is a somewhat broader subject than most people would consciously admit,
because from a philosophical point of view, it includes all of the ways
in which any group governs or otherwise interacts with the individuals
which comprise the group. Accordingly, we must choose not only a theory
of government for each group which we envision existing in a perfect
society, but we must also describe the details of the relationship
between the group and the individuals which comprise it.
I have two main complaints about the present forms of government which are predominantly used in Western Civilization. First, the franchise to vote is too widely extended, usually only entailing basic citizenship and a minimum age. At a minimum, I would have at least one house of a bicameral legislature elected by a more limited franchise, which would apply to only those who have completed a set level of education, a set minimum of service to society (by military service or in some equivalent fashion), and who are income-earning, tax-paying citizens. Second, it ought to be easier to repeal laws than it is to enact them. Presently, it seems to be weighted way too much the other way around. Thus, each citizen of the United States is subject to millions of pages of "laws," derived from statutes, regulations, rules, the common law, and a forever increasing quantity of court decisions which interpret all of the above. We need some way in which to naturally force our system to adhere to the old adage of "that government is best which governs least,"46 These are the political principles which I would hope we could agree to apply in designing some new political system to replace the one in which we now live.
everyone can expect to master all fields of knowledge, nor even be able
to totally master a single field of knowledge. As our knowledge grows,
it becomes more and more a "team sport." Aesthetics is probably my
weakest philosophical field, as my own background tends more towards
computer and engineering skills, based upon my "native" talent for
In my statements on Ethics, above, I berate Ayn Rand for grounding her own ethical values on the foundation of maximum individual selfishness. However, I would not begin to assert that everything which she derived from her philosophical studies was all bad. In point of fact, I tend to favor most of what she has to say on the subject of Aesthetics. Not, mind you, that I adopt it entirely. However, her views on Aesthetics are much better, in my view, than are her views on Ethics.
If I have a basic criticism of her views on Aesthetics, it derives more from my overall criticism of virtually all philosophers of Western Civilization: a culturally myopic point of view which pervades virtually every key assertion.
Ayn Rand's key writings on Aesthetics are collected in her book: "The Romantic Manifesto" (1969), which is primarily a selection of material previously published in her newsletter, "The Objectivist." To quote from page 8:
"Those who feel that art is outside the province of reason would be well advised to leave this book alone: it is not for them. Those who know that nothing is outside the province of reason will find in this book the base of a rational esthetics. It is the absence of such a base that has made today's obscenely grotesque degradation of art possible.
"To quote from Chapter 5: `The destruction of Romanticism in esthetics - like the destruction of individualism in ethics or of capitalism in politics - was made possible by philosophical default. . . . In all three cases, the nature of the fundamental values involved had never been defined explicitly, the issues were fought in terms of non-essentials, and the values were destroyed by men who did not know what they were losing or why.'
"In regard to Romanticism, I have often thought that I am a bridge from the unidentified past to the future. As a child,47 I saw a glimpse of the pre-World War I world, the last afterglow of the most radiant cultural atmosphere in human history (achieved not by Russian, but by Western culture).48 So powerful a fire does not die at once; even under the Soviet regime, in my college years, such works as Hugo's Ruy Blas and Schiller's Don Carlos were included in theatrical repertories, not as historical revivals, but as part of the contemporary esthetic scene. Such was the level of the public's intellectual concerns and standards. If one has glimpsed that kind of art - and wider: the possibility of that kind of culture - one is unable to be satisfied with anything less.
". . .
"It has been said and written by many commentators that the atmosphere of the Western world before World War I is incommunicable to those who have not lived in that period. I used to wonder how men could say it, know it, yet give it up - until I observed more closely the men of my own and the preceding generations. They had given it up and, along with it, they had given up everything that makes life worth living: conviction, purpose, values, future. They were drained, embittered hulks whimpering occasionally about the hopelessness of life.
"Whatever spiritual treason they had committed, they could not accept the cultural sewer of the present, they could not forget that they had once seen a higher, nobler possibility. Unable or unwilling to grasp what had destroyed it, they kept cursing the world, or kept calling men to return to meaningless dogmas, such as religion and tradition, or kept silent. Unable to stifle their vision or to fight for it, they took the `easy' way out: they renounced valuing. . . . ."
Spengler saw this same trend before the end of World War I, and he named it with the title of his great work: "The Decline of the West."
