Dec 052012

The leek: a satirical take

By Horace Heller Hedley, IV

The familiar tour of Washington D.C.’s great monuments to our common past—The Lincoln Memorial, The Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument—will soon feature a new stop.  The new Ayn Rand Memorial, a tribute to the influential Russian émigré novelist and political philosopher, is due to begin construction in 2014.  

Rand, author of the bestselling novel Atlas Shrugged and the philosophical work The Virtue of Selfishness, taught that self-interest is the highest moral purpose of life and that any government aide to citizens weakens them and society. Her philosophy provided a foundation for the American neo-conservative movement beginning in the 1980s and undergirded the policies of the George W. Bush administration. Her many admirers include former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, conservative commentators Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

But the driving force behind the new memorial was former vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Mr. Ryan, esteemed by the Tea Party and widely respected for intellectual and personal integrity, is seen as the spearhead of the contemporary fiscal and social conservative movement. Mr. Ryan’s admiration for the works of Rand is well known. Mr. Ryan told the Atlas Society in 2005, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large…would be Ayn Rand.”  Three years ago he credited Rand with a prescient understanding of modern American society: “It’s as if we’re living in an Ayn Rand novel right now. I think Ayn Rand did the best job of anybody to build a moral case for capitalism, and that morality of capitalism is under assault.”

During the vice-presidential campaign, however, Mr. Ryan’s adulation of Rand was more muted—perhaps reflecting political concerns that Rand’s abject contempt for Christianity and staunch pro-abortion stance could alienate the Republican base. Soon after his nomination for the VP spot, Mr. Ryan stated, “I enjoyed her novels, but I reject her philosophy. It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts, and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas.”

With the unsuccessful election campaign behind him, and no groundswell of support for a Thomas Aquinas memorial, Mr. Ryan and fellow conservatives openly advocated more public recognition of Rand’s work in the nation’s capital. Admirers in Congress first proposed placing quotations from Rand’s work on appropriate federal buildings.

“The only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off” was to adorn the Federal Reserve Building.

“One puts oneself above all and crushes everything in one’s way to get the best for oneself. Fine!”  was to appear at the security gate in front of the Department of Homeland Security.

The entrance of The House of Representatives would display “I do feel real hatred when I hear somebody say he believes in ‘the middle of the road.’”

Embolded by a positive reception for this initiative, Mr. Ryan, along with 37 co-sponsors, officially proposed the Ayn Rand Memorial. Some critics expressed concern that the $150 million project would add to the burgeoning national debt; others noted that Rand herself would object to any such government-sponsored initiative. Mr. Ryan dismissed these concerns, responding that Rand showed sufficient flexibility of thought that she accepted both Social Security benefits and Medicare when needy and stricken by lung disease at the end of her life.  He added that the funds were to be re-allocated from Head Start resources—an arrangement highly consistent with Objectivist philosophy.

Not surprisingly, the Rand Memorial, like her controversial work, is not without detractors.  Attacking the proposal, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) quoted the late Gore Vidal, a well-known intellectual and career-long nemesis of Rand: “Ayn Rand’s ‘philosophy,’ is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society. Moral values are in flux. The muddy depths are being stirred by new monsters and witches from the deep. Trolls walk the American night. Caesars are stirring in the Forum. There are storm warnings ahead.”

Designs for the Rand Memorial, to be located eight blocks from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, are currently being submitted. One design, inspired by the Lincoln Memorial, would include Rand seated in an armchair holding a cigarette, her intense gaze fixed on the viewer.  A more modernist design features an obelisk, suggesting a finger stretching skyward to evoke the unfailing aspiration of the human spirit, towering over the poor neighborhoods of Washington D.C.

Though the design of the structure is still under consideration, legislation has already established the inscription of the memorial:

I am done with the monster of “We,”

The word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame.

And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth,

This god whom men have sought since men came into being,

This god who will grant them joy and peace and pride.

This god, this one word:   “I.”

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