A reader kindly sent me an article titled “How Ayn Rand Became the New Right’s Version of Marx.” Although the author of the article tries to retell a book he obviously never read (I’m a literature prof, I spot such things from a mile away)*, he does make a very interesting observation:
Ayn Rand Nation, she has become to the new right what Karl Marx once was to the left: a demigod at the head of a chiliastic cult. Almost one third of Americans, according to a recent poll, have read Atlas Shrugged, and it now sells hundreds of thousands of copies every year.
Ignoring Rand’s evangelical atheism, the Tea Party movement has taken her to its heart. No rally of theirs is complete without placards reading “Who is John Galt?” and “Rand was right”. Rand, Weiss argues, provides the unifying ideology which has “distilled vague anger and unhappiness into a sense of purpose”. She is energetically promoted by the broadcasters Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santelli. She is the guiding spirit of the Republicans in Congress.
People need to believe and worship and they will choose the passionately atheist Rand and Marx as their deities with complete disregard for how little sense it makes.
I have thought about it and I think I have figured out why the admiration for Marx and Rand often acquires such religious overtones. This happens because both authors appeal – very optimistically, if not naively – to the better side of human nature**. Marx believes that it is possible for people to lay aside their individual interests and work together for the common good simply because that will be the rational thing to do and it will benefit everybody. I can see how this could be very attractive, especially to people who can’t wait to shed the burden of their individuality and dissolve themselves in the great Collective.
Ayn Rand appeals to the creative power within us that exists for its own sake and is its own reward. She suggests that the two best, most godly drives in us (the creative and the sexual) come from the same source, which is the love of life, and can feed each other to cleanse one of anything that distracts us from the orgasmic creative pursuits***.
After I read Rand, I always feel like I want to be this wonderful person who works and loves fearlessly and who doesn’t even know what it means to worry that your article will not be accepted or to have bad feelings towards your colleague because she has published yet again while you keep accumulating rejection letters. I’ve never been to confession or communion (or any other religious ritual, really), but isn’t this sense of renewal and liberation from the less beautiful sides of one’s personality what people look for in these religious ceremonies? Aside from the joy of diluting one’s individuality in the Collective, of course.
* This article reminded me of the following old Jewish joke.
“Itzhak, my friend, why does everybody say that Pavarotti is such a genius? I find he can’t sing at all. He’s got no voice to speak of and every single note he takes is false.”
“Oy, Shmuli, I had no idea you attended Pavarotti’s performance!”
“No, I didn’t attend. Moishe did, though, and he sang a few arias to me afterwards.”
** Yes, they do, and if you want to argue with me about Rand, I expect you to have read at least the two of her major novels cover to cover. Nothing annoys a literary critic more than people who try to discuss books that they never read.
*** Yes, there is also this very vulgar thing about the dollar sign made out of gold. Vulgarity is, unfortunately, a trait we tend to possess in Russian-speaking countries.