It’s hard to understand why the atheist views of Ayn Rand have such a strong influence on the Republican base, of whom at least 90% express a belief in God and 50% describe themselves as evangelical Christians (1,2).
The one relevant point Rand made is that innovators deserve to profit from their inventions and should not be taxed excessively. Aside from this rather obvious nugget, Rand’s novels are drivel that are incompatible with traditional Judeo-Christian values such as charity and American values such as volunteerism.
Politicians like Paul Ryan, who based his agenda on Rand’s views, fail to see that the world has changed since Atlas Shrugged was written (in 1957, the top tax rate for regular income was 91%; in 2012 it is 37.9% ) or that Rand’s dystopian world resembles reality about as much as your local high school resembles Hogwarts.
First, the hero-capitalists of Atlas Shrugged all produce useful products or services: Dagny Taggart operates a railroad, Hank Rearden manufactures steel and invents a super-strong alloy, and John Galt invents a more efficient automobile engine. They exemplify Rand’s notion of the “virtue of selfishness.” In the modern world, we see a few innovators like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, but we also see investment bankers getting rich by manipulating interest rates and laundering money. Is this selfishness also virtuous?
Second, Rand’s heroes employ American labor. If Hank Rearden laid off the workers at his steel mill and moved production to a third-world country where people work 14-hour days in unsafe conditions at near-slave wages, is he still a hero?
Third, no one gets sick in Atlas Shrugged. What would happen in real life if John Galt had been diagnosed with heart disease or cancer after he walked away from his job at the auto company? He would have no health insurance, and he would go bankrupt and leave the rest of us would pay the bill, one way or another. Is he then still the ultimate capitalist?
Fourth, Rand does not address the real-life problem of pollution. She rails against all forms of government regulation, but what if Dagny Taggart decided that she could save money by not installing any pollution controls on her locomotives? In real life, without regulation, companies are able to pass the costs of pollution (damage to our health, damage to crops, etc.) on to the rest of us. Is this selfishness virtuous?
Selfishness is never virtuous. The next time a conservative “Christian” suggests otherwise, ask him or her to look up Matthew 6:24, Luke 18:24, or 1 Timothy 6:10.