Friday, 1 March 2019

On Ayn Rand and William F. Buckley Jr.

William F. Buckley Jr.; Ayn Rand 
Why did William F. Buckley Jr. think that Ayn Rand was not a good inspiration for the conservative movement? He has claimed that when he met Rand for the first time, she greeted him by saying, “You are much too intelligent to believe in God.” In 1957, he published in his National Review a negative review of Atlas Shrugged (written by Whittaker Chambers).

The Whittaker review must have hurt because after its publication Rand repudiated conservatism, even though a vast majority of the readers of her books are conservatives—in her 1966 book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, she published an obituary of conservatism, in a chapter titled, “Conservatism: An Obituary.”

After reading the books by Eric Voegelin, I have found a new way of looking at the hostility between Rand and Buckley. In his book The New Science of Politics, Voegelin takes a stand against the revolutionary mass movements like Marxism, communism, fascism, and national socialism which deny religion and tradition, and win support by promising to create a godless heaven on earth. In Chapter 4, “Gnosticism—The Nature of Modernity,” Voegelin writes:
“The problem of an eidos in history, hence, arises only when a Christian transcendental fulfillment becomes immanentized. Such an immanentist hypostasis of the eschaton, however, is a theoretical fallacy.”
Inspired by Voegelin’s political theory, Buckley promulgated the political slogan, “Don’t let them immanentize the Eschaton.” This means: “Don’t let them create a heaven on earth.”

I think Buckley did not like Rand’s Atlas Shrugged because this book makes a strong case for “immanentizing the eschaton.” The novel’s protagonist John Galt stops the motor of the earth with the conviction that once the society has collapsed, he will create a better world, a new Atlantis or heaven, which will be populated with human beings who stand for reason, science, and individualism, and are perfect in every possible way. Rand has given an account of what Galt’s Atlantis will be like in her description of Galt’s Gulch where perfect human beings live in perfect happiness.

But entry into Galt’s Gulch is possible only to those who will sever all ties with the imperfect world—they must hold the perfect philosophy and they must tear themselves apart form everything and everyone that is not perfect. In Atlas Shrugged, Galt has this to say to Dagny Taggart, “You have seen the Atlantis they were seeking, it is here, it exists—but one must enter it naked and alone, with no rags from the falsehoods of centuries, with the purest clarity of mind—not an innocent heart, but that which is much rarer: an intransigent mind—as one's only possession and key.”

What Galt is after when he talks about “stopping the motor of the world,” is not just political change, he demands a total revolution. He wants to radically transform everything. He will have nothing to do with traditions; he rejects the family system; he demands rejection of not just religion, but of every religious person— even if the religious person is your best friend or a close relative, you have to reject him in order to qualify for Galt’s utopia; he wants a complete and instantaneous curtailment of the entire government; he wants every human being to be a man of reason, science, and individualism.

Buckley must have thought that Galt’s method (or Ayn Rand’s method) for creating a better society entailed immanentizing the eschaton. In Voegelin’s lexicon, Rand could be categorized as a gnostic thinker.

Voegelin applies the category of gnosticism to refer to the secular revolutionary movements which promise to create a heaven on earth by a total obliteration of past culture. In his books The New Science of Politics and Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, Voegelin offers a good analysis of the gnostic movements of the 18th and 19th century which were aiming to create a heaven on earth but succeeded in creating an unimaginable hell.

3 comments:

garret seinen said...

The way I see it, Mr Buckley believed only god could create heaven and that it would not be on earth. Ayn Rand in turn knew there was no god but that heaven could be achieved on earth provided individuals used reason and stopped supporting those who created hell on earth. She was unable to get thick headed individuals to see that reality will arbitrate. There is no need to force people to do good, just recognize evil and withdraw your sanctions.

Marconius7 said...

An interesting perspective.

Anonymous said...

" Rand has given an account of what Galt’s Atlantis will be like in her description of Galt’s Gulch where perfect human beings live in perfect happiness."
I think you read the Gnostic edition of Atlas Shrugged? The regular (demiurgic) version makes no such claims.