Category: History

Objectively analyzing Rand

Ayn RandHoward Roark was an idiot.

He represented himself in a court of law, fulfilling the old proverb, “A man who represents himself in a court of law has a fool for a client.”

He sat there at the defense table while a coalition of accusers bent on destroying his career testified against him. He never cross-examined. He never defended himself. He was thus found liable in a civil suit that cost him everything.

In the book, The Fountainhead, Roark was an architect who rejected long revered traditions and cultural influences, and designed buildings based on what was practical.  He cared less for critical acclaim, and more for producing a product that served his clients well. Those who commissioned his buildings were well pleased, even if their friends belittled their choices. Those who hated him aimed to destroy him.

Such was the set-up for the lawsuit that wiped Roark out in the middle of the book. A religious enthusiast contracted with Roark to build a temple for all religions. Roark initially refused, being an atheist, but relented at the insistence of the buyer, who was put up to it by an altruistic leader in New York.

Roark designed a temple that looked nothing like the classic temples of the ancient world, neither did it look like a church. The client was unhappy, and sued.

If I were Roark’s attorney, I would have argued that the buyer was warned the temple would not look like any temple ever built, that Roark was given total creative freedom, and that the services requested were delivered on time. If I were Roark’s attorney, I would have won that case. And I don’t even have a law degree.

Following Roark’s legal demise, his girlfriend marries another man, and Roark vows to wait until she leaves her new husband and returns to him. At this point of the book, I had to call “bullcorn!”

The Fountainhead is one of the definitive books of 20th century America. Written by noted philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead has inspired many successful Americans. Mark Cuban, an entrepreneurial maverick, says he reads it for inspiration. Cuban built his fortune online, founding and eventually selling Broadcast.com. He owns several other companies, and gained his biggest notoriety as owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team.

You can see a lot of Roark’s character in the way Cuban runs the Mavericks. From his battles with the NBA commissioner, to his taunting referees from the sideline, to his multiple attempts to incorporate Dennis Rodman into the roster, Cuban has lived up to his team’s name.

Still, Cuban fights. Roark surrenders.

In addition to the adventure of a maverick architect, The Fountainhead offers legal drama, romantic drama, irony and the occasional laugh. At face value, the book is a good read, and is the favorite of a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. The problem is, the book was not written to entertain us.

The Fountainhead is Ayn Rand’s philosophical manifesto written in novel form. The entire work was written to propose, explain and promote her political philosophy of “Objectivism.” With Roark being the embodiment of Objectivism, it comes as no surprise that his character has no soul.

Roark has no passion beyond his designs. He has no passion for his girlfriend. He has no passion to defend his practice in court. He pours his heart into his work, then offers it on a “take it or leave it” basis without passionately advocating for it. He just exists, an odd colored flower in the garden of New York.

Ironically, his lack of soul exposes the fallacy of Objectivism.

Boiled down to one sentence, Objectivism is the belief in that which can be verified through tangible means. It removes the aspects of faith and morals, and evaluates everything through the lense of what reality can be verified, what works, and what does not.

As a result, Objectivism promotes selfishness, individualism, to an extent, libertarianism, and social liberalism. And while Objectivism is very strong on individual rights (of which I strongly support), it falls short in that it denies the one thing that sets man apart from the rest of creation, his spirituality.

As such, when Objectivism was captured in one fictional character, that character turned out hollow. He had no soul. (Not that he didn’t have a soul, which he didn’t, he was fictional, but he didn’t have soul. There was nothing to him.)

In promoting her philosophy of Objectivism, Rand often discussed “the virtue of selfishness.” This virtue was lauded for its harmony with human nature. In order for there to be true harmony, each individual can only be expected to act in his own self-interest. Expecting an individual to act against his best interest is immoral, as is the individual who does not act in his own best interest.

Not only does this teaching run contrary to scripture, it denies man’s spiritual nature, and ignores American history.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote about the natural law, the inherent sense of right and wrong that is present in each individual. Whether that individual believed in God or not, that individual had a concept of right and wrong. We may argue about family values, and what does or does not constitute marriage, but we all agree that a man should commit himself to his wife, and that a man is not to just take whatever woman he pleases.

We may argue about what constitutes stealing, and what does not, but we all agree that it is wrong to go into your neighbor’s house and take his television. This is what Lewis referred to as “The Natural Law.” Of course, when he wrote about “The Natural Law,” Lewis was obviously referring to Romans 2, which says that when men who do not have God’s law, do by nature the things contained in God’s law, men become a law unto themselves.

