Monday, November 2, 2009


(* DISCLAIMER: I have come to distance myself from some of the conclusions of this article, which was written as a sequel to "The Trickster Archetype and Objectivism" (Originally published as "The Trickster Icon and Objectivism" in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies,Volume 3, No. 2 - Spring 2002.) This, and that article, were written to expand on pre-existing essays from Objectivist sources on the nature of heroism as it relates to Jungian ideas, which I found to only scratch the surface. I particularly reject the analysis of Ayn Rand as a dogmatic figurehead and Objectivism as fascist, comparisons based on the depictions of Rand in the biographies written by the Brandens). However, where I diverge from my original conclusions about the implications of Ayn Rand and the attempt to reconcile her philosophy with that of classical mythology, I believe the research to be solid and useful for future researchers on the topic. There is merit in this piece, particularly the research on Rand's childhood hero, Cyrus, the comparisons of the concept of self and ego between Rand and others such as Jung and Nietzsche, and the comparison of classical versus American hero myths, and Rand's preference towards the latter. I would like to rewrite this one day, but it is offered here for archival purposes as well for comparative purposes; I would like to compare it specifically to Andrew Bernstein's "The Philosophical Basis of Heroism," which does not consider the Jungian/Campbell, yet offers a stronger approach to heroism without the pitfalls of the classical theory. For now, however, I offer it as it originally appeared, and not indicative of my reconsidered position towards Rand and her concepts of heroism, which can be gleamed from my piece "The Incredible Revolution" [based on the movie The Incredibles, and written as a rebuttal of this piece], and my writings on heroism blog, Superhero Babylon.)


(Judge…and Prepare to be Judged.)

Because Rand emphasized the rational, she looked past the metaphorical meanings of myth, and accused religion of being anti-life, and equated mythic sacrifice with death. Hillman warns against this, however and draws a parallel between this attitude and the tale of Hercules' rampage:

Rather than die to metaphor, we kill literally; refusing the need to die, we attack death itself. Our civilization, with its heroic monuments, tributes to victory over death, ennobles the Herculean ego, who does not know how to behave in the underworld.

Hercules differs from the other heroes, who, as Kerenyi says, "were tragically connected with death." The heroic ego…should be more appropriately differentiated as the "Herculean ego," for only he of them all is an enemy of death. Yet there is justification for my term because the hero then, in a living world of Gods, and the heroic today are two very different cases, although the second arises from the first. Then he was half-man and half-God, but when the Gods are dead the hero becomes all too human. The divine portion is assumed wholly by the human, and we are left with the founding figures of humanism and worship of man. (110)

This is precisely what Nietzsche believed. And this is what Rand believed. Nietzsche, despite his own anti-semetic convictions, became a favorite of the Nazi's. What is the legacy of Rand's Herculean celebration of ego?

Hillman worries about the consequences of unbridled heroism:

Today, cut off from this psychic background, the heroic becomes the psychopathic: an exaltation of activity for its own sake. The locus of its cult is not the burial mound on which the city and its deeds are founded, but in the human body itself, the humanistic ego. Even should this ego be ennobled by the mission of solar hero or culture hero on the high plane of good works, without the other half of the hero--the Gods and death…'the legends of heroes become tales of warlike men'…Are the legends of the ego that we now call psychology developing into what will become tales of warlike men? Will ego psychology lead us into war and fire? (111)

