Previously Unpublished Ayn Rand Letters (#4)

Ayn Rand Letters: Personal (1938 – 1950)

This is the fourth and final installment of previously unpublished Ayn Rand letters selected by Michael S. Berliner, editor of Letters of Ayn Rand. A total of forty letters have been divided into four groups for publication, according to general subject matter: Hollywood, novels, nonfiction (including political activism), and more personal correspondence.

“While recently writing the complete finding aid to the Ayn Rand Papers, I noted some interesting letters that I hadn’t selected for the Letters book,” Berliner says. “Now, more than twenty years later, these letters struck me as meriting a wider audience. These unpublished letters were selected because of their insight into some particular topic or some aspect of Ayn Rand’s life, or, more often, as further evidence of how her mind worked on a variety of matters.

“I’d always been impressed by the care she took with non-philosophical issues and relatively trivial matters, and this mind-set comes across in virtually all of her correspondence. For a variety of reasons, she was not a ‘casual’ letter writer but always took great care to write with great precision on matters that today are usually relegated to a quick, unpunctuated tweet. For an explanation of her non-casual approach, see my preface to Letters of Ayn Rand on page xvi.”

This fourth installment of unpublished material contains six letters addressed to the following individuals on the dates listed:

  • Ethel Boileau (June 21, 1938)
  • Leonard Read (November 30, 1945)
  • Lynda Lynneberg (February 21, 1948)
  • Hal Wallis (January 6, 1950)
  • Lorine Pruette (April 28, 1950)
  • Archibald Ogden (August 25, 1950)

What follows is the text of each letter, accompanied by remarks from Berliner (always in italics) supplying necessary context.1

To Ethel Boileau (June 21, 1938)

Lady Ethel Boileau (1881–1942) was an English novelist, best known for Clansmen and Ballade in G Minor. Her correspondence with Rand began in 1936, when she wrote a glowing homage to We the Living after her American publisher had sent her a copy. After Rand read Clansmen in 1936, she wrote to Boileau that her “descriptions are so lovely that they have made me, an Americanized Russian, experience a feeling of patriotism toward Scotland. Your book makes me believe that Scotland is a country of strong individuals and, as such, she has all my sympathy and admiration.”  The letter below is a rare instance of Rand commenting about World War II.

Dear Lady Boileau,

Thank you so much for your letter. I was very sorry to hear that you have not been well, and I do hope that you have recovered completely. I am so happy to have met you and am looking forward to the time when you may come to American for another visit.2

However, looking at the picture of your charming house, I suspect that you may not be inclined to leave it often. I am sure that I should not. It has such a magnificent air of old Europe. I feel somewhat wistful as I say this, for the thought of Europe at present gives me a great deal of anxiety. I can well understand your feeling about it. I should not, perhaps, allow myself a definite opinion of the policy of a country which I do not know thoroughly, but I cannot help feeling a great sympathy for Premier Chamberlain. The least co-operation any European country has with Soviet Russia — the greater are the chances of saving Europe from another catastrophe. I am convinced that the major forces preparing for a general world conflict originate in Russia. I can only hope that the propaganda by the Soviet “United Front” will be defeated in England. It is being defeated here, or so it seems at present. The wave of Red public opinion appears to be ebbing quite definitely in New York, where it has always been at its strongest. I feel relieved for the first time in years.

I do hope that you have begun your next book. And I shall be waiting impatiently for the time when you resume the story of the Mallory family. The point at which you left them in “Ballade in G-minor” makes it unfair to keep your readers waiting too long. It will be interesting to see what happens to Colin now.

I am sending you a copy of “Anthem,” my new novel which I mentioned to you. It came out in England about a month ago, I believe. But there has been a delay in my receiving the copies here and they did not arrive until a few days ago. Incidentally, the clippings of reviews have been lost on their way to me from England and I have no idea how the book was received.3 I have been promised duplicates and am now waiting for them. I shall be most anxious to hear your opinion of this book.4

At present, I am working on my next novel — the very big one about American architects. For the last few months I have been wracking my brain and nerves upon the preliminary outline. It is always the hardest part of the work for me — and my particular kind of torture. Now it is done, finished, every chapter outlined—and there are eighty of them at present! The actual writing of it is now before me, but I would rather write ten chapters than plan one. So the worst of it is over.

I received a very charming letter from Princess [Marina] Chavchavadze. As she did not tell me her address, would you be so kind as to give her for me my regards and my gratitude for the kind things she said about “We the Living.”

My husband joins me in sending you our best wishes.

To Leonard Read (November 30, 1945)

Leonard Read (1898–1983) was the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education. He was general manager of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce when Rand met him (via Isabel Paterson). The meeting took place in late 1943, when Read arranged a dinner for some pro-free enterprisers (mostly businessmen and attorneys) to meet Rand. In her biographical interviews, she reported that at the dinner “were twelve men, and I was the thirteenth, and the only woman. And we had a round table. And I met all the best conservatives there.” That seems to be a major impetus in Rand’s involvement with leaders of the “conservative” movement, a movement with which she eventually became disillusioned. In 1961, she commented that Read “was much more — how would I put it — intellectual and idealistic then than he is now. And, for a long time, both Isabel Paterson and I regarded him as the hopeful rising conservative of a practical, but intellectual kind. Which he lost totally once he went on his own.” Based on her daily calendars, her last socializing with Read seems to have been in 1951.

Dear Leonard:

Thank you for your letter. I am sorry that we didn’t have a chance to see you again before we left New York. If you come to the Coast again on one of your flying trips, do let us know and try to give us an evening if possible.

I didn’t have any extra copies of “The Fountainhead,” but I got one here in town, have autographed it and am sending it to your friends, as you requested. The enclosed buck is your change — you sent four dollars and the book cost only $3.00. The postage is something like 7 cents, so I’ll contribute that.

Thanks for the copy of Rose Wilder Lane’s book reviews. I appreciate very much her note on my book. Yes, she has done a very good job on Bastiat and she is an excellent reviewer.

You asked where to get “We the Living.” It’s out of print. I have only my own single copy left. But I’m sending you, under separate cover, a copy of the English edition. It’s the same as the American edition, except that my love scenes have been slightly censored, unfortunately.

Let me know if anything of interest is happening among our conservatives. It seemed awfully dull and disappointing to me, what I saw of their activities in New York.

My trip east has done me a lot of good — I feel rested and reconciled to California for a while. But I’ll always miss New York and I’ll always love it better than any place on earth.

With best regards from both of us,


On December 28, 1945, Read replied, “I am only partly through [We the Living], but what a book!”

To Linda Lynneberg (February 21, 1948)

Rand met Linda Lynneberg when she came to work under Rand as a volunteer researcher during Wendell Willkie’s 1940 presidential campaign. They became friends, and Rand employed her as a typist in the early 1950s. In her biographical interviews, Rand said that Lynneberg got converted to Catholicism under Isabel Paterson’s influence and was “almost wrecked by it.” Nevertheless, Rand was still socializing with Lynneberg as late as 1975.

Dear Linda:

You are quite right, if I don’t write letters it’s because the book has been going along wonderfully. But thank you for your letters and for all the clippings and information about oil. I haven’t read all the booklets yet, but I believe it is just the kind of stuff I need.

I was very startled to hear about the existence of a Miss Ann Taggart. Now all you have to do is find Mr. Wesley Mouch for me. (I am afraid, however, that the Mouches are all around us everywhere.)

I hope you like the cigarette holder. I couldn’t get you a silver one in this shape. The silver ones were shorter and stubbier; I think they are intended for men. So I decided to buy the same kind I had. I hope the color will remind you of me.

No special news about us, except that I have been working on the novel very well indeed. I had to be interrupted this week with a lot of other business, such as the Italian movie of WE THE LIVING, which I ran for some of my friends and for which I am still negotiating a settlement. Also, you may have read in the papers that Warner Bros. are starting now on the production of THE FOUNTAINHEAD. Nobody is set for the cast yet — except Gary Cooper. Do you remember our meeting with him? I am certainly delighted about this, since of all the big name stars, he is my choice for Roark. The director is to be King Vidor. I have not met him yet, but I understand he is a conservative, at least he was a member of M.P.A. at one time, so I’m glad about that.

I have taken some time off to write to Pat and couldn’t do it in less than five single-spaced pages. I had a wonderful letter from her in answer, and believe it or not, I answered back, too. When Pat is in a good mood, she is like quicksand, completely irresistible, so maybe I shall become a good correspondent.

We had some terribly cold nights, and our moats were frozen solid, but I think spring is coming now. I am looking for your Texas bluebonnets, but so far they have not appeared yet.

The enclosed ad was discovered by Frank in a Valley paper. He thought you’d be pleased to see it. I think your sense of humor and his are very much alike.

I hope that your business will pick up and that you’ll feel better than you sounded in your last letter. I enjoyed your visit here so much that I hope you will come back before you return to New York. Incidentally, Teresa is back with us and everything is going along wonderfully, and the house is really comfortable and well run now.

Love from both of us,

P.S. I am sending this to your Tulsa address because I could not decipher the one you gave me for Oklahoma City. Your handwriting is as bad as mine. I hope this reaches you.

To Hal Wallis (January 6, 1950)

From 1944 to 1949, Rand was a screenwriter for Hal Wallis (1898–1986), producer of Casablanca and many other famous films. Under Wallis, she wrote the screenplay for Love Letters (1945) and unproduced scripts of “The Crying Sisters” and “House of Mist.” Although she generally liked working with Wallis she became disappointed with the stories he was producing and disappointed in him personally when she discovered that their project for a film about the atom bomb (working title “Top Secret”) was merely a ploy by Wallis for him to sell the story rights to MGM, which was producing The Beginning or the End (1947). However, although she considered him a second-hander (in the Peter Keating sense) as a producer, she said in her biographical interviews in 1961 that “he was a very nice person, as a person, pleasant to deal with,” and they continued on friendly relations.

Dear Boss:

This is to thank you formally for your lovely present. It was such a nice gesture on your part that you broke my heart with kindness — a thing you have always known how to do. I was happy to know that you still remembered me. I hope you know that I will always think of you with respect and admiration.

Thank you for the past and the present, and all my best wishes to you for a Happy New Year.


To Lorine Pruette (April 28, 1950)

Lorine Pruette (1896–1977) was a well-known writer, psychoanalyst and feminist. In 1943, she reviewed The Fountainhead for the New York Times, a review that Rand was especially grateful for. In her biographical interviews, Rand commented: “That really saved my universe in that period. I expected nothing like that from the Times. And it’s the only intelligent review I have really had in my whole career as far as novels are concerned.”

Dear Lorine:

Thank you for your post card. I can’t tell you how homesick it made me for New York and for the nice evening we spent with you.

I don’t know yet when I will be back East, as I am deep in work on my new novel. It’s going along wonderfully and I am very happy with it. Your rose quartz is here on my desk as reminder and inspiration.

What are you doing? Have you been writing any articles or reviews? What has happened to your proposed article about me — or is it a subject the magazines are afraid of at present? Did you ever meet Archie Ogden? He has just gone back into the publishing business and is now editor of Appleton-Century. Do let me hear from you when you have the time.

With love from both of us.

This is the last correspondence between Rand and Pruette in the Ayn Rand Archives, but Rand moved permanently to New York City in 1951, and her daily calendars show numerous dinners with Pruette from 1951 through 1958.

To Archibald Ogden (August 25, 1950)

Archibald Ogden was Rand’s editor on The Fountainhead. His almost legendary status among Objectivists was secured when he put his job on the line, telling his employer, Bobbs-Merrill, that if The Fountainhead wasn’t the book for them, then he wasn’t the editor for them.

Archie darling:

Thank you for your letter. It is I who have to ask you to forgive me for my long delay in answering, this time. I think you know that the only valid reason which could have prevented me from writing you sooner was the work on my novel. I am just approaching the end of Part I, and I did not dare interrupt myself while I had the whole world crashing — in the novel, I mean.

I hope that you won’t be let down by hearing that I am only at the end of Part I. As you know, my speed of writing always accelerates as I approach the climax of a story, so I don’t think that it will be too long now before I finish the whole book — but I won’t even make a guess at the date, in order not to disappoint you later. Part I, however, is about two-thirds of the whole book in length. I can’t tell you how much I wish I could show you what I have written since I saw you last. I know you would be pleased. Be patient with me for taking such a long time — it is really going to be worth the waiting. As for me, I am simply crazy about the story and I am very happy with it.

Thank you for the things you said about me in your letter, about my manner of integrating ideas into a story. You and I are probably the only two people in the literary profession who understand fully how difficult and how important this is. Your remarks on the subject were one more proof to me, though I didn’t need any, that you are the one and only editor for me. I hope that sooner or later you will be my official editor in fact. You will always be my personal one in spirit.

I was delighted to hear that you are happy at being back in the publishing business. This supports what I had always expected. You were wasting your talent on the movies, and publishing is where you belong.

Who is the young man you mention in your letter, the one who admires THE FOUNTAINHEAD and is writing a novel about the steel business? Is his name Thaddeus Ashby? I strongly suspect that it is, and if so, I must warn you to be careful. Ashby is a boy whom I met here some years ago and who professed a great admiration for THE FOUNTAINHEAD. I have not been in touch with him for a long time, but I have heard that he had gone to work in a steel mill and was writing a novel. He is a young man who professes all the ideals of Roark, but practices the methods of Peter Keating, or worse. When I met him, he told me a great many things about himself, all of which turned out to be untrue. For instance, he said that he had just come from the Pacific where he had been an aviator and had been shot down twice. Later, I learned that he had been in aviation training during the war, but had never left this country. If he gave you the impression that he learned about you and the history of THE FOUNTAINHEAD in some mysterious way — then that is a typical example of his behavior. He heard all about you and the history of THE FOUNTAINHEAD — from me. If he did not tell you so, it is probably because he knows that I would not give him a good recommendation, and that he had no right to approach you in that manner, to use — without my knowledge or approval — any information which he obtained from me. I do not want to be indirectly responsible for some fraud which he might possibly have in mind against you. My impression of him is that he is intelligent, but I have my doubts about his literary talent. It is possible that he may develop, but I would be inclined to doubt whether he is yet ready to produce a good novel. If you find that you want to deal with him, I would warn you to take every legal precaution that might be necessary. For instance, I would not advise you to give him any advance or commitment on unfinished work.

Let me know the name of the novel which is your own choice on your fall list — I would like to read it. No, do not send me a free copy — I want to have the privilege of buying and supporting any novel which is your choice. If I were a collectivist, I would be jealous of any writer you select, but since I am an individualist who believes that there is no clash of interest among people and that any talent is a help, not a threat, to another talent, I will wish you to discover a whole list of your own writers, all of them good. In fact, I wish you a whole harem of them. But, of course, being selfish, I want to be the wife No. 1. And being conceited, I am not afraid of competition for that title.

With best regards to both of you from both of us — and all my love to you,

Rand and Ogden remained friends until 1967, when Ogden submitted an introduction to the novel’s 25th anniversary edition, an introduction that Rand considered inappropriate. Her lengthy letter to him (pages 643–46 in Letters of Ayn Rand) concluded, “I must tell you frankly that I do not think it will be possible for you to write an Introduction which would be acceptable to me . . . . I will not attempt to tell you how sad and painful this is for me.”

Previously Unpublished Ayn Rand Letters (#3)

Ayn Rand Letters: Nonfiction and Activism (1941 – 1961)

This is the third of four installments featuring previously unpublished Ayn Rand letters selected by Michael S. Berliner, editor of Letters of Ayn Rand. A total of forty letters have been divided into four groups for publication, according to general subject matter: Hollywood, novels, nonfiction (including political activism), and more personal correspondence.

“While recently writing the complete finding aid to the Ayn Rand Papers, I noted some interesting letters that I hadn’t selected for the Letters book,” Berliner says. “Now, more than twenty years later, these letters struck me as meriting a wider audience. These unpublished letters were selected because of their insight into some particular topic or some aspect of Ayn Rand’s life, or, more often, as further evidence of how her mind worked on a variety of matters.

“I’d always been impressed by the care she took with non-philosophical issues and relatively trivial matters, and this mind-set comes across in virtually all of her correspondence. For a variety of reasons, she was not a ‘casual’ letter writer but always took great care to write with great precision on matters that today are usually relegated to a quick, unpunctuated tweet. For an explanation of her non-casual approach, see my preface to Letters of Ayn Rand on page xvi.”

This third group of unpublished material contains twelve letters addressed to the following individuals on the dates listed:

  • Gloria Swanson (February 3, 1941)
  • DeWitt M. Emery (September 23, 1941)
  • Edward A. Rumely (December 8, 1943)
  • DeWitt Wallace (December 8, 1943)
  • Leonard Read (April 16, 1946)
  • Leonard Read (July 17, 1946)
  • Alan Collins (August 19, 1946)
  • Ev Suffens (August 30, 1946)
  • Edna Lonigan (January 29, 1949)
  • Edna Lonigan (February 12, 1949)
  • Hedda Hopper (November 9, 1950)
  • Editor, Commercial & Financial Chronicle (May 26, 1961)

What follows is the text of each letter with accompanying remarks from Berliner (always in italics) supplying necessary context.1

To Gloria Swanson (February 3, 1941)

Ayn Rand met Gloria Swanson (1899–1983) during Wendell Willkie’s 1940 campaign for president and, during the last week of the doomed campaign, answered questions in a Manhattan movie studio converted into an auditorium and rented by Swanson for use in the campaign. “Of all the speakers who came to talk there and share the podium with me, the most memorable by far was Ayn Rand, who had a fascinating mind and held audiences spellbound,” wrote Swanson in her autobiography, Swanson on Swanson. Rand’s copy of the letter exists only in handwritten pencil.

Dear Miss Swanson,

I have just heard from Mr. Joseph Kamp that you are back in New York, and I am writing to thank you for the picture you sent me, for remembering my request and for the lovely way in which you granted it.2

Your picture is the only remembrance of the campaign that will remain with me. And working with you is my nicest memory of the whole campaign. I do hope that you have recovered a little from the disappointment which we all felt. I am not sure that I have quite recovered — or ever will. But then, I’ve always been like an elephant — and now I am beginning to realize what a sad load an elephant must be carrying through life.

With my gratitude and sincere admiration for you — since my days in Russia3 — to the present — and always —

To DeWitt M. Emery (September 23, 1941)

DeWitt Emery (1882–1958) was founder of the National Small Business Men’s Association and the Small Business Economic Foundation (whose purpose was to explain to workers the advantages of the free-enterprise system). In her biographical interviews, Ayn Rand said that Emery was “a very outspoken free-enterpriser at the time. Since then, he’s become a compromiser.”

Two days before Rand’s letter below, Emery had written a note to her about a booklet that was designed to promote a proposed individualist organization, requesting that she “read and return [it] with your comments.” Also, dated the same day (September 23) as her letter, is a telegram from Emery: “Need your suggestions for revising booklet can you mail today.”

Dear Mr. Emery:

If I tell you that it is now 5 a.m. and I have just finished typing my version of the booklet which I am enclosing — you will forgive me for my delay in sending you the material I promised.

Not only did I have one of my busiest weeks, with heavy rush assignments from the studio, but I had to hunt for a new apartment and to make arrangements for moving day after tomorrow. I thought that you wanted the outline of the organization first, so I had not worked on the booklet until today — I only had a general idea of what I wanted to do with it. When I got your wire, I had to make arrangements with the studio to give me the day off. I hope that I have not inconvenienced you too much by the delay and that this will reach you in time.

I re-typed the whole thing — using parts of your version and substituting others. I hope that I have not departed too far from what you wanted. I made an outline of what I thought was the aim and purpose of the booklet — then stated it in my own way. I hope that it will meet with your approval — but you know that I am always open to and grateful for criticism.

I know that you will see for yourself what reasons prompted me to make such changes as I made. But if you want my written criticism of the booklet’s original version — for any possible discussion with your colleagues — I will state it here briefly:

  1. There is a glaring, dangerous, unresolved contradiction between the opening of the booklet — the statement that national defense is destroying small business — and the later declaration that “the unconditional building of an impregnable defense” is the first aim of the NSBMA. As long as the defense situation is being used as the basis of the booklet’s whole appeal — our attitude towards it has to be stated unequivocably, beyond any un-patriotic suspicion and to the advantage of our cause.
  2. Page 12 of booklet: Defense should not be placed as the first aim of a business men’s organization. It sounds false. If a prospective member is interested chiefly and primarily in defense — he will go to the U.S.O. or some such place.
  3. Page 12. If an amateur like me may be permitted to be very emphatic about anything — I shall be so about the point of “labor’s rights” and “collective bargaining” being placed as one of the three sole, cardinal aims of a business men’s organization. Why, in the name of heaven, must we do that? Can’t we be considered respectable in defending our own rights and concerns without having to proclaim ourselves as champions of labor’s rights? For that noble purpose there’s the C.I.O. It is doing quite well. And I don’t see any declarations about protecting the rights of business men in its pamphlets. If that point was introduced into the booklet only as a sort of protection to cover the second part of the same paragraph — about “abolishing racketeering from labor unions” — it doesn’t work. It merely sounds like Willkie’s Elwood speech — and you know what that cost us. The whole subject of business men’s attitude towards labor is much too delicate. It is better not to touch it — unless we can devote to it pages and pages of full, clear-cut statement. A pious generality destroys the confidence of both labor and business men.
  4. I think the printed booklet is too short. When we over-cut and over-simplify, we cannot help but be reduced to generalities. In this case, I think it is simply poor business practice. It looks as if we are trying to sell a pig in a poke. We say that we object to certain propaganda and we offer people to buy our counter-propaganda, but we never give a concrete indication of the nature of either. We say in effect that we’ll sell you “a product” — come and pay for it without asking what it is. After all, when a business man advertises an important commercial product, he puts out a long, beautiful, detailed prospectus — with fancy text and photographs. Shouldn’t ideas be sold in the same way? We must remember that people who are in a position to contribute money to our cause are still terribly bitter about the millions they poured into the Willkie campaign and the miserable results they got. I know that from the people who were connected with the Willkie Clubs. They all feel stung. Willkie, too, promised anti-government propaganda — and look at him now. That is why any mild, compromising generality reminds people too much of the barefoot boy from Indiana. Unless we can be strong, clear, positive, militant — as you were in your radio speech — nobody will trust us or follow us. Besides, take this much from an author: people would rather read twenty pages that give them some meat and hold their interest than ten pages of boiled down generalities that bore them.

Please don’t be angry at me for this criticism — and don’t tell me that I am “talking to you like to one of the masses,” as you snapped at me once. I think you know all this. I think also that you must have some “appeasers” on your board — all organizations of our side have them — and these arguments are intended for your use against them.

I shall type the outline of the organization set-up, which we discussed, this week-end and airmail it to you immediately. I am moving on Thursday evening. My new address will be:

The Bromley

139 East 35th Street

New York City

I don’t know yet what my new telephone number will be, but if you should want to reach me before I send it to you, the operator will give you the new number when you call the old one.

Please let me know what you think of my version of the booklet as soon as you find time. I shall be most anxious to hear it.

My best regards,


On September 26, Emery responded that he had received her letter and turned it over to his colleague John Pratt. The only other reference in the Archives to Rand’s letter is Emery’s undated apology for not answering, “but I will.”

To Edward A. Rumely (December 8, 1943)

Ed Rumely (1882–1964) was, according to Wikipedia, pro-Germany in World War I. He was convicted of “trading with the enemy” but was pardoned by President Coolidge. Rumely helped establish the Committee for Constitutional Government in 1941. An early supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he broke with FDR over his attempted Supreme Court “packing” plan (a term that Rumely supposedly coined).

Dear Dr. Rumely:

I am very sorry that I have unwittingly kept you waiting — but I did not arrive in Hollywood until December 5th (I stopped in Chicago for a few days) and I did not report to the Warner Brother Studios until yesterday, when your letter and wire were given to me.

The terms of the division of the $1,500 paid by Reader’s Digest for “The Only Path to Tomorrow” are acceptable to me as you suggest: $800 to me and $700 to your organization for the further distribution of the article.

I have made some changes in the proofs of the condensed article, which I am enclosing. I am enclosing also a letter to Mr. DeWitt Wallace, explaining my changes. Please read it and forward it to him. You will see why the changes were necessary. There aren’t many, but I have to insist on them. Also, please explain to Mr. Wallace the reason for my delay in answering you.

I am enclosing the copy of your letter, which I have signed — with the one added provision about the changes in the proofs of the article.

I am greatly disturbed by the fact that the proofs contain a separate box with the quotation from Wendell Willkie. The disturbing question is: will this box appear in the reprints of my article which you are ordering from the Reader’s Digest? If it does, it will look as if I am more being endorsed by or am collaborating with Mr. Willkie. There is no man in America at present to whom I am more opposed than to Mr. Willkie. I do not mind the box in the pages of a magazine, because it has no relation to me, but in the pages of a separate pamphlet, it will have. I never dreamed of a possibility of my pamphlet being issued like that and I am most anxious to prevent it. Can you have the thing reprinted without the box? If you can, please do so and save me from a most embarrassing and unhappy situation.

Thanking you for your co-operation and with my best wishes for our mutual success,

Sincerely yours,

P.S. Thank you for the books which you sent me. I appreciate it very much.

On December 16, 1941, Rumely wired Rand that the January “edition” of his newsletter had already been distributed and failure to correct the proof in time “was due partly [to] your delay” in returning the proof. However, he wrote, “Reprints can and will be adjusted in accordance with your letter and corrections.” The copy in the Archives does indeed reflect the requested changes that the Reader’s Digest ignored.

To DeWitt Wallace (December 8, 1943)

DeWitt Wallace (1889–1981) was co-founder of Reader’s Digest in 1922. A staunch anti-Communist, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon in 1972.

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Thank you for accepting my article “The Individualist Credo,” now entitled “The Only Path to Tomorrow.” I am very glad and proud to have become a contributor to the Reader’s Digest.

I do not know whether it is considered correct in the circumstances to argue about the text of your condensation or whether one ever argues with the editor of the Reader’s Digest — but I assume that you do not want writers on such crucial subjects as politics and philosophy to sign their names to statements which are not their exact belief, so I feel sure you will not mind the few corrections I have made in the proofs.

With the exception of these few points, let me say that your condensation is excellent and I appreciate it very much.

In order not to appear arbitrary, I shall list here my reasons and explanations for each correction I made.

Page 1. The examples of totalitarian dictators I used were Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin. Stalin has been eliminated in the proof. If you find it inadvisable to include Stalin at this time, then we must eliminate the whole list of examples and leave only the general statement. I do not object to that. But I object most emphatically to any mention of specific dictators which does not include Stalin. By omission and implication it amounts to saying that Stalin is not a totalitarian dictator. I would not allow this to be said in my name under any circumstances whatsoever.

In the following paragraph my definition of what constitutes the collectivist doctrine has been given an entirely different meaning. I have corrected it to read as I intended it. If you find this too strong, then cut the line out entirely and make the paragraph read: “No tyrant has ever lasted long by force of arms alone. No dictator could rise if men…etc.” If you find it possible, please add the last sentence of this paragraph as I have marked it. I think it cinches the point. But I do not insist on this sentence. It is up to you. I would only be very pleased it you find it possible to include it.

Next paragraph: here I think it most important to end my sentence as marked. To say “where men deal with one another as equals” is a generality to which even a communist could subscribe. The whole point of my statement is the end of the sentence: “in voluntary, unregulated exchange.” Since individualism is my whole theme, religion and mission in life, you can understand why I want to give the best definition I can, and why I do not want to sound as if, at the most crucial point, I got away with a mere generality.

Page 2. My statement on what we must reject as total evil has been given an entirely different meaning. As the statement stands in the proof, it amounts to my saying that I would tolerate the abolition of individual rights if it really served the common good, but that I object to it only because it doesn’t. This is not my belief at all. In fact, this is the point on which our entire conservative side has ruined its stand. My belief is that I would not tolerate such an abolition for any cause and in any circumstances whatsoever. This is the heart of my whole article. Therefore, the statement must read as I marked it. By putting the words “common good” in quotes, we will avoid the impression which I believe your editors had in mind or were afraid of when they changed this sentence.

The other cut I made on this page is merely a suggestion to save you space. I notice that the article runs over and you need some cuts.

Page 3. The line: “when the Active is destroyed, the Passive can no longer be cared for” sounds as if I advocate that the Passive must be cared for, that it is our duty. I do not, when I say, as I marked, “the Passive cannot survive” it is a simple statement of fact, without altruistic implications.

In the next paragraph, the line: “There is no other way to help him in the long run” is inexact. There is no other way to help him in any run, long or short. Who but the Active can ever help anyone in any way?

In the same paragraph, I would like very much to add the final sentence, which I marked, about the extermination of the Active in a collectivist society. I think it clinches the point. But I leave this to your discretion. If you prefer to omit that sentence, do so. In this case, I don’t insist.

But the line about “the savage’s whole existence” (at bottom of page) must be kept as I marked it. Here again the meaning has been changed. It is incorrect to say that savages are ruled by their leaders; they are not; they are ruled by tribal laws and customs which also bind the leaders. It is my point that leaders usurp power. It is my point that the attempt to make all existence public and subject to communal laws or decrees is a reversion to savagery.

In the marginal note of my biography (Page 1), somebody gave you some wrong information. I came to this country in 1926, not 1931. My play “Night of January 16th” ran on Broadway for seven months, not three years. It was a good run, but not that good. I would rather not list my novel “Anthem” because it has not been published in this country, only in England. Above all — and this is most important to me — I would like my novel “The Fountainhead” described as “a novel on individualism.” I am asking this merely as a favor. If a reader likes my article and knows that my novel deals with the same subject, he would want to read the novel. This was my main purpose in selling this article to the Committee for Constitutional Government — to publicize the theme of my novel. So it is most important to me that this note appear in the article and its reprints. If you find it possible to do this — I would be extremely grateful.

Thanking you again for your acceptance,

Sincerely yours,

The Ayn Rand Archives contains no response from Wallace regarding Rand’s changes, and, despite the importance of her changes, the published version does not reflect those changes. In her biographical interviews, Rand mentions the Reader’s Digest reprint but makes no reference to their editing. The reprint by the Committee for Constitutional Government (see letter above) does reflect Rand’s changes, as does the reprint in The Ayn Rand Column.

To Leonard Read (April 16, 1946)

Leonard Read (1898–1983) was a leading free-enterpriser and founder of the Foundation for Economic Education. This is one of many letters (and probably in-person discussions) in which Rand critiqued Read’s writing and thinking. Both she and Read even referred to her as his “loyal ghost.” Although she considered Read to be the best of the young right-wing intellectuals, she clearly had to exercise considerable patience to explain some fundamental errors.

Dear Leonard:

Thank you for your letter of April 9th, for the ANTHEM contract and for “The Road to Serfdom,” which I have received.

I have sent the completed version of ANTHEM to Miss Lindley.4 Can you tell me when we can expect to have galley proofs of it and approximately when you plan to have it out?

I am enclosing “The Scope of Economics and of Economic Education.” I have read it very carefully and to tell you the truth I find it completely confusing; I cannot quite figure out its point or purpose. It either contains too much or not enough. If it’s intended as a defense of capitalism, it’s not enough. If it’s intended as a prospectus for your educational program, it should not contain arguments, it sounds too much on the defensive; it should then contain nothing but statements.

The dictionary definition of economics, which you give on page 1, is clear and valid as its stands. So I don’t see the point of the elaboration that follows. I fail to see the purpose of the argument that to economize means to use to best advantage, therefore economics concerns only free men. This is not a good argument and will not hold. By this very definition, collectivists will claim that the best choice men can make is to let a central planning board plan all their economic activities, using everyone to best advantage, eliminating waste, duplication etc. In fact, this is just what the collectivists do claim; society as a single collective, they say, functions much more economically than a group of free, competing individuals; they call this last “economic chaos.” Of course, we’ll say that this isn’t true, that collectivism doesn’t accomplish any of its claims and that free enterprise is the only system that works to man’s best advantage. Then it becomes, or remains, an argument about the merits of two economics systems. The above definition accomplishes nothing; it can be claimed by both systems as a starting point for argument.

If you look up my long letter to you about economic education, you will see why I consider the last paragraph on page 2 of this article extremely wrong. This paragraph proposes, in effect, to teach freedom and independence by teaching economics. This can’t be done.

Page 3 of the article contains the truly dangerous confusion. To refer to burglary as an economic, though misdirected, activity is really to rob definitions of all meaning. Burglary comes under the head of “crime.” “Criminal activity” and “Economic activity” are two distinct conceptions. You may prove, and rightly, that the rulers of totalitarian economies engage in criminal activities, that their policies belong in the class of criminal violence. But you cannot say that a common burglar is engaged in economic activity. Yet this is what you do say, in a sentence such as: “Burglary may be an economic activity for a few successful and unpunished burglars.” This is really talking communist dialectics and adding to the present day idea that “all terms are relative.”

I have already mentioned to you my most emphatic objection to the use of the word “anti-social.” You know my reasons for this. The same applies to the implications of such phrases as “from the point of view of all concerned.”

What religious sanctions do you refer to in the first paragraph of page 3, as aiding economic violence? This is a question, not yet an objection. I don’t know what is meant here.

Why do you say — paragraph 2, page 3 — that Communism etc. restrict the economic opportunity “for at least a part of the citizenry?” Which part of the citizenry is not restricted under Communism? Do you mean to imply that Commissars have freedom of enterprise?

If you tell me what this article in intended to accomplish and to whom it is directed, I may be more helpful with positive suggestions on how to rewrite it.

Incidentally, since you’ve moved, will you give me your new address? I hope this will reach you.

With best regards,


On April 19, Read answered Rand’s letter, suggesting that they discuss her points “personally.” He did, however, write that he tried to “rationalize” the definition of “economics” and hoped that she would have thought that “sensible.” But he said that he would edit out the “common good” wordage. The “long letter” to which Rand refers was her seven-page letter of February 2, 1946, in which she argues that “the mistake is in the very name” of his organization (Foundation for Economic Education) because what’s needed is philosophic not economic education. See Letters of Ayn Rand, pages 256–62.

To Leonard Read (July 17, 1946)

Dear Leonard:

Thank you for your nice letter. I was certainly glad to hear of my popularity in the Read family. Please give my personal thanks to your son, Jim — but you must tell me just what he said in his introduction of me. Writers and women are notoriously curious; so you are making me suffer on both counts. Also, I would like to know what quotation you selected from Roark’s speech for your office. It is one of the few places where I wouldn’t mind seeing a quotation from Roark.5

Yesterday, I received the first copy of ANTHEM. It looks wonderful, and I was thrilled to see it.

I am enclosing the list you asked for, of the people to whom it might be advisable to send copies of ANTHEM. As you will notice, I have two lists — one of those to whom we might send a copy of the book, and the other one of people to whom I would send only the advertising leaflet, and who might want to buy a copy themselves. Some of the names on these lists are probably on your own mailing list and some are subscribers to The Freeman; so please have that checked, in order not to send out two copies to the same persons.

There are seven free copies which I would like to send out myself to the following people: Hal Wallis, Henry Blanke, Cecil deMille, Walt Disney, the Readers Digest, William Randolph Hearst and Lorine Pruette. If you will send me these seven copies, I will mail them out myself with a personal letter.

There is a question in my mind in regard to Lorine Pruette, which I mentioned to you when you were here. She is the reviewer who gave a grand review to THE FOUNTAINHEAD in the New York Times book section. If you remember, you wanted to ask Henry Hazlitt to review ANTHEM for the Times. I think it would be wonderful if he could do it, but if he can’t, please ask him whether it would be permissible for me to send a copy of the book to Miss Pruette and have her ask the book editor to let her review it. If such a procedure is permitted on the Times, I would like to ask her to do it. Let me know what Henry says about this, and if I can’t ask Miss Pruette to review the book, I will just send it to her for her own reading.

I am enclosing the first two issues of The Vigil which contain my TEXTBOOK OF AMERICANISM. I have asked The Vigil to put you on their mailing list, but I am not sure that they have attended to it. Please let me know whether you have already received these copies.

Now, about your speech, DEALING WITH COLLECTIVISM, which you sent me. I read it with interest, and I don’t think it is bad at all. In fact, it is quite good and accomplishes its purpose very tactfully. I like particularly the fact that you stressed the words “individualism” and “collectivism” often enough and in the right places.

But I found one startling instance of giving our case away — which was surprising from you. This was the second paragraph on Page 5: “No true lover of liberty will admit that there is another side to the case. He may admit that he does not know how to accomplish everything by voluntary methods, but his thinking will be aimed at finding out. He knows that coercion is destructive except when it is used as police force to prevent interferences with personal liberty.”

The second sentence of this paragraph is a blatant denial of the first. It is an admission that there are things which we should accomplish, and which can be accomplished by coercion, but not by voluntary methods. What are these things? There is not a single issue, objective or purpose — and I mean none whatever — which is desirable but cannot be accomplished by voluntary methods. If anyone presents you with an objective which you cannot accomplish by voluntary methods, it merely means that it should not be accomplished at all, that the objective itself is evil and improper. I cannot imagine what you had in mind when you wrote that sentence. If, as an example, you meant some such objective as how to insure permanent prosperity to everybody, the answer is that it cannot be done and should not be attempted. Any objective which cannot be achieved voluntarily is a self-contradictory proposition, a request for the impossible.

That sentence in your speech is an admission that coercive methods work sometimes for good purposes and with good results. Surely, you do not believe that. If you do, it is a loophole through which a collectivist can destroy your whole case. Once you grant him that some proper objective can be accomplished by force, the rest of the argument becomes merely a squabble over which objectives you or he will consider proper. You have granted him his premise.

Please let me know what you had in mind. I am worried about this, because it is the first breach I have seen in your intellectual armor. If you are not clear on this point, I would like to discuss it further, as my first job in the position of your “loyal ghost.”

Also, the last sentence of your paragraph which I quoted is extremely inaccurate and bad in its implications. You describe the police power of the government as the power of coercion, and you place it in the same category as any other coercion exercised by a government. That is not correct. What the government does in regard to criminals is not coercion; it is not an action, but a reaction; the use of force to answer force. The use of force here is not initiated by the government but by the criminal. Therefore, it is not the same thing (and does not rest on the same principle) as the action of a government initiating the use of force for some “social” purpose of its own.

I cover this very point in the second installment of my TEXTBOOK OF AMERICANISM. I would suggest that you read very carefully my questions #7 and #8. I think the definitions I give there cover the case — and it is extremely important for our side not to mix the proper police powers of the government with its usurped powers of economic coercion. This is a crucial point which collectivists are using to the hilt; one of their most frequent arguments goes like this: “If the government has the right to seize criminals, it also has the right to seize you.” We must not help them spread that kind of confusion.

There are two other points to which I object in your speech. On page 7, you mention as your aim: “Encouragement, including financial assistance, when necessary, to those scholars who are competent to produce such fundamental works as The Wealth of Nations, The Federalist Papers,” etc. This sentence sounds a bit naive. Such works as “The Wealth of Nations” or “The Federalist Papers” are achievements of genius, which is rare in any century, and they cannot be produced to order, just through financial assistance to scholars. I suggest that you say, instead, that you would like to provide financial assistance to scholars who can produce important works. That is the best any organization can hope to accomplish. Also, in the same paragraph. I would suggest that you do not quote Friedrich Hayek. I believe you agreed with me as to the dangerous weaknesses of his book which are viciously destructive to our cause. Therefore, I would not help to publicize his book.

The last sentence of this paragraph, to the effect that the support of the intellectuals can be regained “only as their devotion and understanding are re-won” is quite a dubious sentence, because it seems to imply that this devotion is to be re-won by financial assistance, that is, in plain language, by a bribe. I am sure you did not want to give that impression.

On page 8, fourth paragraph from the bottom, I object to your sentence: “I have almost a mystic faith in what can be accomplished by pursuing a course of utter and complete honesty — .” This sentence implies the confession that the speaker does not believe in reason as the final and most powerful argument in support of the ideas he advocates. It implies that he considers mystic faith a more convincing basis for the truth of his ideas. I am sure that few of your listeners would realize this, but what I am concerned with here is your own attitude. Unless, you are convinced, firmly, unquestionably, totally, completely and absolutely, in your own mind and for your own purposes, that REASON, not mystic faith, is the proper basis for all human actions and convictions, you will not be able to achieve for yourself a clear and consistent philosophy of life. The issue of rationalism versus anti-rationalism is a much more profound one than that of individualism versus collectivism. In fact, the first issue is the root of the second. I could write volumes on this particular point — and intend to do it some day. For the moment, I hope that you will understand this and agree with me. If not, I will have to attempt to write you a longer treatise on this.

Please let me know whether I have convinced you in regard to these objections or not. I take my duties of “ghost” very seriously, and want to be sure that they are bearing fruit.

With best regards.


Read answered Rand’s letter on July 19, 1946. He wrote that he agreed “wholly” with her criticisms re “points no. 7 and 8” (unidentified), and he admitted to some “careless writing,” “but that’s all.” Read also agreed with her comment about Hayek and said that he had already changed “mystic faith” to “proposed faith.” But he defended himself against her charge that he was “giving our case away.” He was, he wrote, referring to people who want to support liberty but don’t know how, not implying that coercion might be a legitimate option.

