The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Ayn Rand vs. God’s Own Party

I am a staunch critic of what is called “Southern culture,” those values of the Deep South which encourage worship of the traditional, intolerance of others, political populism and similar “virtues.”

I was reminded of Ayn Rand’s views by a post Chris Sciabarra made concerning Rand’s post-mortem on the Goldwater Campaign. Even though I trust Chris explicitly I went to the source just to look it over in context. She said:

“As it stands, the most grotesque, irrational and disgraceful consequence of the campaign is the fact that the only section of the country left in a position of an alleged champion of freedom, capitalism, and individual rights is the agrarian, feudal, racist South. The Southerners, undoubtedly, were voting on the basis of “tradition”; but it was hardly a tradition of pro-capitalism. This, perhaps, is the clearest indication of the extent to which Sen. Goldwater had failed to present his case.”

Published in The Objectivist Newsletter, December 1964, “It Is Earlier Than You Think.”

Please consider this for a second. Ayn was saying the clearest indication Goldwater FAILED to explain his ideas wasn’t that he lost the rest of the country, but that he WON in the old Confederate states. Consider what this means for the Republicans, from a Randian perspective. God’s Own Party has been winning these same states year after year. Trump has even picked unreformed feudalists like Sessions to run legal affairs for the government. In Rand’s view that is not a true success, but failure because it requires surrendering any principles of liberty to the forces of intolerant traditionalism.

It’s been a long time since I read that piece and I had forgotten this reference to the old Confederate states, states which certain neo-Confederates out of Auburn try to excuse and justify. Rand was absolutely right about the problems with this Southern ethos. It is at war with the Enlightenment. Neo-confederate Tom Woods said as much in a piece he wrote, but has since scrubbed from the Internet, where he praised the South as the “Last Stand” of Christendom justifiably fighting the evils of “atheistic individualism.”

This wasn’t the last time Ayn took on some of the justifications of “Southern conservatism.” She did the same in her comments on George Wallace and his phony “states’ rights” agenda. In June, 1968 she wrote “The Presidential Candidates 1968” for The Objectivist.

Wallace presented himself as a Christian conservative; a harbinger of the nascent Religious Right now coalesced around Trump as if he were the Second Coming. Rand viewed Wallace differently: “George Wallace represents the emergence of an open fascism in this country — or, more exactly, the crude elements from which an explicit fascism is to come.”

She then described what she saw as the natural traits of fascism. Read it and keep Donald Trump in mind:

Observe the symptoms: racism (which he denies, but which is quite obvious in his own utterances and in his past record)-a primitive, undefined nationalism (not a rational patriotism, but nationalism in the form of a collective pseudo-self-esteem) — militant anti-intellectuality (not an opposition to a specific group or kind of intellectual, but to all intellectuals. to the intellect as such) — the constant appeal to “the little people” or “the plain people” or “us folks” (which, socially, is an appeal to the lowest elements in society, and, psychologically, an appeal to an individual’s lowest potential: to self-righteous mediocrity — and force, the explicit and implicit reliance on the “activism” of physical force as the solution to all social problems.

It is the fact that some of his statements — as apart from and out of his Context — are true and needed saying that deludes many people into the belief that he is a defender of freedom or capitalism. Quite obviously, he is not. He is merely paying occasional lip-service to the Constitutional tradition of this country, purely as tradition, which he neither understands nor supports. He is not a defender of individual rights, but merely of states’ rights-which is far, far from being the same thing. When he denounces “Big Government,” it is not the unlimited, arbitrary power of the state that he is denouncing, but merely its centralization-and he seeks to place the same unlimited, arbitrary power in the hands of many little governments. The break-up of a big gang into a number of warring small gangs is not a return to a constitutional system, nor to individual rights, nor to law and order.

Lacking any intellectual or ideological program, Wallace is not the representative of a positive movement, but of a negative: he is not for anything, he is merely against the rule of the “liberals.” This is the root of his popular appeal: he is attracting people who are desperately, legitimately frustrated, bewildered and angered by the dismal bankruptcy of the “liberals” policies, people who sense that something is terribly wrong in this country and that something should be done about it, but who have no idea of what to do. Neither has Wallace — which is the root of the danger he represents: a leader without ideology cannot save a country collapsing.

