(’76 Contributor) As I wrote in a previous post,”Memo to Cuomo,” I do not believe that there is any philosophical inconsistency within American conservatism. I would even submit that Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and so-called social conservatism are substantially closer than some of their respective advocates realize or care to admit.
It is true that Ayn Rand’s idiosyncratic use of the word “selfishness”, defined, to add conceptual insult to injury, as a “virtue”, has historically raised quite a few socially conservative hackles. Indeed, if you take as an example Anthem, Rand’s novella published in the United States in 1946, you find the main protagonist breathlessly seeing “the face of god (…), this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy, peace and pride, this god, this one word ‘I’”. Rand doubles down when she ends the book with one final incantation to Ego, “the sacred word”.
Now contrast Rand’s superficially self-centered revelation with Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s use of the word “we” in The Gulag Archipelago, published in 1973. In chapter 5, Solzhenitsyn, whom American conservatives intellectually and morally embraced on his visit to the United States in 1975 and held up as a diplomatic martyr when he was snubbed by Republican President Gerald Ford amid illusory hopes of détente with the Soviet Union, graphically describes the effects of solitary confinement on victims of the communist regime and emphasizes, for his part, the virtues of “we” as a source of human solace and hope:
“The cells were all built for two, but prisoners under interrogation were usually kept in them singly. The dimensions were five by six and a half feet. (…)There were two guards for each block of seven cells, so that was why the prisoners could be under almost constant inspection through the peephole, the only interruption being the time it took the guard to step past two doors to a third. And that was the purpose of silent Sukhanovka: to leave the prisoner not a single moment for sleep, not a single stolen moment for privacy. You were always being watched and always in their power. But if you endured the whole duel with insanity and all the trials of loneliness, and had stood firm, you deserved your first cell! And now when you got into it, your soul would heal. (…) Now for the first time you were about to see people who were not your enemies. Now for the first time you were about to see others who were alive, who were travelling your road, and whom you could join to yourself with the joyous word ‘we’.”
At first sight, you might justifiably draw the usual conclusion that Rand’s egotistical aspirations and Solzhenitsyn’s kind of fraternal relief are diametrically opposed and inexorably irreconcilable. After all, in Anthem, Rand describes “we” as “the word by which the depraved steal the virtue of the good, by which the weak steal the might of the strong, by which the fools steal the wisdom of the sages”. “If placed first within man’s soul”,