Written in 1972, this was the first piece of Rand revisionism from the libertarian standpoint.
In the America of the 1970s we are all too familiar with the religious cult, which has been proliferating in the last decade. Characteristic of the cult (from Hare Krishna to the "Moonies" to EST to Scientology to the Manson Family) is the dominance of the guru, or Maximum Leader, who is also the creator and ultimate interpreter of a given creed to which the acolyte must be unswervingly loyal. The major if not the only qualification for membership and advancement in the cult is absolute loyalty to and adoration of the guru, and absolute and unquestioning obedience to his commands. The lives of the members are dominated by the guru’s influence and presence. If the cult grows beyond a few members, it naturally becomes hierarchically structured, if only because the guru cannot spend his time indoctrinating and watching over every disciple. Top positions in the hierarchy are generally filled by the original handful of disciples, who come to assume these positions by virtue of their longer stint of loyal and devoted service. Sometimes the top leadership may be related to each other, a useful occurrence which can strengthen intra-cult loyalty through the familial bond.
The goals of the cult leadership are money and power. Power is achieved over the minds of the disciples through inducing them to accept without question the guru and his creed. This devotion is enforced through psychological sanctions. For once the acolyte is imbued with the view that approval of, and communication with, the guru are essential to his life, then the implicit and explicit threat of excommunication – of removal from the direct or indirect presence of the guru – creates a powerful psychological sanction for the "enforcement" of loyalty and obedience. Money flows upward from the members through the hierarchy, either in the form of volunteer labor service contributed by the members, or through cash payments.
It should be clear at this point in history that an ideological cult can adopt the same features as the more overtly religious cult, even when the ideology is explicitly atheistic and anti-religious. That the cults of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Trotsky, and Mao are religious in nature, despite the explicit atheism of the latter, is by now common knowledge. The adoration of the cult founder and leader, the hierarchical structure, the unswerving loyalty, the psychological (and when in command of State power, the physical) sanctions are all too evident.
The Exoteric and the Esoteric
Every religious cult has two sets of differing and distinctive creeds: the exoteric and the esoteric. The exoteric creed is the official, public doctrine, the creed which attracts the acolyte in the first place and brings him into the movement as a rank-and-file member. The quite different creed is the unknown, hidden agenda, a creed which is only known to its full extent by the top leadership, the "high priests" of the cult. The latter are the keepers of the Mysteries of the cult.
But cults become particularly fascinating when the esoteric and exoteric creeds are not only different, but totally and glaringly in mutual contradiction. The havoc that this fundamental contradiction plays in the minds and lives of the disciples may readily be imagined. Thus, the various Marxist-Leninists cults officially and publicly extol Reason and Science, and denounce all religion, and yet the members are mystically attracted to the cult and its alleged infallibility.
Thus, Alfred G. Meyer writes of Leninist views on party infallibility:
Lenin seems to have believed that the party, as organized consciousness, consciousness as a decision-making machinery, had superior reasoning power. Indeed, in time this collective body took on an aura of infallibility, which was later elevated to a dogma, and a member’s loyalty was tested, in part, by his acceptance of it. It became part of the communist confession of faith to proclaim that the party was never wrong.... The party itself never makes mistakes.1
If the glaring inner contradictions of the Leninist cults make them intriguing objects of study, still more so is the Ayn Rand cult, which, while in some sense is still faintly alive, flourished for just ten years in the 1960s; more specifically, from the founding of the Nathaniel Branden lecture series in early 1958 to the Rand-Branden split ten years later. For not only was the Rand cult explicitly atheist, anti-religious, and an extoller of Reason; it also promoted slavish dependence on the guru in the name of independence; adoration and obedience to the leader in the name of every person’s individuality; and blind emotion and faith in the guru in the name of Reason.
Virtually every one of its members entered the cult through reading Rand’s lengthy novel Atlas Shrugged, which appeared in late 1957, a few months before the organized cult came into being. Entering the movement through a novel meant that despite repeated obeisances to Reason, febrile emotion was the driving force behind the acolyte’s conversion. Soon, he found that the Randian ideology sketched out in Atlas was supplemented by a few non-fiction essays, and, in particular, by a regular monthly magazine, The Objectivist Newsletter (later, The Objectivist).