Sophia Pulchritudinous. An Anthem to Ayn Rand.

Re: Ayn Rand – Anthem, Penguin Modern Classics, 2008.

In all honesty, I confess that I came upon Ayn Rand by pure chance, after watching on Youtube some random footage from 60s and 70s TV shows in America. In one of them, I was able to discover Ms. Rand, who was stating in a very assured manner her lifelong credo, that of objectivism, as well as her opposition towards any faith or philosophy that ignores or subdues reason or individuality.

Her 1959 interview with Mike Wallace is terrific, for it is one of the few times I have ever seen a famous TV personality totally embarrassed and puzzled before a guest. Adding to shame (in those last days of American machismo), the guest was a woman. A Jewish woman recently emigrated from Russia. She was speaking slowly, but clearly, her eyes scintillating, seldom searching for the most appropriate words in her language of adoption and occasionally mispronouncing them, often using specific concepts of her own making or meaning, never troubled, always upbeat and reflexive. Like a graceful Greek statue, temporarily descended from her cold pedestal of albescent marble to imbue humanity with the warmth of efficient reason(ing). Like a sensible dove on a moody ocean. Like a pure thought on a war field.

Rand’s main philosophy is that of Individualism, or Objectivism. It is based on the assumption that man’s singular, identifying characteristic and ultimate treasure is Reason (or mind, or conceptual faculty), which man uses to ensure his own happiness, which is the moral purpose of life. Everything results from reason, including individual attributes, emotions (which are based on man’s value judgments) and day-by-day or life choices. Anything that opposes reason, be it ethics, religion or law, is against man. Anything that establishes a prevalence of society over individuality, of common interest over personal interest, of ‘we’ over ‘I’, is unnatural and must be fought head on.

Perhaps the most illustrative manifesto of Objectivism is Ayn Rand’s book “Anthem”. It was her second book to be published in English, after “We the Living”. “Anthem” was first intended to be a play, but was eventually published in England as a novel in 1938. It would be reviewed by Rand, once she would fully master the English language and its subtleties, and republished in the United States in 1945. It appears that she had worked really hard on that second edition, since she considered that the original style was not appropriate.

I have to say that this is probably one of the ancillary reasons I deeply sympathize with Ayn Rand. I am myself a somewhat timorous perfectionist, especially in the use of language. I ponder and worship the latter, maybe too much, maybe wasting some of its raw force and value by excessive polishing, possibly losing sight of its natural fiber or shoddily representing a real feeling. Ayn Rand’s lifetime friend, Leonard Peikoff, expresses a relatively similar concern in his preface to “Anthem”: “Rand was not completely satisfied with her command of style. One problem was a degree of overwriting in her earlier work; she was still uncertain at times, she told me once, as to when a point (or an emotion) had been communicated fully and objectively”. It is so human, one has to agree; after all, writers are the almighty demiurges of their own created worlds, but they are not without the burden of the doubt.

Rand wanted to name her second book “Ego”. She was later convinced to change it to “Anthem” (as in ‘Anthem to Ego’), in order to partly conceal from the reader the central issue of the book and formulate it in a more indirect, evocative way. Still, it is a story centered on Ego, and Individualism, as stated before.

It all starts with a sin.

Equality 7-2521 is a man living in a distant future, in a dystopian world founded on the principles of collectivism and common good, from which governmental forces managed to eliminate any trace of individuality, where even the word “I” vanished from language and from memory. He is 21 years old and 6 feet tall, as we learn, and a bit too curious and weary for his own good. He would have liked to be a scientist, and inquire about life and nature, but he works as a street sweeper, since positions in society are decided by an all-knowing Council, which is the unquestionable ‘body of all truth’. Equality 7-2521, as all members of his community, is always around his peers, but rarely with them. Nor are they with him, entirely: “As we all undress at night, in the dim light of the candles, our brothers are silent, for they dare not speak the thoughts of their minds. For all must agree with all, and they cannot know if their thoughts are the thoughts of all, and so they fear to speak. And they are glad when the candles are blown for the night”. Brrr…

One day, our sweeper stumbles upon a relic of old: an old sewer conduit, where he finds artifacts of a luminous past (literally, light bulbs and copper wires) as well as a uniquely isolated place to cogitate in. He regularly hides in his mysterious underworld, pushing forward ‘bad’ thoughts and actions. In his moments of isolation, he starts to question the enforced values of community and collectivism; he wonders about the possibility of an uncertain self; he commits the ultimate sin of being creative, by building an electrical generator, from spares found in the sewers, and dreaming of spreading his magnificent discovery to humanity.