As to Rand’s request that Read contact Lorine Pruette to write a review of Anthem, Read wrote that he would — but if he did, it was too late. Pruette wrote to Rand that she did want to review that book (calling it a “brilliant and heartening conception”), but the New York Times had already assigned another reviewer before Pruette offered herself. For Rand’s letters to Pruette about this issue, see Letters of Ayn Rand, pages 314, 330 and 336.

To Alan Collins (August 19, 1946)

Alan Collins (1904–68) was Rand’s agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. from 1943 until his death in 1968. Beginning with the publishing of We the Living, Rand had long experience dealing with leftists in the book, film and theater worlds. We the Living had the misfortune to appear in the midst of the pro-Soviet “Red Decade,” when the New York publishing company staffs included Communist Party members, including Macmillan’s Granville Hicks, who tried unsuccessfully to prevent Macmillan from publishing the novel. As a consequence, she was particularly sensitive to the perils of navigating through those worlds. Herman Shumlin, the focus of this letter, was a highly successful theatrical producer and director whose Broadway hits include Inherit the Wind and Lillian Hellman’s Little Foxes. His lengthy obituary in the New York Times includes this relevant and somewhat euphemistic characterization: “A crusty perfectionist who was a passionate political liberal, Mr. Shumlin had a strong sense of social commitment.”

The politically-tinged disagreement between Rand and Collins, evident in the letter below, was not the only such dispute between the two. One month later, Collins advised her not to join the American Writers Association because it was headed by “rabid reactionaries” Eugene Lyons and John T. Flynn. She replied that “the only thing I have against Flynn and Lyons is that they aren’t ‘reactionary’ enough.” (See Letters of Ayn Rand at page 327.)

Dear Alan:

Thank you for your letter of August 14th.

Yes, I know that there are damn few people connected with the theatre who are not pink or pinkish. This merely means that our field is limited, and that we can submit IDEAL only to a small group among theatrical producers. If we do not find the right man among that group, we must not try any further. It is useless even to consider the others. For my purposes they do not exist, nor are they in the theatrical business. Realistically speaking, they are in the propaganda business.

I have had to go through exactly the same situation in relation to publishers and THE FOUNTAINHEAD. The problem is only to find one man of taste and intelligence who would be to the theatrical equivalent of Archie Ogden. That is all I need. The more pink junk is being produced, the better chance there is for somebody to make a great hit with a serious play which is not pink. There is a growing audience for that in the theatre, just as there was among novel readers.

As to Herman Shumlin, you have unwittingly caused me some embarrassment by submitting IDEAL to him. I have never met the “gink,” but apparently he knows about me and has gone out of his way to be nasty, because he has made it a point to “smear” me and my work both to Warner Bros., when I was with them, and to Hal Wallis, when I went to work for him. This has been reported to me from both places. So you see what a bad position you put me in, when Shumlin finds that I am submitting a play to him.

Therefore, I would appreciate very much if you will tell him just exactly what you said in your letter: that you sent the script to him “with your tongue in your cheek” and without my knowledge; and that I objected to it, when I heard about it. I don’t actually care too much what people like Shumlin think, but since you gave him the impression that I am seeking his favor or support, I think you should correct that impression. I would appreciate it very much, just to keep the record clear.


The Rand-Collins correspondence in the Archives contains no further reference to this issue.

To Ev Suffens (August 30, 1946)

Ev Suffens was the stage name of Raymond Nelson, host of Midnight Jamboree, a classical music program on WEVD radio in New York City. Under his real name, he had an advertising business and taught at City College of New York. The O’Connors were big fans of Suffens. Rand made musical requests and in April 1936 sent him a fan letter addressed to “Dear Announcer” (see pages 26–27 in Letters of Ayn Rand), one of six letters to him reprinted in Letters of Ayn Rand. Shortly after her first letter, she inscribed a copy of We the Living to him as “my favorite radio announcer.” She and Frank owned two stuffed lions named Oscar and Oswald after characters on Suffens’s program, and the lions were like family pets. The O’Connors and the Suffenses became friends, as shown by the twenty-one calendar entries (mostly dinners) between 1943 (the earliest Rand daily calendar available) and 1952.

Dear Ev:

Sorry to have taken longer to answer this time. I didn’t know I would cause so much trouble in regard to the television rights to NIGHT OF JANUARY 16TH.

I had forgotten all about the movie strings attached, so I have been trying to get them for you from the west coast front office. They have now asked me to ask you to write me an official letter, stating all the pertinent details of your proposed broadcast, such as: who will do it, what station, when and where, at whose expense — and particularly, is it a strictly experimental performance or a commercial one with a sponsor, and if so, who? I am then to send that letter to the Paramount officials, with a request from me that they grant you permission for this broadcast. I think they will do it, but I can’t be sure, because any legal matter or rights is always extremely complicated at the studios. Anyway, send me the letter, and I will try my best.

No, I don’t do my troweling in a floppy hat. I do it in a checkered shirt and shorts. If you saw me in that costume, I don’t think it would strain a beautiful friendship, but quite the opposite. At least, I hope so.

As to my new novel, I have just finished my final outline, and will start on the actual writing any moment. Can’t tell you much about it in a few words — but if THE FOUNTAINHEAD was a kind of a bombshell, wait until you read this one!

It looks as if we won’t be able to come to New York this time. I don’t like California any better than I did, but I am now so busy that I haven’t time to notice it. Still, I do miss New York, and I intend to come there to celebrate the new novel as soon as I can, which I hope will be next year.

Here is an idea that I wanted to consult you about — I am not sure I will do it, but let me know what you think of it. A small group of my conservative friends here, known as The Pamphleteers, who publish political non-fiction booklets, are publishing an American edition of my novelette, ANTHEM. If you remember, that is the one that was published only in England. They intend to sell it as a paper covered booklet in the regular book channels. Of course, they have to start it on a very small scale with very little advertising, but they hope that it will grow on the strength of my name. Would you undertake to handle a publicity campaign for it? I realize that publicity and advertising are two different mediums, but would you be interested in trying it? If so, what would you charge us, and what would be your general idea of a campaign? Let me know your ideas on the subject. I know that your ideas of salesmanship are about like mine — the dramatic and the different, so I thought you might be the ideal man for it, if we decide to have a publicity campaign.

Best regards from the two of us to the three of you. (And from Oscar and Oswald, too)


Suffens responded by setting out the difficulties of getting backing for a television production, despite his having major clients such as Sears, Roebuck. He continued that he would “like to do” the publicity for Anthem and that “the fashionable shade of red is a much more subdued one than it was in the days when you first started singing in the wilderness.” Neither project came to fruition.

To Edna Lonigan (January 29, 1949)

Edna Lonigan was a well-known conservative writer on economics and politics. She was a member of the board of directors and was secretary of the American Writers Association, which, according to Wikipedia, was “formed as a response to the ‘Cain Plan,’ a proposal put forth by the novelist and screenwriter James M. Cain. In July 1946, Cain proposed that an “American Authors’ Authority” be created to act as a central repository for copyrights and to negotiate collectively for authors to give them greater bargaining power. The AWA successfully opposed this plan.

Rand was on the AWA letterhead as a member of the National Committee from at least September 1947 and was elected to the board of directors in November 1949. Other board members included Morrie Ryskind, Fred Niblo and perennial Socialist presidential candidate Norman Thomas.

In a March 1949 letter to Rand, Lonigan wrote of Rand’s House Un-American Activities Committee testimony: “Your courageous, positive, beautifully clear statements fill me with joy.”

The Archives contains no letters to Rand from Lonigan that are specific responses to Rand’s letters below.

Dear Miss Lonigan:

Thank you very much for your letter of January 24.

I shall be glad to help the Association in any way I can with the plan to fight the Authors League’s defense of the ten Hollywood writers convicted of contempt of Congress.

If our Association plans to submit a brief to the Court in the case of these ten, I would like very much to see a copy of it before it is released officially and publicly. I think all the members of the Board should have a copy and a chance to make suggestions before it is released in our name.

My concern here is that the brief must be written most carefully so that it contain no sentences and no implication, direct or indirect, that we advocate any sort of Government censorship of ideas. You may remember my concern last year when I was in New York over the unfortunate stand taken by the Hearst papers at the time, when they tried to use the Hollywood hearings as a justification for establishing a Federal censorship of the movies. That is what the Reds accuse all conservatives of doing or trying to do — and we must be very sure not to give them any foothold to justify such an accusation.

I am enclosing a few suggestions for what I think should be our official stand on this question. Would you show it to the persons who will write the brief? I hope that they may find it of some help or value.6

With best regards,


To Edna Lonigan (February 12, 1949)

Dear Miss Lonigan:

Thank you for your report on the Board Meeting of January 27.

In regard to the three proposed versions of a possible amendment to the By-Laws of the Association, barring Communist as members, I want to place on record my approval of the first version, the one proposed by Louis Waldman, and my most emphatic opposition to the other two versions, those of John T. Flynn and Morris Markey.

Mr. Waldman’s version is clear-cut, objective and covers the issue completely. The other two versions are so inexact, self-contradictory and controversial that they do not constitute a definition of any kind.

I could not subscribe to Mr. Flynn’s version, because it confuses private boycotts with government censorship. I believe, for instance, that every member of our Association has a perfect right, and a moral duty, to boycott the DAILY WORKER.

Mr. Markey’s version would make it necessary for me to resign from the Association and necessary for the Association to expel me, because I most emphatically do not believe that the philosophy set forth in the Constitution of the United States is a “Democratic philosophy,” and I do not hold a “Democratic” philosophy, if one uses that word correctly. Nowadays, the word “Democratic,” like the word “liberal,” has lost all specific, objective meaning. It has become a rubber word which every person stretches to mean whatever he wishes it to mean. But since we are an organization of writers, we, above all people, should use words in their exact meaning. Historically and philosophically, a democratic philosophy means a belief in unlimited majority rule (total rule by the majority, unlimited by any individual rights). This is not the philosophy on which the Constitution was based. The United States is a Republic, not a Democracy. If proof is needed, here is a quotation from THE FEDERALIST:

“Such democracies (pure democracies) have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security of the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

And what does Mr. Markey mean when he states that we should all believe “the philosophy set forth in the Constitution of the United States and its Amendments”? Does he believe the Eighteenth Amendment? I don’t.7

I would appreciate it very much if you would read this letter at the next meeting of the Board when the proposed amendments are discussed.

With best regards,


To Hedda Hopper (November 9, 1950)

Hedda Hopper (1885–1966) was a famous Hollywood gossip columnist and staunch anti-Communist. In her September 1957 column in the New York Daily News, Hopper referred to Rand as “one of the finest American citizens I know.”

Dear Hedda:

In case you have not seen it yet, here is the first copy of “The Freeman,” the new magazine of our side. I call your attention particularly to the statement of policy on p. 5 — “The Faith of the Freeman.” I think this magazine is the best thing that has happened among us “revolutionaries” in a long time.

Looking forward to seeing you on Monday.8


The Archives contains no letter in response to Rand’s letter.

To Editor, Commercial & Financial Chronicle (May 26, 1961)

The Commercial & Financial Chronicle was a weekly business newspaper, founded in 1865 and modeled on The Economist. Never nearing the circulation of the Wall Street Journal, it ceased operation in 1987.

Dear Sir:

In the May 4, 1961 issue of The Commercial and Financial Chronicle, there appeared a review, by Mr. John Dutton, of my book FOR THE NEW INTELLECTUAL: THE PHILOSOPHY OF AYN RAND.9 I wish to register my emphatic objection to Mr. Dutton’s literary procedure which I find incomprehensible: for some reason or motive unknown to me, about half of the review consists of statements attributed to me and presented in quotation marks, statements which I have never made and which are not contained in my book nor in anything else I have ever written.

The review consists of three columns of print. In paragraph 3, column 1, Mr. Dutton quotes a passage which, except for minor misprints, does come from my book FOR THE NEW INTELLECTUAL. In the next paragraph, Mr. Dutton takes parts of sentences which appear in different parts of my book, but which he puts together, without the customary dots or ellipsis, into a single, embarrassingly unintelligible passage.

Thereafter, all the passages purporting to be quotations from my book do not contain a single sentence written by me (paragraphs 2, 3, 4, 5 of column 2, and paragraphs 1, 2 of column 3) and do not correspond to anything in my book. These passages are not condensations or paraphrases, they are Mr. Dutton’s own editorializing improvisations on political themes, never seen by me before, yet presented in quotation marks. And the intention to pass them off as my words is emphasized by such inserts as “And Ayn Rand asks:” followed by long paragraphs that are not mine and that bear no resemblance to any writing, language or thought-sequence of mine.

I must state that the appallingly superficial, journalistic character of the ideas which Mr. Dutton attributes to me has no place in a book on philosophy and that my book does not deal with journalistic topics and is not written in journalistic terms. Some of those allegedly quoted passages contain Mr. Dutton’s own applications of my abstract ideas to currents events, and some contain the exact opposite of my ideas. What I am primarily concerned with is the fact that Mr. Dutton’s has permitted himself to paste my name or, in effect, my signature, on his own writing, without my knowledge and permission (a permission I would never grant to anyone) — and that his writing is far below the standard I have set for myself.

Since I have always maintained that ideas must be treated with the same scrupulous precision as financial matters or legal documents, and since I take an enormous amount of time, effort and thought on the formulation of my ideas, Mr. Dutton’s action is extremely embarrassing to me and damaging to my professional reputation. In as much as your newspaper is known for its accuracy and reliability, I feel certain that you will want to correct a misrepresentation of that kind.

I wish to state, for the record, that none of the quotations attributed to me in Mr. Dutton’s review are mine (with the exception of the first one, as noted above) — and that they are not my method of approach, nor my level of thinking, nor my kind of writing.


P.S. Please print in full.

On June 15, 1961, the newspaper published “With Apologies To Ayn Rand” by John Dutton, which stated: “My column in the May 4 issue was based on Ayn Rand’s book entitled “FOR THE NEW INTELLECTUAL: THE PHILOSOPHY OF AYN RAND,” published by Random House. Owing to the erroneous use of quotation marks in some instances, what were actually the views of this columnist appeared in print as being specific quotations from Miss Rand’s book. This error is particularly to be regretted in light of the fact that in certain socio-economic areas touched on in my column, my own thinking and philosophy is not shared by Miss Rand.”10

Previously Unpublished Ayn Rand Letters (#2)

Ayn Rand Letters: Fiction (1935 – 1980)

This is the second of four installments featuring previously unpublished Ayn Rand letters selected by Michael S. Berliner, editor of Letters of Ayn Rand. A total of forty letters have been divided into four groups for publication, according to general subject matter: Hollywood, fiction, nonfiction (including political activism), and more personal correspondence.

“While recently writing the complete finding aid to the Ayn Rand Papers, I noted some interesting letters that I hadn’t selected for the Letters book,” Berliner says. “Now, more than twenty years later, these letters struck me as meriting a wider audience. These unpublished letters were selected because of their insight into some particular topic or some aspect of Ayn Rand’s life, or, more often, as further evidence of how her mind worked on a variety of matters.

“I’d always been impressed by the care she took with non-philosophical issues and relatively trivial matters, and this mind-set comes across in virtually all of her correspondence. For a variety of reasons, she was not a ‘casual’ letter writer but always took great care to write with great precision on matters that today are usually relegated to a quick, unpunctuated tweet. For an explanation of her non-casual approach, see my preface to Letters of Ayn Rand on page xvi.”

This second group of unpublished letters contains fourteen letters addressed to the following individuals on the dates listed:

  • A. H. Woods (October 17, 1935)
  • Newman Flower (June 3, 1936)
  • Channing Pollock (December 10, 1941)
  • D. L. Chambers (February 14, 1944)
  • Alan Collins (February 15, 1946)
  • Ann Watkins (March 29, 1946)
  • Ruth Meilandt (July 11, 1946)
  • Ruth Meilandt (August 5, 1946)
  • Alan Collins (August 6, 1946)
  • Gerald Loeb (July 31, 1947)
  • John L. B. Williams (December 13, 1947)
  • Pincus Berner (April 3, 1948)
  • Rosemary York (September 4, 1948)
  • Jeannie Cornuelle (April 19, 1980)

What follows is an introduction by Berliner to this installment, followed by the text of each letter with remarks from Berliner (always in italics) supplying necessary context.1

Please note:

  • The letters published in this series are letters and not formal statements of Ayn Rand’s philosophic positions written for publication. Consequently, they should not be taken as definitive, and the reader should not ex­aggerate the importance of (a) possible ambiguities caused by her using informal rather than more precise language or (b) seeming conflicts with her published views. In all cases, her published statements are definitive.
  • Photos, images, captions and footnotes are not part of Ayn Rand’s letters unless otherwise noted.
  • These letters, owned by Leonard Peikoff, are part of Ayn Rand Papers collection. Their reproduction here is courtesy of the Ayn Rand Archives. The Ayn Rand Institute extends its warm appreciation to Leonard Peikoff and the Ayn Rand Archives, and also to Clarisa M. Randazzo, the volunteer who carefully transcribed all of the newly published Ayn Rand letters from the originals.

The following fourteen letters concern Ayn Rand’s fiction output. Spread over forty-five years, these are among many dozens of her letters that illustrate the care she took with all aspects of her writing career — from advertising to cover art, from theatrical casting to book distribution and legal contracts.

To A. H. Woods (October 17, 1935)

H. (Al) Woods (1870–1951) was the producer of Night of January 16th on Broadway. Of his 142 Broadway plays, January 16th was his 136th. The first production of Ayn Rand’s play was in 1934 in Hollywood, under the title Woman on Trial, and was produced by E. E. Clive and starred Barbara Bedford (#13 on Rand’s Soviet-era list of favorite actresses). The play was then purchased by Woods and had a 29-week run on Broadway beginning September 16, 1935, one month before the letter below was written. Although the play provided significant income and induced Rand and her husband to move to New York City for the first time, it was not a pleasurable experience for her, because it was beset by actors who didn’t understand their lines, constant disputes with Woods over script and casting changes, pointless experiments and, finally, legal arbitration (won by Rand) over unpaid royalties. One such casting dispute is the subject of this letter to Woods. Rand was partly responding to an October 15 letter from Woods, in which he argued that Bakewell was good for the part, adding that “my judgment might be just a little bit better than yours.”

Dear Mr. Woods,

In reply to your letter of October 15th, I must state that I find it impossible to agree to the choice of Mr. William Bakewell for the part of “Guts Regan.” Since you went to some length in explaining your reasons for this choice, I must explain in detail my reasons for refusing to approve Mr. Bakewell in that part.

As I have stated in my letter of October 14th, I find Mr. Bakewell much too young for the part. Mr. Bakewell’s personality is that of a meek, harmless, wholesome high-school child and this is the type of part which he has played on the screen. His personality would not allow him to play even the part of a small-time gangster, merely a member of a gang. But when it comes to playing a man who, as “Guts Regan,” is the head of a gang and, more than that, the head of the underworld in New York City, the Public Enemy #1 with a price of $25,000 on his head — well, you must grant me that it becomes dangerously near to being ludicrous. Not only is Mr. Bakewell’s personality unsuited to the part, but he actually looks about eighteen years old. It may not be his real age, but that is the impression he gives on the stage. How a man under twenty could be accepted as an underworld dictator is more than I can understand.

You quote the instance of Miss Nolan and remind me that she, too, was too young for her part. Aside from the fact that this is quite irrelevant and that I shall discuss it later in fuller detail, I would like to remind you at this point that Miss Nolan does not look her age. I have heard people who saw the play voice the opinion that Miss Nolan was thirty. She is a good enough actress to conceal her youth. Unfortunately, Mr. Bakewell looks younger than his probable age, and the juvenile quality of his personality is carried into his voice, his stage manner and his whole performance, which I found thoroughly unsatisfactory. Furthermore, while we could “fake” on Miss Nolan’s age by omitting from the play the fact that she had been employed as a secretary for ten years, there is no possible way to cover up, soften or explain how a boy of eighteen became the leader of the underworld and was entrusted with the responsibility of assisting the foremost world financier in his most dangerous plot.

You said in your letter that you want “a man with some refinement and romance.” I can see absolutely no romantic quality in Mr. Bakewell and he has never, to my knowledge, played romantic characters on the screen. He has played juveniles of the “young brother” or “son” type, not lovers. You claim that Mr. Bakewell’s picture work may be an asset to him on the stage. I find that it will be a detriment, since he has always been associated in the public mind with the type of part I have described above, if we are to suppose that his name is sufficiently known to the public. However, I am inclined to think that any following he may have is hardly prominent enough to be considered as a box office attraction.

I may remind you that the Minimum Basic Agreement calls for “a first class production with a first class cast.” Mr. Bakewell has, evidently, never appeared on the professional stage, since he has just joined the Actors’ Equity Association, as I was informed. Being a beginner, as far as the stage is concerned, he can hardly be considered as a first-class stage actor.

You complain in your letter that I did not notify you of my disapproval for Mr. Bakewell before his seven days try-out period had elapsed. I have had no notice of any kind when Mr. Bakewell started rehearsing. I do not know now the date on which he was engaged. I do hope that this notice was not omitted intentionally to provide for an emergency such as this. The rehearsal which I attended with you and to which you refer in your letter of October 15th, took place not “about a week ago,” as you state, but on Friday, October 11th. I had not been notified even about that rehearsal, but happened to see, by chance, an announcement of it on the wall back stage, at the Ambassador Theater. You left that rehearsal before it was finished and I had no chance to speak you, nor did you ask me for my opinion. However, on the following day, Saturday, October 12th, I telephoned to you at your office and tried to make an appointment to see you. You refused the appointment and asked me what I wanted to see you about. When I stated that I wanted to discuss the cast, you answered that the cast pleased you, which was all that was necessary. I attempted to explain that I wanted to discuss Mr. Bakewell and give you my opinion of his performance. You hung up the receiver in the middle of my sentence without letting me finish my statement. You have yourself mentioned this episode to a person who has since repeated it before witnesses. However, I am sure that you will not attempt to deny this. On Monday, October 14th, I sent you a letter by messenger in order to avoid delay, stating my formal complaint. As you see, I have tried my best to settle the matter as quickly as possible.

May I also remind you that you have repeated persistently and on numerous occasions your claim that I had no say whatever about the casting of my play, that you would cast anyone you wished whether such persons met with my approval or not. On the few occasions when you agreed to discuss the cast with me, it was done after many most unpleasant arguments. May I remind you that, foreseeing a situation such as this, I came to your office at the time when you were first casting my play, before rehearsals started, and brought to your attention the fact that Mr. Pidgeon had been signed for another play and would not be able to remain with our company longer than the first few weeks. I suggested then that we agree on an actor to replace Mr. Pidgeon, in order not to hold up the play later, when Mr. Pidgeon would be forced to leave. Do I have to remind you that your answer was much less than polite and that you gave me to understand I was transgressing my rights as an author? This is in spite of the fact that our contract states clearly my right to approve of any and all members of the cast.

You have held to the letter of that contract and I have had to comply, no matter how difficult it has been at times. May I ask how you intend me to be bound by a contract while you do not intend to be bound by it? You must realize that if you allow an actor to appear on the stage in my play, disregarding my formal objection to that actor, you will break the Minimum Basic Agreement which we have both signed.

Quoting from your letter, I find that you make the following statement: “It is strange that you should pick out two people, Mr. Shayne and Mr. Conway, and suggest them for the part. I suppose those are the only two actors you know, owing to the fact that you have seen them both.” I do not see just what can be strange about it nor what does the fact of how many actors I had seen have to do with the case. I suggested Mr. Conway and Mr. Shayne because they are the only two actors I know who are familiar with the part and who could step into the play after one rehearsal. I believe I made this clear in my letter when I suggested them.

You state that you are sure Mr. Bakewell “will give a better performance than either of the two gentlemen you named.” How can you know it when, to my knowledge, you have never given either Mr. Conway or Mr. Shayne a chance to read the part for you? On the other hand, I have seen Mr. Bakewell rehearse the part and I have seen Mr. Conway play it in Hollywood, so I have the grounds necessary to make a comparison. I do not believe I am exaggerating when I say that Mr. Conway’s performance was so superior to Mr. Bakewell’s that there can be no comparison.

As to Mr. Shayne, I have never said that he was the only weak link in our cast, as you claim I have. It is true that I have never been pleased with his performance in the part of the Defense Attorney, for the main reason that I found him too young for that part. If you remember, it was my first objection to him when I first met him as a prospective “Defense Attorney.” During the rehearsals that followed, I expressed my opinion to you and to Mr. Hayden, on several occasions, stating that I feared Mr. Shayne would not be satisfactory in the part. You assured me most emphatically that Mr. Shayne would improve with rehearsing and that he would be excellent in actual performance. You told me that you had seen him in another play and that he had been magnificent. Owing only to the fact that I trusted your judgment, I made no formal, definite objection and allowed Mr. Shayne to remain in the part. You know the consequences. You found it necessary to dismiss Mr. Shayne and replace him with Mr. Tucker, without any suggestion from me.

If you find that Mr. Shayne does not have weight enough for the part of “Guts Regan,” how can you possibly consider that Mr. Bakewell has it? Of the two, doesn’t Mr. Shayne have the infinitely stronger, more forceful, more mature personality? I am still convinced that Mr. Shayne is a good actor in a part to which he is suited, and your own opinion of his performance in another play supports my conviction. I believe that he could be satisfactory in the part of “Guts Regan,” and I do think that it would be worthwhile at least to allow him a reading of that part, if you are sincerely anxious to find an actor to replace Mr. Pidgeon on short notice, an actor who would be acceptable to both of us. The same consideration applies to Mr. Conway.

Coming back to the subject of Miss Nolan, I must state that I was surprised by your presentation of the facts in your letter. You claim that I wanted her out of the cast. I had never wanted that and the best proof of it is that Miss Nolan is in the cast and that I never made any formal complaint against her, as I am doing now against Mr. Bakewell. During the first week of rehearsals, I did feel dubious about Miss Nolan’s ability to handle the part of “Karen Andre,” but I told you, as well as Mr. Hayden, that I was willing to let her go on with the rehearsals, since I felt that she showed great promise and I saw a definite chance of her coming up to our expectations, with proper coaching. This she did accomplish and I was one of the first to express my enthusiasm for her excellent work. As you know, I was not the only one to doubt her ability to handle the part, at first. You yourself have told me that she was not adequate during her first rehearsals; and Mr. Shubert was ready to have her replaced, since he brought several prominent actresses to witness the rehearsals, for the purpose of offering them the part of “Karen Andre.” Had I had a definite objection against Miss Nolan, I could have taken advantage of the situation then and insisted on her dismissal. I did not to do it, because I felt that she would improve, as I had stated repeatedly. While Miss Nolan may be too young for her part in real life, she does not show it on the stage and I have not objected to her stage appearance. I cannot say this of Mr. Bakewell, since he does appear hopelessly boyish.

As to your statement that I can thank Miss Nolan for whatever success my play has had up to the present time, I do not think that you believe this yourself. I have seen no reviews to that effect nor have I heard anyone voice that opinion. Without casting any reflection on Miss Nolan’s excellent work, I must say that all the reviews attributed the possible success of my play to the idea of a jury drawn from the audience. The publicity stories which came from your own office have all stressed that jury angle and publicized it as the main novelty and attraction of the play. So why make unfair statements which lead us nowhere?

Referring to your letter further, I find that you mention and seem to resent my attitude toward Mr. Harland Tucker. I do not see what that can possibly have to do with the case. Furthermore, although I would not have selected Mr. Tucker as my idea of the type needed for the part of the Defense Attorney, I have not objected to his playing the part, since his acting is adequate. I do not recall discussing Mr. Tucker with any actors back stage and I am perfectly certain that I have never suggested him for the part of the “Doctor.”

And, finally, I do not doubt your ability to pick unknown talent nor the fact that you have discovered many great stars in the past. But, as you say in your letter, we can all make mistakes. If the casting of Mr. Shayne as the Defense Attorney was a mistake on your part, I am afraid that you are about commit a much graver mistake by allowing Mr. Bakewell to play “Guts Regan.” Mr. Shayne at his worst has never been as unsuited to the part of the “Defense Attorney” as Mr. Bakewell is to that of “Guts Regan.”

As you see, I have gone to great lengths in order to point out to you all the details of my complaint and to prove to you that this complaint is not unreasonable. I am very anxious to settle this matter in an amicable manner, if you will allow me to do so. However, your attitude on the question of casting has left me no choice but to demand an arbitration. I am sending today an application for arbitration on this question to the Dramatists’ Guild, along with a copy of this letter. You realize that if you allow Mr. Bakewell, over my objection, actually to perform in my play beginning Monday, October 21st, it may entitle me to claim a breach of our contract. I do hope that we can still avoid it.

If you can find another actor for the part of Regan, acceptable to both of us, please let me know so that the arbitration proceedings may be stopped. I hope that we will be able to agree on another actor, for we still have the time.

Sincerely yours,

On the same day as the letter above, Rand wrote to the Dramatists’ Guild requesting arbitration. But the next day, Rand withdrew her application for arbitration, stating that “Mr. Woods and I have reached an agreement.” The terms of that agreement are not known, but Bakewell continued to appear as “Guts” Regan until the play closed in April of 1936. Rand later commented: “I almost had an arbitration with him over a replacement for Walter Pidgeon during the last months or so of the play [during its preview in Philadelphia], when [Pidgeon] went to Hollywood. But it wasn’t worth it.” Because Pidgeon had the role of Regan in out-of-town tryouts and for the first month on Broadway, reviews of the play do not mention Bakewell. Bakewell’s reminiscences, Hollywood Be Thy Name, make no mention of the issue of his casting.

To Newman Flower (June 3, 1936)

Newman Flower (1879–1964) was the proprietor of the publishing house Cassell & Co., which published We the Living, Anthem and The Fountainhead in the United Kingdom. Flower is best known for publishing Winston Churchill’s A History of the English-Speaking Peoples and The Second World War. After receiving a copy of the U.S. edition of We the Living, Flower wrote to Rand on April 14, 1936: “I think this is a magnificent piece of work, and one of the finest first novels I have ever read in my life . . . . I am looking forward to seeing you one of the best most successful novelists on Cassell’s list.” Rand’s letter below is in response to a May 11, 1936, letter from Flower in which his specific suggestions were preceded by a more general explanation: “I will be very grateful if you will make one or two modifications in the proofs which I enclose, or else allow the penciled alternations to stand. The reason is this: the principal book buyer in this country is Boot’s Library. In America one can be more frank in a book than here because, if there is too much frankness, Boot’s will not take the book. This means the loss of the biggest customer.”

Dear Mr. Flower,

Thank you for your letter and the suggestions of changes in the galleys of my book.

I am perfectly willing to make the changes suggested, for I consider the somewhat too frank love passages as the least important ones in the book and I certainly would not want to let them handicap the novel as a whole or detract any possible buyers from it.

I do approve of the changes made and I have marked them on each galley with my initials.

Primus stove

Primus stove

On gallery 51, I have no objection whatever to substituting “stove” for “Primus” if there is the slightest danger of a libel suit.

In regard to galley 63, your editor was quite correct in saying that a “Primus” is lighted with spirit first. That is the proper way to light it, but spirit was so expensive in Russia at the time that everyone had to use kerosene instead, which added to the discomfort of using a “Primus.” I have inserted a few words of explanation to that effect; if you consider it advisable you may keep the insertion in the text; if not — please omit it.

On galley 42, I made an additional cut of three lines which may be considered objectionable. You may keep the lines in, if you find it safe, or eliminate them if it is preferable.

On galley 39, in the most objectionable scene of the book, I cut out the entire ending of the scene. I think you will agree with me that it is better to do so. The only importance of the scene is the psychology of Kira’s surrender in a cold, tense, matter-of-fact manner, without the usual sentimental love-making. I have kept enough of the scene to suggest this. The rest — the description of physical details — is not really important. Particularly if the strongest lines are cut out of the last paragraphs, the remaining lines have very little meaning, since they do not even create a definite mood. So I think it is best to omit these last paragraphs entirely. It will be safer and the story as such will not suffer from the omission.

If you find any other passages that arouse doubt on the same grounds as the above, please let me know and I shall be glad to adjust them. Of course I will want to see the suggested changes before they are printed and I would appreciate it if you would send them to me in advance, as the ones we have made so far. I would also appreciate it very much if you would send me the galleys when they are ready, for there were a few mistakes in the American galleys, which were corrected later and which the proofreader may not be able to catch.

If I am free in September when the book comes out, I shall be delighted to come to London. Until then, please let me know if you need any further information or pictures of me for publicity. I am collecting all the reviews on my book which are still coming in and I shall send then to you in a few days.

With best wishes,

Sincerely yours,

To Channing Pollock (December 10, 1941)

Channing Pollock (1880–1946) was a successful Broadway writer, responsible for such shows as the Ziegfeld Follies of 1911, 1915 and 1921 and other plays, many of which were turned into films. In the early 1940s, he and Rand attempted to create what she called “The Individualist Organization” in the wake of the failed Wendell Willkie presidential campaign. In a previous letter to Rand (dated November 27, 1941), Pollock included a copy of his letter of the same date to Mrs. William Henry Hays, president of the Republican Club of New York City. In that letter, Pollock recommended Rand as a speaker, writing: “I have not heard Miss Rand speak in public, but if she can do so with any degree of the conviction and eloquence with which she speaks in private, and with which she writes, she should be one of the greatest orators of all time. I have never met anyone of more remarkable personality and individuality, or with a more burning conviction.”

Dear Mr. Pollock:

Thank you for the letter which you wrote about me to Mrs. Hays. I can only say that I shall try to deserve the recommendation you gave me. I have not heard from the Republican Club as yet, but if I should get that lecture it will not please me more than the things which you said about me.

Channing Pollock

Channing Pollock

Please forgive my delay in answering your letter. So many things have happened to me lately that I have been in a sort of whirlwind. The big event in my life is that I have just sold a novel to Bobbs-Merrill Company. It is an unfinished novel on which I have been working for a long time and which I could not finish for lack of funds. Bobbs-Merrill liked it well enough to give me an advance that will permit me to leave my job at Paramount and finish the novel. I cannot say what it means to me — to be able to return to creative writing again. I think you will understand. I am afraid I’m so happy that I’m a little dizzy. I signed the contract yesterday.

When you have the time, I should like very much to hear from you and to see you, if possible.

You asked my husband’s first name. It is Frank O’Connor.

He joins me in sending you our best regards,


There is no record of Rand speaking to the Republican Club of New York City, but the collection of her daily calendars doesn’t begin until 1943.

To D. L. Chambers (February 14, 1944)

David Laurence Chambers was president of the publishing company Bobbs-Merrill when The Fountainhead was submitted to it in 1941. Archibald Ogden, one of the company’s editors, recommended the manuscript, but Chambers rejected it. Ogden then threatened to resign, writing: “If this is not the book for you, then I am not the editor for you.” Chambers relented, wiring Ogden: “Far be it from me to dampen such enthusiasm. Sign the contract.” In the letter below, Rand is responding to a letter from Chambers dated February 3, 1944, almost a year after the novel was published, reminding Rand of restrictions on paper quantities implemented by the War Production Board but reassuring her of “our ability to supply all orders.” Chambers’s letter also ties motion picture-induced sales to a projected paperback edition of the novel.

Dear Mr. Chambers:

Thank you for your letter of February 3rd. I am astonished that you did not understand me when I wrote about the effect of a motion picture on the sales of a novel. An important picture with a good publicity campaign gives a great boost to the sales of a novel in its regular edition. I refer you to the case of “King’s Row.”

I was and am interested only in the sale of the regular edition. I am not thinking of a popular reprint. It is much too soon for that. Of course “The Fountainhead” cannot be put out in a 25¢ Pocket Book type of edition. But if the picture helps to sell 100,000 copies of the regular edition, I will call that a big sale. A picture can do that and, in this case, I think it will.

There can be, of course, no question of paper difficulty about printing 100,000 copies of “The Fountainhead” when they become needed. Other publishers have printed 500,000 copies of books longer than mine.

I am concerned over this matter, because “The Fountainhead” was allowed to get out of print twice, last summer and fall, last time (in October) for three weeks. Each time, this happened at a crucial moment, when the demand for the books was growing, and each time the demand was killed. The worry and trouble which I was forced to take over the matter in October prevented me from working on “The Moral Basis of Individualism,” which would have been finished then but for this matter. I did not expect such a disastrous occurrence a second time.

Cover of Omnibook January 1944

Cover of Omnibook January 1944

I am counting on you to see that this does not happen again. I realize fully how it happened. It was due to the pessimism of Bobbs-Merrill, who handled the book over-cautiously, played for loss and did not expect good sales. When the sale came, they were caught short. I think we can still make up for it. But please remember the we must make up for it. I do not intend to have “The Fountainhead” as the victim of miscalculation.

War-conditions in the printing industry do not relieve you of the contractual obligation to keep my book in print in step with the demand. Since we know that everything is done slower now, we must make our calculations accordingly. It is merely a matter of ordering new printings earlier and in a larger quantity than would have been necessary in peace-time, when the exact date of delivery could be predicted.

I believe we are almost out of print now, unless you have reordered since I left New York. I am particularly concerned about the Literary Guild campaign which will help our sales. I do not want to see a break like that go to waste again. The same applies to the time when the motion picture will come out. I expect you to have the book in print, in step with and sufficiently ahead of the demand.

Referring to the last paragraph of your letter on January 28th — to the Omnibook2 matter — I must remind you that what you call a “fait accompli” was an accomplished breach of contract. Please do not expect me to accept any more breaches, of any nature, in the future.

As to “The Moral Basis of Individualism” I shall finish it as soon as I can, but I cannot give you a definite date until I have finished my work for Warner Brothers. Your suggestion that I “do something on the book each day” is entirely out of the question. First, I am not permitted to do it by my contract with Warner Brothers. Second, do you really think that a serious book on so difficult a subject can be written in snatches and in between times?

If you are concerned over the fact that the book will come out too long after the Reader’s Digest article3 — I believe I will get ten other articles out of it, to help us when the time comes. But we must finish the job on “The Fountainhead” properly, before we undertake the next one.

Sincerely yours,

In a four-page response on February 22, 1944, Chambers addressed Rand’s various points in some detail, showing how seriously they were taken at Bobbs-Merrill. He concluded his letter by assuring Rand that “The Fountainhead has at all times had the devoted interest, the wholehearted support of our entire organization. It deserved it.”

To Alan Collins (February 15, 1946)

Alan Collins (1904–68) was Rand’s literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. from 1943 until his death in 1968. That agency still handles her books. The letter below was in response to Collins’s letter of February 1, 1946, in which he conveyed the offer of Denver Lindley that “if he liked the new book [Atlas Shrugged], they [Appleton-Century] would be willing to put up an advance of $75,000 and a guarantee of somewhere between $25,000 and $50,000 for advertising.”

Dear Alan:

I am very much impressed by Denver Lindley’s offer and shall keep it in mind. However, it’s entirely premature. I have not started the writing of my next novel and won’t be able to start until I finish my six months at the studio. I merely have the outline of the novel ready in my mind. Wonder where Lindley got the idea that it was nearly finished.

I shall think of this offer whenever I feel like getting conceited about my own value. In the meantime, I’m glad that the novel has already earned two cocktails for you. Drink to it once in a while — I’ll need it.


To Ann Watkins (March 29, 1946)

Ann Watkins (1886–1967) was Rand’s literary agent beginning in 1935, although by the time of this letter, Alan Collins of Curtis Brown Ltd. was taking over most of Rand’s works. The Watkins agency still exists under the name Watkins/Loomis. Anthem was first published in 1938, by Cassell in the United Kingdom. The first American edition, a significant revision of the Cassell edition, is the one discussed in the letter below; it first appeared as the Vol. III, no. 1, issue of The Freeman. The Pamphleteers edition was taken over by Caxton Printers in 1953 and then by New American Library in 1961.

Dear Ann:

I have made a deal to have ANTHEM published as a pamphlet by Pamphleteers, Inc., an organization which publishes political booklets and which is run by some prominent California men who are friends of mine.

They sell their publications mainly through private orders and mailing lists — but they will also sell to bookstores, if they get requests for it. I have found out from a lawyer that I can take out a copyright on a revised version of ANTHEM. This will not stop anyone from using the original version as public domain, but it will protect the new version and will serve as a sort of “psychological” protection for the old one.

I am doing this in order to have ANTHEM issued in proper form in America — rather than have it suddenly appear in a pulp magazine. After that, if anyone still wants to print it without permission, it won’t be quite so bad.

Will you draw up a contract for this deal and mail it to me? I will get it signed and send a copy back to you. I presume we will need three copies made.

The name of the organization is: PAMPHLETEERS, INC., 725 Venice Boulevard, Los Angeles 15, California.

The terms on which we agreed are as follows:

I grant them the right to publish a revised version of ANTHEM in booklet form.

If there are any second serial rights, such as requests from magazines for reprints, as a result of this publication, the money derived from such rights is to be divided equally between Pamphleteers, Inc. and me. The sale of such second serial rights is entirely up to me. They cannot authorize reprints without my consent.

