“Islamic Philosophy: The Good, the Bad, and the Dangerous” is a two-part lecture about the philosophical roots of Islamic terrorism. I gave these lectures at The Atlas Society’s Summer Seminar in 2004. They were my homage to the victims of 9/11.
For everyone who witnessed the event, September 11, 2001, stands out as a moment in memory. I remember almost every detail of that day. I was in an early meeting that morning in our office in Poughkeepsie, NY. When I came out, the receptionist showed the photo of a plane hitting the north tower of the World Trade Center. The plane looked tiny—I thought it was a civil aviation accident—and I went into another meeting. When I came out, the second plane had hit and we all knew it was war.
I sensed that this was the most significant, world-changing event I would experience in my life, with the possible exception of the fall of the Soviet Union. I worked late into the night thinking and researching, and by the next day I knew the essence of the event: It was an assault on civilization—and specifically an act motivated by what Ayn Rand called “the hatred of the good for being good.” I wrote my analysis and we published it September. 13: “The Assault on Civilization.”
But it’s one thing to grasp the moral essence of an event. It’s another thing to understand what lay behind it. As an Objectivist, I believe that philosophical ideas...
Read Article : Islamic Philosophy
Human Action - Part 6
Early in Atlas Shrugged, Dagny and her then-lover Hank Rearden, the brilliant and hardworking founder and head of Rearden Metal, decided to take a vacation together. Rand took pains to point out that neither Dagny nor Rearden were the type to feel entitled to a vacation. Rearden mentioned that he’d last vacationed five years ago. Dagny recollected she’d vacationed last three years ago. Neither Dagny nor Rearden would have expected on their travels to learn, passively, “something of human affairs” that they didn’t already know. They certainly wouldn’t have wanted to become part of the scenery. In Rand’s benevolent universe, the world was there to be acted upon by the rational, self-interested mind, not the other way around. Yet, there was an element of abandonment as the lovers decided to set off on a road trip that Monday morning. It wouldn’t be their work or their identity that they abandoned however. They would abandon, for a little while, the problems The Equalization of Opportunity Bill was causing for them and devote themselves instead to the pleasure of being completely themselves in the company of someone who loved and appreciated who they were.
The road trip was a remarkable interlude of joy in a tense, embattled plot, and a lighthearted tribute to the romance of the active life. Rand began the account with one of her lyrical descriptions of nature, albeit from the point of view of the windshield of a moving car:
The earth went flowing...
Read Article : What Irony Replaced: Henry James, Ayn Rand, and American Romanticism Part 6
Part 5 - Human Passivity
A second critical difference that sheds light on the divergent universes of Henry James and Ayn Rand is how they conceived human action.
Henry James made his most famous statement about life and human action in The Ambassadors:
Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t so much matter what you do in particular so long as you have your life. If you haven’t had that what have you had? . . . I haven’t done so enough before—and now I’m too old; too old at any rate for what I see. . . . What one loses one loses; make no mistake about that. . . . Still, we have the illusion of freedom; therefore don’t be, like me, without the memory of that illusion. I was either, at the right time, too stupid or too intelligent to have it; I don’t quite know which. Of course at present I’m a case of reaction against the mistake. . . . Do what you like so long as you don’t make my mistake. For it was a mistake. Live!
In The Ambassadors, (1903), James told the story of Lambert Strether. Strether undertook a trip to Paris to bring Chad Newsome home to Boston to resume his successful career in advertising. Ironically, under the influence of impeccable European manners, Strether exhorted Newsome to abandon his career and stay in Europe. Throughout the novel, James explicitly stated his disdain for the active life. For example, early in the novel, Maria Gostrey, a guide to all things European, and Lambert Strether, the weary American in need of...
Read Article : What Irony Replaced: Henry James, Ayn Rand, and American Romanticism Part 5
Ayn Rand was not the only great “mother” of the modern liberty philosophy. Isabel Patterson and Rose Wilder Lane have also been recognized for their intellectual contributions. But ideas don’t enact themselves, and other extraordinary women have been essential architects of the movement itself, especially one who deserves to take a place among that pantheon: the late Andrea Millen Rich.
At the age of 79, Andrea died last week at her home in Philadelphia after a long battle with lung cancer.
For nearly half a century, she had a profound influence on the growth of the libertarian movement, and on the countless individuals she befriended, mentored and supported. I was honored to be among them. She consistently went out of her way to help so many, including myself, bring out our best.
Andrea was actively involved with the Libertarian Party from its inception. She was president of Laissez-Faire Books for almost 25 years. She hired the brilliant polymath Roy Childs to edit the Laissez-Faire catalog, which became the monthly journal of the freedom movement. The LF locations in New York City and San Francisco were gathering places for freedom-lovers; I never missed a chance to visit when I was in town. And that’s only to mention a few of her many projects.
There are others who can speak more fully to Andrea’s achievements. I can only share a few memories of my experience with her as a microcosm of her larger impact.
In the fall of 1988, I was invited to speak at the Laissez-Faire...
Read Article : In Memory of Andrea Rich
Part Four - Smart Money
The Portrait of a Lady is considered the greatest novel by one of the greatest novelists in the English language, even though it is difficult not to see in the novel condescension and even outright mockery of Americans and American business and industry. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, on the other hand, defended American business and industry. The novel told the story of Dagny Taggart, a woman who fought to keep her railroad away from looters and who finally destroyed it rather than relinquish it to them, a woman who never lost her innocence, who found love, and who resolved to build a new railroad. In contrast to The Portrait of a Lady, Atlas Shrugged is considered absurd, awful, heartless, elitist, immoral, and of course, badly written.
Ayn Rand knew the value of money. Born Alisa Rosenbaum, into an upper middle-class family in St. Petersburg, Russia, Rand was the daughter of a chemist. The family enjoyed all the benefits of wealth he earned from his pharmacy business. As a child, Ayn Rand attended school, received instruction in French and German from private tutors, and read every book and magazine that made its way into the household. While still a child she decided to become a writer. She became enamored of The Mysterious Valley, a romantic adventure serialized in a French children’s magazine. Had circumstances remained the same, it is possible to imagine Ayn Rand growing up to be a more purely Romantic novelist....
Read Article : What Irony Replaced: Henry James, Ayn Rand, and American Romanticism Part 4