There is precious little Rand would find of virtue in the values of this merger of Southern culture, Christian fundamentalism and the supposed “free market” ideas of the Republican Party. Chris Sciabarra, in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, argued it was Rand’s “antipathy toward racism” which “was a contributing factor in her rejection of political conservatism.” She argued these conservatives were far worse than any other political movement because they combined free market rhetoric with their hateful agendas. As Rand saw it, all they accomplished was discrediting capitalism by living up to the worst caricatures drawn up by critics.

Rand’s concerns about the dangerous mixture of religion and politics went back to the 40s and 50s and was one reason she so thoroughly disliked William F. Buckley. She wrote a long letter to Barry Goldwater, in 1960, urging him to reject the mixture of religion and politics. Rand said that until the mid to late 40s she “don’t not take the issue of religion in politics very seriously, because there was no such threat. The conservatives did not tie their side to God.” She wrote, “There was no serious attempt to proclaim that if you wanted to be conservative of to support capitalism, you had to base your case on faith.” Historian Jennifer Burns says it was Buckley, in his book God and Man at Yale, who “famously recast Rand and Hayek’s secular ‘individualism vs. collectivism’ as an essentially religious struggle, and argued that it replicated on another level, ‘the duel between Christianity and atheism.’”

Rand told Goldwater her opposition to National Review was “not because it is a religious magazine, but because it pretends that it is not.” She felt that Buckley’s deception had one purpose, “to slip religious goal by stealth on those who would not accept them openly, to ‘bore from within, to tie Conservatism to religion, and thus to take over the American Conservatives.”

Buckley saw Rand as a threat to his traditionalist faith-based politics and both he, and his publication, waged jihad with repeated smears and attacks on Rand. Buckley even took to trolling her with phone calls and post cards. Rand’s opposition did not begin with the arrival of the Moral Majority, who were just a cruder form of Buckley’s high Catholic traditionalism. What the Moral Majority lacked in vocabulary and intellect they madeup for with fanaticism and extremism.

Rand pleaded with Goldwater to understand that religion and capitalism were two different issues “which should not be united into one ‘package deal’ or one common cause.” She argued the principle of separation of church and state meant “religion is a private matter, it should not be brought into public issues or into the province of government, and it should not be made a part of political movements.”

By the 1980s Rand was thoroughly unhappy with God’s Own Party. In 1964 she said Ronald Reagan’s speech on behalf of Goldwater was the high point ofthe campaign, but by 1980 she repudiated him because of his alliance with the Religious Right and his anti-abortion viewpoints. Rand raked Reagan over the coals for precisely the very issues where conservatives applaud Trump. In 1975 she told her readers:

I urge you, as emphatically as I can, not to support the candidacy of Ronald Reagan. I urge you not to work for or advocate his nomination, and not to vote for him. My reasons are as follows: Mr. Reagan is not a champion of capitalism, but a conservative in the worst sense of that word — i.e., an advocate of a mixed economy with government controls slanted in favor of business rather than labor (which, philosophically, is as untenable a position as one could choose — see Fred Kinnan in Atlas Shrugged, pp. 541–2). This description applies in various degrees to most Republican politicians, but most of them preserve some respect for the rights of the individual. Mr. Reagan does not: he opposes the right to abortion.

Only days before her death Rand gave her last public speech, The Sanction of the Victims in New Orleans.

What do I think of President Reagan? The best answer to give would be: But I don’t think of him — and the more I see, the less I think. I did not vote for him (or for anyone else) and events seem to justify me. The appalling disgrace of his administration is his connection with the so-called “Moral Majority” and sundry other TV religionists, who are struggling — apparently with his approval — to take us back to the Middle Ages, via the unconstitutional union of religion and politics.

The threat to the future of capitalism is the fact that Reagan might fail so badly that he will become another ghost, like Herbert Hoover, to be invoked as an example of capitalism’s failure for another fifty years.

Observe Reagan’s futile attempts to arouse the country by some sort of inspirational appeal. He is right in thinking that the country needs an inspirational element. But he will not find it in the God-Family-Tradition swamp.

Over the span of decades Ayn Rand used different language, but it ultimately meant the same thing. In 1964 she damned the “agrarian, feudal, racist” traditions of the Confederacy. By 1980 they had spread through the Republican Party and Rand shortened her criticism to the “God-Family-Tradition swamp.” But, what she was saying shortly before her death were the same criticisms from two decades earlier. Sadly, it’s only gotten worse now that an open authoritarian, such as Trump, is the titular head of the party.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.