Atlas Shrugged is Ayn Rand’s most popular work. A mysterious rebel leader John Galt saves America from economic ruin. But before we rise from the ashes, before the redemption, comes the blowup. And for that, let’s turn to my Ayn Rand favorite, The Fountainhead, where Rand offers a subtle hint of capitalism’s rise and eventual demise and self-inflicted death.
In The Fountainhead Howard Roark is the ultimate individualist, an idealistic architect and archetypal free-market capitalist. Enraged when second-rate competitors compromise the integrity of his plans for a modern building, Roark seeks revenge, takes the law into his own hands and, in a terrorist act, sneaks onto the construction site in the dark of night and dynamites the building — kaboom — destroying it!
Flash forward: You have a perfect metaphor for Rand’s extreme ideology, how today it is turning against America, blowing up capitalism itself, self-destructing as the excesses of a great ideology spin out of control, choking on the very dreams that fueled it for decades.
Yes, soon the commanding inner voice of Rand’s super-capitalism that’s imbedded itself deeply in America’s collective unconscious will self-destruct capitalism, in a volley of excesses, taking down the market, triggering a total economic collapse and profoundly altering America’s political destiny as the global superpower.
Rand’s Terrorist Solution: Don’t Like A System? Just Blow it Up!
Capitalist ideologues are in a perpetual cultural war for the soul of America, fighting society’s “moochers, looters and parasites,” anyone and everyone who is demanding government money to solve their problems. The elite see America degrading into a socialist welfare state and communism. Rand says capitalism must be free:
“When I say ‘capitalism,’ I mean a pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism, with a separation of economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as a separation of state and church.” Why? Because “capitalism is the only system that can make freedom, individuality and the pursuit of values possible in practice because capitalism demands the best of every man, his rationality, and rewards him accordingly. It leaves every man free to choose the work he likes, to specialize in it, to trade his product for the products of others, and to go as far on the road of achievement as his ability and ambition will carry him.”
Paradoxically, Rand’s capitalist ideals have gone far off the course defined by Adam Smith, warping into an unwritten conspiracy binding conservative politicians and the egocentric, “disruptive innovation” excesses of Silicon Valley that have taken over the myopic brains on Wall Street, Corporate CEOs, Forbes 400 Billionaires, and now Washington’s new political elite.
Rand Hates Altruism, Religion, Social Programs … and America!
In a recent USA Today op-ed piece, “Ayn Rand and Jesus,” Stephen Prothero, a Boston University professor of religion and author of God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—And Why Their Differences Matter, poses a serious challenge to Rand’s disciples: “Idolatry of the conservative icon should lead to some soul-searching within the GOP. After all, Christian morality has no place in an ‘Atlas Shrugged’ world.”
Prothero’s list of “Rand’s adoring acolytes” includes Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, all conservatives. But while “Ayn Rand is the GOP’s new savior, no one seems to be taking notice of just how opposed their two philosophies are.”
For Rand, the war is not between “God vs. Satan, but individualism vs. collectivism. While Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the poor,’ she sings hosannas to the rich. The heroes of ‘Atlas Shrugged’ …are the captains of industry … The villains are the looters and moochers,” people who by hook (guilt) or by crook (government coercion) steal from the hard-won earnings of” rich capitalists.
Get it? Rand turns “traditional Christian morality” on its head: “Altruism is immoral and selfishness is good. Moreover, there isn’t a problem in the world that laissez-faire capitalism can’t solve if left alone to perform its miracles.” In Rand’s quixotic world, capitalists are the new saviors, performing miracles.
But can you imagine Jesus ever saying that? No wonder Prothero says “Rand’s work reads to me like a vulgar rationalization for greed lying on top of a perverse myth,” leaving him surprised “at how few GOP thinkers seem to see how hostile her philosophy is to conservatism itself.” Why indeed, because there’s nothing Christian about Rand’s defense of a soulless capitalism that’s not only lacking in traditional Christian compassion but has become totally narcissistic.
Adam Smith’s “Moral Capitalism” Lost to Megalomanic Leaders
The Utne Reader quoted from Christopher Lasch’s groundbreaking “Culture of Narcissism,” published a generation ago at the dawn of Reaganomics: The economic man “has given way to the psychological man of our times — the final product of bourgeois individualism, which in its decadence has carried the logic of individualism to the extreme of a war of all against all, the pursuit of happiness to the dead end of a narcissistic preoccupation with the self.” There he “demands immediate gratification and lives in a state of restless, perpetually unsatisfied desire.”
Prothero reminds us “real conservatism is also about sacrifice.” Today however, the new narcissists ruling conservatism and capitalism “will brook no such sacrifice. Serve yourself, she tells us, and save yourself as well. There is no higher good than individual self-satisfaction.”
And yet “one of the reasons we are in our current economic quagmire is that none of our leaders is willing to ask us to sacrifice. Democrats call for more spending and more taxes; Republicans call for lower taxes and less spending, and what we get is the most fiscally ruinous half of each: lower taxes and more spending.”
Prothero’s challenge: His “aim is to force a choice. If you are going to propose a Robin Hood budget, you have to decide whether you are robbing from the poor to give to the rich, or robbing from the rich to give to the poor. Because you cannot do both.” Yes, America is “a free country. Just don’t tell me you are both a card-carrying Objectivist and a Bible-believing Christian. Even Rand knew that just wasn’t possible.”
Tell Jack Bogle his “Battle For the Soul of Capitalism” Was Lost.
Future historians will see Ayn Rand as both the patron saint of the new narcissistic capitalism that has dominated conservatives and Reaganomics for the last generation. Her legacy will also include the “Death of Capitalism,” a demise Vanguard’s founder Jack Bogle wrote about several years earlier in his Battle for the Soul of Capitalism.
Unfortunately, the new narcissistic capitalists are blind to this paradigm shift in America’s destiny. As Lasch puts it: “Impending disaster has become an everyday concern, so commonplace and familiar that nobody any longer gives much thought to how disaster might be averted. People busy themselves instead with survival strategies, measures designed to prolong their own lives, or programs guaranteed to ensure good health and peace of mind.” Get it? Deep inside we know it’s too late, so we give up, double down, go deeper into materialism.
Yes, this narcissism is metastasizing so rapidly Americans feel ever more helpless to solve our problems, making collapse a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, this toxic narcissistic virus has infected America’s soul, eating away at our core values while blinding us to both the problem and the solution.
We have lost the collective spirit that led 57 capitalists to risk their lives and fortunes by signing the Declaration of Independence. That’s spirit’s dead. Today it’s “every man for himself” in a dark capitalist anarchy.
You ask, why do we embrace our own demise like out-of-control addicts? In behavioral economics, as in classical Greek drama, Jungian psychology and cultural mythologies … all the battles we see “out there” are actually projections of unresolved conflicts raging deep within our own souls … we’re rehashing old traumas projected on the outside world as battles between our highest ideals and our darkest secrets … classic battles between good and evil.
But they are conflicts buried deep in what Jung called “The Shadow,” a prison of dark secrets we cannot admit even to ourselves. In there, fierce battles are fought for the possession of our immoral souls … projected onto news, politics and finance, in television and films, theater, literature, history and dreams, at the dinner table and in the bedroom, “out there” we try to resolve our innermost secrets, never fully understanding how our minds are tricking us into inaction.
And as our individual souls and our collective unconscious splits further and further apart, eventually we will collectively implode and collapse.