In the mean time, Equality 7-2521 also manages to… fall in love. It is easier said than done, for him, since it goes against all rules in place. Her name is Liberty 5-3000, she is a peasant, she is 17, and she is beautiful. She revels magically in his love, so he names her ‘The Golden One’. Their passion is so otherworldly, like in a Russian classical novel set on a futuristic starship in space. Their decisive encounter is one of the most poetic and memorable I have ever read; it moved me like no other. It goes like this:

“[…] The Golden One stood alone at the hedge, waiting. We stopped and we saw that their eyes, so hard and scornful to the world, were looking at us as if they would obey any word we might speak.

And we said:

‘We have given you a name in our thoughts, Liberty 5-3000.’

‘What is our name?’ they asked.

‘The Golden One.’

‘Nor do we call you Equality 7-2521 when we think of you.’

‘What name have you given us?’

They looked straight into our eyes and they held their head high and they answered:

‘The Unconquered.’

For a long time we could not speak. Then we said:

‘Such thoughts as these are forbidden, Golden One.’

‘But you think such thoughts as these and you wish us to think them.’

We looked into their eyes and we could not lie.

‘Yes’, we whispered, and they smiled, and then we said: ‘Our dearest one, do not obey us.’

They stepped back, and their eyes were wide and still.

‘Speak those words again,’ they whispered.

‘Which words?’ we asked. But they did not answer, and we knew it.

‘Our dearest one’, we whispered.

Never have men said this to women.”

A-mazing. Here, Rand went beyond representing emotion: she created emotion itself.

At that point, Equality 7-2521 sees a “crack in the wall of [the] prison”. After a last attempt to make his world a better place (he brings his gift of Light to the Scientific Council only to be considered an atrocious criminal), he eventually chooses to forever escape from it. Like a true outcast, he would hide in the Uncharted Forest, where he would recover both his Ego and his love, for The Golden One would follow him in the woods. Moved only by their respective wills and minds, the two would take shelter in an old mountain dwelling left from the Forgotten Times, where they would discover light bulbs, printed books and… the ‘I’, the Unspeakable Word, blowing to pieces the gravestone of the forced ‘we’, and hoping for a better future.

“For the word ‘We’ must never be spoken, save by one’s choice and as a second thought. This word must never be placed first within man’s soul, else it becomes a monster, the root of all the evils on earth, the root of man’s torture by men, and of an unspeakable lie.”

“The word ‘We’ is a lime poured over men, which sets and hardens to stone, and crushes all beneath it, and that which is white and that which is black are lost equally in the grey of it. It is the word by which the depraved steal the virtue of the good, by which the weak steal the might of the strong, by which the fools steal the wisdom of the sages.”

I am confident enough to state that Ayn Rand is one of the most mesmerizing women I’ve ever seen. She has a statuesque profile, a fascinating voice, a limpid mind and an inner strength which are quite unique in the modern world. Furthermore, she seems to ignore the way of compromise, and that thoroughly charms the radical in me. Although I do not agree with everything she stands for, being quite skeptical about the possible outcomes of extreme individualism, sort of neo-Nietzscheism if you like, I will always admire Ayn Rand’s posture, endurance and heritage. In my thoughts, I have given her a name; and her name is Sophia Pulchritudinous.

~ de ubiquus pe ianuarie 6, 2011.

10 răspunsuri to “Sophia Pulchritudinous. An Anthem to Ayn Rand.”

  1. Thank you for your beautiful thoughts. To one who can write these words and then say „I do not agree with everything she stands for, …” I can honestly say, „That’s OK, it’s early yet. Just keep reading.”

    On page 36 of her book „For The New Intellectual,” in explaining the symbiotic relationship throughout human history between the mystic of the mind, the Witch Doctor, and the mystic of muscle, the Attila, Rand says,

    „Nietzsche’s rebellion against altruism consisted of replacing the sacrifice of oneself to others by the sacrifice of others to oneself. He proclaimed that the ideal man is moved, not by reason, but by his “blood,” by his innate instincts, feelings and will to power—that he is predestined by birth to rule others and sacrifice them to himself, while they are predestined by birth to be his victims and slaves—that reason, logic, principles are futile and debilitating, that morality is useless, that the “superman” is “beyond good and evil,” that he is a “beast of prey” whose ultimate standard is nothing but his own whim. Thus Nietzsche’s rejection of the Witch Doctor consisted of elevating Attila into a moral ideal—which meant: a double surrender of morality to the Witch Doctor.”

    go to:–friedrich.html – also for excerpts on over 200 different subjects.

  2. Hello Michael, and thanks for your thorough comment.

    I can clearly see that you’re more advanced into this delicate thing that ‘objectivism’ is than I personally am, at this point at least. Therefore, your observations and recommendations are important to me.

    I especially appreciate the Rand Lexicon link, since I was unaware of its existence. I have browsed through and read the preface by Leonard Peikoff, and will probably spend a bit more time around it in the future. I have to confess that something of an interior smile filled me when I saw that the Metaphysics Conceptual Index started with ‘Absolutes’ and ended with ‘Zero’. Ironical but so truthful summing up of metaphysics, isn’t it?

    Now, to address your two-part compliment/remark regarding my take on Ms. Rand (and her litterature, which I have not read in its entirety). Well, I briefly wrote here about her, her philosophy and her book simply as a profane reader with a reflexive approach on life. I am not a metaphysics teacher, nor a social scientist, or a specialist in litterature. I cannot judge objectively if her view on society and human relations is right or not, and even less agree with everything she stands for – or any other person, for that matter. I am pretty sure, knowing myself, that even after reading her complete works I would not be prone to entirely agree with Ayn Rand, or envisage joining an occult randian cult proclamining the almighty truth and rule of the Objective Witch Doctoress (I’m mostly jesting here, but the image is paradoxically luminous).

    I am and will probably remain a convinced relativist (a term that I could not find in the Lexicon, btw). I very often regret missing the rush of absolute convictions and extreme revelations, but I also learned to enjoy my inner failsafe mechanism that prevents me from frequent overburn. I’m sorry if it sounds disappointing to you.

    Anyways, I’d be very interested to know what your take on Ayn Rand is, and if you are involved in the Lexicon project, which I find to be very systematic and captivating.


  3. „I cannot judge objectively if her view on society and human relations is right or not, and even less agree with everything she stands for – or any other person, for that matter.”

    That’s OK. It’s early yet. If you find the intellectual courage to study Ayn Rand—not to agree, but to understand her—you will, in time, be able to objectively judge everything. The Christians say, „judge not lest you be judged.” Rand says, „judge, and prepare to be judged.”

    „I am pretty sure, knowing myself, that even after reading her complete works I would not be prone to entirely agree with Ayn Rand, or envisage joining an occult randian cult proclamining the almighty truth and rule of the Objective Witch Doctoress (I’m mostly jesting here, but the image is paradoxically luminous).”

    The very choice of your jest betrays your own transition from an intuitive rebellion against the fierceness of her self-certainty to secretly wondering if she could ever back it up with proof.

    To those academics, writers, and bloggers who are too lazy and/or afraid to tackle the task of understanding what she said, the accusation that Objectivism is religious in nature or cultish is just a rock they found by the side of the road to throw at her influence as it passes them by. It can be neither. Go to the lexicon and read the entry on „Virtue.” At the top of the list is rationality and independence, two virtues that can never be allowed in religions and cults, let alone advocated.

    Many mistake the impetuous and compulsive argumentativeness of the freshly opened minds of youths who are liberated by her works from „conventional wisdom” and who quote her relentlessly as they test her ideas, to be blind followers. But they are just not yet able to grasp those ideas so clearly that they can formulate their new-found truths in their own words. That can take years.

    Some give up and go on, others never cease their slow and steady progress towards understanding the nature of man and the universe at whatever level they have the time and will to master. But a cult? That is not possible. The content of the philosophy is such that anyone who would believe Rand on faith or practice cultish devotion would be, by logic alone, excluded from qualifying as an Objectivist.

