Its common to hear the ‘rugged individualist’ arguments in Heathen circles now-a-days. A while back I found a great post from a fellow Asatru blogger Ryan Smith. The original post can be found here. He does a great job at tearing down the idea that Objectivism is compatible with the Lore. So here is a great post addressing the incompatibility of the social theories of Ayn Rand and Asatru.
As an American Asatruar I have met a lot of Heathens whose philosophy is strongly influenced by the writings of Ayn Rand. Rand, the founder of the Objectivist movement, railed against traditional morality and altruism arguing these ideas hold back human potential. The Heathens who cite Rand and Objectivism as influences argue the romanticizing of the rugged individual is a solid understanding of how the ancient Germanics saw the individual. They cite the sagas of heroes as proof. I think that is all based on a very narrow and selective reading of the lore. A more comprehensive understanding of the facts shows how thoroughly incompatible Rand’s ideas are with the lore.
The best example of conflict comes from comparing the apocalyptic struggles in both works. In Rand’s Atlas Shrugged we have Galt’s Strike. Led by John Galt the strikers organize against being forced by law or guilt to give up any of the fruits of their labors. Strikers deliberately sabotage their businesses and sneak off with their most fabulous inventions. They work menial jobs to further deny “the looters” the fruits of their efforts and recruit others for the strike. When the strike collapses society they escape to the fantastic Galt’s Gulch to ride out the end of the world in luxury free of the demands of “the looters.”
In stark contrast is the Norse Ragnarok. To prepare for the Final Battle Odin does everything He possibly can resorting to whatever means necessary to stave off the end. Thor regularly does battle with giants to keep them in check and out of Midgard. Valkyries prowl the battlefields of the world plucking up the most worthy to join the Einherjar and fight in Ragnarok. When battle comes the Gods lead the charge against the legions of Surtr in spite of certain and unquestionable doom.
The actions of the Gods and Galt’s strikers are fundamentally in conflict with the other. Odin works to delay Ragnarok as much as possible while His son Thor risks life and limb keeping rampaging giants in check. Tyr, instead of cheating Fenris, upheld His oath knowing it would cost His hand. These deeds do not show the naked selfishness of Galt’s Strike. If the Gods only cared for Their own skins They would seek a way to escape Their demise even if it meant the other worlds must burn. They would not seek risky battles that offer little gain. Instead the Gods fight to delay not just their end by the end of all the Nine Worlds. They march into battle against enemies of Asgard and Midgard rather than run and hide in an impregnable fortress while all the other worlds burn.
Galt’s role in the crash widens the intellectual chasm. John Galt doesn’t just build a life boat for the rich and talented, he actively works to bring society down. The strike was his idea and the aftermath the end goal. Instead of working to subvert or replace the corrupt system of the “looters” he chooses to burn it all down regardless of the consequences. The most he does to “help” the people condemned to die in the collapse is lecture the entire world by radio broadcast for three hours telling them why they deserve their fate.
The root of the conflict lies in the differing solutions to the question of suffering and its cause. Rand argues that suffering is caused by the unproductive members of society leeching off of the producers. She says the best solution is to break the bond and let the “looters” get what’s coming to them. Suffering, in Rand’s view, is bested by disengaging from its source and leaving it alone.
In the Germanic view such inaction is unacceptable. There is not a single example of a God or a hero defeating an adversary or besting a threat to their people by leaving it alone, ignoring it, or walking away from it. When facing danger the lesson of the sagas is clear: find the cause and fix the problem. Historical sources like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Jordanes, Saxo Grammaticus, and Sturluson affirm this attitude with a plethora of examples. Kings and warriors who beat their foes are praised while avoidance and denial are roundly denounced as cowardly.
Rand’s ideas on individuality at first blush may look in tune with the Germanic perception of the individual. On closer examination this conflation encourages excessive emphasis on the self at the expense of others. Objectivist thought which argues self-interest rules all encourages one to disengage from threats to self or community. This is in direct conflict with the consistent theme in Germanic lore of confronting danger directly and decisively. The two are actively dissonant and argue for responses that are inherently opposed in reasoning and execution.