And that natural law defines morality, and that law tells us that only doing what’s in our own best interest is not moral. When we follow such a lifestyle, the Holy Spirit convicts us and we have a guilty conscience. Objectivism denies that our conscience even exists. Objectivism has no soul.

Furthermore, if Objectivism were the pre-eminent philosophy of the day, America would fall. In his essay, Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about the role the Christian faith played in American society. De Tocqueville wrote that without faith, democracy would falter, because individuals only acting in their own self interests would tear the society apart. With the Christian faith, individuals felt responsible to contribute to society. Thus they did, and thus democracy works in America.

It was a sentiment also expressed by John Adams, who said that the Constitution was written for a moral and religious people, and that it was wholly inadequate to govern any other.

In addition to Objectivism not working for the afore-mentioned reasons, it will not work because it denies the Spirituality of man. We all are embedded with that natural law, and when it has been violated against us, we feel the hurt. Man cannot be expected to turn off his Spirituality. It doesn’t work.

So, while I applaud Rand’s efforts to stand up for individual rights, we must be careful not to blindly follow her entire philosophy. It goes against human nature, denies reality, and therefore can never work.

The generation that saved the world

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The World War II Memorial in Washington, DC

Today is VE Day, the day we commemorate the victory in Europe in World War II. I was blessed to take part in a VE Day observance ceremony in Brownwood, Tex., where the emcee noted that Brown County lost a local resident every week for the duration of the war.

The site of today’s observance, the Central Texas Veterans Memorial, stands where the Camp Bowie headquarters once stood. During World War II, Camp Bowie was the largest military training facility in North America. It was once home to the 36th Infantry Division.

Looking beyond the speaker, between the granite monuments bearing the names of Brown County natives killed in World War II, I could see across the valley that was once Camp Bowie. The area is now occupied by manufacturing facilities, baseball fields, recreational facilities, homes, schools, and Brownwood’s iconic football stadium.

I imagined the sight of soldiers marching in formation, military vehicles zipping along the base roads, ordinance being fired in live fire exercises, and planes taking off from the base’s runways. In that moment, I thought back to what life must have been like in 1942.

We often honor “The Greatest Generation,” the generation that fought World War II. Everyone sacrificed to save our country and our freedom, from the soldier who went to the front lines, to the manufacturer who converted his factory to make military equipment, to the civilian who bought war bonds, to the wife and mother who went to work to manufacture the tools needed to fight the war, to the parents who saw their sons shipped off on trains and buses, bound for duty stations before deployment, to the kids who collected metal and glass to donate to the war effort. Everyone sacrificed. Everyone contributed. Indeed, the Greatest Generation is worthy of our honor.

What separates the Greatest Generation from current generations, though, is not so much what they did, but what they faced, and how they overcame.

When our troops go to war today, we worry about casualty rates, and further implications of the war. Today when we go to war, we generally don’t fear losing our country. Yet, in World War II, we faced an enemy that we believed to be as strong, if not stronger than we were. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, our Pacific fleet was wiped out, and many military analysts said that if Japan had landed on our West Coast, they’d have reached St. Louis before we could have stopped them.

Germany was just as formidable of a foe. In the years leading up to the war, Germany paraded their technological advancements. At the outset of the war, we had a lot of ground to make up, which we ultimately did.

When America was drawn into the war, we didn’t face the loss of overseas resources, and we weren’t merely stepping in to help our allies. We faced the loss of our country, and by extension, the loss of our freedom. We had to act.

Faced with a challenge not seen since the Civil War, Americans willingly and wholeheartedly gave everything they had to protect our country, and to defend and build our way of life. The spirit of the American soldier, worker, mother, farmer and school child propelled the nation to victory, and a new, better world was birthed.

In the years since, we’ve had our moments of fear, but we’ve never been in peril. We’ve enjoyed nearly three quarters of a century of peace and prosperity, and it’s all because a generation rose up, met the challenge that was placed in front of them, and fought for their lives, and the lives of their children.

For that, we are truly blessed, and I am truly thankful. Take a moment, and reflect on how blessed we are, and remember the sacrifices it took to bring this blessedness to us. Then, thank a veteran.

For those who remember World War II, thank you for rising up. Your generation epitomizes the old proverb, “A society grows great when old men plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.”