I recently finished listening to the entire set of Ayn Rand’s lectures to the Ford Hall Forum. Although most of those lectures are reprinted elsewhere, I cannot recommend this collection highly enough.
In listening to these lectures, many of which contain Q&A sessions, I got to spend nearly 23 hours with Ayn Rand. Although I’ve seen/heard various interviews with her and heard her answer questions for some of Leonard Peikoff’s lecture courses, I’ve never had a full dose before. It was a wondrous delight.
Even though I was familiar with many of the lectures in essay form, Ayn Rand’s tone and emphasis added richness to the bare words on the page. (I also like consuming intellectual material in both written and audio formats, as I find that I glean new insights from each.) The reactions of the audience to Ayn Rand’s sharp rhetorical points are also absent from the printed page. As periodic lectures in chronological order, the set was something of a lesson in the modern political history of America. Ayn Rand’s clarity of thought, passionate commitment to ideas, and respect for her audience were evident in her answers to questions.
Ayn Rand’s first two lectures, “The Intellectual Bankruptcy of Our Age” and “America’s Persecuted Minority: Big Business,” were particularly well-suited to her (initially) liberal audience. So I decided to listen to them with my pre-Ayn Rand high school ears.
In many ways, I was so very ripe for Objectivism in high school: I was committed to reason and to individualism, albeit in a clumsy way. I was a life-long atheist seeking a better morality than the watered-down Christianity of secular humanism. I had no altruistic impulses, nor altruistic guilt. However, I was also a committed liberal. I even bordered on socialism at times. I had no understanding of capitalism whatsoever; if anything, I associated it with the corrupt dictatorships of Latin America. I was also completely ignorant of the economics and history of socialism; I thought that it would bring the sort of wealth and prosperity that we enjoy in the United States to all (!!).
So in listening to these two lectures, as well as the somewhat later “What is Capitalism?” lecture, I tried to put myself in my own past shoes, to gauge how I would have reacted to these lectures had I heard them in high school.
Without a doubt, I would have been completely and totally blown away. My liberalism would have been destroyed forever in just fifty minutes. My trek to Objectivism would have only been a matter of time. I must admit, that very much surprised me. (It was a discovery worth the price of the lectures, I think.)
As smaller gems, all of the questions that Ayn Rand answered year after year on abortion finally helped me understand why she placed so much emphasis on abortion rights. He answers to the always-asked questions about the Libertarians were also illuminating, although usually quite brief. In one of the later lectures, she spoke about how they stole her ideas, ripped them from their philosophic foundation, and then attacked her more viciously than anyone else. She discussed the primitive subjectivism underlying their advocacy of liberty. She also mentioned the danger of being associated with “cranks,” which reminded me of this excellent post by the now-more-noumenal-than-ever Noumenal Self.
Her final lecture on “The Age of Mediocrity” struck a very contemporary chord, in that she spoke at length on the long-term danger posed by Ronald Regan’s embrace of religion, despite some likely short-term economic and foreign policy gains. (Sound familiar?)
Finally, I should say that those who wish for some small first-hand glimpse of the real Ayn Rand, undistorted by ax-grinding critics, will find these lectures to be an invaluable treasure.