Friday, June 9, 2017

An inverted religion

Russell Kirk once had "An Encounter with Ayn Rand":
Miss Ayn Rand is in the news nowadays. She has written two best-selling novels—Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead—and she has gotten up a curious philosophy which she calls “Objectivism.”

Recently she and I, with some other people, were on the same television program, Mr. Eric Sevareid moderating. Ayn Rand’s eyes glow with belief, and she still speaks with something of an accent, though she came from Russia as a child. She hates collectivism and sentimentality, and thinks the modern world ought to get rid of “altruism” and exalt self-interest.

Miss Rand and I argued that the mass-state means a new slavery, and that what often is called “social justice” today really amounts to nothing better than penalizing the able and industrious, through legislation, to reward the slack and shiftless—who do have votes.

But we disagreed thoroughly as to the whole purpose of life and of the civil social order. Ayn Rand literally would put the dollar sign in place of the cross: She does just that in Atlas Shrugged. And I say that life is not worth living without love, sacrifice, charity: we human beings were made for brotherhood (which does not exclude healthy competition), and if we live only for our own petty little selves, our souls shrivel.

Though I have nothing against free enterprise (which I believe to be a support of other freedoms, as well as the most efficient economic system), one cannot sanely make the accumulation of dollars the whole aim of existence. “Thou canst not serve both God and Mammon.” Mammon is thoroughgoing selfishness, dedication to self-satisfaction. The Cross is the symbol of sacrifice, suffering, heroism. The dollar sign is the symbol of profit, which is all right with me, so long as it is honest; but material profit isn’t happiness, let alone our whole duty. We really can’t live by bread alone.

Miss Rand is an atheist, despising religion as “non-objective.” But she burns with a fire curiously religious in intensity. She has an inverted religion—an ideology of efficiency and self-satisfaction—in economics, in politics, in sex. (Ideology, by the way, means pseudo religion, the substitution of political dogmas for religious doctrines.) And that way lies madness.

As Dante knew, it is love that moves this world and all the stars. Babies, though well nourished, can die for lack of love. Sexual relationships without love of spirit are only violent conquests of other human beings—as in Miss Rand’s novels. And the man who loves only dollars, or his own pleasures, loves simply dead things. Only other human beings are truly lovable. By all means, let us get away from sentimentality; but let’s not throw out our hearts when we react against collectivism.
This was a newspaper column from 1962. I first read it in a collection of Kirk's columns and essays, Confessions of a Bohemian Tory (1963).