Ayn Rand's Writing Helped Inspire Anton LaVey, Say Scholars
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed May 04, 2011 at 09:47:06 AM EST
[update: also see my closely related stories, "Crypto-Cultists" and "Cranks": The Video Paul Ryan Hoped Would Go Away, and The Paul Ryan/Ayn Rand/Satanism Connection Made Simple]

"I give people Ayn Rand with trappings" - Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan (to Kim Klein of the Washington Post, 1970)

"if a man smite thee on one cheek, SMASH him on the other!" - Anton LaVey, from The Satanic Bible (Section III, paragraph 7)

Ayn Rand has long been the intellectual darling of many both on the secular right but also the religious right, and that's curious given Rand's writing is widely credited with having inspired Anton LaVey, founder of the Church Of Satan and author of The Satanic Bible. Cited in the rather staid academic work Contemporary Religious Satanism: A Critical Anthology, Anton LaVey is quoted as having admitted that his religion was "just Ayn Rand's philosophy with ceremony and ritual added."

Rand's Objectivism celebrates selfishness as a virtue. And, as it happens, the glorification of selfishness is one of the foundational principles of Anton LaVey's form of Satanism.

This raises a bit of a conundrum for Christian conservative fans of Ayn Rand's philosophy - are they really caught up in idolatrous worship at the altar of crypto-Satanism? Are they to be meek and selfless like Jesus, turning the other cheek to their enemy? Or do they follow LaVey's approach, and "SMASH him on the other!"?

It's a question that Frank Cocozzelli and Frederick Clarkson raise, if gently, in their essay The Randian Fault That Could Shake Conservatism. As they write,  

"The spectacular failure of the film version of Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged has drawn fresh attention to one of modern conservatism's most influential and controversial figures. Movement conservatism usually presents itself as the stalwart guardian of traditional faith. But conservatism may experience a profound identity crisis due to the increasing popularity Rand's philosophy of Objectivism -- which celebrates selfishness as a virtue; declares religious faith to be incompatible with reason; and altruism -- including self-sacrifice - is a vice. Objectivism says there are only two kinds of people in this world, creators and parasites.  Suffice to say, such a view is very far from the vision of most conservative Christians."

The current Church of Satan acknowledges Ayn Rand's influence on LaVey's thought while stressing that there are significant differences between LaVeyan Satanism and Rand's Objectivism:

Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, is an acknowledged source for some of the Satanic philosophy as outlined in The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey. Ayn Rand was a brilliant and insightful author and philosopher and her best-selling novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead continue to attract deserved attention for a new generation of readers. I am a strong admirer of Ayn Rand but I am an even stronger admirer of Anton LaVey for the vital differences between the philosophies of Objectivism and Satanism.



Display:
were unaware of the Anton LaVey connection when we posted our piece. (Many thanks to Stacey Tallich for first pointing this out!)  

I am glad that you followed-up and nailed this down. I think it further develops our point that the philosophy of Ayn Rand is a poor fit with the profoundly held values of many in the conservative coalition -- but that it was apparently was just right for Anton LaVey is just too funny.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed May 04, 2011 at 05:54:17 PM EST


Bruce, I am grateful for all your hard work to expose the threat of Christian theocratic movements such as the New Apostolic Reformation.  Over the past few years, I have used Talk To Action to educate quite a few people I know.  Thank you for keeping us up-to-date about the religious right wing.

However, I have some concerns about the above post:

  1. I would hate to see you rely on a strategy involving guilt-by-association with an unpopular religious minority.  Bringing up LaVey's economic views may be an appropriate point to raise in response to the all-too-common Satanist-baiting of the left by extreme right wing Christians, but I would hate to see you employ it outside that context.

  2. Not all Satanists are LaVeyans.  The Satanist scene has diversified quite a bit during the past ten years.  I've known Satanists with views all over the political spectrum.

  3. Historically, there have been many left-wing writers whose writings have contained favorable references to Satan.  (I'll provide examples on request.)  Whether such quotes make these writers "Satanists" is a matter of precisely how one defines the word "Satanist" -- such writings are "Satanist" in a literary sense if not a religious sense.  Then again, one could also quibble over whether Anton LaVey's Satanism is really "religious" Satanism, given that LaVey was an atheist -- this depends on precisely how one defines the term "religion."  (Theistic Satanists do exist too, and have grown in visibility since the book you cited (Contemporary Religious Satanism) was written.)

  4. Even LaVey said some things most progressives would agree with too.  For example, in his book The Satanic Bible, the chapter on "Satanic sex" called for acceptance of gays -- back in 1969, long before the gay rights movement became fashionable anywhere.