All other rights are reserved to and by me.

Pamphleteers, Inc. are to pay me ten percent (10%) of all their gross receipts from the sale of this booklet, after the first 5,000 copies.

No changes of any kind whatsoever are to be made in the text of the booklet without my consent.

The copyright is to be taken out in their name (but to be owned by me — in the same manner as when a regular publisher takes out a copyright on a book in his own name.)

All advertising copy which they use for the booklet must have my approval.

(The first 5,000 copies are to be royalty free, because a great part of this number is given away free and the organization gets no profit until after this figure. My royalties are to be computed, not on the retail price of the booklet, but on their gross receipts, because their selling price varies according to the size of the order. We have not discussed the dates when they are to give me an accounting — I suppose it should be twice a year, as with regular publishers. They will send the accounting and the checks to you.)

These are the terms we have agreed upon. I’d like you to draw it up into a regular contract stated in proper legal terms. If there are any points which we have overlooked and which should be covered in the contract, please include them in the same way and on the same terms as they are in a contract with a regular publisher. Please let me know if there is any other important condition which I should discuss with them and include in the contract.

I am now revising the copy — and they will go into print as soon as I am ready. I would appreciate it very much if you would send me these contracts as soon as conveniently possible.

What is happening with Famous Fantastic Mysteries?4 We don’t, of course, have to inform them about this deal. I’d like to beat them to the publication, if possible.

With best regards,


To Ruth Meilandt (July 11, 1946)

Ruth Meilandt, a manager at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, was one of the six “Pamphleteers” (who included Leonard Read) who comprised Pamphleteers, Inc., and handled much of the organization’s business matters.

Dear Miss Meilandt:

Thank you for the sketches of covers for ANTHEM, which you sent me.

The cover I have selected is sketch #6, but with an adaptation of my own which I am enclosing. I think #6 is the best for design, but I object very strongly to the drawing of the Grecian torch; it is much too conventional. What I would like to see in its place is the drawing of a flame, as I have indicated on my attempted version. To get the effect I have in mind (which would be excellent for the story and in keeping with it), I would like it to be the drawing of a stylized wind-blown flame — not a realistic conventional one. If the artist can do that, I think it would be very good. Also, I would urge very strongly that the oval be a single line, not too heavy, and that the letters of that title be drawn sharp and straight, not rounded as the artist has suggested. This makes the appearance of the jacket much stronger.

I do not care for sketch #5, because it is too crowded, because the odd lettering of the word ANTHEM makes it illegible at first glance, and because the torch is too conventional.

In order to have the cover right and not regret it afterwards, I would like very much to see the artist’s sketch of my suggestion before a cut is made from it. I will return it to you promptly.

I would also like to see a proof of the little advertising leaflet which Mr. Ingebretsen sent me.

As to the inquiry you received about purchasing a copy of WE THE LIVING, please tell the gentleman that the book is out of print now, and he can get a copy only by advertising for a second-hand one; or he may still find it in the public library.


Meilandt responded two days later that Rand would shortly receive a revised sketch. The published edition replaced the drawing of the Grecian torch with a flame, as Rand recommended.

To Ruth Meilandt (August 5, 1946)

Dear Miss Meilandt:

I am sorry if I seem to be giving you difficulties, but since you wanted the cover of ANTHEM to please me, I must tell you my true opinion, which is: that the change in lettering has practically ruined the appearance of the cover. It has thrown it out of balance, and the narrow lettering does not stand out as the original lettering on the drawing would have.

If changing this now will involve too much trouble and delay, I suppose you will have to let it go as it is. If it is still possible to change it, I would like you to have the lines within the oval hand-lettered in the kind of bold letters you had before. Since we have spent this much time on the cover, I would like very much to have it right and not to spoil it by a detail of this nature. Please charge the cost of the alterations and of the new lettering to me. I will be glad to bear this cost, as I think it is worth it.


On August 16, 1946, Meilandt responded that she will send Rand “a photostat of the finished sketch for your approval.” And on August 19, 1946, Rand replied that “the revised cover which you sent me . . . looks fine now, and I am looking forward to getting the finished copies of the book.”

Cover of Anthem by Ayn Rand

Cover of Anthem by Ayn Rand

To Alan Collins (August 6, 1946)

This letter is part of extensive correspondence between Rand, Collins and Ross Baker (sales manager of Bobbs-Merrill’s trade book department) regarding royalties.

Dear Alan:

Thank you for your letters of July 24th. I am sorry that you did not corner Ross Baker with the only question I wanted answered, which was: why did they not consult me before they made sales in the open market?5 They have never answered this, and all the rest of their explanations are completely irrelevant.

At present they are making me lose the open market sales entirely, since they will not even negotiate about this market, and since they take the position that I must not only accept their arbitrary conditions, but also accept their right to have taken this market without permission. Unless I do so, I cannot have the book sold on the open market, and since I will not do so, they are now responsible for a direct financial loss to me, through a method of doing business which comes awfully close to blackmail or high pressure. I will leave it up to you as to whether you will permit this to go on or not. I should think that this much can be settled without going to court. As for the rest, I will consult an attorney about it.

I may come to New York later this fall and settle this in person, but I do wish you could save me some of the trouble.

As to IDEAL, I was shocked to hear that you had submitted it to Shumlin.6 I am sorry that I did not warn you against doing this. Please make it a matter of irrevocable policy in the future not to send any work of mine to any producer or publisher known as a Communist. Do not send IDEAL to any producer who has an established pink reputation, such as the following: Oscar Serlin, Shepherd Traube, Orson Welles, the Playwrights’ Company or any left-overs of the Group Theatre. I do not know all of the current crop of red producers, but I will leave it up to your judgement to inquire about them and not to submit my play to those whom you find to be pink. Please be as careful about this as you possibly can. You must surely realize that those people will never produce anything of mine — nor would I let them produce it.

Sincerely yours,

On August 14, 1946, Collins responded that he thought Bobbs-Merrill “were doing you a good turn by selling” in the open market. He also told Rand that he had sent the script of “Ideal” to Shumlin “with tongue in cheek, for I wanted to see, in the light of his political prejudice, what his reaction to such a forthright script would be. Unfortunately, he sent it back without comment.”

To Gerald Loeb (July 31, 1947)

Gerald Loeb (1899–1974) was a founding partner of the stock brokerage firm E.F. Hutton & Co. Rand and Loeb had a lengthy correspondence between 1943 and 1949, during which period her daily calendars list numerous meetings and dinners with him.

Dear Gerald:

Thank you very much for your many notes and letters to which I owe you an answer. I am late as usual, but you know me by now and you will forgive me.

First, I want to tell you how much I enjoyed your last visit here and meeting Rose. I am glad you wrote that she likes me, because I liked her very much and I think you will be very happy together. All my best wishes again for both of you.

I had a very nice letter from your mother in which she mentioned that you were to send us the photographs which she took of us here. This is just a reminder to tell you that we would like very much to have them.

I was interested to see the little pamphlet by Mr. E. F. Hutton and his ad in the New York Herald Tribune. The ad particularly is excellent. Mr. Hutton is obviously sincere about the fight, and I should like to meet him when I come to New York or if he over comes to the West Coast.7 I am glad you sent him a copy of ANTHEM. Let me know what he thought of it. Do you think I should send him some copies of my articles on Americanism in THE VIGIL, the Motion Picture Alliance magazine? I believe they could be helpful to him.

Now as to the letter from Miss Jean Dalrymple,8 even though she paid some nice compliments to my writing, I wish you had not sent the letter to me, because it is a rather offensive letter, though I am sure she did not intend it as that. She says that she “certainly could be of assistance in having Miss Rand turn out a tremendous theater work.” Gerald, darling, you surely know me well enough by now to know that I do not write with anybody’s assistance. When and if I decide that I want to write a new play, I will write it. I have never undertaken a piece of writing on somebody’s suggestion, advice or prodding. When I come to New York I would be glad to meet Miss Dalrymple, but only on condition that she give up any idea of moulding me like some writer from P M.9

I have no special news about myself, except that I am working on my new novel, am enjoying it tremendously and it is going very well. I don’t know as yet when I will have it finished, but I know that I will not be able to come to New York this fall. So I am looking forward to seeing you and Rose here when you come west.

Best regards from both of us to both of you,


To John L. B. Williams (December 13, 1947)

John L. B. Williams (1892–1972) was an editor at Bobbs-Merrill.

Dear Mr. Williams:

Thank you ever so much for the copy of WE THE LIVING which you obtained for me. I was delighted to get it. I am enclosing my check for it. If you find that you can get any additional copies, I will be happy to have them.10

I will not attempt to tell you what a wonderful time I had riding in the engine of the Twentieth Century. It was the greatest experience I ever had.11 I guess I will save the description of it for my novel. I am back at work on it, and it is going well.

Thank you for the nice luncheons we had in New York. I am looking forward already to my next trip there.

With best regards,


To Pincus Berner (April 3, 1948)

Pincus Berner (1899–1961) was Ayn Rand’s attorney, beginning with an arbitration in 1935 against producer Al Woods regarding Night of January 16th. The subject of the letter below is what Rand termed the “Banyai Case.” Shortly after the end of World War II, George and Tommy Banyai, without Rand’s permission, put on a French production of Night of January 16th. The lengthy dispute over royalties had already been going on for more than two years at the time of this letter to Pincus Berner. In 1949, Rand eventually sued George Banyai to recoup royalties. Rand and Berner caught him in various lies and trickery (Rand congratulated Berner “on the skill with which you pinned down the wriggling little liar”), but Banyai actually expanded productions of the play throughout Europe even while being sued for not paying royalties.

Dear Pinkie:

Thank you for your letter of March 18.

I thought I had made it clear that I would not join the French Society of Authors under any circumstances whatever. So please let us omit this from our considerations of the case.

Do you not find a peculiar discrepancy in Banyai’s attitude? You say in your letter, “I can see no point in suing Banyai in a local court. We have no figures on which to predicate the sum due you from him.” You also state that Banyai reported that the French Society has refused to give any statement or computation of the royalties accruing to me to date. Does Banyai mean to imply that he or his brother have no copies of their accounts or bookkeeping statements and no record of how much money they deposited with the French Society in my name? Why did he have to ask the Society for that account? The Society does not owe it to me — he does. Do you propose that we let him get away with that? I think you should demand, not ask, but demand an accounting from him at once.

Besides, I sent you a copy of the letter from Tommy Banyai of January 15, 1948, in which he states that the amount of my royalties at present is approximately 500,000 francs.

As you know, there is a clause in my contract with George Banyai which states that any differences arising between us are to be settled according to the laws of American courts. Therefore, I believe it would be a mistake for me to give Banyai permission to sue the French Society in my name. Such an action would amount to waiving my claim against Banyai and recognizing the jurisdiction of the French Society in this matter, which I do not recognize. My contract is with George Banyai, and my claim is against him. If he says that under French laws he is helpless against the French Society — my stand is that that is his problem, not mine, because our contract states specifically that I am not bound by French laws. Therefore, I think I must undertake a suit against him right now and in New York. It seems to me that the suit should be not merely for royalties, but for breach of contract and bad faith, and that the first demand we must take on him is to subpoena from him an accounting of the sums due me.

George Banyai has a great many activities and business connections in this country, so I believe we could attach whatever he owns or part of his salary to satisfy a judgment against him. It is my impression that he would not let matters go that far and that he would find a way to settle my claim. I don’t believe I mentioned to you that he was the representative of the French Society of Authors in Hollywood, so you can see what the situation really is.

I am not sure of the exact value of the franc by the rate that prevailed at the time my royalties became due; but as far as I can guess, the amount they owe me is probably somewhere between four and five thousand dollars. This is a sum which I believe can be collected from George Banyai in person right here.

On the grounds stated above, I would like you to institute a suit against George Banyai in New York and to ask for damages. Please let me know whether this can be done, what it involves and what would be the exact procedure to follow. Also please let me know whether you will undertake to handle it on a contingency basis or, if not, please tell me the exact sum you would charge me for handling this. You can realize why I cannot undertake this without advance knowledge of how much it will cost me.

With best regards,


The outcome of Rand’s fight with the Banyais is not known. Papers in the Ayn Rand Archives indicate that Banyai did send some back royalties to Rand, but the last mention of the lawsuit is in an August 31, 1949, letter to Berner in which she implies that a motion for summary judgment was unsuccessful. Then, in the 1950s, Rand refers to Banyai’s “fraud” regarding Scandinavian rights to the play and says that his actions were “more nefarious — if that is possible” than in the French “affair.”

To Rosemary York (September 4, 1948)

Dear Mrs. York:

Thank you for your letter of August 23rd.

I am enclosing the tipsheet which I have inscribed for Mrs. Bett Anderson.

Please tell Mrs. Anderson for me that I was delighted to hear of her request, and I am complying with real pleasure. I do remember her review of THE FOUNTAINHEAD very well indeed. It was one of the only two reviews which I really liked — the other one was Miss Lorine Pruette’s review in the NEW YORK SUNDAY TIMES. At a time when so much senseless drivel was being written about THE FOUNTAINHEAD by the majority of the reviewers, these two gave me hope that some real intelligence still existed in the world. I shall always be profoundly grateful to Mrs. Anderson for that.12

The motion picture of my book is coming along beautifully, and if all goes as well as it has, I have reason to hope that it will be a great picture.

With best regards,


To Jeannie Cornuelle (April 19, 1980)

Jean Cornuelle and her family were friends of Ayn Rand and Frank O’Connor. Rand’s correspondence, primarily with Jean’s husband, Herb, began in 1950. Herb, whose business career included presidencies of Dole Pineapple and United Fruit Company, was one of the founders of the Foundation for Economic Education.

Dear Jeannie,

I was delighted to hear from you — but the reason that I did not answer you sooner is the improper request that your friend, Mr. Danks,13 has imposed on you.

Mr. Danks has committed an illegal action in trying to adapt my book, Anthem. It is legally forbidden to adapt an author’s work without his/her prior permission. I categorically refuse to give such permission to Mr. Danks. I have not read his script, and I am returning it to you under separate cover.

The reason for my disapproval of Mr. Danks is that I cannot stand the thought of someone monkeying around with my material. My work means too much to me. If you remember the climax of The Fountainhead, I am sure you will understand this.

I am sorry that he has attempted to use you in such a manner — and I certainly do not hold it against you, only against Mr. Danks.

I was glad to hear about your family, although I cannot imagine you as a grandmother. I will always think of you as Dagny Taggart.

I am sorry to have to tell you that Frank died last November after a long illness.

I was glad to hear that there are “young Randians” in Hawaii. But you make a mistake in associating the Libertarians with me. They are my enemies and have nothing to do with my philosophy, except for occasional attempts to plagiarize it.

If you ever come to New York, please let me know. I would love to see you again.

With love to you and Herb — and do svidanie.14

Previously Unpublished Ayn Rand Letters (#1)

Ayn Rand Letters: Hollywood (1944 – 1949)

This is the first of four installments featuring previously unpublished Ayn Rand letters selected by Michael S. Berliner, editor of Letters of Ayn Rand. A total of forty letters have been divided into four groups for publication, according to general subject matter: Hollywood, fiction, nonfiction (including political activism), and more personal correspondence.

“While recently writing the complete finding aid to the Ayn Rand Papers, I noted some interesting letters that I hadn’t selected for the Letters book,” Berliner says. “Now, more than twenty years later, these letters struck me as meriting a wider audience. These unpublished letters were selected because of their insight into some particular topic or some aspect of Ayn Rand’s life, or, more often, as further evidence of how her mind worked on a variety of matters.

“I’d always been impressed by the care she took with non-philosophical issues and relatively trivial matters, and this mind-set comes across in virtually all of her correspondence. For a variety of reasons, she was not a ‘casual’ letter writer but always took great care to write with great precision on matters that today are usually relegated to a quick, unpunctuated tweet. For an explanation of her non-casual approach, see my preface to Letters of Ayn Rand on page xvi.”

The first group contains eight letters addressed to the following individuals on the dates listed:

  • Bill Cole (February 20, 1944)
  • Pincus Berner (September 24, 1944)
  • Armitage Watkins (May 28, 1946)
  • John Gall (November 15, 1946)
  • Phil Berg (March 13, 1948)
  • Alan Collins (September 18, 1948)
  • Mario Profili (September 12, 1948)
  • Gerald Loeb (January 8, 1949)

What follows is an introduction by Berliner to this installment, followed by the text of each letter with remarks from Berliner (always in italics) supplying necessary context.1

Please note:

  • The letters published in this series are letters and not formal statements of Ayn Rand’s philosophic positions written for publication. Consequently, they should not be taken as definitive, and the reader should not ex­aggerate the importance of (a) possible ambiguities caused by her using informal rather than more precise language or (b) seeming conflicts with her published views. In all cases, her published statements are definitive.
  • Photos, images, captions and footnotes are not part of Ayn Rand’s letters unless otherwise noted.
  • These letters, owned by Leonard Peikoff, are part of Ayn Rand Papers collection. Their reproduction here is courtesy of the Ayn Rand Archives. The Ayn Rand Institute extends its warm appreciation to Leonard Peikoff and the Ayn Rand Archives, and also to Clarisa M. Randazzo, the volunteer who carefully transcribed all of the newly published Ayn Rand letters from the originals.

Ayn Rand lived in the Los Angeles area for two eight-year periods (the first from 1926 to 1934, the second from 1943 to 1951) so that she could work in the film industry. In the fall of 1926, she arrived in Hollywood with the hopes of starting a career as a film writer (having recently studied at the State Technicum for Screen Arts in her native Leningrad). After meeting Cecil B. DeMille on her second day in Hollywood, she became a film extra and then a junior writer for DeMille. When his studio closed, she worked at RKO in the wardrobe department, quitting when she sold a story to Universal. Then, with her first novel, We the Living, partially completed, she moved to New York City for the opening of her play, Night of January 16th, which subsequently had a long run on Broadway. She returned to Hollywood in late 1943 when The Fountainhead was sold to Warner Bros. with her as the screenwriter.

To Bill Cole (February 20, 1944)

Bill Cole worked as a reader for Paramount Pictures in New York under Frances Kane (later married to Henry Hazlitt) and Richard Mealand (who was instrumental in getting Rand’s manuscript of The Fountainhead to Bobbs-Merrill, which eventually published it). Rand likely met Cole at Paramount, where she and Cole worked under the same people just before her move back to Hollywood. Cole was also a friend of Rand’s brother-in-law Nick Carter and shared Carter’s sense of humor, writing to Rand that he (Cole) was out of favor at Paramount for demanding a “slight increase of $10,000 per synopsis, a 10-minute working day and a closed shop — closed to everyone but me.”

Dear Bill:

Please forgive me for my delay in answering you. You have no idea how terrible I am on the letter situation — because I come home from the studio utterly exhausted and fall asleep and can do nothing else. I only have weekends to answer mail — and I gave you a priority over letters I owe for several months. I hope this is not too late and that you will excuse me.

First of all — on the question you asked me about employment conditions here. I don’t know very much about the studios yet, except in the writing department, but as far as I can gather, the situation is this: the studios need help desperately only in the technical departments, such as cameramen, sound men, etc. If you know that angle and have had some such technical experience, you would probably have no trouble in getting a job. But in other, non-technical departments, they seem to be about normal and there are no unusual openings, as far as I have been able to learn. You write you’d be interested “in anything else even remotely connected with writing or editorial work.” There are only the two departments in such line — reading and writing. You don’t want the first, I understand they pay even worse than in New York. As to the second — it still seems to be the rule that studios do not like to give a writing break to an employee of their own from another department. I have heard stories of readers who had to leave their own studios and make a big success as writers on another lot. So I don’t think that getting a studio job in another line would get you closer to their scenario department. Except that nothing one can say about Hollywood is ever an iron-clad rule. There are always exceptions. Anything is possible here. It is very possible that you could come here, get some other job and have it lead you to writing. It could work that way. I can only say that, as a general rule, it doesn’t seem to. But it’s up to you — if you want to take the chance. Only it looks like a long chance.

From everything I hear here and from the record of every writer whom I asked how he got into screen writing — the shortest way seems to be outside the studios. That is, most of them came after establishing some sort of reputation in another line — playwrights, novelists and radio writers. They got in in one of two ways: either they had a reputation in some particular specialty, such as sports stories and the studio needed a sports story and hired this particular writer; or they sold something they had written and the studio got them with the property. If you want to try directly for the screen, my advice would be to write originals. They do buy originals from outside authors, not necessarily just from their own staff, and if they like an original enough, they will also hire the author to work on it for them. They don’t do it very often, but it does happen and there are writers who broke in that way. If you try in that way, I can tell you that what they look for in originals is the idea. It must have some new, startling idea in plot or theme — I don’t mean that it must be profoundly original in a literary sense, but new and different within the usual terms of screen stories. As, for instance, Norman Krasna here made a big hit with an original called “Princess O’Rourke.” (He was, of course, an established writer before that — but I am quoting it only as an example of what they go for in originals.) It was the story of a refugee princess marrying an American pilot. Nothing very new — but a good old trite situation given a modern angle they hadn’t used before. I don’t know whether you can write to order, that is, trying to aim at what seems to be wanted. I know I can’t. But if you can, this is the general line that seems to work here. Or — write an original any way that seems good to you, whether it’s the Hollywood way or not, and submit it. That’s what I would do. There is always the chance that it would hit the right person in the right way. And one chance is all you need. But to break in just as a junior writer, without selling them something, seems to be the most difficult of all attempts. It does happen — but it’s the longest shot. I’m afraid they’ll go on promising you a break and postponing it. I know a brilliant young writer here who has been in that position for over a year.

Your plan to go to Oregon and work on a farm seems almost too heroic. If you’re sure that you can stand the work physically and that you’ll have a lot of time for writing, it might be a good idea. If you do have a serious work you want to do — it’s an excellent idea. I wouldn’t be stopped by the mere fact of it being a dull existence — so much the better, you’ll write more. But I wonder about your doing farm work. That might be so hard physically, since you’re not used to it, that you won’t be able to write. I wonder why you picked out a farm. As far as getting a job, any kind, just to make a living and be free to write — there are a lot of openings here in Hollywood. Not in the studios, but every other place seems to be advertising “help wanted.” If you don’t care what work you do, you could probably find something better than farm work here. And then devote most of your time to writing. That is the best plan, I think. If you come here, I’d like to see you. Looks like I’m stuck here for a while — and I do miss the people I knew in New York.

Since this is such a long business letter, I won’t add much about myself, except to say that everything is going very well for me here. I am writing my own screen play — and the studio is very pleased with it so far. I have just signed a contract to stay here longer — until I finish the script. I am about half-way through it now. I love the work — and I do love Warner Brothers, since they’re so nice to me — but I hate Southern California. It is dull and flat, the climate and the very atmosphere — I don’t know about the people, haven’t had time to be very sociable. I hate the place for the very reasons most people like it — the sunshine, the palm trees, the going around in slacks, and all that.2 I love New York, always did and always will. However, if one doesn’t stay here permanently, it’s not too bad a place. I don’t mind it for a while. I’d hate to stay here forever.

Write and let me know if all this advice is of any use. And, of course, come and see me if you do descend upon California. I will be offended if you don’t. Incidentally, never mind your friends in Philadelphia, have you read my book? I think by now you should. However, I’m glad your friends liked it — give them my thanks.

Best regards and good luck to you from both of us,

To Pincus Berner (September 24, 1944)

Pincus Berner (1899–1961), a New Yorker, was Ayn Rand’s attorney, beginning with arbitration in 1935 against producer Al Woods regarding Night of January 16th.3 She became friends with “Pinkie” and his wife, who once took Rand to a lecture by British socialist Harold Laski, setting Laski in Rand’s mind as the main model for the character of Ellsworth Toohey in The Fountainhead.

Dear Pinkie:

Will you forgive the long silence from a dizzy and overworked writer? So many things have been happening to me so fast that I simply cannot catch up with myself.

To give you the briefest account of my events to-date: I finished the screenplay of “The Fountainhead” at Warners with great success. Henry Blanke, my producer, was very pleased and most complimentary about my script. It will go into production some time early in 1945, as a big special. No cast decided on as yet. Two weeks after I finished at Warners I had to start working on a new job — with Hal Wallis. You may have heard that he was a big producer at Warners and has just left them to form an independent company of his own. I have signed a five-year contract with Hal Wallis (with options, of course.) It is a very unusual contract, the kind that’s very hard to get in Hollywood — but I would not sign any other; this contract gives me six months off each year to work on my own writing; so that I give half a year to movie work and half a year to my own. I have just finished my first assignment for Wallis — an adaptation of a novel — and I rushed on it like all hell, since it’s to be his first production.4 I did a good job — because Wallis and everybody concerned are enthusiastic about it. So, believe it or not, I’m successful in Hollywood. Personally, I can’t quite believe it yet. But miracles will happen.

In the only two weeks I had off since I’m here, I went and bought a house. Or rather, an estate, 13½ acres, in Chatsworth, twenty miles from Hollywood. The house is ultra-modern, by Richard Neutra, all glass, steel and concrete. The house is a small palace, too wonderful to describe. We have ten acres of alfalfa, an orchard, chickens, rabbits, two ponds that go around the house, and a tennis court.5 Can you see me as a capitalist? And here I thought I was the poorest (financially) defender capitalism ever had. Frank has become a rancher, spends all his time working on the grounds and loves it. It was he who picked out the house — and everybody marvels at his good business judgment. We had to settle down here, since I will have to stay in California — and apartments here are simply impossible, in both cost and comfort.

This is a brief synopsis of my situation. Now to business matters. I have to become a California resident now and file my income taxes from here. I have not yet made an amended return since the first one you made early this year. I’ve [been] paying the installments according to that — but I suppose now is the time to change it, including my new income since then. I will have to have it done here, to establish California residence, and also because it is too complicated now to do it by mail. Would you send to me your original estimate of my tax for 1944, with all the details, deductions and reasons on how you arrived at the $1,000 I was to pay? I will turn it over to the tax-man of Berg-Allenberg, my agents, who does all the returns for their clients — and he will know how to amend it according to what I have earned since then.

I was told I will have to make out a new will, here, as a resident of California. How will that affect the old one I made, which is in your safe? The new one will be the same in content. Does it simply supersede the first one, or what is the correct legal procedure? Or should I keep both — to be filed in either state if anything should happen to me? All I want to put in the will is still that I´m leaving everything to Frank.

Bobbs-Merrill have sent me the full amount of my royalties for the first six months of this year, which is over $5,000. Apparently they forgot our agreement that they were to pay me only $1,000 this year and the rest on my next statement. Shall I keep the check — or return it and keep only $1,000? I think it will be all right to keep it, because I am told that my work at Warners on the screenplay cannot be considered as income from “The Fountainhead” by any standards. It is new work on salary — not income from a finished property. Besides, while I was at Warners, I worked on three other movies, besides my own, doing editing and rewrites for them. So my time at Warners cannot be charged to any one job. However, I don’t want to accept the Bobbs-Merrill check without your okay.

You asked me in your last letter how I could hate California when I’m successful here. I can still hate it geographically, as a place, and I do. I love New York, always will, and miss it terribly. I will probably go there for a visit, on my own time, just for purposes of morale. I feel like an exile here. A lot of people have been wonderful to me here, and I have actually become a celebrity here, but I miss New York people. And that means the Berners, too.

Best regards from both of us to you, Anne, Rose and Mr. Cane,6

To Armitage Watkins (May 28, 1946)

Rand received a May 24, 1946, letter from Armitage (“Mike”) Watkins of the Ann Watkins literary agency, which handled some of Rand’s works, informing Rand that he had “asked one of our authors (Donald Downes) in Italy to do a little research for us with respect to a rumored Italian-made motion picture of We the Living.” In Downes’s May 16, 1946, letter, which Watkins enclosed, Downes reported that Scalera Studios “made not one, but two movies [Noi Vivi and Addio Kira] from the book” and “both were extremely successful during the war years, not only in Italy but had a big box office in Germany and Vichy France.” The partial explanation, continued Downes, was that “both were made in cooperation with the Ministry of Popular Culture as semiofficial, fascist, anti-Russian and anti-leftist propaganda.” The Scalera brothers, he wrote, “were pretty deeply in the fascist stew and are not noted in Italy for their honesty. They are at present the darlings of the Hollywood crowd here and have paid highly to be darlings. They have most important friends at Allied Commission7 and are said to be fairly expert at buying other people’s lawyers.” Downes went on to recommend that, in any attempt to recoup funds, Watkins and Rand hire “a man so far removed by politics and history from the Scalera crowd that they would not even try to buy him . . . . I repeat I think it highly dangerous to take a lawyer because, before the war, he was the respectable correspondent of your New York attorneys.”

Dear Mr. Watkins:

Your letter of May 24th was certainly a bombshell to me. I am extremely indignant at the piracy of WE THE LIVING by the Italian producers, and at the use which they made of it. Thank you for finding this out for me. I shall now blast them with the kind of lawsuit which they deserve. I am amazed at the whole procedure, and can not understand how a picture company which is still in business could have done such a thing. How did they hope to get away with it?8

Movie poster for Noi Vivi (We the Living) Italian pirated version

Movie poster for Noi Vivi (We the Living) Italian pirated version

I am writing to a very prominent attorney in Washington, who is a friend of mine and whom I would like to have handle the case for me, if he will undertake it. I think this will require the services of an international lawyer who has Washington connections.

I did not quite understand the sentence in Mr. Downes’ letter which reads: “I think it highly dangerous to take a lawyer because, before the war, he was the respectable correspondent of your New York attorneys.” Is this a warning specifically against the correspondent of Ernst, Cane & Berner, or against any representative of American law firms?

Have you any information on whether the Italian publishers of WE THE LIVING, Baldini and Castoldi, were involved in this matter in any way? Is it possible that they cooperated in the piracy or received any financial return from it? Were they in a position to stop the production of the motion picture and yet allowed it to be produced?

Fosco Giachetti and Alida Valli in Noi Vivi (We the Living)

Fosco Giachetti and Alida Valli in Noi Vivi (We the Living) Italian pirated version

I have just received from Miss Nancy Brettner copies of the contract with Baldini and Castoldi for the Italian rights to THE FOUNTAINHEAD. I will have to wait before I sign this contract, to learn what their part was, if any, in the piracy of WE THE LIVING. If they had anything to do with it, I certainly will not sell them another book of mine.9

Do you know whether there are other such cases of American books being stolen during the war? The reference in Mr. Downes’ letter to the piracy of THE LITTLE FOXES would indicate that this sort of thing must have gone on in Europe on a grand scale. Can you find out for me what the other American authors are doing about it?

Please let me know what you think about this case, and I would appreciate any suggestions you and your mother can give me.

To John Gall (November 15, 1946)

Rand met John Gall (1901–57) in 1941, when Gall was the attorney for the National Association of Manufacturers. In her biographical interviews, she described him as “a violent conservative” (“violent” being her word for “extremely passionate”). She hired him in 1946 to handle her piracy claim regarding the 1942 Italian films of We the Living, and later he handled her lengthy and successful effort to bring Marie Strachov, her old Russian family friend and teacher, to America from a war refugee internment camp in Austria.10 This letter is indicative of the care Rand took with the details of non-intellectual issues affecting her career.

Dear John:

Thank you for your letter of October 31. Excuse me if I have taken so long to answer, but I am stopped by the necessity to make a choice of the Italian attorneys whose letters you sent me.

I have read these three letters very carefully and I don’t think I can really judge them clearly enough to make a decision. Do you want me to be the one to decide? Since I don’t know Italian legal procedure, I have no way of estimating these attorneys’ attitude or knowledge.

I think you can judge their competence from the letters much better than I can. Also, perhaps you may have reliable sources to check up on them in greater detail. I can tell you my impressions of the letters, but I would like you to take the responsibility of selecting the attorney you prefer yourself. I would only urge you not to make a decision until you are certain, and not to take anyone if you have any doubts or reservations against him. Please check as thoroughly as possible, or have someone, whom you can trust, check on them in Europe before you make a decision.

Now as to my impression of these three letters, I have noted a few doubts against all three.

  1. Mr. Luciani. He seems to suggest that he wants to be your permanent representative in Italy, as part of his condition for taking our case. I wonder if this is proper on his part. Also, I wonder whether what he calls “a mandate” or “warrant for law suit” (a copy of which you enclosed) is the proper thing for us to sign? This warrant ends on sentence: “He hereby promises to hold their action as firm and binding.” This seems to be a complete power of attorney which would give Mr. Luciani the right to dispose of the case in any manner he wishes. If I understood this correctly, I would certainly object to that. I think our Italian attorney should represent us, but the final decision on any settlement should be ours.
  2. Mr. Marghieri. His letter seems to show the greatest interest in the case. But, as you noted, I wonder how he found out that the case involves my book. Unless mine is the only book by an American author that has been pirated by an Italian movie company, this might mean that he has some connection with Scalera. Also, I do not quite like the fact that the Colonel Walton whom he gives as reference is not in Washington, but in Italy, which makes a personal check-up impossible.
  3. Mr. Graziadei. The fact that he is the attorney for a long list of American picture companies is both in his favor and against him. What disturbs me is the fact that in his first letter to the Ann Watkins office, Mr. Downes warned us that the Scalera Company has connections with the Hollywood crowd in Italy. Also, Scalera are making all kinds of deals with American picture companies here. So there is a possibility that the interests of one of the companies which Mr. Graziadei represents might clash with ours. If so, he would be in a difficult position, and I would rather not have an attorney with divided allegiance. Also, there is one point in Mr. Graziadei’s letter to which I object very much. He writes that: “No legal action is possible against the Italian film company if same has been authorized by Italian ministry.” Is he legally correct about that? Are we supposed to recognize as legal and binding the decrees of the Fascist government? If this point is open to doubt and interpretation, or is to be settled by the final peace treaty with Italy, yet Mr. Graziadei has already taken the above attitude in favor of Scalera — then he is certainly not the man for us, and I would reject him at once for this reason.

The above are my opinions of the three letters. I will be very interested to know whether my amateur legal judgement is correct. Let me know your own opinion of this — and please let me know the reasons of your decision before you commit yourself to the attorney you choose.

I am sending a letter to the Superfilm Distributing Corporation, in the form you suggested, and I shall let you know as soon as I receive an answer.

The Ann Watkins office has written to me that Baldini & Castoldi are very anxious to have me sign the contract for the Italian publication rights to THE FOUNTAINHEAD. May I sign it or are you still uncertain as to how it will affect our case under Italian law? If it is too early for you to tell, I will not sign it now — there is no reason for me to hurry on this. But if you think that this will not affect WE THE LIVING at all, then let me know.

With best regards.

In his November 27, 1946, response, Gall wrote: “Your very discerning comments will be helpful in ultimately settling upon a suitable Italian attorney.” Gall ultimately recommended Marghieri, and, in 1961, Rand received a settlement of approximately $23,000 from the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission.

To Phil Berg (March 13, 1948)

Phil Berg (1902–83) and Bert Allenberg were Rand’s agents “for the motion picture industry,” beginning in 1944 and ending in 1948. In a 1983 obituary for Berg, the New York Times described him as “a pioneer talent agent” who “was considered the originator of the package deal — a concept which changed the basic structure of Hollywood. . . . Berg-Allenberg represented the cream of Hollywood’s movie stars, directors and writers.” In her biographical interviews, Rand commented: “They were my agents only through Alan Collins, because they handled all his clients, and I disliked them enormously. They were top agents, but I don’t know any agents in Hollywood that would be honorable.”

Dear Phil:

Thank you for your letter of March 10 and for the copy of the wire which you sent to Alan Collins.

Mr. Blanke’s attitude, as suggested in your wire, is a very grave matter, of which I was not informed. Since my “argumentative proclivities” is a statement that has extremely serious implications, would you please let me know the full particulars about it? Please tell me exactly what Mr. Blanke said, on what date, and to whom? Was it to you personally?

What “interminable discussions with Ayn Rand” do you refer to in your wire? The last time I saw you was on June 9, 1947, at your offices. The last time I saw Bert Allenberg was on September 23, 1947, in the Hal Wallis office.

In regard to the present matter of THE FOUNTAINHEAD, I have had one discussion with Jimmy Townsend of your staff, in Mr. Coryell’s office, on February 19, which lasted about half-an-hour. Thereafter, I had three telephone conversations with Mr. Townsend. The gist of these discussions was as follows:

In the office, on February 19, I told Mr. Townsend the understanding which I had with Mr. Blanke, as Mr. Blanke had said it to me repeatedly, on numerous occasions since 1944: that he (Blanke) considered that my script of THE FOUNTAINHEAD needed only about one week’s editorial work which he wanted me to do when he had a director and cast assigned to the picture, that he would have no other writer on it, and that the picture would be made in accordance with the spirit and intention of my novel. Mr. Blanke and I had never had a disagreement. I asked Mr. Townsend to inquire about Mr. Blanke’s present plans and particularly whether Mr. Vidor had some writer of his own which he might want to bring into the picture. On this last, Mr. Townsend assured me emphatically that Mr. Vidor had not.

On the next day, I called Mr. Townsend to ask him a question which, in our rushed conversation of the previous day, I had neglected to ask, and which was: why had your office not informed me about the fact that THE FOUNTAINHEAD was going into production, when you had knowledge of it well in advance, yet I was left to learn it from the newspapers? Mr. Townsend said that I was right in feeling that your office should have informed me, but that this was no more than regrettable oversight.

Shortly afterwards (I believe it was the next day, but I did not mark the date on my calendar), Mr. Townsend called me to report on the situation. He told me that he had spoken to Mr. Blanke and that Mr. Blanke had confirmed to him our understanding just exactly as I described it, including the fact that the script needed only one week’s work which I was to do. Mr. Townsend said that the production of the picture was not definitely set, owing to budget difficulties, that Mr. Blanke and Mr. Vidor were now working on the budget and that they could undertake nothing definite until the return of Mr. Jack Warner, which was expected within a week. Then, if they found that they could make the picture now, I would be called. Mr. Townsend also stressed the fact that Mr. Vidor had told him personally that he wanted to discuss the picture with me.

On March 3 or 4, having heard nothing from Mr. Townsend, I telephoned him to ask whether Mr. Warner had returned and what had been decided. Mr. Townsend said that Mr. Warner was back, but no decision had been made, and that the “production office” was still working on the budget. Then Mr. Townsend added that Mr. Vidor had a junior writer working with him on the script, but — these are Mr. Townsend’s words as exactly as I remember them — “I have checked and they assured me that no writing was being done on the script.” When I asked what the writer was doing in such case, Mr. Townsend said: “I don’t know. It’s just somebody for Vidor to talk to, I guess,” Since there were too many contradictions here, I said that it was imperative that I see Blanke or Vidor or both. I stressed that it did not have to be a business appointment about a job for me, but a social appointment so that I would be acquainted with the situation. I said that particularly in the case of Mr. Vidor, your office should have arranged such a meeting long ago, without any request from me — which is the usual practice in Hollywood. Mr. Townsend said that he couldn’t arrange it, because “they weren’t ready to say anything.”

This is the last I heard from your office, until the receipt of your letter of March 10.

Which information in the above discussions do you refer to when you say in your wire to Alan Collins that “Blanke who knows Ayn’s argumentative proclivities refused [to] meet with her. She was tactfully informed.”?

Don’t you think that the matter is much too serious for “tact” and that I am entitled to a full and exact report on the situation?

I will appreciate your personal attention and reply,

Rand’s papers contain no response to this letter. The last letter from Phil Berg, dated September 24, 1962, is a friendly, newsy update of his activities (including his being a subscriber to Rand’s Objectivist Newsletter).

To Alan Collins (September 18, 1948)

Alan Collins (1904–68) was Rand’s literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. from 1943 until his death in 1968. That agency still handles her books. The following seventeen-page letter (marked “Confidential” in her handwriting on the first page) was not included in Letters of Ayn Rand because, although it was sent in the mail, it is more of a report than a piece of correspondence. It is, by that token, a unique written account by Rand of detailed events in her life and an indication of the kind of detailed narrative that must have comprised the lengthy letters that she sent to her family in the Soviet Union, letters that were destroyed during the siege of Leningrad and of which she had made no copies.

Dear Alan:

As I promised you in our telephone conversation yesterday, here is a complete account of my dealings with Berg-Allenberg during the writing and production of THE FOUNTAINHEAD at Warner Bros.:

As I wrote to you at the time, I do not believe that it was the efforts of Berg-Allenberg that got me the job at Warners to write the screenplay. I was called by the studio shortly after you had entered the situation and after Mr. Swanson was ready to take me over as a client.11 Also, I had discussed the situation with Mr. Herbert Freston, who is my attorney here and who is also attorney for and Vice-President of Warner Bros. He promised me at that time to look into the situation. It was shortly after this that I was called to go to work. I suppose that I shall never know the exact truth of what happened, but it is my conclusion that I owed this call to Mr. Freston and yourself — not to Berg-Allenberg.

Things went extremely well at the studio from the day I started to work there. I had no trouble or disagreement of any kind with Mr. Blanke, the producer, and King Vidor, the director. During our first interview, on March 23rd, Blanke and Vidor told me that it was their intention to make a faithful adaptation of THE FOUNTAINHEAD, to preserve its theme intact and to produce, in screen terms, an equivalent of the book in literary terms. Blanke said: “I want the people leaving the theater to have the impression that they had seen the whole book, and to get from the picture the same feeling they get from the book.” I said that if that was their intention, we would be in complete agreement from then on — and we were.

