Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ayn Rand: Tea Party Voice of the Founding Fathers


In a piece in the Christian Science Monitor – an article that many correspondents believe was beneath the intellectual integrity of that publication – Vladimir Shlapentokh has declared that Ayn Rand is an unbefitting hero of the Tea Party. He writes:

Tea party leaders themselves talk about restoring America to the vision of the founding founders [sic]. That’s hardly a revealing insight; almost every political movement claims to carry on the founders’ legacy. We can learn much more about the tea party’s identity by looking to its heroes.

At tea party rallies, posters and praise single out the usual suspects: Thomas Jefferson, Sarah Palin, and Glenn Beck. But there’s another person who figures prominently at these rallies, one who serves as the intellectual fountainhead ... Ayn Rand. And that should concern all Americans. (Emphasis added.)

Ignoring Rand's real philosophy

Tea partiers portray themselves as ordinary Americans fed up with an out-of-control, deeply indebted welfare state. Many no doubt see Ms. Rand – the 20th-century writer and philosopher who railed against state power and collectivist thinking in such novels as “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” – as a posthumous compatriot.

But by clinging to the superficial commonality of hostility to welfare, tea partiers fail to see (or willfully ignore) something critical: Rand espoused an elitist, oligarchic philosophy that is both fundamentally antiAmerican (sic) and deeply at odds with the tea party's own “we the people” cause.

The growing cultural penetration of novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand has unleashed a continuing barrage of criticism based upon misrepresentations and distortions of her ideas. This smear piece is no different. In typical fashion, the author writes as if he never even bothered to read Rand’s works. What’s interesting about this piece is the connection he makes between the Tea Party, Ayn Rand, and the Founding Fathers – or, more precisely, the wedge he attempts to drive between them based upon an “anti-concept” and a fraudulent view of the Founders’ concept of “We the People”. Why? To smother her ideas. A Tea Party Movement without its "intellectual fountainhead" Ayn Rand would be just what the reactionary enemies of the Founding Fathers desperately want – a hollow “intellectual arsenal” on the Right.

The anti-concept is the term “elitist” that Shlapentokh pins on Ayn Rand, and is the hammer he attempts to use to drive the wedge. “Anti-concept” is a term coined by Rand herself, which she defines as follows:

An anti-concept is … designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept. The use of anti-concepts gives the listeners a sense of approximate understanding.

It consists of creating an artificial, unnecessary, and (rationally) unusable term, designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concepts—a term which sounds like a concept, but stands for a “package-deal” of disparate, incongruous, contradictory elements taken out of any logical conceptual order or context, a “package-deal” whose (approximately) defining characteristic is always a non-essential.

Article correspondent and Objectivist Sylvia Bokor explains this principle as it relates to Shlapentokh’s use of the term “elitist”:

"Elitism" is an anti-concept. It is an attempt to substitute the opposite of what the word "elite" emotionally generates, in an effort to destroy the abstract meaning of the term.

The emotion the concept "elite" arouses is admiration, pleasure, assurance. Its abstract meaning is those of high moral character. The elite in every category of endeavor refers to the achiever, the producer, the doer, the creative, the man of ability. We look up to men of ability and consider them the best man can be. We give them an elite status because they deserve distinction for their achievement.

Most men prefer the company of men they can respect and admire. Few men favor the company of criminals, cheats, the dishonest and the malingerer.

The anti-concept "elitist" is always meant derogatorily. It suggests that those who do not seek the company of morally depraved are somehow "not nice."

Ayn Rand the “elitist” is in fact the greatest champion of the “average working man” precisely because she is a defender of the individual’s right to his own life. The heroes in her novels – the productive elite - portray the virtuous character traits that lead to a self-made successful state of life and are readily attainable by anyone, on any level of ability. Reardon, d’Anconia, and Roark serve as inspirations particularly for the young just starting out in life. It is precisely those who the statists love to denigrate as hopelessly inept “little people” requiring a paternalistic state that have the most to gain by Rand’s philosophy, called Objectivism. It is “We the People”, not some mythical oligarchic elite, that statists fear. Once “the people” catch on and stand up and demand their rights, the collectivist game is over. Ayn Rand Tea Partyers are doing just that.

But Shlapentokh is right about one thing: Rand was an enemy of democracy. On this she stood with the Founding Fathers, who strove to create a constitutionally limited republic that authorizes the people to elect its leaders, but whose powers are limited to protecting their rights. The concepts of individualism based upon unalienable rights, and democracy based upon the supremacy of “the will of the people”, are antipodes. The statist advance in this country depends upon obliterating this country’s core Founding principle, the rights of man. Since one of the ideological means used by statists to achieve this is to smuggle in the idea of democracy as the American system, it is quite obvious why Rand must never be allowed to get an honest hearing: A principled, consistent defender of individual rights is a threat to power-lusters everywhere and at all times.

