One of the most shameful aspects of intellectual conservatism is the movement’s affinity for Ayn Rand. The Russian philosopher has been cited by several prominent Republicans, including Paul Ryan, as a strong influence on their thinking. Ryan and others admire Rand for her rejection of communism but this alone should not earn her the influence she currently has on conservative and libertarian politics. Her philosophy is a dangerous exaggeration of individualism that makes people self-centered egoists instead of happy human beings.
Rand states in her essay The Objectivist Ethics that the final goal of men’s actions should be focused entirely on themselves “An organism’s life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil.” She expands on this philosophy later in the essay by saying that “The achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose.” Thankfully, few people live by this philosophy as the world would be a much crueler place. We would live in a nation filled with Scrooge’s, who are too concerned with improving their situation that they forget their obligations towards others.
In the beginning of Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol Ebenezer Scrooge perfectly embodies Rand’s principles. He despises Christmas because it has never brought him any financial benefit and is utterly unmoved by his nephew Fred’s argument that Christmas brings out the better side of man’s nature. Although Fred makes a strong case that Christmas is good because it enables the people and brings joy into the world, Scrooge cannot be convinced by it. He his immune to appeals toward immaterial benefits because they have no value within his objectivist philosophy. Scrooge has no obligation towards anyone other than himself so he does not think that he needs to make Fred, his employee Bob Cratchit, or anyone else happy.
The whole rest of the novel is the story of Scrooge realizing that, although he is much richer than both of them, Fred and Bob Cratchit both lead happier, more fulfilling lives. They achieve this by making their business concerns subservient to their friends’ and families’ happiness. Fred, for example, angers his uncle by hiring Bob Cratchit’s son at what Scrooge calls “an exorbitant wage.” Scrooge criticizes his nephew for failing to save enough for the future and the Ghost of Christmas Present suggests that Fred is concerned with “more than money” but Scrooge cannot understand this explanation. Because of his objectivism, he believes that his own happiness is completely disconnected from the happiness of those around him. Therefore he cannot see what would motivate his nephew to be this generous to Cratchit’s son.
Some objectivists will object to this argument by claiming that they do not live like Scrooge. Objectivist philosophy tells men to achieve happiness, they will say, meaning that men can choose to be happy by loving their family or donating to charity. While this is true it does not absolve objectivism of blame because it removes all sense of moral duty to others, making friendship a purely utilitarian proposition. If friends or family make a man happy then he will remain loyal to them. If not, then there is no reason to care about their happiness. Fred does not give generously because it makes him happy, he is able to give generously because he is happy with his wife and friends and wishes to share that happiness with those around him. Scrooge is unhappy because he thinks first of his own happiness and tries to achieve this happiness through the accumulation of wealth. This is doomed to fail because the pursuit of wealth in an unending process. No matter how rich Scrooge becomes there will always be more he can do to become richer and so he throws himself into a constant flurry of action, always hoping to make himself happy but never able to be successful because the means by which he seeks happiness cannot provide it.
Although not all objectivists act like Scrooge, Rand’s philosophy leads to this behavior. We ought to find such a philosophy repulsive and expel Ayn Rand from the ranks of influential conservative philosophers.