Satan Shrugged: Ayn Rand and the Occult
By K Tooke, member of the Sect of the Horned God
I recently visited an occult bookstore in Seattle which dedicated most of its shelves to works about paganism and magic traditions across history and cultures. By the door, a shelf labeled the “spooky section” contained the writings of Anton LaVey and Ayn Rand. Rand is a polarizing thinker who has made strange bedfellows of Christians and liberals (who largely loathe her ideas) while being admired by conservatives and LaVey, who has admitted that much of his Satanic philosophy is “Ayn Rand, with trappings.” Given her influence on Satanism and her divisiveness as a twentieth century thinker, I thought it would be worth exploring her ideas, what makes them so appealing, and why many consider them dangerous.
Who is Ayn Rand?
Ayn Rand was a Russian-American novelist and philosopher who became famous for her fictional works The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957). Both novels describe worlds in which geniuses must overcome the forced oppression of mediocrity and egalitarianism and whose will to create moves the world. These books are vehicles for her philosophy, Objectivism, which conceives of logic and reason as the purest drivers of action, rational self-interest as the loftiest motivator, and limited government and unfettered capitalism as the most moral forms of social organization.
Are her ideas new?
While Rand and her followers have adamantly denied the parallels drawn between her philosophy and that of Nietzsche, many of the overarching themes in her work and the feelings they cultivate about power and individualism overlap. Rand denounces the common good in favor of selfishness, even going so far as to call her heroes and heroines “evil” by the moral standard of their societies. Her protagonists are superheroes in nearly every way possible (beautiful, rich, powerful, brilliant, ambitious, brave) and share many of the traits of the hypothetical Übermensch. Unlike Nietzsche, she favors materialism and reason over the mysticism and emotion of Dionysianism, so much so that the main characters in her novels are never acting purely on impulse but always with logical intention toward fulfilling a purpose (even when they’re having sex).
Why do her ideas matter?
While Rand shares some thematic similarities with Nietzsche philosophically, she deserves credit for popularizing a unique vision of hyper-individualism that has deeply influenced modern thought. Not many authors can claim to have written a 1,200-page bestselling manifesto – her books have sold over 30 million copies worldwide and been translated into 20 languages. While her popularity peaked in the ‘50s and ‘60s, her ideas continue to influence world leaders we may not hear modern politicians talk about the “will to power,” but we do hear echoes of Rand’s philosophy in common refrains to protect big business in the name of innovation and let the poor pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they have the gumption to earn a living wage. Rand’s exuberant celebration of the individual’s power to influence their environment is reflected in The Satanic Bible, as is her repudiation of guilt-induced altruism.
What are the criticisms?
Taken as an impassioned call for the individual to strive for greatness, Rand’s energetic praise of modern-day Prometheans has inspired many. However, there is a dark side to her philosophy that permeates esoteric thought. In Rand’s two-dimensional world, the brilliant few are responsible for producing the best and most for society – Prometheus is real, and everyone else is a freeloader. Capital is the just reward of the intelligent and intrepid, and the have-nots are only held back by their own lack of character. The realities of labor, institutional power structures, and inherited inequalities of wealth, opportunity and information are inconsequential– leaders are born for greatness and therefore their hegemony is unquestioned. Because her world assumes the status quo is the product of a meritocracy, she opens the door to conclude that existing class inequalities are inevitable and predestined. However, in the real world, wealth begets wealth and power begets power, often without any heroism involved; society’s innovators don’t always profit off their creations; and leaps forward in scientific understanding and production are more likely the work of groups building on the discoveries of others instead of solo geniuses creating in a silo. While Rand didn’t directly promote racial superiority theories, the notion that the powerful have single handedly earned their status is an idea adjacent to manifest destiny and has been used by white supremacists to justify their beliefs. Ironically, worshipping the individual can lead to adopting some regressive ideas about everyone else.
What does this mean for Satanists?
Occultists who consider themselves higher beings destined for greatness because of their “superior intellect” might be followers of Rand (knowingly or not). Unlike Rand, LaVey allows self-interest to be carnal and emotional, not purely driven by reason. Rand puts logic on a pedestal above and separate from feelings and promotes the ideal that rational decision-making is necessarily at odds with emotional intelligence. How many debaters echo this sentiment when they vow to destroy their opponents with “facts and logic” and defend their cold, ruthless conclusions as more correct because they are cold and ruthless? Rand also romanticizes the plight of society’s most brilliant, who in her world are destined to be jealously victimized by oafish bureaucrats. How many skeptics have been sucked into heated conspiracy theories about government plots to suppress the most freethinking among us, based more on a general feeling of mistrust than actual evidence? Whether they started with her or were just made popular by her, these are Rand’s ideas, and they are not useful for self-growth. In The Satanic Bible, LaVey cautions Satanists against solipsism, which is a particularly dangerous trap for the most hard-headed and dogmatic of thinkers. In my opinion, Rand had an incredible imagination and a kind of magnetic brilliance, but her worldview was so strictly defined by the imposition of her ideas that her vision was far from reality.
What do we do with Rand?
Rand’s ideas are seductive – the notion that human ambition is the only thing turning the wheel of progress is a powerful motivator. For many of us, Rand, LaVey, and Nietzsche have kindled a spark of inspiration to believe unequivocally in ourselves. But if we are truly committed to seeking knowledge and understanding power, we must go beyond the world of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead into messy, complex, and sometimes uncomfortable truths. People should read Ayn Rand — for insight into a movement of popular thought, or for the adrenaline rush of unwavering self-determinism, or for the kinky Objectivist sex scenes. But her fictionalized world is to ours as Gotham is to New York City: only a fantasy.