In Her Final Speech, Ayn Rand Denounces Ronald Reagan, the Moral Majority & Anti-Choicers (1981)

When the Repub­li­can par­ty strug­gles to deter­mine its future direc­tion, it often looks back to its intel­lec­tu­al and polit­i­cal lead­ers of decades past. And while we often hear about nov­el ways to think of those fig­ures, we rarely hear much about what they thought of each oth­er. Such inquiries can show us the his­tor­i­cal fault lines vis­i­ble in cur­rent debates between lib­er­tar­i­an, small-gov­ern­ment types and so-called “val­ues vot­ers,” con­flicts that reach back at least to Bar­ry Gold­wa­ter, who had no sym­pa­thy for the reli­gious right in his hey­day. Even in his old age, the con­ser­v­a­tive sen­a­tor from Ari­zona was, for exam­ple, “pret­ty secure in feel­ing that dis­crim­i­nat­ing against gays is con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly wrong.” In a 1994 inter­view, Gold­wa­ter resist­ed what he called the “rad­i­cal right […] fel­lows like Pat Robert­son and oth­ers who are try­ing to take the Repub­li­can Par­ty away from the Repub­li­can Par­ty, and make a reli­gious orga­ni­za­tion out of it.” “If that ever hap­pens,” Gold­wa­ter said, “kiss pol­i­tics good­bye.”

Thir­teen years ear­li­er, in 1981, anoth­er fig­ure much-revered on the polit­i­cal right felt sim­i­lar­ly about the rise of the “moral major­i­ty” after the elec­tion of Ronald Rea­gan. Asked what she thought of Rea­gan, Ayn Rand replied, “I don’t think of him. And the more I see, the less I think of him.” For Rand, “the appalling part of his admin­is­tra­tion was his con­nec­tion with the so-called ‘Moral Major­i­ty’ and sundry oth­er TV reli­gion­ists, who are strug­gling, appar­ent­ly with his approval, to take us back to the Mid­dle Ages via the uncon­sti­tu­tion­al union of reli­gion and pol­i­tics.” Rand’s pri­ma­ry con­cern, it seems, is that this “uncon­sti­tu­tion­al union” rep­re­sent­ed a “threat to cap­i­tal­ism.” While she admired Reagan’s appeal to an “inspi­ra­tional ele­ment” in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, “he will not find it,” remarked Rand, “in the God, fam­i­ly, tra­di­tion swamp.” Instead, she pro­claims, we should be inspired by “the most typ­i­cal Amer­i­can group… the busi­ness­men.”

Rand made these remarks in her last pub­lic lec­ture, deliv­ered in 1981 at the Nation­al Com­mit­tee for Mon­e­tary Reform con­fer­ence in New Orleans. You can see excerpts at the top of the post and the full speech above. She clar­i­fies her posi­tion on the moral major­i­ty in the sec­ond clip in the top video, claim­ing that the lob­by­ing groups and vot­ing blocks of the reli­gious right were seek­ing to impose their “reli­gious ideas on oth­er peo­ple by force.” Rand also sup­port­ed abor­tion rights, stat­ing unequiv­o­cal­ly that a politi­cian who oppos­es the right to an abor­tion is “not a defend­er of rights and not a defend­er of cap­i­tal­ism.” It’s not entire­ly clear how Rand saw reli­gious leg­is­la­tion as a threat to cap­i­tal­ism, but there can be no doubt that she did. And though—as NPR polit­i­cal blog­ger Frank James writes—many peo­ple think that a good deal of “cher­ryp­ick­ing of her ideas has to be done to claim her as a mod­ern con­ser­v­a­tive hero,” there are also obvi­ous­ly plen­ty of reli­gious con­ser­v­a­tives who can admire Rand with­out deny­ing or excus­ing her hos­til­i­ty to their faith. Yet, as the applause she received for her force­ful rejec­tion of the reli­gious right sug­gests, there may have been—at least in 1981—no small num­ber of con­ser­v­a­tives who agreed with her.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Free Car­toon Biog­ra­phy of Ayn Rand: Her Life & Thought

Ayn Rand Trash­es C.S. Lewis in Her Mar­gin­a­lia: He’s an “Abysmal Bas­tard”

Ayn Rand Adamant­ly Defends Her Athe­ism on The Phil Don­ahue Show (Cir­ca 1979)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

by | Permalink | Comments (7) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (7)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Hanoch says:

    “the uncon­sti­tu­tion­al union of reli­gion and pol­i­tics”

    – Ayn Rand

    “Of all the dis­po­si­tions and habits which lead to polit­i­cal pros­per­i­ty, Reli­gion and moral­i­ty are indis­pens­able sup­ports.”

