Ayn Rand is an enemy of the Tea Party, not its prophet
In the 1960s, Vladimir Lenin was considered by many Russian liberals as their ally in the fight for the liberalization of Soviet society because they agreed with one single item in his ideological heritage: his relative tolerance of the views of his party comrades. At the same time, neo-Leninists pretended to ignore the fact that Lenin was a constant foe of the free election process and of liberal freedoms, which was in addition to him being the founder of the infamous Soviet Gulag. The case with Ayn Rand and the Tea Party is quite similar. The leaders of this influential movement focus on only one commonality between the views of Rand and that of their own ideology — her hostility toward welfare — all while ignoring the total incompatibility of the remainder of her views on other major social issues within the principles of the Tea Party movement.
On Sunday, September 14, the Tea Party organized a massive rally in Washington, where much like other gatherings of a similar nature the ideological fervor was directed against the elites, of whom Rand was ironically a great admirer. It is only natural that in the midst of such an anti-elitist atmosphere the name of Thomas Jefferson was found on the posters of the marchers. For the Tea Partiers, Jefferson is the epitome of a true democrat, one who more than many of his contemporaries emphasized both the role of common people in governing society and the importance of small government. The Tea Party activists could not help but to take pleasure in Jefferson’s diatribes written in his famous letter to John Adams where he spoke strongly against an “artificial aristocracy founded on birth and wealth,” which is “a mischievous ingredient in government” and an enemy of “the equality of men.” To be sure, Jefferson’s name could be found on the rally posters in Washington on September 14, as well as in other places where the Tea Party made itself visible.
The name of Ayn Rand competed in popularity with Jefferson’s at the Tea Party meetings. Some demonstrations 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.” Meanwhile, among American authors over the last 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, and would be appalled if she were alive today to see how the common man has demanded that it is they (not the American nobility nor the Ivy League graduates) who should have the decisive voice in this country’s politics. This movement’s activists, in their fervor against the elites, literally echo the motto of the Russian Bolsheviks who insisted that “the cook if taught will efficiently govern society”; this slogan indeed only bolsters the cadre policy of the Tea Party whose members do not require a diploma from even a mediocre college from their chosen Senatorial candidates.
In fact, those who commend Rand as the champion of individualism conveniently forget that she wanted to protect individualism and the unlimited freedom of action when only applied to 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’ steel mogul Hank Rearden, arguably one of Rand’s most beloved personages.
It is obvious for those who have genuinely read Ayn Rand’s novels and essays (as opposed to those who are merely formulating opinions of her from hearsay), that she and the Tea Party politicians have very nearly opposite views on what would be the desirable political system. In her most popular novels, Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, it is impossible to find any praise of the American Revolution or the American Constitution, but it is very easy to find many cases of the derogation of democracy and the majority rule, as well as a contempt for all democratic institutions: the election process, presidency, public opinion, media, and of the judicial system. In her book, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, she directly mocks democracy in both the past and present periods, and disparages “the will of the people.” While it is indeed true that Rand is disgusted with the state, a fact which makes the partiers erroneously think that Rand is their ally, it is remarkable that the issue of taxes, a crux of the movement, was addressed by Rand only in regards to big companies, and never as a concern for ordinary people.
The rank-and-file in the movement sincerely believes that Rand is a staunch supporter of the same liberal capitalism as they are, when in fact Rand is the champion of aristocratic, oligarchic capitalism which is deeply antagonistic toward democracy and the will of people.
The Tea Party is an interesting phenomenon in American life, eloquent evidence of the vitality of American democracy even if its ultimate influence on American political life is yet to be understood. Even if its anti-elitist fervor can be useful for American democracy, at this point in time, the narrative of the Tea Party is vague, contradictory, and full of utopian and destructive elements. In Ron Chernov’s recent New York Times article from September 24, 2010, he remarkably notes in his discussion of the Tea Party’s ideological roots, that it “can claim legitimate descent from Jefferson and Madison.” Yet, he totally ignored their strong anti-elitist views, which is so crucial for the movement.
The inclusion of Ayn Rand on the list of their saints, an ideologue who is mostly the enemy of the Tea Party’s ideology as well as of democracy in general, suggests that the only way the Tea Party will have a future as a constructive part of American politics beyond the November election is if the Party seriously reassesses its intellectual arsenal.