    It is a fairly obvious error for you to state your conclusions about agreement or disagreement with ideas you have not yet encountered. It is also an error to regard the status of your agreement with her (or anyone) as a value or not. The challenge she presents to you is not about your relationship with her or others, but rather your relationship with reality and the validity of your identifications of it. As she will remind you again and again, only ideas matter.

    „I am and will probably remain a convinced relativist (a term that I could not find in the Lexicon, btw). I very often regret missing the rush of absolute convictions and extreme revelations, …”

    The lexicon is a book that was compiled by an associate of hers many years ago and later put onto the internet. There are gaps here and there. The entry most pertinent to relativism would be „subjectivism.” I am not a professional philosopher myself, so I cannot give you a precise and comprehensive distinction between those two concepts. Now that you have raised the question, of course, I will not be able to stop pursuing the exact relationship between them. They certainly mean almost the same thing, i.e. that reality and its identity are relative to (or a product of) the subject consciousness, as opposed to objectivism—that reality exists and has identity independent from any consciousness.

    It is important to note that the antithesis of Rand’s Objectivism is primarily mysticism—the belief that truth and knowledge can be accessed by means other than our conceptual capacity, reason. Relativist subjectivism is only one side of mysticism’s false mind-body dichotomy. The other is intrinsicism.

    The subjectivist rejects the validity of ideas altogether and for him the ‘truth’ originates with physical impulses (feelings) individually and a consensus thereof socially. In a society dominated by subjectivists for whom no idea is „valid” or fixed and not flexible and changing, decisions may and must be imposed by power. Since the mind (including the soul and/or spirit) of man is impotent, it may be left to be free, but the material world must be brought under control. Left politics, socialism, and communism are all products of subjectivism.

    The intrinsicist regards the truth as existing rationalistically, externally, and accessible only through a special spiritual means or relationship—from an authority, a tradition, a history, an otherworldly spiritual source, etc. The material world is only a shadow of the real, and is never as significant as that which is spiritually real, so the material world may be freely ignored, while spiritual truths are imposed. Right politics, nationalism and fascism are all products of intrinsicism.

    Objectivism regards truth as a necessary relationship between consciousness and independent physical reality, not either-or, but an integration achieved by the application of a conceptual mind abstracting and integrating the physical, sensory product of existence. It also recognizes that such integrations are not programmed, but rather are volitionally chosen, so man is both capable of rationality, but also fallible. It recognizes that since reason is man’s only means to fulfill his nature, he must be free to exercise it and apply it to his actions in the service of his life independent of the fallibility of his fellow man. Thus Rand holds that the freedom from all coercion of laissez-faire capitalism (as she defines it and as it has not yet ever existed) is the proper condition for man to pursue life.

    A footnote to this is that the two variants of statism explained above necessarily become more similar as they move from partial statism to totalitarianism, precisely because the mind and body are not separable. You cannot totally control the material world and still leave the mind free, and vice-versa. Consequently, there is no significant difference between the results of the totalitarianism of Hitler or Stalin or the Church in the dark ages of Augustinian. By recognizing that mysticism is at the base of all evils, Rand was able to demonstrate the common denominator of religion, communism, and fascism.

    „but I also learned to enjoy my inner failsafe mechanism that prevents me from frequent overburn. I’m sorry if it sounds disappointing to you.”

    I have no expectations concerning the possible paths of any volitional mind. The intrinsicist hides from certainty in faith. The subjectivist hides in denial. Before Ayn Rand, there was little or no threat from objective certainty. And before I found her, I too was you. But the more one reads, the fewer corners there are in which to hide.

    Not knowing what you have or have not read, I will recommend an order:

    In fiction after Anthem, next „The Fountainhead” and then „Atlas Shrugged.”

    In non-fiction (all of her non-fiction books are collections of essays), first The „Virtue of Selfishness” because it is short, and then Peikoff’s „Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.” he has a remarkable ability to explain complex ideas in clear and easy to grasp terms. This book is the only comprehensive work that systematically proceeds through it in the proper order from Metaphysics to Esthetics. Only after Peikoff’s book would I read „Introduction to the Objectivist Epistemology.”

