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We, the Living

29 Sep
Today I am reading Ayn Rand’s “We the Living”. This is the last of her books that I hadn’t read. As always, the writing is hard hitting, original, and stimulating. It’s probably her least well known novel.

Ayn Rand grew up in Russia under communism. She saw the consequences of what happens when people try to use the government to fix problems. It always makes things worse. A limited objective might be achieved but it will always causes more unanticipated problems. There is no such thing as “smarter” or “better” government. Coercive government is the one unadulterated evil. Always wrong. Liberty, the one unadulterated good. Always right.

Ayn Rand came to the US when she was young. The differences were stark. Americans had wealth and prosperity undreamt of in Russia. Americans displayed kindness, optimism, and ease in manner that baffled her hardened Russian sensibilities. It must have been like going to a different planet. Who could have imagined that people could live in such a way! What joy! What thrill to have experienced such a change in surroundings at such a young age! To look at the world with young eyes, from the despair and hopelessness of Russia, to the beauty of the relative freedom of America. What an inspiration it all must have been!

Ayn Rand became frightened by what she saw in her adopted land, and with her adopted people. She loved the Americans in a way that no native born American could. She loved how we acted, how we lived together, and our common decency, but we frightened her. She feared our philosophy. Compared to the material advancement of our people, our philosophy remained barbaric. A twist of fate had made America what it was, this new world, established by pious people pursuing an imperfect, but time tested set of ideals. Our Christian traditions. Now largely gone. Replaced with nothing. God was dead, as Nietzsche explained. America was gliding, out of gas. She saw that.

Ayn Rand realized that a people, like a person, cannot live without a philosophy, a purpose, a motivation that directs their lives. What’s your philosophy? What motivates you? For what excellence in achievement do you strive? And for why?

Ayn Rand’s life was a testament to a life lived pursuing an ideal. Ever wonder why so many people love her? Perhaps you’ve mocked those people. Perhaps you are quite certain you understand their ideas. Perhaps you have a comment in your mind when you see her mentioned. Some throwaway, stock phrase that explains away “that whole phenomenon” and lets you get on with your life, after a chuckle.

An enlightened person, a decent person, is not so quick to dismiss. When someone is screaming, shouting, making noise, repeating the same ideas, refashioned over, and over again, as Ayn Rand did, and those of us who agree with her do, maybe it’s because they’ve discovered something you haven’t! Maybe they are doing so, not because they are petulant, not because they want attention, not because they hate, but because they CARE. If true, if they know something you don’t, and they care enough to act in such a way, maybe there is something to what they are saying. Maybe it is worth your while to try to understand it.

What do you care about? Ayn Rand committed her life to something. Her life was a testament to something. What about your life? What’s the rest of your life going to be about? Scoffing at the work of others is all wonderful and fine, but at some point, you are going to have to place your own bet. You are going to have to come down for or against SOMETHING. What’s it going to be? And why?

You can order it here.