How and why the fratricidal war between Bill Buckley’s Conservatism and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism came about has always interested me as an exercise in philosophical archeology. Why would two philosophies which shared so many ideas each dismiss the other as apostate.The short answer is that Conservatism is essentially too conservative and Objectivism is too much a product of modernism. When Mr. Buckley(who is probably the greatest living practitioner of the English Language) famously proclaimed that Conservatism should “Stand athwart history shouting STOP!”, he may have heard an echo from the next mountaintop over. An echo? Perhaps. Or perhaps it was the far away voice of John Galt shouting the same admonishment from across the abyss.
Both Rand and Buckley were strident opponents of communism,but their opposition sprang from different roots.Rand’s Objectivism was based on the proposition that the best goal of mankind was the happiness of the Individual, which ought naturally to spring from his own efforts and needs rather than those of any collective society. The Conservative movement, which Mr.Buckley so successfully defined had a much longer pedigree than the upstart Objectivism, and that became the basis for the eventual ex-communication of the Objectivists. The use here of a religious analogy is more appropriate than may at first be apparent. The conservatives based their moral belief system in the great Judeo-Christian(or at least Deist) traditions of their forebears. Notions of right and wrong(much like the Second Amendment) were the gifts of the creator and could not be questioned. The Bible and the moralists who shaped the intellectual history of Europe and the enlightenment were held to be the only glue that could hold a society together, else the four Horsemen would surely descend upon a greedy and brutal mankind.This was of course nothing but argument by Divine Right. Right and wrong were handed down by God and those who dared to tinker with that authority were deemed heretical.Rand was an avowed Atheist and deemed those who would control the masses through mysticism, “Mystics of the Mind”.Similarly, those who ruled by brute force she termed the ” Mystics of Muscle” Both types of society were abhorrent to her because they were based on coercion. The priest rules or the gun does. Her alternative was radical Free Market Capitalism. No apologies needed. Capitalism was morally superior to any other system because it could only be voluntary. It was not superior because it produced the greatest good for the most people(though it in fact did), but because it was not forced upon the individual by the priest or the predators. Rand abhorred “altruism” as the sacrifice of the healthy for the sake of the sick and she abhorred most of all that mediocrity of carachter that demanded of their societies that their needs be met by the labor of others. Buckly and the conservatives were loath to give up their laboriously constructed tree of authority by precedent.Indeed, they succeeded to an extent in at least re-directing history for the better(somewhat). The conflict between reason and tradition is the deep dark secret that conservatives do not want to talk about. I was deeply disappointed when I finished Bill Buckley’s book”Getting it Right”, because he never brought this or any other real philosophical points to the table. For an intellect as great as his to use his novel as nothing more than an ad-homonym attack on Ms. Rand is beneath him.Admittedly, Rand’s salon psychophants did behave strangely, as did the author herself in her personal life. But at least one of them (Alan Greenspan) went on to become the pre-eminent economist of our time, and Objectivism represents the great unrealised dream of individual liberty better than any other existential system today.Thank-you Mr. Buckley for all you have done, and thank Ms. Rand for showing us a vision of what still needs to be.