Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Ecclesiastes 10:1-7) transports me to the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights and their leadership development program for business executives. One of the stated goals of this program is to spread the “right ideas” of Objectivism, which is Rand’s philosophy, so that corporate leaders in America will one day be celebrated as heroes instead of heels (a fate they suffer whenever news leaks of wildly exorbitant executive compensation rewarding unethical practices). There is a strong sense of entitlement among these aspiring leaders, who like to quote their beloved philosophical mentor: Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. Less visible in the Center’s pr materials, but part of the underlying philosophy nonetheless, is another of her famous quotes: A strong man can eventually trample society under its feet. Rand was hyper critical of the leadership of her day, and the ethos of egalitarian collectivism and cooperation that was weaving through the fabric of American society in the 30s and 40s. She bought none of it. She longed for a world in which the alpha dogs survived and the weak herd was thinned out. All for the happiness of the strong individual, with a morality based on the credo: What is good for me is right.
The sage of the book of Ecclesiastes, attributed by some to wise King Solomon, was a social critic not all that unlike Ayn Rand. It must have been an era of rapid social change, with the sure social fabric of strong masters and subservient slaves unraveling before his eyes. There is an evil I have seen under the sun, he says, the sort of error that arises from a ruler: Fools are put in many high positions, while the rich occupy the low ones. I have seen slaves on horseback, while princes go on foot like slaves. According to the sage the wrong people are celebrated, as lowlifes ride into town on regal steeds, while the deserving rightful heirs to the thrones of power are frustrated, getting calloused feet as they have to hoof it through the dusty streets. It’s worse than folly, the philosopher says, it’s an evil.
All this is to say that in the long and drawn out conversation among people of faith, recorded through the scriptures, the voice of Ayn Rand can be found. Objectivism and individualist imperial entitlement thinking is there. And it was no doubt there in Jesus’ day, as the people of faith debated and argued over the kind of messianic leadership needed to rise to power. There were those looking for the deserving hero king to ride in on the regal steed and trample Roman society under his feet. And then there was Jesus, kneeling in an upper room washing the dirty feet of his friends, in an attempt to create a beloved community that would institutionalize the “evil” the Ecclesiastes sage saw under the sun. Fools lifted up, and princes laid low. It is no wonder that Ayn Rand had this, among many other things, to say about this new egalitarian ethic Jesus was embodying: All the criminal, ludicrous, tragic nonsense of Christianity and its morals, virtues, and consequences. Is it any wonder that he didn’t accept it? The “he” was one of her heroes, a character she based on a real life serial killer, William Hickman, who had kidnapped and decapitated a 12 year old girl. What is a wonder is how many people are today looking to Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism for their guiding light. It’s not just the corporate execs taking training at the Ayn Rand Center. Now we have none other than the candidate for VP of our country claiming her voice as the inspiration for his getting into politics. May Paul Ryan be one of those aspiring leaders for whom the hero in his soul continues to perish in frustration, lest he trample our society under his feet.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.