Sunday, September 18, 2011

Objectivism and the Amount of Loyalty

There are three things in this world that I love without reservation and I am intensely loyal to: my wife and daughter, Ancient Athens, and Objectivism.

A hallmark of an Objectivist is his loyalty to values. Leonard Peikoff wrote:
The most eloquent badge of the authentic Objectivist is his attitude toward values. An Objectivist is not primarily an academic or a political activist. In his soul, he is essentially a moralist—what Ayn Rand herself called “a valuer.”
All serious Objectivists should have a great deal of loyalty not just to Objectivism as a philosophy, but to Objectivism as an intellectual movement. We should be loyal not out of “duty to the cause”, but because the Objectivist intellectual movement is a crucial value in our lives.

Of course, the Objectivist movement is an expression of an abstract, indestructible, eternally true philosophy, and that philosophy would be true even if the movement attempting to express it did not live up to it. If the Objectivist movement were a weak expression of the Objectivist philosophy, one might well argue that an Objectivist should still be loyal to the movement, but regretfully loyal, because, weak as it is, it’s the best we have.

But the situation is not like that. It’s much, much better. The Objectivist movement is strong, clean, healthy, vital, despite the fact that it exists in an utterly toxic cultural atmosphere. The Ayn Rand Institute is an accurate, loyal expression of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. The quality of its intellectuals is high. It speaks with a clear, firm, proud voice. Objectivists know where it stands – and so does everybody else.

The quality of an intellectual movement is determined by the quality of its leaders. The reason that the Objectivist movement is so healthy is that its leadership has been so good. In Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, and Yaron Brook, the Objectivist movement has been blessed with superlative leadership, leadership so good that nothing more could be wished for or asked.

It didn’t have to be this way. However immortal their names, these leaders are not marble statues. They could have very easily sold out. They could have followed the well worn path of least resistance to an easy life of personal mediocrity and mainstream cultural acceptance: each of them well knew that if they would conform to the intellectual establishment, they would be welcomed with open arms. There is no lack of examples of intellectuals who have done exactly that: Ayn Rand could have been Kant-Picasso, Peikoff could have been Branden, Brook could have been Greenspan.

Ayn Rand knew this. After many years of hard, unrewarded writing, while she was struggling financially, Ayn Rand made this point in a personal letter:
“If I were a defender of Communism, I'd be a Hollywood millionaire-writer by now, with a swimming pool and a private orchestra to play the Internationale.”
Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, and Yaron Brook did not have to choose to climb the alpine path of their own greatness and personal happiness, but they did, twenty-four hours a day, all the way down, their entire lives, without the slightest reservation, hesitation, wavering, or contradiction.

Doesn’t virtue of that kind – and the intellectual movement that is the cultural expression of it – deserve a great deal of loyalty?

Of course, loyalty does not mean blind agreement. For that matter, loyalty does not mean rational, thoughtful agreement. Loyalty is not about agreement. One can disagree with a person on a great many concrete issues, such as the estimate of a book, movie, or political candidate, and still maintain deep, steadfast respect and loyalty for that person.

When we think of a man as being loyal to a friend, brother, or wife, we are not thinking of whether or not he agrees with them on concrete issues. When we think of an Objectivist being loyal to Objectivism we should not focus on whether or not he agrees with a particular Objectivist leader on a particular set of concrete issues, even if those issues are important. Of course there will be disagreements on concretes, even among the most illustrious champions of the good. There always have been. The Founding Fathers disagreed with each other intensely about the issues of their day, but they were all steadfastly loyal to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and their country – and look what that loyalty accomplished.

To be loyal is not to agree with, but to value. To be loyal to the Objectivist intellectual movement is to value it.

Valuing can take various forms. One obvious form of valuing Objectivism is to donate money to the Ayn Rand Institute when your financial situation makes that selfish. Another is to defend or advocate Objectivism publicly, if and when the context is appropriate. Another is to avoid any kind of sanction of anyone who attacks Ayn Rand or Objectivism.

Other forms are less obvious. Suppose there is a loyal Objectivist intellectual who does good work that is fully in fidelity with Objectivism, but whom you dislike personally. Despite your personal evaluation, you should maintain public loyalty to him because he is fighting a battle upon which all of our lives depend. No one would personally like every American soldier who fought in World War II, but we should all maintain loyalty to all of those soldiers. Loyalty to someone you dislike is counter-intuitive, but it is a requirement of rational selfishness when that person is fighting for a cause you value.

