Friday, May 13, 2011

The Uncomfortable Cultism of Ron Paul and Ayn Rand

Why is it that the chief apostles of individualism in our time, Ayn Rand and Ron Paul, seem to spawn cults? It's a question worth asking since Ron Paul announced his candidacy for President again today and Rand's Atlas Shrugged is still drawing healthy crowds at Chicago area theaters.

Libertarians by nature should be the last people to fall for cults since they emphasize and cherish the sovereignty of the individual. They despise the "group think" of Burke's "swinish multitude."

Yet the two great individualist icons of our era, Ayn Rand and Ron Paul strangely spawned cult-like operations.

In his 2003 novel, Getting it Right, William F. Buckley Jr. lampooned the cultish hallmarks of the entourage which surrounded Ayn Rand in the 50s and 60s (which interestingly included a young Alan Greenspan.)

Rand encouraged some members of her ironically entitled "collective" to legally change their names to those of characters from her novels.

She assumed the air of a dogmatic cult leader, dictatorially prescribing daily activities, nixing or signing off on romantic relationships among group members and angrily purging her protege, Nathaniel Brandon after he broke off their affair.

Progressive socialists can readily be expected to fall for that kind of thing as they did with Obama. But it is hardly the stuff of individualists.

And Ron Paul's 2008 campaign had more than a whiff of cultism about it.

I'm wondering if Ron Paul's 2012 Presidential campaign will exhibit the same cultish tinge as it did then.

I attended an organizing meeting of the Chicago Ron Paul acolytes in the summer of 2008 at a restaurant on Lincoln and Irving Pk.(the one with the funny looking painted Abe Lincoln sign.)

The meeting was addressed by a stern, humorless female Ron Paul field operative who told the group that she had worked on a previous presidential campaign. Asked which one, she curtly said, "I can't tell you that."

So much for openness and transparency. She had me wondering if she had been a Larouchie or something equally offbeat.

That may not have been as odd a thought as it might seem since a fair number of the younger people there seemed to have been motivated by Paul's isolationist opposition to the Iraq war and by anti-WTO sentiments.

The Ron Paul people there were almost laughably naive as to the ways of Chicago politics. They were surprised to learn that you had to gather signatures to get Ron Paul's name on the Illinois ballot.

They started an on-line Meetup group and spent more time, it seemed, censoring comments and purging members than anything else. So much for free expression and Democracy.

Later that summer I saw a group of Ron Paul enthusiasts marching along the North Ave. beach, carrying Ron Paul signs and chanting as they marched, "Ron Paul, Ron Paul."

And whenever there was an on-line Presidential straw poll, the Paulites would swarm and inundate the site with multiple votes for their man. They would invariably win the poll by whopping margins that would have absolutely no relation to Paul's actual electoral strength.

I like Ron Paul. He was a Congressional member of the board of a national conservative group for which I worked. He has often been a lone voice for individual liberty and the U.S. Constitution. I would be very happy if, by some miracle, Ron Paul would supplant the current occupant of the White House.

But Ron Paul's cultish apostles creep me out.