Ayn Rand: Bourgeois Individualist ?!?

 Posted by on 23 April 2004 at 12:32 pm  Uncategorized
Apr 232004

Adam Reed offers a scathing critique of Roger Donway’s latest Navigator article, Fortress Americanism. My particular interest in it should be apparent from the first paragraph, for there Reed writes that Donway’s article is an exemplar of my general claim that “(TOC) minimizes the importance of the wide range of insights, applications, principles, methods, arguments, and logical connections found in the full and rich system of philosophy developed by Ayn Rand.” In this case, additional phrases like “ignores,” “misunderstands,” and “contradicts” are also quite apt.

Before examining Adam Reed’s critique, I did carefully read Roger Donway’s article. I found it extraordinarily mushy and muddled. Still, after wading through all the confusion, I found much to doubt and much to reject. The central questions of the article did not even makes sense:

Should we welcome this influence [of ideas from abroad on judicial decisions], as we welcome the vitality and fresh perspectives that certain immigrants bring to our economy? Or should we fight against this influence, as we fight against the tribalist and statist ideas that certain immigrants bring to our politics?

Augh, so much wrong packed into so few words! The presumption of these two questions is that the national origin of ideas ought to be regarded as somehow relevant to our response to them. But why should that be? Rational people are concerned with the truth or falsehood of the ideas they encounter, not with irrelevancies like being home grown or imported from abroad. They do not adopt one strategy for fighting domestic ideological disasters and other for fighting foreign ones. Yet such is what Donway recommends in the conclusion of the article:

Those who believe in America’s Enlightenment philosophy should not fight these internationalists with the simple-minded doctrine that Americans must not listen to foreigners. We should not erect an ideological Fortress America that keeps out European ideas simply because they are European. But we do need to man the ramparts of an ideological Fortress Americanism that keeps out ideas alien to the philosophy of liberty on which our country was founded.

The twisted ideas about liberty promoted by “internationalists” who look to Europe for guidance are not fundamentally different from those developed and promoted by American intellectuals. All varieties can and ought to be fought on philosophic principle as deeply wrong and dangerous, not superficially hen-pecked as antithetical to our American traditions.

I could say more, but let me instead quickly summarize Adam Reed’s more philosophic analysis of the article. In essence, Adam argues that Donway’s philosophic arguments constitute “an attempt to disinter and resurrect the zombie of an old dichotomy between ‘bourgeois individualism’ and ‘romantic individualism’” which “Rand killed and buried by presenting a new, integrated, coherent vision of individualism in The Fountainhead.” Although I don’t know much about the intellectual history that Adam cites, my sense is that his philosophic analysis is correct. Ayn Rand was not, as Donway claims, an advocate of “an extremely bourgeois concept of liberty.” (Really, the mind boggles at such a claim. In no way could Roark or any of Ayn Rand’s other heroes be aptly described as a “bourgeois individualists.”)

I won’t say more by way of summary here, as I think Adam argues his case well. If you are at all interested, you should simply go read the article and the critique.

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