Profile: Johann Hari
Johann Hari was a participant or observer in the following events:
Ayn Rand in her youth. [Source: Heritage American]“Objectivist” philosopher and burgeoning novelist Ayn Rand writes admiringly of one of her heroes, serial killer William Edward Hickman. She admires Hickman’s stated credo, “What is good for me is right.” In her journals, Rand writes in response, “The best and strongest expression of a real man’s psychology I have heard.” Rand is planning a novel, The Little Street, to feature a character based on Hickman, who she considers her “ideal man.” In her journals, Rand writes that Hickman “is born with a wonderful, free, light consciousness—[resulting from] the absolute lack of social instinct or herd feeling. He does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people.… Other people do not exist for him and he does not understand why they should.” Later in her journals, she clarifies her idealization of Hickman: “[My hero is] very far from him, of course. The outside of Hickman, but not the inside. Much deeper and much more. A Hickman with a purpose. And without the degeneracy. It is more exact to say that the model is not Hickman, but what Hickman suggested to me.” (Rand will never complete The Little Street.)
Torturer and Killer - According to author and biographer Michael Prescott, in 1928, Hickman is one of the most notorious criminals in America, a forger, armed robber, child kidnapper, and multiple murderer. As a child, he enjoyed torturing and killing small animals. As a young man, he engaged in a crime spree beginning in the Midwest and ending in California, robbing gas stations and drug stores, allegedly murdering a girl in Milwaukee, and murdering the grandfather of his crime partner in Pasadena. That partner later told police that Hickman often talked about his desire to kill and dismember someone someday. In 1927, he kidnapped a 12-year-old girl, Marion Parker, from her school and began taunting her wealthy father with ransom notes. (He called himself “a master mind” and “not a common crook” in those notes, and signed himself “The Fox,” writing, “Fox is my name, very sly you know.” After days of exchanging letters, Hickman accused the father of lying about his intention of paying the ransom and strangled Marion Parker with a towel. After she was dead, he dismembered the body with a pocket knife, wrapped up the separate remains, packed the remains into a car, and drove to meet the father, tossing body parts out of the car along the way. The father, believing his daughter to still be alive, gave $1,500 to Hickman. In return, Hickman threw the girl’s head and upper torso out of the car at the father’s feet and sped off. Hickman fled to Oregon, where he was arrested. He quickly confessed to the murder, at least one more murder, and the robberies. After failing to pin his crimes on another man (presumably his former partner), and unsuccessfully claiming his innocence by reason of insanity, Hickman will be executed at San Quentin Prison. Prescott will write of Hickman, “Hickman reportedly ‘died yellow’—he was dragged, trembling and fainting, to his execution, his courtroom bravado having given way at last.”
Idealizing a Sociopath? - In 2005, Prescott will ask if Rand’s “ideal man” was, in reality, a criminal sociopath, and if so, what that says of Rand’s own values and judgment. In 1928, Prescott notes, Rand is still in her twenties and heavily influenced by the egocentric philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche. Rand writes of Hickman that he represents “the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul.… Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should.” Hickman, she writes, is “a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy” filled with “immense, explicit egotism.” (Some newspaper writers at the time compare Hickman to Nietzche’s “Superman,” writing that Hickman twisted Nietzsche’s teachings to suit his own ends.) Her defenders might argue, Prescott will write, that as Rand matures, she will grow out of her fascination with Nietzsche, and, by extension, Hickman, and evolve a more rational outlook. [Michael Prescott, 2005; AlterNet, 2/26/2010]
