Stephen Harper returned to Parliament this week, intent on changing the country. He is a true believer. But what -- or, more precisely, who -- is the source of his faith? Modern conservatives like to trace their philosophy back to Edmund Burke, whose lucid defence of social institutions rings true to this day. Without them, wrote Burke, we would all be victims of a Reign of Terror -- and he pointed to the French Revolution as a case in point.
But modern conservatives -- as Thomas Frank aptly documented in his book, The Wrecking Crew -- have little respect for government and its institutions. They came to Washington to tear them down. They have worked tirelessly during the last thirty years to do just that. And we are living amid the debris they have left behind.
Mr. Harper has taken his inspiration -- as his latest attack ads against Micheal Ignatieff remind us -- from American Republicans. But both they and he bear no allegiance to Burke. Their real Godfather -- or rather Godmother -- is Ayn Rand.
Rand was a Russian refugee who, having experienced one form of governmental tyranny, jumped to the illogical conclusion that all governments were tyrannical. She preached a "moral" philosophy which she called "objectivism" -- a faith in rampant individualism -- and railed against the welfare state which "morally and economically creates an ever accelerating downward pull." In her book, The Virtue of Selfishness, she claimed that accepting government assistance was tantamount to "delivering oneself into gradual enslavement."
Individualism Unbound was her credo. And a true believer, like Howard Roark -- the architect in Rand's turgid novel, The Fountainhead -- would blow the building up if he could not get his way. Mr. Harper feels he can function quite well without Parliament. He has done so twice. And he has proven quite adept at blowing others up. Ask the former heads of supposedly arms length government agencies, like Linda Keen, Pat Strogan or Munir Sheikh, about Mr. Harper's respect for them and their work.
But there is a delicious irony to the story of Ayn Rand. A life long smoker, she succumbed to lung cancer and required surgery. So she applied for Social Security:
An interview recently surfaced that was conducted in 1998 by the Ayn Rand Institute with a social worker who says she helped Rand and her husband, Frank O’Connor, sign up for Social Security and Medicare in 1974.
Federal records obtained through a Freedom of Information act request confirm the Social Security benefits. A similar FOI request was unable to either prove or disprove the Medicare claim.
Between December 1974 and her death in March 1982, Rand collected a total of $11,002 in monthly Social Security payments. O’Connor received $2,943 between December 1974 and his death in November 1979.
The woman who railed against "moochers" was one herself. However, she applied for the benefits under her husband's name. Such reversals require an alias. Mr. Harper has already reversed himself several times -- on income trusts, on government accountability, on running a deficit. But one wonders what name he will adopt after he blows up the building.