Rand's philosophy can be defended against fascist accusations because of her belief in the non-initiation of force…but for how long? The older generation of Objectivists may be content to say that it is better to allow the ideas to spread, and change society, but will that ever happen on a large enough scale to implement an Objectivist society? And there is the possibility that a newer generation of Objectivists may find it ineffectual to wait, as adolescents and young adults tend to want things to happen faster, and to change the world. This can already be seen in references to Rand in the current myths of the popular culture. As Frank Miller has a character with Objectivist ideals in the graphic novel Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Back say, "I'm no Ayn Rander, she didn’t go nearly far enough". And Spiderman co-creator Steve Ditko's characters exhibit similar attitudes; some go so far as to not only take the law into their own hands, but to play judge, jury, and executioner. Then there are the real life characters who view themselves as superheroes, such as Tim McVeigh, who claim to act on pseudo-libertarian impulses but resort to violence to achieve their ends. It is no coincidence, as Jewett and Lawrence point out, that McVeigh modeled his actions after the destruction of the Death Star in the movie Star Wars, likening himself to the heroic character Luke Skywalker. Initiating a rebellion against the United States government, which he considered "the Evil Empire."

(Note: McViegh claims to have read Atlas Shrugged in prison, and claims that based on that and another book entitled Unintended Consequences, he would have carried out his mission differently.)

A common hallmark of the American monomyth is that the hero imposes their will out of the belief that the enemy is a savage or subhuman, or that the enemy has violated the rights of others, and in the process, the hero becomes the very thing they sought to overcome. It is not self-defense but imperialism in the name of self-defense that is worrying. As Hillman writes: "As it is so often the psychological rule, the sin that one commits is attributed to that which one commits it upon. Projection. The moral justification for destroying an enemy is that the enemy is destructive." (87) He attributes this to what he calls "oppositionalism":

Oppositionalism distinguishes by drawing to extremes. These extremes must touch, because they need each other for the distinction to become apparent…A last way out of oppositionalism is the best: stop fantasying in its terms, so as to see into each thing for what it is. (85)…the relationship to the unconscious in psychology is no longer negative in the way that it was. Separation from it and rebirth through it no longer constitute the heroic task. The heroic age in psychology is past. The hero of consciousness is now further along.(57-58)

Sciabarra emphasizes Rand's dialectical sensibilities, but they seem to be at odds with her celebrations of heroic conquest through reason. Hillman may explain this contradiction when he writes: "…[F]or what sort of mind wrestling with what sort of issue is the ideology of oppositionalism so useful? The apparent answer is the heroic ego, who divides so he can conquer. Antithetical thinking…belongs to the will of power and the masculine protest."(82)

So what does this mean for the future of Objectivist heroes, and for heroism in general? What kind of heroes can we see in the future? Is it necessary for Objectivists to continue to purge the last of the Nietzschean contempt of the masses that Rand valiantly tried to repudiate in her own work?

Part of the issue of heroism is its relation to hate. In Greek mythology, Hillman explains that the origins of the traits associated with heroism are born of the goddess Styx (meaning "hateful), who reigns over the river of the same name. "Styx's children are called Zellus (zeal), Nike (victory), Bia (force), and Cratos (strength)... Her children provide the prototypes for that crusading morality which accompanies the ego on its righteous task of destroying in order to maintain itself. (57-58)

If there is any doubt about this, we can compare Hillman with Nathaniel Branden. Hillman believes that "The dissolution of these attitudes would mean reconverting the zeal and force of our ego-strength back into the hatred that is its source. Then we would see the hatred in our heroics." (59) Branden reveals this to be inherent in Objectivism when he writes "Any threat to man's ego -anything which he experiences as a danger to his mind's efficacy and control -is a potential source of pathological anxiety. The pain of this anxiety is the most terrible that man can know -because the value at stake is, necessarily, the most crucial of all his values."

Having said all this, is should be stated that what is needed is not a repudiation of heroism, for as Rand and Jung have shown, the hero is a necessary part of the individuation process, and that at some point, every child needs to find his or her own inner daimon. And as Rand has shown in her fiction, it is dangerous and suicidal to deny one's individuality. And as Hillman writes, "Lest the hero become too easy a scapegoat, only to return from the badlands where I am repressing him and come riding in later into the reader's mind with a band of cohorts each packing strong justifications and telling arguments in defense of their revengeful leader, we have to pardon his erroneous ways. They are in a service beyond the will to power. This is the principle of distinctions."(82) Distinctions are important. But we need not endorse the false dichotomies of selfishness and altruism as Rand, at her most polemical extreme, propagated on her young, impressionable readers.

