13 November 2008

It’s Not About Her

In reading LB’s essay Why I am an Objectivist, with which I wholly agree, some of my own reflections came to the fore, especially concerning the introduction of reason, selfishness, and individual rights to people who are not familiar with Ayn Rand’s works.  

In an important sense, Objectivism - the body of ideas - has nothing to do with Ayn Rand.  Don’t misunderstand me: the philosophical achievements are entirely hers, and Miss Rand deserves literally all the credit for Objectivism.  She single-handedly integrated and formulated every major and minor tenet of the philosophy; the sheer scope of her achievement is almost too staggering to believe could be accomplished by one person. 

Nevertheless, in terms of Objectivism’s content and its application to the real world, I think it is important to focus on the philosophy, not the the philosopher.  I care not a whit about the genesis of the philosophy.  Its truth would not change had it been articulated and refined by dozens of great men over the course of the last two thousand or so years, or (as it turned out to be) formulated by a single twentieth-century novelist.  The important thing is that the tenets of the philosophy hold true to reality, comprehensively and systematically - which is exactly what Objectivism does.

From the perspective of evaluating and applying Ayn Rand’s ideas, I invoke this popular expression: “it’s not about her.”  

Incidentally, I do not know but would guess that this must be the reason Miss Rand chose to call her philosophy “Objectivism” as opposed to say, “Randism.”  She had every reason to be immensely proud of her achievements, but she did not label her philosophy as Hank Rearden labeled Rearden Metal.  To call it Objectivism not only emphasizes its distinction from subjectivism and intrisicism, but reinforces its generality as a complete, reality-based philosophical system.  Ayn Rand was not an inventor; she was a discoverer.  As a novelist she created, but as a philosopher she identified.

I bring this point up because a few too many times I have seen the word “cult” associated with Ayn Rand, as if she were some sort of religious figure with a following of obedient disciples.  This is an absurd smear, and it is not without a certain irony - for if there is one characteristic that is sure to be found in every individual who truly grasps Miss Rand’s ideas, it would be a selfish independence of mind that makes such “cultish” following impossible.  

With this in mind, I would not wish to grant my intellectual foes a favor by contributing, however inadvertently, to the idea that Objectivists are followers of a “gospel according to Rand.”  When I argue points with friends and colleagues, I do not frame my statements in the form, “Well, Ayn Rand said...” or, “As an Objectivist, I believe that...”   Why should this convince anybody?  Listeners (or readers) who disagree with Ayn Rand to begin with will not be convinced by merely repeating her position on matters, and those who are unfamiliar with her work should not take her - or anyone else’s - word for it.  Anyone who is worth arguing with should care only about facts and their connections to principles.  Mentioning Ayn Rand every few sentences would do more harm than good.

An even more fundamental reason that I don’t speak or write that way is that I don’t think that way.  I simply don’t go around wondering, “What would Ayn Rand do?”  It’s perfectly true that when I read The Fountainhead twenty-five years ago, it changed my life.  I’ve read and re-read her fiction and non-fiction many times, and without question Miss Rand is my supreme intellectual hero.  But when I’m puzzling over something, I do not mine her works for the answer.  I look to reality for the answer.

As did she.