Apparently it’s open hunting season on Ayn Rand, beginning with Gary Moore’s “Ayn Rand: Goddess of the Great Recession,” and picked up by Ben Witherington’s “Randian Libertarianism—-An Anti-Christian Credo.” I’m not entirely sure where it is all coming from, but here it is.
Now, I have HUGE reservations about Ayn Rand’s philosophy, especially since she was so vehemently anti-Christ. Take, for example, a line in the opening pages of The Fountainhead: “The church was a Gothic monument of shingles painted pigeon blue. It had stout wooden buttresses supporting nothing” (4, emphasis added). In a story exalting godless, man-centered architecture, that might be one of the most damning lines in the book.
The problem, though, is that these writers don’t *quite* understand Rand. They are accusing her of being greedy, when she was, in fact, selfish. In her philosophy, this is a huge difference. Greedy means, “Excessively desirous of acquiring or possessing, especially wishing to possess more than what one needs or deserves.” Selfish means, “Concerned chiefly or only with oneself.”
Where this becomes important is in her belief in “productive achievement as [man’s] noblest activity” (quoted in Moore’s article). It is productive achievement–not money–that is most important to Rand. Rand absolutely loathed anyone who received more money than they deserved, even as she championed the right to make as much money as possible.
What’s the difference? In Rand’s utopia (seen mostly clearly in Atlas Shrugged), money was a pure reflection of what a man had produced. On the other hand, Rand’s novels are filled with rich, greedy antagonists who produce nothing, but nevertheless deceive and manipulate others out of their money.
So, Howard Roark in The Fountainhead refuses architecture contracts where his contractors demand to modify his designs. John Galt in Atlas Shrugged built a world for the geniuses–the producers–of the world to live together, including some who were (currently) poor, and excluding many who had long been rich. It is a world where every person produces to the best of their abilities for their own interest, and they trade their products in a purely free market for the products of others. For Rand, this is selfishness, not greed.
On the other hand, villains and fools like Peter Keating, Ellsworth Toohey, and James Taggart destroy wealth because they don’t produce anything of value–even though all are extremely greedy and wealthy.
For this reason, Ayn Rand cannot really be considered the “goddess of the recession,” because she too would have condemned greedy, manipulative CEOs who made their money through shady deals that had nothing to do with the value of a product–even as she would condemn the hypocritical government that has incentivized, brow-beaten, and all but extorted businesses to make the terrible financial decisions that were the sub-prime mortgage crisis.
Rand would argue that this recession is the result of far too much greed and far too little selfishness (e.g., production in one’s self interest).
That said, Rand’s ethics were abysmal. She cared nothing for the poor, except in insisting that the poor should have the opportunity to work and produce. She had a horrific notion of “love” that she generally depicted with rape scenes. Moreover, I could never quite shake the question of “Why?” as I read her books. Why would you spend your life honing your craft for your own self-interest if you lost everything at your death? Some philosophies would see the public good or the bettering of the next generations as important, but for Rand, one’s self-interest is god. So why do all this?
As I said earlier, I don’t know why Christians are all of the sudden turning their attention against Ayn Rand. If you are interested in reading a much better and well documented essay, try John Piper’s essay, “The Ethics of Ayn Rand: Appreciation and Critique.” Piper describes my own sentiments toward Rand’s works well: “To this day, I find her writings paradoxically attractive.”
But in the interest of intellectual honesty, blaming Ayn Rand for the greed that led to the recession is neither fair nor accurate. As easy of a political target as she might be, we Christians need to be a little more shrewd as serpents, while yet innocent as doves.