François-René Rideau (fare) wrote,
François-René Rideau

Ayn and I

After reading some of my essays including Capitalism is the Institution of Ethics, a former Rand follower gone Rand detractor warns me to distance myself from the legacy of the author. This gives me the opportunity to clarify my stance with respect to Ayn Rand.

I am not a Rand cult-worshipper. I do not define myself as a follower of her ideas, and I do not hold these ideas for a sacred truth. I know no such person who didn't enter the movement while Rand was alive (which I am too young to have been part of). Relatedly, I also know no such person in Europe. The randroid phenomenon and its backlash seem to be largely North American things, from people who followed Rand during her lifetime.

I am quite able to see and reject the quirks and failings of Rand, which makes me admire but more her genius. Of course, partisans of flesh and bone emotivity have no title in making it a reproach that she was all too human. Only randian-like people with a passion for reason may have such title, and if they're truly reasonable, they will know there is no reproach to be made, just a sorting of the (abundant) wheat from the (remaining) chaff. It takes only one great book to make a great author; and Rand wrote a lot of great books.

Rand had that fantastic ability to conceptualize in simple terms the essence of philosophical problems that evade most people include some who spend years trying. Certainly, these simple terms are quite often a broad brush that glosses over details, and these details can be crucial in some secondary debates. But any intelligent man can finesse the details, whereas it takes a genius to see and paint the big picture.

With Rand, I do believe in an objective world, in an objective truth, in objective values (though I do not believe in a source of objective knowledge about them). I do believe reason is our main tool to explore them (though it must use input from our pre-rational senses and intuition as hypotheses to filter and build upon). I do believe that life is the ultimate value (though I explicitly include memetic life in it). I do believe that property rights are the basic concept on which to found sound law (though I agree with Hayek on the importance of the dynamic process by which law is discovered and enforced, and with Leoni against Hayek that said this process requires no monopoly). I do believe that it is correct to identify the institution of property rights with capitalism (though you should still distinguish this meaning of the word from categorically different meanings of it). I do believe that the Gold Standard is an improvement over what governments have done to our money since (but I am for free banking and I believe that while gold is a natural reference to measure value, it is not ideal for either storage or exchange of value -- three independent aspects of money). I do believe there are objective criteria to distinguish civilization from barbarianism (though these criteria need not distinguish amongst any pair of alternatives and leave a domain of liberty for a great variety in civilization). I do believe that it is legitimate to use force to defend civilization against barbarianism (though I believe a government monopoly is itself barbaric, and neither conducive to either discriminating against the correct foe, nor to wage war properly and successfully). I do believe that an organization of force is necessary (but I distinguish organization of force from monopoly of force, and claim that the latter is not necessary and corrupts the former). I do believe that the creative mind is the ultimate source of wealth (but I am against intellectual property, which is a stolen concept). I do believe that reason is the quintessential human trait (though I am an evolutionist, well aware of the forces that shape the human mind, its reason and its failings). I do believe that rationality has to be chosen and that this is a fundamental ethical choice (but I do not believe that all humans are as capable to choose rationality, considering their Jungian psychological character). I do believe that only individuals may make ethical choices (though I also believe in the cybernetical study of the rules on which to base choices or not based on the epiphenomena that the adoption of such rules by many people leads to).

Ayn Rand may not have been as original as she might have herself claimed in most of her ideas. And so what? Being able to synthetize and articulate a somewhat coherent philosophy out of many existing ideas is a feat in and of itself. Knowing which authors to build upon, in a day and age when they are almost universally shunned, censored, ridiculed if not actively ignored, is also another feat. Daring to openly confront the deadly ideologies of our time where the debate should be, by denouncing not just their irrationality but also their deep immorality, is also quite a feat, especially when said ideologies have an otherwise undisputed claim to morality. Her sense of life is extraordinary, and this is the one overall feat of all. Rand had plenty of originality; she may have stood on the shoulders of giants, she is only more of a giant for it, and made all of us still greater giants by being able to stand on her shoulders.

I pay homage to Ayn Rand, for how she helped me live better. Not just me, but millions of readers. She was not my prime inspiration: my first libertarian author was Hayek, and my favorite was and remains Bastiat, through another lover of which I discovered Ayn Rand. But my! an inspiration she was, in the literal meaning: not so much for ideas that I already knew, though she certainly helped me articulate them like I wouldn't otherwise have, but more so for the lofty ideal of the self to which she raised me. How glad I am she wrote what she did write! I never ascribed Rand any kind of infallibility, and I see no reason why she should be either held or rejected based on such an absurd standard, even though she may have claimed such a standard for herself amongst her followers. I admire her, and that doesn't require me to follow her blindly. Actually I think you can't fully appreciate an author if you're unable to partake in that dynamic critical conversation with her work, by which you see her deep failings as well as her lofty genius, that only appears greater by contrast.

Tags: en, libertarian, objectivism, philosophy, recommendation

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