    – George Wash­ing­ton

    • Don Kenner says:

      Not real­ly a rebut­tal. Rand would just say that while the Founders were amaz­ing thinkers, some­times they got it wrong, often owing to the times in which they lived.

      Also, the Founders tend­ed to use the words “reli­gion” and “moral­i­ty” inter­change­ably (most of them being Deists or nom­i­nal Chris­tians). And Rand would agree that moral­i­ty is indis­pens­able for polit­i­cal pros­per­i­ty.

      She might frown on the Appeal to Author­i­ty (unless she were the author­i­ty!)

      • Hanoch says:

        I do not think you can rec­on­cile the two sen­ti­ments I quot­ed. Per­haps Rand would have con­tend­ed that “they [the Founders] got it wrong.” (She seemed to have no short­age of chutz­pah.) Ulti­mate­ly, how­ev­er, there is a lot of his­to­ry to show that the Founders got it right.

  • Don Kenner says:

    Nice piece and video. I hope that lib­er­als as well as con­ser­v­a­tives will make some effort to agree or dis­agree with what Rand actu­al­ly believed, rather than what they read on the inter­net. And cher­ry-pick­ing quotes from the 1950s isn’t help­ful, either, unless you are play­ing “gotcha!”

    I have both lib­er­al and con­ser­v­a­tive friends, and they both just look at me like I’m crazy when I say that Rand was not a con­ser­v­a­tive. She must be! They heard it on cable news or read it on the inter­net. Sigh.

  • John Leonard says:

    Read­ing this, it occurs to me that the dif­fer­ence between ear­li­er stage “con­ser­v­a­tives” like Gold­wa­ter and Rand, and lat­er stage con­ser­v­a­tives like Ronald Rea­gan and what we have now, is that the boss­es of the right wing move­ment cre­at­ed the reli­gious move­ment to pull reli­gious work­ing class peo­ple into their fold. And it worked! Now we can’t sep­a­rate them. The repub­li­can par­ty is actu­al­ly amoral. But from top to bot­tom it iden­ti­fies as Chris­t­ian.

  • dfds says:

    wow a woman who got it right and a dead white corpse who hap­pi­ly is still a corpse

  • Mzee says:

    The part of Rand’s phi­los­o­phy that the right-wing today ran with was her claim of self­ish­ness being a virtue, and altru­ism being bad as well as the reduc­tion of the wel­fare, and admin­is­tra­tive state. Inter­est­ing­ly Objec­tivism is most prac­ticed by the Democ­rats today, while the Repub­li­can Par­ty has com­plete­ly aban­doned that. What Rand seems to have nev­er under­stood is that pure cap­i­tal­ism does­n’t work. All evi­dence points to the con­trary. Those with the most wealth will tend to use that wealth to obtain more wealth, and pow­er. This results in tak­ing it away from the rest of soci­ety, and lead­ing to an Oli­garchy. This is why the State began to step in in the first place to mit­i­gate what was hap­pen­ing dur­ing the Gild­ed Age, and then again after the Wall Street Crash, and a sim­i­lar pat­tern emerged with the rise of Rea­gan­ism. In order for Repub­li­cans to get their sys­tem in place of help­ing the wealthy they need­ed to pull in the white work­ing class and use the us v them cul­ture wars to keep them in their par­ty as their eco­nom­ic poli­cies were harm­ing them. Cap­i­tal­ism needs that sys­tem of checks and bal­ances to be sus­tain­able. Dis­man­tling it through abso­lutism like what Rand believed leaves it too open to being cor­rupt­ed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.