[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
That idea of hardships being good for character and of talent always being able to break through is an old fallacy. Talent alone is helpless today. Any success requires both talent and luck. And the luck has to be helped along and provided by someone. … Talent does not survive all obstacles. In fact, in the face of hardships, talent is the first one to perish; the rarest plants are usually the most fragile. Our present-day struggle for existence is the coarsest and ugliest phenomenon that has ever appeared on earth. It takes a tough skin to face it, a very tough one. Are talented people born with tough skins? Hardly. In fact, the more talent one possesses the more sensitive one is, as a rule. And if there is a more tragic figure than a sensitive, worthwhile person facing life without money I dont know where it can be found. …
[H]elp for young talent …. not only provides human, decent living conditions which a poor beginner could not afford anywhere else, but it provides that other great necessity of life: understanding. It makes a beginner feel that he is not, after all, an intruder with all the world laughing at him and rejecting him at very step, but that there are people who consider it worthwhile to dedicate their work to helping and encouraging him. Isn’t such an organization worthy of everyones support? … So many gamble on roulette, and slot machines, and horses. Why not gamble for a change on human beings and human futures?
Ayn Rand, in Letter to Marjorie Williams (18 June 1936); in Letters of Ayn Rand, pp. 31-33. (No, I dont know how to reconcile this with Rands claim in The Ethics of Emergencies that it is only in emergency situations that one should volunteer to help strangers. Just another case of good Rand, bad Rand.)
Note: I couldnt tag this post Rand without giving away the answer.
Ha! I got it right, but only because I wondered what the most surprising answer would/should be.
“Letter to Marjorie Williams (18 June 1936)”
The Ethics of Emergencies (February 1963)
I am beginning to see a pattern: “good Rand” is young Rand and “bad Rand” is old Rand.
After reading your post Philately: Who Needs It and reading Barbara Branden’s Ayn Rand: The Reluctant Feminist I have to check the date of anything with her name on it. If its after 1950 I just start to feel sad, as if I were reading the guarded confessions of a desperately lonely person.
There’s some truth to the young/good, old/bad thing with Rand — but there are complications. For example, the Nietzschean influence is also stronger in her early writings, so the stuff about the higher type of man being born with a whip in his hand, etc., is more pervasive.
Happily, we can choose whatever we like from the Rand Cafeteria and leave the screwy stuff behind.
Roderick, I’ve wondered – what is your opinion on the Neo-Objectivist movement? I found out about David Kelley a few years ago and am a little surprised that they aren’t better known. From what I’ve read, they sound like “good Rand” (to make the connection to this post).
I like David Kelley (despite a fair number of disagreements) and have recommended his book The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand. I’ve also given a couple of talks at his institute (The Atlas Society, formerly the Objectivist Center, even more formerly the Institute for Objectivist Studies), and they published my monograph Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand (currently out of print, alas).
But some of the people at that institute I’ve had more of a problem with, such as Robert Bidinotto, editor of their magazine, who thinks Charles and I are “scumbags” (see here and here).
There are a lot of good Randian or semi-Randian philosophers out there (some associated with Kelley, some not). I would name in particular Chris Sciabarra, Fred Miller, Lester Hunt, and Neera Badhwar.
Is “good Rand” the one who needed money?
Refresh me on what Rand doesn’t consider an emergency situation. She didn’t consider poverty as such — as I remember it.
Human beings being impoverished was a metaphysical fact of existence.
Wasn’t that her view?
You’re right that she didn’t consider poverty an emergency, but wrong that she considered it metaphysical, I believe.
I think “bad Rand” is the one that was hopped up on dexidrine or whatever mild diet-pill speed-lite she supposedly consumed a lot in later life, and “good Rand” is the Rand before that. Long-term consumption of uppers will mess you up.
I got it right the same way Robert Paul did. Whaddya know.
No wait, I remember: good Rand was the Dragon Reborn.
Unless it’s Iron Fist.
“Happily, we can choose whatever we like from the [insert thinker here] Cafeteria and leave the screwy stuff behind.”
That’s my general rule of thumb for every intellectual whose work I read.
