Dangerous 'Objectivism' at root of Tea Party agenda

I haven’t thought about Ayn Rand in many years, not since I tried and failed to get through the 1,000-plus pages of Objectivist harangue called 'Atlas Shrugged.'

I did, though, back in 1964, read her small and concise book about her Objectivist philosophy, 'The Virtues of Selfishness.' It happened that a friend who wanted to convert me to the Objectivist worldview gave me the book. I found it somewhat interesting. At the time, I was all of 19 years old. I found Rand’s Objectivist ideas curious, but as time unfolded and as I matured and began to think beyond myself and my personal needs and desires, the philosophy of Objectivism faded from being central to my thoughts.

Objectivism and Rand’s Rational Selfishness, as expressed in 'The Virtues of Selfishness,' suggests there is only one “objective” reality out there in the universe, and that it can be perceived by the human mind. There is no “spiritual reality” and no mystery that cannot be eventually understood by the human intellect. The purpose of human life in this objectivist reality is to pursue one’s own happiness. All altruistic endeavors –- caring for others, living a life of self-sacrifice -– is destructive to one’s personal pursuits because they divert us from our true purpose. Self-interest is the only thing that matters.

The people who work, produce and succeed are the heroes of life and everyone else is a “parasite, a moocher or a looter,” according to the author of Atlas Shrugged. One of the heroes of the book is John Galt. He says that, "The political system we will build is contained in a single moral premise … the right of property.” Property is what a person has and who a person is. Property represents the value of an individual. It belongs to that man or woman who has it and no other entity in the world, whether it be a government, a group or class of people, or any so-called charitable or altruistic organization has the right to suggest, let alone force, the owner of the property to share. Ultimately property is symbolized in our world as money and money is everything. The significance of money is revealed in Rand’s attire that was almost always accessorized by a gold dollar-sign broach she wore.

"Objectivism" and "Rational Selfishness" is currently defining the political debate taking place in our nation. As we wonder how we might put our governmental and budgetary world in order, its philosophy has taken center stage.

The Tea Party approach, and that of many radical conservatives, is focused on rewarding the “heroes” as described in Atlas Shrugged. The people who are in need, the poor and the vulnerable, though not officially described as “parasites, moochers and looters,” are ignored in the debate.

Taxes, especially on the haves, should not be raised and when possible lowered according to the Objectivist agenda. Programs that benefit the have-nots are to be cut or ended. The strategy for bringing these needed programs to a close is often dressed in the rhetoric of privatization. Medicare, Social Security, prisons, schools, highways and any other government-supported program is to be moved into the private sphere. When these programs become a part of private enterprise, their success or failure will mean little to a government that has shed its constitutional responsibility to promote the general welfare.

There is a problem with this "Objectivist" sense of reality. It forgets no man or woman or group of successful individuals is an island unto themselves. It forgets even the richest enclave or gated community cannot survive on its own. The heroes of selfish pursuit cannot survive by themselves. Either we live in an equitable society or we will return to one of master and slave or one of feudalism. In the end, we will have to learn to live together in community or life will not be worth living.

It is amazing to me that many of those people who have jumped on the Tea Party bandwagon are not really adherents of the "Objectivist" belief system. Many of them are people of faith who would not subscribe to the purely material objectivism of Rand’s ideas. Neither would they, if they thought about it, reject their faith’s ideal of being a “Good Samaritan.”

The true Objectivists have, it seems, have sold many Tea Party participants a bill of goods. They have been convinced if the rich do grow richer, the success of the haves will trickle down and everyone will grow benefit. It is a theory that goes back to the Reagan years, but it has still not been proven true. In fact, the opposite has occurred.

The poor and vulnerable have been made the scapegoat for all that is wrong with the world. Many good-hearted conservative people have been persuaded all altruism must be personal and never the responsibility of society as a whole. You can care for others in your church, synagogue or mosque, but no longer should society through its government be involved in the care for the most helpless among us.

It is time for the voices of reason, compassion and hope to enter the discussion about how to put our governmental and budgetary house in order. The only way an equitable order can be established is if we would all be willing to sacrifice for the common good.

During the World War II, everyone shared in the sacrifices necessary to win against the forces of evil. Another, even greater evil, is attempting to destroy us today. It is not a foreign power or terrorist warrior. It is our own apathy and laziness and our unwillingness to trust one another. We find it easier to blame each other for our society’s decline than to work with one another to overcome the destructive powers we face.

'Atlas Shrugged' and the philosophy of Rational (and radical) Self-Interest should not be the foundation of our common journey into the future. A future worth living will be one that values justice, compassion and hope for all as its guiding principles. My hope for my children and grandchildren is not that they will just be free of debt, but that they will find themselves in a world that cares for everyone and every thing.

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