The other side of the socialist coin

Contrary to the popular misapprehension, opposites never converge. If they appear to do so, they’re only misconstrued to be opposites.

Thus the fundamental opposite of secular socialist collectivism isn’t really secular dog-eat-dog capitalism. It’s Christianity, with its accent on free will and therefore on the freedom of the sovereign individual.

That’s why secular modernists, whatever they call themselves, and whether they glorify capitalists or shoot them, are united in their rejection, nay hatred, of whatever little of Christianity is left in our civilisation. They’re modern first and anything else a distant second.

The history of the West shows that only the Judaeo-Christian way of life can counterbalance the destructive, and self-destructive, power of either capitalism or socialism – or any conceivable combination thereof.

Remove Christianity from capitalism, and sooner or later it’ll converge with some kind of socialism, be it national, international, democratic, moderate or fascist. The convergence first manifests itself culturally and spiritually, by systematically empowering the state and eventually fusing it with big corporations. And then capitalism can become a snake devouring even its own economic tail.

Step by step, capitalists are squeezed out of capitalism, replaced by corporatists indistinguishable in their mentality and modus operandi from state officials. Witness the ease with which today’s politicians effortlessly become corporate executives and vice versa.

Socialists the world over insist that their creed is the ultimate Marx-given truth, regrettably perverted by the Soviets and just about everyone else who has ever tried it in earnest. Similarly, the apostles of spiritually denatured capitalism blame its social and cultural failures on the insufficient doctrinal purity of its practitioners.

Both refuse to accept that all such problems spring from congenital defects, not transient contagions. Then again, by ousting Christianity the West has lost not only a unifying morality but also the very reason in the name of which modernity was inaugurated.

Only this can explain the continuing influence of Ayn Rand (d. 1982), whose fusion of what I call totalitarian economism (viewing life mainly from the economic perspective), soulless rationalism, political libertarianism and hysterical atheism has claimed an army of followers.

Rand was the archangel of crude materialism, the nexus at which all strands of modernity converge. While feeble in her intellectual constructs and, for a bestselling novelist, an astonishingly incompetent writer, she was a natural fisher of souls, claiming many disciples who instantly fell under her spell.

For example, Rand exerted a formative influence on Alan Greenspan, the Virgin to her Gabriel, who in his position of Federal Reserve boss was one of the principal architects of the 2008 crisis. Even today this objectionable woman still claims apostles, most no doubt attracted by her fanatical championing of free enterprise über alles.

Few are repelled by Rand’s strident tone or the way in which she fuses the values of cutthroat capitalism with fascistic philosophy and aesthetics. At the centre of all her musings stands the fiscally virile superman, towering over a godless world made in his image.

This is couched in the literary equivalent of Nazi and Soviet paintings depicting, respectively, a muscle-bound chap sporting swastika insignia or a muscle-bound chap raising high the hammer and sickle. Replace those attributes with a balance sheet, keeping every other detail intact, and Rand’s clumsily painted picture will be complete.

To reinforce the parallel, whenever Rand delivered herself of views on religion, she matched the hateful rhetoric of her Satanic contemporaries, such as Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler.

Nor did she defer to them in the hysterical pitch of her effluvia, except that she chose as the object of such outpourings the übermensch defined in economic terms, rather than those of race or class.

While mocking religion, Rand slapped together her own philosophy she called ‘objectivism’. This was supposed to be the antithesis to ‘subjectivism’, a contrast much favoured by the communists who are house-trained to claim exclusive access to ‘objective’ truth.

This new philosophy is neither new nor has anything to do with philosophy. It’s Enlightenment positivism liberally laced with utilitarianism and stripped to its materialist core.

By way of an alternative to Christendom, humanists suggest a dispassionate calculation of self-interest based on reason. In a way it’s a revival of Platonic ethics: people, if properly taught, can learn to tell right from wrong simply by using rational thinking.

Everyone is supposed to be intelligent enough to be moral enough. Hence selfishness must be moderated only inasmuch as it doesn’t pay, not because the Church says so.

