In 1961, Gore Vidal composed an essay for Esquire magazine in which he excoriated the worldview of Ayn Rand, a writer of truly awful novels and essay anthologies declaring selfishness to be a virtue.
“This odd little woman is attempting to give a moral sanction to greed and self interest, and to pull it off she must at times indulge in purest Orwellian newspeak of the “freedom is slavery” sort. What interests me most about her is not the absurdity of her “philosophy,” but the size of her audience (in my campaign for the House she was the one writer people knew and talked about). She has a great attraction for simple people who are puzzled by organized society, who object to paying taxes, who dislike the ‘welfare’ state, who feel guilt at the thought of the suffering of others but who would like to harden their hearts. For them, she has an enticing prescription: altruism is the root of all evil, self-interest is the only good, and if you’re dumb or incompetent that’s your lookout.
“She is fighting two battles: the first, against the idea of the State being anything more than a police force and a judiciary to restrain people from stealing each other’s money openly.”
Ayn Rand, the eldest daughter of a well-to-do pharmacist in St. Petersburg, Russia, used her written work as an outlet for her adolescent rage about her father’s enterprise being confiscated during the 1917 Great October Socialist Revolution, which resulted in her family being displaced. Upon emigrating to the United States in 1926, she became attracted to the pervasive individualistic spirit she saw. Disgusted by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s progressive New Deal policies, she and husband Frank O’Connor volunteered to assist Republican Presidential candidate Wendell Willkie’s 1940 election campaign. Throughout the 1940s, 1950s 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, she found success as a writer. Though her books, chock full of wooden prose and dialogue starchy enough to use in ironing shirts, were savaged by the critics, her work appealed to conservatives who were suspicious of Roosevelt and fearful of the spread of Soviet communism, hippies who distrusted the U.S government and yuppies who voted for Reagan.
Reagan himself was an admirer of Ayn Rand and said so in a 1966 letter to writer and entrepreneur William Vandersteel. Ironically, when Ayn Rand was asked her opinion of Ronald Reagan in 1981, the year before she died of heart failure brought on by years of too much chain-smoking and too much speed, she declared:
“I don’t think of him. And the more I see, the less I think of him…the appalling part of his administration was 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.”
In a 1962 column for The Los Angeles Times, Ayn Rand wrote:
“Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society. Today, the conflict has reached its ultimate climax; the choice is clear-cut: either a new morality of rational self-interest, with its consequence of freedom, justice, progress and man’s happiness on earth, or the primordial morality of altruism with its consequences of slavery, brute force, stagnant terror and sacrificial furnaces.”
Ayn Rand has earned praise from Fox News, conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and from that bloated, fascist, pillhead radio scourge Rush Limbaugh, who calls her “brilliant.” House Speaker Paul Ryan asserts that she is the reason why he entered politics and requires his staff and interns to read her books. Not surprisingly, her 1943 novel The Fountainhead, her first successful work, was singled out for praise by none other than President-elect Donald John Trump.
“[The Fountainhead] relates to business, beauty, life and inner emotions. That book relates to … everything.”
Ayn Rand’s influence on Trump perhaps was a major factor in his ability to win over lumpenproletariat white voters with an overwhelming fetish for the fantasy of absolute individual responsibility that has sapped them of their compassion and kindness. Though their disdain for the poor ostensibly is an overcompensation for a fear that they themselves may end up at loose ends, these voters may find themselves joining the ranks of the underclass when the effects of the Trump Administration’s dismantling of health care and overtime pay laws are fully realized.
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