And diffusing this threat is the core meaning of Shlapentokh’s intentions. The Tea Party Movement, for all of its often-contradictory ideological diversity, is fundamentally about “restoring America to the vision of the founding founders”. Shlapentokh finds it “ironic” that “At tea party meetings in September, Rand’s name competed in popularity with Jefferson”. Competition?!? The book that he attempts to discredit as championing “the elites”, Rand’s magnum opus Atlas Shrugged, is in fact the greatest of tributes to the Founding Fathers. A proper understanding of that book makes it clear why Shlapentokh desperately needs to drive a wedge between Rand and Jefferson: Ayn Rand stands on the shoulders of the Founders, especially Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence.

That Declaration is a very abstract document which espouses a particular set of ideals that holds the individual human being as the supreme, sovereign societal value, each capable of using his power of reason to build his own life by his own effort, in voluntary and benevolent association and trade with others. The Founders' vision upheld government as the people's servant, bound by the single limited duty to protect his unalienable rights to life and property, and to the liberty to pursue of his own goals and happiness. The very same description applies to Atlas Shrugged, and the parallels between Atlas’ heroes and the Founders are manifest – they both sought only for every man to be left free, and were willing to risk all to fight for the principles espoused by Jefferson.

The Declaration of Independence ends with these words, which all of the signatories pledged to uphold:

“And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

In its essentials, that statement perfectly describes Atlas’s heroes. Both they and the Founders cleaved uncompromisingly to the ideals that created this country, based solely upon their confidence in the judgements of their own minds. Let’s examine the three leaders of the revolt against the tyrannical collectivist society portrayed in the world of Atlas Shrugged – John Galt, Francisco D’Anconia, and Ragnar Danneskjold:

John Galt, who started out in life poor but full of ambitious intellectual fire, gave up the fame and fortune that his revolutionary invention would have brought him, as well as the pursuit of the woman he loved. Why? To spend his life rescuing the victims of the tyranny he hated, before that tyranny destroyed them. He is the leader – the “commander-in-chief” – of the rebellion.

Francisco D’Anconia, one of Galt’s two field generals, was born into wealth, inheriting the world’s largest industrial enterprise. His brilliant productive energy promised to expand that enterprise to unimaginable proportions. Yet, he gave it all up to join Galt in the rescue mission and rebellion. He, too, gave up the woman he loved for this cause.

Ragnar Danneskjold, the other Galt field general, gave up a promising academic career that could have made him a world-famous philosopher. He chose instead to risk his life, literally, to defend the property of those who earned it – yes, all of them, including “everyday Americans” – against a looting government.

They gave it all up, and in varying degrees risked their very lives, for the ideal of individualist freedom. They had no idea how long the fight would be, or when they would be able to return to the lives they had chosen, if ever. They single-mindedly followed a vision – the vision of the Founding Fathers – to whatever end awaited them. Against an uncertain and risky future, armed with nothing but the judgement of their own minds, they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor – to each other and to their cause.

Atlas Shrugged is a monument to the American Founding, a salute and tribute to its Founders, and its author the logical intellectual and philosophic voice of the movement whose symbol is the Revolutionary War era slogan, “Don’t Tread on Me” – today’s Tea Party. Far from being “appalled to see how the ‘everyday Americans’ at tea party rallies have demanded that they (not the American nobility nor the Ivy League graduates) should have the decisive voice in American politics”, Rand’s heroes are the voice of the Founders rising in their defense. It is no wonder that the enemies of the Tea Party want to divorce it of Ayn Rand.

Ayn Rand built upon the work of John Locke, the Enlightenment thinkers, and the Founding Fathers, purging the poisonous contradictions and omissions in their work, to forge the missing link of America’s Founding – a comprehensive ideological foundation and defense. The lack of a proper foundation is what opened the door to statism and the erosion and eventual destruction of the Founders achievement. If Rand’s philosophical validation of the American Revolution ever took hold in our culture, it would mark the beginning of the end of the predatory welfare state, and usher in a second, final … and peaceful … American Revolution. For this achievement, Ayn Rand deserves the title, America’s Last Founding Father.

1 comment:

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Bravo! I am impressed with your ability to articulate together the vision of Jefferson in the Declaration with the vision of Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged. I just read Atlas again over the holiday last week, and was impressed Rand's passionate defense of our Founders and the vision of this country.

What a perfect Thanksgiving post, this!