In this 2007 interview by Sara Pentz in The New Individualist (link above), Ms. Enright explains fundamentals of excellent education, the ingenious ways the Montessori Method gives students what they need, how we arrived at the dismal state of education we have today, the dire effects of Post Modernist influence on education, and how she is bringing the Montessori approach to higher education.
by Rachel Davison
Oak Farm Montessori School
and Marsha Familaro Enright*
The Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute
Teaching Freedom Illustrations
Free Enterprise educators are urged to examine their educational principles and align their classroom practice with their advocacy of liberty by providing a classroom environment that develops the virtues as well as the ideas needed to live in liberty. Such pedagogy has a direct benefit to the educator. When freedom and autonomy are directly experienced, students become more engaged, interested, and enthusiastic learners and more often adopt the ideas and values of liberty. Combining empirical evidence from Socratic practice and Montessori education with research on development and optimal learning, the authors suggest ways to create such a classroom culture.
“To consider the school as the place where instruction is given is one point of view. But to consider the school as a preparation for life is another. In the latter case, the school
must satisfy all the needs of life. ”
Maria Montessori (1994, p. 5)
I. Schooling Versus Autonomy
When we think of free societies, we often think of industry, free markets and minimal government. But real freedom starts within, with self-understanding, self-responsibility, self-direction, determination, and a nimble ability to adapt to life’s challenges.
If young people are schooled in the facts about the overwhelming advantages of a free society, and how to reason well about them, and they study the full range of great ideas, the likelihood that they will be convinced of the ideas underpinning a free society goes up greatly because the facts are on the side of freedom.
Yet, it’s one thing to be lectured to about liberty and the virtues needed for it; it’s another to know how to act in freedom. It’s valuable to know the ideas of liberty, but can you apply them in your life? Where do you learn how? As Aristotle said: “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” (Book II, Chapter 1)
It’s one thing to believe in the ideas abstractly; it’s another to experience what such a society would be like—and to be motivated to achieve it.
To build a free world, we need people at many levels of society and in many areas—
business, the trades, the arts, medicine, journalists, as well as intellectuals and professors—with the ideas, values, and habits friendly to liberty. This is where a sound, liberal education is essential.
With history as the measure, it’s clear that free society advocates don’t need to be a majority to significantly change the culture. But they need to be a significant, knowledgeable, and active minority. Such a minority made the progress towards full freedom and individual rights possible in Britain; such a minority in the American Colonies was instrumental in achieving independence from Britain.
Unlike the American Colonists, none of us has been raised in a highly self-reliant society of the Enlightenment Era—did we have the chance to develop the habits needed to embody its values? To act in our families, among our friends, in our towns and cities, the way a free person should act? To have the skills and force of personality to implement the changes needed to make our lives better and freer, whatever our professions, associations and interests?
Educators familiar with the facts, history, and ideas of free societies and spontaneous order understand the value of dispersed and localized knowledge and the prosperity and flourishing that results from individuals peacefully collaborating as trading partners.
What they might not have considered is the way in which the classroom is a micro-society in which students learn how to behave in the larger world and whether their classrooms reflect the social relationships, the virtues, and the psychological conditions that sustain and advance the behavior of free people. Educators have the opportunity to craft an experience in which students learn how to behave as self-reliant, independent, self-responsible individuals.
The modern classroom, from grade school to graduate school, relies heavily on a structure of a single arbiter of knowledge, often in the position of lecturer, discussion leader, knowledge authority, and director of learning. Directed group lessons in traditional grade school and lectures in higher education are favored methodologies of the traditional method of education.
The teaching paradigm encourages an authority to convey the “right” answers to the waiting student-receptacles. Yet, this top-down environment is counter-productive to conveying the ideas, values, and virtues of a free society.
In the traditional teaching model, students are considered passive empty vessels, to be filled with knowledge by the academic authority, rather than active agents in their own learning.
This model is a legacy of the movement to economically mass-educate the populace and is literally based on factory organization, i.e. everyone doing the same thing at the same time for mass production.