When the first fifty pages of my script were mimeographed, the front office was extremely enthusiastic about it. Jack Warner stopped me on the lot several times to tell me so in person. Jimmy Townsend, of the Berg-Allenberg office, told me that Warners had informed him how pleased they were with my work, and he added that it was quite unusual for a studio to express enthusiasm in the middle of an assignment. Then I told him that if things went on as well as this, I would like him to take up with Warners the possibility of their buying my contract from Hal Wallis. I had two reasons for this idea: (1) I was much happier working with Blanke than I had been with Wallis and felt that his taste in pictures was closer to mine. (2) Since Wallis cannot sell my contract without my consent, I thought that if such a deal could be arranged, I would make it a condition that I would take off all the time I needed to finish my novel and would then give to Warners the time I still owe to Wallis on my contract. Jimmy Townsend said that he had had precisely the same idea, and that it would probably be difficult, because Wallis would not agree to sell my contract, but that he, Townsend, would take the matter up with Warners when I finished the script of THE FOUNTAINHEAD.

Sometime during the writing of the script, King Vidor told me that it would be wonderful if I could stand by on the set during the entire shooting of the picture. I had never mentioned the subject, he brought it up himself. He said that we could work out a lot of very interesting things together and that the experience would be valuable for me, that I would learn a lot about picture making. I told him that I would be more than delighted to do it, with or without payment. This was not a business proposition or a commitment on Vidor’s part, it was just a discussion. I did not press him about it, but I reported the conversation to Jimmy Townsend and told him that I was more than anxious to be present during the shooting, so that if any changes were made at the last minute on the set, I would be there to make them. Townsend said it would be a cinch to arrange, particularly if Vidor wanted me on the set, and that he, Townsend, would arrange it as soon as the script was finished.

Things went on very smoothly, and I kept hearing nothing but compliments all over the lot. Everybody was pleased with the script and with the rapidity or our progress.

When we were approaching the completion of the script, I told Jimmy Townsend that the time had come to make an arrangement with the studio for me to remain on the set during the shooting of the picture. I made it clear to Berg-Allenberg that my sole and most crucial interest in the whole business was to protect the integrity of my script, to protect it from hasty or accidental changes, that I needed all the help which they, as my agents, could give me in this respect, and that it was the only thing I wanted. I explained how disastrous careless changes in script could be in a picture which has such a dangerous, controversial theme. Berg’s attitude, in effect, was: “Aw, they always make script changes in Hollywood, and your picture is no different from others.” I am not sure whether he has ever read my book or not.

Jimmy Townsend reported to me, after a while, that he had tried and been unable to arrange for my remaining on the set. He said the studio had a rule against permitting writers on the set. He was somewhat sad and evasive about it. This was one major request of mine, which Berg-Allenberg had promised me to accomplish — and had failed.

After that, I asked Vidor in person how he felt about this matter. He became strangely evasive. Up to that time, I had heard nothing but compliments from him, and he had acted as my enthusiastic friend. Now I began to suspect that he had wanted to get a script from me (he had said that I was the only one who could write that script) — and then get rid of me, in order to have a free hand and to defeat any possible influence I may have on Blanke. Blanke does respect my opinion, and his artistic taste is very similar to mine.

I made no further issue about remaining on the set and did not insist on it. It was not essential to me to be present during the shooting — my sole concern was to be on hand to protect the script from random changes.

By June 12th the script, which was called “Revised Temporary”, was finished, and on Monday, June 14th, we started on the Final script. The work consisted of Blanke, Vidor and me reading the script aloud and discussing every possible cut or change for the final editing. We were working very fast and thought that one week was all we would need to finish. But on Wednesday Mr. Blanke became sick and stayed home that day as well as Thursday and Friday. So we were held up on the editing.

On that Friday, June 18th, at about 12:30, Vidor telephoned me in my office and told me the following: Blanke had just called him from his home and told him that the studio had informed him, Blanke, that I was to be closed, that is, taken off salary, the next day, Saturday, the 19th, that this had come from the front office without any explanations and that Blanke was on his way to the studio, even though he was sick, and that he would be there at 2 o’clock.

I must say at this point that I still don’t know what was the reason for this incident. Blanke assures me that it was merely the usual policy of the studio, that they are always very anxious to take people off salary as soon as an assignment is finished and that they had probably figured that this week was all we needed for the final script. This may be true, but on the other hand, I have a strong suspicion that Vidor’s influence was behind this. I suspect that he was anxious to do the final editing himself.

The moment Vidor called me about this, that is, at 12:30, I telephoned Phil Berg. I told him what had happened and asked him to come to the studio at 2 o’clock, because something had to be done and I needed his help. We were only about halfway through the script — we had edited about 80 pages out of 150 pages, so we could not possibly finish it that afternoon and the next day. Berg got furious at me for asking him to come to the studio. He said he was booked solid for the whole afternoon, had a string of appointments with very important clients, and told me that I was not the only client he had. He said that his presence at the studio was not necessary, since I had not received an official notice that I would be closed off the next day. I repeated that Blanke had received the official notice and that Vidor had just told me so. Berg answered: “Vidor is not an official of the company. Never mind what he says.” (?!) I asked him what I was to do at the conference with Blanke at 2 o’clock. Berg said that I should do nothing, just ignore the whole thing, that he would come to the studio on Monday and straighten everything out, but he could not come that afternoon. You know, of course, that if I had been closed out officially on Saturday, it would have been impossible to get me back into the studio, because they would have considered the script finished and would have left Vidor or whoever to edit it without me.

At 2 o’clock Blanke arrived at the studio and confirmed what Vidor had told me, that is, that the front office wanted to close me next day, because the budget of the picture was very tight and they had expected the script to be finished that week. Blanke and Vidor both seemed to be panicky about this and did not know what to do. Blanke said that we should have my agent here to help him fight for me at the front office. I suggested that he call Mr. Berg himself. Blanke asked Vidor’s secretary (we were in Vidor’s office) to get Berg on the wire. She telephoned and gave us the following report, as nearly verbatim as I can remember it: “Mr. Berg is away on his yacht for the weekend. Mr. Allenberg and Mr. Townsend are away for the weekend. There is nobody at the office except Mr. Coryell.” (Coryell is the business manager at Berg-Allenberg and cannot do any studio negotiations.) We were completely stuck and did not know what to do next. Then I made the following proposal: Since we had about another week of work to finish the script, I said I would finish it without payment — in exchange for an agreement that all future changes in the script during the shooting would be done by me; and, for that purpose, I would remain in the studio, in my office, doing my own work, but would be available any time they needed me and would do the changes for them without salary. Blanke agreed to it. He and Vidor went to see Mr. Trilling, who is Jack Warner’s assistant, to obtain his approval. They came back and told me that Trilling did not know whether they could accept such an unconventional arrangement, but he had agreed to let me remain on salary for another week to finish the script.

On Monday morning Berg telephoned me to ask what had happened. I had barely begun to say: “We called you and were told that you were away on your yacht —” when he literally blew up and started screaming that he’ll be damned if he didn’t have the right to go away on a weekend and wasn’t he entitled to a rest? Mind you, I had not even reproached him yet. I told him that I was not arguing about his right to his weekend, but why had he found it necessary to tell me that he was booked solid with appointments? He kept screaming in self-defense, telling me how difficult I was, and ended up by saying that he would come to the studio.

I was in Vidor’s office when Berg arrived. We told him what had happened. Berg’s whole attitude was one of antagonism toward me. I asked him to make the final arrangements with the front office for me to remain in the studio during the shooting of the picture — though not necessarily on the set. I pointed out to him that if the picture was preserved intact as we had it now, I would give it all my support. If the picture was mangled, I would have to come out against it and tell the public that it was not a movie of THE FOUNTAINHEAD. I said that this was the possibility I wanted to avoid and it would be best for the studio’s interest and mine to protect us against it. At which point, in Vidor’s presence, Berg said: “Oh, if you came out against the picture, it might even be good for it.” (Alan, I will let you judge whether you think as I do, that this was perhaps the most dreadful thing an agent could do to his client.) Then Berg said he had to speak to Vidor, and he would speak to me later, and I went back to my office.

Sometime later Berg came to my office and again started the discussion in a tone of hysterical anger. I cannot understand why every business conversation I have had with Berg has always started with an angry attack on his part. He began by saying that people on the lot were complaining about how difficult I was. I had dealt with no one except Blanke and Vidor, and there had been no quarrels among us. I asked Berg to tell me in what way I had been difficult, to name the specific instances he meant and to name the persons who had complained. He refused to answer. Then, he launched into a long speech exactly as follows: My commission amounted to only a hundred dollars a week. He had to give half of it to you. The income tax of Berg-Allenberg took some huge percentage of their income (he told me the exact figure, but I don’t remember it), he went into minute financial details of their costs, etc., — and ended by saying that they got only something like 33 cents a week out of my commission — and they had clients who were directors making $12,000 a week! I think he caught himself in time, because suddenly and very hastily he added: “But of course, we will work for you just as hard as for anyone else, just the same.” I told him that I quite understood his point, that I did not want anyone to work for me as a favor, that I had never been a charity case in my struggling days and did not intend to be one now; and therefore the best thing to do was for Berg-Allenberg to let me go, as I had asked them before to let me go. At this point, Berg came back to his senses, I think, and became much more calm and almost friendly. He assured me that I had misunderstood him and that they would not let me go. Then he promised to make the arrangement with the studio for me to remain in my office — as I had proposed it to Blanke on Friday.

Later in the afternoon, I was in Vidor’s office, working on the script with Vidor and Blanke, when the door opened and Berg flew in. He seemed to be very cheerful, he said that he had made the arrangements with Mr. Trilling, that Mr. Trilling had okayed it and that after this week I would remain in my office without salary to stand by for possible script changes during the shooting. I said that was fine and would he please draw up the necessary documents in writing. He said something like “sure” and flew out of the office again.

I heard nothing more from him during that week. We finished the script on Friday, June 25th, except for a few minor things which I had to do at home on Saturday. I went home Friday night on the understanding that I would be back at the studio on Monday, but without salary. Blanke told me to write him a letter stating our agreement, and that it would probably be all that was necessary to cover it.

On Saturday I wrote the letter, a copy of which I am enclosing. On that same Saturday, Finley McDermid, the head of the scenario department, called me at home to tell me that the studio had changed their mind about our agreement, that they did not want me to work free nor to remain on the lot; that they would call me back for any script changes, if such came up, and that they would then pay me for the work by the day. I telephoned Phil Berg. He said that he was terribly sorry, but Jack Warner, who was just then leaving for Europe, had cancelled our agreement by reason of it being unprecedented. I said I understood that it was an unwritten law of the studios that one could not cancel a verbal agreement during the period when it was being committed to paper. (Do you remember how you had assured me of this at the time Warners bought the rights to my book?) I asked him [why] hadn’t he arranged to have the agreement in writing. Berg kept saying, “What can I do? There is nothing I can do. They just changed their minds.” This was the second incident where Berg-Allenberg promised to achieve a request of mine — and failed.

I saw Blanke the next week. He gave me his word of honor that there would be no changes made in the script during the shooting, except by me; that if any changes became necessary, he would call me to make them and I would be paid for my work. I said that I would not agree to work by the day and to be on call in this manner, unless it was on the condition that all changes in the script would be made by me. If Blanke were willing to guarantee this condition, I would work in any way he pleased, with or without payment, at the studio or at home, any arrangement he chose would be agreeable to me, so long as this one condition about my making all the changes was observed — the rest did not matter to me. I said that I would not sign any agreement about my future work, if this condition was not included. He said: “Let it go without any signatures and leave it to me. You will see that the script won’t be touched. I give you my word of honor.”

I told my whole story to Mr. Freston. He spoke to Trilling and told me that Trilling assured him he, Trilling, had never made the agreement with Berg, which Berg announced to us as made. However, Trilling assured Freston that I would be called back should any script changes become necessary.

I must mention that King Vidor too, gave me his word of honor that he would make no changes in the script without me. But, by then, it was my impression that Blanke wanted me to remain on the lot, and Vidor did not.

The picture went into production, and everything went smoothly. Blanke telephoned me quite often and very faithfully to consult me about small changes in the script. I did the changes for him right over the telephone. He told me that I could visit the set any time, but I did not want to do it too often, if Vidor was afraid of my presence, as I think he was. I came a few times to see the shooting and did some minor rewrites right on the set. None of this work involved a whole day, and, therefore, I was not paid for it and did not ask for any payment. I am told that the picture was shot verbatim, as I wrote it, with no adlibbing or improvising by anyone on the set. As far as I know, Blanke, Vidor and the studio did keep their word to me. Everything was fine and I felt very happy about it — until Wednesday, September 15.

As you probably know from the book, the most important and crucial part of the story is the speech which Roark makes at his trial. This was the most difficult thing to write in a condensed  form, and the most dangerous, politically and philosophically, if written carelessly. We had many conferences about it. There were all kinds of objections and I rewrote the speech many times until all the objections were met.

Here is a list of the conferences we had about this speech — not counting the numerous conferences among Blanke, Vidor and me while I was writing the script:

June 14 (?)     Mr. Shurlock of the Johnston office,12 Blanke, Vidor and I.

July 2             Judge Jackson, Mr. Shurlock and another gentleman from the Johnston office, Blanke, Vidor and I.

Aug. 31          Mr. Freston, Mr. Williams (his assistant), Gary Cooper, Mr. Prinzmetal (attorney of Gary Cooper), Blanke and I.

Sept. 1           Mr. Freston, Mr. Williams, Blanke and I.

Sept. 2           Gary Cooper, Blanke and I.

Sept. 2           Mr. Trilling, Blanke and I.

Sept. 8           Blanke, Vidor and I.

Sept. 8           Mr. Trilling, Blanke and I.

Except for the first one, all these conferences took place after I had finished the script. Blanke called me back to the studio for these conferences. I had to work for several days on rewriting, at different times, and the studio paid me for these days. I don’t have to tell you how excruciatingly difficult this work was. But I did not object to making changes — so long as I could preserve the theme of the story and the philosophical ideas of the speech. Altogether, from my first temporary script on, I rewrote that speech six times.

The last objection raised to the speech was from Vidor — on September 8. He found that the version which we made after the conferences with the attorneys was less dramatic than our previous versions — and he was right. So I rewrote the speech once more. And this final version was really the best one. Everybody okayed it and everybody was very pleased with it, including Vidor. He did not make a single suggestion or criticism, nor ask for any change in this last version. He said it was fine and just right. He told me this, and later said the same thing to Blanke.

You realize, of course, that this speech had to be written as carefully as a legal document. I had to weigh every word, every thought — in order not to leave any loopholes which would permit anyone to accuse us of some improper ideology. I had to make every idea crystal clear, cover every possible implication, guard against any chance of misunderstanding, avoid any possibility of confusion. I did it — and preserved the dramatic and literary qualities of the speech at the same time. You understand the problems of writing. Try to imagine what sort of effort this took.

Blanke and Vidor asked me to coach Gary Cooper in the reading of the speech for a voice recording. I did. The recording came out excellently. I asked both Blanke and Vidor whether they thought the speech was too long (it ran about six minutes) and told them that there were certain cuts which could be made. They both said, “No,” they did not want it cut and did not find it too long. Blanke said, “Every word of it holds. I want it just as it is.”

It was agreed long ago that the one scene which I would see shot would be the courtroom scene. This was the last scene of the picture. I came to the studio for the first two days, when all the preliminary shots were taken which precede Roark’s speech. Everything went along beautifully, and I can’t quite tell you what a wonderful mood prevailed on that whole set. Everybody was enthusiastic about the picture. It was just coming to an end triumphantly. I was extremely happy and thought that now, at last, I can relax and feel at peace, the picture was safe.

On the third day, which was Wednesday, September 15th, I came on the set a little after 10 o’clock (the set is called for 9, but the first hour is taken up with lighting and setting up the camera, and Blanke had told me to be there by 10.) Just as I came on the stage, the bell rang for the next take, and what I saw being done was this: Vidor was taking a shot of Cooper starting his speech from the middle, cutting out the entire first third of it.

The cut made the whole speech senseless and left glaring holes in the political theory of the speech, making it open to every kind of attack, objection or smear. The speech could be construed as anarchism or fascism or simply plain drivel; with the first third taken out, one could not tell what the character was talking about. Imagine a carefully devised, complex legal contract with the first two pages torn out of it — and visualize what sense or meaning would be left in the remnant.

I waited until they finished the shot and then asked Vidor what he was doing. (Incidentally, and on my word of honor, I did not raise my voice. I spoke very quietly because I did not want the people on the set to know that there was any trouble.) Vidor said that this was just a protection shot, that he had already shot the first part of the speech as written and that he was taking this in case the speech needed to be cut later. I asked him why he had not told me about this and he answered: “Because you were not here.”

I went to the telephone and called Blanke. He came on the set and told me that Vidor had called him at the last minute, at 9 o’clock that morning, and asked permission to take this “protection shot” which he, Vidor, had apparently devised then and there, on the spur of the moment; Vidor told him that the request came from both himself and Gary Cooper. Blanke told me that he had given Vidor permission to do it, even though he, Blanke, did not intend to use this cut; he had given in only to keep Vidor and Cooper contented and get a good performance out of them for the rest of the day. I told Blanke that this was a cut which we could not make, that if cuts were necessary, I could tell them where to make them, but this one simply blasted all sense out of the speech. Blanke agreed with me, we called Vidor aside. Vidor got very nasty; he had no reasons or explanations to offer except that he had felt (!) he wanted to make this “protection shot.” There was no time to argue on the set, so we left.

I went with Blanke to his office. He kept assuring me that this cut would never be used. I was literally shellshocked. I could not grasp (and still can’t) how they were able to make such a decision (even as an alternate possibility) so lightly and carelessly, after all those conferences, legal discussions and the brainwracking, careful thought we had all given to that speech. I could not understand how it was possible that they had consulted me about every little thing, every small doubt, during the shooting of the picture — and then had done this in the most crucial, most dangerous point, done it on the spur if the moment, knowing that this speech was more important to me (and to the film’s future prestige or disgrace) than all the rest of the picture. Both Blanke and Vidor had thus broken their word of honor to me.

I told Blanke that if this cut were considered, if it remained in existence, I would have to take my name off the screenplay and break off all connection with the picture. I could not sign my name to the speech in that form. I could not let my political reputation be smeared by the kind of attack which that speech would provoke and deserve. Blanke kept assuring me that the cut version would not be used and that he had permitted it to be shot only in order to appease Vidor. I felt certain that this was a deliberate double-cross on Vidor’s part — he had simply high-pressured Blanke to do things his way when there was no time to argue. I found out later from Gary Cooper himself that he, Cooper, had not raised any objection to the length of the speech and had not asked for any cuts that morning. (Incidentally, as just a minor touch of insanity, when Vidor read my last version of the speech, he said, “If there are any more changes, whatever you cut, don’t cut that first part” — because the first part of the speech was the one he seemed to like best.)

I asked Blanke for some form of written guarantee that this cut would not be used. I pointed out that their action had broken our agreement, and they had no legal right to all the work I had done after the completion of the script, because all that work was done on the express condition that I would make all the changes in the script, if and when they wanted changes made. They have no signature from me giving them the right to use that later, extra work. Blanke was actually very nice to me and very upset. He realized that he had been high-pressured and that he should not have given in. But he said that he could not give me a written guarantee about that shot, because it would upset all studio precedents.

He took me in to see Mr. Trilling. We had a long conversation. Trilling was very friendly and kept telling me, in effect, the same thing — they cannot give me anything in writing, but he gives me his word of honor that I would be consulted about the final form of the speech and about cuts in it, if cuts were made. I kept insisting I wanted a guarantee in writing and only in relation to this particular shot. They did not know what to do. They did not want me to leave, but they would not give me the thing in writing. I wanted to go home then, but Blanke asked me to wait and he went in to see Jack Warner. He came back and said that Warner sends me his love and tells me not to worry, that he gives me his word of honor that I will be in on the final film editing of the speech. Then I asked Blanke to let me see the rushes of the whole speech tomorrow, and said that I would hold my decision until then. We parted on this, with everybody in the studio expressing their regrets to me about the whole incident.

The next morning Phil Berg called me and started by bawling me out. He told me that Blanke, Trilling and Warner were furious at me and went on and in this manner, telling me the exact opposite of what I had seen the day before in the attitude of those to whom I had spoken. Berg accused me of coming on the set, screaming and ordering the shooting stopped. (?) He said that he had spent two hours at the studio yesterday “fighting for me” and that it was all settled: everybody had promised that I would be called in on the final editing and we didn’t have to discuss it any further. I asked him how it could be “all settled” without my consent, who had called him to the studio when I hadn’t, and if he was at the studio, why hadn’t he come to hear my side of it before he discussed anything? He said he had been told that I had already left — while I had been at the studio, in my office, until 6 o’clock. I told him that the matter was not settled, as far as I was concerned.

Blanke called me a little later to tell me about some retakes he had ordered Vidor to make (not in connection with the speech), and I asked him for an appointment to see him together with Phil Berg. I thought that I had better bring Berg’s part in this out into the open. Blanke gave me the appointment very nicely, almost eagerly, for 2 o’clock that afternoon. I called Berg and told him this. He refused to come. He said the he had other appointments and told me again that I was not his only client. He said that he would send Jimmy Townsend, if I wanted him. Then added that “Townsend is a very high-priced executive and I don´t see why we should waste his time on this.” I did not argue or insist. I said that I did not want Townsend to come and that I would go to the studio alone.

You realize, of course, that I had needed an agent very badly the day before, to fight for me, because my whole screen career hung in the balance. If I had had an agent whom I could trust, the first thing I would have done would have been to call him. But I knew that I could not count on Berg’s help, so I preferred to avoid another nasty fight with him and leave him out of the case entirely. Yet now, he had entered the case and, apparently, not for me, but against me. I had not once seen him do any negotiations on my behalf. Now I had offered him a chance to do it, to stand by me openly and in my presence. This would have been the best way to prove to me that my suspicions were unjustified. (I did not tell him this, but that was my purpose in asking him to come.) He refused to do it.

I went to the studio alone. I spent most of the afternoon talking to Blanke. I promised him finally that I would not break with the studio now, but would first discuss the matter with Mr. Herbert Freston who was then out of town. That afternoon, Jack Warner saw the rushes and called Blanke while I was in the office to tell him that he liked my version of the speech, both in content and photography, and that mine was the version he wanted to be used. I felt a great deal better. Then Blanke took me to see the rushes. My full version of the speech was so superior in every way, not only in content, but in the quality of the shot and in Gary Cooper’s acting, that there could be no question as to which of the two versions was better. Blanke promised me that I would see the whole rough cut of the picture by the end of this coming week. I told him that I will wait until then, that I would make no trouble and no demands if the picture remains true to my script and most particularly if they preserve Roark’s speech. This is how its stands at present. I have not heard from or called Berg since.

It is my impression that the studio will keep their word, because they actually do agree with me and also because they do think that my name on the picture and my endorsement of it are valuable and important to them. The studio publicity has been featuring me in all their publicity, and one of the men there told me the following: “We have nothing to sell in this picture except Gary Cooper and your book — and for our purposes, the name of your book is even more important at the box office than Gary Cooper’s, because your book is so famous.” If this is the studio’s attitude, I am certainly more than delighted to cooperate, and it is certainly to our mutual advantage, both for me and the studio. But you can imagine what kind of pressure will be brought upon the studio heads when a few people see the picture and begin to express opinions. All the opinions, of course, will be contradictory, because the story is so controversial. I think that Blanke and Jack Warner will carry it through in the proper way, that is, will leave the script untouched — but this is the time when I need the help of an agent to argue for my view point, if necessary, and to stress to the studio the value of my name and support, should the studio heads be tempted to weaken and give in to some pressure such as Vidor’s. (Vidor had seemed to be in complete agreement with us — but now, after this double cross, I do not know what his real opinion is and what to expect of him). I told Berg, in our last telephone conversation, that he should stress my value to the studio and I quoted the remark of the publicity man. Berg answered: “Aw, Ayn, you’re crazy. Who told you this? Probably some $40.00 a week publicity guy.” Dear Alan, please tell me whether this is an agent who is working for me, who is making proper use of my professional value and protecting my interests.

This is another matter where I needed Berg-Allenberg’s help — and they failed me. As to my request to Jimmy Townsend that he discuss with Warners the matter of their buying my contract from Hal Wallis, I have never heard a word about it. I don’t know whether Berg-Allenberg have bothered to do anything about it. I have not reminded them of it. I think they have simply forgotten. It is my impression that they don’t give a damn about my career.

Well, this is the whole story. I have spoken to Mr. Swanson on the telephone and he told me that he would be glad to take over any moment I say, and that he would sign with me any kind of contract that you decide on. He was very nice and quite frankly enthusiastic about getting me as client. That, of course, is what I want — I have no desire at all to be a poor relative, or the client of an agent who handles “$12,000 a week directors.”

Swanson told me that according to a recent ruling, a client does not have to prove that an agent has failed to give satisfactory service in order to terminate his contract. It seems that I have the right simply to notify Berg-Allenberg that I wish to terminate it and then it will be up to them to appeal to a labor board for a decision, if they wish. It would then be up to them to prove that they had given me valuable services and advanced my career. If they can prove it, I would have to pay them their commissions for the remainder of the contract. If they cannot prove it, I do not have to pay. In either case, I have the right to dismiss them and be represented by someone else.

I am enclosing a copy of my contract with them. After you have studied all this, will you let me know what action you decide is best — whether you will notify Berg-Allenberg that I am through with them entirely and let them appeal to a labor board if they wish, or whether I should merely dismiss them but continue to pay them commissions for another year, when our contract expires, and for the remainder of the Hal Wallis contract, if I continue with the Hal Wallis contract. Whichever you decide, it will be agreeable to me. I am quite willing to pay Swanson an additional 5 per cent, if necessary.

I need your help particularly in the following problem: It is my impression that Phil Berg has not merely remained neutral during the whole period of my work at Warner Bros., that is, did not merely neglect to do anything for me, but has been working actively against me. I have no complete factual proof of that, but it is an impression and a very uncomfortable one. Therefore, when I leave Berg-Allenberg, he may attempt some form of malicious action against me or against my interests in the picture, such as creating antagonism toward me in the minds of Jack Warner or other studio executives with whom he may have influence. So I would like to ask you to use your influence on Berg and Allenberg, in whatever way you find it possible, to prevent such actions. I know that such matters as personal malice are beyond anyone’s control, but I think that Berg-Allenberg would be afraid to antagonize you and would be more considerate or cautious in their attitude toward me, if they knew that you are watching the situation personally and intend to protect me.

I would like the notice to Berg-Allenberg to come from you for two reasons: First, to impress upon them the fact that I am primarily your client, not theirs. Second, because they might agree to relinquish the contract without any further nastiness. Also, I would like to have your moral support in this. I feel very indignant at their attitude, and I feel very hurt.

Please let me know what procedure you decide is best to set me free of them, before you notify them officially. If you ask them for their side of the story, as of course you should, please ask them to be as specific as I was.

Forgive me if this is so long, but I wanted to tell you everything, and I wanted to have a complete record of the whole matter for the future. It has taken me a week to write this letter. If it makes hard reading, you can imagine how hard it was for me to live through all this.

On October 1, 1948, Collins responded to Rand with a basically non-committal letter regarding her dispute with Berg-Allenberg. He confirmed that she had no legal right to a final say, adding that “it comes down to what commitment, moral or otherwise, may have been made to you in the course of the past few months. I have every confidence that your estimate of what has happened is factually correct. On the other hand, when Allenberg was recently in New York he insisted to me that they had done a very fine job for you at the studio. At this point, however, it doesn’t seem to me to matter at all who is right and who is wrong. You are dissatisfied and want to quit. Therefore, the sole question is how best to do it.” On October 20, Rand wrote to Collins, asking him to cancel her contract with Berg-Allenberg. (The courtroom scene was shot exactly as Rand wrote it, and it appeared that it would be released as she wrote it, but as it happened one line was cut from the end of Roark’s speech: “I came here to say that I am a man who does not exist for others.”13)

To Mario Profili (September 12, 1948)

Profili, vice consul of Italy, was a representative of the Federated Italo-Americans, an umbrella organization that united many clubs and societies supporting the Italian heritage in Southern California.

My dear Mr. Profili:

This is in response to your request for my permission to show the Scalera film based upon my book — WE THE LIVING in connection with the Columbus Day celebration.

I am very happy, of course, to cooperate in this celebration in every way possible; however, the picture contains certain dialogue which is not contained in my book and to which I cannot subscribe. In fact it is my position that these particular parts of the picture reflect unfavorably upon my book and injure my professional reputation.

However, for the sole purpose of assisting in the patriotic celebration on Columbus Day I shall make no objection to the showing of the Scalera picture provided it is clearly understood that I am not responsible for such dialogue as deviates from my book. Accordingly, I shall be glad to grant your request on the following conditions: that you engage a film cutter who will, under my direction, cut out of the picture the passages of dialogue which I find most objectionable; and further — in order to cover such lesser lines of dialogue as may be hard to eliminate — that before the picture is shown an announcement be made to the audience to the effect that the film was made in Italy during the war under conditions which did not permit me to consult with the producer or approve certain dialogue of which I am not the author; that by giving my permission for the showing I do not necessarily adopt or approve any lines which do not appear in the book entitled WE THE LIVING and that I reserve all legal rights which arise out of the use of the book by the producer of the picture.

I regret that I cannot release this picture without these stipulations and I trust that the required announcement can be made without great inconvenience.

Of course, you understand that I do not own the film itself and that it will be necessary for you to obtain authorization from the owner before it can be screened.

Although the event was planned as part of a Columbus Day celebration, Rand wrote to Profili almost five months later regarding changes in the statement to be read to the audience “at both performances.” If the screenings actually took place, Rand apparently did not attend, as there is no relevant entry in her daily calendars for 1948 or 1949.

To Gerald Loeb (January 8, 1949)

Gerald Loeb (1899–1974) was a founding partner of E.F. Hutton and Co. and a friend of Frank Lloyd Wright. Rand and Loeb had a lengthy correspondence between 1943 and 1949, during which period her daily calendars list numerous meetings and dinners with Loeb.

Dear Gerald:

This is just a brief note to let you know the big news: We had a preview of THE FOUNTAINHEAD day before yesterday, January 6 — and it was a triumph. Everybody present told me that it was the most sensational preview they had ever attended. The picture went over so well that Jack Warner did not make a single cut or change — and the final negative is being made right now. I don’t want to boast about all the details — I hope you will hear it from Warners themselves. As far as my opinion is concerned, the picture is magnificent.

With the best regards from both of us to both of you,

That was Rand at her most enthusiastic about the film. By the next year, her high opinion had waned: in a letter to a friend, she allowed that neither the casting or direction was “ideal,” but having her script shot verbatim was “a miracle.” Ten years later, in her biographical interviews, she said that although she liked the script, she “disliked the picture enormously, disliked everything about it,” criticizing the acting, the pacing and particularly the directing — she described director King Vidor as “a cheap, naturalistic mediocrity, and totally wrong for this job.”

An Introduction to the Study of Ayn Rand

“Reading [Ayn] Rand seriously,” writes Gregory Salmieri, “as opposed to merely reacting passively to her writings, is demanding intellectual work.” In this essay, which is chapter 1 of A Companion to Ayn Rand (Blackwell Companions to Philosophy) (2015), co-authored with Allan Gotthelf, Salmieri notes the stark contrast between the extent of Rand’s cultural prominence and the dearth of serious scholarly attention to her philosophy, Objectivism. Acknowledging the obstacles to understanding a radical thinker who challenged conventional wisdom in every branch of philosophy, Salmieri describes the rewards that await readers willing to consider Rand’s systematic philosophy on its own terms. Besides summarizing Rand’s works, this wide-ranging essay also discusses the essentials of Objectivism, its Aristotelian influences, its relation to Rand’s novels and its influence to date in the field of philosophy.

“An Introduction to the Study of Ayn Rand” is available from the publisher by clicking here.

Metaphysics in Marble

This article was originally published in The Objectivist (February and March, 1969) and is recommended by Ayn Rand in The Romantic Manifesto. The original article contained no footnotes or images, relying instead on vivid descriptions of the sculptures discussed. ARI is pleased to publish it here with new footnotes containing hyperlinks to images selected by the author.

Mary Ann Sures is an art historian who has lectured extensively, beginning in the early 1960s, on the application of Objectivist esthetics to the visual arts. She did graduate work in art history at the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University and at Hunter College, from which she received an M.A. She taught art history at New York University (Washington Square College) and at Hunter College. She is co-author with her late husband, Charles, of Facets of Ayn Rand, a memoir of their longtime friendship with Ayn Rand and her husband, Frank O’Connor.

Accessing the images: When you click on a green footnote number, you’ll be presented with links to various Internet sites where selected images reside. Clicking on a link will open up the image in a new tab. (In a few instances, written text accompanies these linked images; neither ARI nor the author endorses these texts, and they are not part of the article.) Once you’ve examined the image, you can shuttle back to the article by closing that tab. Then close the footnote by clicking the “X” in the upper right corner.

Readers are invited to send comments or questions concerning this article through our contact form. Unfortunately, not all emails can be assured a response.

Part I

“Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.” (Ayn Rand, “The Psycho-Epistemology of Art,” The Objectivist Newsletter, April 1965.)

Given the definition of art, one often hears the question of how metaphysical abstractions can be conveyed in a visual art such as sculpture.

This discussion is a brief historical survey to answer that question: to indicate the means by which sculpture expresses abstractions — and to demonstrate the connection between the dominant philosophy of a given era and its sculpture.

The history of sculpture is a history of man’s view of man — of his body and spirit, i.e., of his metaphysical nature. Every culture, from the most primitive to the most civilized, has held an estimate of man and has wanted to see the objectified reality of that estimate. Man has been the predominant subject of sculpture, whether he was judged to be an object of pride or of shame, a hero or a sinner.

A metaphysical view of man is projected by the manner in which the sculptor presents the human figure. In the process of shaping clay or wood or stone into the form of a body, the sculptor reveals his answer to three questions: Is man a being of free will or is he a helpless puppet of fate? — Is he good or evil? — Can he achieve happiness or is he doomed to misery? — and then mounts his answer on a pedestal and puts it in a tomb or in a temple or over the portal of a church or in a living room in New York City.

The ancient Egyptian put his answer in a tomb or temple; both monuments symbolized his obsessive preoccupation with life after death. In a civilization saturated with magic and superstition, he worshiped gods in human, animal and monster form — gods who, he believed, controlled his destiny and whom he placated with sacrificial offerings. Moving haltingly through what he believed to be an incomprehensible universe, his every step accompanied by ritual prescribed by the priests, he built temples to the gods and tombs for the dead, he chanted hymns to the dead, offered food to the dead, said prayers for the dead — and then accepted payment for his efforts: he joined them.

This was the Egyptian’s concept of man’s nature and destiny: a mindless puppet with strings attached to hosts of deities who manipulated him through an unintelligible life, while beckoning him into a state of non-life. This is the view concretized in most Egyptian sculpture.

Throughout the centuries of Egyptian civilization, sculptors arranged the human figure according to the law of frontality, which divides the body vertically into symmetrical halves. Facing directly forward, with movement restricted to the forward step of the left leg, the body projected a state of rigidity and immobility. Observe that the law of frontality is also an established convention in the practice of undertakers. 1 King Menkaure and His Queen. c. 2530–2500 B.C. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. See also Ramses II. c. 1250 B.C. Open Air Museum, Memphis, Egypt. Note: This image can be enlarged by clicking on it.

For every living entity, motion is a prerequisite for the achievement of the values that sustain its life. Man, who must initiate the process of thought required to identify and select his values, must also initiate the physical motion required to attain them. Whether it is the motion of writing a treatise or the motion of excavating for the foundations of a skyscraper, the act of bringing his values into reality requires both thought and movement.

The state in which man, while still alive, can initiate neither thought nor movement, is a state of coma. A close approximation of this state is embodied in most Egyptian sculpture. The application of frontality produced an appearance of arrested movement. The sculptor then incorporated other features which, in conjunction with frontality, indicated that the movement of the body could hardly continue: he carved thick ankles and wrists, which suggest an arthritic condition; he minimized the musculature, virtually eliminating it in the arms, barely indicating it in the legs; he placed the arms down, along the sides of the body, often locking them to the torso with a web of stone; he terminated the motionless arms with clenched fists, or, in seated figures, placed the hands on the thighs, palms down. The material was carved in such a way that it retained the quality of stone, of inert matter. The face was usually carved to match the body: motionless, showing neither pleasure nor pain, neither perception nor introspection — a face virtually devoid of expression, reflecting no awareness, no consciousness. The total result projects a state which is neither life nor death, but a grotesque combination of the two: a state of living death.

Ancient Greece tore away the heavy shroud of mysticism woven for centuries in murky temples, and achieved, in three centuries, what Egypt had not dreamed of in thirty: a civilization that was essentially pro-man and pro-life. The achievements of the Greeks rested on their confidence in the power of man’s mind — the power of reason. For the first time, men sought to understand the causes of natural phenomena, and gradually replaced superstition with the beginnings of science. For the first time, men sought to guide their lives by the judgment of reason, instead of resorting exclusively to divine will and revelation.

The Greeks built temples for their gods, but they conceived of their gods as perfect human beings, rejecting the cats, crocodiles and cow-headed monstrosities enshrined and worshiped by the Egyptians. Greek gods personified abstractions such as Beauty, Wisdom, Justice, Victory, which are proper human values. In the Greek religion, there was no omnipotent mystical authority and no organized priesthood. The Greek had only a vague idea of, and little interest in, an afterlife. His religious practice was, essentially, an affair of state; the gods were honored with civic rites and festivals. On the whole, in his private life, he was left free to think and to seek happiness on earth. To quote Sophocles: “Wonders are there many — none more wonderful than man. His the might that crosses seas swept white by storm winds . . . He the master of the beast lurking in the wild hills . . . His is speech and wind-swift thought.” (Quoted in Edith Hamilton, The Greek Way to Western Civilization, New York, New American Library, 1948, p. 46.) Observe the characterization of man in terms of his essential attribute: his capacity to think.

In its earliest phase, in the seventh century B.C., Greek sculpture showed the influence of the Egyptian style in its featuring of frontality, clenched fists and the left-foot-forward posture in standing figures. However, while relying on Egypt for these features, the Greek sculptor introduced a startling change, one which undoubtedly would have shocked the Egyptian, but which was to remain a characteristic of Greek sculpture from its beginning to its end. The Greek carved man naked. 2 Statue of a Youth (Kouros). c. 590–580 B.C. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Note: This image can be enlarged by clicking on it; also, different views can be selected by clicking the small images found below the main image.

Throughout the thirty centuries of its history, nudity was rare in Egyptian art, and was usually reserved for children or slaves. To reveal the body of an adult was taken, by the Egyptian, as a sign of degradation. The featuring of the naked body in early Greek sculpture is a sign of a different estimate of man, which broke through the Egyptian stylistic conventions that the Greek had borrowed. That estimate is also revealed by other elements. The Greek began to make distinctions between the parts of the body, by carving subtle indications of the rib cage, the collarbone, muscles in the legs, and joints in the knees, wrists, ankles and elbows. The Greek sculptor was beginning to give his image of man the physical endowment that would enable man to take his first steps — just as, at the same time, Greek philosophers were beginning to take the first steps of thought. Reason, as a consciously defined concept, was born in ancient Greece.

The history of Greek sculpture from the seventh to the fifth century B.C. is a record in marble of the gradual development of the concept of man as a self-confident being, able to live. The subject matter was predominantly religious, consisting of representations of the gods. However, since the gods were representations of ideal men, it was man’s body that they glorified, and it was an affirmative view of the human spirit that their statues projected. Gradually, the Greek sculptor eliminated the Egyptian conventions of frontality and rigidity; he studied anatomy, in order to represent man realistically. He reached the day when he rejected the lifeless automatons of Egypt, just as he rejected the comatose state they expressed.

Whether representing gods or athletes, Greek sculptors strove to objectify their concept of ideal physical beauty. This passion for the ideal body led one sculptor of athletes, Polykleitos, to work as if he had devised a canon of proportions for the physically perfect male figure. The size of every part of the body was calculated according to a fixed ratio. Sculptors eliminated the accidental imperfections which an average man might happen to possess, and featured only those physical attributes which contributed to the image of a healthy, perfect and sensuous body. 3 Polykleitos. Doryphorus (Spear Bearer). Roman copy after a bronze original of c. 450–440 B.C. National Archeological Museum, Naples, Italy. Note: This image can be enlarged by clicking on it.

The potentiality of movement is evident in all Greek sculpture. Sculptors carefully articulated the joints and musculature, in recognition of the fact that no body can move without them. They distributed the body’s weight so that the figures were balanced, but not frozen into rigid positions. Consequently, the statues suggested the capacity to shift their weight and move easily.

