Ted Bobrow

The illusory appeal of Ayn Rand

By - Feb 24th, 2010 12:15 am
Get a daily rundown of the top stories on Urban Milwaukee

One of my best friends in high school was a big-time believer in libertarianism, the political philosophy that gives paramount importance to personal liberty and rejects the right of government to interfere with the rights of the individual through taxation and other forms of social and economic interference.

We had many lengthy discussions, debates and arguments, sometimes satisfying, sometimes not, which were probably fairly common among secondary and post-secondary students back then.

ronpaulasroarkI think of my friend, who went on to Amherst College and then to medical school, whenever I hear of Ayn Rand and her popular novels, including The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, that serve as almost-sacred texts among libertarians.

Libertarianism has always had a small but very loyal following and the candidacy of Ron Paul for president in 2008 tapped into that demographic.

So, it didn’t surprise me that when the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, held its annual meeting in Washington this past weekend and conducted a preference poll for president in 2012, the leading vote-getter was Paul.

While Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty are given a lot more attention by the mainstream media, the hard-core conservatives who attend meetings like CPAC have a special place in their hearts for the uncompromising anti-government doctrine of Paul, Rand and their ilk.

You might expect me to dismiss the extremist libertarian philosophy much as many conservatives attempt to marginalize the more liberal members of Congress, like Dennis Kucinich, as examples of tinfoil hat-wearing maniacs.

But the truth is that you can learn a lot from the ideology you find at either end of the political spectrum. And what you find is that the mainstream of the Republican Party is a lot closer to the extremism of Ron Paul and Ayn Rand than most Democrats are to true socialist dogma.

Take County Executive Scott Walker, who never met a tax he didn’t hate and would like nothing better than to privatize most county services; and Congressman Paul Ryan, whose plan to privatize Social Security and Medicare would endanger the foundation of health and economic security for every American who is elderly or hopes to be someday.

It seems to me that mainstream Democrats, including Barack Obama and his economic recovery and health care reform plans, are right down the middle-of-the-road on the spectrum of private rights versus public control.

Much to the chagrin of the most liberal Democrats, a single-payer system that would give the federal government control of the nation’s entire health insurance system and a jobs program that would put the unemployed to work on federal programs, needed or otherwise, have never really been entertained as options from the supposedly socialist-leaning Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Senate Leader Harry Reid.

Now Walker, Ryan and national Republican leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner routinely spout libertarian-like philosophy where the free market is heralded as the ultimate force of good in the world.

But when they are in power, even good Republicans like Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Tommy Thompson find that government has an important role to play in influencing how private enterprise is conducted in our society, for better or worse.

It may be somewhat simplistic, but Republican policies tend to shovel government largesse in the direction of business interests while Democrats generally support programs that benefit low-income and other disadvantaged people.

The people who cheer libertarian rhetoric tend to be attracted to Ayn Rand’s fairy tales of self-made men who are masters of their own universe.

Democrats, and even most Republican officeholders, are more familiar with the real world where we live in an interdependent society that requires good public schools, safe roads and bridges and the very best police and fire departments.

Nobody likes paying taxes, but it’s pretty hard to argue for a society that doesn’t need the services that a good, efficiently run government provides.

Categories: Commentary, Gray Matter

0 thoughts on “The illusory appeal of Ayn Rand”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Agreed, Ted. Everyone wants the government to stay out of their lives until they need something…. Then they are shocked to find out that the help they need may not be available.

    We need to acknowledge that taxes are a necessary component of our lives and that they are essential for our society to operate in a manner that meets the needs of the people.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Having just returned from Haiti, I will repost here my invitation to libertarians to ‘enjoy’ a visit to Haiti, a true libertarian paradise. In addition to having to secure ourselves, generate our own electricity, educate ourselves, fix our own roads, take care of sanitation needs, and get our own clean drinking water, Haitians now have to recover from a massive natural disaster. I am far more fearful of a diminished state than a strong one.

    I’ve also wondered how many conservatives could embrace Rand’s philosophy of libertarianism, but overlook her atheism. She thought that religion was an illusion– a view that is hardly reconcilable with the conservative agenda these days.

  3. Anonymous says:

    My brother-in-law is an Ayn Rand/Ron Paul disciple, which makes family gatherings very tedious. On a completely different issue,the daughter of the tax protester who flew his airplane into the IRS building in Austin last week said in a recent interview that she believes her father was a “hero.” And where does this daughter live? Norway, which has a marginal tax rate of 56% or so.

  4. Anonymous says:

    True, Roark represents one cow out of the herd, and government must decide what is best for the herd. The proof of America’s prosperity, however, has always been the freedom for herd members to rock the boat, make waves and leave a wake as they pursue their own individual interests and aspirations, which we know, today, under the rule of the elite Democrats, is wrong, that they, and only they, decide what is right for the herd. Is that how you see it? claysamerica.com

  5. Anonymous says:

    I read the J-S blog on Walker’s push for additional furlough days and couldn’t believe the extremism in the comments. And I have to tell you, there were people explaining why fire and police are unnecessary along with emergency services (because, you know, most houses have fire detectors, police can never get to the scene of a crime in time to stop it anyway and everyone has cars they can get themselves to the hospital if there is an emergency….).Ay yi yi.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I would like the Democrats and the Republicans to sit down in front of a huge chalk board (Does anyone still remeber what that is?) and list the functions that they think government should do/or is better at; Then list the functions that the government should keep there nose out of. Would there be any agreement?

    Great writing Ted.


  7. Anonymous says:

    Well done, Ted.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us