Anti-Social, Amoral Characters in Later Books - However, Prescott uses quotes from Rand’s later novels to show her ongoing fascination with amoral, self-centered characters and the philosophies that inform their worldviews. She will write in her notes for The Fountainhead: “One puts oneself above all and crushes everything in one’s way to get the best for oneself. Fine!” Her notes on her novel’s hero, Howard Roark, say that Roark “has learned long ago, with his first consciousness, two things which dominate his entire attitude toward life: his own superiority and the utter worthlessness of the world.… He was born without the ability to consider others.” In the original version of her first novel We the Living, the character Kira, whom Prescott characterizes as “Rand’s stand-in,” says, “What are your masses [of humanity] but mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it?” Prescott notes that the statement will be altered in subsequent publications. In her journals, Rand will write that man “is man only so long as he functions in accordance with the nature of a rational being. When he chooses to function otherwise, he is no longer man. There is no proper name for the thing which he then becomes.… When a man chooses to act in a sub-human manner, it is no longer proper for him to survive nor to be happy.” In her longest novel, 1957’s Atlas Shrugged, she will refer to a crowd of poor and starving people as “savages,” “refuse,” “inanimate objects,” and “imitations of living beings,” all patently beneath the heroes and heroines of her story. In the novel, a wealthy citizen striking against progressive taxation causes a train crash, and Rand will make it clear that the people who die in the crash deserve it because they supported the taxation policies that triggered the attack. Rand will continue to write admiringly of the Nietzschean concept of the “Superman” throughout her career. Columnist Johann Hari will write: “Her heroes are a cocktail of extreme self-love and extreme self-pity: They insist they need no one, yet they spend all their time fuming that the masses don’t bow down before their manifest superiority.” [Michael Prescott, 2005; Slate, 11/2/2009; AlterNet, 2/26/2010]
Rand Admired by Many Modern Republicans - In 2010, liberal columnist Mark Ames will go farther than either Prescott or Hari and label Rand “a textbook sociopath,” adding: “In her notebooks Ayn Rand worshiped a notorious serial murderer-dismemberer, and used this killer as an early model for the type of ‘ideal man’ she promoted in her more famous books. These ideas were later picked up on and put into play by major right-wing figures of the past half decade, including the key architects of America’s most recent economic catastrophe—former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan and SEC Commissioner Chris Cox—along with other notable right-wing Republicans such as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Rush Limbaugh, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.” Ames will note that many politicians aligned with the “tea party” movement, such as Representatives Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN) are outspoken Rand admirers. [AlterNet, 2/26/2010] Hari will ask: “What I do find incomprehensible is that there are people—large numbers of people—who see her writing not as psychopathy but as philosophy, and urge us to follow her. Why?” [Slate, 11/2/2009]
Entity Tags: Friedrich Nietzsche, Christopher Cox, Alan Greenspan, Ayn Rand, Clarence Thomas, William Edward Hickman, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Ames, Paul Ryan, Marion Parker, Marshall Clement (“Mark”) Sanford, Jr, Michele Bachmann, Michael Prescott, Johann Hari
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Johann Hari, a commentator for the London Independent, pens a caustic column about the American “birther” conspiracy theory and Donald Trump, the billionaire entrepeneur and television host who has used the controversy to vault himself to the forefront of the Republican Party’s group of 2012 presidential contenders (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7-10, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 10, 2011, April 14-15, 2011, April 21, 2011, April 21, 2011, April 22, 2011, April 24-25, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 27, 2011). Hari says that Trump’s meteoric ascendancy within the Republican Party proves “that one of its central intellectual arguments was right all along. They have long claimed that evolution is a myth believed in only by whiny liberals—and it turns out they were onto something. Every six months, the Republican Party venerates a new hero, and each time it is somebody further back on the evolutionary scale.” Hari cites former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) and current US Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) as previous “stops” on the Republicans’ backwards slide, until the party got to Trump as its current representative. “A survey suggests he is the most popular candidate among Republican voters,” Hari writes. “It’s not hard to see why. Trump is every trend in Republican politics over the past 35 years taken to its logical conclusion. He is the Republican id, finally entirely unleashed from all restraint and all reality.” Hari lists four major trends that he says the modern Republican Party reflects, and that Trump epitomizes.