Except me, of course!
Why, you don’t have any screwy stuff to throw out!
Oh, did I forget to type “present company excluded”? Silly me!
But Roderick, you don’t HAVE any screwy stuff to leave behind.
Rod, Thanks for including me in the good Randian or Semirandians (in my case it would be the latter). I agree that Rand is complex and you can’t say “early-good, late-not-so-good.” I would even say that the Nietszsche-influenced elements are not by any means all obnoxious (at least to me). One thing that she got from him is her notion of “man as a heroic being.” She more or less says that she got this one from him in unpublished parts of her biographical interview with Barbara Branden. And of course this idea is one thing that makes her (and Nietzsche, for that matter) attractive to a lot of us.
BTW, there will be a bunch of new research on AR and FN published this year, some by me and some by Stephen Hicks. Stay tuned!
Oh, I agree with you in liking a lot of the Nietzschean stuff; it was through Rand that I discovered Nietzsche. Of course Nietzsche has his good and bad sides too. (Aside to anyone interested in Nietzsche who hasn’t read Lester’s book Nietzsche and the Origin of Virtue — go read it!)
Man, what is a high school student to do with all these expensive book recommendations? 😛
1. Read Kinsella’s “Against Intellectual Property.”
2. Get creative.
There are two new books about Rand coming out this year — Anne Heller’s 800 page bio (Ayn Rand and the World She Made) and Jennifer Burn’s 390 page Godess of the Market.
As late as the notes for Atlas Shrugged Rand was speculating about the possibility that we rational types are living in the midst of semi-evolved humans.
And even later than that — it’s still in “The Missing Link” in PWNI. Though it’s hard to reconcile this with her views on volition.
Re the Heller and Burns books — I haven’t been able to find out much about them online; any info?
I am wary of declaring other people “semi-evolved”, but I have to admit we live in an age of immense stupidity…
Certainly, there is much potential to be realized in the human condition.
And I am not elevating myself to the status of a super-rational superman here.
Just saying humans still seem to have more than a few hang ups across the board ( :
I know nothing about the Burns’ book. As far as Heller’s book is concerned, it appears that she has been extremely thorough. I get the impression that she was denied access to Rand’s archives. I don’t know what “take” she will have on Rand. Neither Burns or Heller have been mentioned in the recent articles on Rand.
Is there really a need to reconcile charity for strangers and risk investment in worthwile people?
Well, yes, if the worthwhile people are strangers and the “investment” aspect is fairly nebulous.
>One thing that she got from him is her notion of “man as a heroic being.”
Ironically, Rand’s “Ethics of Emergencies” – which, it must be said, is an egregiousy argued piece of work – leads to disctinctly anti-heroic results ie that someone who risks their life to save a stranger is immoral(!)
Well, Rand is obviously going to challenge your assumption that heroism and altruism go together ….
>Well, Rand is obviously going to challenge your assumption that heroism and altruism go together ….
Oh, of course. But I’m challenging her (and her followers) to consider the consequences of her theories….;-)
As I say in my post: if saving someone else’s life at the risk of your own is immoral, and Objectivists must not evade passing judgement on immorality, then a man who saves a drowning child in a dangerous sea should be condemned by them.
Yet I have yet to see, say, the ARI issue press releases condemning such actions, despite the fact that they occur regularly and attract nationwide attention. In fact I can’t ever remember any Objectivist raising a ruckus about the immorality of such incidents – and indeed the psychologically damaged nature of the perpetrators! Why not, I wonder? Well, in addition to making them look kinda crazy to others – not that that should affect an Objectivist, natch – I suspect its probably because they themselves would feel deeply conflicted about following Rand’s pronouncements on this issue.
Just saw this discussion. Hard-core Objectivists are having a gala digging up random remarks by Rand that contradict her official position on helping others. (Of course, she also contradicts it when push comes to shove, for example, in her Playboy interview.) I remember when I was an Ob. sometimes feeling a pang of guilt at my urge to help others without first considering if it was in my interest to do so. Fortunately, hanging out with Ob. in NYC cured me of the worst of Objectivism.