How is a young person supposed to learn to be an autonomous individual if he or she is being treated like an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge? What opportunities are students give to learn and practice the skills of a self-reliant, independent, and self-responsible individual?
If we are aiming to foster a society driven by free enterprise, shouldn’t the pedagogy of our classrooms align with those values?
Traditionally, “learning” is measured by the amount of information the instructor has offered which the student is able to reiterate on tests and in papers. How does the instructor know if real understanding has been achieved? Whether the student has deeply incorporated the instructor’s information and ideas into his or her thinking? Whether the student can use this information in his or her life?
Consider the psychological effects of the traditional methods of teaching in which:
- The teacher is the repository of truth.
- The student is taught one line of reasoning given in the lecture or presentation.
- The student is the receiver, not initiator of learning.
In this paradigm:
How does the student learn how to arrive at truth himself?
How does the student learn that there are multiple ways of approaching a problem?
How does the student learn to find subjects of interest to himself, individually, and know how to go about the process of learning new material?
If students have no skills in these processes, how can they grow into autonomous individuals, arriving at their own conclusions and navigating all the choices and opportunities which freedom presents?
“‘Autonomy’ suggests, strictly speaking, that one gives or has given laws to oneself; that one is self-governing; that in essentials one obeys one’s own imperatives.” (Kaufmann, 1980,15).
The conditions of freedom cannot be consistently and sufficiently conveyed in a traditional, lecture-based environment because it does not provide the individual with opportunities to learn how to be a free, autonomous person.
Advocates of reason and freedom understand that the mind cannot be forced to accept truth. Nor does the social pressure of authority or peers result in a real understanding of truth, and certainly not the first-hand comprehension and autonomy of the innovator. Neither does a top-down environment cultivate an independent person’s ability to fight for his or her individual freedom.
To acquire truth, each person must observe and reflect on facts for him- or herself. Each person must compare and contrast, analyze and synthesize those facts, for him- or herself. Each person develops ideas, from those facts within him- or herself. Each person must integrate one set of facts with another, one set of ideas with another, for him- or herself. This is the only way to arrive at truth, since an understanding of truth cannot be transferred directly from one mind to another.
If a classroom structure can serve as the sandbox in which to practice how to live as a free person, then the independence of rational inquiry and the development of rational judgment, need to be incorporated into that sandbox.
Advocates of a free society understand the value and power of the dispersed and localized knowledge of the individual within the structure of a market, the creativity it unleashes and the flourishing that results. In turn, the micro-society of a classroom structure that endeavors to encourage the exchange of ideas between individuals, while still incorporating the guidance and expertise of the educator, mirrors the creative process of the market. This is impossible in a strictly lecture structure, and difficult in many discussion structures.
Free society educators can endeavor to construct a classroom structure parallel to a market with a productive exchange of ideas between individuals, while still incorporating the guidance and expertise of the educator.
Such a classroom offers the student the opportunity to develop and practice the skills of rational independence, creative thinking, collaborative exchange, honesty, objectivity, justice, and honor—all skills and virtues valuable and necessary in a free society.
II. The Principled Pedagogy of Freedom
“The greatest [obstacle for] an attempt to give freedom to the child and to bring its powers to light does not lie in finding a form of education which realizes these aims. It lies rather in overcoming the prejudices which the adult has formed in this regard.”
Maria Montessori (1955, p.48)
Developmental and cognitive research, plus over 100 years of experience using the Montessori philosophy of education argues that optimal learning occurs through freedom within a structured environment, where the following conditions are present (Lillard, 2005, passim):
- The instructor is informed about and alert to the developmental needs of the young adult student,
- Questions are actively encouraged by classroom methodology,
- Instructor’s activities are modified based on the interests of the students, within the limits of the studied material,
- Activities are crafted with optimal learning conditions in mind, ones that engage the needs, attentions, and interests of young adults.
