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Buckley, Rand, Kirk and Strauss

William F. Buckley and Ayn Rand | Russell Kirk | Leo Strauss

William F. Buckley and Ayn Rand

Christianity was a major concern of William F. Buckley Jr., one of conservatism's rising stars. Buckley attended Yale from 1946 to 1950 and he wrote a book published in 1951 titled God and Man at Yale: the Superstition of "Academic Freedom." Buckley advised his readers that he did not favor turning Yale into a seminary school. His concern, he said, was the question "whether Yale fortifies or shatters the average student's respect for Christianity." Buckley complained that a large percentage of the sociology department regards "religion as nothing more than a cultural 'phenomenon' caused by human ingenuity to serve as an opiate to make life seem more meaningful and to promise – falsely, of course – an afterlife."

The book was popular among conservatives. In 1954 another book by Buckley was published, McCarthy and His Enemies, in which he defended Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist crusade. In 1955, Buckley was approached by conservatives who spoke of the need of a new conservative journal. In November 1955, the magazine National Review was launched, with Buckley as both editor and publisher. Conservative writers rushed to contribute to the magazine: Russell Kirk, James Burnham, Frank Meyer and Whittaker Chambers among them. Max Eastman resigned from the magazine's Board of Association on the grounds that it was too explicitly pro-Christian.

Another conservative hostile to Buckley's brand of conservatism was Ayn Rand, who was famous for her novels The Fountainhead, published in 1943, and Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957. Rand, born Alissa Rosenbaum, had migrated to the United States from Russia in 1926 at the age of twenty-one. Since a teenager she had opposed all forms of mysticism, and she saw all religions as basically mystical.

Like Buckley, Rand was an anti-collectivist. She believed in allowing everyone, especially the creative individual, freedom. The individualistic right of people to their own lives she saw as primary, and this, she believed, included the right to property. She believed in the exceptional person. It was, she believed, the exceptional person who invented. Others were copyists. The individual innovator was the great contributor to society. Her way of looking at the world has been summed up as Reason, Individual, Achievement and Freedom. It was called Objectivism and had a following among college students and university graduates who identified with her fictional heroes.

Rand's views were compatible with views of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who also held that real achievement is the product of individual ability and effort. Rand disliked the accusation that she had borrowed from Nietzsche. She denounced Nietzsche, but like him she believed that altruism was a vice, and like him she was hostile toward Christianity.

At gatherings that both Buckley and Rand attended, Rand went out of her way to avoid Buckley. Buckley was the more tolerant. He had no hostility toward Rand. He was affable by nature, but Rand wanted to have nothing to do with him, not even pleasant exchanges.


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