One of the most popular intellectuals in the modern Republican party is the libertarian writer Ayn Rand. This immoral, decrepit woman advocated a philosophy, Objectivism, that argued the following: the sole purpose of life is to be selfish, no matter the cost to our friends, family, or the greater community. If an action pleases you it is moral; if it doesn’t, it is immoral.
Or as she put it in her 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged: “Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness, not pain or mindless self-indulgence, is the proof of your moral integrity…”
This perspective has predictable implications for organizing our country, as Rand believed that the sole duty of government was to defend the people: supply an army, the police, and the courts. All safety net programs should be abolished for if selfishness is the whole point of life, then these initiatives, founded on compassion, were bad ideas.
In essence, sociopathy should be the dominant force in society, there is no room for empathy or moral imagination; greed should guide our daily lives, our culture, and our political institutions.
It is an un-American and evil worldview, which makes Rand’s influence on the Republican party all the more terrifying.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has his interns read her work; GOP leaders like Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh sing her praises; the Tea Party Movement, the dominant force among conservatives today, cites Rand as one of its most important philosophers.
And her vision is deeply embedded in the policy proposals the GOP puts forward, which if enacted, would eviscerate the American safety net.
Since Trump took office, Republicans have proposed laws that would rob 32 million people of health insurance, fund a border wall by drastically reducing poverty programs, and cut $1.8 trillion from Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare in order to pay for tax cuts for the rich.
This is not conservatism as it is commonly understood—careful, pragmatic policy-making driven by data, principle, and achievable goals. The Republican party is in a profoundly radical moment, finding inspiration from a writer who promoted a cruel moral logic: selfishness is good, altruism is suicide and pleasing yourself is life’s only purpose.
It is as if Karl Marx, the closest thing the left has to a similarly extreme thinker, became the moral foundation for the Democrats. I hope someday a class of leaders will come to power in the GOP, denounce her ideology, and offer a more nuanced perspective, that could go something like this:
Yes, pursuing one’s desires is important; we all have the right to be happy, a life spent solely pleasing others is not worth living. But we must also make an effort, if we wish to have strong communities and a decent country, to consider the needs of our peers, too.
On a micro-level, this means taking the time to repair our friendships and marriages when they fracture, instead of just taking the easy way out and deserting the person.
In terms of the broader society, it requires passing those laws—universal health care, debt-free college, affordable child care—that give everyone a shot at success and not just the privileged few.
This is essential, for if America’s public policies are based solely on selfishness—on the affluent keeping what’s there’s and the vulnerable being left to wither—you will see nothing but class warfare, high crime, and toxic politics; suffering for us all.
Thus it is in our self-interest to be compassionate, because who wants to live in an unstable, chaotic society?
Now you may say, “I’d love to see a vigorous safety net that provides opportunity, but this country just doesn’t have the funds to do that, money doesn’t grow on trees. So Ayn Rand’s ideology is the way to go”. Such a perspective, however, is fundamentally wrong. We can afford to care for people, indeed it is more expensive to ignore their suffering than it is to help them, consider the following:
The cost that comes from hunger in America—more illnesses and lost productivity, children unable to concentrate in class, adults unable to work an 8 hour day—is larger than the expense of giving folks a meal.
The cost that comes from leaving the chronically homeless to the streets—where they spend much time in hospitals and jails—is larger than the expense of giving them housing.
And taxpayers continue to spend more on our current healthcare system—one that leaves 31.2 million people unable to get the treatment they need—then they would with a single payer program that insured everyone.
This is not a partisan political point, it is simply what social science research from the Congressional Budget Office, the Rand Corporation, and Brandeis University reveals. Compassionate public policy saves money, rather than burdening taxpayers, which makes any attempt to justify Ayn Rand’s vision on the grounds of fiscal conservatism a fool’s errand.
There is no reasonable case for this woman’s ideology, it is plain cruelty, a religion for sadists, and represents the worst of the human condition. That’s why it should chill the spine of every kind soul to know men who worship Ayn Rand currently run the United States government.
Joshua Heath is a Valencia resident and a political science student at UCLA. He has served two terms as a delegate to the California Democratic Party.