How is elitist Ayn Rand a tea party hero? The contradiction should concern America.
Tea partiers praise Ayn Rand's 'pure capitalism.' But they ignore her oligarchic, elitist views – ideals that are fundamentally antiAmerican and deeply at odds with the tea party's own cause.
East Lansing, Mich.
The tea party is the most influential movement in American politics today. But what does it really stand for – and how will it affect American society and politics?Skip to next paragraph
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Tea party leaders themselves talk about restoring America to the vision of the founding founders. That’s hardly a revealing insight; almost every political movement claims to carry on the founders’ legacy. We can learn much more about the tea party’s identity by looking to its heroes.
At tea party rallies, posters and praise single out the usual suspects: Thomas Jefferson, Sarah Palin, and Glenn Beck. But there’s another person who figures prominently at these rallies, one who serves as the intellectual fountainhead ... Ayn Rand. And that should concern all Americans.
Ignoring Rand's real philosophy
Tea partiers portray themselves as ordinary Americans fed up with an out-of-control, deeply indebted welfare state. Many no doubt see Ms. Rand – the 20th-century writer and philosopher who railed against state power and collectivist thinking in such novels as “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” – as a posthumous compatriot.
But by clinging to the superficial commonality of hostility to welfare, tea partiers fail to see (or willfully ignore) something critical: Rand espoused an elitist, oligarchic philosophy that is both fundamentally antiAmerican and deeply at odds with the tea party's own “we the people” cause.
At tea party meetings in September, Rand’s name competed in popularity with Jefferson. Some demonstrations even started with a reading from “Atlas Shrugged,” which was coupled with the declaration that this book should be treated as “America’s Second Declaration of Independence.”
But the ironic truth is that, among American authors over the past two centuries, it is impossible to find somebody who has so openly and consistently praised the American elite as Rand has. Rand created magnate protagonists like John Galt and Francisco d’Anconia who ran their industries and societies without paying heed to public opinion. Rand and her heroes hold ordinary people in great contempt. They would surely be appalled to see how the “everyday Americans” at tea party rallies have demanded that they (not the American nobility nor the Ivy League graduates) should have the decisive voice in American politics.
Rand loves the elite
Tea party activists, in their fervor against the elites, more closely echo the motto of the Russian Bolsheviks who insisted that “the cook if taught will efficiently govern society.” So deep is the tea party mistrust of elite, over-educated Americans that the mediocre academic pedigree of some of their favored political figures seems to be a point of pride.
While tea partiers commend Rand as the champion of individualism, they conveniently forget that in her novels, the only people who seemed to benefit from her aim to protect individualism and the unlimited freedom of action were her Nietzschean tycoons. Indeed, Rand was fully indifferent to the workers in her novels, whom she described as primitive beings – “savages” in the words of Atlas’s steel mogul Hank Rearden, arguably one of Rand’s most beloved personages.