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Ayn Rand and America’s new culture war

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But Rand did not have much patience for conservatives, calling herself instead a “radical for capitalism.” She intended her individualistic philosophy, objectivism, to be a guide to the future, not the past.

Rand identified four basic components to her philosophy: objective reality, the supremacy of reason, the virtue of selfishness, and the importance of laissez faire capitalism. She celebrated the virtue of selfishness and attacked religion for being irrational.

These aspects of Rand made her alien to an earlier generation of religious conservatives who gleefully launched a “culture war” against secular America. In the 1980s and ’90s, the culture war was waged over issues of gender and sexuality, and religious values were central.

Those religious conservatives cited biblical authority to attack controversial artists like Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe who challenged traditional gender roles. Such a conservative movement had no room for Rand, with her condemnation of all forms of “mysticism,” including religious belief, and her open support of abortion rights.

Today, these passions over culture have cooled and been replaced by an equally intense struggle over economic policies like the bailout of the financial sector, the rescue of the auto industry, and reform of healthcare.

In this current political world, even the hot-button issue of gay marriage has been sidelined for the new bogeyman of socialism.

Though she’s not religious, Rand brings a strong sense of good and evil to the debates over economic policy. Rand’s books bring the battles over government spending away from wonkdom and back to the familiar, easy terrain of culture, where there is a virtuous “us” and a conniving, evil “them.”

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