your too smart not to believe in God”.

    I have no problem imagining you saying this for some reason.

  12. G.A. Phillips says:

    I have no problem imagining you saying this for some reason.

    I used to say it a bunch around here, lol, but I was wrong, so I gave up on my theory…

  13. Tlaloc says:

    Two words: Prosperity Gospel.

    It’s a really revolting philosophy, and one so amazingly counter to christian principles that I sometimes wonder that it’s adherents don’t burst into flame in a pew.

  14. TG Chicago says:

    I understand that the makers of the Atlas Shrugged movie are going to try to use a Passion of the Christ-style marketing campaign directed at the far right.

    I wonder what they’d think about what Taylor says above. Or about this:

    Satanism has far more in common with Objectivism than with any other religion or philosophy. Objectivists endorse reason, selfishness, greed and atheism. Objectivism sees Christianity, Islam and Judaism as anti-human and evil. The writings of Ayn Rand are inspiring and powerful.

    Yep. Anton LaVey was heavily influenced by Ayn Rand.

    If the far right splits between theocrats and Randians, then it’s a good day for America.

  15. john personna says:

    Um. Are you telling me the Evangelical Right might not be strictly committed to objective reality?

  16. john personna says:

    (Rand can mean anything you want, when reality is consensual.)

  17. Hello World! says:

    Why does everyone insist in calling it “Objectivism”? Rand did not think up this philosophy by her self – its called “Egoism”. Machiavelli, Neitzche already invented it, and yes, people should be embarrased to say they are egoists.

  18. hey norm says:

    The best part of this obsession with Rand by the far right wing nuts is that, as someone else pointed out on another thread, she took Social Security and Medicare. After spending years argueing that the idea that cigarettes caused cancer was a hoax (take note climate deniers) she contracted lung cancer. When illness threatened to wipe out her estate she accepted what she had coming from both programs. So much for the super-woman of objectivism.

  19. TG Chicago says:

    Piggybacking on Hello World!, but bringing it back to what the far right will think of these things, here’s a thought about Egoism:

    Self-interest, or rather self-love, or egoism, has been more plausibly substituted as the basis of morality. But I consider our relations with others as constituting the boundaries of morality. With ourselves, we stand on the ground of identity, not of relation, which last, requiring two subjects, excludes self-love confined to a single one. To ourselves, in strict language, we can owe no duties, obligation requiring also two parties. Self-love, therefore, is no part of morality. Indeed, it is exactly its counterpart.

    Written by Thomas Jefferson in 1814.

    So these ideas are supported by satanists and rejected by a Founding Father. What’s a Tea Partier to do?

  20. hey norm says:

    tg chicago…
    why is it that i have a sneaking suspicion that quote is out of context? how about a link to the entire piece?
    i believe it goes on to say: “…Because nature hath implanted in our breasts a love of others, a sense of duty to them, a moral instinct, in short, which prompts us irresistibly to feel and to succor their distresses…”
    by the way, succor means assistance and support in times of hardship and distress…you know – when you are old or sick or poor.
    which kind of destroys your entire thesis doesn’t it?

  21. TG Chicago says:

    @hey norm:

    I got the Jefferson quote from here:


    I think you misunderstand my thesis. Pretty sure we’re actually on the same page. Just to be clear: I’m saying that Objectivism and Ethical Egoism are supported by Satanists and opposed by Thomas Jefferson. You would think that your average Tea Partier would prefer to align themselves with Jefferson rather than Anton LaVey. But the Randians go the other direction.

  22. matt says:

    I’m happy to see that others have noticed that “objectivism” Is exceedingly similar to satanism as laid out in the satanic bible some time ago..

  23. Max Lybbert says:

    [T]he current Rand craze in Republican/conservative/Tea Party circles is rather curious, as whatever else Rand may have been, she was no social conservative.

    I’m curious as to why you would find this curious. The fact that I look up to particular people doesn’t require me to approve of everything that they said or did. (For the record, I don’t look up to Rand; her understanding of economics seems too Austrian for my taste). I manage to admire Darwin without being an atheist, for instance. President Obama invites comparisons to Ronald Reagan, although I’m sure there are a few things he would disagree with the Gipper on.

    To me, one of the most annoying phrases in politics is “both sides” as if there are naturally two — and only two — sides to any issue. Anybody who has looked at politics for any length of time — especially politics in more than one country — knows that there are far more dimensions than that. Even so, it’s often useful to simplify politics into social (conservative/liberal) and fiscal (conservative/liberal). Although not all social conservatives are fiscal conservatives (nor all social liberals also fiscal liberals), there is a definite correlation. The fact that somebody looks up to Rand probably has nothing to do with their social views and everything to do with their economic views. With the country running the kind of deficits we are today, I’m willing to leave my social views on the back burner for the time being.

    So, no, I don’t find it curious that (1) social conservatives are also often fiscal conservatives, (2) many fiscal conservatives look up to Rand, (3) fiscal conservatives who look up to Rand don’t feel an obligation to call themselves “objectivists” and agree with Rand’s social positions, and (4) even strong social conservatives are willing to put moral issues on the back burner until the fiscal issues are ironed out.