From our here-and-now at the end of the Twentieth Century, it is at
least two centuries too late to even think about trying to preserve
Western Culture as a living, growing entity. Ayn Rand's observations,
formed as they were over a few decades during the early and middle
portion of the Twentieth Century, could result in no other view; for
the essential pattern of Western Civilization had been set in motion
more than a millennia earlier, and the "loss" about which she complains
occurred a century before her own birth.
Of course, there is nothing in her observations of 1910-1969 which has not progressed to an even worse status in the subsequent decades,49 and which should not be counted upon to get even worse, and later still worse, at least until such time as we find a way to infuse a new Cultural "soul" into a significantly large group of human beings. The cultural myopia in her views derives from the narrowness of her time frame. Her apparent belief that there may be some way to "fix" Western Civilization derives from a very fundamental misunderstanding of the process of civilization, such as that defined by Spengler.
Much later in the above-quoted book, Ayn Rand sums up her view of what the goals of fiction ought to be: to display an idealistic but achievable end-goal for what mankind ought to be. From page 169:
"Why must fiction represent things `as they might be and ought to be'?
"My answer is contained in one statement of Atlas Shrugged - and in the implications of that statement: `As man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul.'50
"Just as man's physical survival depends on his own effort, so does his psychological survival. Man faces two corollary, interdependent fields of action in which a constant exercise of choice and a constant creative process are demanded of him: the world around him and his own soul (by `soul,' I mean his consciousness51). Just as he has to produce the material values he needs to sustain his life, so he has to acquire the values of character that enable him to sustain it and that make his life worth living. He is born without the knowledge of either. He has to discover both - and translate them into reality - and survive by shaping the world and himself in the image of his values.
"Growing from a common root, which is philosophy, man's knowledge branches out in two directions. One branch studies the physical world or the phenomena pertaining to man's physical existence; the other studies man or the phenomena pertaining to his consciousness.52 The first leads to abstract science, which leads to applied science or engineering, which leads to technology - to the actual production of material values. The second leads to art.53
"Art is the technology of the soul.54
"Art is the product of three philosophical disciplines: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics. Metaphysics and epistemology are the abstract base of ethics. Ethics is the applied science that defines a code of values to guide man's choices and actions - the choices and actions which determine the course of his life; ethics is the engineering that provides the principles and blueprints. Art creates the final product. It builds the model.
"Let me stress this analogy: art does not teach - it shows, it displays the full, concretized reality of the final goal. Teaching is the task of ethics. Teaching is not the purpose of an art work, any more than it is the purpose of an airplane. Just as one can learn a great deal from an airplane by studying it or taking it apart, so one can learn a great deal from an art work - about the nature of man, of his soul, of his existence. But these are merely fringe benefits. The primary purpose of an airplane is not to teach man how to fly, but to give him the actual experience of flying. So is the primary purpose of an art work.
"Although the representation of things `as they might be and ought to be' helps man to achieve these things in real life, this is only a secondary value. The primary value is that it gives him the experience of living in a world where things are as they ought to be. This experience is of crucial importance to him; it is his psychological lifeline."
implication of the foregoing bears upon the ongoing debate over whether
the depictions of evil promote the performance of evil. If "living in a
world where things are as they ought to be" is an essential
experience required to make mankind "sane," then can it not be said
that experiencing life in a world of perversion might just as easily
result in making ourselves "insane?" This becomes some real "food for
thought . . . ."
And, of course, Ayn Rand proceeds through the remainder of the quoted chapter to decry the "sewer" in the "soul" of most contemporary fiction. The import of her remonstrances is a clear yearning for climbing backwards up the slope of decline which was so eloquently outlined by Spengler. With our broader view of reality, we shall attempt to create her desired end result of once again having a high Culture. But we need a millennial time scale in order to measure our progress.
With our fuller perspective, we see also that her selection of Romanticism as an "ideal" Aesthetic is simply a yearning for the values popular during her own youth. In essence, Romanticism is a fashion, and as such the particulars are of no real importance to the Culture. We should not yearn to return to the fashions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries merely because we wish to regain the higher level of Culture which was existent at that time. We should seek our higher Culture without regard to fashion; or to put it another way, we should fashion our own high Culture into whatever fashion seems proper to ourselves.
I also take issue with her assertion that "art does not teach - it shows, it displays the full, concretized reality of the final goal. Teaching is the task of ethics. Teaching is not the purpose of an art work, any more than it is the purpose of an airplane." This statement may only be made correct by either narrowly defining what constitutes "art" as specifically excluding artistic works which are specifically designed to teach, much as certain airplanes are specifically designed to teach the art of flying; or by narrowing the definition of "teach" such that mere artistic portrayals can never be seen as "teaching," but instead the "teaching" must occur through some other process, such as having a third person explain a work of art.
