(For the positive, the antidote to this idiocy, try here for starters.)
The latest case-in-point making the rounds amongt the reddiots, from radio talk show host Thom Hartmann and former Democrat staffer on Capitol Hill, Sam 'Sad' Sacks. This is a continuation of an inductively-observed pattern discussed previously in this blog.
Gee, a radio talk show host and a former congressional staffer. Prima facie that's some formidable opposition to Ayn Rand right there, huh?
The article's byline provides a link to The Thom Hartmann Reader, which reminds me of a book I picked up the other day, The Quotable Hitch: From Alcohol to Zionism--The Very Best of Christopher Hitchens. Drawing the obviously logical connection from that, I submit that one need only browse through both that book and The Ayn Rand Lexicon to see which thinker was way more profound (distinct from witty and one-linery) than the other. Heck, one need only see Hitch's mentions of Ayn Rand (focusing exclusively on her personal relationship with Nathaniel Branden) to figure out the truly amateurish level on which Hitch was operating. (His colleague and ignorant Rand-basher, Andrew Sullivan, operates more or less on the same level, cut more or less from the same mold.)
Anyway, back to the talk show host and Democrat staffer. First off, I want to distinguish the American intellectual left - confined more or less within the ivory tower (the chief exception being Noam Chomsky, who actually makes an effort - no thanks to the cowardly corporate media and political establishment - to get the word out far and wide) from the American political left. Setting aside direct critique of the former, I'll make the observation that the latter is intellectually bankrupt. (As an indirect critique of the former, one need only pursue the line of reasoning following from the question as to how the political left ended up intellectually bankrupt.) This doesn't mark out the left as unique in this regard: the entire lamestream political dialogue in the country is intellectually bankrupt. Nowhere to be found is Jeffersonian-Franklinian-Paineist dialogue - certainly not dialogue at the level at which these representative Founding Fathers would carry a dialogue. We have instead a lowest-common-denominator caliber of dialogue.
Hell, arguably the most intellectual figure in the mass media right now is Glenn Beck, whatever else one thinks about him, merely for regularly paying tribute to these geniuses on his TV show. (He also discusses Ray Kurzweil on his show; what other major media figure is doing that?) That alone demonstrates that he has some long-range, properly-Americanist vision thoroughly lacking elsewhere in the lamestream media. His very proposal for an "Independence, USA" quasi-utopia demonstrates a greater degree of vision and imagination than found anywhere else in the lamestream.
Is it any surprise, then, that among any of the figures in the major media, Glenn Beck has the wherewithal to have a positive view of Ayn Rand?
I skimmed Hartmann's article and got the basic gist of why Hartmann is useless an an analyst of political trends: he actually thinks that Ayn Rand - author not just of Atlas Shrugged but also The Fountainhead, but also of non-fiction essays such as "For the New Intellectual," "What is Capitalism?", "What is Romanticism?", "The Comprachicos," and "Philosophy: Who Needs It" - has somehow become a decisive influence on our political establishment! To anyone with a clue how ideas do affect a culture, that notion is ridiculous. If some politically-motivated people want to use Miss Rand's ideas out of context, ripped out of the hierarchy of her philosophic system, not integrated with her other ideas, not inductively derived from the vast array of concretes of the sort that informed her philosophizing, then that's not her problem. What evidence is there that our current crop of corporate and political leaders ever took Rand's philosophic message to heart? For that to have happened is for our current crop of so-called leaders to be intellectually-inclined in roughly the same way that, oh, Jefferson and Franklin and Paine were intellectually-inclined.
In essence, I addressed this very point months ago. It simply makes no sense that an intellectually-stunted culture is going to adopt and absorb intellectually-demanding ideas or ways of thinking. (The dishonest rationalization here would be that Rand's ideas aren't intellectually-demanding, despite the real necessity for a lecture course called Understanding Objectivism, which would then allegedly explain her allegedly inordinate influence on our national direction. Furthermore, an economic explanation and reality that the American Left evades is the effect of globalization on income and wealth dynamics at home. That has not to much to do with any effects of ideology on culture but more like a worldwide recognition of the efficacy of markets to raise living standards in the previously non-capitalistic developing world.
The fact of the matter is, no one - left, right, or center - whether in the intelligentsia or in the lamestream political discourse has (much less is able to) both (a) come to grips with what it is that makes Ayn Rand great and (b) provide a compelling rebuttal to the essential thrust of her perfectivist ideology.
I've offered the following concrete example before and I'll offer it again: Jimmy Wales. I've recently discussed "Jimbo" here. Among reasonably widely-known figures on the American scene, Jimbo is (properly) paradigmatic of the sort of businessman who actually adopted, absorbed, and practiced Randian ideas. So why does the Left never confront this evidence? Well, I'll tell you why: he serves as a definitive refutation of the usual blatantly-amateurish characterizations (smears, really) of the Randian bogeyman-figure of the Left's feverish nightmare imagination, and the culture of the political Left is scummy. That's not even to enumerate the many and growing examples of Randian scholars in the academic world, of whom the (intellectually-bankrupt) political Left are totally oblivious. It's like they take pride in being ignorant.
What sets Jimbo apart from the great many other businessmen who might or might not be familiar with some of Rand's work? He's intellectually-inclined. How intellectually-inclined are the likes of Thom Hartmann and his sidekick, the former Democrat staffer? (I referred to these sorts of idiots in my previous smackdown as "so-called liberals," forgetting that they like to call themselves "progressives" nowadays. Same shit, different fraudulent label.)
It does all come down to intellectuality - how well people use their intellects - and it does (directly or indirectly, take your pick) implicate the Intellectual Class when a nation's cultural and political discourse is of the lowest-common-denominator variety. I've concluded that the pathological condition on display in reddit-land toward Ayn Rand's ideas is not merely with respect to Rand in particular (although it's heightened in her case) but with respect to ideas as such. It's not just Rand that gets dissed on /r/"philosophy", but also in effect Aristotle, whose value and importance also goes egregiously under-recognized there, even though he's arguably more of canonical figure among the philosophers (the other academic departments is another issue) than any others (Plato and Kant of course being the runners-up). That he's as canonical as he is, may well be our culture's saving grace; where indeed would we all be without Aristotle's influence? The only problem is that he's not canonized enough, being the foremost perfectivist in the intellectual tradition and all.
On a closely-related note: the public's seeming obliviousness to the Jeffersonian tradition of the Founders can also be attributed directly or indirectly to the doings of the intelligentsia (and most significantly among them, the philosophers). As it is, I do happen to remember being taught about the Founders to some middling extent from grade school through high school, but after that . . . where do they get taught to people regularly outside of Glenn Beck's show? [EDIT: Or C-SPAN's weekend "BookTV" programming?] It's a rhetorical question on this blog at this point: what would the Founders themselves do in the face of these circumstances? Hell, going to war for independence from the British Crown makes what they would do today a cakewalk by comparison; that's how much the spirit of the nation's founding has atrophied. Thanks a lot, intelligentsia.
Another rhetorical question: why can't all of those in the intelligentsia be more like Aristotle?
"Why can't you be more like Aristotle?" Say, that has a nice ring to it, am I wrong?
Alright, I'm off now to be more like Aristotle....