There was a piece on National Public Radio (NPR) a week or so ago charting the influence of novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand in today’s politics, specifically in economic policy touted by certain Republicans in Congress. Ayn Rand was a proponent of “objectivism,” that is quoting from the NPR piece:
It is, she says, a system of morality “not based on faith” or emotion, “but on reason.”
Rand wholly rejected religion. She called it a weakness, even a parasite — one that convinces people their purpose is to work for the betterment of others. In fact, she says, for man, the truth is just the opposite.
“His highest moral purpose is the achievement of his own happiness,” she says.
“One of the principal achievements of this country in the past 20 years, particularly — I think most people agree — is the gradual growth of social, protective legislation, based on the principle that we are our brothers’ keepers.”
“I feel that it is terrible that you see destruction all around you, and that you are moving toward disaster until and unless all those welfare state conceptions have been reversed and rejected,” Rand answers.
“I am opposed to all forms of control. I am for an absolute, laissez-faire, free, unregulated economy.”
NPR proposes that Ayn Rand’s influence is strong on Capital Hill today among Republicans. NPR quotes Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) (my Rep) who has read her books “6 or 8 times,” Allen West (R-FL), Speaker John Boehner, Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Steve King (R-IA) who either give favorable reviews of A. Rand or who seem to speak her message.
There is no doubt that Republicans often decry the Welfare State and numerous regulations. And true, some Republican Congressmen have been enthusiastic about Ayn Rand’s philosophy. This is troubling, especially when practicing Catholics show their enthusiasm without some caveat on her general philosophy.
I would also venture that while in general conservatives do decry entitlement programs and the “regulation state”, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are all Ayn Rand enthusiasts. One can certainly stand for smaller government and subsidiarity principles without agreeing that man’s highest moral purpose is achieving his own happiness. Further, I would argue that most Republicans only differ in their preference in size of government and regulation by a matter of degree from Democrats. We don’t see many radical proposals on the size of government and regulations gaining traction even when Republicans hold the majority; mostly we see skirmishes on the edges.
But this isn’t by far the whole story. There seems to be many on the Left in Congress who subscribe to Ayn Rand’s objectivism on social issues in a much more committed way. The push for the homosexual agenda, abortion, and contraception by the Left is based on the flawed philosophy of pleasure without responsibility, which is very close to Ayn Rand’s “highest moral purpose”.
It seems Ayn Rand’s objectivism has influenced both sides of the aisle in government and in the general populace, and most dangerously in the social issue sphere. We are constantly bombarded by the message that the purpose of life is simply a hedonistic pursuit of our own happiness, and some of us have bought it.
Man’s highest purpose is to know, love, and serve God. This is the only philosophy that will make man happy. It is a philosophy of being our brother’s keeper in a personal way. It is a philosophy of self-sacrifice which paradoxically makes man happy. Only when we seek the happiness of others do we ourselves have peaceful joy.
We are our brother’s keeper. The government’s attempt to preempt our personal role as our brother’s keeper has unfortunately been accepted by many. When, as a society, we let the government do our charity, we rob ourselves individually and as a society of the opportunity and obligation of doing God’s work. Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker Movement decried this trend of letting government do our charity. In a conversation with Stanley Vishnewsi on their first meeting, Peter Maurin said:
The purpose of the Catholic Worker is to create a society where it will, be easier for men to be good. A society where each person will consider himself to be his brother’s keeper. A society where each one will try to serve and to be the least. God wants us to be our brother’s keeper. He wants us to feed the hungry at a personal sacrifice. He wants us to clothe the naked at a personal sacrifice. He wants us to shelter the homeless. To serve man for God’s sake, that is what God wants us to do! (from Wings of the Dawn by Stanley Vishnewsi and reprinted in The Catholic Worker, May 1976-The Catholic Worker Movement website at www.catholicworker.org)
It would seem to me that Congress and the American people would do well to think about Peter Maurin’s words rather than Ayn Rand’s.