The Intellectual Default of Rand and Jefferson (& Locke)

October, 1994(?)
Ayn Rand is a footnote and not all that deep. But having stepped up from her mediocrity, I can appreciate all that she says. It must be said that the leap from Ayn Rand's intellectual discipline from the default American mainstream way of thinking is very significant. Yet that which informs the level of discourse in contemporary philosophy is even more significant. That which Rand gave me in 1986 I have been rewarded tenfold by Cornel West in 1991. I most heartily suggest that any Objectivist graduate from that school and get into the school of Pragmatism. Pragmatism is *the* American philosophy. Its precepts are bold, its scope vast, and its prospects good. Its scholars are orders of magnitude more intelligent than Ayn. West's "American Evasion of Philosophy" (University of Wisconsin Press, 1989) outlines the paths of the great American thinkers(Emerson, Dewey, Hook, Mills, DuBois, Niehbur, Trilling, Pierce, Rorty and Quine). In my opinion we all as Americans get nowhere until the weight of a publication such as this is felt.

Rand lacks historical specificity. Further, she simply didn't say enough about enough things to have completed a real philosophy. The good thing about that is that it makes her easy enough to fit into many unfleshed ideologies. At the same time, I saw absolutely no conflict between the ideological worlds of Malcolm X, Ayn Rand and Henry Miller. It is precisely because so little of what they stood for overlapped. No one can say 'objectively' what Rand thought about race or sex because she left so much to interpretation. In short she never dealt directly with racism or feminism. These are real subjects to which her universe applied little. Therefore her lack.

An objectivist argument that works well, I think is this: The Declaration of Independence is a document which explicitly denotes real offenses by the King against the men who wrote it. Therefore all creations issued from its intellectual framework are valid against the offenses taken. A country founded on a Constitution directed by such purpose should never again repeat such offenses, otherwise it would be inconsistent with the integrity of its creation. A country so corrupted would soon self destruct as it fell into the hands of those lacking the integrity to defend its originating principles. You will note if you read the American Declaration of Independence that there are no references to racial or sexist offenses. Consequently, it comes as no surprise that such offenses are not constitutionally prohibited. Amendments to the Constition which proscribe the discriminatory EFFECTS of racism and sexism are not the same as those which combat racism and sexism directly. The American constitution combats monarchy directly, therefore the negative or positive effects of monarchy whatever they may be can never be attributed in this country to monarchy. Monarchy is institutionally impossible in America no matter how many fool monarchists you have running around. Get the picture? Separation of powers, Separation of Church and State. The right to private property. Is there any question that these are institutionally guaranteed?

The difficulty in resolving racial issues in America has boiled traditionally down to the question of law. Recognizing our Consititutional flaw we fall into the unseemly messes of court orders, quota policies, Affirmative Action all which inevitably undermine the ability of groups to negotiate for themselves. Yet these are the kinds of remedies we can expect from America, BY DESIGN. Ex Harvard Law professor Derrick Bell, U of Wisconsin law professor Patricia J. Williams, visiting Columbia law professor Kimberle Crenshaw are three legal scholars who make the points with insight and ferocious logical discipline. Williams' "Alchemy of Race & Rights" is the best book. Bell's current and popular "Faces at the Bottom of the Well" is logically fun and stimulating but a bit narrow-minded for my tastes. I simply don't believe that legal remedies alone will help, thus my polytheism, multiculturalism, pragmatism and 'decentralizationism'.

If you take a 'multicultural' look at the constitutions of modern democracies - and even those of nations yet to be, for example the Harare Accords, which are the fundamental principles guiding the ANC in its persuit of a non-racial government in South Africa - you will see that the kernal of principles upon which the nation is built can be anti-racist. That fact alone demonstrates to me that modern thinkers are doing a bit better than those who were merely experimenting with anti-monarchism. The most important thing to remember is that you cannot get to a non-racial society without EXPLICITY dealing with racist offense as an intellectual principle in the formation of constitutional law. Locke's 'Eye of the Mind' is flawed in that it "turned outward seeing 'singular presentations of sense'. All such ocular models view ahistorical, terminal confrontation rather than historical, fluid conversation, as the determinant of human belief. In short the philosophical privileging of representations rests upon epistimological attempts to escape from history and put a closure on human practices." It is consistant to see both Rand and Locke in this respect. The pragmatists (above) plus Pascal, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche reject the static language of epistemology and deal more realistically with the changing nature of intellectual discourse. Jefferson' s 'self-evident truths' again reflect this static view of the framework of human thought. Only later American thinkers could see as a practical matter that a large diverse, educated populace could never stick to a single epistemological universe. In the modern 'international' world this is almost obvious.

In sum, it seems to me, that some multicultural, polytheistic, pragmatist and decentralized methodologies of intellectual discourse must provide the frameworks for the next evolution of thought. Its a vast task but we can't get to it in a half-vast way.

mbowen, 1991