Over three decades ago, in 1982, I booked a private telephone consultation with an Objectivist philosopher (associated now with the Ayn Rand Institute) on reading The Romantic Manifesto, Ayn Rand’s classic non-fiction work on aesthetics. At 24, I was both an artist and an Objectivist.  A fine art major; I had taken several art history classes including contemporary art theory. At the time, I had just completed the painting Promethia, and even though it was a thematic work, I didn't understand how one objectively identifies a theme of an artwork. With that in mind, I was excited to be mentored by an Objectivist philosopher. In our consultation, he pointed to Willem Kalf's still life painting in the classic art history book, Gardner's Art Through the Ages. “How do I discover the theme?” I asked, genuinely. “The theme of this painting is malevolent because of the dark background!" was the swift and vociferous response. This was “obvious” -- i.e. self-evident -- he said.  No further reasoning or discussion was necessary. I ended the session and never consulted him again. Alas, I had yet to learn how themes work in painting. So I returned to what Ayn Rand herself had written. In the Romantic Manifesto she writes: “Now a word of warning about the criteria of esthetic judgment. A sense of life is          the source of art, but it is not the sole qualification of an artist or of an esthetician,             and it is not a criterion of esthetic judgment. Emotions are not tools of...
Recently I was invited by the esteemed author, economist, and professor Mark Skousen, to teach his business school class at Chapman University -- the topic: John Allison’s excellent book, The Leadership Crisis and the Free Market Cure. The class was part of Skousen’s course on “Libertarian CEOs.”  These include not just Allison, but also John Mackey of Whole Foods and Bill Bonner of Agora. All three of whom shared the stage with me in a panel moderated by Skousen at last year’s FreedomFest, the largest gathering of libertarians in the world. Mackey and Bonner are not Ayn Rand fans, but hey, nobody’s perfect.  John Allison and I are not just Ayn Rand fans, we subscribe to Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, and have practiced its principles throughout our lives and careers. John Allison was CEO of Branch Banking & Trust from 1986 to 2008 and during that time built the company’s assets from $4.5 billion to $152 billion, making it the tenth largest financial  holding company in America. No wonder Harvard Business Review named Allison one of the world’s top 100 CEOs. He was also named BB&T’s “Employee of the Month” 217 times. But what makes John’s leadership lessons and philosophy uniquely relevant to our times is the fact that his bank survived the crash of 2008 when other...
There was a time, when Ayn Rand’s new essays came out monthly and, as often as not, mentioned or enthusiastically recommended some writer or specific book, that her readers immediately tracked down every work by that writer. Mickey Spillane, Donald Hamilton, Ira Levin, Ian Fleming, and dozens more were added to the Objectivist canon as recommended reading. In fact, sometimes the only lead was the appearance of a new book for sale by the Nathaniel Branden Institute bookstore. I once ordered almost two dozen to be shipped to me at Brown University, where I was a sophomore. I am virtually certain that that did not happen in the case of the Polish Romantic novelist, Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916). In her essay, “Bootleg Romanticism,” available in The Romantic Manifesto, Ayn Rand promoted Sienkiewicz to the Pantheon: The (implicit) standards of Romanticism are so demanding that in spite of the abundance of Romantic writers at the time of its dominance, this school has produced very few pure, consistent Romanticists of the top rank. Among novelists, the greatest are Victor Hugo and Dostoevsky, and, as single novels (whose authors were not always consistent in the rest of their works), I would name Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Quo Vadis and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. That is called “making the shortlist.” Strangely, neither in that essay nor anywhere else, as far as I know, did Ayn Rand ever mention Sienkiewicz again. And yet, there is evidence that...
Because it is so titillating and provocative, Brown’s piece on Branden’s sexuality is the most memorable part of the opening section. Even its title—“Nathaniel Branden’s Oedipus Complex”—invites controversy. Brown is concerned with Branden’s memoir, Judgment Day: My Years with Ayn Rand. “I am,” she submits, “primarily interested in the narrative truth that Branden himself has constructed and how it lends itself to an oedipal interpretation.” Although Branden was a psychologist, or perhaps because he was one, Brown’s invocation of Freud seems both fitting and surprising. Freud, like Branden and Rand, was educated in philosophy. But Freud’s oedipal theories remain divisive and contested, not to mention opposed by both Branden and Rand. At least since Richard Webster’s publication of Why Freud Was Wrong in 1995, and probably much earlier, consensus among psychologists has held that Freud’s theories, many of them anyway, have been discredited. Yet Brown gives them full and unequivocal expression in her treatment of Branden. Having left behind the phallic stage, transfixed by an unconscious castration anxiety, aroused by his loving mother and threatened by her loyal closeness to his father, the sexualized developing male child, in Freud’s paradigm, represses his feelings towards his mother or transfers them onto another female, one who is more appropriate for pursuit. When he reaches puberty, his excited feelings for his mother are reanimated; if left unresolved, they can cause eventual...
This week, the opposition forces in Venezuela are still in the streets, struggling with government forces, to protest last week’s lurch of Socialist President Nicolas Maduro’s government toward dictatorship. Thousands of people blocked the main Caracas highway on April 6,  chanting "No more dictatorship!" It appeared that the demonstrators might march on the office of state “ombudsman,” the government's so-called “human rights advocate.” An opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, put it succinctly: "The human rights advocate has to stop being the Socialist Party advocate!" But government forces blocked the march, clashing with young protesters in a scene repeated over and over again in the past 15 years. Protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails and government forces fired tear gas. It appears that the opposition may continue its protests for now, but socialism in Venezuela is far advanced. Venezuela has triple-digit inflation, shortages of even basic foods and medicines, and one of the world's highest murder rates. For the record, the Maduro's government has said that a U.S.-backed business elite is responsible for the economic downturn, trying to foment a coup to impose right-wing rule. Just a week ago, it seemed official: The Socialist revolution begun in Venezuela less than two decades ago by the avowed Marxist, Hugo Chávez, has ended in dictatorship. The 34-member Organization of American States (OAS), to which Venezuela belongs, held an emergency meeting in Washington, DC,...

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