The Not-Quite-Right Rival of Liberalism
The freshly invented, well-developed, dynamic, heroic philosophy of Objectivism is far and away the most liberal philosophy on the face of the earth. It almost puts to shame the rival viewpoints of Aristotelianism, Epicureanism, Stoicism, and Enlightenment liberalism. Objectivism is so good, so great, and so superior it rather makes you gasp in disbelief. In terms of intellectual evolution, it is a radical step up and great leap forward for mankind.
So the question immediately arises: Shouldn't all good people simply convert to Objectivism? Indeed, the question arises: Why does an institute like this even exist?
The logic and rationale behind all this can sometimes be subtle and complex. But, in the end, it's hard or impossible for good and great souls to embrace the philosophy of Objectivism completely and without reservation. The reasons for this are pervasive and profound.
To begin with, in many ways Objectivism has failed the test of time and been rejected by history. With essentially all the truth in the world on its side, Objectivism has failed to make anything like decent progress in theoretical improvement or popular ascent over the past half-century of its existence. This is especially true when one considers how easy and spontaneous is modern communication.
But people nowadays really only like the novels of the Objectivist creator Ayn Rand. They read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and are inspired and uplifted. They feel unmatched joy and exaltation. They well know they're in the presence of genius and greatness. But this thing they sense all around -- this stunning world of human giants and amazing triumphs which they visit in her novels -- isn't actualized, reified, or fully realized by the non-fiction intellectualizing of the author. The formal, official, written philosophy of Objectivism can't seem to articulate or equal the underlying beliefs, feelings, motivation, psychology, and spirit of her fiction. For almost all people, Ayn Rand is a great novelist, not a great philosopher.
Moreover, Objectivism suffers at the hands of the riveting personality and immense intellectual charisma of its inventor. She is a subtly-but-powerfully seductive person and guru and cult leader. Even tho' more than one generation dead, the public persona and larger-than-life figure of Ayn Rand undermines, overwhelms, and almost crushes the philosophy of Objectivism.
It's also worth noting that the philosophy of Objectivism was essentially corrupt from the beginning and slightly stillborn -- not unlike the 19th century inventions of psychology, sociology, and economics. Objectivism had large elements of religious dogmatism woven into the fabric of this mostly-rational philosophy from the very beginning. This is probably because Objectivism was created against immense odds and into the teeth of the grossly illiberal culture of the 20th century. So perhaps a difficult and deformed birth was inevitable.
Moreover, Ayn Rand seems to have been a rather strange person before she ever began formally writing down her philosophy in 1960 or so. As her long-time best girlfriend Barbara Branden once noted, anyone who hadn't met Rand prior to 1959 "didn't really know her." This meant: she wasn't the same. Ayn Rand had become a rather warped and significantly inferior person.
It seems that when her final novel was published in 1957, Rand naively, foolishly, madly, wildly expected to quickly revolutionize the world -- or at least become widely known as a sainted genius. When nothing like this transpired, she experienced and retreated into a massive, pitiful, two-year-long depression. When she finally came out of it, only then did this diminished and somewhat perverted character slowly work out and write down her philosophy semi-officially. But no full treatment was ever completed -- or even started.
This lack of a formal philosophical treatise -- so long promised and so badly needed -- constituted a serious mistake for Rand personally. And it's a kind of large-scale disaster for the philosophy and current movement of Objectivism. This lack of a formal, elaborate, systematic, detailed treatment left Rand treated as unserious and unimpressive by other more conventional and academic philosophers. And because she unwisely and rather cravenly also disdained to engage them in scholarly debate or offer up any formal refutations of their work, the Objectivist philosophy and movement suffered still more.
Even before Ayn Rand wrote down, in essay form, her semi-formal non-fiction beliefs, she seems to have hopped the track intellectually and philosophically -- if not psychologically and spiritually. Rand took a whopping 14 years to write her last novel. Now this is too long. Altho' her achievement here is truly spectacular and undeniably great, Atlas Shrugged ended up being a slow-going, heavily pedantic, stilted, overwritten tome.
The book's lashing, hectoring, judgmentalizing, psychologizing tone and atmosphere led one prominent critic to sum it up as saying to mankind "to the gas chambers -- go!" However much Randian aficionados and janissaries are outraged by this quote -- and should be rather outraged -- there is much truth in this brief, tough, rude characterization.
Once her 1957-1959 depression lifted, Ayn Rand proceeded to send many good and loyal people -- including close friends -- to the intellectual, moral, and spiritual gas chambers. She created her own little world and cult which brooked no serious dissent or opposition. It was all a rather happy time for her and a fairly sweet universe for her to live in. But it made for a philosophical presentation of much less quality than it could have been and should have been.
And as for this philosophy of "to the gas chambers -- go!" the Objectivist philosophy and movement suffers badly from it to this day. The Ayn Rand Institute is absolutely notorious for its loathsome policy of "purging" and "excommunicating" even minor dissidents. ARI weakly claims "intellectual dishonesty" on the part of the Doubting Thomases. But this is usually their crime -- and their guilt is writ large. Marxist fanatics and Catholic zealots couldn't do any worse. The sickly air of cultism and religious dogma -- so repellent to any healthy or happy individual -- pervades the entire diseased Objectivist universe.
Even such impressive, dynamic, and seemingly-liberated institutions as The Objectivist Center and Sense of Life Objectivists are significantly mentally and spiritually trapped and inhibited by this legacy of Randian Inquisitionalism. Even the unaffiliated, casual, Objectivist man-in-the-street is subject to her ghastly, ghostly, censorious presence. Thru her novels and thru her even-worse essays, the incubus lives on.
