The International Writers Magazine: US Comment and Readers Responses
The Ghost of Free Market Past
How Ayn Rand's Individualist Orthodoxy Spirits The New Right
"The worst of all crimes is the acceptance of the opinions of others."
- Ayn Rand, as quoted in "Goddess Of The Market" -- Ayn Rand And The American Right by Jennifer Burns
Ultimately, it was the controversies surrounding my third book, "Trailing Jesus" which helped drive its modest sales, but none of it has consistently equaled the response to what some labeled my brazen inclusion in a list of like-minded philosophers of the historical Jesus a quote by world-class atheist, Ayn Rand. To which I often retorted that if Jesus and Ayn had ever spent any time together in a locked room, neither could decide which of them was indeed God. And in my estimation after six years of research, beyond Friedrich Nietzsche, Rand's first and lasting philosophical hero, only the icon of Christianity could equal Rand's unyielding defense of the individual as moral arbiter of his/her fate. And just as the figure and scope of a Jesus can be all things to all people, so thus is the author of "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged".
It is hard to find anyone, whether philosopher, psychologist or pop culture icon, which has filled more socio-political voids than Ayn Rand. Her wildly consumed novels have spawned millions of dedicated followers, sparked historic movements, and launched varied institutions, remaining as influential today as any of their contemporaries. And now that many of these same contemporaries, both disciples and detractors, begin to slip into history, and her legend grows with queer abandon, a renaissance in Rand's pristine moral imperative of hallowed selfishness over evil altruism dawns a new age in America's lasting ideological battle; the progressive collective rationality versus rugged American free-market individualism.
To that end, talk show hosts, columnists, protestors and political pundits routinely resurrect the nearly eighty year-old writings, teachings, and rants of Rand to plug their personal ideals, however disparate. From TEA Party enthusiasts to Don't Tread On Me fanatics, Right Wing showman and fiscally conservative economists, there is always plenty of the Randian spirit readily available to be co-opted. Never has this been more evident than in the fallout of today's crumbling economic implosion born of rapacious malfeasance and individual irresponsibility leading to the inevitable expansion of federal regulation and government intervention.
Nearly thirty years after her death, Rand strikes a figure that can remarkably embody the basic tenets of anarchy while also espousing a strong sense of patriotic duty -- a dedication to personal responsibility in the perpetuation of capitalist ideals. And once again, as the new century hits its second decade and the winds of change shift dramatically, the timing of author, Jennifer Burns's biography, "Goddess Of The Market -- Ayn Rand And The American Right" is almost eerie.
"There is an infinite attraction to Rand and her philosophy because it is so unattainable," Ms. Burns told me this week. "She spent a lifetime trying to create individualists out of human beings, who are social creatures at base, but because we are social creatures we struggle against our destinies and wish we could be what one reviewer said of Howard Roark (Rand's practical idealist hero from "The Fountainhead"), that he is the superman -- completely free, independent without a care for others, thus never feeling pain or disappointment, super-human."
Rand's superhero protagonists, specifically in her spectacularly popular novels, her relentlessly structured essays and the cult of her personal philosophy called Objectivism, wherein the mystical Disneyification of an entire generation is obliterated in a torrent of cold reasoning and self-reliant myopia, speak to the vastness of the American schizophrenia; a relentless pursuit of individual gratification basked in a noble reach to empower the whole.
"Goddess Of The Market" is the first book authored by a non-Randian disciple nor an ardent Objectivist, who was not only allowed access to Rand's personal papers but places this schizophrenia into modern context.
"Rand is unique because she has clarified what is really a Christian theme of a charitable redistribution of wealth as immoral," Burns says. "She's able to dramatically strengthen the argument against the expanse of the state over the individual in less practical and more emotional terms."
Like the America Rand envisioned and was to forever worship as the triumph of science and progress over the mystical imprisonment of a Czarist and later a Communist Russia, her personal contradictions (Burns describes her as tempestuous and moody and in her book Rand appears spiteful, vengeful and randomly petty) were ignored for the greater "truth" in the glorious "pursuit of happiness".
"The grand paradox that powered Rand's career is the offshoot of a philosophical system she constructed as an absolute truth, which is if one was to reason properly one would come to a universal conclusion, " Burns notes. "Yet the people most strongly attracted to the message of individualism aren't as strongly developed as individuals and perhaps the most susceptible to this type of orthodoxy."
This explains "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged" as key contributors to youthful literary exuberance, as Kerouac's "On The Road" or Plath's "The Bell Jar" seems to resonate among the impressionable.
"I always laugh when people pass Rand off as some kind of joke, like 'Only teenagers read her', Burns says. "Yeah, teenagers do come to her, and since that is when many of us form our beliefs for a lifetime, I think that's pretty important."
