Living the Philosophy for Living on Earth

2006-05-31

In the midst of a lengthy screed of the sort that only academics, bureaucrats, the idle rich, and the unemployed have time to write (the rest of us are too busy working to create the wealth that makes such leisure possible), Diana Hsieh makes the following remarkable assertion (previously posted at her blog) regarding the importance of novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand:

The serious study of Ayn Rand's work -- in and out of academia -- is only in its nascent stages. If stillborn, our culture is doomed. (So the stakes are high, to say the least!) Whether Ayn Rand's ideas take hold in academia and the wider culture or not will largely will largely depend upon the work produced in the next few decades. That work will consist of a relatively small number of influential publications produced by a relatively small number of scholars and intellectuals. So at this point, and for many years to come, even a few pseudo-scholars pose a grave danger, as do those who tolerate them. After all, today's intellectuals would love nothing more than to be able to dismiss Objectivism by means of strawmen erected by its supposed defenders. (Oh, what a sad time that would be!) Such is why promoting the highest standards of objectivity in scholarship on Ayn Rand and Objectivism is not just important, but of particular pressing importance at present. It's not just some academic game: it's literally life and death.

My word. Our culture (presumably American or Western culture, and by extension the future of civilization) is doomed if Ayn Rand's philosophy does not take hold in academia and the wider culture; Ayn Rand's philosophy will not take hold unless a small number of scholars and intellectuals publish a small number of influential publications (presumably articles and books); that small number of scholars and intellectuals cannot be successful if dangerous pseudo-scholars and supposed defenders of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism are allowed to erect their strawmen and are tolerated by those who do not uphold the highest standards of objectivity; and this crisis, this matter of literally life and death, will be in force for the next few decades.

There are many questionable assumptions here:

  1. That Ayn Rand's writings are not powerful enough to stand on their own and can be successful only if a select handful of highly objective scholars are able to write a relatively small number of influential publications over the next few decades. To which I counter: the last time I checked, Ayn Rand's novels and non-fiction works, which provide a much more compelling introduction to her ideas than anything published since, had sold millions of copies and were still selling hundreds of thousands of copies each year.

  2. That the highly objective work of real scholars will be drowned out by the dangerous hack work of pseudo-scholars and supposed defenders of Objectivism if the latter are tolerated even for a second. To which I counter: Rand herself was the subject of much more vicious attacks than the supposed hack work invoked by Diana Hsieh, and the fear that the hacks will overwhelm the scholars evinces a distinct lack of confidence in the reasoning powers of the average human being.

  3. That the very fate of civilization is bound up with the wordly success of Ayn Rand's ideas and that American or Western culture is doomed if Ayn Rand's philosophy does not take hold in academia and the wider culture. To which I counter: a thorough study of history reveals that philosophy is important but by no means all-important -- and further that, as the traditional realms of philosophy are steadily taken over by the sciences and as the pace of technological progress rapidly accelerates, philosophy will become less and less important over time.

My conclusions:

  1. Ayn Rand's ideas are doing just fine on their own and don't especially need the valiant assistance of a handful of highly objective scholars in order to survive.

  2. Logic may be slow yeast but it works incessantly (as Vermont Royster said in his Wall Street Journal review of Ludwig von Mises's magnum opus Human Action).

  3. If Objectivists want to be truly influential, they need to deeply study history, get involved in scientific research (including extension of scientific methods to fields such as epistemology, psychology, and political economy), and create innovative technologies that will move civilization to the next level.

In line with Rand's cardinal virtue of productivity, I try to do as much of the latter as I possibly can in my limited time on this earth (although I am no longer an Objectivist, in many ways I still live like one). I respectfully suggest that others do the same rather than wasting their time on writing lengthy screeds about imagined intellectual dangers or getting involved in internecine conflicts that do nobody any good.


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal