[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
Tom Knapp’s remark yesterday that “[t]he big problem with [Ayn] Rand was that over time she made it a point to isolate herself from anyone and everyone who demonstrated the kind of character that might lead them to run up the bullshit flag on her when necessary” reminded me of a critical remark made about abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison by one of his contemporaries. I can’t remember the author or the exact wording and I haven’t been able to find it online (anyone out there recognise it? I believe I heard it quoted on a Knowledge Products tape, one of a batch that I unwisely lent to a friend years ago and never recovered), but it does an excellent job of summing up a dynamic that is evident not just with Garrison or Rand but with all too many other intellectual leaders. It went something like this:
“How to Create a Pope: Find someone in whom the habit of having been often correct in many things has prepared him to be convinced that he is always correct in all things, and bombard him with praise in these matters until you have succeeded in helping him so convince himself.”
On an unrelated note, I recently came across an autobiographical sketch of Rose Wilder Lane that I hadn’t seen before, apparently done as part of some 1930s WPA project.
The posts abour Rand just keep coming! Another excellent analysis.
I was struck by the same pattern in the life of Sigmund Freud. He surrounded himself almost entirely with younger disciples who believed implicitly in his brilliance, and they generated a tight little circle of self-reinforcing belief. And then some of them started to question his ideas and he drove them out for incorrect thinking. It all makes me think Nietzsche was on to something when he had Zarathustra tell his disciples, “Only when you have all rejected me will I return to you.” Disciples are a terribly corrupting influence on a thinker, especially a thinker who has innovative ideas.
There is a brief, but interesting, mention of Rand and her “retinue” of “sycophants” in Bennett Cerf’s memoirs, At Random
Yeah . . . reminds me of my boss too. Why is this such a temptation for brilliant people to put being called “right” ahead of intellectual progress? Because they can get away with it. My diagnosis: it’s mundane, straightforward immaturity.