A quality of life was achieved also by the manner of carving the surface texture. Sculptors created the illusion of flesh that was both firm and soft, emphasizing the subtle rise and fall of the skin as it moves over the complexity of the underlying skeletal and muscular structure. In this way, they stressed the sensuous aspect of the body.

When a sculptor created statues of goddesses clothed in loose gowns, he flaunted their bodies by carving the marble in the style called “wet drapery.” 4 Nike Fastening Her Sandal. c. 410 B.C. Relief from the parapet of the Temple of Athena Nike, Acropolis Museum, Athens. This term designates transparent, fragile cloth which appears to have been applied to a moist body. At every point of contact between the body and the garment, the cloth clings and reveals the body’s subtlest curves. When the Greek carved a female statue, he left no doubt of its femininity, dressed or undressed.

Nike, the goddess of Victory, was a favorite of the Greek navy, and wooden statues of Nike were mounted on the prows of ships. In a marble version, the famous Winged Victory of Samothrace, the goddess stands on the prow of a ship, as an embodiment of motion. Her figure rises in an upward-sweeping curve and thrusts forward to meet the forceful winds of open seas. Wind whips her fragile gown across her torso, revealing its vibrant sensuousness. Proud and courageous, she embodies the attitude with which the Greeks set out to sea. 5 Winged Victory of Samothrace. c. 190 B.C. Louvre, Paris.

Few of the heads of classical Greek statues have survived; but those that have, convey one quality: serene awareness. A calm face with a smooth brow — a face with no sign of inner conflict — was the Greek ideal. 6 Attributed to Praxiteles. Hermes with the Infant Dionysus (head and torso). c. 340 B.C. National Archaeological Museum, Olympia, Greece. Note: This image can be enlarged by clicking on it.

An entirely different view of man dominated the medieval Christian civilization. Man, according to Augustine, is “crooked and sordid, bespotted and ulcerous.” Medieval mystics regarded man as an evil creature whose body is loathsome because it is material, and whose mind is impotent because it is human. Hating man’s body, they said that pleasure is evil, and virtue consists of renunciation. Hating this earth, they said that it is a prison where man is doomed to pain, misery, calamity. Hating life, they said that death and escape into some other dimension is all that man could — and should — hope for.

Man as a helpless and depraved creature, was the basic theme of medieval sculpture until the Gothic period, whether he was shown being pushed into Hell or accepted into Heaven.

Once again, a naked body was regarded as a sign of humiliation and was reserved for representations of Adam and Eve, and of the damned in Hell. Saints were dressed, their shapeless bodies hidden beneath heavy garments. But, whether man was represented naked and damned or dressed and blessed, hatred for the body permeated every inch of the sculptured stone.

The medieval sculptor faced the problem of making the body recognizable as a material entity while, at the same time, depriving it of its material attributes. He solved the problem by dematerializing the body in a number of ways. Although sculpture is a three-dimensional medium, the medieval sculptor presented the body primarily as a two-dimensional unit: he flattened it out, so that it retained its attributes of height and width, but very little of its third dimension. Free-standing sculpture (i.e., a figure carved on all sides) rarely appeared in Egypt; it was a typically Greek phenomenon. It was practically non-existent in medieval sculpture prior to the thirteenth century. Instead, the thin, weightless bodies remained attached to the stone from which they were made. The arms were often drawn in to rest against the chest or sides of the torso, so as not to project into the surrounding space. When carving a seated figure, the sculptor often pushed the thighs and knees out to the sides of the body, compressing it into a two-dimensional plane. Thus the figures were dematerialized and confined to narrow spatial areas. The human body, apparently, was not to be allowed an earthly reality. 7 Last Judgment. c. 1130–1145. St. Lazare, Autun, France. Note especially the central figure of Christ.

One of the first features to reappear in medieval art was the law of frontality, along with the effect of immobility. As a rule, when a body was shown in a moment of action, the movement was not natural. The figure was shaped into a twisted, contorted position which would be possible only with broken limbs and disconnected joints. Whether frontal or contorted, the figures do not suggest the capacity to move. 8 Isaiah. c. 1150. Sainte Marie de Souillac, Souillac, France.

The knowledge of anatomy and human proportions, acquired by the Greeks and inherited by ancient Rome, was not applied to medieval sculpture. Sculptors barely hinted at joints and musculature; they created bodies in which bone, joint and muscle appear to have melted into one another, each losing its identity. Human proportions were ignored: the bodies were unnaturally elongated with disproportionately small heads, or unnaturally squat with disproportionately large heads. The surface texture was uniformly hard and stone-like. By making no distinctions among flesh, hair and cloth, sculptors eliminated the sensuous aspects of the bodies.

The result was a lifeless figure recognizable as man, but man stripped of most of his human characteristics. For such bodies, sculptors carved heads which featured large, vacant eyes in an expressionless face — or a face grimacing in pain, bewilderment or fear, or a combination of all three.

Eve, especially, was regarded as an object of loathing. In the twelfth century church of St. Lazare in Autun, she is shown part-lying, part-kneeling, part-crawling, her body twisted into an ambiguous and tortured position. A curved gash in the stone indicates her rib cage, and two small lumps serve as breasts. Her face wears an expression of unfocused stupor, with enormous eyes that stare ahead as she reaches out behind her for the fatal apple. 9 Eve, from St. Lazare, Autun. c. 1130. Musée Rolin, Autun, France. See also detail of head, Eve.

In the same church, figures of naked men and women are shown in Hell, in a scene of the Last Judgment. Distinctions between the sexes are barely indicated. Spineless, jointless, muscleless bodies crouch in fear and huddle in shame. One figure, sex indeterminate, sits in helpless resignation as the enormous hands of some monstrous creature reach down to enclose its head and neck in a strangling grip. 10 Detail of the Damned, from the Last Judgment. c. 1140–1145. St. Lazare, Autun, France.

In the medieval versions of the Virgin mourning the body of Christ, called the Pietà, the aspects most often emphasized were physical torture and spiritual torment. A late medieval German example (Provincial Museum, Bonn, West Germany) presents the Virgin holding the emaciated body of Christ across her lap; blood spurts from wounds in his chest, hands and feet; his head is thrown back, unsupported; his face is twisted in agony; both the Virgin and Christ are helplessly and completely overcome by the horror of the Crucifixion. 11 Roettgen Pietà. c. 1325–1360. Rheinisches Landesmuseum (formerly Provincial Museum), Bonn, Germany.

Suffering as an ideal or suffering as punishment was all that medieval art offered to its heroes or its sinners here on earth.

Part II (Conclusion)

For the classical Greek world, its statues of gods and athletes were models of perfection and a source of inspiration. For the medieval world, its pathetic, huddled images of man were constant reminders of depravity and a source of shame and humiliation.

There was no place in the medieval culture for a statue that glorified man; and so, after the collapse of ancient civilization, the classical statues were abandoned to the hostile barbarism of the populace. The early Christian church fathers are said to have considered them dangerous, believing them to be inhabited by devils. Large numbers of these statues were destroyed. Some were hidden in private collections. The rest were forgotten and gradually buried under the rubble of centuries — just as the human spirit they embodied was buried by medieval mysticism. Both the statues and the spirit remained buried until the Renaissance.

The Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was a conscious rebellion against the anti-human, otherworldly values of medieval Christendom. In its metaphysics and epistemology, the Renaissance was essentially Aristotelian. Every aspect of the period, from science to literature to art, reflected the Aristotelian view that man is a worthy being, capable of understanding the universe, and that the universe is worthy of man’s interest and study. Mysticism, which had saturated every aspect of medieval life and culture, lost its stranglehold on man’s mind. A rebirth of reason and of concern with this earth, was the base of all the achievements of the Renaissance.

In terms of its morality, the Renaissance was split in two: it was part-Aristotelian, part-Christian. As Aristotelians, the men of the Renaissance displayed the virtues of intelligence and pride, and pursued the value of happiness on earth. As Christians, they upheld the virtues of humility, renunciation and self-sacrifice, and the value of rewards in Heaven. Thus the existentially brilliant era of the Renaissance was marred, spiritually, by a profound moral conflict.

That conflict appeared, in different degrees, in virtually all of the Renaissance art. For the most part, sculpture did reflect an affirmative view of man. Although the subject matter was largely Christian, sculptors abandoned the stylistic features of medieval art. They restored weight, three-dimensionality and natural proportions to the human body. They reintroduced free-standing figures. They were keenly aware of human anatomy, and created images of potentially active bodies, or of bodies engaged in energetic movement. And, equally significant, the naked body was featured in the representation of both Christian and pagan subjects.

The statues present men who have intelligence, courage, determination and strength of character; but they do not convey a sense of happiness. The moral conflict tinged the Renaissance view of life, and in the faces of the statues there is a touch of sadness or uncertainty or tragedy, an expression of longing for an ideal never fully reached.

The statue of St. George by Donatello is a youthful knight in armor, facing existence with an upright posture and a firm stance, exhibiting competence and energy. The face, however, is troubled; the wrinkled brow suggests both concentration and uncertainty. 12 Donatello. St. George. 1415–1417. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy. Note: This image can be enlarged by clicking on it.

Turning for a moment to painting: Botticelli’s Birth of Venus features a graceful, naked goddess whose delicate face reveals a serene spirit, but it is serenity mixed with melancholy and wistfulness. 13 Botticelli. The Birth of Venus. c. 1482. Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy. Note: This image can be enlarged by clicking on it.
See also detail of head, The Birth of Venus.

Michelangelo was the greatest artist of the Renaissance, and his work may be taken as representative of the spirit of that era. The same conflict appears in his sculpture, but with an intensity unequaled in the work of others. When he began, as a young man, his statues conveyed near-triumph. Then, the triumph gave way to struggle and tragic heroism, then to frustration, and, at the end, to despair and futility.

In his first version of the Pietà, Michelangelo eliminated the emphasis on physical torture and spiritual agony. The Virgin has the strength to support the body lying across her lap; her hand is held out in a gesture of quiet resignation; her head is bowed in solemnity. There are no tears on her face; she expresses sorrow, not suffering. Christ’s body and face are relaxed and smooth; the wound in his chest is unstressed and clean. Michelangelo portrayed the subject in a manner that ennobled both figures: they are not broken by physical or spiritual pain, but transcend it. Compare the style and spirit of this work to the medieval example of the same subject, discussed earlier. 14 Michelangelo. Pietà. 1498/99–1500. St. Peter’s, Vatican, Rome.

Michelangelo’s David is one of his most eloquent works. Earlier Renaissance versions of the subject had presented David after his triumph, standing with sword in hand and with the head of Goliath at his feet. Michelangelo chose to present David in the moment before he hurled the stone — to portray a youth who has to and will be triumphant. He stands with his head held high, his slender, strong body prepared for the encounter. The side of the figure facing the enemy, is posed in insolent defiance; the leg is relaxed, the arm is raised to hold the sling in readiness. The other side of the figure is tense; the straight leg supports the weight of the body, while the fingers of the powerful hand curl around the stone. The statue conveys the victory of the mind over brute, physical force. It portrays man as fearless, intelligent and triumphant, but man with a troubled brow, looking out with a touch of apprehension. 15 Michelangelo. David. 1501–1504. Academy, Florence, Italy. Note: This image can be enlarged by clicking on it.
See also detail of head, David.

By the time Michelangelo carved the Dying Slave, about ten years later, the near-triumph of the David had given way to tragic heroism. The figure is shown at the moment when he has ceased struggling against the fetters binding his chest, when — with one knee bent — his youthful body gives in to exhaustion and begins to collapse. One arm presses tightly against his torso, but its hand rests limply on his chest, its energy gone. The statue conveys the futility of man’s struggle. It portrays man as a being for whom existence means struggle and who will respond to the challenge, but who will struggle in vain. 16 Michelangelo. Dying Slave. 1513–1516. Louvre, Paris. Note: This image can be enlarged by clicking on it.
See also detail of head and torso, Dying Slave. Note: This image can be enlarged by clicking on it.

In one of Michelangelo’s last works, another version of the Pietà (which was left unfinished), Christ’s body sags helplessly at the feet of a figure who is unable to support him. The Christian elements in Michelangelo’s soul had won. 17 Michelangelo. Rondanini Pietà. 1564. Sforza Castle, Milan, Italy. Note: This image can be enlarged by clicking on it.

Whether intensified, as in the work of Michelangelo, or subtly implied, as in the work of some of his contemporaries, such was the conflict torturing and undercutting the spirit of the Renaissance.

From the seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century, the growing currents of a profound retrogression engulfed the realm of philosophy. It was a gradual movement from an Aristotelian to a Platonic base — from the conviction that reality is intelligible and reason is man’s means of perceiving it, to the belief that reality is unknowable, and reason, at best, is limited. The climax and victory of that trend were represented by the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, in the late eighteenth century. After Kant, as Platonism’s influence gained momentum, man’s stature, in the eyes of philosophers, sank rapidly, undercut by the currents of mysticism and skepticism.

But the influence of philosophy does not penetrate and change every human activity at once; sculpture remained comparatively untouched during this period. From the Renaissance to the mid-nineteenth century, sculpture continued to reflect a positive view of man; the Greek classical tradition remained a strong influence. There were stretches of time when sculpture became predominantly imitative and superficial, especially in the first half of the nineteenth century. But, for about two hundred and fifty years, man’s body was presented in a natural manner, and his spirit was neither glorified nor degraded.

By the second half of the nineteenth century, the philosophical views of generations of intellectuals had emerged from the theoretical realm and permeated the general culture. Holding that existence is unknowable, abandoning the quest for certainty and for moral values, philosophy shattered man’s self-confidence. It fashioned a view of man which raised a mixture of disillusionment, doubt and hopelessness to the status of man’s essence. That view was given visual expression in the work of Auguste Rodin.

As a characteristic of his work, Rodin introduced an element that had been rare in sculpture since the end of the Middle Ages: human ugliness. His figures combine ugliness with extreme physical discomfort, expressing his subjects’ state of mind. His figures are presented in bent, twisted, strained, squatting and huddled positions; musculature is distorted; faces are left unfinished. The surfaces of the material, usually bronze, are highly polished, but beneath the sheen one can distinguish uneven ridges and hollows that make the skin texture look broken and unhealthy.

She Who Was Once the Helmet-Maker’s Beautiful Wife is the seated figure of an old, naked woman, with gnarled limbs, sagging skin and shrunken breasts. Her sharp, thin shoulder blades protrude from her wasted back; one arm is drawn behind her, with the hand open, palm out, fingers outstretched, as if she is repelled by her hideous appearance and cannot bring herself to touch her own body. 18 Auguste Rodin. She Who Was Once the Helmet-Maker’s Beautiful Wife, also called The Courtesan. Modeled 1887, this bronze cast 1910. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Note: This image can be enlarged by clicking on it.

Another statue, Eve, stands wrapping her arms around her chest, hiding her breasts in anguish and shame. 19 Auguste Rodin. Eve. Modeled 1881, this bronze cast 1911. Rodin Museum, Paris. Note: This image can be enlarged by hovering the mouse over it; also, different views can be selected by clicking on the small images found below the main image.

One of Rodin’s most famous and popular works, The Thinker, sums up his view of man’s wretched state. 20 Auguste Rodin. The Thinker. Modeled 1880, this bronze cast 1903. Rodin Museum, Paris. Note: This image can be enlarged by clicking on it.  The figure is seated, hunched over in a position that combines strain and limpness. The muscles in his arms, legs and toes are knotted and cramped. The size and development of his body indicate that it was once powerful and energetic, but is now exhausted. His external, physical state reveals his inner strain: the strain of engaging in mental activity.

Rodin’s despondent figures were only a hint, a mild foretaste, of what was to come in the generations that followed — when both philosophy and sculpture collapsed under the weight of twentieth-century irrationalism.

The contemporary view of man’s nature is summarized in the following observation: “We have been made aware of how small a part of the human being is represented by the reason, which could be likened to that part of the iceberg which is visible, the mere cap of a submerged mass, deep and dense, which is the human psyche, whose profound levels are not to be measured quantitatively by the scientific method.” (Samuel M. Green, “The Unthinks: The Distrust of Reason as Seen in the Contemporary Arts,” Wesleyan University Alumni-Faculty Seminar, June 1959, p. 21.) Man, according to contemporary philosophy, is fundamentally irrational; his reason is not merely limited, it is a barrier to the expression of his “true” nature.

The neo-mystics of philosophy have discarded, as a useless endeavor, the study of epistemology and ethics; and, while one school bickers over the meaning of words, another tells man that life can have no meaning. What is the nature of reality? Reality — according to a prevalent answer — is an indeterminate flux, a flow of contradictions and ambiguities. Can man acquire knowledge of the world? Knowledge, they all answer, is impossible to man; faced with an unintelligible world, his reason is useless; all he can do is snatch a few disconnected experiences from the flux. How is man to guide the course of his life? Man, they answer, cannot guide his life; he cannot define values or set goals. Consequently, say the psychologists, man is run by a multitude of powers outside his control and beyond his comprehension — by his genes, by social forces, by inexplicable feelings, whims and urges (the “profound levels” of the “human psyche”). Man, they declare, must live from day to day, from urge to urge; there are no principles or standards to guide his conduct. As a starting point, the existentialists say, man must accept the fact that life is anguish and that his appropriate and constant response to being alive is nausea.

Man as an irrational creature who lives in a perpetual state of anxiety and terror, is the theme of the sculpture offered today.

Man’s desire to see the objectified reality of his basic self-estimate can lead him to search for the art of cultures other than his own, as the men of the Renaissance searched for the art of ancient Greece and Rome. Observe an eloquent symptom of the spiritual state of today’s culture: the popularity of the primitive art of the jungle.

For example, consider the following excerpt from a press release announcing an exhibition held in New York City in 1958, at the Museum of Primitive Art. The exhibition was entitled “African Sculpture Lent by New York Collectors.” The release explains that the sculpture was: “Drawn from the collections of people in a wide variety of professions, including businessmen, museum directors, a sculptor, a photographer, a composer and a psychiatrist …The objects range from bronze portrait heads and stylized wooden human figures through fantastic masks used in secret society rites and fetish figures decorated with mirrors, nails and feathers. Both human and animal forms are used and occasionally the two are even combined.”

“. . . the Museum’s founder and president thanked the lenders to the exhibition and . . . [said] ‘that there has been a great increase in the public’s awareness and interest in primitive art.’ ”

This museum’s founder and president is Nelson A. Rockefeller.

The following are examples of what the public is aware of and interested in:

From the Congo, the statue of a woman. 21 Standing Female Figure. Late 19th century. Democratic Republic of the Congo. Brooklyn Museum. Note: The figure described in the article is not available on the Internet; however, this figure is similar in many respects. The size of her head is one-third the length of her body; human proportions have been totally destroyed. The torso, which consists of a protruding stomach and huge breasts that originate where one would expect a collarbone, rests on two curved hunks of wood that serve as legs. There being no joints or muscles in the legs, and virtually no thighs, the capacity for movement is non-existent. A head with pursed lips and gashes for eyes completes the figure.

From Easter Island, a male figure. 22 Male Figure. Early 19th century. Easter Island. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Note: The figure described in the article is not available on the Internet; however, this figure is similar in many respects.  Elongated and emaciated, the length of his torso is twice the length of his scrawny legs and thighs. Enormous staring eyes, a grimacing mouth and slumped shoulders complete the figure.

From the prow of a Polynesian canoe, a small, stiff, muscleless figure, sex indeterminate. 23 The figure described in the article is not available on the Internet. However, it is similar to the male figure referenced in footnote 22 above. With its arms pressed to its stomach and its face wearing an expression of mild bewilderment, it served to placate the many gods with which the Polynesians had populated their universe; it was there to plead that the canoe might pass, unharmed. If one compares this figure to the Winged Victory of Samothrace, one grasps the power of sculpture to express man’s soul by means of shaping his body. 24 Winged Victory of Samothrace. c. 190 B.C. Louvre, Paris.

The alternative to primitive sculpture, in today’s art circles, is the work of the contemporary “anxiety school,” which turns out mutilated images of man. Contemporary philosophy, constantly chipping away at the “mere cap” of reason, seeks to destroy man’s confidence in the power of his mind. Members of the “anxiety school” of sculpture move in and, like buzzards, finish off his body.

Man’s body, in this type of sculpture, is stretched out, flattened, punctured, disfigured, dismembered. He is shown without a head — or with arms that have no hands, or with hands that have no fingers — or with a face that has no mouth, and a head that has no face.

He is a tall, skinny, stick-like figure with a tiny head, with club feet, and with flesh and skin like dripping lumps of rot (by Alberto Giacometti). 25 Alberto Giacometti. Falling Man. 1950. Musée Calvet, Avignon, France.

He is an inflated bug on its side, with a knob for a head, with a swollen belly, and limbs like stumps of charred wood projecting from the misshapen mass (by Kenneth Armitage). 26 Kenneth Armitage. Figure Lying on Its Side (Version V). 1957. British Council of the Arts.

He is a bloated thing infected all over with elephantiasis, metamorphosing into a gigantic pretzel (by Henry Moore — those that are recognizable). 27 Henry Moore. Reclining Figure. 1939. Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan.

He is a mummy bound in corroded metal strips, with spikes stuck into what is left of his body (by Leslie Thornton). 28 Leslie Thornton. Crucifix. 1958. Private collection. Note: The referenced image is ninth from the top of the page.

He is an unfinished marionette, without anatomical details (by Marino Marini). 29 Marino Marini, Horseman. 1947. Tate Gallery, London.

These are the creatures offered to man as visual embodiments of his metaphysical nature. They are the inhabitants of a world made by Heraclitus, Plato, Kant, Hegel, James, Sartre and Wittgenstein, a world in which man can know nothing, desire nothing, achieve nothing.

Philosophy is the sculptor of man’s soul. And sculpture is philosophy in stone.

Why Should One Act on Principle?

This lecture was delivered at Boston’s Ford Hall Forum on April 24, 1988, then published in the February 27, 1989, issue of The Intellectual Activist and later anthologized in Why Businessmen Need Philosophy: The Capitalist’s Guide to the Ideas Behind Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” (2011).


There is no bromide more common today than the statement that we live in a “complex” world. Whatever the subject of discussion, this claim is routinely offered at the outset as a kind of magic incantation and all-purpose depressant. Its effect is not to inspire people to think, but to induce a sense of helplessness, weariness, hopelessness. It is used not to solve problems, but to assure people that there are no solutions.

The past, our cultural spokesmen often suggest, was different; once upon a time we could find answers to our questions and know what to do, but no longer. Life is just too complicated now for — here is the dread word — “simple” answers. The word “simple” itself has become the basis of a whole new condemnation, contained in the modern term “simplistic.” When I argue with people, I hear all kinds of attacks from them thanks to my Objectivist views — I am selfish, impractical, too idealistic, atheistic — but the commonest attack by far is: you are being “simplistic.”

“Simplistic” is not the same as “oversimplified.” If you accuse someone of “oversimplifying,” you imply that it is all right to simplify, but that one must do it rationally, not leaving out important factors. The modern charge “simplistic” conveys the notion that it is not merely an issue of some omitted factor; it implies that the simple, the simple as such, is naive, unrealistic, bad. The term is an anti-concept intended to smuggle into our minds this idea: you have simplified something and by that very fact you have erred, distorted, done wrong. This amounts to legislating simplicity out of existence. I call this attitude “complexity-worship” — and it is everywhere today.

How should we deal with all the “complex” situations we encounter, according to the conventional wisdom? The answer implicit in today’s practice is: by disintegration. That is: break up the initial problem into many parts, then throw most out as too complicated to consider now, then throw some more out. Keep eliminating aspects until finally you get a narrow concrete left on the table to argue about.

Suppose, for example, that some American businessmen are upset about Japanese sales in the U.S., which they feel are cutting into their own sales, and they go to the government for relief. Of course, if they came to me, I would say: you must decide whether you advocate the principle of free trade or the principle of protectionism. Then I would offer a proof of the evils of protectionism, showing why it will harm everyone in the long run, American businessmen included, and why the principle of free trade will ultimately benefit everyone. That would be the end of the dilemma, and the people demanding tariffs would be sent home packing.

But this kind of analysis would be ruled out today by any congressional committee or academic commission studying economic problems. We cannot be “simplistic,” they would say; we cannot talk in generalities like “free trade” or “protectionism.” How, they would ask, can we possibly make sweeping statements on this level, which involve every country, every product, every group of consumers and producers, every era of history? Life is just too complex for that. What then do we do in the face of such complexity? Basically, they answer, we have to narrow our focus profoundly. We must not talk about free trade in general, but free trade with Japan — and not Japanese industry as a whole, of course, but only Japanese cars; we’ll have to leave computers and TV sets for another committee to wrestle with. And we’ll have to leave trucks out, since that introduces too many tricky factors; automobiles are enough to worry about — but maybe we should include small pickup trucks, because they’re pretty close to cars; let’s farm that one out to a subcommittee to study separately — and of course we’re not talking about forever here or even ten years. We’ll confine ourselves to a year, say, or even just this season, and we’ll renegotiate the issue the next go-round. In the end, the question being debated is not: should we adopt a policy of free trade with foreign countries? but rather: should we place a 30 percent import duty on certain kinds of Toyotas and Datsuns for the next six months?

Now, we are told, the question is not “simplistic.” Unfortunately, now it is also not rationally answerable. How is one to decide what to do in this case, once one has thrown out the appeal to principles as naive? The answer is: you hold hearings, and all the lobbyists involved scream, bribe or make threats, and everybody offers contradictory compromises. The Toyota people say that 30 percent is unfair, but if we cut it to 20 percent they will try “voluntarily” to sell less in the U.S. The Chrysler people insist that this is not good enough, but maybe they can pay their workers more if Toyota is really squelched — so the labor unions jump in and demand a crackdown on Toyota, while the consumer groups are busy demanding more of the cheaper Japanese cars. What finally comes out of it all? Some range-of-the-moment deal — a “moderate” squeeze on the Japanese answered by a new Japanese retaliation against us, a new government subsidy to Detroit, a new agency to help consumers finance auto loans, a bigger budget deficit and another committee to review the whole situation next month or year. After all, we are told, no policy is set in stone. There are no absolutes. We have to be “flexible” and “experimental.”

Philosophically, this is called pragmatism. In this approach, there are no principles, like “free trade” or “protectionism”; there are only concretes, like Toyotas or Chryslers, and groups of people who fight over them with opposite desires. So the only solution is to find some temporary expedient that will appease the loudest screamers for the moment — and then take a drink until the whole mess erupts again.

It is no wonder that people who employ this method believe that life is complex and that there are no answers to any problems. Yet the paradox is that they use this method because, they insist, life is too complex for us to rely on principles.

Some philosophical thought is clearly in order here. Is life complex? If so, does man have a rational (as against a pragmatic) means of dealing with its complexity? If so, do our leaders fail as badly as they do because they are rejecting man’s proper means of dealing with complexity? My answer to all these questions is a resounding yes. My thesis this evening is: life is complicated, enormously so; but man has a conceptual faculty, a faculty of forming principles, which is specifically his weapon for coping with complexity. Yet our leaders, thanks to centuries of bad philosophy, distrust and reject this faculty, and are therefore helpless to lead or to know what to do.


Let us begin by defining “complex.” “Complex” is a quantitative idea; the “complex” is that which involves many elements or units, all tied together or interrelated. The “simple,” by contrast is that which involves one, or at most a few, units. For example: if the officials of the Ford Hall Forum want to attract a large audience, they have to grapple with many different issues: whom should they invite? does he have to be famous? what should he speak about? will he agree to come? can he condense his talk into 50 minutes? how will he fit into the rest of the year’s program? This is a relatively complex problem. By contrast, if the audience is here on the night of the talk, clamoring at the doors, and someone inside asks: what do we do now? — that is a simple problem, the solution being to open the doors and let the people in. Here we have no complexity; there is only one element to deal with.

Now the first thing to note is that human life is inherently complex. Contrary to all the propaganda we hear, this is not a distinctively modern problem. It is not a result of the Industrial Revolution, the growth of population or the fact of worldwide communication. All these developments have brought certain new factors into our lives, but they have also removed problems. They have given each of us in many contexts fewer units to think about and have thus made life simpler. Consider, for example, the utter simplicity of feeding yourself today via a trip to the supermarket to buy some frozen food, as against the situation in medieval days. Think how many different questions and separate tasks would have been involved in that era for you merely to reach the point of having a dinner on the table fit to eat.

Man’s life is complex in every era, industrial or not. He always has countless choices to make, he has the whole world spread before him, he must continually make decisions and weigh results keeping in mind a multiplicity of factors. Even in the most primitive times, the caveman had to decide what to hunt, what risks to take, what weapons to use, how to make them, how to protect his kill, how to store, preserve, apportion it. And he had to do all this long before there was any science, long before there were any rulebooks to guide him in all these activities. In his context of knowledge, stalking his prey was an enormous complexity, no easier for him than our hardest problems in our advanced context are for us to solve.

‘‘Simplicity,” in the absolute sense, is the prerogative only of animals. Animals function automatically to sustain themselves; they are programmed to act in certain ways without the need to work, produce wealth, choose among alternatives, weigh results. They merely react to some dominant sensation in a given situation; a dog, for instance, smells his bone and runs to get it. What could be simpler? But man cannot survive by reacting mindlessly to sensations.

No human being can escape the problem of dealing with complexity and somehow making it simple and therefore manageable. This applies to the modern pragmatists, too, who make such a fetish of complexity. But they try to solve the problem by reverting to the animal level — by narrowing their focus to some isolated concrete, like the dog reacting to the smell of a bone, while evading all the other concretes to which it is connected in reality. They solve the problem of complexity by throwing out vast amounts of relevant information, thereby reducing themselves to helplessness.


The proper, human method is the exact opposite. We need to retain all the data we can — the more facts we can keep in mind in making any decision, the better off we are — but we need to retain all these facts in a form we can deal with. We can’t be expected to read or rattle off to ourselves, before every action, a whole encyclopedia of past human experiences, or even a single volume of tips, rules and practical suggestions. Somehow we must gather and retain a wealth of information, but in a condensed form. This is exactly what is accomplished by the distinctively human faculty, the conceptual faculty — another name for which is “reason.

Concepts are man’s means of condensing information. They are his means of unit-reduction. They are his means of converting the complex into the simple, while nevertheless losing no information in the process.

If I utter the statement “All men are mortal,” for example, none of you has any trouble in understanding and applying it. You know what it means for your own life, you make up wills and buy insurance policies to cover the practical contingencies it involves, and you know that mortality applies to all men, past, present, and future. Here is a tremendous wealth of data — information about an unlimited number of units, stretching across the globe from pre-history into the endless future, wherever there were, are or will be men; and yet you have no trouble retaining this vast scale of information in the form of the few words “All men are mortal.” Do you do it by elimination, by narrowing your focus to only one or two men and brushing the rest aside as too complicated? Do you merely look at yourself and a few friends, then say: “I can’t deal with the others now, life is too complicated, I’ll appoint a subcommittee to worry about the rest”?

On the contrary, the key is precisely that you take all the units involved in “man” — you retain all the countless real-life instances, including the ones you’ve never seen and never will, and you put them together into a single new unit, the term “man,” which integrates the totality. You accomplish this feat by processing your perceptual data — by asking: what do various entities have in common? what is essential to them? what differentiates them from the other things I see? In the process, you grasp that, in contrast to other creatures, men all share a certain kind of consciousness, the faculty of reason. So you set aside all the differences among men — including height, hair color, fingerprints, intelligence — and you reach the idea of a rational being, and then designate this by a single word. The result is a vast complexity turned into a simplicity, into a single unit. Now you have the ability to focus, in one frame of awareness, on all the cases to which it applies. You can know truths about all of them, and because they come under “man,” they are subsumed by the concept.

Against this background, let us look specifically at principles. A principle is a basic generalization. It is a conceptual statement integrating a wealth of information about all kinds of concretes that we otherwise would be helpless to deal with or keep in mind. Yet we are able to do it by reducing this information to a few words or even just a few letters, like “e = mc2.” A principle is man’s major form of using concepts — using them to reduce the complexity facing him while retaining all the information that is essential for successful action.

There are principles in every field of human endeavor, and men rely on them continually. There are principles of physics, of chemistry, of agriculture — even principles of effective public speaking, which take countless experiences of past speakers and the effects they have, positive and negative, with countless different topics, on countless different audiences, and condense it all into brief, intelligible rules to guide future speakers (such as: “motivate your audience” and “give examples”).

In all these fields, principles are not controversial. Reason has been allowed to perform its proper function and has been seen to be indispensable. In these fields, principles are not asked to compete with tea-leaf readings or with divine revelations.


But in the field of morality, the situation, tragically, is the opposite. In the realm of the humanities, we are still in the age of pre-reason. As a result, people do not see the need of concepts to decide moral questions. They do not see that the reason we need moral principles is the same reason we need principles in every realm.

A moral principle is a basic conceptual statement enabling us to choose the right course of action. A proper morality takes into account all the real-life choices men must make. It tells us the consequences to expect from the different choices facing us. It organizes all such information for us, by selecting the essentials; it integrates all the data into a handful of basic rules that we can easily keep in mind, deal with and live by — just as a single concept, “man,” integrates all its instances into a single unit.

If you had no concept of “man,” you could not decide whether a new entity you meet is a man or not. If he were a lot taller and blonder than anyone you had seen so far, say, you would stare in confusion — until you decided what is essential to being a man, i.e., until you conceptualized the relevant data. The same applies to evaluating an action. If you have no moral principles telling you which acts are right and which are wrong, or what is essential to judging a given situation and what is irrelevant, how are you to know what to do and what to avoid?

There are two opposite approaches to moral questions: the principled approach vs. the pragmatist approach. The one tries to integrate, the other to disintegrate. The one tries to broaden the data an individual works with, to draw on all the relevant knowledge man has accumulated, to gain a larger vision and context for the answer to the question — which can be achieved only by invoking man’s means of condensing data, concepts. The other tries to narrow the data base, to shrink the subject to the animal level, to reduce the units by staring only at some isolated percepts.

Suppose, for example, I ask: should one rob a bank?

In pattern, the conceptual individual thinks: “A bank is someone’s property.” Here we see from the very outset the broadening of perspective — he is looking for the abstraction a bank falls under, the concept that names its essence in this context: property. And he grasps that in this respect a bank is just like a home or a machine or a book or a pair of shoes: it is a creation that does not grow on trees, but has to be produced by somebody. Which at once opens his mind to a flood of new data — to everything he knows about the source of books, shoes, banks and the rest: that they presuppose knowledge, inventiveness, independent judgment, focus, work. All these observations are integrated and retained in his mind through a simple principle: “Property is a product of human thought and effort.” From which it becomes apparent that, if men wish to live, they must have title to their product, they need the right to keep and use the results of their effort. This — the right to property — is another principle, which condenses and subsumes all our knowledge of the destructive results of depriving men of their property, not only through bank robbery, but through a thousand other methods besides: it covers what happens when men break-and-enter private homes, or raid farms, or establish socialist states, or plagiarize manuscripts or steal hubcaps. By the device of conceptualizing the action of bank-robbing — i.e., reducing it to essentials and bringing it under principles — we know how to evaluate it. We know that if such behavior is condoned or permitted, the principle involved will lead in the long run to destruction.

The pattern is clear. We are confronted by a concrete — bank-robbing — and we deal with it by considering only a relatively few units, the few principles I mentioned. Yet these contain all the information we have ever gathered about the relevant requirements of human life. So we reach an immediate, decisive answer.


Now, by contrast, ask a pragmatist mentality: should I rob a bank? — and his first move is not to conceptualize, but to particularize. The immediate question that comes to his mind is: which bank are we talking about? Chase Manhattan? The 42nd St. branch? Let’s not be “vague” and “simplistic” about this. And how much do you propose to steal? he wants to know; a big bank might not even miss $10,000. And who will you use the money for — yourself, AIDS victims, the poor? Now where are we? Having moved in this direction, having disintegrated the question and treated each bank as a unique case, how is he to decide what to do? You know how — precisely the way bank robbers do decide. They ask: can I get away with it? Or, more exactly: do I feel like trying to get away with it today? Once a man abandons principles, once he dismisses as naive generalities such abstract concepts as ownership, property rights, honesty, justice, there is no way to decide concrete cases except by arbitrary feeling — either his own feeling or that of a group with which he identifies. He ends up using the same method of decision as that of the Japanese tariff committee.

Observe the inversion being perpetrated here. The advocate of principles is the man who actually benefits from the vast data bank of life. He is the one who keeps in mind, when making a decision, the intricate network of interrelated factors, including the implications of his actions for countless similar situations. He is the one who truly faces and deals with the complexity of life, yet he is accused of being “simplistic.” On the other hand, the pragmatist, who scoffs at principles — the man who puts on blinders, eliminates most of the relevant data and ends up staring at an isolated case without context or clue, like a newborn baby — he is the one praised for appreciating the complexity of life and for not being “simple-minded.”

If ever I heard a Big Lie, this is it.

The people who reject principles reject the human method of dealing with complexity. But since they don’t have the animal’s means of coping, either, they are left helpless. In the end, they have recourse only to raw feeling or gang warfare. This is how our politicians are now deciding the life-and-death issues of our economy and foreign policy.

If a man lives by principles, his course of action is in essence predictable; you know what to expect of him. But if a man rejects principles, who knows what he will do next?

Observe that all our leading candidates today, Democratic and Republican alike, take detailed stands on every concrete one can imagine; they issue separate position papers filled with clauses and statistics to cover every trouble spot in Washington and the world — yet no one knows what they stand for or what they will do in office. No one can retain all these disintegrated concretes or add them up into a coherent, predictable direction. The candidates offer us an abundance of plans — but there is no connection among their plans, no unifying principles, neither in domestic affairs nor in foreign. Under these conditions, elections become a crapshoot — especially when we remember that our candidates are masters of the pragmatic “flip-flop,” as it is now called. After all, we are told, every concrete situation is unique; what applied yesterday is not necessarily relevant today. The candidates and office-holders themselves do not know what they are going to do or say next. They are not trying to deceive the country by cunningly concealing some devious ulterior motive; they are merely responding to the latest hole in the dike by sticking fingers in at random, i.e., without any principles to give them guidance. Thus: it is an outrage, said one candidate, to capitulate as President Carter did to the vicious Iranian kidnappers — and here is my plan, he said a while later, for shipping the Iranians arms in exchange for hostages. Or: Russia is an “evil empire” that no one should trust, he said — and here is the new arms treaty that I trust them to obey. Or: let’s get rid of some government departments, let’s abolish the Department of Education — and a few years later a new initiative from him, a proposal to create a Department of Veterans Affairs.

Even today’s politicians feel the need to offer the electorate something more inspiring than shifting concretes. Typically, what they do to fill this need is to use abstract words without reference to reality, not as principles but as empty slogans, to be sprinkled through their oratory as garnish, committing them to nothing, yet sounding large and visionary — words like “peace” or “love” or “Americanism” or the “global environment” or the “public good.” The most brazen practitioner of this policy, though certainly not the only one, was Gary Hart, with his periodic invocation of the need for “new ideas” — which no one could find in any of his detailed position papers.


If we are to save our country, what we need is not better politicians, but the only thing that can ever produce them: a code of morality. A proper morality is a set of principles derived from reality, principles reducing the vast complexity of human choices to simple, retainable units, telling us which actions support human life and which ones destroy it. Primarily, the code offers guidance to the individual; then, in the social realm, it offers guidance on political questions. A man who acts on moral principles in this sense is neither a martyr nor a zealot nor a prig. He is a man whose actions are guided by man’s distinctive faculty of cognition. For man, principled action is the only successful kind of action. Moral principles are not ends in themselves; they are means to an end. They are not spiritual luxuries reserved for “higher” souls, or duties owed to God or heaven. They are a practical, earthly necessity to anyone concerned with self-preservation.

If moral principles are to function successfully in human life, however, if they are to play their vital role, they must be accepted as absolutes. You cannot be “flexible” about them, or bend them according to your own or your group’s feelings; you cannot compromise them. This is the opposite of the pragmatist philosophy that dominates our culture, so I want to pursue the point. This will make the role of principles in man’s life stand out even more clearly.

Let’s go back to our bank robber and imagine trying to reach a moral compromise with him. You are the banker, say, and your first response is to tell the intruder to stop because the property in question is yours. The robber says: no, I want your money, all of it. At this point, instead of calling in the police or standing on principle, you decide to compromise; you agree — without duress, as your idea of a moral resolution — to give the robber only part of the money he came to steal. That, after all, would show “flexibility” on your part, tolerance, compromise, the willingness to negotiate — all the things we hear everywhere are the good. Do you see what such a policy would mean and lead to? In Ayn Rand’s words, it would mean a “total surrender” — the recognition of the robber’s right to your property. Once you make this kind of concession, you leave yourself helpless: you not only give up some of your property, but also abandon the principle of ownership. The robber, accordingly, gains the upper hand in the relationship and the power to determine its future. He gains the inestimable advantage of being sanctioned as virtuous. What he concedes in the compromise is merely a concrete (he forgoes some of the loot) — temporarily; temporarily, because now there is no way you can stop him when he comes back with a new demand tomorrow.

