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Corey Robin, in "Garbage and Gravitas" [June 7], quotes some important Ayn Rand passages, but his critique raises ad hominem to a new level: Rand favored some classical composers over others and preferred operetta to opera, so her ideas are invalid.
More shocking is this argument: Ayn Rand held that whether you live or die is of fundamental importance to you, and Adolf Hitler held that whether the state "lives" or "dies" is of fundamental importance to you, so Rand and Hitler are the same. We are asked to equate Hitler with the modern era’s greatest defender of the individual’s right to his own life. Rand, the creator of a morality based on one’s life as one’s ultimate value and reason as one’s only guide is equated with the anti-individual, obedience-demanding, death-worshiping Nazi ideology.
How about responding to Rand’s arguments, for key Objectivist tenets, notably: reason is man’s only means of knowledge, reason is man’s means of survival, the choice to think or not is the locus of man’s free will, rational thought cannot be coerced, man’s life as a rational being is the standard of morality, rationality is man’s primary virtue, individual rights are moral principles of social interaction following from the preceding.
Robin quotes criticism by Sidney Hook that mistakes Rationalism for Objectivism. Objectivism holds that all knowledge is based, directly or indirectly, on sensory observation. The role of axioms, such as A is A, is not to provide premises for some Rationalist deduction but rather to ground methods of inference and norms of cognition. "Axiomatic concepts are epistemological guidelines" (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology). Because A is A, modus ponens is valid. Because contradictions can’t exist, we must check our conclusions for consistency: "No concept man forms is valid unless he integrates it without contradiction into the total sum of his knowledge" (Atlas Shrugged).
Rather than rely on dubious anecdotes about Rand’s personal life, a serious intellectual would investigate her nonfiction and consult the best of the secondary literature by philosophy professionals.
"Far from needing explanation, Rand’s success explains itself." So why does Corey Robin, through five pages of sneering vitriol, feel the need to "explain" her to us? This is trying too hard, which makes one wonder what he’s trying to hide from us, or himself.
I’ll pass over the patently silly insinuations of a connection between Rand and fascism; that kind of smear was perfected by Whittaker Chambers (and discredited) long ago. Instead, on to the real issues: