Monday, December 24, 2012

"Good Will in a Non-Sacrificial Way", or, Merry Christmas

"The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way." -Ayn Rand, The Objectivist Calendar, Dec. 1976 

Objectivism, according to Rand, was to be "a philosophy for living on Earth." And that includes, of course, "peace, good will toward men." In that spirit, I'd like to share some of that good will in music form, with an improv/"work in progress" I started today, "Snow on the River." So, with good will for the best within you, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


My review of Ayn Rand Explained: From Tyranny to Tea Party, as published at

This attempt to explain Ayn Rand's resurgence via the Tea Party, by way of updating The Ideas of Ayn Rand by the late Ron Merrill, is, at best, misguided. Although Marsha Familaro-Enright is to be commended for her even-handed approach to the many issues involved in discussing Objectivism, her technical approach is puzzling, to say the least; and insulting to Merrill, at worst, given the rewriting and, in some cases, omissions of his original words (I've seen no indication that he or his estate would have approved of such editorial changes). Enright doesn't simply update the book to address Rand's relevance to today's socio-political climate (or simply to address outdated predictions or events), or to correct factual errors (i.e., a wrong date or citation), but too often changes Merrill's meaning, or omits them where she may have disagreed. (In fairness, Enright does say, in the introduction, that she will be doing this, so my charge is not to claim she deceives the reader, but against her methodology.)

The changes would go unnoticed by those who haven't read Merrill's original book, but should downright annoy those well familiar with it.
(It was one of the first books about Rand that I ever read, and I personally still have my original copy, purchased back in 1998.) The original book is not presented as is, which commentary or updates provided in footnotes or brackets; rather, rather, Enright alternates between presenting Merrill's original words as-is, to switching to something like "Merrill says," or "Merrill believed...", to changing the ending of sentences in paragraphs that change the meaning of his original intent.

Example: On page 154 of the original, Merrill writes:

"Will the day ever come when Objectivism gets a place in the philosophy curriculum? That will be the day!--when Ayn Rand is taken as seriously as Plato or Kant or Mill--when textbooks devote a chapter or so to her ideas--when students learn about Objectivism and carefully compare and contrast its tenets to those of other schools of thought. That will be that day when professors no longer fear Objectivism--because it will be dead."

Contrast with Enright's revision:

"Will the day ever come when Objectivism gets a place in the philosophy curriculum? When Ayn Rand is taken as seriously as Plato or Kant or Mill-- when textbooks devote a chapter or so to her ideas-- when students learn about Objectivism and carefully compare and contrast its tenets to those of other schools of thought: that will be the day when professors will no longer fear Objectivism-- because it will be, like Aristotle, so completely incorporated into the ideas of the culture that most will accept many of its premises without realizing it."

In another brazen example, Enright eviscerates Merrill's challenge to Rand's definition of art. On page 126 of the original, he writes: "Thus, the correct definition of art is: A man-made object or process the function of which is to induce a sense of life in the observer", and concludes that "Though this definition does not immediately lead to an esthetic of music, it at least does not make the problem more difficult, as Rand's does." This is gone in the revision (although the final sentence does suggest a challenge to Rand's definition, the certainly of Merrill's challenge, right or wrong, is gone, and the chapter feels incomplete as a result, as if a limb was amputated); instead of challenging Merrill, his original thesis on the matter is discarded, audaciously replaced with a link to a website featuring Enright's own theory.

Despite the permission granted by Ayn Rand to the heir of her estate, Leonard Peikoff, to do with her work as he saw fit (edit: yes, I realize the controversy of this statement...anyway...), many critics have seen fit to challenge the editing of her previously unpublished journals, letters, lectures, and Q&A series for altering their tone and meaning. Shouldn't Merrill, whether or not one agrees with his personal conclusions, get the same consideration? If Enright is one of those critics, I would hope that the irony of her revisions of Merrill's work does not go unnoticed. If not, it would be interesting to see her reaction to the idea of her own original writings being "revised" in the same manner. (Or, how would she react to a revision of her revision? Perhaps an omission of her opening for Chapter Nine: "In the battle of for the mind, the ideas of Ayn Rand are winning." Will that statement, laughable in today's climate, stand the test of time?)

But reading the attempt in the best light: Again, Enright should be commended for her even-handed discussion of the pros and cons of Ayn Rand, Objectivism, and the controversial issues surrounding them; it's obvious that she is sympathetic to the ideals espoused. (And ultimately, the responsibility lies with Open Court, the publisher of the original book, for revising it in this manner for their IDEAS EXPLAINED series.)  Unfortunately, she has not done well by Merrill. Because of the inherent controversy of using a previously published book by a deceased author, the attempt becomes a dual between using the book as a vehicle to address today's issues while wrestling with the original's author's own words and intent. One or the other might have been acceptable, but this just undercuts both projects in the process.