The same kind of analysis applies to every case of moral compromise. Imagine, for example, a country with the means to defend itself — e.g., Britain or France in the ’30s — which capitulates, in the name of being “flexible,” to some of the arbitrary demands of an aggressor, such as Hitler. That kind of country thereby invites more demands — to be answered by more “flexibility.” Such a country is doomed from the start (until and unless it changes its fundamental policy). By conceding the propriety of “some” aggression, it has dropped the principle of self-defense and of its own sovereignty, which leaves it without moral grounds to object to the next depredation.

Or suppose you accept the “moderate” idea that individual rights are not absolute and may be overridden by government controls “when the public good requires it” — when the public needs more welfare payments or more Medicare or more censorship of obscenity. In this case, you have agreed with the collectivists that individual rights are not inalienable; that the public good comes above them; that man exercises certain prerogatives not by right, but by the permission of society, as represented by the government. If so, the principle of individual rights has been entirely repudiated by you — in favor of the principle of statism. In other words, in the name of achieving a “compromise” between clashing systems, the essence of one, capitalism, has simply been thrown out, while the essence of the other, socialism, has become the ruling absolute.

Or consider a judge who tries not to be too “extremist” in regard to justice; he decides to “modify” justice by a dose of political favoritism under pressure from the bosses of the local clubhouse. He has thereby dropped the principle of justice. Justice cannot countenance a single act of injustice. What sets the terms of this judge’s compromise, therefore, and decides his verdicts is the principle of favoritism, which permits whatever whims the bosses authorize, including even many verdicts that are not tainted, when this is politically palatable to the bosses. In such a court, a fair verdict is possible, but only by accident. The essence of the system, and its ultimate result, is the elimination of fairness in favor of pull.


Either you accept a proper principle — whether individual rights, self-defense, justice or any other — as an absolute, or not at all.

There is no “no-man’s land” between opposite principles, no “middle of the road” which is untouched by either or shaped equally by both. The fact is that man cannot escape the rule of some kind of principles; as a conceptual being, he cannot act without the guidance of some fundamental integrations. And just as, in economics, bad money drives out good, so, in morality, bad principles drive out good. To try to combine a rational principle with its antithesis is to eliminate the rational as your guide and establish the irrational. If, like Faust, you try to make a deal with the devil, then you lose to him completely. “In any compromise between food and poison,” Ayn Rand observes, “it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.”

The reason for this is not that evil is more powerful than good. On the contrary, the reason is that evil is powerless and, therefore, can exist only as a parasite on the good.

The good is the rational; it is that which conforms to the demands of reality and thereby fosters man’s life, along with all the values life requires. Such a policy acquires no advantages whatever from its antithesis. To continue our examples: a banker does not need the help of a robber who is trying to loot him. Nor does a free country need the attacks of an aggressor. Nor does an individual seeking to sustain himself need the jails of a dictator. Nor does the administration of justice benefit from subversion by corrupt bosses. By its very nature, the good can only lose by trafficking with the evil.

The evil is in exactly the opposite position. The evil is the irrational; it is that which contradicts the facts of reality and thereby threatens man’s life. Such a policy cannot be upheld as an absolute or practiced consistently — not if one wishes to avoid immediate destruction. Evil has to count on some element of good; it can exist only as a parasite, only as an exception to the virtues on which it is relying. “The irrational,” in Ayn Rand’s words, “has everything to gain from the rational: a share of its achievements and values.” A producer does not need a robber, but a robber does need the producer on whom he preys. And so do robber-nations need freer countries — which they seek not to annihilate, but to rule and loot. And no collectivists, not even the Nazis or the Communists, want to throttle every act of individual self-assertion; they need men to think and act as individuals to some extent, or their own regimes would collapse. And no political boss seeks to reverse every proper verdict; the boss mentality counts on the appearance of justice, so that men will respect and obey the courts, so that then, when he wishes it, the boss can intervene behind the scenes and cash in on that respect.

Evil is not consistent and does not want to be consistent. What it wants is to get away with injecting itself into the life-sustaining process sometimes — short-range, out-of-context, by arbitrary whim. To achieve this goal, all that it needs is a single concession by the good: a concession of the principle involved, a concession that evil is proper “sometimes.” Such a compromise is evil’s charter of liberty. Thereafter, the irrational is free to set the terms and to spread by further whim, until the good — and man — is destroyed.

The power of the good is enormous, but depends on its consistency. That is why the good has to be an issue of “all or nothing,” “black or white,” and why evil has to be partial, occasional, “gray.” Observe that a “liar” in common parlance is not a man who always, conscientiously, tells falsehoods; there is no such creature; for the term to apply to you, a few venal whoppers on your part are enough. Just as a “hypocrite” is not a man who scrupulously betrays every one of his own ideas. Just as a “burglar” is not a man who steals from everybody he meets. Just as a person is a “killer” if he respects human life 99.9 percent of the time and hires himself out to the Mafia as an executioner only now and then. The same applies to every kind of corruption. To be evil “only sometimes” is to be evil. To be good is to be good all of the time, i.e., as a matter of consistent, rational principle.

This is why Objectivism is absolutist and why we condemn today’s cult of compromise. These cultists would achieve the same end-result more honestly by telling men without equivocation to eschew the good and practice the evil. Evil is delighted to “compromise” — for it, such a deal is total victory, the only kind of victory it can ever achieve: the victory of plundering, subverting and ultimately destroying the good.

Why should one act on principle? My answer is: in the end, men cannot avoid it — some principle always wins. If the right principles, the rational ones, are not conscious, explicit absolutes in men’s minds, then their evil opposites take over by default and ultimately win out. That is why, in our pragmatist, unprincipled age, all the wrong principles are winning. That is why every form of irrationality, cowardice, injustice and tyranny is sweeping the world.

It is not enough, therefore, merely to act “on principle.” Man needs to act consciously on rational principles, principles based on the facts of reality, principles that promote and sustain human life. If you accept irrational principles, such as religious dogmas or mystical commandments, you will find that you can’t live by them consistently, precisely because they are irrational and clash with reality, and you will be driven to pragmatism in despair as your only alternative.

For example, if your moral principle is self-sacrifice, you can’t expect to follow it consistently, as an absolute — not if you want to stay alive. Remember that a principle integrates countless concretes. If you tried to practice as a principle the injunction to give up — to give up your values for the sake of God or of others — think what such a course would demand. Give up your property — others need it. Give up your pursuit of happiness — you are not on earth to gratify selfish desires. Give up your convictions — who are you to think you know the truth when God or society, who is your master, thinks otherwise? Give up your choice of personal friends — you are supposed to love everybody, above all your enemies; that, after all, is an act of real sacrifice. Give up your self-defense — you are supposed to turn the other cheek when Russia takes over Nicaragua — or Florida. Even if you decide to renounce everything — to become like the medieval saints, mortify the flesh, drink laundry water, sleep on a rock for a pillow — so long as you are motivated by any personal quest, even if it is only for joy in heaven, you are still condemned as selfish. Who could obey such a code? Who could follow, day after day, in all the concrete situations of life, such a rule? No one could, and no one ever did. Yet that is what would be meant by accepting self-sacrifice as virtue, i.e., as a moral principle.

What then have men done in the face of such an inverted moral code? Instead of running from it in horror and proclaiming an ethics of rational self-interest, they accept the creed of self-sacrifice — but quickly add that, of course, there are no absolutes and one has to compromise and be “moderate” in order to survive. In other words, they preach irrational principles, then half-practice, half-evade them. No wonder they are filled with terror at the prospect of acting on principle.

If you hold irrational principles, your principles become a threat to your life, and then compromise and pragmatism become unavoidable. But that too is no answer; it is merely another threat to your life.

The only solution is a code of rational principles — a logical, scientific approach to morality — an ethics based on reality, not on supernatural fantasy or on social convention.

This leads us to the base of philosophy, metaphysics, on which ethics itself depends — and to the principle that underlies all other principles. I mean the principle that there is a reality, that it is what it is, that it exists independent of man, and therefore that we must recognize the facts of reality, like them or not, and live accordingly. This is the fundamental which any rational approach to ethics presupposes. Morality consists of absolutes only because it is based on facts which are absolute.

On the other hand, if a man says that there is no reality — or that reality is anything he or society wants it to be — then there are no moral principles, either, and no need of any. In this kind of setup, all he has to do is assert his arbitrary wishes — no matter how bizarre or contradictory — and the world will fall into line. This is the actual foundation of the pragmatist viewpoint. Pragmatism as a philosophy does not start by attacking moral principles; it starts by denying reality; it rejects the very idea of an external world to which man must adhere. Then it concludes: anything goes — there are no absolutes — there’s nothing to stand in our way anymore.


Am I exaggerating here? Last month, I was speaking at a convention of philosophers in Oregon. The man who spoke before me on the program was a philosopher who had moved a few years before to Washington, D.C., to work for the National Endowment for the Humanities. At one point in his talk, he explained to the audience what he called, ironically, the “metaphysical lesson” he had learned from dealing with Congress. The people he met in the halls of Congress, he began, often wore buttons announcing this lesson explicitly. The buttons read: “Reality is negotiable.”

When he first went to Washington, he said, he had thought that people began the legislative process by studying the facts of a given problem, the data which were an indisputable given and had to be accepted. He had thought that politicians debated which policy was appropriate on the basis of these facts. What he observed, however, was that congressmen would come to the bargaining table with their policy decisions long since made, and then rewrite any unpleasant facts to make them fit in with these decisions. For example, if a Republican objected that a new social program would increase the budget deficit, the Democratic aides would be sent off to redo the projections for next year’s tax revenues; they would jack up the expected GNP or project a new rate of interest or come up with some other prediction which would ensure that, in their new calculations, everything would come out as they wanted and no budget deficit would result. The Republicans accepted this approach and operated by the same method.

But what about the real numbers, you ask — the real predictions, the real facts? Who knows and who cares? you would be answered. “Reality is negotiable.”

These buttons are supposed to be an “in” joke. But the joke is that they are no joke: the wearers learned the message they are flaunting in all their Ivy League schools, and they believe it — a fact proved by their actions, which are not merely concrete-bound, but militantly so. Their actions, as we may put it, are not merely unprincipled, but unprincipled on principle.

How do you fight a mentality like this and prevent it from leading you to disaster? You need to begin on the deepest level; you need more than a code of ethics. You need a philosophy that recognizes and upholds reason, a philosophy built on the fact that facts are not negotiable — that what is, is.

In one sense, “What is, is” is the most complicated statement you can utter; it pertains not just to every man, dog or star, but to everything, everything that is, was or ever will be. It gives us, in effect, the results of a tour of the entire universe — in the form of three brief words, which, if you understand and accept them, fix in your mind and make available to you for the rest of your life the essential nature of existence. That is the most eloquent example there is of our conceptual faculty at work, expanding incalculably the range and power of our minds, reducing complexity to simplicity by the power of principle — in this case, metaphysical principle. Nothing less can give men the means to live in the world successfully or the foundation to act on moral principle.


Why should one act on principle? The deepest and final answer is: for the same reason one should jump out of the path of a speeding truck — because if one doesn’t, one will be squashed by an unforgiving nemesis: an absolute reality.

Why Businessmen Need Philosophy

This article was originally delivered as a talk to the Young Presidents’ Organization on January 12, 1995, then anthologized in Why Businessmen Need Philosophy: The Capitalist’s Guide to the Ideas Behind Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” (2011).


“Three seconds remain, the ball is on the one-yard line, here it is — the final play — a touchdown for Dallas! The Cowboys defeat the Jets 24–23!” The crowd roars, the cheering swells. Suddenly, silence.

Everyone remembers that today is the start of a new policy: morality in sports. The policy was conceived at Harvard, championed by the New York Times, and enacted into law by a bipartisan majority in Washington.

The announcer’s voice booms out again: “Today’s game is a big win for New York! Yes, you heard me. It’s wrong for ath­letes to be obsessed with competition, money, personal gratifica­tion. No more dog-eat-dog on the field, no more materialism — no more selfishness! The new law of the game is self-sacrifice: place the other team above yourself, it is better to give than to receive! Dallas therefore loses. As a condition of playing today it had to agree to surrender its victory to the Jets. As we all know, the Jets need a victory badly, and so do their fans. Need is what counts now. Need, not quarterbacking skill; weakness, not strength; help to the unfortunate, not rewards to the already pow­erful.”

Nobody boos — it certainly sounds like what you hear in church — but nobody cheers, either. “Football will never be the same,” mutters a man to his son. The two look down at the ground and shrug. “What’s wrong with the world?” the boy asks.

The basic idea of this fantasy, the idea that self-sacrifice is the essence of virtue, is no fantasy. It is all around us, though not yet in football. Nobody defends selfishness any more: not con­servatives, not liberals; not religious people, not atheists; not Republicans, not Democrats.

White males, for instance, should not be so “greedy,” we hear regularly; they should sacrifice more for women and the minorities. Both employers and employees are callous, we hear; they spend their energy worrying about their own futures, trying to become even richer, when they should be concerned with serv­ing their customers. Americans are far too affluent, we hear; they should be transferring some of their abundance to the poor, both at home and abroad.

If a poor man finds a job and rises to the level of buying his own health insurance, for instance, that is not a moral achieve­ment, we are told; he is being selfish, merely looking out for his own or his family’s welfare. But if the same man receives his health care free from Washington, using a credit card or a law made by Bill Clinton, that is idealistic and noble. Why? Because sacrifice is involved: sacrifice extorted from employers, by the employers’ mandate, and from doctors through a noose of new regulations around their necks.

If America fights a war in which we have a national interest, such as oil in the Persian Gulf, we hear that the war is wrong because it is selfish. But if we invade some foreign pesthole for no selfish reason, with no national interest involved, as in Bosnia, Somalia or Haiti, we hear praise from the intellectuals. Why? Because we are being selfless.

The Declaration of Independence states that all men have an inalienable right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” What does the “pursuit of happiness” mean? Jefferson does not say that you have a duty to pursue your neighbor’s pleasure or the collective American well-being, let alone the aspirations of the Bosnians. He upholds a selfish principle: each man has right to live for his own sake, his own personal interests, his happiness. He does not say: run roughshod over others, or: violate their rights. But he does say: pursue your own goals independently, by your own work, and respect every other individual’s right to do the same for himself.

In essence, America was conceived by egoists. The Founding Fathers envisioned a land of selfishness and profit-seeking — a nation of the self-made man, the individual, the ego, the “I.” Today, however, we hear the opposite ideas everywhere.

Who are the greatest victims of today’s attitude? Who are the most denounced and vilified men in the country? You are — you, the businessmen. And the bigger and better you are, the worse you are morally, according to today’s consensus. You are denounced for one sin: you are the epitome of selfishness.

In fact, you really are selfish. You are selfish in the noblest sense, which is inherent in the very nature of business: you seek to make a profit, the greatest profit possible — by selling at the highest price the market will bear while buying at the lowest price. You seek to make money — gigantic amounts of it, the more better — in small part to spend on personal luxury, but largely to put back into your business, so that it will grow still further and make even greater profits.

As a businessman, you make your profit by being the best you can be in your work, i.e., by creating goods or services that your customers want. You profit not by fraud or robbery, but by producing wealth and trading with others. You do benefit other people, or the so-called “community,” but this is a secondary consequence of your action. It is not and cannot be your primary focus or motive.

The great businessman is like a great musician, or a great man in any field. The composer focuses on creating his music; his goal is to express his ideas in musical form, the particular form which most gratifies and fulfills him himself. If the audi­ence enjoys his concerto, of course he is happy — there is no clash between him and his listeners — but his listeners are not his pri­mary concern. His life is the exercise of his creative power to achieve his own selfish satisfaction. He could not function or compose otherwise. If he were not moved by a powerful, per­sonal, selfish passion, he could not wring out of himself the nec­essary energy, effort, time and labor; he could not endure the daily frustrations of the creative process. This is true of every creative man. It is also true of you in business, to the extent that you are great, i.e., to the extent that you are creative in organiza­tion, management, long-range planning, and their result: produc­tion.

Business to a creative man is his life. His life is not the so­cial results of the work, but the work itself, the actual job — the thought, the blueprints, the decisions, the deals, the action. Cre­ativity is inherently selfish; productivity is inherently selfish.

The opposite of selfishness is altruism. Altruism does not mean kindness to others, nor respect for their rights, both of which are perfectly possible to selfish men, and indeed widespread among them. Altruism is a term coined by the nineteenth-cen­tury French philosopher Auguste Comte, who based it on the Latin “alter,” meaning “other.” Literally, the term means: “other-ism.” By Comte’s definition and ever since, it means: “placing others above oneself as the basic rule of life.” This means not helping another out occasionally, if he deserves it and you can afford it, but living for others unconditionally — living and, above all, sacrificing for them; sacrificing your own interests, your pleasures, your own values.

What would happen to a business if it were actually run by an altruist? Such a person knows nothing about creativity or its requirements. What his creed tells him is only: “Give up. Give up and give away; give away to and for others.” What should he give away? Whatever is there; whatever he has access to; whatever somebody else has created.

Either a man cares about the process of production, or he does not. If he cares about the process, it must be his primary concern; not the beneficiaries of the process, but the personal fulfillment inherent in his own productive activity. If he does not care about it, then he cannot produce.

If the welfare of others were your primary aim, then you would have to dismantle your business. For instance, you would have to hire needy workers, regardless of their competence — whether or not they lead you to a profit. Why do you care about profit, anyway? As an altruist, you seek to sacrifice yourself and your business, and these workers need the jobs. Further, why charge customers the highest price you can get — isn’t that selfish? What if your customers need the product desperately? Why not simply give away goods and services as they are needed? An altruist running a business like a social work project would be a destroyer — but not for long, since he would soon go broke. Do you see Albert Schweitzer running General Motors? Would you have prospered with Mother Teresa as the CEO of your company?

Many businessmen recognize that they are selfish, but feel guilty about it and try to appease their critics. These businessmen, in their speeches and advertisements, regularly proclaim that they are really selfless, that their only concern is the welfare of their workers, their customers, and their stockholders, especially the widows and orphans among them. Their own profit, they say, is really not very big, and next year, they promise, they will give even more of it away. No one believes any of this, and these businessmen look like nothing but what they are: hypocrites. One way or another, everyone knows that these men are denying the essence and purpose of their work. This kind of PR destroys any positive image of business in the public mind. If you yourselves, by your own appeasement, damn your real motives and activity, why should anyone else evaluate you differently?

Some of you may reply: “But I really am an altruist. I do live for a higher purpose. I don’t care excessively about myself or even my family. I really want primarily to serve the needy.” This is a possible human motive — it is a shameful motive, but a possible one. If it is your motive, however, you will not be a successful businessman, not for long. Why is it shameful? Let me answer by asking the altruists among you: Why do you have such low self-esteem? Why don’t you and those you love deserve to be the beneficiaries of your efforts? Are you excluded from the Declaration of Independence merely because you are a businessman? Does a producer have no right to happiness? Does success turn you into a slave?

You do not expect your workers to say, “We don’t care about ourselves; we’re only servants of the public and of our bosses.” In fact, labor says the exact opposite. Your workers stand up proudly and say, “We work hard for a living. We deserve a reward, and we damn well expect to get it!” Observe that the country respects such workers and their attitude. Why then are businessmen supposed to be serfs? Aren’t you as good as the rest of mankind? Why should you alone spend your precious time sweating selflessly for a reward that is to be given to someone else?

The best among you do not believe the altruist mumbo-jumbo. You have, however, long been disarmed by it. Because you are the victim of a crucial power, against which you are help­less. That power is philosophy.

This brings us to the question of why businessmen need philosophy.

The issue with which we began — selfishness vs. altruism — is a philosophic issue; specifically, it is a moral or ethical issue. One of the important questions of ethics is: should a man live for himself, or should he sacrifice for something beyond himself? In the medieval era, for example, philosophers held that selfishness was wicked, that men must sacrifice themselves for God. In such an era, there was no possibility of an institutionalized system of profit-seeking companies. To the medievals, business would rep­resent sheer wickedness.

This philosophy gradually changed, across centuries, cul­minating in the view of Jefferson, who championed the selfish pursuit of one’s own happiness. He took this idea from John Locke, who got it, ultimately, from Aristotle, the real father of selfishness in ethics. Jefferson’s defense of the right to happiness made possible the founding of America and of a capitalist sys­tem. Since the eighteenth century, however, the philosophic pen­dulum has swung all the way back to the medieval period. To­day, once again, self-sacrifice is extolled as the moral ideal.

Why should you care about this philosophic history? As a practical man, you must care; because it is an issue of life and death. It is a simple syllogism. Premise one: Businessmen are selfish; which everyone knows, whatever denials or protestations they hear. Premise two: Selfishness is wicked; which almost ev­eryone today, including the appeasers among you, thinks is self-evident. The inescapable conclusion: Businessmen are wicked. If so, you are the perfect scapegoats for intellectuals of every kind to blame for every evil or injustice that occurs, whether real or trumped up.

If you think that this is merely theory, look at reality — at today’s culture — and observe what the country thinks of business these days. Popular movies provide a good indication. Do not bother with such obviously left-wing movies as Wall Street, the product of avowed radicals and business-haters. Consider rather the highly popular Tim Allen movie The Santa Clause. It was a simple children’s fantasy about Santa delivering gifts; it was seasonal family trivia that upheld no abstract ideas or philosophy, the kind of movie which expressed only safe, non-controversial, self-evident sentiments. In the middle of the movie, with no plot purpose of any kind, the story leaves Santa to show two “real businessmen”: toy manufacturers scheming gleefully to swindle the country’s children with inferior products (allegedly, to make greater profits thereby). After which, the characters vanish, never to be seen again. It was a sheer throwaway — and the audience snickers along with it approvingly, as though there is no controversy here. “Everybody knows that’s the way businessmen are.”

Imagine the national outcry if any other minority — and you a very small minority — were treated like this. If a “quickie” scene were inserted into a movie to show that females are swindlers, or gays, or blacks — the movie would be denounced, reedited, sanitized, apologized for and pulled from the theaters. But businessmen? Money-makers and profit-seekers? In regard to them, anything goes, because they are wicked, i.e., selfish. They are “pigs,” “robbers,” “villains” — everyone knows that! Incidentally, to my knowledge, not one businessman or group of them protested against this movie.

There are hundreds of such movies, and many more books, TV shows, sermons and college lectures, all expressing the same ideas. Are such ideas merely talk, with no practical consequences for you and your balance sheets? The principal consequence is this: once you are deprived of moral standing, you are fair game. No matter what you do or how properly you act, you will be accused of the most outrageous evils. Whether the charges are true or false is irrelevant. If you are fundamentally evil, as the public has been taught to think, then any accusation against you is plausible — you are, people think, capable of anything.

If so, the politicians can then step in. They can blame you for anything, and pass laws to hogtie and expropriate you. After all, everyone feels, you must have obtained your money dishon­estly; you are in business! The antitrust laws are an eloquent illustration of this process at work. If some official in Washing­ton decides that your prices are “too high,” for instance, it must be due to your being a “monopolist”: your business, therefore, must be broken up, and you should be fined or jailed. Or, if the official feels that your prices are “too low,” you are probably an example of “cutthroat competition,” and deserve to be punished. Or, if you try to avoid both these paths by setting a common price with your competitors — neither too high or too low, but just right — that is “conspiracy.” Whatever you do, you are guilty.

Whatever happens anywhere today is your fault and guilt. Some critics point to the homeless and blame their poverty on greedy private businessmen who exploit the public. Others, such as John Kenneth Galbraith, say that Americans are too affluent and too materialistic, and blame greedy private businessmen, who corrupt the masses by showering them with ads and goods. Ecologists claim that our resources are vanishing and blame it on busi­nessmen, who squander natural resources for selfish profit. If a broker dares to take any financial advantage from a lifetime of study and contacts in his field, he is guilty of “insider trading.” If racial discrimination is a problem, businessmen must pay for it by hiring minority workers, whether qualified or not. If sexual harassment is a problem, businessmen are the villains; they must be fondling their downtrodden filing clerks, as they leave for the bank to swindle the poor widows and orphans. The litany is unmistakable: if anybody has any trouble of any kind, blame the businessman — even if a customer spills a cup of her coffee miles away from the seller’s establishment. By definition, businessmen have unlimited liability. They are guilty of every conceivable crime because they are guilty of the worst, lowest crime: selfishness.

The result is an endless stream of political repercussions: laws, more controls, more regulations, more alleged crimes, more fines, more lawsuits, more bureaus, more taxes, more need to bow down on your knees before Washington, Albany or Giuliani, begging for favors, merely to survive. All of this means: the methodical and progressive enslavement of business.

No other group in the world would stand for or put up with such injustice — not plumbers or philosophers, not even Bosnians or Chechens. Any other group, in outrage, would assert its rights — real or alleged — and demand justice. Businessmen, however, do not. They are disarmed because they know that the charge of selfishness is true.

Instead of taking pride in your selfish motives and fighting back, you are ashamed, undercut and silent. This is what philosophy — bad philosophy — and specifically a bad code of morality has done to you. Just as such a code would destroy football, so now it is destroying the United States.

Today, there is a vicious double standard in the American justice system. Compare the treatment of accused criminals with that of accused businessmen. For example: if a man (like O.J. Simpson) commits a heinous double-murder, mobs everywhere chant that he is innocent until proven guilty. Millions rush to his defense, he buys half the legal profession and is acquitted of his crimes. Whereas, if a businessman invents a brilliant method of financing business ventures through so-called junk bonds, thereby becoming a meteoric success while violating not one man’s rights, he is guilty — guilty by definition, guilty of being a businessman — and he must pay multi million-dollar fines, perform years of com­munity service, stop working in his chosen profession, and even spend many years in jail.

If, in the course of pursuing your selfish profits, you really did injure the public, then the attacks on you would have some justification. But the opposite is true. You make your profits by production and you trade freely with your customers, thereby showering wealth and benefits on everyone. (I refer here to busi­nessmen who stand on their own and actually produce in a free market, not those who feed at the public trough for subsidies, bailouts, tariffs and government-dispensed monopolies.)

Now consider the essential nature of running a business and the qualities of character it requires.

There is an important division of labor not taught in our colleges. Scientists discover the laws of nature. Engineers and inventors apply those laws to develop ideas for new products. Laborers will work to produce these goods if they are given a salary and a prescribed task, i.e., a plan of action and a produc­tive purpose to guide their work. These people and professions are crucial to an economy. But they are not enough. If all we had was scientific knowledge, untried ideas for new products, and directionless physical labor, we would starve.

The indispensable element here — the crucial “spark plug,” which ignites the best of every other group, transforming merely potential wealth into the abundance of a modern industrial soci­ety — is business.

Businessmen accumulate capital through production and savings. They decide in which future products to invest their sav­ings. They have the crucial task of integrating natural resources, human discoveries and physical labor. They must organize, fi­nance and manage the productive process, or choose, train and oversee the men competent to do it. These are the demanding, risk-laden decisions and actions on which abundance and prosperity depend. Profit represents success in regard to these decisions and actions. Loss represents failure. Philosophically, therefore, profit is a payment earned by moral virtue — by the highest moral virtue. It is payment for the thought, the initiative, the long-range vision, the courage and the efficacy of the economy’s prime movers: the businessmen.

Your virtue confers blessings on every part of society. By creating mass markets, you make new products available to every income level. By organizing productive enterprises, you create employment for men in countless fields. By using machines, you increase the productivity of labor, thus raising the workingman’s pay and rewards. The businessman, to quote Ayn Rand,

is the great liberator who, in the short span of a century and a half, has released men from bondage to their physical needs, has released them from the terrible drudgery of an eighteen-hour workday of manual labor for their barest subsistence, has released them from famines, from pestilences, from the stagnant hopelessness and terror in which most of mankind had lived in all the pre-capitalist centuries — and in which most of it still lives, in non-capitalist countries. 1 Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual (New York: New American Library, 1961), p. 27.

If businessmen are such great liberators, you can be sure that those who denounce you know this fact. The truth is that you are denounced partly because you are mankind’s great providers and liberators, which raises another critical topic.

Selfishness is not the only virtue for which you are damned by today’s intellectuals. They invoke two other philosophical issues as a club to condemn you with: reality and reason.

By “reality,” I mean the universe around us; the material world in which we live and which we observe with our senses: the earth, the planets, the galaxies. As businessmen you are committed to this world, not to any other dimension alleged to transcend it. You are not in business to secure or offer supernatural rewards, other-worldly bliss or the welfare of an ecological rose garden in the twenty-fifth century. You pursue real, this-worldly values, here and now. You produce physical goods and tangible services. You seek monetary profit, which you intend to invest or spend now. You do not offer your customers out-of-body ex­periences, UFO rides or reincarnation as Shirley MacLaine. You offer real, earthly pleasures; you make possible physical prod­ucts, rational services and the actual enjoyment of this life.

This completely contradicts many major philosophical schools. It puts you into conflict with every type of supernaturalist, from the medieval-style theists on through today’s “New Age” spiritualists and mystics. All these people like to demean this life and this world in favor of another, undefined existence in the beyond: to be found in heaven, in nirvana or on LSD. Whatever they call it, this other realm is beyond the reach of science and logic.

If these supernaturalists are right, then your priorities as businessmen — your philosophic priorities — are dead wrong. If the material world is, as they claim, “low, vulgar, crude, unreal,” then so are you who cater to it. You are materialistic animals devoted to inferior physical concerns. By showering men with material values, you are corrupting and debasing them, as Galbraith says, rather than truly liberating them.

A businessman must be worldly and concerned with the physical. From the physical laws ruling your assembly line to the cold, hard facts of your financial accounts, business is a materialistic enterprise. This is another reason why there could be no such thing as business in the medieval era: not only selfish­ness, but worldliness, was considered a major sin. This same com­bination of charges — selfishness and materialism — is unleashed against you today by the modern equivalent of the medieval men­tality. The conclusion they reach is the same: “Down with business!

The third philosophic issue is the validity of reason. Reason is the human faculty which forms concepts by a process of logic based on the evidence of the senses; reason is our means of gaining knowledge of this world and guiding our actions in it. By the nature of their field, businessmen must be committed to reason, at least in their professional lives. You do not make business decisions by consulting tea leaves, the “Psychic Friends Network,” the Book of Genesis, or any other kind of mystic revelation. If you tried to do it, then like all gamblers who bet on blind intuition, you would be ruined.

Successful businessmen have to be men of the intellect. Many people believe that wealth is a product of purely physical factors, such as natural resources and physical labor. But both of these have been abundant throughout history and are in poverty-stricken nations still today, such as India, Russia and throughout Africa.

Wealth is primarily a product not of physical factors, but of the human mind — of the intellectual faculty — of the rational, thinking faculty. I mean here the mind not only of scientists and engineers, but also the mind of those men and women — the businessmen — who organize knowledge and resources into industrial enterprises.

Primarily, it is the reason and intelligence of great industrialists that make possible electric generators, computers, coronary-bypass surgical instruments and spaceships.

If you are to succeed in business, you must make decisions using logic. You must deal with objective realities — like them or not. Your life is filled with numbers, balance sheets, cold efficiency and rational organization. You have to make sense — to your employees, to your customers, and to yourself. You cannot run a business as a gambler plays the horses, or as a cipher wailing, “Who am I to know? My mind is helpless. I need a message from God, Nancy Reagan’s astrologer or Eleanor Roosevelt’s soul.” You have to think.

The advocates of a supernatural realm never try to prove its existence by reason. They claim that they have a means of knowl­edge superior to reason, such as intuition, hunch, faith, subjec­tive feeling or the “seat of their pants.” Reason is their enemy, because it is the tool that will expose their racket: so they con­demn it and its advocates as cold, analytic, unfeeling, straight-jacketed, narrow, limited. By their standard, anyone devoted to reason and logic is a low mentality, fit only to be ruled by those with superior mystic insight. This argument originated with Plato in the ancient world, and it is still going strong today. It is an­other crucial element in the anti-business philosophy.

To summarize, there are three fundamental questions cen­tral to any philosophy, which every person has to answer in some way: What is there? How do you know it? And, what should you do?

The Founding Fathers had answers to these questions. What is there? “This world,” they answered, “nature.” (Although they believed in God, it was a pale deist shadow of the medieval pe­riod. For the Founding Fathers, God was a mere bystander, who had set the world in motion but no longer interfered.) How did they know? Reason was “the only oracle of man,” they said. What should you do? “Pursue your own happiness,” said Jefferson. The result of these answers — i.e., of their total philosophy — was capi­talism, freedom and individual rights. This brought about a cen­tury of international peace, and the rise of the business mentality, leading to the magnificent growth of industry and of prosperity.

For two centuries since, the enemies of the Founding Fa­thers have given the exact opposite answers to these three ques­tions. What is there? “Another reality,” they say. How do they know? “On faith.” What should you do? “Sacrifice yourself for society.” This is the basic philosophy of our culture, and it is responsible for the accelerating collapse of capitalism, and all of its symptoms: runaway government trampling on individual rights, growing economic dislocations, worldwide tribal warfare and international terrorism — with business under constant, systematic attack.

Such is the philosophic choice you have to make. Such are the issues on which you will ultimately succeed or fail. If the anti-business philosophy with its three central ideas continues to dominate this country and to spread, then businessmen as such will become extinct, as they were in the Middle Ages and in Soviet Russia. They will be replaced by church authorities or government commissars. Your only hope for survival is to fight this philosophy by embracing a rational, worldly, selfish alternative.

We are all trained by today’s colleges never to take a firm stand on any subject: to be pragmatists, ready to compromise with anyone on anything. Philosophy and morality, however, do not work by compromise. Just as a healthy body cannot compromise with poison, so too a good man cannot compromise with evil ideas. In such a set up, an evil philosophy, like poison, always wins. The good can win only by being consistent. If it is not, then the evil is given the means to win every time.

For example, if a burglar breaks into your house and demands your silverware, you have two possible courses of action. You might take a militant attitude: shoot him or at least call the police. That is certainly uncompromising. You have taken the view, “What’s mine is mine, and there is no bargaining about it.” Or, you might “negotiate” with him, try to be conciliatory, and persuade him to take only half your silverware. Whereupon you relax, pleased with your seemingly successful compromise, until he returns next week demanding the rest of your silverware — and your money, your car and your wife. Because you have agreed that his arbitrary, unjust demand gives him a right to some of your property, the only negotiable question thereafter is: how much? Sooner or later he will take everything. You compromised; he won.

The same principle applies if the government seeks to ex­propriate you or regulate your property. If the government floats a trial balloon to the effect that it will confiscate or control all industrial property over $10 million in the name of the public good, you have two possible methods of fighting back. You might stand on principle — in this case, the principle of private property and individual rights — and refuse to compromise; you might re­solve to fight to the end for your rights and actually do so in your advertisements, speeches and press releases. Given the better el­ements in the American people, it is possible for you by this means to win substantial support and defeat such a measure. The alter­native course, and the one that business has unfortunately taken throughout the decades, is to compromise — for example, by mak­ing a deal conceding that the government can take over in New Jersey, but not in New York. This amounts to saying: “Washing­ton, D.C., has no right to all our property, only some of it.” As with the burglar, the government will soon take over everything. You have lost all you have as soon as you say the fatal words, “I compromise.”

I do not advise you to break any law, but I do advise you to fight an intellectual battle against big government, as many medi­cal doctors did, with real success, against Clinton’s health plan. You may be surprised at how much a good philosophical fight will accomplish for your public image, and also for your pocketbook. For instance, an open public fight for a flat tax, for the end of the capital gains and estate taxes, and for the privatizing of welfare and the gradual phasing out of all government entitle­ments is urgent. More important than standing for these policies, however, is doing so righteously, not guiltily and timidly. If you understand the philosophic issues involved, you will have a chance to speak up in such a way that you can be heard.

This kind of fight is not easy, but it can be fought and won. Years ago, a well-known political writer, Isabel Paterson, was talking to a businessman outraged by some government action. She urged him to speak up for his principles. “I agree with you totally,” he said, “but I’m not in a position right now to do it.”

“The only position required,” she replied, “is vertical.”

The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy

This essay was first published in the May – September 1967 issues of The Objectivist and later anthologized in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (1990).


Some years ago, I was defending capitalism in a discussion with a prominent professor of philosophy. In answer to his charge that capitalism leads to coercive monopolies, I explained that such monopolies are caused by government intervention in the economy and are logically impossible under capitalism. (For a discussion of this issue, see Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.) The professor was singularly unmoved by my argument, replying, with a show of surprise and disdain:

Logically impossible? Of course — granted your definitions. You’re merely saying that, no matter what proportion of the market it controls, you won’t call a business a ‘coercive monopoly’ if it occurs in a system you call ‘capitalism.’ Your view is true by arbitrary fiat, it’s a matter of semantics, it’s logically true but not factually true. Leave logic aside now; be serious and consider the actual empirical facts on this matter.”

To the philosophically uninitiated, this response will be baffling. Yet they meet its equivalents everywhere today. The tenets underlying it permeate our intellectual atmosphere like the germs of an epistemological black plague waiting to infect and cut down any idea that claims the support of conclusive logical argumentation, a plague that spreads subjectivism and conceptual devastation in its wake.

This plague is a formal theory in technical philosophy; it is called: the analytic-synthetic dichotomy. It is accepted, in some form, by virtually every influential contemporary philosopher — pragmatist, logical positivist, analyst and existentialist alike.

The theory of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy penetrates every corner of our culture, reaching, directly or indirectly, into every human life, issue and concern. Its carriers are many, its forms subtly diverse, its basic causes complex and hidden — and its early symptoms prosaic and seemingly benign. But it is deadly.

The comparison to a plague is not, however, fully exact. A plague attacks man’s body, not his conceptual faculty. And it is not launched by the profession paid to protect men from it.

Today, each man must be his own intellectual protector. In whatever guise the theory of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy confronts him, he must be able to detect it, to understand it, and to answer it. Only thus can he withstand the onslaught and remain epistemologically untouched.

The theory in question is not a philosophical primary; one’s position on it, whether it be agreement or opposition, derives in substantial part, from one’s view of the nature of concepts. The Objectivist theory of concepts is presented above, in Ayn Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. In the present discussion, I shall build on this foundation. I shall summarize the theory of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy as it would be expounded by its contemporary advocates, and then answer it point by point.

The theory was originated, by implication, in the ancient world, with the views of Pythagoras and Plato, but it achieved real prominence and enduring influence only after its advocacy by such modern philosophers as Hobbes, Leibniz, Hume and Kant. (The theory was given its present name by Kant.) In its dominant contemporary form, the theory states that there is a fundamental cleavage in human knowledge, which divides propositions or truths into mutually exclusive (and jointly exhaustive) types. These types differ, it is claimed, in their origins, their referents, their cognitive status, and the means by which they are validated. In particular, four central points of difference are alleged to distinguish the two types.

(a) Consider the following pairs of true propositions:

i) A man is a rational animal.

ii) A man has only two eyes.

i) Ice is a solid.

ii) Ice floats on water.

i) 2 plus 2 equals 4.

ii) 2 qts. of water mixed with 2 qts. of ethyl alcohol yield 3.86 qts. of liquid, at 15.56°C.

The first proposition in each of these pairs, it is said, can be validated merely by an analysis of the meaning of its constituent concepts (thus, these are called “analytic” truths). If one merely specifies the definitions of the relevant concepts in any of these propositions, and then applies the laws of logic, one can see that the truth of the proposition follows directly, and that to deny it would be to endorse a logical contradiction. Hence, these are also called “logical truths,” meaning that they can be validated merely by correctly applying the laws of logic.

Thus, if one were to declare that “A man is not a rational animal,” or that “2 plus 2 does not equal 4,” one would be maintaining by implication that “A rational animal is not a rational animal,” or that “1 plus 1 plus 1 plus 1, does not equal 1 plus 1 plus 1 plus 1” — both of which are self-contradictory. (The illustration presupposes that “rational animal” is the definition of “man.”) A similar type of self-contradiction would occur if one denied that “Ice is a solid.”

Analytic truths represent concrete instances of the Law of Identity; as such, they are also frequently called “tautologies” (which, etymologically, means that the proposition repeats “the same thing”; e.g., “A rational animal is a rational animal,” “The solid form of water is a solid”). Since all of the propositions of logic and mathematics can ultimately be analyzed and validated in this fashion, these two subjects, it is claimed, fall entirely within the “analytic” or “tautological” half of human knowledge.

Synthetic propositions, on the other hand — illustrated by the second proposition in each of the above pairs, and by most of the statements of daily life and of the sciences — are said to be entirely different on all these counts. A “synthetic” proposition is defined as one which cannot be validated merely by an analysis of the meanings or definitions of its constituent concepts. For instance, conceptual or definitional analysis alone, it is claimed, could not tell one whether ice floats on water, or what volume of liquid results when various quantities of water and ethyl alcohol are mixed.

