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

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The Ayn Rand Reader

In the last few months, I've read a few books by Ayn Rand. Each was quite an agreable surprise, despite my already knowing much about it. Recommended reads.

I started We The Living in last november of so, and lost my copy by negligence; I ordered another one and finally finished it in March or so. A more potent a description of collectivism than 1984 that marked my youth: whereas Orwell can only feel the evil, and makes a caricature of it as it cannot be, not knowing what good to oppose to it, Ayn Rand understands the evil, has conceptualized it, can describe the essence of it as it is, and how to oppose it.

In the meantime, I had read La Vertu d'égoïsme, a French translation of The Virtue of Selfishness. Your standard Ayn Rand philosophy book, with all the basics. Nothing extraordinary, but a good conceptualization of the problems at hand, explained in a way that clearly debunks the usual misrepresentations.

In April, at the Libertarian International conference in Leiden, I had bought Anthem and Philosophy, Who Needs It?. I finished the former in a matter of days (or nights) afterwards, and I brought the latter in Japan where I read it in transportations.

Anthem is short because it is to-the-point. Just like I was happily surprised to find in Dickens the prototypical Christmas Carols of which I had seen but pale ersatz in so many movies, telefilms, and series episodes (not that I agree with the morality of these carols), I was happily surprised to find in Rand the prototypical revolt of the individual against the collective. Now I know the ideal of which such crap as Ira Levin's This Perfect Day is but a grotesque caricature with stupid scifi hypotheses added to the boot (as if a computer could rule the world -- from what input data and metadata? with what feedback loops?). Same for Asimov's Space Currents and so many things. Even Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is so very pale. Ayn Rand suppoes that the altruist (im)morality prevails to its logical consequence and remains for a while on the earth, and makes a stand against it. Unhappily, in actual collectivist dictatorships, it is not the free who destroy the system and institute liberty, it is the grubbing politicians who tear it each in their own direction, and institute a lesser form of barbarianism, feudalism. Once again, communism is feudalism without honor. But the purpose of Rand is to demonstrate the opposition in principles, and that she does superbly.

Now, I'm reading Philosophy, Who Needs It? is real good stuff. I already knew the title piece, but the following articles are just as good, or even better. Now I know that my inquiry on black magic was but an instance of the field of psycho-epistemology, already conceptualized and explored by Rand thirty years ago. Also conceptualized, things like the anti-conceptual mentality, tribalism, selfishness without a self, and much more. (On the other hand, Rand doesn't distinguish anarchy from anomy -- her anarcho-capitalist contradictors mustn't have made their case well enough for her to grasp the difference.) The only good treatise on metaphysics, epistemology and ethics and their relationship that I've read or heard of so far. And it's good enough to make me weep, at times.

For the record of my Ayn Rand reading, I had read Atlas Shrugged a few years ago (thanks to my friend Jacques de Guenin for introducing me to her) and had been positively impressed: a treatise of ethics disguised as a breath-taking novel. It certainly fills a gap, and deserves more coverage than it has. At the time, I found the sexual aspects a bit neurotic, but these days I come to agree more with her theories of sexual activities as an important expression of your values. (Anything you do is an expression of your values, and your sexual life is an important part of your life.)

Finally, I haven't read The Fountainhead, but I have recently seen the movie. I suppose the view on Intellectual Property is what I disagree most with, though I can find more agreement on the cause presented than I thought I would, since (1) there was a preliminary agreement and (2) only the criminal case, not the civil case, was argued.

All in all, despite all the fuss about randroïds and various quirks in her life and philosophy, the more I read her, the more I like her -- and what more to expect from an author than constantly surprising agreement, with enough superficial quirks so you know it's not just blind agreement?

Tags: books, communism, en, japan, libertarian, objectivism, philosophy, rand, travel

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