Guru of greed, the cult of selfishness

Published on the Independent, by Leonard Doyle, 12 October 2007.

3 excerpts: … Why is it that millions of ordinary Americans vote for conservative policies that seem inimical to their lives? Why are the politicians who support healthcare reforms to give access to a doctor for the 47 million Americans without insurance branded as closet socialists or worse?

Why, in this upside-down world do so many blue-collar Americans vote Republican, and family farmers support a President whose Wall Street friends would gladly push them off the land?

Why do people shrug and say “tough”, when they read that hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost their homes, after falling victims to crooked mortgage salesmen? The most common response is that millions of people who otherwise could never have afforded a home are now enjoying the American Dream.

Perhaps the greatest political riddle of the US is why so many Americans vote against their economic and social interests? …

… The answer may be contained in the writings of the Russian emigrée and radical libertarian philosopher Ayn Rand. Two decades after her death, she remains the darling of right-thinking Americans and sales of her novels, paens of praise to unbridled capitalism, are even outselling The Da Vinci Code …

… One of the characters in Atlas Shrugged, summarises her philosophy of Objectivism with the following oath: “I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another human being, or ask another human being to live for mine.”


Her novels continue to inspire visceral feelings of worship and disgust among readers. Reviewing the newly published memoir of her acolyte Greenspan, the conservative writer Andrew Ferguson complains in The Weekly Standard that “her creepy philosophy of Objectivism, placing the self at the centre of the moral universe, still is embraced by tens of thousands of pimply teenage boys in the dreamy moments between fits of social insecurity and furious bouts of masturbation.”

One way or another Rand’s ode to American individualism has made her one of the towering figures of US political thought in the late 20th century.

By rejecting altruism and embracing selfishness she rejected the Judaeo-Christian underpinning of the religious right. The only moral obligation a person had was to his or her own happiness. That meant capitalism should be given a free rein with an unregulated market economy.

She pushed America’s cult of individualism into uncharted waters where ruthless self-interest and disdain for poorer members of society were the guiding principles … (full long text).

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