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Monday, June 10, 2019

“A Paradigm of Philosophical Incompetence”

In his review of Ayn Rand’s For the New Intellectual, the libertarian philosopher Bruce Goldberg calls the book a “paradigm of philosophical incompetence.” He notes that he is tempted to see the book “as a huge joke, a farce by means of which its creator can laugh at the gullible.” Goldberg’s conclusion to the review is quite sharp:
For the New Intellectual is an intolerably bad book. More than that it is a silly book; street corner rabble rousing can affect only the vulgar. That it should have come from the pen of the author of The Fountainhead, which is a genuinely fine novel, is not a little surprising. But as unfortunate as this book is, it would be even more unfortunate if it came to be regarded by anybody as a representative sample of libertarian thought. How easily the Left could shatter capitalism if this were its only defense! Fortunately the superiority of free-enterprise can be demonstrated. But while von Mises, Hayek, and Friedman, to name only a few, make for more difficult reading and demand greater attentiveness than does Ayn Rand, the reward justifies the effort. 
It is not difficult to understand the attraction Ayn Rand has for the uninstructed. She appears, I suppose, to be the spokesman for freedom, for self-esteem, and other equally noble ideals. However, patient examination reveals her pronouncements to be but a shroud beneath which lies the corpse of illogic. Those who are concerned with discovering the principles of a sound social philosophy can read and study libertarian thought at its best. The ludicrously mistitled “philosophy of Ayn Rand” is a sham. To those who are traveling her road I can only suggest its abandonment—for that way madness lies.
There is too much of anger and hatred in Rand's book. In the eponymous title-essay, she attacks several philosophers—Plato, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Comte, Spencer, Nietzsche, Bentham, and the logical positivists. Without offering a single piece of evidence or rational argument, she accuses them of being in bed with Attila and the Witch Doctor. The 41-page essay mentions the word “Attila” 106 times and the words “Witch Doctor” 116 times. Only Aristotle receives a little bit of consideration. Her depiction of Aristotle is incorrect, but at least she shows him some respect.

In a footnote to the title-essay, Rand writes, “I am indebted to Nathaniel Branden for many valuable observations on this subject and for his eloquent designation of the two archetypes, which I shall use hereafter: Attila and the Witch Doctor.” This means that it is Nathaniel Branden who introduced Rand to these hysterical words: “Attila” and “Witch Doctor”. Rand was herself weak in philosophy and the people that she collected around her were as ignorant as she was.

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