No such thing as society, squared

By Bernadette Meaden
May 29, 2018

The fact that Theresa May is a vicar’s daughter is often mentioned in the media. Her government’s actions are sometimes measured against what are generally thought to be Christian values and found to be inconsistent.

But if we look at another set of values, which several prominent Conservatives admire, government policies appear far more consistent and logical.

Mrs May’s new Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, is a keen admirer of the founder of Objectivism, Ayn Rand. There is a concise two-minute audio summary of Objectivism from Stephen Fry, here Some of the main points made are; “You have a duty to be selfish. There is no God. The weak shouldn’t expect any help from the strong. The role of government is nothing more than to protect individual rights of ownership and to let the powerful flourish.”

When tested against these values, rather than Christian ones, many government policies make a lot more sense.  

The website of the Ayn Rand Institute says the four essentials of Objectivism are: reality, reason, self-interest, and Capitalism. It also makes clear that Objectivism specifically rejects values which Christians, and many others, would consider essential for a healthy society. The website lists three “Common beliefs that Ayn Rand challenges: You are your brother’s keeper; Love is selfless; Money is the root of all evil.”

Selfless love, it says, “is a contradiction in terms: it would mean you have no personal stake in the object of your love.”   The impoverished nature of this belief is deeply saddening. All the nobility, self-sacrifice and generosity of spirit human beings are capable of, simply dismissed.

Similarly, says the Ayn Rand Foundation, “Don’t try to be your brother’s keeper or to force him to be yours. Live independently.” This, combined with the belief that the state has almost no role but that of a policeman, means social security, the NHS, every way in which we look after each other collectively as a society is highly questionable to an Objectivist.

Indeed, Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan famously said on American television that the NHS had been "a 60 year mistake."  In a review of Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged, in which he criticised her writing style, he said, “Pace all you Randians: I am one of you. I have a small picture of the lady on my desk in the European Parliament, next to a signed photograph of Margaret Thatcher.”  There is no such thing as society, squared.

Another admirer of Ayn Rand is Javid’s University friend Robert Halfon MP, who also has a picture of Rand in his office. He was appointed a Minister in the Department of Education in 2016. In 2017 Ayn Rand was made part of the A-level politics syllabus, and the Ayn Rand Foundation jubilantly announced “Although government has no legitimate business running schools, insofar as it does run schools, it should include Rand’s works in the curricula. Kudos to the United Kingdom for taking this big step forward.”

It is easy to understand how Rand’s ideas would appeal to an adolescent striving to establish their identity and make their way in the world. The appeal to fearless, independent individualism and the disdain of tiresome, collective obligations which might require compromise or sacrifice may be attractive to a teenager, longing to be free of the restrictions of school and family. It’s also possible to see how, as in Sajid Javid’s case, those values would transfer to the high-rolling world of international banking. But to have them admired by members of a government with a responsibility to govern for the whole country, not just the wealthy and powerful, is concerning.

Ayn Rand’s values may be troubling, but perhaps they may provide a better key to understanding government thinking than the values we would attribute to a vicar’s daughter.

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

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