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Naivete, Idealism Mar Ayn Rand's Philosophy

FOR THE NEW INTELLECTUAL: The PHILOSOPHY OF AYN RAND by Ayn Rand. Random House, Inc. 242 pp. $3.95.

In her preface to For the New Intellectual, Ayn Rand writes: "I am often asked whether I am primarily a novelist or a philosopher. The answer is: both." All novelists are philosophers to some degree; but as her new book most conclusively demonstrates, very few of them philosophize as much or as openly as does Miss Rand.

For the New Intellectual presents the major philosophical passages from Ayn Rand's four novels, Atlas Shrugged. The Fountain-head, Anthem, We the Living. It is prefaced by a 60-page, non-fiction introduction which summarizes her beliefs. Miss Rand's writing occasionally lapses into a somewhat offensive pomposity ("I offer the present book as a lead for those who wish to gain an integrated existence"), and certain portions combine in one volume a great many interesting ideas, which, taken together, have intrigued many contemporary thinkers.

Essentially, her philosophy champions the cause of reason and freedom against what she describes as "the long night" of faith and force. Her hero is Aristotle, who she feels, was the first man to lay down the principles of a rational view of life and to accept the existence of an objective, external reality. The sort of thinking she does not like is typified by the platonic system, with its reduction of the physical world to a mere illusory shadow.

The basic axioms of "objectivism" as Miss Rand aptly calls her new philosophy, are sufficiently tame; it is only when she builds on these and divides all men into two pat categories--those who fear and those who accept reality--that her system becomes interesting. Of the "fearing" man Miss Rand's two archetypes are Attila and the Witch Doctor: "the man of muscle and the man of feelings, both seeking to exist without mind." Against these symbols of faith-and-force she pits the Producer: "any man who works, and knows what he's doing."

From these premises Miss Rand derives an elaborate glorification of the capitalist system in general and the businessman in particular. "Capitalism demands the best of every man--his rationality--and rewards him accordingly," she proclaims. "Success depends on the objective value of work." Her praise of the entrepreneur is sometimes quite staggering: he is a man who "takes pride in his work and in the value of his work and in the value of his product--who drives himself with inexhaustible energy and limitless ambition to do better and still better and ever better--who is willing to bear penalties for his mistakes and expects rewards for his achievements--who looks at the universe with the fearless eagerness of a child, knowing it to be intelligible--who demands straight lines, clear terms, precise definitions--who stands in full sunlight and has no use for the murky fog of the hidden, the secret, the unnamed, the furtively evocative, for any code of signals from the psycho-epistemology of guilt."

According to Miss Rand capitalism today is taunted by various impurities, and it is from this pollution that all the apparent evils in the system stem. To be objective, businessmen must be free. And to be free, business must be daring, cutthroat, and laissez-faire. As far as Miss Rand is concerned, any from of government control, no matter how slight, is too much.

But what, it might be asked, do businessmen have to do with the intellectuals? The function of a businessman, in Miss Rand's scheme of existence, is to distribute to the general public the technical advances discovered in the scientist's laboratory. In an analagous manner, the intellectual must keep before the people the latest philosophic ideas on human existence. Businessmen and intellectuals then, are middlemen in the ideal free-enterprise system.

All this would be fine if it were working properly. But the great contention of Miss Rand's book is that it is not. Ever since the encroachment of eighteenth and nineteenth century mistrust of the infallibility of pure reason (Kant is not very popular with Miss Rand: "those who accept any part of Kant's philosophy deserve it"), the intellectuals have sold out the rest of the world's producers, primarily the businessman. America today, she feels, is culturally bankrupt, a country without any intellectual leadership. It must be the duty of the new intellectuals (i.e., "any man or woman who is willing to think.") to lead America out of this cultural vacuum, back to Miss Rand's rationalistic, self-interest dominated society where men "deal with one another as traders, by voluntary exchange to mutual benefit."

Understandably, For the New intellectual explains only in the most general terms how this feat is to be accomplished. Miss Rand does, however, list two general principles by which her "intellectual Renaissance" must be brought about--"that emotions are not tools of cognition" and that "no man has the right to initiate the use of physical force against others." The first of these is fully consistent with the basic axioms of "objectivism." The second is presumably a product of Miss Rand's high opinion of personal freedom, but it seems strange that men should be able to cut one another's throats economically but not physically.

Miss Rand's philosophy encompasses much more than economics, but the fallacies evident in her economic dabblings are probably representative of the weakness plaguing her philosophy as a whole. Miss Rand is, ironically enough, over-idealistic. Her book reasons its way from assumption to answer, without a quaver. But the assumptions do not match up with reality, and the answers are easier to discuss than to execute. Woman's place is in the home