Ayn Rand Crosses Over to Britain
On Tuesday, I went to a talk held by the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) titled “Ayn Rand: More Relevant Now than Ever” in London’s luxurious Goldsmiths’ Hall, a grand old building near St Paul’s Cathedral. The crowd was mostly white, male, and wearing sharp suits, as you’d expect at an event devoted to Rand—the novelist-philosopher who came up with “the morality of rational self-interest,” a worldview that says you should pretty much do whatever benefits you and if that results in someone else getting screwed over, well, fuck them anyway. It was the second annual Ayn Rand lecture hosted by the Adam Smith Institute, a libertarian think tank. I was in a temple of the free market.
The speaker was the CEO of Saxo Bank, Lars Seier Christensen. As the head of an investment bank based in socialist Denmark, Christensen is particularly enraged by high taxation, social welfare, and banking regulations, which made him a perfect source of Randian rage. “The world is on the wrong track,” he told us. “A malady that has long beset Europe is currently spreading to the US.” Apparently we are experiencing a “socialist revival” to which “Ayn Rand is the only answer.”
If you’ve never had a college roommate who got way too into her, Rand was an amphetamine-addicted writer of trashy potboilers who, despite being laughed at by many conservatives of her day gradually became one of the most influential philosophers of the right. Her 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged has been ranked the second most influential book after the Bible. The 1,000-page, dull-as-dishwater book describes a world crippled by a socialist government where a group of heroic tycoons and inventors abandon society, which promptly collapses without them. The plot is really besides the point though—mostly, Atlas Shrugged is a vehicle for Rand’s philosophy ofObjectivism, which advances “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life.” It also depicted rich people as superior beings and poor people as pathetic, hapless moochers. See why bank executives might be interested in something like that?
Even this can’t compel me to read Rand.