We need to find new models of heroism for Objectivism, for as Ryan explains, "Rand's melodrama and rhetoric do not transfer well to the quest for systematic understanding. And Rand's particular brand of 'hero worship', however useful in her dramatic and somewhat propagandistic novels, is unlikely to appeal in real life to those hero-worshippers…who objects of admiration possess such virtues as judiciousness, thoroughness, self-criticism, intellectual humility, and equanimity." (381)

Rand sees the hero as being the bravest and the strongest. Ryan counters this sentiment: "It is extremely doubtful that there has ever been a human being--genius or not--who has possessed, in and of himself, a 'mental capacity' completely sufficient for his own survival. "Indeed, Rand sometimes…writes of her own imaginary geniuses as if they had the capacity to strike out into the wilderness and rebuild civilization from scratch, doing their own typing and filing to boot."(344)

Howard Roark needed Roger Enright to campaign for his architecture. He needed the support of his clients who had the bravery to go against the grain and live in his buildings. John Galt needed the Eddie Willers of the world just as much as Eddie needed him. Francisco needed the courage of his miners to risk their lives in a dangerous occupation. When we consider this, we are ready to consider this point of view from J. Lenore Wright, who writes:

Now, more than ever, we are realizing that we need ordinary people to be extraordinary. Perhaps Tina Turner's lament in Thunderdome is correct-"We don’t need another hero…When ordinary people bind themselves to the good, life can be extraordinary…In Plato's Symposium, his great dialogue on love, Diatoma teaches that profound ideas emerge from one small intellectual spark.

Or, as musician Roger Waters sings: "Each small candle lights a corner of the dark."


Ayn Rand was a fervent advocate of liberty and individual rights; her celebration of free trade and mutual interaction stems from her first hand experience, and escape from, the very nightmares of which she wrote. She was a woman who dared to challenge the male dominated tradition of philosophy, and refused to back down from her ideals and fought for values. Her celebration of the ego, contrary to her critic's complaints of its adolescent appeal, is actually a necessary part of the individuation process. But her version of the hero myth does not include the individual's re-integration into the community that is a hallmark of the classical monomyth; instead, the hero maintains his separateness. And it is possible that Rand absorbed a hidden element of fascism from the literature of her adopted country, hidden even from the storytellers themselves. Although Rand's commitment to freedom can be demonstrated, there is a very strong risk that her work can be used against her. If Objectivists want to counter the claims of fascism, the paradoxes of Rand's ideas will have to be confronted.

Some critics of Objectivism, such as Ryan, believe that the flaws of Objectivism are systemic, and that any attempt to reform Objectivism "will need to rescue it from [Rand] first of all, because it is filled with little land mines placed there by her own personal limitations and psychological problems." (380) Sciabarra, however, believes that Rand was a dialectical thinker, and that even with her flaws, Objectivism can be saved if we interpret her from the dialectical viewpoint. The future of not only the Objectivist concept of heroism, but of Objectivism itself, depends on the approach taken to these issues. In closing, consider these words from Allan B. Chinen in Beyond the Hero:

Rooted in the prehistoric past, the hunter-Trickster is the key to a deeper, more vibrant and vital manhood. Mediator not monarch, wanderer not warrior, healer not hero, his ideal is exploration rather than exploitation, dialogue not domination, and integration instead of imperialism. Beyond hero, patriarch, or goddess, and before all of them, he is the deepest, truest masculine self, as important today was he was at the dawn of the human race. The hunter-Trickster recalls men to their original vocation, older than the warrior's or the patriarch's…as it was in the beginning, so it is now: men's summons is to go forth 'I know not where' to clear the way for humanity. (260)


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