The movie version of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was released on April 15th. Also on April 15th, Chris Hedges spoke at Union Square in New York City during a protest outside a branch office of the Bank of America. The first celebrates selfishness as the purpose of humankind. The other exhorts that, “We can never have justice until our neighbor has justice.”
Ayn Rand, born and educated in Russia, was influence by her family’s experience and the Russian revolution of 1917. Ironically, the very statism that she denounced provided Rand, a Jew and a woman, a university education.
Also influencing her beliefs were the writings of Fyodor Dostoevsky (amongst others). Dostoevsky in Crime and Punishment understood the radical evil behind the desire that allows men and women to serve systems of self-glorification and naked greed.
With her pseudo intellectualism, either by nature or by nurture, along with a twisted definition of rationalism, Rand adopted the code of Raskolnikov, who believed and argued that although we live in the world, we can free ourselves from the consequences of living with others, consequences that will not always be in our favor.
Ayn Rand rejected religion in favor or atheism, yet she misunderstood atheism. Atheism rejects the existence of “God” as a determiner or as the ultimate judge of human behavior, but it does not claim that ethics (or even morality in its broadest sense) should or would be rejected.
Chris Hedges was born of a father who was a Presbyterian minister. In addition to his extensive career as a reporter and author, Hedges received a Master of Divinity from Harvard University. A Master of Divinity is the standard prerequisite for ordination to the priesthood or pastorship or other appointment, ordination or licensing to professional ministry.
Hedges is driven by his fervent belief that there is an absence of ethics and morality in contemporary American society. He decries a “temple where greed and profit are the highest good, where self-worth is determined by the ability to amass wealth and power at the expense of others, where laws are manipulated, rewritten and broken, where the endless treadmill of consumption defines human progress, where fraud and crimes are the tools of business.” He believes the primacy of life is mercy and justice. “But once we defy the religion of unfettered capitalism, once we demand that a society serve the needs of citizens and the ecosystem that sustains life, rather than the needs of the marketplace,…once we love our neighbor as ourself, we break our chains and make hope visible.”
Hedges proselytizes that “we must turn from exalting the self, to subsuming of the self for our neighbor.”
Somewhere between the orthodoxy of Rand and Hedges is a world that can be embraced. We are far away from that world.