“(T)he 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 the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.” — Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan to the Atlas Society, 2005.
My first true love was Dominique Francon. To this day, if I close my eyes I see her still as I once imagined her: Tall, leggy, pale-skinned, aristocratic, dressed in severely-tailored suits that barely contained her simmering passions for beauty and perfection.
Statuesque Dominique stood well above my perfectly coiffed high school classmates, each delicately scented with White Shoulders, each dressed in similar Villager skirts and Peck & Peck white blouses with Peter Pan collars, each protected from the world by a gold circle pin.
And Dominique was in love with an architect, which is what I wanted to be. A perfect dream. I dreamt I would go on to design amazingly beautiful buildings and beautiful women like Dominique would fall in love with my talent, and with me.
Teenage love. Ah, the visions, the angst — and the pain. I was so seduced by this passion that I wanted to know more about living an individualistic life committed to uncompromising ideals, so I turned from “The Fountainhead” to Ayn Rand’s second novel, “Atlas Shrugged.”
Sadly, this burst my budding objectivist ideals. As much as I had loved Ms. Rand’s first novel, which had introduced me to Dominique, “Atlas Shrugged” was the beginning of the end of my flirtation with the objectivist life. The story was interminable, the prose turgid, the characters unbelievable and its philosophy, as espoused by John Galt, was abhorrent. I hung on for a while. If I gave up on Ayn Rand I’d have to give up Dominique, which I finally, reluctantly, did.
Almost everyone I know read Ayn Rand in high school or college. Reading her work was part of our literary rite of passage, like reading “On the Road,” “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Dune.” Such books capture our imagination, challenge our orthodoxy and get our creative and rebellious juices flowing. We absorb some truths, ignore others and reject the ridiculous.
Eventually, most of us grew up to realize that in contrast to atheist Ayn Rand’s “rational self-interest” religion-scorning philosophy of objectivism there were societal benefits and obligations, sometimes disappointments, sometimes great joy and laughter, in being engaged in secular progressive, creative, diverse and pluralistic communities. Americans, whether people of faith or not, committed to each other’s well-being, thrive in each others challenges and successes.
Sadly, there are still devotees of Ayn Rand’s objectivist vision who cannot separate fiction from reality, and many of those devotees have found a home in the 2012 Republican Party.
The New Yorker magazine reported that Ryan told the Weekly Standard in 2003 that, “Ryan not only tried to get all of the interns in his congressional office to read Rand’s writing, he also gave copies of her novel “Atlas Shrugged” to his staff as Christmas presents.” Ryan has very recently tried to move away from his attachment to Ayn Rand’s philosophy, but it’s a long and compelling history, not easily disavowed.
“I don’t believe society has a responsibility to anyone. (Including children).” — Ayn Rand
“People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.'” — Mark 10:13-14
Today, I believe many interests are trying to define American politics as a Manichean battle between Good and Evil, between spiritual worlds of light and material worlds of darkness: with President Obama as the Evil, the anti-Christ, the Socialist/Marxist Kenyan Muslim Other; he with the dark skin and charismatic manner, which he uses to try to enslave the most exceptional nation the Earth has ever known. The forces allied against him view themselves as the forces of Good, as the God-fearing protectors of this nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage, as the protectors of the freedoms of all liberty-loving entrepreneurial Americans.
“Enter in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be who go in there.” — Matthew 7:13.
It is about which gate one chooses to try to pass through. Will it be Ayn Rand’s path of “rational self-interest,” the path of corporate interests overriding the interests of the people, or will it be Matthew’s path?
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'” — Matthew 25:31-46.
It is not a battle between scripture and objectivism. It is not a battle between Christians and Muslims and atheists. It is about right and wrong. The men who formed this nation, who drafted the documents within which the rights of American citizens are eternally enshrined, were the Progressives of their day. More than 200 years ago, they expressed a vision of America that embraced a revolutionary world view of equality, liberty and freedom. Progressives owe it to them to defend that vision.
Our forefathers chose the Narrow Gate. Which gate will you choose?
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald