GODLESS CAPITALISM: AYN RAND AND THE CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT
|JENNIFER BURNS a1|
a1 Department of History, University of California at Berkeley
This essay examines the relationship between the novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand (The
Shrugged) and the broader conservative movement in the twentieth-century United States. Although Rand was often dismissed as a lightweight popularizer, her works of radical individualism advanced bold arguments about the moral status of capitalism, and thus touched upon a core issue of conservative identity. Because Rand represented such a forthright pro-capitalist position, her career highlights the shifting fortunes of capitalism on the right. In the 1940s, she was an inspiration to those who struggled against the New Deal and hoped to bring about a new, market-friendly political order. As a second generation of conservatives built upon these sentiments and attempted to tie them to a defense of Christian tradition, Rand's status began to erode. Yet by the late 1960s, Rand's once-revolutionary defense of capitalism had become routine, although she herself remained a controversial figure. The essay traces the ways in which Rand's ideas were assimilated and modified by key intellectuals on the right, including William F. Buckley, Jr, Whittaker Chambers, and Gary Wills. It identifies the relationship between capitalism and Christianity as a fundamental dilemma for conservative and right-wing thinkers. By treating Rand as an intellectual and cultural leader of significant import, the essay broadens our understanding of the American right beyond the confines of “mainstream” conservatism, and re-establishes the primacy of the 1930s, and 1940s, to its ideological formation. Responding to a paucity of scholarship on Rand, the essay offers an analysis and summary of Rand's ideas, and argues that despite her outsider status, Rand's work both embodied and shaped fundamental themes of right-wing thought throughout the century.