Is Ayn Rand Optional?

 Posted by on 12 October 2005 at 12:45 pm  Jim Valliant
Oct 122005

While preparing to interview James Valliant on the response to the publication of his book, The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, I spent some time reading what Valliant’s critics had to say. One of the most common responses from people who object to the book is that they simply aren’t interested in the biographical details of Ayn Rand’s life. They are “above” what they call “gossip” or “drama” or “personal trivia.” All they are interested in, they say, is the philosophy.

At first, I thought this was understandable. So long as they recognized that setting the historical record straight is a legitimate enterprise (something most of the critics do not in fact concede), there was no reason why an admirer of Objectivism would necessarily care about the issue one way or another.

Now I think that’s wrong. I think concern with Rand’s life and character follows directly from the principles of Objectivism, and that those who claim to be “above it” have either failed to integrate Objectivism into their lives and their souls, or they are just posturing.

Objectivism is not first and foremost an academic philosophy. It is, as Rand said, a philosophy for living on earth. Rand did not define a philosophy because she wanted to be a philosopher. She defined a philosophy because she cared desperately for human greatness, and wanted to portray her vision of the ideal man. The impetus for Objectivism, in other words, was hero-worship.

Hero-worship is not an optional value. It is an aspect of justice, and more importantly, it goes to the heart of what it means to be a valuer. Life requires that we constantly work to create and achieve values — but that is a long-range enterprise, demanding struggle and effort. To be able to endure that struggle and triumph, a valuer needs fuel. There are two basic sources for this fuel: art, and other men.

A valuer is on the constant lookout for human greatness, for human achievement. It is not enough for him to grasp that man’s life requires rationality. He longs to see men who embody that virtue. It is not enough for him to grasp that the moral is the practical. He has to see good men triumph.

So when a valuer encounters Objectivism, when he discovers history’s first true philosophical system, when he encounters that philosophy dramatized in some of the greatest novels ever written, he knows that behind those achievements lies someone of extraordinary virtue. Does he shrug that fact off as unimportant? No. He inevitably wants to know more about the person who embodied those virtues. If he does not, that is not a virtue, not a mark of maturity: it is an unequivocal vice (or, at the very least, an indication that he doesn’t take ideas seriously).

This is what makes the Brandens’ “biographies” so evil. They are not simply inaccurate: they represent a concerted attack on hero-worship as such. They pander to the mentality that searches frantically, not for heroes, but for feet of clay. In the past, I have described my own reaction upon reading Judgment Day when I was fifteen years old. It was a very painful, very ugly experience. Now, if it had represented the truth, that would be one thing, but as Valliant’s book proves, Judgment Day was dishonest in its method and its purpose. Its aim was to cut down one of history’s most heroic figures. Thanks to James Valliant, it will not succeed.

Justice demands that we recognize Rand for her historic achievements, yes. But it is our devotion to values, and philosophy, that demands that we be concerned with Rand’s life in the first place.

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