Ayn Rand/Objectivism Sightings
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This is true for each of us, and it is true for all of us. Although there are many hopeful signs in today's world, and indications that more people are beginning to appreciate the importance of freedom in all its manifestations (both in mind and in action, both in the freedom to think and to act on our judgment in the social and economic realms), exceptional--and consistent--advocates of reason, individualism, capitalism and romantic values in art are still extraordinarily unusual. Ayn Rand, for me, was the greatest exception of all: she remains the only successful novelist in history to have presented a systematic philosophy in the form of fiction, in novels which seem only to grow in popularity even twenty years after her death. But even that is far from the whole story as to what makes her unique: her philosophy is a genuinely revolutionary, radical one--a philosophy which challenges the basic assumptions that have been most influential in mankind's history.
Atlas Shrugged is unquestionably Rand's greatest work: staggering in scope, dealing with every aspect of man's life (philosophy, politics, economics, art and sex), and presenting all of it in the form of a non-stop, sometimes unbearably suspenseful thriller. And it should be remembered that, despite what I consider to be its greatest historic importance, the presentation of her philosophy was not Rand's primary purpose. As she states in "The Goal of My Writing (published in The Romantic Manifesto): "The motive and purpose of my writing is the projection of an ideal man. The portrayal of a moral ideal, as my ultimate literary goal, as an end in itself--to which any didactic, intellectual or philosophical values contained in a novel are only the means."
In that same essay, when explaining how art is the "technology of the soul (technology being the actual production of material values)," Rand talks about the meaning of art in man's life. Rand quotes from the opening scene of Part IV of The Fountainhead, when she is describing what a boy seeks in life. The boy thought that "man's work should be a higher step, an improvement on nature, not a degradation. He did not want to despise men; he wanted to love and admire them....Don't work for my happiness, my brothers--show me yours--show me that it is possible--show me your achievement--and the knowledge will give me courage for mine." In the novel, Roark's achievement gives the boy the courage for a lifetime. In the same way--and for countless people--Rand's own achievements give them the courage, and often enough courage for the rest of their lives.
How does one even begin to repay such a debt? Ayn Rand is gone now, unfortunately--so we can't write to her, and tell us what her work has meant to us. But, to the extent we agree with the essentials of her view of life and of man, we can dedicate ourselves to living our lives in accordance with the ideals her novels so gloriously and luminously project. This is true even though the specifics of our lives will vary in an infinite number of details, from the choice of work, to our choice of friends and loved ones, to the works of art we look to for inspiration and emotional fuel.
There is something else we can do--and I believe it is of crucial importance. I noted that consistent defenders of the core values of Objectivism are rare. There are very few individuals in any field who identify themselves as Objectivists; it is much too early, in historic terms, for an "Objectivist movement" to have become numerous in culturally significant terms. However, there is The Objectivist Center, founded and directed by David Kelley. The Center is only slightly more than a decade old, and yet it has already produced a number of books, monographs, articles and other materials of enormous value--and its influence is continuously growing. Kelley was interviewed by John Stossel as part of a one-hour ABC primetime program on "Greed," and several people from the Center were quoted in a recent front-page USA Today story about the influence of Atlas Shrugged on businessmen, and on their approach to business in general and to business ethics, in particular.
There is the economist George Reisman, whose monumental Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics is truly a landmark work, one destined, I believe, to become the standard work for the free, capitalist society of the future. Reisman is President of The Jefferson School, and the School's mission statement says that "[a]ll of its activities and programs feature the relevant doctrines of Objectivist and Aristotelian philosophy and of 'Austrian' and Classical economics." Utilizing this perspective, which Reisman and the School put to eloquent use in many enormously valuable books and articles, Reisman has established himself as a unique presence on the contemporary intellectual scene. And, of course, there are those people familiar to readers of SOLO HQ--most notably the founder of SOLO and of The Free Radical, Lindsay Perigo, and Chris Matthew Sciabarra. Chris's exceptional achievements have already garnered a great deal of attention and much-deserved praise, and he has managed through his work to focus the attention of a significant part of academia on Rand's ideas, something no one before him had been able to accomplish.
