This is a very special issue of REASON for me and for Reason Enterprises. Ayn Rand is one of the few people in my life I admire enormously, and all of us at REASON share respect for her.
Shortly after reading two of Miss Rand's most important novels I headed West, but before I moved I went to New York and met her privately. Miss Rand was warm and very open towards me. I recall that I said to her that perhaps the reason I admired her philosophy was because I, too, was a refugee from a Communist country. She said this was very likely not the case—but at any rate such matters were not significant for the appreciation of the kind of ideas she has emphasized. Her point was very important and well taken.
Many people admire Miss Rand. In particular, she is often referred to and talked about by people sharing libertarian political ideals. Some within this movement have insulted Miss Rand and I personally believe that such insults are very disrespectful where, in fact, no disrespect is deserved. I personally have had occasion to disagree with Miss Rand and I am not always sure that I understand what she says—simply because I hear of much of what she says in public (e.g. radio, television, personal appearances, etc.) via other people's reports. Still, disagreement or its appearance aside, Miss Rand is undoubtedly one of the great geniuses of our time.
I want to mention one aspect of Miss Rand's present political position which has disturbed some people who consider her one of, if not the, greatest defenders of human freedom. Some say she has been too "right wing", referring to her attitude toward the Soviet Union, Communist bloc governments, official treatment of Soviet government activities—including cultural exchange programs, etc.—and foreign policy in general. Although, for instance, Miss Rand opposed the Vietnam war, she is said to oppose amnesty for draft "dodgers." She once renounced going to the Bolshoi Ballet and she considered Nixon's visit to China a travesty for a representative of a supposedly free country. Other instances could be added.
Most generally, Miss Rand has been criticized, often with honest (as well as reasonably careful) conviction, for her support of the American government as against others. Presumably she gave her support too readily.
I want to remark only that Miss Rand seems, to my mind, to be very aware of, even if not fully focused on, the dangers of the loss of liberty and justice wherever in the world they occur. Communism is one form of that danger, and perhaps concentrating on it seems odd to some. But anyone aware of the capacity of a comprehensive but false, yet in some obvious ways attractively-presented ideology to squash capsules of liberty in the world must appreciate her stance. Her emphasis on the value of liberty cannot be faulted.
This is not to say that there could not be errors in Miss Rand's stance on these kinds of matters. But frankly I consider her moral and political judgments more trustworthy than Daniel Ellsberg's, or Nicholas von Hoffman's, et al. And unless I know better independently, I am reluctant to just fly off with insults.
Enough of this. I teach philosophy and am in good command of the philosophy of Objectivism. (Out of respect I should mention that Miss Rand has not said so—I certainly do not have her sanction. I used to be grieved by this—sincerely. It is very desirable to get acknowledgement from someone you admire.) Let me say something about Miss Rand's stature within what I take to be the professional philosophical arena. It is quite an arena—too many people, many inventing instead of investigating reality, oversupplied and underinspired. But it is the professional practice of philosophy and a culture takes from it whatever is offered up (unfortunately, at times, no doubt).
Miss Rand is not respected by the bulk of the community of philosophers. Those who know of her through her political commentaries even despise her. Others consider her irrelevant and too ambitious—usually by dubious comparisons. But it is not true that once her ideas are well presented, in the course of arguments between people who are truly engaged in inquiry or in papers or other forums, she comes away defeated. Her ideas are so potent—I should say so right on—that when given a chance with decent minds listening and thinking, she gains respect—or at least intrigued curiosity. More importantly, there is now a resurgence of a direction in philosophical thinking which is not so far from Miss Rand's concerns and findings as she, unfortunately, believes. There are some important and valuable trends, even if not in full abundance.
Will Miss Rand be remembered in the history of philosophy? Such prediction is difficult and I am not able to make it with much certainty. I believe she will be remembered—probably on a level with Hobbes and Locke, but with greater enthusiasm by those who know her work well. She will have students, scholars who study her, and she will forever offer wisdom and give inspiration to the defenders of the individual and the role of his mind in living his life—both in ethics and in politics. Miss Rand's work in epistemology is too restricted (although aimed at perhaps the most important aspect of the field) to provide avenues of prolonged scholarly analysis. Here, as in some other areas, if she is remembered it will be by way of others who carry on her work. She has not spent enough time on many crucial issues.
As a novelist she is a master and she will be enjoyed in any age that welcomes the spirit of romanticism. But to say any more would involve me in prophecies about where civilization will head in the future. Free will must be taken seriously: Miss Rand might be forgotten, as others have been, despite her value to any searching minds.
I hope that many people appreciate Miss Rand as I do. I think I am right to feel strongly about and think highly of her. I intensely wish at least that those who form an opinion about her ideas and art will take the time to learn of both. It is to that end that REASON Magazine dedicates this special issue.
In early 1962, before I entered college, I wrote to Miss Rand about a personal matter which concerned me. She answered with what I can only call great wisdom. She concluded her letter by remarking that whatever I might do in my life, I should never abnegate my reason. Reason, indeed, should be the only absolute in my life.
I believe that REASON Magazine is dedicated to just exactly that principle.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Editorial Introduction: The Significance of Ayn Rand".