Monday, January 4, 2021

Ayn Rand’s Disregard of Wisdom

In Atlas Shrugged, a novel of eleven hundred pages, Ayn Rand uses the word “wisdom” just eight times, and she uses the word “reason” more than a thousand times. Her obsession with“reason” and disregard of “wisdom” becomes clear in the novel's Part Three, Chapter Seven, “This is John Galt Speaking,” which, according to her followers, is of Biblical significance since it embodies the crux of her philosophy. In this chapter, John Galt, the novel's protagonist, delivers a non-stop sixty-page sermon which is aimed at presenting his (Rand’s) view of the philosophical problems which are destroying the world. But Galt uses the word “wisdom” only once during his sermon and he uses the word “reason”  ninety times. 

Why doesn’t Galt talk about the importance of wisdom? Why doesn’t he say even once that good philosophy and science are quite useless in the hands of the unwise and immature? Did Rand view reason as more critical than wisdom? Did she believe that a man lacking in wisdom can use reason effectively? Did she believe that the world could become a better place without the presence of wise people? 

One of Rand’s eight usages of the word “wisdom” in the novel is for describing Galt’s superlative mind—in Part Three, Chapter Two, “The Utopia of Greed,” she writes: “I’ve always thought of him as if he had come into the world like Minerva, the goddess of wisdom who sprang forth from jupiter’s head, fully grown and fully armed…” This description of Galt as a man who has appeared in the world fully grown, fully armed with best knowledge and values is important, because it offers an insight into Rand’s flawed view of the ideal man. She regarded Galt as the personification of the ideal man. She used to insist that men like him exist. She was convinced that an ideal man would develop knowledge instantly, that he would not need years of study and practical experience to sharpen his thinking. 

The conception of “wisdom” is missing not just in Rand’s novels but also in her essays and lectures. She was probably a fine fiction writer, but she had a naive view of man and society. She had no conception of the crucial role that wisdom plays in helping men to make the right choices. She could not teach her followers to be wise. She could not teach what she herself didn’t know. The school of objectivism that she founded is a promised land; it is a magnet for the unwise.

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