Summary: With the release of Alan Greenspan’s new book, The Age of Turbulence, praising Ayn Rand’s influence on the former Federal Reserve chairman’s thinking, and the new film based on her book Atlas Shrugged starring Angelina Jolie set to come out next year, Ayn
This article is from BreakPoint WorldView magazine: http://www.breakpoint.org/contentindex.asp?ID=146.
With the release of Alan Greenspan’s new book, The Age of Turbulence, praising Ayn Rand’s influence on the former Federal Reserve chairman’s thinking, and the new film based on her book Atlas Shrugged starring Angelina Jolie set to come out next year, Ayn Rand is more popular than ever. Her books, actually, have remained top sellers--Atlas Shrugged being second only to the Bible. But since the business scandals earlier this decade and Greenspan’s expressed admiration, her ideas--namely, objectivism--have gained more traction. But the consequences of those ideas should give Christians great pause.
According to the New York Times, Greenspan met Rand when he was 25 and married a member of her inner circle, known as the Collective. He found Rand’s "moral defense of capitalism" appealing. Later, Rand’s magazine, The Objectivist, published several of Greenspan’s essays.
Greenspan is not alone in his veneration. Fifty years after its publication and 25 years after Rand’s death, Atlas Shrugged sells hundreds of thousands of copies every year and is read everywhere from college campuses to Wall Street. Given its popularity and its impact, Christians should be acquainted with Rand’s work and, especially, her worldview: objectivism. It is one of those stealth worldviews that has a way of infiltrating our culture, particularly the business community. It is social Darwinism writ large. We need to know how to answer those who uphold objectivism as a way of life.
Briefly, objectivism teaches that man’s "highest value" and "moral purpose" is his own happiness. By "happiness," Rand meant "rational self-interest." For her, "virtue" consisted of doing those things that "secured" your life and well-being. As theologian John Piper put it, Rand’s work manifests a "complete rejection of a divine or supernatural dimension to reality." The absence of God causes Rand to get human nature wrong, as well--specifically, in her view of altruism. She viewed altruism and self-sacrifice as vices. They represent a betrayal of what should be a person’s "highest values," that is, his life and well-being. Similarly, justice is possible only if you "never seek or grant the unearned and undeserved, neither in matter nor in spirit . . . " You see how this contradicts the Christian worldview--and the way things really are.
So, if altruism and self-sacrifice are out, then how are people supposed to relate to one another? Through exchanges that promote mutual advantage, Rand says; it is what she called "trade"--in other words, as if each of the parties were businesses, not people. If all of this sounds like rationalizing self-centeredness to you, you are not alone. As the New York Times recently described it, Atlas Shrugged is "Ayn Rand’s glorification of the right of individuals to live entirely for their own interest."
Nevertheless, today Ayn Rand and her ideas enjoy a sort of cult following. (When we recently published a "BreakPoint" commentary about her at Townhall.com, it immediately garnered more than 200 comments, nearly all of them in vehement defense of Rand. I think I hit a nerve.) Many in the business community regard Atlas Shrugged as their bible.
Rand’s proponents claim she did show concern for the other--that creating businesses and wealth in turn helps others. There is some credence to that: that is, entrepreneurship provides jobs and helps the economy. But basing your worldview solely on the bottom line--how things benefit the self alone--ultimately devalues and degrades the human dignity of others. If everyone is trying to climb to the top of the heap, a lot of people’s rights are going to get trampled, and it is not going to be a viable way for everyone to live, only for the elite and the powerful. After all, where would ethics arise in this view? The survival of the strongest would be the ultimate virtue. This cannot lead anywhere except to the totalitarian impulse. As Solzhenitsyn put it in his famous speech "A World Split Apart":
"A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man’s noblest impulses."
And basing standards on the whim of the "producers," as Rand called them, fails to take into account the fallenness of man. It is presumptuous, to say the least, to think that "pure capitalism" is possible--the creators and producers are not necessarily beneficent, and sin will take hold.
Consider how objectivism plays out in its application. It not only affects one’s professional life, but one’s personal life as well. Rand exemplified the selfish motivation that objectivism upholds. For example, when she was about 50, she seduced a married protégé--half her age--convincing him and her own husband to agree to Rand and the young student engaging in a sexual affair. Her abusive behavior is "demonstrably connected to Rand’s own ’philosophical’ premises," said Scott Ryan, who wrote a book on her philosophy. "She wasn’t a nice person," Darla Moore, vice president of the private investment firm Rainwater Inc., told the New York Times. "But what a gift she’s given us"--yes, that is, how not to live one’s life. But I don’t think that is what Moore meant.