Rand and Chesterton

I doubt that Ayn Rand was mad as opposed to, say, humorless and intolerant. Since I am humorless and intolerant myself, I tend not to think of these as flaws. AND ANYONE WHO DISAGREES WITH ME IS A DEVIL. I cannot blame her for over-reacting to trifling pro-Communist things she found in America, when she had seen what Communism did in Russia. It is like someone who objects to LORD OF THE RINGS because the Hobbits smoke pipes–it sounds stupid, until you find out that this someone lost a loved one, after protracted pain, to lung cancer.

In G.K. Chesterton’s ORTHODOXY he has a long section there were he talks about the madness that comes from over-emphasis of one idea. He had people like Ayn Rand in mind: fierce intellects overbalanced by their own reason.

Ayn Rand’s one idea is a good idea: men should be self-reliant and should pay as they go. Heinlein would agree. The idea of a self-reliant individualist is a noble one, and also a staple of Science Fiction.


Individualism is not all that there is. Man does not live by bread alone, even when he earns it all alone and eats it all alone.

Any idea, no matter how good when taken in balance with other ideas, becomes its own worst enemy when taken out of balance. Holy moly, Ayn Rand is against charity? She is against children sharing their toys? She is against selflessness in love? So speaks an adulteress who has never had kids. There is nothing wrong with being against Communism and being against unmerited guilt: but there is surely something wrong with being against human fellow-feeling.

There is no idea that cannot be made absurd when taken to an absurd extreme. Love itself, an idea so potent that angels hide their invulnerable eyes behind their dappled wings when Love appears, in the extreme turns into a mealy-mouthed feel-good platitude: hippies on hillsides singing about Coke. Justice becomes inhuman severity, the cruelty of Sparta. Truth becomes rudeness. Honor becomes violent and touchy self-regard. Religion becomes fanaticism. Logic becomes hair-splitting. Charity to the poor becomes Communism, a philosophy that has tortured and killed more poor people than can be numbered. Capitalism, a good idea by any account, becomes Objectivism, a philosophy which, while logical in the abstract, in practice would create a nation where no decent person would want to raise his kids. The day McDonald’s starts selling hard liquor in their Happy Meals, even I, lover of freedom that I am, become a prohibitionist, despite all the drawbacks such laws entail.

Even in the Golden Age that perfect libertarianism promises us, you would need something like the Hortators to impose social controls on unacceptable-but-physically-harmless behavior. The reason for this is that the libertarian utopia itself rests on ideas, on a certain sense of morality and decency, on honesty in contracts and faithfulness in marriage, ideas that can be destroyed without doing anyone any physical harm.

And, yes, even John Galt himself, the prelapsarian man, born (so he says of himself) without original sin, when the time came to chose between self-regard and self-sacrifice, was willing to kill himself in an epitome of Russian high emotion, rather than expose his True Love to danger. This indicates to me that Ayn Rand’s instincts as a writer were more sound than her speculations as a philosopher.

If any idea can be corrupted, what is the solution? To be moderate in all things, a way of life of which the pagan philosophers approved, seems bland by contrast, and may not be so helpful. Socrates moderately drank hemlock when so ordered by the State: Aristotle, facing the same danger, ran away to Boetia. We must assume that Socrates drank hemlock in moderation and that Aristotle ran at a stately and moderate pace, as befits a great-souled man.

GK Chesterton, the one man on Earth who never took himself seriously, and never took the Earth all that seriously either, was the opposite of the humorless Ayn Rand. His idea was that opposite, and even antithetical passions could be let free to run riot if constrained by the wisdom of Christian tradition. Ayn Rand condemns both the sin and the sinner, and her hell of condemnation does not seem to have grades or graduations. Chesterton hates the sin and loves the sinner, and his hatred is a more pure black and his love is a more pure argent, than even a purist like Ayn Rand could muster.

Despite all this, her view of man as an heroic being has a romance and a greatness to it, that, for me, makes most of her drawbacks forgivable. There are particular spiritualdangers to the Randian philosophy, but communism, reverse-racism, multiculturalism and political correctness are not numbered among them. Those things which are the main dangers of the current age, are ones to which the Objectivists are not prone. We are not likely to suffer from under-regulation and anarchy in the near future.

I would welcome any Objectivist into the trenches beside me in the culture wars for the same reason I would welcome a valiant Norse pagan: our common enemy is a swamp of nihilistic not-quite nothingness, illogical and addicted to moral vanity. The bold Viking or the passionately dispassionate Objectivist and I may have minor disagreements about the nature of the universe, but none of us are enamored of a life without truth, without reason, without honor, without shame.

And when they came to take away the guns of the Norse Asatru, he would die rather than die the straw death, lest he be unarmed and thus denied entry to Valhalla, the hall of the slain. And when they came to take the gold of the Objectivist, he would blow up his own house rather than compromise, and see his wealth wasted by the looters and moochers. Now, I do not worship either iron or gold, but these two would stand for principles which, taken in balance with other Christian doctrines they abhor, peacefulness and charity, are necessary redoubts against the creeping miasma of gun-grabbing and tax-eating to which the soulless machine of modern collectivist secularism would reduce us. Both these men, in their own way, are as mystical and otherworldly as I am, since the bold pagan believes in the Gods of Asgard, and the wrathful Randian believes in Man as an Heroic and Rational creature.

I am tempted to say that the one is just as mythical as the other, Rational Men as rare as heroic Aesir, but I have not seen every cranny of space and time, so I will not vow I know what might or might not be.  The Creator does not lack for imagination. For all I know, the angels who did not fall so far as Lucifer celebrate with endless ale in Vilmead and in Ydalir, while their one-eyed king broods on his throne, foreseeing the downfall of his little world; and Adam in the garden might have been as rational and productive as John Galt, and as unashamed.  So I will not say these idols do not exist, I merely say that they do not merit the devotion paid to them by my friends.

Both make for good stories. For myself, their stories are not complete, and neither Rangnarok nor Galt’s Gulch express my notion of a satisfactory ending. But I would be proud to call the pagan and the Randian allies, despite our differences. For our enemy is vast and shapeless and terrible like a shadow, formless as a clinging swamp, and will not soon pass from this world.