Today’s fiscal conservatives have a gold mine in the twentieth-century philosopher Ayn Rand, who used her writings to legitimate the steely pursuit of self-interest and to dignify radical individualism. Many of the Republicans in Congress have read her novels, particularly Atlas Shrugged, and many admit to being deeply influenced. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this book in American politics. Rand’s collective writings form a common language for conservatives — the canon of a kind of secular Bible, providing the sanction for the dog-eat-dog economic and social structures that the actual Bible inconveniently fails to provide. Rand is unapologetic in her ardor for “full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism” and her rejection of laws promoting the collective good, including social safety nets, affirmative action, and environmental regulations.

Rand’s philosophy, “objectivism,” at first glance seems harmless enough: it is simply the belief that...

You do not currently have access to this content.