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At Cato, Brian Doherty, truly a superman who can't be kept down by society's parasites and untermenschen, salutes the Ayn Rand centennial.

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  1. Kudos to Doherty for a very perceptive article on Rand.

    I’m especially fond of this line: “she created a body of work … that established her as the 20th century’s dominant Goddess of?not necessarily Reason,for which she wanted to be best known,or even political liberty?but Heroism and Achievement”.

  2. I agree. Good article. I liked this:

    Rand’s standards were demanding, a call to be the best you can be, achieve the most you can achieve.

    It was a big part of Rand’s appeal when I was young. It’s something you just don’t get from an economics text.

    Now, how long will it take Gary Gunnels to show up and nuke this thread? For it is He Who Knows More about Rand than any of the rest of us idiots…..

  3. Excellent article. I went through my mandatory Randroid phase (but i was a liberterian before i ever heard her name, i swear!), though some of things I may have said and beleived at the time seem a bit silly, I don’t regret it. Even now, there’s little I find objectionable in Rand’s philosophy. I would only quibble with her presentation.

  4. There’s definitely some good in Doherty’s piece, but there is also much whitewashing, and such howlers as referring to “her rigorous, systematic approach to the linkages between reason and liberty” (see, for example, Michael Huemer’s “Critique of the Objectivist Ethics”). But this is the one that really slays me:

    Rand’s standards were demanding–a call to be the best you can be, achieve the most you can achieve. But the respect and admiration she showed for those who rose to those demands was a warming, revivifying sun.

    Rand’s actual standards, as the most cursory examination of non-ARI biographical material makes clear, were (i) sycophantic coddling of her whims and (ii) tight coordination in the vicious, divisive rhetoric that she used to obscure her frequent huge leaps in logic. Even before her cult of crippled adolescent admirers was solidly established, “warming” and “revivifying” would be among the last words to describe her effect on those around her with real intellectual achievements, including several near and dear to the libertarian movement. Are you guys unaware of why and in what manner she split with Paterson? Rothbard? Hospers? How she spoke of Hayek? How about how quick she always was to pronounce her worshippers experts in various intellectual and artistic fields, when they had yet to produce anything substantially original? I get what Doherty is trying to accompish — but the above quote is a flat-out lie.

  5. Rand’s actual standards, as the most cursory examination of non-ARI biographical material makes clear, were (i) sycophantic coddling of her whims and (ii) tight coordination in the vicious, divisive rhetoric that she used to obscure her frequent huge leaps in logic.

    I have no doubt that a most cursory examination of non-ARI biographical material would lead you to your conclusions.

  6. Really interesting article, Brian.

    J. Goard,

    Brian’s observation of: “her rigorous, systematic approach to the linkages between reason and liberty” is spot on and certainly not a “howler” as you claim. This is one of her premier contributions. Michael Huemer’s essay, “Critique of the Objectivist Ethics” that J. Goard cites as refutation to it, actually doesn’t even address the connection between reason and liberty!

  7. …Rand might not have liked my use of the word “contributions” in this context. 😉

    “Insights” is better.

  8. I wonder if Rand realized what a terrible novelist she was.

  9. Alan,

    The wild popularity of her novels and the adoration of tens of millions of fans the world over would have misled her. 😉

  10. Careful reader:

    Yeah, you got me. All I’ve ever read are Amazon featured reviews, Neil Peart’s 2112 dedication, and the photo captions in the middle of Barbara B’s Book of Blasphemy.

    Rick:

    The essay of Rand’s dissected by Huemer in that piece is ostensibly an objective definition of the good in terms of man’s life qua man, for which she held that reason occupied an essential place. Haven’t you ever played “concepts in a hat”? :->

    Huemer’s critique shows (without a doubt, to anyone with real devotion to rational argumentation) that perhaps the most pivotal essay in all of Randian nonfiction is a complete mess of equivocations between multiple senses of a word, false generalizations, unsupported and implausible empirical claims, and “argument from intimidation”. That this was Rand’s regular M.O. is what makes the quote laughable. So I’m sorry if I didn’t take on the quixotic task of seeking the separate, rigorous, Rand article connecting reason and liberty — perhaps Careful Reader has slowly located it for me — but I just assumed that she would have considered her supposed bridging of the Is-Ought Gap as crucial to the larger conection.

  11. J. Goard:

    I’m sorry if I didn’t take on the quixotic task of seeking the separate, rigorous, Rand article connecting reason and liberty.