    More specialized are „Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal” focusing on politics and „The Romantic Manifesto,” focusing on esthetics. „For The New Intellectual” is also a good collection of essays.

    A few of the essays are available online at The Ayn Rand Institute:

    There are also, as you may already have discovered, a number of TV interviews with Rand from the 50’s-60’s on YouTube. Here is one set posted to a blog:

  4. Dear Michael, I was really impressed (if not overwhelmed) by your exhaustive response and explanation. As I am a genuinely curious and conversational person (two human qualities which help us progress in our intellectual endeavors), I will try to address some of the most important issues raised, in an attempt to both answer some implicit questions and further refine my perception.

    You state “If you find the intellectual courage to study Ayn Rand—not to agree, but to understand her—you will, in time, be able to objectively judge everything. The Christians say, “judge not lest you be judged.” Rand says, “judge, and prepare to be judged.” Indeed, we are here on the same page, so to speak. That is what I tried to do: understand her rather than agree with her as a principle. I see this specific precondition as part of any rational process of perception and interpretation, and it’s probably one of the things Ms. Rand would agree to wholeheartedly. About the judging part, I am still skeptical: I am not entirely sure we really have the true knowledge or power to judge anything, but rather to reason subjectively and to elaborate a thin layer of Weltanschauung that would ideally evolve and change shape with experience.

    Also, I never liked throwing rocks at people, or philosophies, or influences of both. If only because there is usually a possibility they’d reflect it back, with increased strength. I have my (metaphorical) pile of rocks, stacked safely in my reading room, and I occasionally juggle with them, and nothing more. Call it non-aggressive independent rationality, if you like, my own ahimsa that keeps me from going blind (i.e. ‘an eye for an eye will get the whole world blind’).

    “It is also an error to regard the status of your agreement with her (or anyone) as a value or not. The challenge she presents to you is not about your relationship with her or others, but rather your relationship with reality and the validity of your identifications of it. As she will remind you again and again, only ideas matter”. This is one of the phrases that impressed me the most in your argumentation. It is true that we establish a rapport with reality by individual experiences, and then weave those into a larger, ever-evolving web resembling a personal credo. I don’t think that we have at this point the intellectual capacity to interpret reality as a whole; some ambitious philosophers like Hegel and Nietzsche tried to establish systems, but none of them were infailible or uncontested. Anti-hegelians and anti-nietzscheans abound; for the most part of the 20th Century it was actually ’trendy’ to be one of the latter, e.g. Heinrich Mann, Georg Lukacs and the usual suspect, Sartre. There were even ’left-wing nietzscheans’, for Friedrich’s sake!

    Without being an anti-nietschean, I think that the dionysian meta-aspirations of Objectivism are too ambitious in nature. That’s probably one of the reasons that made other contemporary intellectuals respect, but not rally to Rand’s cause (otherwise, the world would look differently now). I personally believe that our relationship with reality should actually take a plural form – relationships with aspects/fractals of reality. Even if I (truly) live hoping that one day I’ll be able to understand some of the basic mechanisms or underlying processes of reality, via perceptual observation and reasoning (here we are in complete agreement), I highly doubt that any of us present on Earth will grasp a full understanding of what reality is. Or truth. Or even reason, since it all starts from there.

    However, we have to try. Otherwise, our lives would be empty and void. Maybe I am a subjectivist, as you put it, but this ’condition’ also warrants a natural openness to all possibilities. In all certainty, I will try to further my perception of objectivism and will read Ayn Rand’s woks with an open heart and mind.

    As you rightfully say, ”[…] the more one reads, the fewer corners there are in which to hide”. I always felt the same. Still, I find that as old dark corners disappear, new corners appear; our intellectual map is also not finite – it expands „the more one reads” and reveals new territories, new unknown seas, where ’there be dragons’ is the key phrase. And, cherry on this sweet and sour cake, even the old, explored territories change, sometimes radically. That is what I meant by relativism. We are not (rational) demiurges, we are just travellers, explorers of reality. Who happen to stumble upon Ayn Rand in their travels, mark the place as a charming, mind-changing site, providing safe harbour and warmth, and set compass for new horizons.