At the root of Rand's influence and orthodoxy are the harsh realities of Objectivism. Even for the most zealous supporters, no matter how loyal, all are not included. Those not worthy of its distinctions are left without the slightest empathy. The "blessed" ones are most cherished for their art of invention, artistic brilliance, ingenuity and progress and may then reap the rightful rewards. Unlike the religious parameters of those "chosen" or "saved" in a specific faith gaining ultimate spiritual emancipation, Rand's exalted few are merited by action, production and success.
However, unflinching philosophical orthodoxy aside, Rand is most potent as a political juggernaut, with pen and verbal assault, which she deftly used during her lifetime and left behind in her volumes of work. They were rendered as body blows to both the modern Conservative movement (Building a Christian Right edict in the war against Communism, William F. Buckley spent decades trying to discredit Rand's hard-line materialism and staunch atheism) and her favorite whipping post, Liberalism.
From the days of the New Deal to the Great Society, Rand stood in firm opposition of any government intervention for any purpose, including "just" foreign wars and the conscription that accompanied them. And although appalled by Southern racism, she supported Barry Goldwater's stance for state rights and against a Civil Rights bill. Moreover, Rand, while being a beacon for the rights of women and anti-censorship, in which she fought both battles to the teeth during her professional life, thought feminism asinine while also managing to support abortion and wrote vehement screeds against Hollywood propaganda for the Left, going as far as speaking on behalf of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
In the end, though, it is Rand's insistence, almost a passionate demand for the individual over almost any collective that places her neatly in the messiah line-up. Libertarians, anarchists and anti-government fist-pumpers and sign-wavers look to her as their shining example, perhaps today more than ever.
"Objectivism, whether you agree with it or not, is part of the American intellectual experience," Burns concludes. "Ayn Rand has had a profound impact on so many Americans, defining how they think about capitalism, markets, and the question of morality."
In the weirdest of evolutions, the idea of trusting the human intellect and its lust for greed and expanding the limits of true freedom has led to some of the most ignominious failures of this democracy, as has its subsequent remedy, an expanding government clampdown, whether Trust Busters, The New Deal or The Big Bank Bailout. It speaks ultimately of Rand's fatal flaw -- the fatal flaw in the human spirit, to be our own worst enemy and as Twain once coined, getting the government "of the people and by the people" we deserve.
As "Goddess Of The Market" so intriguingly points out, Rand stands as a figure of absolute truth against so many American contradictions, not the least of which is what the new Right today must face if it is to gain a foothold to power again, a sense that at the core of the true American spirit lies the dollar sign and not the crucifix.
© James Campion Dec 19th 2009
Health Care Finale
The Clock is ticking for Democrats. Can they get something done?
READERS RESPONSES 12.23.09
With so much sarcasm and cynicism, it's hard to address this seriously. (AFGHANISTAN: THE ORIGINAL QUAGMIRE -- Issue:10/7/09)
With phrases like "there will be American foreign military presence wasting our money and stealing our children to not "win" somewhere." and "War is nothing more than another in a spectacular line-up of wasteful, inefficient, badly orchestrated and overly funded government program." where does one begin?
The old "if we didn't fight wars we could spend it on xxxx for everyone" argument is about as sensible as saying "well, if I didn't have to buy a car every couple years, I wouldn't have to get such a demanding but well paying job."
Oh, and I almost chuckled at the "blatantly fascist" comment regarding the return of remains...
Your point is well taken, and I wholeheartedly agree, but for a few niggling details.
Executive Summary: D. D. Eisenhower was right, but like most who expose the problems with the industries in which they've spent their lives, we don't hear about until the exposer is on the way out.
It is my studied opinion that war is all about money. Period. Despite the volumes of commentary, which ranges from inspirational to boring, human beings simply will not risk life, limb, and or property unless they believe that their own life and/or livelihood are in clear and present danger.
So propaganda is the exception to the rule, but it must be convincing and persistent enough to cause and maintain sufficient fear. Loathing is optional.
Framing war as a government program only goes so far as the idea that only sovereign nations can declare, foment, fight, fund, and win or lose a war. Our own revolution is the prima facie example: We were terrorists in the eyes of the British Crown. We broke the rules of war which had been established as a gentlemanly pursuit--and we won with that strategy, born of desperation though it was. Consider also that we haven't waged war against another sovereign power since ... Viet Nam?
In "our" case (this land is your land, this land is ...), it's more of a government procurement program, driven by private interests, e.g., the Carlyle Group, BCCI, and other "gone legit" war profiteers who now offer Shareholder Value.
This is the most sacred entity and circumstance in these United States, particularly with the bolus of Boomers for whom the bell curve tolls. "Sure," he said, dabbing at the spilled margarita on his Hawaiian shirt, "war is wrong, but where the Hell else am I going to get the returns I need for my retirement?"
