Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan: the prehistory

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Now that the Ryan-Rand temblor has subsided–with a nice little SiricoWintersDonohue aftershock–I’d recommend taking a look at “Godless Capitalism: Ayn Rand and the Conservative Movement,” a 2004 article by UVA historian Jennifer Burns that shows just how longstanding The Rand Problem has been for American conservatives. William F. Buckley, it seems, took an instant dislike to Rand and her ideas, and kept her outside the pale of National Review‘s broad conservative pasture, most notably via Whittaker Chamber’s 1957 evisceration, “Big Sister Is Watching You.” Denouncing Rand’s “materialism of the Right,” Chambers accused Rand of embodying a species of fascism: “[F]rom almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: ‘To a gas chamber–go!'”

It was, of course, Rand’s militant atheism that made her so repellent to the likes of Buckley and Chambers. Indeed, Burns argues that the need to differentiate the NF worldview from Rand’s led Buckley to devote more of the magazine’s attention to religion, which culminated in the hiring of Will Herberg as its first religion editor in 1961.

Yet despite Buckley’s best efforts, Rand’s appeal to conservatives could not be stifled, as Catholicism’s traditional anti-capitalist ethos faded and unreconstructed free-market ideology grew ever stronger on the Right. Paul Ryan is hardly the only conservative Catholic untroubled by the cultural contradictions of Randism. For the troubled, Fr. Robert Sirico’s tortured interpretation of Atlas Shrugged’s Nietzchean superman John Galt as a Christ figure seeks to redeem Rand–somehow a Christian despite herself–for the purposes of conservative Catholicism. Meanwhile, at NR, they continue to fight the good fight. A losing cause, apparently.