An Unknowable Ideal: Objectivism as a New Religious Movement and the Subsequent Institutionalization of Ayn Rand’s Ideas in American Politics Public Deposited

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  • February 26, 2019
  • Gunabalan, Amrithaa M.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Religious Studies
  • Thirty-five years after her death, Ayn Rand is hailed by conservatives as a great defender of capitalism and liberty. Prominent Republicans including Paul Ryan, Ron Paul, and Alan Greenspan credit Rand for inspiring their political careers. The radical conservative Tea Party movement used “Who is John Galt?” a famous quote from Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (1957), as a rallying cry against the new Obama administration. Every day, news reports about the Trump Administration feature “Ayn Rand” or “Atlas Shrugged” in their headlines. Objectivism, Ayn Rand’s philosophy, is deeply atheist, rejects altruism, and denounces American politics. Rand called conservatives corrupt collectivists with “no goal, no direction, no political principles, no social ideals, no intellectual values, [and] no leadership to offer anyone.” How did a woman who made these radical claims become a contemporary conservative messiah? Rand wrote her novels and philosophy in the 1950s and 1960s, a turbulent time for the United States, especially for American youth. Millennials were in search of spiritual solutions to reconcile social injustices, new technologies, and the government’s changing role. New religious movements (NRMs) that emphasize individualism, gender equality, and scientific reconciliation became popular among the youth of the counterculture generation. By treating Objectivism as a new religious movement and applying Weber’s theory of charismatic authority, it is evident that the Objectivist movement failed to routinize and institutionalize. Consequently, various aspects of contemporary society are able to claim Objectivists ideas without the weight of Ayn Rand’s radicalism.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Funding: None
  • Ariel, Yaakov
  • Bachelor of Arts
Academic concentration
  • Religious Studies
Honors level
  • Honors
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2017
  • English

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