Man v. Mob

2008-01-16

Here is another oddity from the Journals of Ayn Rand (p. 86):

Nothing has ever been created except by the will of a creator. Civilization is not a collective process, the work of many men working together. It is the work of many men working alone. Each did what he could and wanted to do. No common cause ever tied them to one another.

All civilization, all progress -- ethical, esthetical, philosophical, scientific -- has been accomplished not by a cooperation between an originator and his followers, between man and the mob, but by a struggle between man and the mob. The mob has always been against novelty, originality, everything new and forward moving. It was individual men who made the forward step in each case, only to pay for it, often with their lives, because the mob resented it. But the world did move forward, because life belongs to the leaders and the exceptions. The others follow. They don't want to. They have to. They contribute nothing to progress, except the impediments.

And here is a related quote about the "proper" approach to constructing a building (p. 136):

If led by a strong personality, superior in knowledge and talent to the others, representing complete authority and final judgment in all matters, with a pyramid of ranks under him, widening toward the bottom -- the perfect organization with the proper spirit of cooperation and discipline results, and the created building is a magnificent monument.

Why make such extraordinary claims? According to Rand, true teamwork and even cooperative effort is impossible, yet surely Rand was aware of creative teams such as the Wright Brothers or the great Broadway songwriting duos of the 1930s and 1940s (not to mention the large teams that even then were becoming commonplace in science, technology, movie-making, etc.). Notice also her disdain for "the mob", her utterly hierarchical approach to project management, her worship of the superior man who towers above all others in every regard, the great man theory of history transposed from politics to "the best part of life, the mental life" (p. 86), and her separation of all people into the two mutually-exclusive camps of leaders vs. followers or even individual men / superior men vs. the mob of seemingly sub-human beings.

Much silliness results from these premises. Rand must deny the value of any and all cooperative efforts, the bootstrapping of humanity and civilization in thousands and thousands of years of hunter-gatherer bands, the importance of emergent phenomena such as language, money, and law, the existence of any dependence upon or tie to other people on the part of the creative individual, and the manifest division of labor in which a person who excels or leads in one area of life borrows from or follows those who excel or lead in other areas.

It is one thing to hold some odd opinions -- we all do. But it is quite another to base a comprehensive philosophy of ethics, practical action, and the mental life on premises that fly in the face of so many facts about human experience. And the core fact, from which so many tensions in human life arise, is that we are social solitaries. Rand would have us be only solitaries, and those she opposed so strenuously would have us be only social. Alas for those who would formulate a black-and-white theory of human interaction, our nature is a combination of the social and the solitary -- and woe to anyone who reduces all humanity to one or the other.


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