  5. Therefore, conservatives can just as easily Satanist-bait progressives as vice versa.

  6. The scapegoating of Satanists can be very dangerous, and not just to Satanists.  I assume you are at least somewhat aware of the anti-Satanist panic of 1980-1995?  Even without full-blown Satanic panic, the more extreme Christian religious right wingers routinely use "Satanism" to tar just about everything they don't agree with.

Again, Bruce, thanks for all your good work.  However, if you choose to use LaVey's Satanism to berate right wingers, please be careful about the context in which you do so.  Please try to do it in such a way that your net effect is to oppose the scapegoating of "Satanists" (both real and imaginary) rather than endorse it.


by Diane Vera on Wed May 04, 2011 at 10:57:05 PM EST
The Religious Right has spent a great deal of time and effort convoluting their own theology and politics with dog-whistle phrases used as a mask of virtue. I see no reason why progressives cannot show those results in a real world context, rather than the fictional scenario of Rand. In the world of Religious Conservatives, Satanists & Christians don't share any values what so ever. Clearly, that is not the case with Rand. That in of itself, creates a pause in even the most froth-at-the-mouth theocrat.

Good work Bruce!!

by Stacey Tallitsch on Thu May 05, 2011 at 09:28:46 AM EST
Parent



Another concern:  I think progressives should focus less on berating right-wingers for "selfishness" than on pointing out how a more progressive society really would be in the longterm best interests of everyone -- even the rich.  Right wingers aren't just greedy, they are short-sightedly greedy, against even their own enlightened self interest.  Progressives should study economic history to show, with historical facts, how Keynesian economic policies -- though not perfect -- have been of great benefit to the economic development of many countries, whereas stingier policies have failed.

No matter how low the tax rate is, the rich cannot make more money without good investments.  There cannot be very many good investments without demand for goods and services.  There cannot be much demand for goods and services without a large and prosperous middle class.  And the historically unprecedented large middle class that America has had since the late 1940's was created largely by the New Deal, and by other government spending, e.g. on public education, scientific research, and building roads.  THAT is the message progressives need to drive home.

While it is fine to promote caring for the poor as a Christian ethical value, when talking to Christians, it seems to me that even Christians are more likely to be motivated to support a political cause they are convinced is in their own best interests, as well as fitting a more altruistic ethical standard.  Hence I think progressives should talk more about how progressive policies really would benefit everyone, including the middle class and even the rich, and cite historical facts which show this.

by Diane Vera on Wed May 04, 2011 at 11:03:29 PM EST

who would entertain such ideas? You seem to assert that we lefties haven't tried this very tactic, over and over again, for decades. You're asking us to use reason on a group who are now happily following the schizophrenic worldviews, as illustrated by the cited authors, of Conservative leadership.

I guess I'll have to read up on Mr. LaVey, but can someone tell me why an atheist would devote himself to start a "religion" based on a biblical creation? From what little I have read on him, he was merely using Satanism as a convenient alibi for living a selfish, hedonistic lifestyle. Thus my lack of surprise that Rand would be right up his alley.



by trog69 on Fri May 27, 2011 at 09:35:45 PM EST
Parent
In most of the left-wing publications and websites I've seen over the years, I have NOT seen much if any effort to educate people about Keynesian economics and the history that supports it.

In my experience, most grassroots left-wing activists have tended to be Marxists, who disdain Keynesian economics for their own reasons, and who, in any case, emphasize class struggle rather than economic theory per se.

On the other hand, here on Talk To Action, I have seen endorsements of Keynesian economics, but the emphasis has been on how it accords with the teachings of Jesus rather than on how it concretely benefits everyone.

Of course the religious dimension is important too, given that Talk To Action is devoted to opposing the religious right wing.  But, too often, it has taken the form of flagellating right wingers for being "selfish," when in fact the stuff they advocate isn't even in their own best self-interest.


by Diane Vera on Sun May 29, 2011 at 02:28:24 PM EST
Parent

Her basic idea is that selfishness is good and altruism is debatable but not important. Many of the aggressive Capitalists and Corporatists like her because she extols the human failure of greed. To her it is a part of her version of a superhuman. The exact characteristics fit a psychopath. But one with breeding, wealth and power. The idea of freeing business to do whatever they want will produce a similar situation to what we have today. For those who are religious, but of the prosperity gospel can subsume it into their ideology/theology and tailor it to their wants.

by Nightgaunt on Sun May 29, 2011 at 11:58:22 PM EST
Parent




Ronald Reagan, the father of the Ayn Rand revival, went to the Church of Satan. Some folks know he and Nancy went once; what most don't know is that they went their regularly. I was told this by an old friend who worked there as the receptionist back in the day. The CoS did get pretty weird in a dark way after awhile, with American Nazis, white supremacists and Michael Aquino, of Presidio child molesting fame. My friend left because of the weirdness but the Reagans were still attending. This would sure fit in with the author's ideas about CoS and Ayn Rand philosophy.

by wolvenwood on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 06:28:13 AM EST


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