Its a mad, bad Randian world writes Gavin Ashenden
Sajid Javid has slipped into the spotlight now that the poisoned chalice of the Home Office has been raised to his lips.
And the press has been discovering and describing some of the most interesting things about him, beginning with the fact that his dad was a bus driver.
It turns out also that he has something in common with Donald Trump and Martina Navratilova, both celebratory ‘winners’. They all are fans of the Russian/American novelist Ayn Rand.
She was famous for writing a couple of novels in the 40’s and 50’s; ‘The Fountainhead’ and ‘Atlas Shrugged’. Everyone agreed that they weren’t first class as pieces of writing. In her plots her good characters were very good and her bad were execrable. There wasn’t much room for anything in between.
She had seen Soviet Communism take her father’s pharmacy business and destroy his life, and spent all her energies raging against the ‘collective’. She invented a philosophy called objectivism.
Her work was a celebration of the strong determined man (or woman) and of the ego. She called it ‘Objectivism’ and described it as the belief that “man exists for his own sake; that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose; that he must not sacrifice himself for others, nor sacrifice others to himself”
Her heroes certainly swam against the tide. In the ‘Fountainhead’, Howard Roark, an architect spectacularly blows up his own building after his design was taken over and bastardised. He preferred it destroyed to being compromised.
Rand has become very popular again suddenly . Once a year, Sajid Javid reads the trial scene from ‘Fountainhead’ where Roark defends himself against the charges brought against him. He tried it on his wife when they were first dating, and she said if he ever tried to read it our loud to her again, she would dump him. He didn’t.
But the egoistic winners Donald Trump and Martina Navratilova feel the same way as Javid does about the rhetoric in that trial scene.
In the Simpsons, when the book is mentioned Marge coos with awe, until Lisa asks “isn’t that book the bible for right-wing losers?”
In fact it is it’s the bible for people who see their ego and pleasure as simply more important than anyone else’s. It’s the survival of the cleverest and most selfish, to borrow from Darwin.
It was when I heard that she had become more popular on Amazon than CS Lewis, that I was struck by the contrast between the two world views.
Rand hated Lewis. She called him ‘a stupid bastard.’ But Lewis also gave a lot of attention to the ego in his stories. Only he saw it as something dangerous and self-destructive.
In one of his novels, Eustace, a boy, steals some treasure he fancies, grabbing an enchanted bracelet. He turns into a dragon and finds that the bracelet now cuts horrendously into his arm, grown from a boy’s hand to a dragon’s paw, and wounds him. What he wanted most, both changed him and trapped him most.
So we have two approaches to the self in Rand and Lewis. Rand thinks that human happiness is driven by power and grabbing power over others by sheer force of personality; and Lewis thinks that humans are made with a deeper hunger than for power; rather one for love; loving and being loved back.
It’s easy to see how an aspiring right-wing politician climbing skilfully up the greasy pole of politics after a successful career in banking might be drawn to a picture of the world which celebrated the determined, clever and powerful. It’s easy to see how a rich spoilt playboy in America, used to getting his own way in a culture where money buys most things, might look at life in the same way.
A few weeks ago I was giving a talk in a London Church, and there in the front row was Jonathan Aitkin. He was once a rich, clever, successful right wing politician, with a smug bullish ego. He got to the top. But he made one serious mistake and ended up in jail on a perjury charge. His defence in court wasn’t as glamorous or successful as the speech that Sajid Javid reads out every year.
In prison he spent some time reflecting on whether his deepest need was for power, money and the triumph of his will, or loving, being loved and finding forgiveness.
He chose love and forgiveness, which is why he was sitting in the front row of a Church when I met him last. He looked a very much more attractive figure than in his successful period.
Ayn Rand has become popular again because our culture has started to divide people into winners and losers. It celebrates winners and doesn’t know how to not look down on those it mistakenly thinks of as losers. At the same time, loneliness is increasing like a social pandemic. That may be because winners and egotists are not particularly nice company.
And neither novelists or politicians change that.