Objectivist writer Ayn Rand has been in the news recently because in 2005, Romney VP pick Paul Ryan said that Rand was “[t]he reason I got involved in public service.” Although Ryan has recently tried to distance himself from Rand, by all indications, he was a Randite as late as 2009, when he argued that “Rand did the best job of anybody to build a moral case of capitalism.” As far as I can tell, nobody knows whether or not Mitt Romney agrees with Rand’s “moral” view of capitalism, but it is worth considering whether there is any place for the ideas of Ayn Rand in the Mormon worldview. I don’t think there is.
In many ways, Ayn Rand’s views as a whole are incompatible not just with Mormonism, but with all religion, as she was an atheist who rejected all forms of religion and altruism. Her philosophy was self-centered: the only morality, in her view, was the promotion of heroic self interest. She earnestly embodied the philosophy expressed by Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street that “greed is good.”
Despite the presence of anti-Christian elements within Rand’s philosophy, right-leaning Christians such as Paul Ryan and many others have overlooked Rand’s anti-altruism and strident atheism to embrace the “greed is good” part of her philosophy as a moral justification for capitalism. Undoubtedly, Mitt Romney is an altruist, as evidenced by his years of unpaid service in the LDS Church. I have no reason to think that Paul Ryan is not altruistic as well. But it is possible to be an altruist in specific circumstances yet also believe that as a general principle, the rational pursuit of individual gain and self interest is a form of morality.
Although Rand’s philosophy does not seem to have made a huge impact among Mormons, there are undoubtedly at least some Mormon Randians. Interestingly, it appears, based on partially-redacted data available on the LDS church website new.familysearch.org, that some of her fans have probably proxy baptized her into the Latter-day Saint faith. I suspect that some Mormons may be drawn to Randianism because a large fraction of Mormons happen to be conservative libertarians, and Rand provided a kind of “theology” for this corner of the political spectrum.
But it seems difficult to square Rand’s philosophy with Mormon scripture. The faith’s founding scripture, the Book of Mormon, frequently condemns those who “set their hearts upon their riches.” (Hel. 13:20). The book warns, “But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.” (2 Nephi 9:30). The pursuit of wealth, and the class pride of the wealthy over the poor, are repeatedly cited as the reason for religious apostasy, environmental disaster, and military defeat. The book envisions an ideal, utopian state as one where “they had all things in common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor.” (4 Ne. 1:3). Nothing seems further from the anti-collectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand, who wrote, “This miracle of me is mine to own and keep, and mine to guard, and mine to use, and mine to kneel before! I do not surrender my treasures, nor do I share them. The fortune of my spirit is not to be blown into coins of brass and flung to the winds as alms for the poor of spirit.” (Anthem).