Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ayn Rand, Romanticism and Napoleon

The recent publication of new biographies of Rand prompts me to express some thoughts about her and her status, or perhaps I should say etiology.

Like so many, I read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and was impressed by them on first reading.  I was, however, an adolescent at that time.  I was also impressed by the works of Nietzsche in those days.  Now, though....

She chose to call her philosophy "Objectivism."  She seemed to consider herself something of a realist. But, I think of her as being very much in the Romantic tradition.  There is something Napoleonic about her fictional characters (although Napoleon would never have had the time or the patience to indulge in the lectures her characters indulge in, all too often) and the legend of Napoleon, if not the man himself after his youth, was a Romantic creation.  She doesn't just favor the individual and expound the importance of individual rights--she glorifies the individual, who is unvariably a genius of some kind in her fiction.

Her vision is a very unrealistic vision, I think.  Wisdom involves the rational acknowledgement of  limitations.  This doesn't mean the unthinking acceptance of them, but a recognition that they exist.  To deny their existence is stupidity, and ultimately is of no benefit; one must know a problem in order to solve it, and solving it may involve cooperation with others.  Goethe, if I recall correctly, said of Napolean that he was as intelligent as a man can be without wisdom, and as great as a man can be without virtue. For all his ability, he cannot be said to have been great benefactor of humanity.  That seems to me a fair description of the Randian Ideal Person.  Rand was a Romantic, and Romantics are not known for their thinking.  Philosophy involves more than chest-pounding.

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