Friday, 1 March 2019

On Ayn Rand and William F. Buckley Jr.

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

Eric Voegelin's work on political theory offers another 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.”

It is possible that Buckley didn't like Rand’s Atlas Shrugged because this book makes a 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. 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 sever themselves form everything and everyone that is not perfect. In Atlas Shrugged, Galt says 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 only political change, but a total revolution. He wants to 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 was a traditional conservative and Rand an atheistic revolutionary. They could never have cooperated with each other.


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.