Objectivism as a movement and developing, evolving belief-system is also badly slowed down by its membership. Objectivism as a philosophy is an extreme, avant-garde, seemingly freakish thing, and as such it attracts few normal adherents. Most Objectivists wander or stumble into it. For the most part, they aren't high quality or high integrity or heroic individuals who have in various ways searched diligently and struggled valiantly to find a good and great philosophy to match their own impressively high stature. Mostly they got lucky. They're accidental Objectivists. And usually -- their life would be richer, happier, and better without Objectivism.
For them, Objectivism is a kind of group conformity enforcer and psychological torturer which oppresses them. Ayn Rand -- ever censorious, condemning, lashing, and pummeling -- weighs them down and holds them back. They can't evade, deflect, stand up to, or successfully cope with her insidious, pernicious pressure. Thus Objectivism the philosophy and movement functions as a kind of heart-rending, spirit-desiccating, life-destroying monster which psychologically savages and spiritually ravages their soul without mercy. Objectivism is a Jewish mother maddeningly, sickeningly inside their head -- an id and Original Sin made real. Thus victimized, Objectivists are not people fit to lead the revolution.
But if most followers are "accidental Objectivists," most other followers are specifically drawn to Objectivism's sick-puppy cult elements. Altho' it is true, as they frequently point out, that most Objectivists aren't habitual or typical "joiners" in their previous life-style. But look closer. Secretly they really are thus, albeit in a quiet or intellectual type of way. This is why almost all people with a normal and good psycho-spirituality avoid Rand and her diseased followers. They do so "with the instinct of the healthy" as Herman Hesse might say. Joyous, vigorous, normal, natural, healthy, happy people are repelled by adherents of Objectivism -- and even by the philosophy itself. They avoid both like the plague. This personal revulsion significantly hurts the movement and thus the philosophy itself.
In countless ways, perfected and final stage Western liberalism as taught at this institute lacks the baggage and "albatross" of Objectivism. Purified liberalism is a broad, general, cultural movement, and a whole family of philosophies. Liberalism is five or ten powerful, helpful, fully-rational philosophies soon to be born. Liberalism has something for everyone, and for all different personalities and characters in all different conditions and situations. Objectivism, meanwhile, is just one type of philosophy which isn't altogether rational, has all kinds of problems, and doesn't really seem to be going anywhere socially and intellectually.
Objectivism is a real problem for the planet intellectually and historically in that as an elaborate, rich, developed, almost-full philosophical system -- and as a high-powered cult to boot! -- it tends to confuse people about liberalism. It gives pure liberal culture a bad name. Because Objectivism is something like 95% rational and liberal, it's exceptionally easy to think Objectivism is liberalism, and vice-versa. It's painfully easy for people to assume that the vigorous and powerful philosophy of Objectivism has achieved full rationality and liberalism, which it hasn't.
Thus Objectivism is a kind of Public Enemy #1 standing in the way of the natural, historical, semi-inevitable liberal ascent. Objectivist philosophy poisons liberal culture in the eyes of the none-too-perceptive general public. And even in the eyes of the intellectuals. In some important senses, this cult-thing and perverto-philosophy constitutes a very real threat to the progress of mankind. It's highly important that people keep the two ideologies separate -- that both might advance and prosper, ironically!
As for the actual and literal philosophy of Objectivism -- and how it measures up to pure reason and the liberal ideal -- this philosophy certainly seems right-on in its initial approach and aspects. Randian thought features a close and emphatic juxtaposition of reality and rationality. The "linearity," common sense, and direct logic of it all is highly impressive. Rand's treatment of the difficult and tricky subjects of metaphysics and epistemology -- tho' brief -- seems spot-on and brilliant. And her innovative politics of pure laissez-faire capitalism and implicit volunteerist libertarianism also seem nothing short of ingenious.
Where Objectivism may fall short is in its seven rather arbitrarily chosen, anti-social, mostly work ethic, cardinal virtues. And there are problems in the blind, bland, mechanical, monochromatic "heroism" of its aesthetics. Objectivism also sports an utter lack of clear, explicit spirituality which is simply unjustifiable. This last leaves the philosophy strikingly inferior to, and open to competition from, many aspects of the flagitious phenomenon of religion.
One can even doubt whether or not Objectivsm is right generally and in its main thrust and aspect. Aristotle once noted that "Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence." But when elder statesman Nathaniel Branden was asked in 2001 if he thought that people were happier after they converted to Objectivism, his answer seemed to be candid, direct, and honest: "No." When he was asked why that was and what it meant, he replied that perhaps happiness was more a function of psychological phenomena -- his specialty.
But if Objectivism doesn't make you happier, what good is it?
Liberalism will make people happier. It liberates and uplifts. This is its purpose. Altho' it may require some honest effort, the culture of liberalism -- with its five or so creating and supporting philosophies -- will increase the richness and pleasure of the individual's existence, and that of his society. A truly great Enlightenment liberal by the name of Benjamin Franklin once spoke of making people "healthy, wealthy, and wise." This is the job of liberal culture. This is what Objectivism has failed at.
The wondrous and sunlit world of the future is almost certain to be a lot like the upper-class world of 200s BC Greece or 1700s Western Europe. It will feature many different reason-based philosophies, supplementing and complimenting, enhancing and uplifting each other. The culture will be diverse and multi-faceted -- a rich cornucopia of reason-based goodness. There won't be just one point of view.
You can learn a lot about a philosophy by its adherents. Ultimately, today's self-abnegating Objectivists care about the triumph of their dubious movement in the distant future. Today's egocentric liberals care about the greatness and happiness of the sacred individual right now. Objectivists worship Ayn Rand and Objectivism. Liberals worship truth and reality.