Regarding Afghanistan, see "Charlie Wilson's War". The Russians wasted almost ten years and untold monies mired there, and very likely sowed the seeds of their own demise. Charlie is quoted at the end of that excellent film as saying that we fucked up the endgame in Afghanistan. When it was all about war, the Congress was willing to spend billions to finance even a black eye for the USSR, but then wouldn't cough up even a million to rebuild infrastructure and establish schools.
We all know who stepped in to do that, now, don't we?
Wars last for as long as they're making money. Period. See also the "War On Drugs", which is an even fatter cash cow than any other war that "we" have ever fought.
I'm about two clicks from dropping off of the grid. I don't like how "our" taxes are being spent, and the rules are getting too tight for my middle-aged ass. I think I'll try the Northwest and do a little ... farming.
It is time for the President to listen to the people and come up with a planned withdrawal from Afghanistan. Poll after poll suggests where the majority of Americans stand and just this morning an extensive report was aired on DemocracyNow! with Amy Goodman. http://www.democracynow.org/ (Oct 7, 09) As usual, Mass Media only tells us part of the story and the in depth interviews on DN! give a clearer picture. With our economy in the tank the billions wasted on wars would be better spent at home, not halfway around the planet.
While I don't disagree with you, listening to the people is not an option for any U.S. president or Congress. That would mean we were a democracy which we are not. We are a Republic who elects gov't officials to make decisions for us. So how did this all come to be? It's actually in that lousy piece of paper as GW Bush put it - the U.S. Constitution. So we the people are "represented" by the politicians that lie to get elected and of course do something else than their campaign promises. So too appears to be the Obama admin which has yet to deliver on many of his promises of change we can beiieve in. I don't see the real change yet and those things he has started in motion, I still can't believe will work out. 3-rd party, a progresive party is desparately needed to counteract the far right thugs and the centrist Dems like Obama.
Your writing is amazing. You always seem to make me think in a different way, and usually even give me a laugh. Thank you for all of that.
Thank you so much for validating my minority opinion that "Crazy is crazy." (FORT HOOD'S SOCIOLOGICAL BACKLASH -- Issue: 11/18/09) foxnews.com had the banner yesterday "Hasan: Soldier of Allah" PLEASE. There have been more hurricanes lately...can we connect them to Al Qaeda?
I only visited Texas a couple of times, which may be why I'm still alive. I do, however, have a story I've never forgotten.
My friends lived in a gated community just outside of Houston and smack up against a golf course. One night, as I was in my room preparing for dinner, I heard a girl SCREAMING and a dog barking furiously. Without a second thought, I flew downstairs and out of the house, and ran across the course to see if I could help. (The dog sensed her fear and was bullying her, but as soon as I approached he took off, so 'all's well that ends well.')
When I returned to my friends, I was told, "Paula, you do NOT do that here, EVER. You could've been shot down by any of the homeowners!" I was stunned, to say the least. Shot? For what reason? Going to the aid of a child...? Is Texas the Official Land of the Loonies?
Which is why "I'll take Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island too..."
Paula DeMarta Mastroianni
Dec 30th Readers Responses - Tiger Woods
As an avid-yet-poor golfer, in love with the game and addicted to golf tournaments--televised, live, even the ones I participate in--I couldn't care less about Tiger Woods' personal problem. (WHY WE CARE ABOUT TIGER WOODS) I respect his accomplishments, I commiserate with his knee problems, and I admire him for literally getting back into the game. It's just that I can't relate to him whatsoever. He putted on TV at the age of 2, and his game is atypical. Like the greats in any field, e.g., Eric Clapton, Kurt Thomas, Bobby Fischer, Teddy Roosevelt, he is beyond emulation.
I think the attraction to news stories about the incident last weekend is due to two factors: Woods' intensely intentional private life, and the foundation of the game of golf, the honor inherent in the game. One of the most beloved golfers of all time--another example of a one-of-a-kind performer--Bobby Jones, is famous for calling rule violations on himself.
Even if Tiger has done the same in the sport, this dust-up in his personal life is much more than a ding on the fender of his career. I think his fans will forgive him first, followed by most of the portion of the world that is paying any attention to the sensationalized, even re-enacted-via-simulation incident. It will be Tiger himself who tears himself down to the point where a comeback will be required. He may never actually forgive himself.
He'll do it. He'll regain the greatness and surpass it on the road to recovery. I predict that he'll break all but one of the records on whose thresholds he remains poised. It may be ten years before he gets his game back, but he'll do it, and we'll see him shed the tears of a man who had given up on himself and yet somehow found himself again.
But no one will ever top Bobby Jones' feat of winning all four major tournaments during a single season. It may well be the bogus crown award to Woods for having done so in a calendar year that has been pulling him down since before his knee surgery.
