‘You should have listened’: Ayn Rand, Left Behind, Doom Paul, and the politics of futility

Hunter Baker wants Christians to get over their “deep ambivalence” about Ayn Rand and stop being so mean to her:

Ayn Rand deserves some of the opposition she has received from Christians and many others. But she also deserves better.

Personally, I’m not ambivalent at all about her, if anything she deserves the Cromwell treatment. But that’s just me.

Perhaps it’s fair for Baker to regret that the most prominent politician to publicly embrace Rand at one time now has to disavow it nearly every time he gives an extended interview. “I completely reject the philosophy of objectivism” is what Paul Ryan said to Jim Rutenberg recently. Is there any comparable ideology that prompts this kind of categorical condemnation from public figures? You get the sense that a politician would have an easier time if it came out that they had dabbled in Scientology or Thelema.

But this isn’t true:

Rand did have disdain for some people, but her lack of respect was not based on physical weakness, class, or color so much as it was aimed at those she thought lacked virtue. Contempt may have its place if it aims at a form of evil.

Characterizing the people of Palestine as “almost totally primitive savages” is disdain based on something other than virtue. I suppose that’s a matter of interpretation. But her war ethics, such as they were, are extremely troubling, and clearly leave the door open to genocide.

In Roy Childs’ letter trying to convert her to anarchism, he links some of these conclusions with the claim that she misunderstands the Constitution and the Cold War. Rand may have been anti-government but she was not an anarchist. Most colorfully, she supported state violence in the sense of being opposed to rules of engagement to mitigate civilian casualties during wartime. She also saw abortion as a “moral right,” which seems to me a lack of respect based on physical weakness.

So, Ayn Rand had pretty destructive views about war, the state, and human solidarity. That’s more than enough to turn me off, but maybe I don’t make enough money. More to the point, should we take it as a sign of defective character when a public figure professes admiration for a person that espouses these views? Perhaps Paul Ryan should not make us as nervous as he seems to make liberal reporters, but it’s not unreasonable, generally speaking, to think so.

At this point, the argument you usually hear next from Rand’s defenders is that she is at least useful in counterbalancing purported anti-market currents in pop culture; the Jack Chick of monopoly capitalism. Her books help acquaint people with the virtue of work and free markets and so on, and thereby encourage a healthier, more creative society. Objectivism isn’t good, but it works, and hey, that’s all that matters, right?

On that, uh … I just don’t know, man. Does it bring more people around than it freaks out or vitiates?

*****

If Atlas Shrugged is a churlish warning along the lines of “you ingrates wouldn’t be so happy if the producers all UP AND LEFT, would you?,” Left Behind is essentially the same story, just with the rapture replacing economic collapse, Galt’s Gulch exchanged for heaven, and disappearing Christians instead of captains of industry.

It seems Justin and I are on a similar wavelength. Perhaps different amplitudes:

As far as religio-political fables go, the story of Left Behind isn’t nearly as virulent as, say, John “Four Blood Moons” Hagee’s apocalypto-Zionism. And the movie’s main crime vis a vis other crypto-Christian blockbusters like The Giver or the Narnia films is that it’s just much more boring and stupid. Most of the dialogue has that bizarre fable-like quality you often see in Christian filmmaking, where everything seems like the esprit d’escalier of a street evangelist and an eighth grader who’s just picked up Dawkins.

Chloe and Rayford Steele (Cassie Thomson and Nicholas Cage) — these fucking names — think, as most of us might, that the mother has gone crazy because following her born-again moment she has begun to see Biblical prophecy unfolding in various natural disasters.

This apocalyptic conspiracy theorizing has apparently taken a toll on the family; Rayford takes a flight to London for a tryst with a stewardess, and Chloe is obviously so bothered by her mother’s newfound religiosity that in the beginning of the movie she can’t keep herself from shouting at some airport evangelist who’s picked up on the same hurricanes-and-suicide-bombs Kabbalah.

There’s an obvious contradiction in portraying a woman who believes the end of the world is at hand as gently nudging her children toward a more faith-driven life, but the movie does it anyway. Honestly, this was the more disturbing little kernel of the film to me; the notion that this woman was a neutral actor in a family on the rocks. She isn’t shown outside of their house, and when Chloe comes home and their catching-up comes around to Chloe’s faith, she says she “didn’t mean to push.”

But what she’s asking them to believe in is something most normal people regard as insane. Typing “normal people,” it occurs to me that whether or not Christianity in America has gone from culture to subculture, a significant number of young Christians regard their faith as countercultural. I’ve always thought it odd to regard submission to Christ as a statement of individuality or defiance, but this movie is in a sense, a pernicious expression of this trend. If Christianity isn’t normal anymore, then why be normal? And if being normal means thinking typhoons and tornados are natural phenomena, well, why not spice that up too?

You see, Chloe and Rayford are sheeple, and unlike the people who think the government did 9/11, Mrs. Steele is right. The movie flashes Mark 13:32 at the end (“of that day or hour, no man knows”), but has just spent the last two hours contradicting it.

*****

Speaking of sheeple, you’re all sheeple:

Ah, Doom Paul. You could save yourself the trouble of reading Atlas Shrugged or watching Left Behind by just watching the video above. It’s really the same idea.

However, I will say the evidence is growing in favor of decline and collapse. Our republic has long since passed into its imperial stage, and empires eventually crumble and die. This blog has typically focused on new ways of organizing polities in the face of governmental inadequacy or failure, so maybe we shouldn’t be opposed to things that seem to warn that failure is upon us. Are they right to do so? What caused this vast Calvinist revenge fantasy — a great I told you so — playing out in the public imagination?

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