For the New Intellectual
by Ayn Rand

Review by Edward Tanguay
July 27, 1997

realAudio.gif (1544 bytes)Look at the moral atmosphere of today. Everything enjoyable, from cigarettes to sex to ambition to the profit motive, is considered depraved or sinful. Just prove that a thing makes men happy--and you've damned it. That's how far we've come. We've tied happiness to guilt. And we've got mankind by the throat. Throw your first-born into a sacrificial furnace--lie on a bed of nails--go into the desert to mortify the flesh--don't dance--don't go to the movies on Sunday--don't try to get rich--don't smoke--don't drink. . . . Kill the individual. Kill man's soul. The rest will follow automatically.

Ayn Rand is reacting against the "grayness, the stale cynicism, the noncommittal cautiousness, the guilty evasiveness of our public voices." She likens society to that of the story "The Emperor's New Clothes." We each realize that something is wrong with our weak morality but noone does anything about it. We have all been physically beaten into place by the strong men of the world and morally beaten into place by the moralists of the world. Now we are walking around "with the whining injunctions that we must love everything" unafraid to judge, act, or be certain, "going through life in a state of unfocused stupor, merely repeating the words and the motions we learned from others."

Her analogies and metaphors make this book easy to understand. The Witch-Doctor-and-Atilla world view gets quite a bit of mileage in explaining world events both past and present. Basically Atilla represents the strong man who usurps power by force and the Witch Doctor represents he who gains power by making people believe that their souls are weak. Atilla and the Witch Doctor need each other and work together to suppress the rest of the mass:

While Attila extorts their obedience by means of a club, the Witch Doctor obtains it by means of a much more powerful weapon: he pre-empts the field of morality. . . . Both of them are incomplete parts of a human being, who seek completion in each other: the man of muscle and the man of feelings, seeking to exist without mind. . . . Atilla rules by means of fear, by keeping men under a constant threat of destruction--the Witch Doctor rules by means of guilt, by keeping men convinced of their innate depravity, impotence and insignificance.

Both of these are then set against the producer:

A man's method of using his consciousness determines his method of survival. The three contestants are Attila, the Witch Doctor and the Producer--or the man of force, the man of feelings, the man of reason--or the brut, the mystic, the thinker.

This gives us a new view of philsophers. According to Rand, Hume was an Atilla (he made us powerless by suggesting that there are no causes) and Kant was a Witch Doctor (made us believe that our understanding of the world is limited by preset categories). Then there was the "witch-doctory of Hegel, who proclaimed that matter does not exist at all." With Ayn Rand, we get a whole new reading of philosophy ("The great treason of the philosophers was that they never stepped out of the Middle Ages").

Our problem is that we believe that the soul and the body our separate. To Ayn Rand, a healthy human being is not a combination of body and soul, but an integrated intellectual producer. To think of man as composed of body and soul is to be ill:

They have taught man that he is a hopeless misfit made of two elements, both symbols of death. A body without a soul is a corpse, a soul without a body is a ghost--yet such is their image of man's nature: the battle ground of a struggle between a corpse and a ghost, a corpse endowed with some evil volition of its own and a ghost endowed with the knowledge that everything known to man is non-existent, that only the unknowable exists.

This is where the New Intellectual comes in. The New Intellectual will "discard the basic premise that made Atilla and the Witch Doctor possible: the soul-body dichotomy. . . . He will be an integrated man, that is: a thinker who is a man of action." I understand this to be something like what John Dewey was aiming at in his Chicago school: produce students who do not just think, but think and do. Projects are always integrated so that the values of democracy, for instance, are learned while planning and constructing a tree house. One learns social psychology while working in a team, sawing wood and pounding nails.

Rand suggests that we don't need more intellectual exchanges but rather exchanges between producers and intellectuals:

Instead of those ludicrous programs of "student exchanges" between America and Soviet Russia, for the alleged purpose of "gaining mutual understanding," there ought to be a private, voluntary program of "student exchanges" between the intellectuals and the businessmen, the two groups that need each other most, yet know less and understand less about each other than about any alien society in any distant corner of the globe.

Rand wants pure, laissez-faire, hardcore capitalism:

How many tons of rail do you produce per day if you work for Hank Rearden? Would you dare to claim that the size of your pay check was created solely by your physical labor and that those rails were the product of your muscles? The standard of living of that blacksmith is all that your muscles are worth; the rest is a gift from Hank Rearden.

At times she moves away from her philosophical analysis and shoots straight for the Rush-Limbaugh back row:

In politics, we are told that America, the greatest, noblest, freest country on earth, is politically and morally inferior to Soviet Russia, the bloodiest dictatorship in history--and that our wealth should be given away to the savages of Asia and Africa, with apologies for the fact that we have produced it while they haven't.

And who--in this damned universe--who can tell me why I should live for anything but for that which I want?

Did I enjoy reading this book? Yes! It was fun to read, as something was happening on every page. And yet it is not empty philosophy. The Atilla/Witch-Doctor/Producer trichotomy as some substance to it in explaining the world's events and philosophical theories.

And she is positive. She loves life. She's refreshing. In her megalomania, she incites you to attain "an unbreached rationality--not the degree of your intelligence, but the full and relentless use of your mind . . ."

Edward Tanguay

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