For, you see, golf is, indeed, a game of honor. Sandbaggers know their real handicaps, and they know that winning with more extra points than they deserve isn't really winning. The same goes for those who play at the game, rather than playing it. Tiger, having lived the game for most of his life, knows this, and he knew it during his "transgressions."
As with all of our fellow human beings who fail in public view, we shall soon see what Tiger Woods is made of. The people who care about you don't mind the mistakes you make: It's what you do afterward that defines your character.
I used to buy into the Tiger is a nice guy bullshit until 2003 when the Open first came to The Black. It was then that I saw how Woods did an amazing job crafting his good guy image because his reality was far from that. While other guys who had won Major Championships were gracious and fun with the crowds, Tiger was aloof, arrogant and distant. Yes, this is the U.S Open. Yes, this is a major. Yes, this is a week where he is directly chasing Jack; but to completely ignore the people who pay the money to see him is just plain fucked up.
There is a difference between being focused and being a douchebag. Focusing on your game from Thursday to Sunday is cool and understandable. Ignoring your fans on a Tuesday practice round is just plain douchebaggery.
I love Tiger, but I always will but my eyes are open. I know he is not a friendly golfer in the way Arnie, Jack, Lee or Chi-Chi were. He is the King of The World and no one gets near him. That said, I will still root for him because he is the best and to see such an amazing record like Jack's 18 Majors fall in our lifetime would be incredible. I will watch in admiration but I will keep in my mind...great golfer but not so nice person.
There's definitely a dark side to this feeding frenzy.
I think posibly even a racial component to the self righteous hypocrisy and glee which people like Rush Limbaugh seem to take delight in.
Personally, I haven't put any person on a pedestal (not since Michael Jordan when I was a kid) Inevitably they are going to do something human. And for what it's worth, I'm not buying all these stories from disreputable women. As far as I'm concerned they might have sexed some guy who simply "told" them he was Tiger. Not at all unheard of in the circles within which they move.
First off Erin is dead on in regards to golfers' self-flagellation as it is one of the few human activities done knowingly in the presence of others whose abuse one willfully pays for. As for the elitist bit, she needn't look further than her own profession for bloated, self-important and self-indulgent elitists - the kind golfers learned elitism from.
As for Tiger's problems, I don't buy this he's got to apologize to fans shit. Maybe to his foundation supporters and other business venture partners who signed on to the squeaky clean part of the brand, ok, but he didn't purposely throw a fucking tournament. Quite the contrary - when he competes he's single-minded and focused on being the best he can be. If any one of you has bought into Tiger Woods Inc. for anything other than the athletic excellence the logo represents then you're a bunch of easily duped idiots who probably spend your time looking for the face of Jesus in heavily salted snack treats.
The treatment of Tiger is hypocricy and misandry- hatred of men- wrapped in envy, greed, immorality, licentiousness. Tiger committed a heinous crime of adultery. But he did not gloat about it, profit it from committing it. Tiger also betrayed his wife. But these mistresses exposing their affairs with him, revealing his personal details, feelings, getting paid to do so, are part of a notion that they deserve to punish Tiger, that they deserve to reap profit from his demise. How is that so? They consensually committed adultery, fornicated at their own will- how do they deserve to betray their relationship for their gain? How do they deserve to be paid for their betrayal?
Everyone has reasons why they do what they do. There are two sides to every story. We just do not, and should not, know the whole story. Is there any among us who does not have skeletons in the closet?
I doubt it.
This isn't just about Tiger but also about all the folks that enabled his behavior, namely his sponsors and, yes, the media too. No doubt that Tiger played the principal role in the mass deception, but the media have to take some responsibility too. Just because Woods is a magnificent golfer, most people assumed he was a magnificent person, which was fostered regularly by the media. One can presume then that there could have been many media folk who also partaked in those VIP parties when Woods was present and chose instead to just look the other way and/or not report as accurately the man behind the golf club.
So, the question bears asking, was Woods' image down to cynical hard sell and/or how much was simply a product of his brilliance as a golfer? Tiger took every bit of the money his image delivered. And with great rewards come great responsibility. That's the deal. You can't have one without the other. You can't have your image beamed relentlessly into everyone's living room and then expect people not to be intrigued with your life. You can't release glowing pictures of your family and think the public isn't going to seek information when it comes crumbling down. It's fine that he's not perfect. It's just that the media sold him as such as much as his sponsors.
Undoubtedly far too many people pin their hopes and dreams on the accomplishments of others. If anyone is disappointed by Tiger Woods' behavior, then I suspect they were set up by their own inability to prevent a ludicrous investment into someone else's life. Why would you adore anyone? How can you expect anyone you do not know to present model behavior?
I am cracking up at the sheer lunacy of those commenting about their disappointment. Be disappointed in your own judgment.