|If you can't attack the message (freedom), then attack the messenger (Ayn Rand): Though replete with contradictions, inaccuracies, and a philosophical perspective that cannot distinguish between voluntary "volunteerism" and forced "volunteerism", columnist Kelly Teahen nevertheless acknowledges that the ideas of libertarians "bear watching ... if we want some idea of where the larger right-wing movement may be heading ..." Predictably, the paper did not follow through, and made no effort to inform its readers what was actually being said at the conference. Another incredible opportunity missed.|
Even Libertarians, who scorn such things as collectivity and selflessness, can't pull together a conference without the selfless help of fine volunteers.
It's just one of the cheerful contradictions, when human life smacks into philosophical ideals, that may get a good chew-over as the World Libertarian Conference gathers at Western for four days this week.
The 31 guest speakers addressing 200-plus delegates range from a young native Canadian woman calling herself the "unofficial opposition" to her band council to a professor from Germany. Freedom Party president and Londoner Bob Metz, and former Londoner and marijuana advocate Marc Emery, are on the speakers' list, with Metz also serving as volunteer registrar.
Several speakers will retlect on the influence of Russian-born writer Ayn Rand (1905-1982), whose first name rhymes with "mine" --- a memorable moniker for the high priestess of selfishness.
One of the latest issues tackled by the Ayn Rand Institute, which carries on the philosophy of world transfomation preached by Rand is an anti-volunteerism campaign.
Dubbed the "campaign against servitude," it's been active opposing U.S. President Bill Clinton's call for more community service and launching court challenges in school districts that, like Ontario, have a community service component in the high-school curriculum.
Photographs of Rand-Institute-sponsored demonstrations show young people carrying signs saying "Duty to Serve=Nazism" and "I have no duty to sacrifice myself."
The Rand road to happiness, summarized by her Libertarian descendants as fighting for "free minds and free markets," has been marched by some powerful folks in our day, including the one-time head of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan.
Rand once gave a short answer to define her philosophy: "Metaphysics: Objective Reality. Epistemology: Reason. Ethics: Self interest. Politics: Capitalism."
My first introductlon to her came through a swale of young swains I knew at university in the mid 1980s, who swooned over Rand and her "objectivism."
These fellas didn't exactly have the discipline, dedication to vision and talent given to Rand's fictional creation of the hero-man, Howard Roarke, the uncompromising architect in her 1947 novel, The Fountainhead.
Curious about what had captured their imagination, I read Fountainhead and, later, Atlas Shrugged. Curiosity even got me past the nauseating part in Fountainhead where the ice-maiden heroine, Dominique, loses her virginity and frigidity in one revelatory swoop when brutally raped by one of her wealthy father's quarry workers (who, we know, is Roarke, who can't get paying work in architecture because his brilliance and self confidence scares the staid ninnies around him.)
Still, Rand continues to appeal to the young: Nathaniel Branden, one of Rand's ardent followers (who she later shunned) has said he read Fomtainhead as a 14-year-old in Toronto and it became "the chief companion of my lonely, rather alienated adolescence."
Her books continue to sell well. The institute has campus clubs, high-school essay-writing contests and continues to capture what Rand in a 1968 essay calls "the few in each generation (who) will grasp and achieve the full reality of man's proper stature."
Rand championed reason but lived her life, it seems to me, tossed rudely by emotions. The Institute, however, excises emotional turmoil from her official record. It recalls her long-term marriage but not her public affair (conducted, supposedly, with hubby's blessing) with the 35-year-younger Branden, after inviting he and his young bride, Barbara, into the Rand inner circle. Then, after the affair burned out in 1968, in Branden's words, "she mobilized as best she could the objectivist movement that she and I created to wreck and destroy me in every way she could, professionally."
Hardly a poster girl for reason over passion.
Barbara, the young bride in this odd menage, became Rand's biographer and speaks tomorrow at the Libertarian conference.
A one-time intimate of Rand, Barbara Branden acknowledged in an interview this week the author had a didactic streak and "didn't look to the left or right" as she fought for individual rights. Still, she believes the Rand Institute has been hijacked by "fanatics" who are creating "the church of Ayn Rand ---she would have hated it."
Branden opposes community-service units in school curriculum because students do the work under force, not choice, but she doesn't understand why the Institute is opposing efforts to have citizens help other citizens.
While I find the inconsistencies between Randian theory and practice useful in puncturing her goddess status --- not that she, as an avowed atheist, would suffer such a title --- Rand and her Libertarian descendants should not be shrugged off.
Their "no government is good government" credo has huge popularity with the political right in Canada, people's outrage over water-quality testing in Ontario, notwithstanding.
"Most of the Libertarian movenient was created by our students," says Barbara Branden who, with then-husband Nathaniel, ran the Nathaniel Branden lnstitute in the 1960s to promote Rand's philosophies. "We were very young and we thought we were changing the sorld. A number of years later, I'd think of those days with amused affection but now I look at what has happened and realize, we were changing the world. We were leading the movement to more freedoms."
It bears watching what Libertarians talk about, where their concerns lie and what battles they pick, if we want some idea of where the larger right-wing movement may be heading, down the Rand road.
If you see a demonstration in the next couple of years shouting about volunteers being slaves, don't say I didn't warn you.
Kelley Teahen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer with The London Free Press. Her column appears Tuesdays.
last updated on April 28, 2002