The Totalitarian Delusion

2003-12-22

In War and the Rise of the State, Bruce Porter lists several distinguishing features of twentieth-century totalitarian states:

Call me paranoid, but I see here ominous parallels to the culture of Ayn Rand's Objectivist movement. This may not be surprising, given that Rand's formative years were spent in Soviet Russia. But replace "politics" with "philosophy" and one begins to see what I mean. Objectivism was a hierarchically-organized philosophical movement that was centered on the charismatic person of novelist Ayn Rand, whom her followers considered to be infallible and all-wise (I call this the "Fallacy of Immaculate Conceptualization"). It was driven by a libertarian ideology that veered dangerously close to utopianism. The methods used in Rand's movement did not stoop to physical terror, but psychological bullying and ostracism were all too common. The movement was deeply hierarchical, with the masses ("students of Objectivism") at the bottom and a carefully-selected inner circle at the top. Rand's followers were encouraged to engage in ceaseless philosophical activity and to see all of life as a stage for the great philosophical battle of modernity between Objectivism (which alone had achieved truth) and everyone else -- a battle in which neutrality was impossible. Rand herself often used martial imagery, such as her statement that "a political battle is merely a skirmish fought with muskets; a philosophical battle is a nuclear war".

Indeed, I think there are even parallels between the insanity of someone like Goebbels and Rand in her more apocalyptic moments; consider this:

Under the debris of our shattered cities the last so-called achievement of the middle-class nineteenth century have been finally buried.... Now that everything is in ruins, we are forced to rebuild Europe.

If you change "Europe" to "America" and "middle-class nineteenth century" to, say, "irrationalist twentieth century", the result is a frighteningly accurate characterization of the conclusion of Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged. .


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