    For my future travels, I have bought ”The Fountainhead”. Following your reccomendation will also acquire ”Atlas Shrugged”, and will look for Peikoff’s books on amazon. Your links are equally interesting and pertinent.

    And hey, the more I read the more I like my Sophia Pulchritudinous.

  5. I have enjoyed reading you immensely. I’ll now let you go to get on with your reading. It is difficult to imagine you able to stop until you have devoured it all. And I fully expect to be reading your reviews here. I’ve registered at GoogleAlerts for the keywords,”Ayn Rand,” „Objectivist,” and „Objectivism,” and they seem to be catching every blog post containing those words—sometimes within hours of being published.

    • The pleasure was mutual, Michael. Thank you for passing by and for the very stimulating exchange of ideas. I might appear in the future on your google ‘radar’ with a future post on Ayn Rand’s works, once they get devoured, who knows… Until then, I wish you all the (reason-ably) best.

  6. Sa vezi chestie. Imi luam eu azi portia de „Mad Men”, sezonul 1, episodul 8, cand ce mi vad ochii si mi aud urechile: seful cel mare al lui Don ii recomanda sa citeasca Ayn Rand. Pentru cei care pun self-interest-ul cel mai sus.

    E interesant pentru ca Mad Men se petrece la sfarsit de ani 50, inceput de 60 tocmai cand (sub)cultura hippie imboboceste (lucru care se si vede in serial), iar un pic mai incolo Victor Turner scrie despre „communitas”, liminalitate si capacitatea innascuta a omului de a fi selfless in grup. Si mai e interesant e ca intr o lucrare am aplicat conceptele lui Turner la carticica lui Steinbeck, „Cannery Row” (scrisa in anii 50 si ea) si s au potrivit excelent. In contrapozitie, voiam sa adaug un pic de Rand. N am mai avut loc.

    Ca tot vorbeam de dialectici. Ca nuca n perete, da. 🙂

    • Nuca-n perete e sportul meu preferat, un soi de squash mai putin posh. Si apoi, nuca nu sare foarte sus, e practic imposibil sa-ti intre aschii în ochi daca dai tare cu ea de zid. Desi exista nuci tari care pravalesc ziduri.

      E genial substratul asta intertextualist al lumii contemporane, si poate si mai genial faptul ca efectul de ridicol se erodeaza putin câte putin, în fiecare zi, cu fiecare sitcom, printr-un voluntar sau involuntar ‘comic relief’.

      Ayn Rand în ‘Mad Men’ nici nu e atât de nelalocul ei, pâna la urma. In episodul pilot din ‘Smallville’, de exemplu, se discuta despre… Nietzsche. E foarte posibil sa-ti tâsneasca brusc popcorn pe urechi si cola pe nas atunci când Clark Kent este întrebat: ‘So what are you? Man or Superman?’. Got it? Man – Superm… oh ffs.

      (f is for friedrich).

  7. Why is it so dark in here? Could someone turn the lights on?

    • Well… I’m more of a PenUmbra person, rather enjoying thinking and writing in the dark. Not everyone is blessed with light(s):)

      I’ll tell you a story though, to compensate for the scarcity of illumination on this blog.

      There’s a proverbial character in Turkish folklore named Nasruddin Hodja, who’s sort of a wise jester and grassroot philosopher. There are all sorts of stories centered around him, but one of his most unknown feats goes like this (if I can recall it from my childhood days and sum it up briefly):

      Long ago, someone found Nasruddin in the street, at night, under a street lamp, frantically looking for something. The person stopped and watched him for a while, puzzled, then asked the old man what he was looking for, maybe willing to help, maybe just curious. Nasruddin gazed at the man, stared at the ground, then again at the man, and went: ‘Well, I lost my smoking pipe’. ‘Oh, said the man, and.. where did you lose it exactly?’ After a brief pause, Nasruddin answered: ‘I lost it somewhere inside the house and can’t find it for the world’. ‘Then, the man said, if you lost it inside, why are you looking for it out in the street?’

      And old Nasruddin would answer:
      ‘Well, my good man, it’s quite obvious, there’s more light out here’.

      Unlike wise Nasruddin, I’m still in the house, stubbornly looking for that pipe.

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