I Get Letters ...
Michael ("Mick") Russell (who has left comments on Notablog before) wrote me a personal email the other day, and I asked him for permission to reproduce it, in part—not because he was so complimentary, but because I thought he raised an issue of general interest:
Thank you for your wonderful site. And for your respect. I am a former socialist, seeking a new and improved way to change the world, for the better, of course. I have recently read Ayn Rand's We The Living. It confirmed the obvious (now) for me: collectivism is morally bankrupt and utterly wrong. I now totally reject socialism. Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism fascinates me.
But I must confess to being intimidated by its study. Leonard Peikoff? David Kelley? The split with the Brandens? Of all the Objectivist, or Neo-Objectivist blogs, I find yours to be the freest and most respectful of dissent. And I loved Blondie. My condolences.
Does my past association with Marxism—I was a member of the Young Socialist Alliance and The Socialist Workers Party—preclude me from any activity within the Objectivist movement? I am an Atheist; not only do I reject God, I don't believe Ayn Rand is God. She was a brilliant but fallible mind. Am I an apostate before I even join the movement? I try to engage but am usually rejected by various pro-Objectivist blogs. I guess I'm a libertarian. I just want to further my mind and advance the cause of freedom. Any suggestions? Mick
I'll include here my answer to Mick, with a few additions too.
My first suggestion is that you do not worry about joining any "movements"; virtually all organized movements have their pitfalls, and it's not my intention here to list those that have been manifested throughout the history of "Objectivism."
My second suggestion is that you spend time actually reading Ayn Rand's work. Instead of navigating through all the conflicts within the "movement," you should focus on the ideas, and then, once you've read and digested Rand's work, I strongly suggest moving on to works written by those who were influenced by her (Nathaniel Branden, Leonard Peikoff, David Kelley, etc.), followed by works in the secondary literature.
Of course, as part of that secondary literature, I'd be remiss if I didn't suggest that at some point you might actually want to read my own book on Rand: Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (as well as other Rand-related books and journals with which I've been involved).
Whatever his other criticisms of my book, the late Ronald Merrill once called Russian Radical, "Objectivism for Marxists." I don't agree with Merrill's reasoning behind that quip—that I packaged Rand's work in the "language" of the left to make it accessible to the academic community. In fact, it was my belief then, and it is my belief now, that the "language" of dialectics was usefully employed because it captured something important in Rand's work, while enabling me to challenge the left's monopoly on an eminently radical methodology. It was not a marketing decision; it was an intellectual and theoretical choice that I made based on my view that it was a correct identification.
But if you began on the left, my work may, in fact, be something that helps you to situate Rand in the broader context of radical thinking.
As a supplement to your reading on Rand, let me make a third suggestion: Don't narrow your focus to all things Rand. If you're genuinely interested in libertarianism, let me also recommend all the works that I list here, which certainly made a huge impact on my own development.
Finally, I have to cite two essays: the first, published on the Lew Rockwell site back in 2002, entitled "How I Became a Libertarian"; the second, entitled "Taking It Personally" (PDF version). Both mention my interactions with the Young Socialist Alliance when I was in high school. I was a bit more conservative back in those days, but here's the relevant paragraph from the latter essay that should make you chuckle:
I had been an outspoken political type in high school, involved in some rather contentious battles with the Young Socialists of America who had plastered the school’s hallways with their obscene propaganda. I had begun writing for Gadfly, the social studies newspaper, and had taken to quoting Ronald Reagan on the perils of central planning. I knew that I "arrived" as a political commentator when I walked into a school bathroom one afternoon to find a copy of one of my anti-socialist articles—sitting, rather wet, in the urinal. Though I’d heard of "yellow journalism," the article seemed to have been saved from discoloration because it had already been printed on goldenrod mimeograph paper. A small victory, that.
In any event, I hope you enjoy your new reading adventures; please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions, and I hope you'll feel free to comment here as well.