The Ayn Rand Factor In the Santelli Revolt
Last week, in his now-famous rallying cry against the Obama administration's march toward socialism, CNBC financial commentator Rick Santelli called for a "Chicago Tea Party" to protest against the rapid expansion of government.
The idea of a Boston Tea Party-inspired tax protest had already been percolating, if you will, and when Santelli gave voice to it, it emerged as a new movement. A group that calls this the "New American Tea Party" has set up a website to coordinate protests across the nation this Friday, including in Washington, DC. These protests are just the beginning, especially if the current government interventions in the economy continue to make things worse, which I fully expect them to do.
But we will need more than just a political rebellion against the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress. We will need to engage in an ideological struggle, a battle of ideas. Columnist Monica Crowley named it best early last week when she called for a "21st century Boston Tea Party" and said that we needed a "second American revolution of ideas," "of getting back to the ideals of limited government, of constitutional parameters on government power, of individual liberty, and of the free market."
Yet we have to ask: where is the intellectual ammunition for this battle of ideas going to come from? It is important to remember that a Republican administration started us down this plunge into socialism. In praising Rick Santelli, Roger Kimball asks a very good question: "do we really need to go back to economic kindergarten and relearn" the lessons of the failure of statism and the superiority of capitalism? The answer is that we have to go back to basics because we never quite learned the fullest, deepest, philosophical reasons for the moral and practical superiority of capitalism.
Fortunately, we know where to find the free-market ideas we need, and this source is already indirectly driving the new taxpayer revolt. It's time to bring it fully out into the open.
In defending his stance against the bailouts, Rick Santelli referred to himself as an "Ayn Rander"—a reference to the great 20th-century novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, who is most famous for her ideological defense of laissez-faire capitalism. Similar references seem to be lurking behind nearly every expression of resistance to big government. Rush Limbaugh—whose coining of the term "porkulus" helped galvanize the right's resistance to the so-called "stimulus" bill—has frequently recommended Ayn Rand's magnum opus Atlas Shrugged in recent months, as has conservative talk show host Glenn Beck.
In January, Stephen Moore caused a stir by arguing, in the Wall Street Journal, that the current crisis is turning Atlas Shrugged "from fiction to fact." And those who are warning that increased government restrictions will cause the nation's most productive workers to withdraw their talents have taken to calling this the "John Galt Effect," a reference to the hero—and the main plotline—of Atlas Shrugged.
It is no coincidence that the strongest resistance to a government takeover of the economy is coming from people influenced by Ayn Rand. She has long functioned as a stiffener of resolve and as the fountainhead of pro-free-market ideas.
I have written about this at greater length, but Ayn Rand's contribution to the philosophical defense of capitalism can be summed up in one central idea: individualism. Ayn Rand demonstrated that the ultimate source of all wealth—everything from steel mills to microchips—is the individual reasoning mind. Thus, a society that wants to prosper has to ask what is required by its thinkers and producers, the "prime movers" who originate and implement new ideas. And the first thing that is required for these thinkers to function is that they be free from coercive interference by bureaucrats, by blowhard legislators, or by federal "czars."
Ayn Rand was an individualist in the fullest sense: she regarded the unfettered individual, not just as a source of wealth, but also as an end in himself with the right to profit from and enjoy the wealth he creates, without being forced to sacrifice his happiness for the allegedly greater good of the collective. The issue, as she once put it, is not whether or not you give a dime to a beggar. The issue is whether you have a right to exist if you don't—and whether you have to buy your life, one dime at a time, from every moocher who comes along asking for a handout. She gave the clearest and most consistent "no" to that standard of morality, and the clearest and most consistent "yes" to the moral rights of the creators and producers.
There has been some recent crowing about how the current financial crisis has discredited Ayn Rand's defense of self-interest and the free market, as demonstrated by the defection of Alan Greenspan. In reality, the current financial crisis does not demonstrate the failure of Greenspan's alleged pro-free-market ideas, which he actually rejected decades ago; rather, it demonstrates the failure of his presumption that a talented "maestro" can orchestrate prosperity by setting himself up as the monetary central planner of the economy.
In fact, the current crisis has vindicated Ayn Rand's warnings. Haven't the financial markets collapsed every time a bureaucrat comes on TV to explain how he is planning to "rescue" them? And the policies of the current administration are about to prove Ayn Rand right once again, and perhaps more fully than ever before, by demonstrating what happens when we sacrifice more and more of the nation's productive minds to provide handouts for the beggars.
Far from facing growing rejection, Ayn Rand's ideas are the mostly unnamed fuel giving fire and confidence to people like Rick Santelli. Even if they don't fully accept Ayn Rand ideas, their encounter with her writings gives them the confidence to declare that they have earned their wealth and that they have a right to keep it and enjoy it.
That's the Ayn Rand factor we are observing now—and we need more of it.
If we're going to have an ideological Boston Tea Party, a declaration of independence from the whole theory behind state management of our lives and wealth, then Ayn Rand is the ideal philosophical hostess.