'Naked Imperialism' - Hari says Trump advocates what he calls the first trend of modern Republican ideology, “naked imperialism,” and cites Trump’s promise to, as president, simply “go in” to Libya “and take the oil.… I would take the oil and stop this baby stuff.” On Iraq, he has said: “We stay there, and we take the oil.… In the old days, when you have a war and you win, that nation’s yours.” Hari says that in Trump’s view, a view held by many Republicans, “the world is essentially America’s property, inconveniently inhabited by foreigners squatting over oil fields. Trump says America needs to ‘stop what’s going on in the world. The world is just destroying our country. These other countries are sapping our strength.’ The US must have full spectrum dominance.”
'Dog-Whistle Prejudice' - Along with his imperialism, Hari says, Trump has a penchant for what he calls “dog-whistle prejudice—pitched just high enough for frightened white Republicans to hear it.” Citing Trump’s support for the “birther” theory, Hari writes: “The Republican primary voters heard the message right—the black guy [President Obama] is foreign. He’s not one of us.”
'Raw Worship of Wealth' - The third trend that Hari says endears Trump to Republicans is his “raw worship of wealth as an end in itself—and [the exemption of the wealthy] from all social responsibility.” Republicans seem not to care that Trump, born into wealth, has bankrupted four businesses, repeatedly failed to pay his taxes, and, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Clay Johnson, has made the bulk of his fortune from “stiffing his creditors” and “from government subsidies and favours for his projects—which followed large donations to the campaigns of both parties, sometimes in the very same contest. Trump denies these charges and presents himself as an entrepreneur ‘of genius.’” However, Hari says Republicans seem to believe that “the accumulation of money is proof in itself of virtue, however it was acquired. The richest 1 percent pay for the party’s campaigns, and the party in turn serves their interests entirely.… In America today, a janitor can pay more income tax than Donald Trump—and the Republicans regard that not as a source of shame, but of pride.”
Imposing America's Will on Reality - The fourth trend, Hari writes, “is to insist that any fact inconvenient to your world-view either doesn’t exist, or can be overcome by pure willpower.” He cites the example of the US’s imminent need to extend its debt ceiling in order to avoid default. While almost every economist in the world says the US going into default will trigger “another global economic crash,” Trump “snaps back: ‘What do economists know? Most of them aren’t very smart.’” Trump says “it’s so easy” to deal with the upward spiral of oil prices merely by calling a meeting of the leaders of the OPEC nations and, as he has said: “I’m going to look them in the eye and say: ‘Fellows, you’ve had your fun. Your fun is over.‘… It’s so easy. It’s all about the messenger.” He will stop China from manipulating its currency merely by ordering it to do so, and derides any mention of how much American debt China owns. Hari writes: “This is what the Republican core vote wants to be told. The writer Matthew Yglesias calls it ‘the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics.’ It’s named after the DC comics superhero the Green Lantern, who can only use his superpowers when he ‘overcomes fear’ and shows confidence—and then he can do anything. This is Trump’s view. The whiny world simply needs to be bullied into submission by a more assertive America—or the world can be fired and he’ll find a better one.”
Expressing the Underlying Core Beliefs of the GOP - Trump will not get the Republican nomination, Hari believes, not because Republicans reject his premises, but “because he states these arguments too crudely for mass public consumption. He takes the underlying whispered dogmas of the Reagan, Bush, and Tea Party years and shrieks them through a megaphone. The nominee will share similar ideas, but express them more subtly.” Hari points to the budget proposal by US Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), one supported by every House Republican and most Senate Republicans, which would, among other things, halve taxes on America’s most wealthy, end corporate taxation, end taxation on dividends and inheritance, and pass that tax burden onto the middle class and poor by gutting spending on food stamps, healthcare for the poor and the elderly, and basic services. The Ryan budget would send the US deficit soaring, though Ryan, embracing the tenet of imposing his beliefs on reality, insists it would cut the deficit. Hari concludes: “The Republican Party today isn’t even dominated by market fundamentalism. This is a crude Nietzcheanism, dedicating to exalting the rich as an overclass and dismissing the rest.” [Independent, 4/28/2011]
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