Private vices are no longer seen as inhibitors of public virtue. Like in arithmetic, where two minuses multiplied produce a plus, in social life too tossing a mass of private vices into the crucible of the new order is supposed to smelt them into one overriding collective virtue.

That’s the basic premise of Rand’s objectivism. She despised altruism in any form, be it public welfare, private charity or simple compassion. Amazingly, she found a moral content in the old adage of every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.

The fallacy Rand sold to the public was that the sum total of naked self-interests could by itself produce public good. Hers was the politico-economic answer to alchemy: the gold of goodness could be extracted from the pig iron of crude or even wicked pursuits.

Alas, we’ve found the hard way that simply adding millions of private self-interests together doesn’t produce public virtue. It produces instead a frantic traffic in buying and selling with no red lights (except those found in the district known for such fixtures) and with morality as the burnt-out cars by the roadside.

All this is easy enough to understand because it’s easy enough to observe. What I find incomprehensible is that Rand’s acolytes see themselves as conservatives. I can understand their calling themselves libertarian: most libertarians I’ve met seek liberation not just from the state, but also from any religious, cultural or intellectual authority.

But conservative? Whatever these chaps seek to conserve, it’s certainly not the two millennia of our civilisation. One can begin to understand Rand’s enduring popularity in the US, a country founded on Enlightenment principles, where conservatism is seen as a full synonym of economic libertarianism.

However, one would think that British conservatives would dismiss Rand’s strident utilitarianism with contempt. Alas, British conservatism is going the way of all flesh, with its place taken by various US hand-me-downs, such as neoconservatism or libertarianism.

Rand too is gaining popularity, with a group led by Razi Ginzberg setting up the Ayn Rand Centre. “She portrays… man as he ought to be,” explains this sorely misguided young man.

That would be true if we agreed that man ought to be a deracinated barbarian with no cultural or religious roots, who rejects everything our civilisation has produced except material progress, an animal so focused on the pursuit of fiscal happiness that he doesn’t care how many bodies he stamps on or steps over en route.

Mr Ginzberg would do well to remember that people with his kind of surname were in his grandparents’ generation exterminated en masse by goal-oriented savages similarly unconstrained by any tethers of Judaeo-Christian morality.

That’s what you get, Mr Ginsberg, when you reduce humanity to humanism. With no identifiable end, only the means are left – and they justify nothing. For, when man becomes a Homo economicus, he stops being a Homo sapiens. He loses his reason, morality and ultimately his humanity.

2 thoughts on “The other side of the socialist coin”

  1. A interesting and scholarly book about Ayn Rand’s philisophy written by Chris Sciabarra reports that she enrolled in Petrograd State University (now Saint Petersburg State University) in 1920 and graduated in 1924. According to Sciabarra, Rand (whose birth name was Alissa Rosenbaum) took one or more philosophy courses from N. O. Lossky, a famous Russian philosopher. Like most Russian philosophers of that era, Lossky was very critical of Kant’s division of reality into phenomenal (the world inside our heads) and noumenal (the real world that we cannot directly perceive). Sciabarra contends that Rand was very much influenced by Lossky’s critique of Kant, and that as a result she came to regard Kant as a philosopher who exercised an extremely deleterious effect on all of Western philosophy, culminating in the solecism and nihilism of twentieth century philosophy.

  2. Rand’s first novel, We the Living, was completed in 1934 and published in 1936 (when she was 31). While this loosely autobiographical novel has its flaws, it was one of the first American novels to depict the awful reality of the Soviet system, and it did so at a time when most of the intelligentsia here and in the UK were lauding the USSR as a virtual utopia. Indeed, some of the reviews criticized the novel precisely because of its anti-Soviet themes. The fact that when Rand came to the U.S. in 1925, she spoke not a word of English also makes We the Living an impressive first novel. I accept some of your points about her didacticism and absolute intolerance for any deviation from her views. And I agree in part with your criticism of her conception of the ideal man. But still her essays and her novel The Fountainhead contain powerful and sometimes brilliant critiques of collectivism, and what she saw as a collectivist drift in American politics and culture.

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