Ayn’s Vision

Philosophy by Adam on 2007-06-05 02:31

Many people see Ayn Rand as a symbol of libertarianism. For some libertarians, she’s a hero. For many libertarian detractors, she’s the perfect target: a heroine of libertarian thought, but also a total nutjob.

She’s never really been a hero for me, but I certainly acknowledge that she was the visionary who spurred the revolution of libertarian thought in the middle of the last century. I think “visionary” is a term worth inspecting here. Normally it’s used in a positive sense, but the first definition which appears in my dictionary is “given to or characterized by fanciful, not presently workable, or unpractical ideas, views, or schemes.” Hardly praise, put that way.

Visionaries are people who take out-of-the-box thinking to an extreme. They imagine possibilities far beyond what normal creativity would produce. Most of the time they are ignored, because their ideas are flights of fantasy with no connection to reality. But sometimes, the vision is a useful one: something distant, yes, but theoretically achievable. Something that hints at a grand long-term solution to a current and seemingly intractable problems of life, business, or culture.

A vision is not a plan or a roadmap. Its only practical purpose is to inspire. Rand’s visions were thought-provoking for all, and deeply inspiring for some. Many of those people went on to lay down the practical foundation for the philosophy of libertarianism. This philosophy is inspired by Rand’s works, but does not rely on them for any supporting evidence or logic.

Thus the duality is resolved. Yes, Rand was a bit nutty - all visionaries are. You have to be, I think, to produce thinking that far outside the box. (Consider the lives Newton or Einstein. Or, on a much smaller scale but closer to home, Steve Jobs.)

I’m not a visionary, but I do have visions: dreams. (The kind that come while you’re sleeping, not the I-want-to-grow-up-to-be-an-astronaut kind.) Dreams cause me to wake up inspired to try an unusual angle in one of my ventures, some angle I never would have thought of during the ordered, rational thought of my waking hours. Many times these ideas prove to be logically inconsistent or outright unworkable. But sometimes they prove useful inspiration which leads me to an idea that is extremely worthwhile. Perhaps a whole new direction for one of my ventures, be it a business, a Burning Man project, music production, etc.

Critiquing Rand as a way to attack libertarianism is like critiquing my dreams. Of course they don’t make sense; they’re dreams. But if they serve as a gestation point for what may blossom into good ideas, then we can appreciate them for what they are. We can respect Rand’s pioneering work, without considering her to be an architect of modern libertarian thought.

Post a comment

Enter your comment (some HTML allowed)