Shrugging Off Obligations: Ayn Rand and Objectivism

Shrugging Off Obligations: Ayn Rand and Objectivism

After more than 50 years, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged finally made it to the big screen and the movie-going public, well, shrugged.

One critic called the movie “this decade’s Battlefield Earth,” a reference to the legendarily-awful Scientology-inspired epic.

Still, if Ayn Rand the movie isn’t doing so well, Ayn Rand the novelist and philosopher is enjoying a comeback. One commentator, who really should know better, says that Rand was “far ahead of her time.” He recommends that readers go to see the movie despite its deficiencies. I’m certain Tom Cruise would say the same thing about Battlefield Earth.

Even more troubling are Rand’s acolytes wielding the levers of power in Washington: One powerful and prominent Congressional committee chairman (who is otherwise pretty level-headed) has said that Rand is “the reason [he] got involved in public service,” and he passes out Randian tracts to his staffers.

He’s not the only Rand disciple to wield power: former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was a close associate of Rand. This was the same Greenspan who, after the financial crisis, admitted that his worldview, inspired in no small measure by Rand, had been wrong. The bewildered look on his face was that of a guy whose wife, best friend, and dog had just run off together.

What makes this newly-renewed regard especially troubling is that Rand’s worldview is explicitly anti-Christian. She once said she wanted to be known as “the greatest enemy of religion.” And when Rand said “religion” she meant Christianity, which she once called the “kindergarten of communism.”

For Rand the idea of God, as understood by Christianity, was “degrading to man.” According to her, the only god who can bring men peace and joy was not the great “i am” but “I.” Yet even some prominent Christians are being sucked in.

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that her worldview, called Objectivism, which rejects love of God, has even less regard for love of neighbor. Jennifer Rubin, who wrote the definitive biography of Rand, says that “whereas traditional conservatism emphasized duties, responsibilities, and social interconnectedness, at the core” of Rand’s ideology “was a rejection of moral obligations to others.”

Thus, Rand could say that the world was “perishing from an orgy of self-sacrifice.” Not because it was true but because, for Rand, any regard for your neighbor was an offense against the only god who mattered: the self. How such a toxic idea can inspire “public service” is beyond me.

All of which makes the new respect for Rand, well, strange. There are better justifications for reducing the size and scope of government, ones that don’t sound like a scene from Lord of the Flies.

And, as I’ve said so many times, our culture’s love affair with self-interest led to the greatest economic collapse since the Depression. That’s why I’ve spent the last two years preparing our DVD teaching series, Doing the Right Thing. It’s getting fabulous reviews, and is now available at ColsonCenter.org. It’s perfect for individuals or small group study.

And while you’re at ColsonCenter.org, be sure to see my Two Minute Warning video commentary, where I have more to say about Atlas Shrugged and Rand’s toxic worldview.

We must re-build a culture of ethical behavior in America. And rejecting Rand and her odious philosophy is a very good place to start.

This article published on May 11, 2011. Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

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