    That’s ok. Actually, she made the case for the connection of reason and liberty in many of her writings so the task wouldn’t really be quixotic. It was just that you cited “Critique of the Objectivist Ethics” as a refutation to the idea even though the essay doesn’t address that idea. But that’s ok.

    BTW, Huemer is a skeptic coming from, at the time, a very similar position and using similar methodology and makes some good points. But sometimes in his critique, he is wildly off base concerning Rand’s intended meaning. Note this “howler” from his essay:

    “It is not true that positive action is never required to preserve a non-living thing’s existence. A cloud, for instance, must absorb more water in order to continue to exist.”

  12. Rick —

    Actually, she made the case for the connection of reason and liberty in many of her writings so the task wouldn’t really be quixotic.

    What does “the case for the connection of R and L” mean? Surely no one would question the existence of many links between the two phenomena. So I naturally interpreted the expression in a non-vapid sense that applies to Rand: the belief that from a certain conception of man’s life, with reason as its central value, we can conclude, in essence, that Galt’s oath constitutes the correct basis of social interaction. “The Objectivist Ethics” is most definitely relevant to this connection, which she never, ever, develops with anything bearing a passing resemblance to intellectual rigor. Instead, she gives many plausible conclusions (which many other thinkers have articulated before her) and defends them with ludicrously bad argumentation. Her “philosophy” is so popular first and foremost because many people have agreed with the force of her conclusions (as, in many cases, I do), and also because she was a natural at rhetorical obfuscation, having developed techniques for stigmatizing people, organizations, and methods (e.g., peer-reviewed journal publication) that would have applied rational dissection of her arguments.

    I really don’t want to get into a pissing contest here. I respect your knowledge and reasoning as I’ve come to understand it from a large number of threads. But I am well acquainted with most of Rand’s published work, and all of her major nonfiction, and I have a philosophy degree. And frankly, I would be astounded if you could find a Randian argument on the present subject that is not so full of logical errors, semantic equivocations, gross mischaracterizations of other thinkers, and curiosity-cowing insults as to make a critic’s head explode before he can decide where to begin. Unlike Rand, however, I am a curious thinker and enjoy being astounded, so I would greatly appreciate it if you would point me in the direction of, well, any significant argument on any subject that you believe to qualify as rigorous or even intellectually responsible.

  13. J. Goard,

    One example of the Radian connection between reason and liberty is that Rand posited that reason may be used to discern the individualism inherent in human nature and further used to conclude that the only social system consistent with that nature is minimal government. Going thru her writings to take up your challenge sounds like a worthy endeavor. If and when I do it (I probably will, it sounds fun), I will post back here and email you to let you know that I did. Perhaps others would like to take up your challenge as well.

    I’m not comfortable with your assertion that Rand wasn’t a curious thinker. It seems that to produce the analysis that she did, and in that great volume, she had to be curious enough to question the other modes of thought that she presented alternatives to. Although; that she lost her curiosity after she established her own system seems more tenable.

    Lastly, would you cite any critical responses to, “Critique of the Objectivist Ethics” that you are aware of? Please consider it a sincere compliment that I’m asking you for citations that are contra your argument.

  14. Lastly, would you cite any critical responses to, “Critique of the Objectivist Ethics” that you are aware of? Please consider it a sincere compliment that I’m asking you for citations that are contra your argument.

    Of course I take it that way and will do so. (Rand never would or could — sorry, couldn’t resist.)

    The only full rebuttal that I have read was amateurish and shrill, and (I believe) appended a second “A critique of-” to the begining of its title. I haven’t been able to easily google it, but I’ll try some more avenues tomorrow.

    (You should be wondering why Piekoff, Berliner, Schwartz, or Binswanger haven’t analyzed the argument. They must all be too busy.)

    There are more criticisms of Huemer’s “Why I Am Not an Objectivist”, and one that I read not too long ago which is particularly on the ethics section. (by Richard Lawrence.) We can go more deeply into this if you feel it’s sufficiently on-topic.

    I wish that there were more good arguments against Huemer, where I didn’t have to wade through the repeated charges of “insufficient context”
    (implying the impossible: that one would need to hold Objectivism as a whole before one’s mind in order to validly formulate a criticism.) They just don’t exist. Seriously, we’d do much better just to debate it on our own, and forget what believing Randians say to keep their fellows in the fold.

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