Ayn Rand was more than a giant of philosophy, she was also a pre-eminent expert on radical movements. As such, her description and explanation of the leftist Berkeley student rebellion presages the Occupy Wall Street protests now flaring up around the country. In an essay called “The Cashing-In: The Student Rebellion,” which has been reprinted in a phenomenal collection of essays entitled The Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, she perfectly captures the essence of today’s radical protests through their foreshadowing in the turbulent 1960s.
Like those who participated in the Berkeley student rebellion of 1964, also known as the Free Speech Movement (FSM), today’s college-educated Occupy Wall Street activists are more aptly described as nihilists and anarchists than Marxist ideologues. They are socialists in a sense, but they are ‘beyond ideology.’ Ayn Rand described the rebels of her era as “Castroites,” and pointed out that they are more driven by existentialist angst than by ideological fanaticism.
This certainly holds true for the majority participating in the current demonstrations. The numerous contradictions in the Occupy protesters’ thinking, such as simultaneously supporting anarchy and government-administered welfare programs, expressing anti-corporate messages on their Iphones and laptops, speaking “truth to power” by voting for statist Democrats, claiming “we are the 99%” – thus publicly disenfranchising those not in the top 1% of income earners who disagree with their message, and hurling epithets at Wall Street, the backer of their beloved candidate Barack Obama, who in turn shoveled trillions in stolen cash into the bankers’ stashes, all shows the mind-muddled mess the political elites are molding into an irrational, angry, and potentially violent street mob.
Rand’s essays are essential reading for those attempting to interpret the flurry of modern events and make sense of them. Her visionary warning to Americans rings as true today as it did in her time.
From Ayn Rand’s The Return of the Primitive [Since you will not find the text online, I transcribed these words from an audio recording. This constitutes fair use of the material, as it is being utilized for educational, non-profit purposes. However, there may be a slight deviation in syntax, punctuation, and composition from the original printing. For the most accurate rendering, I encourage the reader to purchase the work, or the audiobook.]:
“The [Berkeley] student rebellion is an eloquent demonstration of the fact when men abandon reason, they open the door to physical force as the only alternative and the inevitable consequence. The rebellion is also one of the clearest refutations of the argument of those intellectuals who claimed that skepticism and chronic doubt would lead to social harmony.
‘When men reduce their virtues to the approximate, then evil acquires the force of an absolute. When loyalty to an unyielding purpose is dropped by the virtuous, it is picked up by scoundrels. And you get the indecent spectacle of a cringing, bargaining, traitorous good, and a self-righteously uncompromising evil.’ [Atlas Shrugged]
Who stands to profit by that rebellion? The answer lies in the nature and goals of its leadership. If the rank and file of the college rebels are victims, at least in part, this cannot be said of their leaders.
Who are their leaders? Any and all of the statist-collectivist groups that hover like vultures over the remnants of capitalism, hoping to pounce on the carcass and to accelerate the end whenever possible.
Their minimal goal is just to make trouble, to undercut, to confuse, to demoralize, to destroy. Their ultimate goal is to take over.
To such leadership, the college rebels are merely cannon fodder. Intended to stick their headless necks out, to fight on campuses, to go to jail, to lose their careers, and their future, and eventually, if the leadership succeeds, to fight in the streets, and lose their non-absolute lives, paving the way for the absolute dictatorship of whoever is the bloodiest among the thugs scrambling for power. Young fools who refuse to look beyond the immediate now have no way of knowing whose long-range goals they are serving.
The communists are involved, among others. But like the others, they are merely the manipulators, not the cause of the student rebellion. This is an example of the fact that whenever they win, they win by default. Like germs feeding on the sores of a disintegrating body, they did not create the conditions that are destroying American universities; they did not create the hordes of embittered aimless neurotic teenagers; but they do know how to attack, through the sores, which their opponents insist on evading.
They are professional ideologists, and it is not difficult for them to move into an intellectual vacuum and hang the cringing advocates of anti-ideology by their own contradictions. For its motley leftist leadership, the student rebellion is a trial balloon, a kind of cultural temperature-taking, it is a test of how much they can get away with, and what sort of opposition they will encounter. For the rest of us it is a miniature preview, in the microcosm of the academic world, of what is to happen to the country at large if the present cultural trend remains unchallenged.
The country at large is a mirror of its universities. The practical result of modern philosophy is today’s mixed economy, with its moral nihilism, its range of the moment pragmatism, its anti-ideological ideology, and its truly shameful recourse to the notion of government by consensus. Rule by pressure groups is merely the prelude, the social conditioning for mob rule. Once a country has accepted the obliteration of moral principles, of individual rights, of objectivity, of justice, of reason, and has submitted to the rule of legalized brute force, the elimination of the concept legalized does not take long to follow. Who is to resist it? And in the name of what?
When numbers are substituted for morality, and no individual can claim a right, but any gang can assert any desire whatever, when compromise is the only policy expected of those in power, and the preservation of the moment’s stability of peace at any price is their only goal, the winner necessarily is whoever presents the most unjust and irrational demands. The system serves as an open invitation to do so; if there were no communists or other thugs in the world, such a system would create them.”