By Uri Avnery
I was not interested in Paul Ryan, the man about to be nominated by the Republican party for the office of vice-president, until the name Ayn Rand popped up.
Ayn Rand, it was said, was one of the main inspirations for his particular philosophy. Since Ryan is being represented not as an ordinary, run-of-the-mill politician, like Mitt Romney, but as a profound political and economic thinker, the inspiration deserves some scrutiny.
Like most people in this country, Ayn Rand first entered my life as the author of The Fountainhead, a novel that came out four years before the birth of the state of Israel. It quickly became a bestseller. The movie based on it, with Gary Cooper playing the main role, was even more popular.
It is the story of an architect of genius (roughly similar to Frank Lloyd Wright) who follows his own individual style and disdains the tastes of the masses. When his architectural design for a housing project is altered by the builders, he blows the buildings up, defending his actions in court in a stirring speech in defence of individualism…
I started to read her second bestseller, Atlas Shrugged, in which she set out her philosophy in detail. But I must confess, to my eternal shame, that I never finished it. It bored me.
One day in 1974, my friend Dan Ben-Amotz called me and demanded that I immediately meet a young genius he had discovered called Dr Moshe Kroy…
He brought Kroy to my home and I was impressed. Here was an unusually erudite 24-year-old youngster, already a lecturer at Tel Aviv University, with thick glasses and very outspoken philosophical views.
It appeared that he was a true believer in the teachings of Ayn Rand, which she called objectivism. This proclaimed that egoism was the basic duty of every human being. Any kind of social commitment was a sin against nature. Only by serving his own interest and cleansing himself of any trace of altruism can a person truly fulfill himself. Society at large can progress only when it is based on such individuals, each one striving to serve only himself (or herself).
Such an outlook can be hugely attractive to a certain kind of individual. It provides them with a philosophical justification for the extreme exercise of egoism, not giving a damn for anyone else.
Kroy, and of course Ben-Amotz, were religiously devoted to this new creed. (This is, of course, an oxymoron, since Ayn Rand was a total unbeliever, condemning any form of religion, including the Jewish religion of her parents.) When I caught Ben-Amotz doing something which could be construed as beneficial to others, he went to great lengths in justifying it by proving that in the long run it was to his own ultimate advantage.
No wonder that she posthumously became the darling of the Tea Party fanatics who are now dominating the Republican Party. And no wonder that Paul Ryan proudly cites her as one of his most important mentors. (Ayn Rand herself died in 1982 at age 77. Her funeral was attended by her devotees, including Alan Greenspan, one of the gravediggers of the US economy.)
There is something in the teachings of this Jewish White Russian preacher of extreme egoism that appeals to the primitive American myths of rugged individualism, gun-toting Wild West self-reliance, suspicion of the domination-hungry state (going back to King George III). But this is not the 18th century, for God’s sake.
I never studied philosophy, though on my path I have picked up a few dozen books about it here and there. But Ayn Rand’s theories always struck me as, well, juvenile…
I have seen in my life innumerable acts of altruism, large and small. Indeed, what is love, real love, but a pure form of altruism?
Sure, every person is, to some extent, an egoist. But every person is also, to some extent, an altruist. Human beings are social animals, their social instincts deeply imbedded in their nature. Without them, human society could not function…
Binyamin Netanyahu is an American-style Republican, a strong supporter of Mitt Romney… But not even he would advertise himself as a disciple of Ayn Rand. He has, however, one thing in common with Paul Ryan: both are pushed forward and financed by Sheldon Adelson.
I can think of no purer personification of Ayn Rand’s vision than this Casino billionaire. She would have adored him. He is the perfect egoist. He has become super-rich by exploiting the pitiful addiction of weak human beings. His business practices have been questioned. Yet even here there is some room for doubt: does Adelson spend hundreds of millions on people like Romney, Ryan and Netanyahu only to further his own business interests? Or do we detect even here a trace of altruism, a desire to fulfill his national and social visions, objectionable as they may be?
Since Ayn Rand was an atheist and abhorred anything that was not purely rational, while the Tea Party is strictly religious (never mind what religion), Ryan is now compelled to distance himself from his mentor, who was also a militant advocate of abortion.
Actually, I don’t believe in either the intellectual prowess or the political honesty of the man. He looks to me slightly phony. I am not sure that Ayn Rand would have liked him either. If only Gary Cooper could play him, he might look more convincing.
– Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.