A number of other individuals do not identify themselves as Objectivists, and yet they also uphold and fight for values consistent with Objectivism, to varying degrees. I am thinking of people like Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Larry Elder, and Virginia Postrel--and also writers and newspaper columnists like Andrew Sullivan and Charles Krauthammer, who write wonderfully and with great passion about specific issues that many Objectivists also feel very deeply about. There are many others, as well; this is not intended to be a comprehensive list, by any means.
As I noted, nothing is given to us in the most fundamental sense; throughout our lives, we are ceaselessly pursuing and creating values, on the basis of our deepest views of what is important, and what is worth fighting for. That is the challenge--and the joy--of life, and none of it takes place in the absence of dedication, very hard work, and often a great deal of personal courage. It's not automatic for us, and it's not automatic for any of the people I have identified. And so this is what we all can do--and I urge you, in the strongest way I can--never to forget its importance: when you see someone fighting for the values you care about--even if it's only one of those values, but a significant one, and even if you disagree with the person about other issues--tell them. Write to them, contact them in any way you can, and tell them specifically what you admire about them, which particular issue or issues you agree with them about, why you care, and why you think the fight is an important one.
People sometimes think: "But what could I possibly say to this person that would really matter to him? He's never heard of me, and he's already successful, and people listen to him. Why would he care what I think?" I also urge you to consider the following: we all know how much we need emotional fuel in our own lives. We look to art, certainly--but we also look to friends and colleagues, to those who share our values, who appreciate the effort that we put into pursuing them, and who recognize the importance and meaning that we bring to our lives by the constant creation, and re-creation, of those values. Where do you think people like Thomas Sowell, or David Kelley, or Chris Sciabarra get their emotional fuel? Where do you think Ayn Rand got her emotional fuel?
Yes, they probably get it from the works of art they love, and they probably receive inspiration and encouragement for their own work from individuals they particularly admire, and from those people important in their personal lives. But I think they also receive that fuel from the recognition and appreciation of those who understand what they are doing, and why they do it--and who communicate that they also are pursuing those same values, to whatever degree and on whatever scale they can in their own lives. I worked for Ayn Rand for five years, and I saw a number of instances which revealed to me that genuine understanding and appreciation of her achievements was something she never took for granted. She did not regard it merely as her due, and she realized, perhaps better than almost anyone else, that just as her achievements required profound dedication and ceaseless effort, so, too, a real understanding of what she had done was not automatic: that it represented a value achieved by the person who chose to communicate his admiration.
I now make it a practice, whenever I can, to write to people whose work I especially admire, to whatever degree, telling them specifically what I admire, and why I care about it. Almost invariably, I have received responses which show that the person to whom I have written truly does appreciate it--that it matters to them--that it is not something they take for granted. I also do it for another reason. Even though I expressed my profound admiration for Ayn Rand and her work to her directly in many ways, I often feel in retrospect that I didn't say nearly enough, that I never truly communicated to her how important her work was to me, and why I felt so passionately about it. I would give anything to be able to talk to her one more time, and tell her these things. Doing it in this manner is all I can do now, and hopefully it is enough in some way.
For all these reasons, I urge all of you to follow the suggestions I've offered in any way you can. I view it as an important way of beng true to our values, of following through on them in action, wherever and whenever it is appropriate. Values always have to be created, in our lives and in the lives of others. Don't ever take them for granted--not in yourself, and not in those you admire. And do it now, while you can, and so that you won't wish at some point in the future that you had expressed your admiration to someone, and told him how important his achievements were to you, only you can't any longer. I've also found that when you do this, your values become more real, and more fully realized, now , in this moment, and it makes your life that much richer and more meaningful--and that is a truly wonderful feeling. Write that letter you've been postponing. Do it today. I can guarantee that you'll be very glad you did. Don't deprive yourself of it--and don't withhold deserved admiration and appreciation from those who have earned it.
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