Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dumb and Dumberer: The Beatification of Ayn Rand

“Oh, those poor people!”

“Somebody didn’t get out of that in one piece.”

I had just caught the last 45 minutes of the film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. It wasn’t so much of a movie as it was a community theater production of a 19-year old philosophy major’s “magnum opus.” That’s unfair . . . Cooper and Neal are fine actors, and did justice to the material. The stoicism of the persecuted hero. The visionary whose creative act is its own end. The 20th-century narcissistic obsession with technology and the conquest of nature. The unmistakably phallic architectural symbolism. The speeches – oh, the interminable speeches of the beleaguered hero, reviled by the parasitic masses and the bureaucrats who control them. The juvenile, self-pitying fantasy of the misunderstood artist persecuted by all but the elect few, who cast themselves at the feet of creative genius. Miss Rand may have escaped communist oppression, but she certainly managed to create her own Soviet aesthetic on this side of the Bering Strait.

For the life of me, I cannot understand the conservative obsession with Ayn Rand . . . certainly not the embarrassed apologetic offered by the Catholic element of the conservative movement. I suppose it can only be explained by the belief that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Are today’s Catholic conservatives so ill-equipped to deal with relativism and state collectivism that they actually think Rand offers some meaningful foundation and bulwark for our world view? Doesn’t anyone read Aristotle and St. Thomas any longer? Anybody heard of that guy, Leo XIII? Pius X? Ringing any bells, anyone? Have we become so hostile to the intellectual life, our standards so debased, that Ayn Rand actually represents our new moral and philosophical high ground?

What ever happened to the conservativism of only fifty years ago? Whittaker Chambers, writing for the National Review, published what has to be one of the most brilliant critiques of Atlas Shrugged.

Flannery O’Connor wrote to a friend that "The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky."

So now because she has the endorsement of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, she’s suddenly OK? Her support of the Barry Goldwater campaign gives her Catholic street cred?

Rand’s atheistic worldview, in which the dollar sign replaces the cross, and the expression and fulfillment of the Creative Class becomes the ultimate teleological framework, is so closely allied to Marxism and the errors of modernism that I’m incapable of distinguishing them, philosophically. Whether the object be “the common good” or the good of John Galt, all of the assumptions (at least the important ones) seem to me to be the same. She may appeal to some common social good, but only in her moments of inconsistency (which are constant), and only as an accidental result of the creative acts of the hero class, rather than their intended object and purpose.

The only explanation I have to offer for the infatuation that conservative Catholics seem to have with Ayn Rand, the only explanation for a movement that, by its own stated purpose is committed to the return of godliness and Christianity to the public forum, and is now singing the praises of an adulteress, modernist, and neo-pagan, is that we are the product of the education system we love to hate. We are so stupid, so illiterate, so much a product of the moment, that we are incapable of formulating a cogent response to left-wing secular Statism, and trip after Ms. Rand like rats after the pied piper. Pathetic.

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