Ayn Rand and Clarence Thomas

When analyzing Ayn Rand and the “Classic Liberalism” she promotes, I can’t help but place it in the context of today’s society and political climate. The ideals that Rand endorses (protection of individual rights, anti-establishment, innovation) lead me to believe her strongest supporters would be Democrats with liberal tendencies.  Recently, though, I have discovered this isn’t necessarily the case.  Perhaps the most well-known supporter of Ayn Rand in the political arena is none other than Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.  In a Los Angeles Times profile it was revealed that:

“Each summer, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas invites his four new law clerks to his home to watch a movie.

Not just any movie, but the 1949 film version of the classic of libertarian conservatism, Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.”

The movie’s hero, played by Gary Cooper, is an idealistic but stubborn architect, who, as Rand wrote, “stood alone against the men of his time.” A character, it might be said, a lot like Thomas himself. “If you think you are right, there is nothing wrong with being the only one,” he said last year in explaining his fondness for the movie. “I have no problem being the only one.”

Justice Thomas also wrote this passage in his autobiography “My Grandfather’s son”:

It was around this time that I read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Rand preached a philosophy of radical individualism that she called Objectivism. While I didn’t fully accept its tenets, her vision of the world made more sense to me that that of my left-wing friends. “Do your own thing” was their motto, but now I saw that the individualism implicit in that phrase was superficial and strictly limited. They thought, for instance, that it was going too far for a black man to do his thing by breaking with radical politics, which was what I now longed to do. I never went along with the militant separatism of the Black Muslims, but I admired their determination to “do for self, brother,” as well as their discipline and dignity. That was Daddy’s way. He knew that to be truly free and participate fully in American life, poor blacks had to have the tools to do for themselves. This was the direction in which my political thinking was moving as my time at Holy Cross drew to an end. The question was how much courage I could muster up to express my individuality. What I wanted was for everyone — the government, the racists, the activists, the students, even Daddy — to leave me alone so that I could finally start thinking for myself.

If Clarence Thomas is a major supporter of Rand’s “Classic Liberalism”, then can it be that Rand’s views fall more in line with the Conservatives?  Or perhaps Rand’s ideals are present in both parties?

I thought an interesting portion of the Thomas paragraph is when he describes his “left-wing friends”.  He admits that they also share his “individualistic” ideal, but believes their beliefs were “superficial and strictly limited”. Were his friends in reality “Civic Republicans”?  Or does almost everyone fit into both groups in some way?

I think in our complex society it is difficult to imagine not finding positives in both schools of thought.


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