Anti-Movement

1999-07-15

A friend of mine wrote to me that "Most of the threats to Objectivism lie within the movement itself."

My feeling and considered conviction is that most of the threats to Objectivism lie in thinking of Objectivism as a movement or living thing that can be threatened.

If I may try the following idea on for size: Objectivism does not exist. Ayn Rand was once asked whether she would die for Objectivism, and she answered: "I'm already doing more than that: I'm living for it." No, no, no!!! Maybe, just maybe, this was appropriate for Rand herself, because she originated this body or line of thought. But even here I would say it's not appropriate (and I think Rand was a lot less happy than she could have been because of it). No idea, no philosophy, is an end in itself. Only your life is an end in itself. So I could say more precisely: Objectivism does not exist as an end in itself. It is a tool for living (for understanding, choosing, achieving, feeling). It is a powerful tool, but a tool nonetheless, a means to the end of living a full human life. There's a long tradition in ethics (esp. religious ethics) of saying that you must work for something larger than your own life in order for your life to have meaning. In her own way Rand seemed to have held this also, because she lived for Objectivism, not herself. You could say that in her case the two are inextricably intermingled, but she would be a special case; I would say that even for her it was not right, and for the rest of us it's disastrous. Your life belongs to you, not Objectivism. That is the first point I would make.

A corollary to thinking that Objectivism is a living entity that can be threatened, is the view that Objectivism is a "movement" that requires leaders and central organizations. Again, no! In a beautiful image, Rand once described the influence of her writings as an underground stream that comes to the surface from time to time in unexpected places. This, to me, is the way intellectual influence best occurs. What central organizations try to do is damn up the underground stream and redirect its course into tidy irrigation canals that will water the desired crops. Leaving aside for now the problem of the "organizational imperative" (in which the organization takes on a life of its own and those involved begin to feed the organization at the expense of their own professed principles), what organizational involvement in intellectual and spiritual matters does is change the flow from organic to artificial, from natural to unnatural, from spontaneous order to directed order. The result is too often self-censorship and hack work where we most need creativity and innovation.

Rand extolled intellectual independence. My question to those who put their faith in Objectivist institutes and organizations is: which part of this don't you understand? Because what organizations usually produce, by their very nature, is not very intellectual and not very independent.

I could go on, but I think I'll get off my soapbox now before I descend into vitriol.


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