In this type of case, said Kant, the predicate of the proposition (e.g. “floats on water”) states something about the subject (“ice”) which is not already contained in the meaning of the subject-concept. (The proposition represents a synthesis of the subject with a new predicate, hence the name.) Such truths cannot be validated merely by correctly applying the laws of logic; they do not represent concrete instances of the Law of Identity. To deny such truths is to maintain a falsehood, but not a self-contradiction. Thus, it is false to assert that “A man has three eyes,” or that “Ice sinks in water” — but, it is said, these assertions are not self-contradictory. It is the facts of the case, not the laws of logic, which condemn such statements. Accordingly, synthetic truths are held to be “factual,” as opposed to “logical” or “tautological” in character.

(b) Analytic truths are necessary; no matter what region of space or what period of time one considers, such propositions must hold true. Indeed, they are said to be true not only throughout the universe which actually exists, but in “all possible worlds” — to use Leibniz’s famous phrase. Since its denial is self-contradictory, the opposite of any analytic truth is unimaginable and inconceivable. A visitor from an alien planet might relate many unexpected marvels, but his claims would be rejected out-of-hand if he announced that in his world, ice was a gas, man was a postage stamp, and 2 plus 2 equaled 7.3.

Synthetic truths, however, are declared not to be necessary; they are called “contingent.” This means: As a matter of fact, in the actual world that men now observe, such propositions happen to be true — but they do not have to be true. They are not true in “all possible worlds.” Since its denial is not self-contradictory, the opposite of any synthetic truth is at least imaginable or conceivable. It is imaginable or conceivable that men should have an extra eye (or a baker’s dozen of such eyes) in the back of their heads, or that ice should sink in water like a stone, etc. These things do not occur in our experience but, it is claimed, there is not logical necessity about this. The facts stated by synthetic truths are “brute” facts, which no amount of logic can make fully intelligible.

Can one conclusively prove a synthetic proposition? Can one ever be logically certain of its truth? The answer given is: “No. As a matter of logic, no synthetic proposition ‘has to be’ true; the opposite of any is conceivable.” (The most uncompromising advocates of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy continue: “You cannot even be certain of the direct evidence of your senses — for instance, that you now see a patch of red before you. In classifying what you see as ‘red,’ you are implicitly declaring that it is similar in color to certain of your past experiences — and how do you know that you have remembered these latter correctly? That man’s memory is reliable, is not a tautology; the opposite is conceivable.”) Thus, the most one can ever claim for synthetic, contingent truths is some measure of probability; they are more-or-less-likely hypotheses.

(c) Since analytic propositions are “logically” true, they can, it is claimed, be validated independently of experience; they are “non-empirical” or “a priori” (today, these terms mean: “independent of experience”). Modern philosophers grant that some experience is required to enable a man to form concepts; their point is that, once the appropriate concepts have been formed (e.g., “ice,” “solid,” “water,” etc.), no further experience is required to validate their combination into an analytically true proposition (e.g., “Ice is solid water”). The proposition follows simply from an analysis of definitions.

Synthetic truths, on the other hand, are said to be dependent upon experience for their validation; they are “empirical” or “a posteriori.” Since they are “factual,” one can discover their truth initially only by observing the appropriate facts directly or indirectly; and since they are “contingent,” one can find out whether yesterday’s synthetic truths are still holding today, only by scrutinizing the latest empirical data.

(d) Now we reach the climax: the characteristically twentieth-century explanation of the foregoing differences. It is: Analytic propositions provide no information about reality, they do not describe facts, they are “non-ontological” (i.e., do not pertain to reality). Analytic truths, it is held, are created and sustained by men’s arbitrary decision to use words (or concepts) in a certain fashion, they merely record the implications of linguistic (or conceptual) conventions. This, it is claimed, is what accounts for the characteristics of analytic truths. They are non-empirical — because they say nothing about the world of experience. No fact can ever cast doubt upon them, they are immune from future correction — because they are immune from reality. They are necessary — because men make them so.

“The propositions of logic,” said Wittgenstein in the Tractatus, “all say the same thing: that is, nothing.” “The principles of logic and mathematics,” said A. J. Ayer in Language, Truth and Logic, “are true universally simply because we never allow them to be anything else.”

Synthetic propositions, on the other hand, are factual — and for this, man pays a price. The price is that they are contingent, uncertain and unprovable.

The theory of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy presents men with the following choice: If your statement is proved, it says nothing about that which exists; if it is about existents, it cannot be proved. If it is demonstrated by logical argument, it represents a subjective convention; if it asserts argument, it represents a subjective convention; if it asserts a fact, logic cannot establish it. If you validate it by an appeal to the meaning of your concepts, then it is cut off from reality; if you validate it by an appeal to your percepts, then you cannot be certain of it.

Objectivism rejects the theory of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy as false — in principle, in root, and in every one of its variants.

Now, let us analyze and answer this theory point by point.

“Analytic” and “Synthetic” Truths

An analytic proposition is defined as one which can be validated merely by an analysis of the meaning of its constituent concepts. The critical question is: What is included in “the meaning of a concept”? Does a concept mean the existents which it subsumes, including all their characteristics? Or does it mean only certain aspects of these existents, designating some of their characteristics but excluding others?

The latter viewpoint is fundamental to every version of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy. The advocates of this dichotomy divide the characteristics of the existents subsumed under a concept into two groups: those which are included in the meaning of the concept, and those — the great majority — which, they claim, are excluded from its meaning. The dichotomy among propositions follows directly. If a proposition links the “included” characteristics with the concept it can be validated merely by an “analysis” of the concept; if it links the “excluded” characteristics with the concept, it represents an act of “synthesis.”

For example: it is commonly held that, out of the vast number of man’s characteristics (anatomical, physiological, psychological, etc.), two — “rationality” and “animality” — constitute the entire meaning of the concept “man.” All the rest, it is held, are outside the concepts meaning. On this view, it is “analytic” to state that “A man is a rational animal” (the predicate is “included” in the subject-concept), but “synthetic” to state that “A man has only two eyes” (the predicate is “excluded”).

The primary historical source of the theory that a concept includes some of an entity’s characteristics but excludes others, is the Platonic realist theory of universals. Platonism holds that concepts designate non-material essences (universals) subsisting in a supernatural dimension. Our world, Plato claimed, is only the reflection of these essences, in a material form. On this view, a physical entity possesses two very different types of characteristics: those which reflect its supernatural essence, and those which arise from the fact that, in this world, the essence is manifest in material form. The first are “essential” to the entity and constitute its real nature; the second are matter-generated “accidents.” Since concepts are said to designate essences, the concept of an entity includes its “essential” characteristics, but excludes its “accidents.”

How does one differentiate “accidents” from “essential” characteristics in a particular case? The Platonists’ ultimate answer is: By an act of “intuition.”

(A more plausible and naturalistic variant of the essence-accident dichotomy is endorsed by Aristotelians; on this point, their theory of concepts reflects a strong Platonic influence.)

In the modern era, Platonic realism lost favor among philosophers; nominalism progressively became the dominant theory of concepts. The nominalists reject supernaturalism as unscientific, and the appeal to “intuition” as a thinly veiled subjectivism. They do not, however, reject the crucial consequence of Plato’s theory: the division of an entity’s characteristics into two groups, one of which is excluded from the concept of designating the entity.

Denying that concepts have an objective basis in the facts of reality, nominalists declare that the source of concepts is a subjective human decision: men arbitrarily select certain characteristics to serve as the basis (the “essentials”) for a classification; thereafter, they agree to apply the same term to any concretes that happen to exhibit these “essentials,” no matter how diverse these concretes are in other respects. On this view, the concept (the term) means only those characteristics initially decreed to be “essential.” The other characteristics of the subsumed concretes bear no necessary connection to the “essential” characteristics, and are excluded from the concept’s meaning.

Observe that, while condemning Plato’s mystic view of a concept’s meaning, the nominalists embrace the same view in a skeptic version. Condemning the essence-accident dichotomy as implicitly arbitrary, they institute an explicitly arbitrary equivalent. Condemning Plato’s “intuitive” selection of essences as a disguised subjectivism, they spurn the disguise and adopt subjectivism as their official theory — as though a concealed vice were heinous, but a brazenly flaunted one, rational. Condemning Plato’s supernaturally determined essences, they declare that essences are socially determined, thus transferring to the province of human whim what had once been the prerogative of Plato’s divine realm. The nominalists’ “advance” over Plato consisted of secularizing his theory. To secularize an error is still to commit it.

Its form, however, changes. Nominalists do not say that a concept designates only an entity’s “essence,” excluding its “accidents.” Their secularized version is: A concept is only a shorthand tag for the characteristics stated in its definition; a concept and its definition are interchangeable; a concept means only its definition.

It is the Platonic-nominalist approach to concept-formation, expressed in such views as these, that gives rise to the theory of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy. Yet its advocates commonly advance the dichotomy as a self-contained primary, independent of any particular theory of concepts. Indeed, they usually insist that the issue of concept-formation — since it is “empirical,” not “logical” — is outside the province of philosophy. (!) (Thus, they use the dichotomy to discredit in advance any inquiry into the issues on which the dichotomy itself depends.)

In spite of this, however, they continue to advocate “conceptual analysis,” and to distinguish which truths can — or cannot — be validated by its practice. One is expected to analyze concepts, without a knowledge of their source and nature — to determine their meaning, while ignorant of their relationship to concretes. How? The answer implicit in contemporary philosophical practice is: “Since people have already given concepts their meanings, we need only study common usage.” In other words, paraphrasing Galt: “The concepts are here. How did they get here? Somehow.” (Atlas Shrugged)

Since concepts are complex products of man’s consciousness, any theory or approach which implies that they are irreducible primaries is invalidated by that fact alone. Without a theory of concepts as a foundation, one cannot, in reason, adopt any theory about the nature or kinds of propositions; propositions are only combinations of concepts.

The Objectivist theory of concepts undercuts the theory of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy at its root.

According to Objectivism, concepts “represent classifications of observed existents according to their relationships to other observed existents.” (Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology; all further quotations in this section, unless otherwise identified, are from this work.) To form a concept, one mentally isolates a group of concretes (of distinct perceptual units), on the basis of observed similarities which distinguish them from all other known concretes (similarity is “the relationship between two or more existents which possess the same characteristic(s), but in different measure or degree”); then, by a process of omitting the particular measurements of these concretes, one integrates them into a single new mental unit: the concept, which subsumes all concretes of this kind (a potentially unlimited number). The integration is completed and retained by the selection of a perceptual symbol (a word) to designate it. “A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted.”

By isolating and integrating perceived concretes, by reducing the number of mental units with which he has to deal, man is able to break up and organize his perceptual field, to engage in a specialized study, and to retain an unlimited amount of information pertaining to an unlimited number of concretes. Conceptualization is a method of acquiring and retaining knowledge of that which exists, on a scale inaccessible to the perceptual level of consciousness.

Since a word is a symbol for a concept, it has no meaning apart from the content of the concept it symbolizes. And since a concept is an integration of units, it has no content or meaning apart from its units. The meaning of a concept consists of the units — the existents — which it integrates, including all the characteristics of these units.

Observe that concepts mean existents, not arbitrarily selected portions of existents. There is no basis whatever — neither metaphysical nor epistemological, neither in the nature of reality nor of a conceptual consciousness — for a division of the characteristics of a concept’s units into two groups, one of which is excluded from the concept’s meaning.

Metaphysically, an entity is: all of the things which it is. Each of its characteristics has the same metaphysical status: each constitutes a part of the entity’s identity.

Epistemologically, all the characteristics of the entities subsumed under a concept are discovered by the same basic method: by observation of these entities. The initial similarities, on the basis of which certain concretes were isolated and conceptually integrated, were grasped by a process of observation; all subsequently discovered characteristics of these concretes are discovered by the same method (no matter how complex the inductive procedures involved may become).

The fact that certain characteristics are, at a given time, unknown to man, does not indicate that these characteristics are excluded from the entity — or from the concept. A is A; existents are what they are, independent of the state of human knowledge; and a concept means the existents which it integrates. Thus, a concept subsumes and includes all the characteristics of its referents, known and not-yet-known.

(This does not mean that man is omniscient, or that he can capriciously ascribe any characteristics he chooses to the referents of his concepts. In order to discover that an entity possesses a certain characteristic, one must engage in a process of scientific study, observation and validation. Only then does one know that that characteristic is true of the entity and, therefore, is subsumed under the concept.)

“It is crucially important to grasp the fact that a concept is an ‘open-end’ classification which includes the yet-to-be-discovered characteristics of a given group of existents. All of man’s knowledge rests on that fact.

“The pattern is as follows: When a child grasps the concept ‘man,’ the knowledge represented by that concept in his mind consists of perceptual data, such as man’s visual appearance, the sound of his voice, etc. When the child learns to differentiate between living entities and inanimate matter, he ascribes a new characteristic, ‘living,’ to the entity he designates as ‘man.’ When the child learns to differentiate among various types of consciousness, he includes a new characteristic in his concept of man, ‘rational’ — and so on. The implicit principle guiding this process, is: ‘I know that there exists such an entity as man; I know many of his characteristics, but he has many others which I do not know and must discover.’ The same principle directs the study of every other kind of perceptually isolated and conceptualized existents.

“The same principle directs the accumulation and transmission of mankind’s knowledge. From a savage’s knowledge of man . . . [to the present level], the concept ‘man’ has not changed: it refers to the same kind of entities. What has changed and grown is the knowledge of these entities.”

What, then, is the meaning of the concept “man”? “Man” means a certain type of entity, a rational animal, including all the characteristics of this entity (anatomical, physiological, psychological, etc., as well as the relations of these characteristics to those other entities) — all the characteristics already known, and all those ever to be discovered. Whatever is true of the entity, is meant by the concept.

It follows that there are no grounds on which to distinguish “analytic” from “synthetic” propositions. Whether one states that “A man is a rational animal,” or that “A man has only two eyes” — in both cases, the predicated characteristics are true of man and are, therefore, included in the concept “man.” The meaning of the first statement is: “A certain type of entity, including all its characteristics (among which are rationality and animality) is: a rational animal.” The meaning of the second is: “A certain type of entity, including all its characteristics (among which is the possession of only two eyes) has: only two eyes.” Each of these statements is an instance of the Law of Identity; each is a “tautology”; to deny either is to contradict the meaning of the concept “man,” and thus to endorse a self-contradiction.

A similar type of analysis is applicable to every true statement. Every truth about a given existent(s) reduces, in basic pattern, to: “X is: one or more of the things which it is.” The predicate in such a case states some characteristic(s) of the subject; but since it is a characteristic of the subject, the concept(s) designating the subject in fact includes the predicate from the outset. If one wishes to use the term “tautology” in this context, then all truths are “tautological.” (And, by the same reasoning, all falsehoods are self-contradictions.)

When making a statement about an existent, one has, ultimately, only two alternatives: “X (which means X, the existent, including all its characteristics) is what it is” — or: “X is not what it is.” The choice between truth and falsehood is the choice between “tautology” (in the sense explained) and self-contradiction.

In the realm of propositions, there is only one basic epistemological distinction: truth vs. falsehood, and only one fundamental issue: By what method is truth discovered and validated? To plant a dichotomy at the base of human knowledge — to claim that there are opposite methods of validation and opposite types of truth — is a procedure without grounds for justification.

In one sense, no truths are “analytic.” No proposition can be validated merely by “conceptual analysis”; the content of the concept — i.e., the characteristics of the existents it integrates — must be discovered and validated by observation, before any “analysis” is possible. In another sense, all truths are “analytic.” When some characteristic of an entity has been discovered, the proposition ascribing it to the entity will be seen to be “logically true” (its opposite would contradict the meaning of the concept designating the entity). In either case, the analytic-logical-tautological vs. synthetic-factual dichotomy collapses.

To justify their view that some of an entity’s characteristics are excluded from the concept designating it, both Platonists and nominalists appeal to the distinction between the “essential” and the “non-essential” characteristics of an entity. For the Platonists, this distinction represents a metaphysical division, intrinsic to the entity, independent of man and of man’s knowledge. For the nominalists, it represents a subjective human decree, independent of the facts of reality. For both schools, whatever their terminological or other differences, a concept means only the essential (or defining) characteristic of its units.

Neither school provides an objective basis for the distinction between an entity’s “essential” and “non-essential” characteristics. (Supernaturalism — in its avowed or secularized form — is not an objective basis for anything.) Neither school explains why such a distinction is objectively required in the process of conceptualization.

This explanation is provided by Objectivism, and exposes the basic error in the Platonic-nominalist position.

When a man reaches a certain level of conceptual complexity, he needs to discover a method of organizing and interrelating his concepts; he needs a method that will enable him to keep each of his concepts clearly distinguished from all the others, each connected to a specific group of existents clearly distinguished from the other existents he knows. (In the early stages of conceptual development, when a child’s concepts are comparatively few in number and designate directly perceivable concretes, “ostensive definitions” are sufficient for this purpose.) The method consists of defining each concept, by specifying the characteristic(s) of its units upon which the greatest number of their other known characteristics depends, and which distinguishes the units from all other known existents. The characteristic(s) which fulfills this requirement is designated the “essential” characteristic, in that context of knowledge.

Essential characteristics are determined contextually. The characteristic(s) which most fundamentally distinguishes a certain type of entity from all other existents known at the time, may not do so within a wider field of knowledge, when more existents become known and/or more of the entity’s characteristics are discovered. The characteristic(s) designated as “essential” — and the definition which expresses it — may alter as one’s cognitive context expands. Thus, essences are not intrinsic to entities, in the Platonic (or Aristotelian) manner; they are epistemological, not metaphysical. A definition in terms of essential characteristics “is a device of man’s method of cognition — a means of classifying, condensing and integrating an ever-growing body of knowledge.”

Nor is the designation of essential characteristics a matter of arbitrary choice or subjective decree. A contextual definition can be formulated only after one has fully considered all the known facts pertaining to the units in question: their similarities, their differences from other existents, the causal relationships among their characteristics, etc. This knowledge determines which characteristic(s) is objectively essential — and, therefore, which definition is objectively correct — in a given cognitive context. Although the definition explicitly mentions only the essential characteristic(s), it implies and condenses all of this knowledge.

On the objective, contextual view of essences, a concept does not mean only the essential or defining characteristics of its units. To designate a certain characteristic as “essential” or “defining” is to select, from the total content of the concept, the characteristic that best condenses and differentiates that content in a specific cognitive context. Such a selection presupposes the relationship between the concept and its units: it presupposes that the concept is an integration of units, and that its content consists of its units, including all their characteristics. It is only because of this fact that the same concept can receive varying definitions in varying cognitive contexts.

When “rational animal” is selected as the definition of “man,” this does not mean that the concept “man” becomes a shorthand tag for “anything whatever that has rationality and animality.” It does not mean that the concept “man” is interchangeable with the phrase “rational animal,” and that all of man’s other characteristics are excluded from the concept. It means: A certain type of entity, including all its characteristics, is, in the present context of knowledge, most fundamentally distinguished from all other entities by the fact that it is a rational animal. All the presently available knowledge of man’s other characteristics is required to validate this definition, and is implied by it. All these other characteristics remain part of the content of the concept “man.”

The nominalist view that a concept is merely a shorthand tag for its definition, represents a profound failure to grasp the function of a definition in the process of concept formation. The penalty for this failure is that the process of definition, in the hands of the nominalists, achieves the exact opposite of its actual purpose. The purpose of a definition is to keep a concept distinct from all others, to keep it connected to a specific group of existents. On the nominalist view, it is precisely this connection that is severed: as soon as a concept is defined, it ceases to designate existents, and designates instead only the defining characteristic.

And further: On a rational view of definitions, a definition organizes and condenses — and thus helps one to retain — a wealth of knowledge about the characteristics of a concept’s units. On the nominalist view, it is precisely this knowledge that is discarded when one defines a concept: as soon as a defining characteristic is chosen, all the other characteristics of the units are banished from the concept, which shrivels to mean merely the definition. For instance, as long as a child’s concept of “man” is retained ostensively, the child knows that man has a head, two eyes, two arms, etc.; on the nominalist view, as soon as the child defines “man,” he discards all this knowledge; thereafter, “man” means to him only: “a thing with rationality and animality.”

On the nominalist view, the process of defining a concept is a process of cutting the concept off from its referents, and of systematically evading what one knows about their characteristics. Definition, the very tool which is designed to promote conceptual integration, becomes an agent of its destruction, a means of disintegration.

The advocates of the view that a concept means its definition, cannot escape the knowledge that people actually use concepts to designate existents. (When a woman says: “I married a wonderful man,” it is clear to most philosophers that she does not mean: “I married a wonderful combination of rationality and animality.”) Having severed the connection between a concept and its referents, such philosophers sense that somehow this connection nevertheless exists and is important. To account for it, they appeal to a theory which goes back many centuries and is now commonly regarded as uncontroversial: the theory that a concept has two kinds or dimensions of meaning. Traditionally, these are referred to as a concept’s “extension” (or “denotation”) and its “intension” (or “connotation”).

By the “extension” of a concept, the theory’s advocates mean the concretes subsumed under that concept. By the “intension” of a concept, they mean those characteristics of the concretes which are stated in the concept’s definition. (Today, this is commonly called the “conventional” intension; the distinction among various types of intension, however, merely compounds the errors of the theory, and is irrelevant in this context.) Thus in the extensional sense, “man” means Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Tom, Dick, Harry, etc. In the intensional sense, “man” means “rational animal.”

A standard logic text summarizes the theory as follows: “The intension of a term, as we have noted, is what is usually called its definition. The extension, on the other hand, simply refers us to the set of objects to which the definition applies. . . . Extension and intension are thus intimately related, but they refer to objects in different ways — extension to a listing of the individuals who fall within its quantitative scope, intension to the qualities or characteristics of the individuals.” (Lionel Ruby, Logic: An introduction.)

This theory introduces another artificial split: between an existent and its characteristics. In the sense in which a concept means its referents (its extensional meaning), it does not mean or refer to their characteristics (its intensional meaning), and vice versa. One’s choice, in effect, is: either to mean existents, apart from their characteristics — or (certain) characteristics, apart from the existents which possess them.

In fact, neither of these alleged types of meaning is metaphysically or epistemologically possible.

A concept cannot mean existents, apart from their characteristics. A thing is — what it is; its characteristics constitute its identity. An existent apart from its characteristics would be an existent apart from its identity, which means: a nothing, a non-existent. To be conscious of an existent is to be conscious of (some of) its characteristics. This is true on all levels of consciousness, but it is particularly obvious on the conceptual level. When one conceptualizes a group of existents, one isolates them mentally from others, on the basis of certain of their characteristics. A concept cannot integrate — or mean — a miscellaneous grab bag of objects; it can only integrate, designate, refer to and mean: existents of a certain kind, existents possessing certain characteristics.

Nor can the concept of an existent mean its characteristics (some or all), apart from the existent. It is not a disembodied, Platonic universal. Just as a concept cannot mean existents apart from their identity, so it cannot mean identity apart from that which exists. Existence is Identity (Atlas Shrugged).

The theory that a concept means its definition, is not improved when it is combined with the view that, in another sense, a concept means its “extension.” Two errors do not make a truth. They merely produce greater chaos and confusion. The truth is that a concept means the existents it integrates, including all their characteristics. It is the view of a concept’s meaning that keeps man’s concepts anchored to reality. On this view, the dichotomy between “analytic” and “synthetic” propositions cannot arise.

Necessity and Contingency

The theory of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy has its roots in two types of error: one epistemological, the other metaphysical. The epistemological error, as I have discussed, is an incorrect view of the nature of concepts. The metaphysical error is: the dichotomy between the necessary and contingent facts.

This theory goes back to Greek philosophy, and was endorsed in some form by virtually all philosophical traditions prior to Kant. In the form in which it is here relevant, the theory holds that some facts are inherent in the nature of reality; they must exist; they are “necessary.” Other facts, however, happen to exist in the world that men now observe, but they did not have to exist; they could have been otherwise; they are “contingent.” For instance, that water is wet would be a “necessary” fact; that water turns to ice at a given temperature, would be “contingent.”

Given this dichotomy, the question arises: How does one know in a particular case, that a certain fact is necessary? Observation, it was commonly said, is insufficient for this purpose. “Experience,” wrote Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason, “tells us, indeed, what is, but not that it must necessarily be so, and not otherwise.” To establish that something is a fact, one employs observation and the appropriate inductive procedures; but, it was claimed, to establish that something is a fact is not yet to show that the fact in question is necessary. Some warrant or guarantee, over and above the fact’s existence, is required if the fact is to be necessary; and some insight, over and above that yielded by observation and induction, is required to grasp this guarantee.

In the pre-Kantian era, it was common to appeal to some form of “intellectual intuition” for this purpose. In some cases, it was said, one could just “see” that a certain fact was necessary. How one could see this remained a mystery. It appeared that human beings had a strange, inexplicable capacity to grasp by unspecified means that certain facts not only were, but had to be. In other cases, no such intuition operated, and the facts in question were deemed contingent.

In the post-Kantian era, appeals to “intellectual intuition” lost favor among philosophers, but the necessary-contingent dichotomy went on. Perpetuated in various forms in the nineteenth century, it was reinterpreted in the twentieth as follows: since facts are learned only by experience, and experience does not reveal necessity, the concept of “necessary facts” must be abandoned. Facts, it is now held, are one and all contingent — and the propositions describing them are “contingent truths.” As for necessary truths, they are merely the products of man’s linguistic or conceptual conventions. They do not refer to facts, they are empty, “analytic,” “tautological.” In this manner, the necessary-contingent dichotomy is used to support the alleged distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions. Today, it is a commonplace for philosophers to remark that “factual” statements are “synthetic” and “contingent,” whereas “necessary” statements are “non-factual” and “analytic.”

(Contemporary philosophers prefer to talk about propositions or statements, rather than about facts; they rarely say that facts are contingent, attributing contingency instead to statements about facts. There is nothing to justify this mode of speech, and I shall not adhere to it in discussing their views.)

Observe that both traditional pre-Kantians and the contemporary conventionalists are in essential agreement: both endorse the necessary-contingent dichotomy, and both hold that necessary truths cannot be validated by experience. The difference is only this: for the traditional philosophers, necessity is a metaphysical phenomenon, grasped by an act of intuition; for the conventionalists, it is a product of man’s subjective choices. The relationship between the two viewpoints is similar to the relationship between Platonists and nominalists on the issue of essences. In both cases, the moderns adopt the fundamentals of the traditionalist position; their “contribution” is merely to interpret that position in an avowedly subjectivist manner.

In the present issue, the basic error of both schools is the view that facts, some or all, are contingent. As far as metaphysical reality is concerned (omitting human actions from consideration, for the moment), there are no “facts which happen to be but could have been otherwise” as against “facts which must be.” There are only: facts which are.

The view that facts are contingent — that the way things actually are is only one among a number of alternative possibilities, that things could have been different metaphysically — represents a failure to grasp the Law of Identity. Since things are what they are, since everything that exists possesses a specific identity, nothing in reality can occur causelessly or by chance. The nature of an entity determines what it can do and, in any given set of circumstances, dictates what it will do. The Law of Causality is entailed by the Law of Identity. Entities follow certain laws of action in consequence of their identity, and have no alternative to doing so.

Metaphysically, all facts are inherent in the identities of the entities that exist; i.e., all facts are “necessary.” In this sense, to be is to be “necessary.” The concept of “necessity,” in a metaphysical context, is superfluous.

(The problem of epistemology is: how to discover facts, how to discover what is. Its task is to formulate the proper methods of induction, the methods of acquiring and validating scientific knowledge. There is no problem of grasping that a fact is necessary, after one has grasped that it is a fact.)

For many centuries, the theory of “contingent facts” was associated with a supernaturalistic metaphysics; such facts, it was said, are the products of a divine creator who could have created them differently — and who can change them at will. This view represents the metaphysics of miracles — the notion that an entity’s actions are unrelated to its nature, that anything is possible to an entity regardless of its identity. On this view, an entity acts as it does, not because of its nature, but because of an omnipotent God’s decree.

Contemporary advocates of the theory of “contingent facts” hold, in essence, the same metaphysics. They, too, hold that anything is possible to an entity, that its actions are unrelated to its nature, that the universe which exists is only one of a number of “possible worlds.” They merely omit God, but they retain the consequences of the religious view. Once more, theirs is a secularized mysticism.

The fundamental error in all such doctrines is the failure to grasp that existence is a self-sufficient primary. It is not a product of a supernatural dimension, or of anything else. There is nothing antecedent to existence, nothing apart from it — and no alternative to it. Existence exists — and only existence exists. Its existence and its nature are irreducible and unalterable.

The climax of the “miraculous” view of existence is represented by those existentialists who echo Heidegger, demanding: “Why is there any being at all and not rather nothing?” — i.e., why does existence exist? This is the projection of a zero as an alternative to existence, with the demand that one explain why existence exists and not the zero.

Non-existentialist philosophers typically disdain Heidegger’s alleged question, writing it off as normal existentialist lunacy. They do not apparently realize that in holding facts to be contingent, they are committing the same error. When they claim that facts could have been otherwise, they are claiming that existence could have been otherwise. They scorn the existentialists for projecting an alternative to the existence of existence, but spend their time projecting alternatives to the identity of existence.

While the existentialists clamor to know why there is something and not nothing, the non-existentialists answer them (by implication): “This is a ridiculous question. Of course, there is something. The real question is: Why is the something what it is, and not something else?”

A major source of confusion, in this issue, is the failure to distinguish metaphysical facts from man-made facts — i.e., facts which are inherent in the identities of that which exists, from facts which depend upon the exercise of human volition. Because man has free-will, no human choice — and no phenomenon which is a product of human choice — is metaphysically necessary. In regard to any man-made fact, it is valid to claim that man has chosen thus, but it was not inherent in the nature of existence for him to have done so; he could have chosen otherwise. For instance, the U.S. did not have to consist of 50 states; men could have subdivided the larger ones or consolidated the smaller ones, etc.

Choice, however, is not chance. Volition is not an exception to the Law of Causality; it is a type of causation. Further, metaphysical facts are unalterable by man, and limit the alternatives open to his choice. Man can rearrange the materials that exist in reality, but he cannot violate their identity; he cannot escape the laws of nature. “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.”

Only in regard to the man-made is it valid to claim: “It happens to be, but it could have been otherwise.” Even here, the term “contingent” is highly misleading. Historically, that term has been used to designate a metaphysical category of much wider scope than the realm of human action; and it has always been associated with a metaphysics which, in one form or another, denies the facts of Identity and Causality. The “necessary-contingent” terminology serves only to introduce confusion, and should be abandoned. What is required in this context is the distinction between the “metaphysical” and the “man-made.”

The existence of human volition cannot be used to justify the theory that there is a dichotomy of propositions or of truths. Propositions about metaphysical facts and propositions about man-made facts do not have different characteristics qua propositions. They differ merely in their subject matter, but then so do the propositions of astronomy and immunology. Truths about metaphysical and about man-made facts are learned and validated by the same process: by observation; and, qua truths, both are equally necessary. Some facts are not necessary, but all truths are.

Truth is the identification of a fact of reality. Whether the fact in question is metaphysical or man-made, the fact determines the truth: if the fact exists, there is no alternative in regard to what is true. For instance, the fact that the U.S. has 50 states was not metaphysically necessary — but as long as this is men’s choice, the proposition that “The U.S. has 50 states” is necessarily true. A true proposition must describe the facts as they are. In this sense, a “necessary truth” is a redundancy, and a “contingent truth” is a self-contradiction.

Logic and Experience

Throughout its history, philosophy has been torn by the conflict between the rationalists and the empiricists. The former stress the role of logic in man’s acquisitions of knowledge, while minimizing the role of experience; the latter claim that experience is the source of man’s knowledge, while minimizing the role of logic. This split between logic and experience is institutionalized in the theory of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy.

Analytic statements, it is said, are independent of experience; they are “logical” propositions. Synthetic statements, on the other hand, are devoid of logical necessity; they are “empirical” propositions.

Any theory that propounds an opposition between the logical and the empirical, represents a failure to grasp the nature of logic and its role in human cognition. Man’s knowledge is not acquired by logic apart from experience or by experience apart from logic, but by the application of logic to experience. All truths are the product of a logical identification of the facts of experience.

Man is born tabula rasa; all his knowledge is based on and derived from the evidence of his senses. To reach the distinctively human level of cognition, man must conceptualize his perceptual data — and conceptualization is a process which is neither automatic nor infallible. Man needs to discover a method to guide this process, if it is to yield conclusions which correspond to the facts of reality — i.e., which represent knowledge. The principle at the base of the proper method is the fundamental principle of metaphysics: the Law of Identity. In reality, contradictions cannot exist; in a cognitive process, a contradiction is the proof of an error. Hence the method man must follow: to identify the facts he observes, in a non-contradictory manner. This method is logic — “the art of non-contradictory identification.” (Atlas Shrugged.) Logic must be employed at every step of a man’s conceptual development, from the formation of his first concepts to the discovery of the most complex scientific laws and theories. Only when a conclusion is based on a noncontradictory identification and integration of all the evidence available at a given time, can it qualify as knowledge.

The failure to recognize that logic is a man’s method of cognition, has produced a brood of artificial splits and dichotomies which represent restatements of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy from various aspects. Three in particular are prevalent today: logical truth vs. factual truth; the logically possible vs. the empirically possible; and the a priori vs. the a posteriori.

The logical-factual dichotomy opposes truths which are validated “merely” by the use of logic (the analytic ones), to truths which describe the facts of experience (the synthetic ones). Implicit in this dichotomy is the view that logic is a subjective game, a method of manipulating arbitrary symbols, not a method of acquiring knowledge.

It is the use of logic that enables man to determine what is and what is not a fact. To introduce an opposition between the “logical” and the “factual” is to create a split between consciousness and existence, between truths in accordance with man’s method of cognition and truths in accordance with the facts of reality. The result of such a dichotomy is that logic is divorced from reality (“Logical truths are empty and conventional”) — and reality becomes unknowable (“Factual truths are contingent and uncertain”). This amounts to the claim that man has no method of cognition, i.e., no way of acquiring knowledge.

The acquisition of knowledge, as Ayn Rand has observed, involves two fundamental functions: “What do I know?” and “How do I know it?” The advocates of the logical-factual dichotomy tell man, in effect: “You can’t know the ‘what’ — because there is no ‘how.’” (These same philosophers claim to know the truth of their position by means of an unanswerable logical argument.)

To grasp the nature of their epistemological procedure, consider a mathematician who would claim that there is a dichotomy between two types of truth in the manner of adding columns of figures: truths which state the actual sum of a given column versus truths which are reached by adherence to the laws of addition — the “summational truths” vs. the “additive truths.” The former represent the actual sums — which, however, are unfortunately unprovable and unknowable, since they cannot be arrived at by the methods of addition; the latter, which are perfectly certain and necessary, are unfortunately a subjective fantasy-creation, with no relationship to actual sums in the actual world. (At this point, a pragmatist mathematician comes along and provides his “solution”: “Adding,” he tells us, “may be subjective, but it works.” Why does it? How does he know it does? What about tomorrow? “Those questions,” he replies, “aren’t fruitful.”)

If mathematicians were to accept this doctrine, the destruction of mathematics would follow. When philosophers accept such a doctrine, the same consequences may be expected — with only this difference: the province of philosophy embraces the total of human knowledge.

Another restatement of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy is the view that opposes the “logically” possible and the “empirically” possible.

If the proposition that a give phenomenon exists is not self-contradictory, then that phenomenon, it is claimed, is “logically” possible; if the proposition is self-contradictory, then the phenomenon is “logically” impossible. Certain phenomena, however, although logically possible, are contrary to the “contingent” laws of nature that men discover by experience; these phenomena are “empirically” — but not “logically” — impossible. Thus, a married bachelor is “logically” impossible; but a bachelor who can fly to the moon by means of flapping his arms is merely “empirically” impossible (i.e., the proposition that such a bachelor exists is not self-contradictory, but such a bachelor is not in accordance with the laws that happen to govern the universe).

The metaphysical basis of this dichotomy is the premise that a violation of the laws of nature would not involve a contradiction. But as we have seen, the laws of nature are inherent in the identities of the entities that exist. A violation of the laws of nature would require that an entity act in contradiction to its identity; i.e., it would require the existence of a contradiction. To project such a violation is to endorse the “miraculous” view of the universe, as already discussed.

The epistemological basis of this dichotomy is the view that a concept consists only of its definition. According to the dichotomy, it is logically impermissible to contradict the definition of a concept; what one asserts by this means is “logically” impossible. But to contradict any of the non-defining characteristics of a concept’s referents, is regarded as logically permissible; what one asserts in such a case is merely “empirically” impossible.

Thus, a “married bachelor” contradicts the definition of “bachelor” and hence is regarded as “logically” impossible. But a “bachelor who can fly to the moon by means of flapping his arms” is regarded as “logically” possible, because the definition of “bachelor” (“an unmarried man”) does not specify his means of locomotion. What is ignored here is the fact that the concept “bachelor” is a subcategory of the concept “man,” that as such it includes all the characteristics of the entity “man,” and that these exclude the ability to fly by flapping his arms. Only by reducing a concept to its definition and by evading all the other characteristics of its referents can one claim that such projections do not involve a self-contradiction.

Those who attempt to distinguish the “logically” possible and the “empirically” possible commonly maintain that the “logically” impossible is unimaginable or inconceivable, whereas the merely “empirically” impossible is at least imaginable or conceivable, and that this difference supports the distinction. For instance, “ice which is not solid” (a “logical” impossibility) is inconceivable; but “ice which sinks in water” (a merely “empirical” impossibility) is at least conceivable, they claim, even though it does not exist; one need merely visualize a block of ice floating on water, and suddenly plummeting straight to the bottom.

This argument confuses Walt Disney with metaphysics. That a man can project an image or draw an animated cartoon at variance with the facts of reality, does not alter the facts; it does not alter the nature or the potentialities of the entities which exist. An image of ice sinking in water does not alter the nature of ice; it does not constitute evidence that it is possible for ice to sink in water. It is evidence only of man’s capacity to engage in fantasy. Fantasy is not a form of cognition.

Further: the fact that man possesses the capacity to fantasize does not mean that the opposite of demonstrated truths is “imaginable” or “conceivable.” In a serious, epistemological sense of the word, a man cannot conceive the opposite of a proposition he knows to be true (as apart from propositions dealing with man-made facts). If a proposition asserting a metaphysical fact has been demonstrated to be true, this means that that fact has been demonstrated to be inherent in the identities of the entities in question, and that any alternative to it would require the existence of a contradiction. Only ignorance or evasion can enable a man to attempt to project such an alternative. If a man does not know that a certain fact has been demonstrated, he will not know that its denial involves a contradiction.  If a man does know it, but evades his knowledge and drops his full cognitive context, there is no limit to what he can pretend to conceive. But what one can project by means of ignorance or evasion, is philosophically irrelevant. It does not constitute a basis for instituting two separate categories of possibility.

There is no distinction between the “logically” and the “empirically” possible (or impossible). All truths, as I have said, are the product of a logical identification of the facts of experience. This applies as much to the identification of possibilities as of actualities.

The same considerations invalidate the dichotomy between the a priori and the a posteriori. According to this variant, certain propositions (the analytic ones) are validated independently of experience, simply by an analysis of the definitions of their constituent concepts; these propositions are “a priori.” Others (the synthetic ones) are dependent upon existence for their validation; they are “a posteriori.”

As we have seen, definitions represent condensations of a wealth of observations, i.e., a wealth of “empirical” knowledge; definitions can be arrived at and validated only on the basis of experience. It is senseless, therefore, to contrast propositions which are true “by experience.” If an “empirical” truth is one derived from, and validated by reference to, perceptual observations, then all truths are “empirical.” Since truth is the identification of a fact of reality, a “non-empirical truth” would be identification of a fact of reality which is validated independently of observation of reality. This would imply a theory of innate ideas, or some equally mystical construct.

Those who claim to distinguish a posteriori and a priori propositions commonly maintain that certain truths (the synthetic, factual ones) are “empirically falsifiable,” whereas others (the analytic, logical ones) are not. In the former case, it is said, one can specify experiences which, if they occurred, would invalidate the proposition; in the latter, one cannot. For instance, the proposition “Cats give birth only to kittens” is “empirically falsifiable” because one can invent experiences that would refute it such as the spectacle of tiny elephants emerging from a cat’s womb. But the proposition “Cats are animals” is not “empirically falsifiable” because “cat” is defined as a species of animal. In the former case, the proposition remains true only as long as experience continues to bear it out; therefore, it depends on experience, i.e., it is a posteriori. In the latter case, the truth of the proposition is immune to any imaginable change in experience and, therefore, is independent of experience, i.e., is a priori.

Observe the inversion propounded by this argument: a proposition can qualify as a factual empirical truth only if man is able to evade the facts of experience and arbitrarily to invent a set of impossible circumstances that contradict these facts; but a truth whose opposite is beyond man’s power of invention, is regarded as independent of and irrelevant to the nature of reality, i.e., as an arbitrary product of human “convention.”

Such is the unavoidable consequence of the attempt to divorce logic and experience.

As I have said, knowledge cannot be acquired by experience apart from logic, nor by logic apart from experience. Without the use of logic, man has no method of drawing conclusions from his perceptual data; he is confined to range-of-the-moment observations, but any perceptual fantasy that occurs to him qualifies as a future possibility which can invalidate his “empirical” propositions. And without reference to the facts of experience, man has no basis for his “logical” propositions, which become mere arbitrary products of his own invention. Divorced from logic, the arbitrary exercise of the human imagination systematically undercuts the “empirical”; and divorced from the facts of experience, the same imagination arbitrarily creates the “logical.”

