British Tribute to Ayn Rand: Godless Prophet of the Capitalist Revolution

Don’t miss “Ayn Rand: Godless Prophet of the Capitalist Revolution” by Simon Heffer, in Standpoint Magazine. It begins:

One of the latest hits on YouTube is a nine-minute compilation of clips from King Vidor’s 1949 film of Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead. It is titled “Howard Roark makes a case against Barack Obama”. Roark, somewhat bizarrely played by Gary Cooper, is the hero of Rand’s novel: an individualist architect who serves as a metaphor for the battle against the evils of welfarism and its parent, socialism. Roark will not submit himself to serve others, but nor does he expect others to serve him. His welfare, his progress, the creation of his wealth and reputation are matters for him alone. His moral view is that it is better for society that things are ordered in that way, for it makes every man his own master.

He is a visionary architect. He designs buildings that he believes in. They are only to be built not just if they find clients, but if those clients agree that the integrity of the design (and therefore the integrity of Roark) must be sacrosanct. When Roark’s design for a public housing project is chosen, but built with modifications of which he does not approve, he blows the building up. He is put on trial after a hate campaign against him by a newspaper that crusades against individualism. After an electrifying courtroom speech defending his principles and his ideology, he is acquitted.

His reputation is made and his individualism respected. Those who have sought to add him to the list of men enslaved by self-sacrifice, that they might themselves wield power, are roundly vanquished. In Rand’s world, intervention by the state is a fundamental evil. The coercion into self-sacrifice is an abomination. There is to be a ruthless selfishness balanced by a strict morality: and the philosophy in which this morality is to be rooted is one of rationalism and not of any theology. “It stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there’s someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master.” As Roark puts it at his trial: “I have come here to say that I do not recognise anyone’s right to one minute of my life…It had to be said. The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing.” The story can be seen as one of almost laughable extremes, but it has become regarded in the last 60 years as a parable of the American way. When a new president is tearing up that way and imposing what some of his critics have called “socialism”, it is easy to see how the conservative element in America has seized on Roark as a beacon for these disturbed times.

That, though, is not the limit of Rand’s influence on the current debate. Her novel Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957, was in one 1991 survey voted the second most influential book in America, second only to the Bible. Rand would have seen an element of challenge in this. Her militant atheism was unconcealed. Faith was not merely a rank superstition, it also claimed the authority of a higher being over man. Rand could not accept that any man, or any entity, had power over the individual. This has handicapped some on the Right in America from embracing the rest of what, to them, would normally be a highly compatible philosophy: she showed them the cloven hoof and her adherents today in the institute that bears her name continue relentlessly to do the same. The victory of ideas is not won by appeasement.

Her gods are living and they are men like Roark and the hero of Atlas Shrugged, John Galt. These are men who lead by example and in whom the milk of Judaeo-Christian human kindness is replaced by a stiff cocktail of realism, integrity, individuality and self-help. The world is told to accept such people on their own terms – terms that strive not to force one man’s will upon others, but to make others see that the will of the individual, exercised morally, is to be respected and fostered. In the first seven weeks of this year, sales of Atlas Shrugged trebled in America. They have even risen in the UK, where until Penguin published an edition of the novel a couple of years ago (along with copies of other of Rand’s works, including The Fountainhead) they were harder to obtain than Mein Kampf – such, presumably, was deemed to be their ideological offensiveness to the British people. Last year, 51 years after its first publication, the novel sold a record 200,000 copies in the US. Sales have been further boosted by the recession.

See the full article for much more. Thanks to Bob Hessen for the link.