I've been reading a number of essays online about the alleged "New Age of Ayn Rand," and the authors typically give us a list of folks in the administration of Donald Trump and in the legislative and judicial branches of government who are supposedly Rand "acolytes." Two essays come to mind: Jonathan Freedland's Guardian piece, "The New Age of Ayn Rand: How She Won Over Trump and Silicon Valley" and the far better piece by Thu-Huong Ha in Quartz, "US Repubican leaders love Ayn Rand's controversial philosophy--and are increasingly misinterpreting it."
Freedland goes on and on about how Rand's "particularly hardcore brand of free-market fundamentalism" is "having a moment," reflected in views expressed by Speaker Paul Ryan, former Presidential candidate Ron Paul, and his Senator son Rand Paul, and a host of folks in the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Labor Secretary Andy Puzder, and even Donald Trump himself, who once said something nice about Rand's novel, The Fountainhead.
Ha's piece is more nuanced; the writer points out that Rand's atheism, opposition to tariffs, corporate bailouts, and such, run contrary to many of the policies put forth by the Trump administration. (And as an immigrant from the Soviet Union, an opponent of communism and the building of walls, I think she'd have a few things to say about some of the proposals floated by that administration on the issue of immigration.)
I should point out further that Rand's adamant opposition to laws prohibiting abortion, illicit drugs, "obscenity" and "pornography," and sexual activities among consenting adults, run counter to the fundamentalist strain in contemporary U.S. conservatism. She argued that the society was headed toward a "new fascism," which was aided by the efforts of both contemporary liberals and conservatives. It was a form of corporate state that would benefit powerful interests at home and abroad (through the various machinations of foreign "aid," the Ex-Im Bank, the IMF, and the Fed). It is true that she was opposed to the welfare state, but that's only because she rooted the problems it was allegedly created to resolve in the boom-bust cycle generated by a state-banking nexus, exemplified by the Federal Reserve System and its abandonment of the gold standard. (Hat tip to Jeffery Small: Of course, Rand was opposed morally, in principle, to the idea of a welfare state, no matter who the beneficiaries were, be it poor folks, corporations, or the bureaucracy that sustained it. She believed it required the wholesale sacrifice of some groups to the benefit of others, and that it necessarily achieved this through the initiation of force, a violation of individual rights. But she also argued that the whole class of the institutionalized poor was itself an outgrowth of state intervention.)
She was also opposed to the warfare state; her opposition to U.S. entrance into World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and her repudiation of any notion that the U.S. could engage in "nation-building" among foreign cultures that had no understanding of the nature of individual rights, all exhibit a grasp of how interventionism abroad almost always created a "boomerang" effect that led to a host of "unintended" consequences. These consequences, much like the interventionist dynamic at home, would lead to further complications and demands for further interventionism, thus creating an almost self-perpetuating welfare-warfare state (see Chapter 12 of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and various essays indexed here).
Today, however, I was going to tell the story about one Rand acolyte who was in a position of immense power and what happened when he was given the opportunity to fundamentally change the institutions he once opposed.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a gentleman named Alan. And he stood firmly against the creation of a central bank, especially the Federal Reserve Bank, which institutionalized inflationary expansion and the inexorable busts; he was an adamant supporter of a gold standard, and talked much about how government facilitated the creation of monopolies with various barriers to entry. Alas, Alan eventually became Chairman of the very Federal Reserve System he once opposed, and was one of the sculptors of the bubble that burst into the Great Recession. But instead of telling that story, I should just refer readers to a wonderful essay by David Gordon posted to the site of the Ludwig von Mises Institute: "Alan Greenspan, Sellout." In that essay, Gordon makes clear that even the most fervent acolytes of Ayn Rand become corrupted "once [such folks become] close to the levers of power." I submit that the internal dynamics of government intervention both at home and abroad are too powerful to control; eventually, even those who oppose that intervention become adept at using those very levers of power, and the results cannot be in sync with the philosophy of a woman who stood against interventionism in all its insidious forms, both at home and abroad, both in the boardroom and the bedroom.
This is not the age of Rand. It is the age of the anti-Rand. It is an age where people can cherry-pick and sloganize some of Rand's ideas to justify new and ingenious ways of destroying the fabric of social and economic life. Beware "the New Age of Rand"; it is nothing of the sort.
Postscript: I added a Facebook comment to this essay on 25 April 2017:
I should state for the record that Rand was proudly present at the White House when Greenspan was appointed to Ford's Council of Economic Advisors; she died in 1982, and never lived to see him take the helm of the Fed in 1987. I honestly have no clue what her view would have been; I've heard it said by some of Greenspan's friends that he had hoped to affect change from within the system. The moral of this story is that the system changes just about anyone who becomes a part of it. I do think, however, that Rand's ultimate goal was revolutionary; or else, why speak of "Capitalism:The Unknown Ideal." She declared herself proudly a "radical for capitalism" and fought for a system that had never existed in history.