Ayn Rand's assertions are probably more correct for the motionless and visually limited forms of art, such as painting and sculpture. Works of high art in these fields may well be seen as representations of some ultimate truths. But the point of Ayn Rand's assertions was not to discuss those fields, but to instead discuss the import of her own works of fiction: books, plays, movies, etc. For those she held out as her one and only goal: to show things "as they might be and ought to be" if we were to adopt her Philosophy as our one guiding plan for our human society.
I believe that merely showing things "as they might be and ought to be" is far too limiting of a goal for art. Let us recall that the purpose of having a branch of Philosophy which deals with Aesthetics is to create a set of rules which will allow those of us who adhere to a common Philosophy to determine what is "good art," what is "bad art," and where other works of art fall on some scale in between. Thus, I cannot accept the restriction that the only "good art" is that which shows things "as they might be and ought to be."
It has long been a tradition in the story telling arts to ensure that there was a moral to the story. This moral was explicitly designed to teach some aspect of ethics. I could not bring myself to denounce such a work as either "not art" or most certainly "not good art" merely because it explicitly sought to teach.
Similarly, part of our Christian heritage is the concept of redemption from sin. Thus, many stories about this concept begin with some depiction of sin. And yet, we most certainly do not wish to discourage the idea that the malefactor might someday "see the light," repent from their past misdeeds, and then "walk the straight and narrow" by living according to the prevailing rules of our society. Thus, even if we discard much of Christianity in our own Agnostic Church, we will still need to encourage malefactors to modify their behavior before they become so obnoxious to our society as a whole that some serious punishment must be inflicted upon them to "correct" their bad behavior patterns. Accordingly, we might find even the Agnostic Church needs some form of penance and redemption, if for no other reason than "confession is good for the soul."
In any case, I digress too much. The net result of this is my personal belief that "good art" is not merely that which depicts things "as they might be and ought to be," as Ayn Rand asserts, but instead, "good art" is "any representation, in any media, which either depicts, or encourages people towards the attainment of, a more perfect philosophical existence for mankind."
Adopting such a standard for our Aesthetics would not really alter any of the value judgments expressed by Ayn Rand when she decried the degradation of art in the twentieth century. Of course, having studied Spengler, we now know the reason for that degradation: the death of the soul of Western Culture. The solution to the perceived degradation is to give birth to the soul of a new Culture. It is towards the development of the new Aesthetic values to associate with this new Cultural soul that this work is pointed. I see no need to adopt a more restrictive definition of what constitutes "good art," so in the end, I must depart from Ayn Rand's values and adopt a more expansive definition of "good art," which is in line with my own philosophical reasoning. This definition adds exhortation towards perfection as being within the province of "good art," in addition to depictions of that perfection. After all, the essence of art is inspiration, and thus how could we NOT acknowledge as "good art" those works which inspire us towards achievement of perfection, not merely depicting that perfection?
46 The thought apparently originates with Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), in Essays: Second Series (1844), Politics, he says: "The less government we have, the better - the fewer laws, and the less confided power."
47 Ayn Rand came to the United States in 1926 at age 21 after being born and raised in Russia.
48 It would be well to remember Spengler's assertion that the age of Napoleon marked the death of Western Culture (based upon the soul of mankind) and the birth of Western Civilization (based upon the intellect of mankind). Here, Ayn Rand asserts her personal experience of "the last afterglow" of Western Culture, and her view of its ongoing death in the Twentieth Century.
49 For example, what tiny percentage of school children even read anything by Victor Hugo in the schools of today? Of course, Romanticism is out of fashion in the great here-and-now.
50 This is simply another way of putting my own assertion: mankind chooses the destiny of itself.
51 I do not care for the word "consciousness" as Ayn Rand uses it in this text. I wish to preserve the dichotomy of Spengler between the "soul" and the "intellect," which is also the dichotomy of "Culture" and "Civilization." Since our modern usage tends to equate "consciousness" with both "soul" and "intellect," it seems far better to me to stick to "soul" wherever Ayn Rand uses the longer word, "consciousness."
52 Again, I prefer "soul," as in Cultural "soul."
53 By "art" I believe she means all forms of art, although she concentrates most on her own form of art: written fiction.
54 This is probably the best summing up phrase for the subject of Aesthetics which I could ever conceive of, and the main reason for my praise of Ayn Rand's views on Aesthetics.
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