I challenge anyone to invent a more thorough way of invalidating all of human knowledge.


The ultimate result of the theory of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy is the following verdict pronounced on human cognition: if the denial of a proposition is inconceivable, if there is no possibility that any fact of reality can contradict it, i.e., if the proposition represents knowledge which is certain, then it does not represent knowledge of reality. In other words: if a proposition cannot be wrong, it cannot be right. A proposition qualifies as factual only when it asserts facts which are still unknown, i.e., only when it represents a hypothesis; should a hypothesis be proved and become a certainty, it ceases to refer to facts and ceases to represent knowledge of reality. If a proposition is conclusively demonstrated — so that to deny it is obviously to endorse a logical contradiction — then in virtue of this fact, the proposition is written off as a product of human convention or arbitrary whim.

This means: a proposition is regarded as arbitrary precisely because it has been logically proved. The fact that a proposition cannot be refuted, refutes it (i.e., removes it from reality). A proposition can retain a connection to facts only insofar as it has not been validated by man’s method of cognition, i.e., by the use of logic. Thus proof is made the disqualifying element of knowledge, and knowledge is made a function of human ignorance.

This theory represents a total epistemological inversion: it penalizes cognitive success for being success. Just as the altruist mentality penalizes the good for being the good, so the analytic-synthetic mentality penalizes knowledge for being knowledge. Just as, according to altruism, a man is entitled only to what he has not earned, so, according to this theory, a man is entitled to claim as knowledge only what he has not proved. Epistemological humility becomes the prerequisite of cognition: “the meek shall inherit the truth.”

The philosopher most responsible for these inversions is Kant. Kant’s system secularized the mysticism of the preceding centuries and thereby gave it a new lease on life in the modern world. In the religious tradition, “necessary” truths were commonly held to be consequences of God’s mode of thought. Kant substituted the “innate structure of the human mind” for God, as the source and creator of “necessary” truths (which thus became independent of the facts of reality).

The philosophers of the twentieth century merely drew the final consequences of the Kantian view. If it is man’s mode of thought (independent of reality) that creates “necessary” truths, they argued, then these are not fixed or absolute; men have a choice in regard to their modes of thought; what the mind giveth; the mind taketh away. Thus, the contemporary conventionalist viewpoint.

We can know only the “phenomenal,” mind-created realm, according to Kant; in regard to reality, knowledge is impossible. We can be certain only within the realm of our own conventions, according to the moderns; in regard to facts, certainty is impossible.

The moderns represent a logical, consistent development from Kant’s premises. They represent Kant plus choice — a voluntaristic Kantianism, a whim-worshipping Kantianism. Kant marked the cards and made reason an agent of distortion. The moderns are playing with the same deck; their contribution is to play it deuces wild, besides.

Now observe what is left of philosophy in consequence of this neo-Kantianism.

Metaphysics has been all but obliterated: its most influential opponents have declared that all metaphysical statements are neither analytic nor synthetic, and therefore are meaningless.

Ethics has been virtually banished from the province of philosophy: some groups have claimed that ethical statements are neither analytic nor synthetic, but are mere “emotive ejaculations” — and other groups have consigned ethics to the province of the man in the street, claiming that philosophers may analyze the language of ethical statements, but are not competent to prescribe ethical norms.

Politics has been discarded by virtually all philosophic schools: insofar as politics deals with values, it has been relegated to the same status as ethics.

Epistemology, the theory of knowledge, the science that defines the rules by which man is to acquire knowledge of facts, has been disintegrated by the notion that facts are the subject matter of “synthetic,” “empirical” propositions and, therefore, are outside the province of philosophy — with the result that the special sciences are now left adrift in a rising tide of irrationalism.

What we are witnessing is the self-liquidation of philosophy.

To regain philosophy’s realm, it is necessary to challenge and reject the fundamental premises which are responsible for today’s debacle. A major step in that direction is the elimination of the death carrier known as the analytic-synthetic dichotomy.


The American School: Why Johnny Can’t Think

This lecture was delivered at Boston’s Ford Hall Forum in April 1984, published in the October – December 1984 issues of The Objectivist Forum and anthologized in The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought in 1989.

We are now a few hours from Income Tax Day in George Orwell’s year — an ominous moment, symbolically, when we feel acutely the weight of an ever growing government, and must begin to wonder what will happen next and how long our liberty can last.

The answer depends on the youth of the country and on the institutions that educate them. The best indicator of our government tomorrow is our schools today. Are our youngsters being brought up to be free, independent, thinking men and women? Or are they being turned into helpless, mindless pawns, who will run into the arms of the first dictator that sounds plausible?

One does not have to be an Objectivist to be alarmed about the state of today’s schools. Virtually everybody is in a panic over them — shocked by continuously falling SAT scores; by college entrants unable to write, spell, paragraph, or reason; by a generation of schoolteachers so bad that even teachers-union president Albert Shanker says of them: “For the most part, you are getting illiterate, incompetent people who cannot go into any other field.” 1 Quoted in USA Today, Aug. 12, 1983.

Last November, a new academic achievement test was given to some six hundred sixth-grade students in eight industrialized countries. The American students, chosen to be representative of the nation, finished dead last in mathematics, miles behind the Japanese, and sixth out of eight in science. As to geography, 20 percent of the Americans at one school could not find the U.S. on a world map. The Chicago Tribune reported these findings under the headline: “Study hands world dunce cap to U.S. pupils.” 2 Dec. 12, 1983.

A year ago, the National Commission on Excellence in Education described the United States as “a nation at risk,” pointing to what it called “a rising tide of mediocrity [in our schools] that threatens our very future as a nation and as a people.” 3 Quoted in the New York Times, Apr. 27, 1983. These are extreme words for normally bland government commissioners, but the words are no exaggeration.

To prepare for this evening’s discussion, I did some first-hand research. I spent two weeks in February visiting schools in New York City, both public and private, from kindergarten through teachers college. I deliberately chose schools with good reputations — some of which are the shining models for the rest of the country; and I let the principals guide me to their top teachers. I wanted to see the system not when it was just scraping by, starved for money and full of compromises, but at its best, when it was adequately funded, competently staffed, and proud of its activities. I got an eyeful.

My experience at one school, a famous Progressive institution, will serve to introduce my impression of the whole system. I had said that I was interested in observing how children are taught concepts, and the school obligingly directed me to three classes. The first, for nine- and ten-year-olds, was a group discussion of thirteen steps in seal-hunting, from cutting the hole in the ice at the start to sharing the blubber with others at the end. The teacher gave no indication of the purpose of this topic, but he did indicate that the class would later perform a play on seal-hunting and perhaps even computerize the steps. The next class, for thirteen-year-olds, consisted of a mock Washington hearing on the question of whether there should be an import tax on Japanese cars; students played senators, Japanese lobbyists, Lee Iacocca, and so on, and did it quite well; the teacher sat silently, observing. I never learned the name of this course or of the seal-hunting one, but finally I was to observe a meeting described to me as a class in English. At last, I thought, an academic subject. But no. The book being covered was Robert Kennedy’s Thirteen Days, a memoir of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962; a typical topic for discussion was whether a surgical air strike against Cuba would have been better policy than a blockade.

The school, undoubtedly, would defend these classes as exercises in ethnicity or democracy or relevance, but, whatever the defense, the fact is that all these classes were utterly concrete-bound. Seal-hunting was not used to illustrate the rigors of northern life or the method of analyzing a skill into steps or anything at all. The issue of taxing Japanese cars was not related to a study of free trade vs. protectionism, or of the proper function of government, or of the principles of foreign policy, or of any principles. The same applies to the Cuban discussion. In all cases, a narrow concrete was taught, enacted, discussed, argued over in and of itself, i.e., as a concrete, without connection to any wider issue. This is the essence of the approach that, in various forms, is destroying all of our schools: the anti-conceptual approach.

Let me elaborate for a moment on the crucial philosophic point involved here.

Man’s knowledge begins on the perceptual level, with the use of the five senses. This much we share with the animals. But what makes us human is what our mind does with our sense experiences. What makes us human is the conceptual level, which includes our capacity to abstract, to grasp common denominators, to classify, to organize our perceptual field. The conceptual level is based on the perceptual, but there are profound differences between the two — in other words, between perceiving and thinking. Here are some of the differences; this is not an exhaustive list, merely enough to indicate the contrast.

The perceptual level is concerned only with concretes. For example, a man goes for a casual stroll on the beach — let’s make it a drunken stroll so as to numb the higher faculties and isolate the animal element — and he sees a number of concrete entities: those birds chattering over there, this wave crashing to shore, that boulder rolling downhill. He observes, moves on, sees a bit more, forgets the earlier. On the conceptual level, however, we function very differently; we integrate concretes by means of abstractions, and thereby immensely expand the amount of material we can deal with. The animal or drunk merely looks at a few birds, then forgets them; a functioning man can retain an unlimited number, by integrating them all into the concept “bird,” and can then proceed deliberately to study the nature of birds, their anatomy, habits, and so forth.

The drunk on his walk is aware of a vast multiplicity of things. He lurches past a chaos made of waves, rocks, and countless other entities, and has no ability to make connections among them. On the conceptual level, however, we do not accept such chaos; we turn a multiplicity into a unity by finding the common denominators that run through all the seemingly disconnected concretes; and we thereby make them intelligible. We discover the law of gravity, for example, and grasp that by means of a single principle we can understand the falling boulder, the rising tide, and many other phenomena.

On the perceptual level, no special order is necessary. The drunk can totter from bird to rock to tree in any order he wishes and still see them all. But we cannot do that conceptually; in the realm of thought, a definite progression is required. Since we build knowledge on previous knowledge, we need to know the necessary background, or context, at each stage. For example, we cannot start calculus before we know arithmetic — or argue about tariff protection before we know the nature of government.

Finally, for this brief sketch: on the perceptual level, there is no need of logic, argument, proof; a man sees what he sees, the facts are self-evident, and no further cognitive process is required. But on the conceptual level, we do need proof. We need a method of validating our ideas; we need a guide to let us know what conclusions follow from what data. That guide is logic.

Perception as such, the sheer animal capacity, consists merely in staring at concretes, at a multiplicity of them, in no order, with no context, no proof, no understanding — and all one can know by this means is whatever he is staring at, as long as he is staring. Conception, however — the distinctively human faculty — involves the formation of abstractions that reduce the multiplicity to an intelligible unity. This process requires a definite order, a specific context at each stage, and the methodical use of logic.

Now let us apply the above to the subject of our schools. An education that trains a child’s mind would be one that teaches him to make connections, to generalize, to understand the wider issues and principles involved in any topic. It would achieve this feat by presenting the material to him in a calculated, conceptually proper order, with the necessary context, and with the proof that validates each stage. This would be an education that teaches a child to think.

The complete opposite — the most perverse aberration imaginable — is to take conceptual-level material and present it to the students by the method of perception. This means taking the students through history, literature, science, and the other subjects on the exact model of that casual, unthinking, drunken walk on the beach. The effect is to exile the student to a no-man’s-land of cognition, which is neither perception nor conception. What it is, in fact, is destruction, the destruction of the minds of the students and of their motivation to learn.

This is literally what our schools are doing today. Let me illustrate by indicating how various subjects are taught, in the best schools, by the best teachers. You can then judge for yourself why Johnny can’t think.

I went to an eighth-grade class on Western European history in a highly regarded, non-Progressive school with a university affiliation. The subject that day was: why does human history constantly change? This is an excellent question, which really belongs to the philosophy of history. What factors, the teacher was asking, move history and explain men’s past actions? Here are the answers he listed on the board: competition among classes for land, money, power, or trade routes; disasters and catastrophes (such as wars and plagues); the personality of leaders; innovations, technology, new discoveries (potatoes and coffee were included here); and developments in the rest of the world, which interacts with a given region. At this point, time ran out. But think of what else could qualify as causes in this kind of approach. What about an era’s press or media of communication? Is that a factor in history? What about people’s psychology, including their sexual proclivities? What about their art or their geography? What about the weather?

Do you see the hodgepodge the students are being given? History, they are told, is moved by power struggles and diseases and potatoes and wars and chance personalities. Who can make sense out of such a chaos? Here is a random multiplicity thrown at a youngster without any attempt to conceptualize it — to reduce it to an intelligible unity, to trace the operation of principles. This is perceptual-level history, history as nothing but a torrent of unrelated, disintegrated concretes.

The American Revolution, to take a specific example, was once taught in the schools on the conceptual level. The Revolution’s manifold aspects were identified, then united and explained by a principle: the commitment of the colonists to individual rights and their consequent resolve to throw off the tyrant’s yoke. This was a lesson students could understand and find relevant in today’s world. But now the same event is ascribed to a whole list of alleged causes. The students are given ten (or fifty) causes of the Revolution, including the big landowners’ desire to preserve their estates, the Southern planters’ desire for a cancellation of their English debts, the Bostonians’ opposition to tea taxes, the Western land speculators’ need to expand past the Appalachians, etc. No one can retain such a list longer than is required to pass the exam; it must be memorized, then regurgitated, then happily and thoroughly forgotten. That is all one can do with unrelated concretes.

If the students were taught by avowed Marxists — if they were told that history reflects the clash between the factors of production and the modes of ownership — it would be dead wrong, but it would still be a principle, an integrating generalization, and it would be much less harmful to the students’ ability to think; they might still be open to argument on the subject. But to teach them an unconceptualized hash is to imply that history is a tale told by an idiot, without wider meaning, or relevance to the present. This approach destroys the possibility of the students thinking or caring at all about the field.

I cannot resist adding that the State Education Department of New York has found a way, believe it or not, to make the teaching of history still worse. You might think that, in history at least, the necessary order of presenting the material is self-evident. Since each era grows out of the preceding, the obvious way to teach events is as they happened, i.e., chronologically. But not according to a new proposal. In order “to put greater emphasis on sociological, political, and economic issues,” a New York State proposal recommends that historical material be organized for the students according to six master topics picked out of the blue from the pop ethos: “ecology, human needs, human rights, cultural interaction, the global system of economic interdependence, and the future.” In this approach, an event from a later period can easily be taught (in connection with one master topic) first, long before the developments from an earlier period that actually led to it. As a more traditional professor from Columbia has noted: “The whole thing would be wildly out of chronological order. The [Russian] purge trials of the 1930s would be taught before the revolutions of 1905 and 1917. It is all fragmented and there is no way that this curriculum relates one part of a historical period to another, which is what you want kids to be able to do.’’ 4 The New York Times, Apr. 18, 1983; the professor is Hazel Hertzberg. But the modern educators don’t seem to care about that. They want “fragments,” i.e., concretes, without context, logic, or any other demands of a conceptual progression.

I do not know what became of this New York proposal. The fact that it was announced to the press and discussed seriously is revealing enough.

Given the way history is now being taught, it is not surprising that huge chunks of it promptly get forgotten by the students or simply are never taken in. The result is many adolescents’ shocking ignorance of the most elementary historical, or current, facts. One man wrote a column recently in the Washington Post recounting his conversations with today’s teenagers. He found high school graduates who did not know anything about World War II, including what happened at Pearl Harbor, or what country the United States was fighting in the Pacific. “Who won?” one college student asked him. At one point, the writer and a girl who was a junior at the University of Southern California were watching television coverage of Poland after martial law had been imposed; the set showed political prisoners being put into a cage. The girl could not understand it.

“‘Why don’t they just leave and come to LA.?’” she asked.

“I explained that they were not allowed to leave.”

“‘They’re not?’” she said. “‘Why not?’”

“I explained that in totalitarian states citizens usually could not emigrate.”

“‘They can’t?’” she said. “‘Since when? Is that something new?’” 5 Benjamin J. Stein, “The Cheerful Ignorance of the Young in L.A.,” Oct. 3, 1983.

Now let us make a big jump — from history to reading. Let us look at the method of teaching reading that is used by most American schools in some form: the Look-Say method (as against Phonics).

The method of Phonics, the old-fashioned approach, first teaches a child the sound of individual letters; then it teaches him to read words by combining these sounds. Each letter thus represents an abstraction subsuming countless instances. Once a child knows that p sounds “puh,” for instance, that becomes a principle; he grasps that every p he meets sounds the same way. When he has learned a few dozen such abstractions, he has acquired the knowledge necessary to decipher virtually any new word he encounters. Thus the gigantic multiplicity of the English vocabulary is reduced to a handful of symbols. This is the conceptual method of learning to read.

Modern educators object to it. Phonics, they say (among many such charges), is unreal. I quote from one such mentality: “There is little value in pronouncing the letter p in isolation; it is almost impossible to do this — a vowel of some sort almost inevitably follows the pronunciation of any consonant.” 6 Pose Lamb, Linguistics in Proper Perspective (Charles E. Merrill: 1977, 2nd ed.), p. 29. This means: when you pronounce the sound of p — “puh” — you have to utter the vowel sound “uh”; so you haven’t isolated the pure consonant; so Phonics is artificial. But why can’t you isolate in your mind, focusing only on the consonant sound, ignoring the accompanying vowel for purposes of analysis — just as men focus on a red table’s color but ignore its shape in order to reach the concept “red”? Why does this writer rule out selective attention and analysis, which are the very essence of human cognition? Because these involve an act of abstraction; they represent a conceptual process, precisely the process that modern educators oppose.

Their favored method, Look-Say, dispenses with abstractions. Look-Say forces a child to learn the sounds of whole words without knowing the sounds of the individual letters or syllables. This makes every word a new concrete to be grasped only by perceptual means, such as trying to remember its distinctive shape on the page, or some special picture the teacher has associated with it. Which amounts to heaping on the student a vast multiplicity of concretes and saying: stare at these and memorize them. (You may not be surprised to discover that this method was invented, as far as I can tell, by an eighteenth-century German professor who was a follower of Rousseau, the passionate opponent of reason.)

There is a colossal Big Lie involved in the Look-Say propaganda. Its advocates crusade against the overuse of memory; they decry Phonics because, they say, it requires a boring memorization of all the sounds of the alphabet. Their solution is to replace such brief, simple memorization with the task of memorizing the sound of every word in the language. In fact, if one wishes to save children from the drudgery of endless memorization, only the teaching of abstractions will do it — in any field.

No one can learn to read by the Look-Say method. It is too anti-human. Our schools today, therefore, are busy teaching a new skill: guessing. They offer the children some memorized shapes and pictures to start, throw in a little Phonics (thanks to immense parental pressure), count on the parents secretly teaching their children something at home about reading — and then, given this stew of haphazard clues, they concentrate their efforts on teaching the children assorted methods of guessing what a given word might be.

Here is a Look-Say expert describing a child’s proper mental processes when trying to determine the last word of the sentence, “They make belts out of plastic.” The child must not, of course, try to sound out the letters. Here is what should go on in his brain instead:

“Well, it isn’t leather, because that begins with l. My mother has a straw belt, but it isn’t straw either. It looks like a root. I’ll divide it between s and t. There couldn’t be more than two syllables because there are only two vowels. Let’s see — p, l, a, s. One vowel and it’s not at the end of the syllable . . .” This goes on a while longer, and the child finally comes up with: “Oh, sure, plastic! I’m surprised I didn’t think of that right away because so many things are made of plastic.” The expert comments: “Just described is a child who was not about to carry out a letter-by-letter analysis of plastic if it wasn’t necessary, which is exactly right.” 7 Dolores Durkin, Strategies for Identifying Words, p. 83; quoted in Rudolf Flesch, Why Johnny Still Can’t Read (Harper Colophon: 1983), p. 81.

Can you imagine reading War and Peace by this method? You would die of old age before you reached the third chapter.

I must add that the Look-Say educators demand that children — I quote another devotee — “receive praise for a good guess even though it is not completely accurate. For example, if a child reads ‘I like to eat carrots’ as ‘I like to eat cake,’ praise should be given for supplying a word that makes sense and follows at least some of the phonic cues.” 8 Dixie Lee Spiegel, in Reading Teacher, April 1978; quoted in Flesch, op. cit., p. 24.

How would you like to see, at the head of our army, a general with this kind of schooling? He receives a telegram from the president during a crisis ordering him to “reject nuclear option,’’ proceeds to make a good guess, and reads it as “release nuclear option.” Linguistically, the two are as close as “carrots” and “cake.”

The result of the Look-Say method is a widespread “reading neurosis” among children, a flat inability to read, which never existed in the days of Phonics (and also a bizarre inability to spell). In 1975, for example, 35 percent of fourth-graders, 37 percent of eighth-graders, and 23 percent of twelfth-graders could not read simple printed instructions. The U.S. literacy rate, it has been estimated, is now about equal to that of Burma or Albania, and by all signs is still dropping. Do you see why angry parents are suing school systems for a new crime: educational malpractice?

Now let us look at another aspect of English studies: the teaching of grammar. This subject brings out even more clearly the modern educators’ contempt for concepts.

Grammar is the study of how to combine words — i.e., concepts — into sentences. The basic rules of grammar — such as the need of subject and predicate, or the relation of nouns and verbs — are inherent in the nature of concepts and apply to every language; they define the principles necessary to use concepts intelligibly. Grammar, therefore, is an indispensable subject; it is a science based entirely on facts — and not a very difficult science, either.

Our leading educators, however, see no relation between concepts and facts. The reason they present material from subjects such as history without conceptualizing it, is precisely that they regard concepts as mental constructs without relation to reality. Concepts, they hold, are not a device of cognition, but a mere human convention, a ritual unrelated to knowledge or reality, to be performed according to arbitrary social fiat. It follows that grammar is a set of pointless rules, decreed by society for no objectively defensible reason.

I quote from a book on linguistics written for English teachers by a modern professor: “Because we know that language is arbitrary and changing, a teacher’s attitude toward nonstandard usage should be one of acceptance. . . . One level of language is not ‘better’ than another; this is why the term nonstandard is preferable to substandard in describing such usage as ‘He don’t do it,’ ‘Was you there?’ A person who uses terms such as these will probably be penalized in terms of social and educational advancement in our society, however, and it is for this reason that the teacher helps children work toward, and eventually achieve, standard usage, perhaps as a ‘second’ language.” 9 Lamb, op. cit., p. 19. In short, there is no “correct” or “incorrect” any more, not in any aspect of language; there is only the senseless prejudice of society.

I saw the results of this approach in the classroom. I watched an excellent public-school teacher trying to explain the possessive forms of nouns. She gave a clear statement of the rules, with striking examples and frequent repetition; she was dynamic, she was colorful, she was teaching her heart out. But it was futile. This teacher was not a philosopher of language, and she could not combat the idea, implicit in the textbook and in all the years of the students’ earlier schooling, that grammar is purposeless. The students seemed to be impervious to instruction and incapable of attention, even when the teacher would blow a shrieking police whistle to shock them momentarily into silence. To them, the subject was nothing but senseless rules: the apostrophe goes here in this case, there in that one. Here was a whole science reduced to disintegrated concretes that had to be blindly memorized — just like the ten causes of the American Revolution, or the ten shapes of the last Look-Say session.

You might wonder how one teaches composition — the methods of expressing one’s thoughts clearly and eloquently in writing — given today’s philosophy of grammar and of concepts. I will answer by reading excerpts from a recent manifesto.

“We affirm the students’ right to their own patterns and varieties of language — the dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style. . . . The claim that any one dialect is unacceptable amounts to an attempt of one social group to exert its dominance over another.” If so, why does anyone need English teachers?

Who issued this manifesto? Was it some ignorant, hotheaded teenagers drunk on the notion of student power? No. It was the National Council of Teachers of English. 10 From Students’ Right to Their Own Language, Conference on College Composition and Communication, Fall 1974; quoted in Arn and Charlene Tibbetts, What’s Happening to American English? (Scribner’s: 1978), p. 118.

If you want a hint as to the basic philosophy operative here, I will mention that the editor of College English, one of the major journals of the profession, objects to “an industrial society [that] will continue to want from us — or someone else — composition, verbal manners, discipline in problem solving, and docile rationality.” 11 See College English, Feb. 1976, p. 631; quoted in Tibbetts, op. cit., p. 119. Note how explicit this is. The climax of his “enemies list” is “rationality.”

Despite today’s subjectivism, some rules of composition are still being taught. Certain of these are valid enough, having been carried over from a better past. But some are horrifying. Here is an exercise in how to write topic sentences. The students are given two possible sentences with which to start a paragraph, then are asked to choose which would make a good opening and which a bad one. Here is one such pair:

1. Cooking is my favorite hobby.

2. It really isn’t hard to stir-fry Chinese vegetables.

The correct answer? Number 1 is bad. It is too abstract. (!) Students should not write about so enormous a subject as an entire hobby. They should focus only on one concrete under it, such as Chinese vegetables.

Here is another pair:

1. There is too much pollution in the world.

2. We have begun to fight pollution in our own neighborhood.

Of course, Number 1 is inadmissible. Students must not think about world problems — that is too vague — only about the dinky concretes in their own backyard. 12 Basic English Skills Practice Book, Orange Level (McDougal, Littell), p. 17.

This sort of exercise has been consciously designed to teach students to be concrete-bound. How are children with such an upbringing ever to deal with or think about problems that transcend Chinese vegetables and their own neighborhood? The implicit answer, absorbed by the students unavoidably, is: “You don’t have to worry about things like that; society or the president will take care of you; all you have to do is adapt.”

Before we leave English, I want to mention what has been happening to the teaching of literature in our schools as a consequence of the attitude toward concepts that we have been discussing. First, there has been the disappearance from the schools of the classics in favor of cheap current novels. The language and themes of the classics are too difficult for today’s students to grasp; one does not teach Shakespeare to savages, or to civilized children being turned into savages. Then, there is the continuous decline even of today’s debased standards. I quote from two English teachers: “Years ago we used to hear that Julius Caesar was too difficult for ninth-graders; now we are told that Lord of the Flies is too hard for the general run of tenth-graders.” Then, there is the final result, now increasingly common: the disappearance of literature of any kind and its replacement by what are called “media classes.” These are classes, in one book’s apt description, that “teach television, newspapers, car-repair magazines, and movies.” 13 Tibbetts, op. cit., pp. 80, 76.

I will pass up all the obvious comments on this frightening descent. I have just one question about it: why should these graduates of TV and car-repair magazines care if the great books of the past are burned by government edict — when they can’t read them anyway?

Turning to the teaching of science in our schools, I want to mention an instructive book written by two professors at Purdue University; titled Creative Sciencing, it tells science teachers how to teach their subject properly. To learn science, the book declares, students must engage in “hands-on science activities.” They must perform a series of concrete “experiments,” such as designing a bug catcher, collecting pictures of objects that begin with a c, going on field trips to the local factory, or finding polluters in the community. (These examples are taken from the book.) There is no necessary order to these activities. The children are encouraged to interact with the classroom materials “in their own way,” as the mood strikes them. They are not to be inhibited by a teacher-imposed structure or by the logic of the subject. 14 Alfred De Vito and Gerald H. Krockover, Creative Sciencing (Little, Brown: 1980), pp. 15, 70, 74, 19.

You may wonder whether students taught in this manner will ever learn the abstract concepts and principles of science, the natural laws and explanatory theories that have been painstakingly discovered across the centuries — the knowledge that makes us civilized men rather than jungle primitives.

The answer has been given by F. James Rutherford, chief education officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “We’re too serious,” he declared. “We insist on all the abstract stuff. We need to relax and let the children learn their own neighborhood.” This statement was made at a meeting of experts brought together by a large foundation to discover what ails science teaching. 15 Quoted in the New York Times, Jan, 31, 1984.

Today’s education, I have said, reduces children to the status of animals, without the ability to know or predict the future. Animals, however, can rely on brute instinct to guide them. Children cannot; brought up this way, they soon begin to feel helpless — to feel that everything is changing and that they can count on nothing.

The above is not merely my polemic. The science teachers are working deliberately to create this state of mind. The teachers are openly skeptical themselves, having been given a similar upbringing, and they insist to their students that everything is changing, that factual information is continuously becoming outdated, and that there are things much more important in class — in science class — than truth. It is hard to believe how brazen these people have become. “When preparing performance objectives,” the Creative Sciencing book says, “you may wish to consider the fact that we don’t demand accuracy in art or creative writing, but we have permitted ourselves to require accuracy in science. We may be paying a high price in lost interest, enthusiasm, vitality, and creativity in science because of this requirement of accuracy.” 16 Op. cit, p. 33.

Our students should not have to be concerned about factual accuracy. They need have no idea whether gases expand or contract under pressure, or whether typhus germs cause or cure disease — but this will leave them free to be “vital” and “creative.”

But, you may ask, what if a student comes out in class with a wrong answer to a factual question? You are old-fashioned. There is no such answer, and besides it would be bad for the student’s psychology if there were: “How many times will a student try to respond to a question if continually told that his or her answers are wrong? Wrong answers should be reserved for quiz shows on television.” 17 Ibid., p. 38.

What then is the point in having a teacher at all? — since there are no wrong answers, and since adults must not be “authoritarian,’’ and since, as John Dewey has proclaimed, students do not learn by listening or by reading, but only by “doing.” This brings me to an extremely important issue, one that is much wider than science teaching.

My overriding impression of today’s schools, derived from every class I visited, is that teachers no longer teach. They no longer deliver prepared material while the students listen attentively and take notes. Instead, what one encounters everywhere is group-talking, i.e., class participation and class discussion. Most of the teachers I saw were enthusiastic professionals, excellent at what they do. But they conceive their role primarily as bull-session moderators. Some of the teachers obviously had a concealed lesson in mind, which they were bootlegging to the students — in the guise of asking leading questions or making brief, purposeful side comments. But the point is that the lesson had to be bootlegged. The official purpose of the class was for the pupils to speak more or less continuously — at any rate, well over half the time.

I asked one group of high school students if their teachers ever delivered lectures in class. “Oh no!” they cried incredulously, as though I had come from another planet or a barbaric past. “No one does that anymore.”

All the arguments offered to defend this anti-teaching approach are senseless.

“Students,” I have heard it said, “should develop initiative; they should discover knowledge on their own, not be spoon-fed by the teachers.” Then why should they go to school at all? Schooling is a process in which an expert is paid to impart his superior knowledge to ignorant beginners. How can this involve shelving the expert and leaving the ignorant to shift for themselves? What would you think of a doctor who told a patient to cure himself because the doctor opposed spoon-feeding?

“Students,” I have heard, “should be creative, not merely passive and receptive.” How can they be creative before they know anything? Creativity does not arise in a void; it can develop only after one has mastered the current cognitive context. A creative ignoramus is a contradiction in terms.

“We teach the method of thought,” I have heard, “rather than the content.” This is the most senseless claim of all. Let us leave aside the obvious fact that method cannot exist apart from some content. The more important point here is that thought is precisely what cannot be taught by the discussion approach. If you want to teach thought, you must first put up a sign at the front of the class: “Children should be seen and not heard.” To be exact: they may be heard as an adjunct of the lesson, if the teacher wishes to probe their knowledge, or answer a question of clarification, or assess their motivation to learn, or entertain a brief comment. But the dominant presence and voice must be that of the teacher, the cognitive expert, who should be feeding the material to the class in a highly purposeful fashion, carefully balancing concretes and abstractions, preparing for and then drawing and then interrelating generalizations, identifying the evidence at each point, etc. These are the processes that must first be absorbed year after year by the student in relation to a whole series of different contents. In the end, such training will jell in his mind into a knowledge of how to think — which he can then apply on his own, without any teacher. But he can never even begin to grasp these processes in the chaotic hullabaloo of a perpetual class discussion with equally ignorant peers.

Have you seen the [1984] television debates among the Democrats seeking to be president? Do you regard these spectacles of arbitrary assertion, constant subject-switching, absurd concrete-boundedness, and brazen ad hominem as examples of thinking? This is exactly the pattern that is being inculcated as thinking today by the class-discussion method.

An educator with any inkling of the requirements of a conceptual consciousness would never dream of running a school this way. But an educator contemptuous of concepts, and therefore of knowledge, would see no objection to it.

In the class discussions I saw, the students were regularly asked to state their own opinion. They were asked it in regard to issues about which they had no idea how to have an opinion, since they had no knowledge of the relevant facts or principles, and no knowledge of the methods of logical argument. Most of the time the students were honest; they had no opinion, in the sense of a sincere, even if mistaken, conviction on the question at hand. But they knew that they were expected to “express themselves.” Time and again, therefore, I heard the following: “I like (or dislike) X.” “Why?”  “Because I do. That’s my opinion.” Whereupon the teacher would nod and say “very interesting” or “good point.” Everybody’s point, it seemed, was good, as good as everybody else’s, and reasons were simply irrelevant. The conclusion being fostered in the minds of the class was: “It’s all arbitrary; anything goes and no one really knows.” The result is not only the spread of subjectivism, but of a self-righteous subjectivism, which cannot even imagine what objectivity would consist of.

Project a dozen years of this kind of daily processing. One study of American students notes that they “generally offered superficial comments . . . and consultants observed that they seemed ‘genuinely puzzled at requests to explain or defend their points of view.’” 18 “Are Your Kids Learning to Think?” Changing Times, Dec. 1983; quoting the National Assessment of Educational Progress. What else could anyone expect?

Now let me quote from a New York Times news story.

“I like [Senator Gary Hart’s] ideas,” said Darla Doyle, a Tampa homemaker. “He’s a good man. His ideas are fresher than Mondale’s are. I like the way he comes across.”

A reporter asked Mrs. Doyle to identify the ideas that appealed to her. “That’s an unfair question,” she said, asking for a moment to consider her answer. Then she replied, “He wants to talk with Russia.”

The headline of this story is: “Hart’s Fans Can’t Say Why They Are.” 19 Mar. 9, 1984.

According to John Dewey, students are bored by lectures, but motivated to learn by collective “doing.” Not the ones I saw. Virtually every class was in continuous turmoil, created by students waving their hands to speak, dropping books, giggling, calling out remarks, whispering asides, yawning, fidgeting, shifting, shuffling. The dominant emotion was a painful boredom, which is the sign of minds being mercilessly starved and stunted. Perhaps this explains the magic influence of the bell. The instant it rang, everywhere I went, the room was empty, as though helpless victims were running for their lives from a dread plague. And so in a sense they were.

Ladies and gentlemen, our schools are failing in every subject and on a fundamental level. They are failing methodically, as a matter of philosophic principle. The anti-conceptual epistemology that grips them comes from John Dewey and from all his fellow irrationalists, who dominate twentieth-century American culture, such as linguistic analysts, psychoanalysts, and neo-Existentialists. And behind all these, as I argued in The Ominous Parallels, stands a century of German philosophy inaugurated by history’s greatest villain: Immanuel Kant, the first man to dedicate his life and his system to the destruction of reason.

Epistemological corruption is not the only cause of today’s educational fiasco. There are many other contributing factors, such as the teachers unions, and the senseless requirements of the teachers colleges, and the government bureaucracies (local and federal). But epistemology is the basic cause, without reference to which none of the others can be intelligently analyzed or remedied.

Now let me recount for you two last experiences, which bear on the political implications of today’s educational trend.

One occurred at the most prestigious teacher-training institution in the country, Teachers College of Columbia University.

In my first class there, chosen at random, the professor made the following pronouncement to a group of sixty future teachers: “The evil of the West is not primarily its economic exploitation of the Third World, but its ideological exploitation. The crime of the West was to impose upon the communal culture of Africa the concept of the individual.” I thought I had heard everything, but this shocked me. I looked around. The future teachers were dutifully taking it down; there were no objections.

Despite their talk about “self-expression,” today’s educators have to inculcate collectivism. Man’s organ of individuality is his mind; deprived of it, he is nothing, and can do nothing but huddle in a group as his only hope of survival.

The second experience occurred in a class of juniors and seniors at a high school for the academically gifted. The students had just returned from a visit to the United Nations, where they had met with an official of the Russian delegation, and they were eager to discuss their reactions. The class obviously disliked the Russian, feeling that his answers to their questions about life in Russia had been evasions or lies. But soon someone remarked that we Americans are accustomed to believing what our government says, while the Russians naturally believe theirs. “So how do I know?” he concluded. “Maybe everything is a lie.”

“What is truth?” asked one boy, seemingly quite sincere; the class laughed, as though this were obviously unanswerable.

“Neither side is good,” said another student. “Both countries lie all the time. But the issue is the percentage. What we need to know is how much they lie — is it 99 percent for one, for example, and 82 percent for the other?”

After a lot more of this, including some pretty weak arguments in favor of America by a small patriotic faction, one boy summed up the emerging consensus. “We can never know who is lying or telling the truth,” he said. “The only thing we can know is bare fact. For example, we can know that a Korean airliner was shot down by the Russians [in 1983]. But as to the Russians’ story of the cause vs. our story, that is mere opinion.”

To which one girl replied in all seriousness: “But we can’t even know that — none of us saw the plane shot down.”

This class discussion was the climax of my tour. I felt as though I were witnessing the condensed essence of a perceptual-level schooling. “Thought,” these students were saying, “is helpless, principles are nonexistent, truth is unknowable, and there is, therefore, no way to choose between the United States of America and the bloodiest dictatorship in history, not unless we have seen the blood with our own eyes.”

These youngsters represent the future of our country. They are the children of the best and the brightest, who will become the businessmen, the artists, and the political leaders of tomorrow. Does this kind of generation have the strength — the intellectual strength, the strength of conviction — necessary to uphold the American heritage in an era dominated by incipient Big Brothers at home and missile-rattling enemies abroad?

It is not the students’ fault, and they do not fully believe the awful things they say, not yet. The ones I saw, at every school except for Columbia — and here I want to register some positive impressions — were extremely likable. For the most part, they struck me as clean-cut, well-mannered, exuberant, intelligent, innocent. They were not like the typical college student one meets, who is already hardening into a brash cynic or skeptic. These youngsters, despite all their doubts and scars, still seemed eager to discover some answers, albeit sporadically. They were still clinging to vestiges of the idea that man’s mind can understand reality and make sense of the world.

They are still open to reason — if someone would teach it to them.

Nor is it basically the teachers’ fault. The ones I saw were not like the college professors I know, who reek of stale malice and delight in wrecking their students’ minds. The teachers seemed to take their jobs seriously; they genuinely liked their classes and wanted to educate them. But given the direction of their own training, they were unable to do it.

There is a whole generation of children who still want to learn, and a profession much of which wants to help them, to say nothing of a country that devoutly wishes both groups well. Everything anyone would need to save the world is there, it is waiting, and all that is required to activate it is . . . what?

Merit pay? First we need a definition of merit, i.e., of the purpose of teaching. More classes in the use of computers? We have enough children who know FORTRAN but not English. Compulsory community service? (A recommendation of the Carnegie Commission.) Prayer in the schools? (President Reagan’s idea of a solution.)

All these are the equivalent of sticking Band-Aids on (or in the last two cases knives into) a dying man. The only real solution, which is a precondition of any other reform, is a philosophic change in our culture. We need a philosophy that will teach our colleges — and thereby our schoolteachers, and thus finally our youngsters — an abiding respect, a respect for reason, for man’s mind, for the conceptual level of consciousness. That is why I subscribe to the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Hers is the only such philosophy in America today. It could be the wonder cure that would revive a generation.

The National Committee on Excellence in Education declared, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” 20 Quoted in the New York Times, Apr. 27, 1983. Intellectually speaking, however, we are under the yoke of a foreign power. We are under the yoke of Kant, Hegel, Marx, and all their disciples. What we need now is another Declaration of Independence — not political independence from England this time, but philosophical independence from Germany.

To achieve it would be a monumental job, which would take many decades. As part of the job, I want to recommend one specific step to improve our schools: close down the teachers colleges.

There is no rational purpose to these institutions (and so they do little but disseminate poisonous ideas). Teaching is not a skill acquired through years of classes; it is not improved by the study of “psychology” or “methodology” or any of the rest of the stuff the schools of education offer. Teaching requires only the obvious: motivation, common sense, experience, a few good books or courses on technique, and, above all, a knowledge of the material being taught. Teachers must be masters of their subject; this — not a degree in education — is what school boards should demand as a condition of employment.

This one change would dramatically improve the schools. If experts in subject matter were setting the terms in the classroom, some significant content would have to reach the students, even given today’s dominant philosophy. In addition, the basket cases who know only the Newspeak of their education professors would be out of a job, which would be another big improvement.

This reform, of course, would be resisted to the end by today’s educational establishment, and could hardly be achieved nationally without a philosophic change in the country. But it gives us a starting point to rally around that pertains specifically to the field of education. If you are a parent or a teacher or merely a concerned taxpayer, you can start the battle for quality in education by demanding loudly — even in today’s corrupt climate — that the teachers your school employs know what they are talking about, and then talk about it.

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free . . .” wrote Thomas Jefferson, “it expects what never was and never will be.” 21 The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, “Freedom and Education,” p. 274.

Let us fight to make our schools once again bastions of knowledge. Then no dictator can rise among us by counting, like Big Brother in 1984, on the enshrinement of ignorance.

And then we may once again have a human future ahead of us.