Another form of loyally valuing a person that should be extended to the Objectivist leadership is to automatically bring to bear a principled positive background assessment of that person against the inevitable hearsay criticism that all good people face at some time or another. Loyalty demands that one always defend the people one values against such criticism, in both private and public contexts, as a matter of course.

As part of their loyalty to Objectivism, Objectivists should be loyal not just to Ayn Rand’s art and philosophy, to the movement’s leadership, and to the Institute, they should also be loyal to each other.

It is easy to be a mainstream conformist; it takes work to engage in serious, philosophical rebellion. Being an Objectivist makes life better – radically better – but, it the midst of a hostile culture, being an Objectivist does not make life easier. A serious Objectivist must be deeply committed to practicing first-handed intellectual non-conformity all the way down, twenty four hours day, for life. Living by the philosophy of Objectivism is joyful, but the cost of that joy is intellectual dedication, persistence, patience, and grit. Virtue of that kind deserves respect.

It’s easy to forget this fact, to forget to give each other the loyalty that we have earned. It is particularly easy to forget this during disagreements regarding current cultural events, especially every two years at election time.

Objectivists take ideas seriously, which means they want to see those ideas enacted in concrete reality, not kept under glass in a museum. This tends to make Objectivists passionate about their political views, which is a good thing. And every Objectivist knows all-too-well how debased our posterity has become, and at what a pathetically low level of quality all discussions of cultural and political issues with today’s intellectual mainstream have necessarily descended to.

As a result, we have picked up the habit of routinely discussing politics in an atmosphere of extreme lack of respect for the opposing viewpoint. Given the state of today’s culture, this habit is very understandable, almost inevitable. But Objectivists should not discuss their political differences with each other in the same manner we are necessarily forced to discuss them with members of today’s intellectual mainstream. The context is totally different, therefore the style of the conversation should be different.

An Objectivist should have the highest possible level of respect when discussing political differences with another Objectivist. Each side of the discussion should always assume the best motives and premises on the part of the other, with background assumption always being that the differences on the issue at hand are not one of principle, but merely the detailed application of principle.

Once one makes an explicit decision to drop the unfortunate mindset one tends to acquire from continual interaction with such a low quality mainstream culture, this sort of loyalty becomes easy. It becomes easy – it becomes enjoyable – to have lively but polite political disagreement with someone one respects. The emotional tone of a conversation can be much lighter when both sides of the issue have clean premises, when neither side need be cautious to not sanction evil. Even if no resolution to the issue at hand is reached, the worst that happens is that each side walks away understanding his own viewpoint more thoroughly, having enjoyed a vigorous intellectual discourse with an honorable adversary. Why should Objectivists allow today’s rotten mainstream to cause us to miss out on this pleasure?

And it becomes even easier to disagree when one considers the sacred importance of the issues we agree on – this-worldliness, rationality, selfishness, man-worship – as compared to the fundamental unimportance of the issues we may disagree on. There is so little to choose from in any given election. If Objectivists were somehow, in some fiction-like way, put in charge of deciding between the two candidates in every election, consistently choosing the better of two hopeless “alternatives” wouldn’t come close to reversing the decline of this country. The point of Ayn Rand’s philosophy is to rewrite the menu to include healthy options, not to make a choice between spoiled chicken and rotting beef. When we argue over the differences between two of today’s candidates, we are not arguing over much.

With so little at stake, and so much of such sacredness agreed on, surely Objectivists can set aside our minor differences and maintain loyalty to the crucial, life-affirming fundamental values we share with each other. Isn’t the universe benevolent? Hasn’t Ayn Rand already made the world a much better place? Isn’t it wonderful to have so many people to agree with on so much of such importance?

Ayn Rand, her art and her philosophy, the Objectivist movement’s leadership, the Institute, its intellectuals, and the rank and file of the Objectivist movement are all unique, superlative values. We should make it a special point of pleasure to always practice a great deal of loyalty to them. We should be loyal to Objectivism for the same reason that Rearden was loyal to Rearden metal: because Objectivism is good.

No comments:

Post a Comment