Methodologies rooted in the Montessori educational philosophy encourage individualism and self-reliance, foster individual development, unfettered creative discovery, exploration, and integration of newideas. In support of this claim, researchers have recently identified the unusual number of highly creative people who were Montessori students (Sims, 2011).
Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, French cooking evangelist Julia Child, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos are among the many unusually creative and capable people with a Montessori background. Some insist this type of education was instrumental in their radical creativity.
For example, Brin and Page have identified the individually-driven exploration of the Montessori classrooms as a major source of their willingness to try new things and think out of the box again and again. (Goodwin, 2012)
The environment created in a Montessori classroom relates to the well-known facts of spontaneous order: The discovery of truth, the correct identification of life-supporting facts, is not a centralized, top-down procedure. Instead, it results from a complex process of discovery and argument, demonstrated through the history of thought and the progress of civilization.
Socratic practice, short lesson-lectures and self-selected research projects are examples of classroom strategies for higher education which encourage individual autonomy and contribute to fostering attitudes that are receptive to the complex ideas of freedom.
III. Specialized Discussion Methods and Individualism
“Discipline must come through liberty. . . . We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.” Maria Montessori (1912, p. 86)
The classroom is a micro-society in which the social order emerges through the exchange of ideas and values, explicit and implicit, and from the way in which participants interact with each other according to the discussion principles.
The term “Socratic Seminar” is used variously. We are using it here to mean a very particular discussion format and methodology in which students are engaged in examining, analyzing, and discussing the material themselves, first-hand. They are synthesizing the information themselves, rather than having it handed to them. It is an active learning environment. Michael Strong’s book, The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice well describes this particular methodology and its benefits.
Socratic Practice harnesses important and powerful social-psychological elements that encourage a freedom-oriented classroom culture while increasing learning. It is a process of collaborative inquiry which develops fact-based reasoning, objectivity, listening skills, and team work for problem-solving.
Seminars run by the principles of Socratic Practice function as a market of ideas, where reason, combined with the invisible hand of individual self-interest, results in greater knowledge, reasoning, and social skills for all. As a collaborative learning experience, it taps into all the advantages of learning by imitation; it’s an opportunity to see multiple ways to reason on the same materials. Research by the Jasper Project on Cognition and Learning at Vanderbilt University shows meaningful group problem-solving results in superior learning (Jasper Project, 2000).
“One particular thing that I learned at Queen’s [College]—both from faculty and students—was how to work collaboratively with smart people and make use of the Socratic method to achieve commonality of purpose.” Billionaire founder of Paypal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors, Elon Musk
This method requires each participant to focus on what exactly is said in the text, and what can be surmised from it; the instructor guides the discussion with incisive questions and by requiring the participants to stick to the facts of the work when arguing their opinions.
- All opinions must be grounded by reference to the work studied, developing the habit of fact-based judgment and objectivity.
- The teacher acts as a facilitator, encouraging the students to use their own minds to find the meaning of the text; the teacher does not act as an authority on the text. The best reasoning is the highest authority.
- The teacher demonstrates and encourages questions and thinking in different ways when approaching the material. The points of view and questions of the different participants demonstrate how material can be approached in a variety of ways. This outcome encourages creativity by illustrating many ways to reason about the same issue. Consequently, not only excellent deductive reasoning, but creative, inductive reasoning is encouraged.
- Participants effectively trade their knowledge and skills by example.
These elements work together to strengthen student reasoning skills and instantiate the value of individual differences. Displays of inordinate knowledge about a subject are irrelevant and discouraged because each discussion member cannot verify them. This reduces non-productive jostling for social position. Reason’s authority is the great equalizer and students come to appreciate each other as helpers in their learning. This results in a psychologically safe environment, which encourages exploration and creativity.
At the end of every Socratic seminar, the instructor guides a “debrief,” a self-reflective discussion in which each participant comments on what went well and what could be improved. The beneficial effects are:
- Significant improvement in the discussions from one session to the next by raising conscious awareness about participant actions and interactions,
- Participants learn to be equally responsible for the quality of the inquiry,
- A culture of equality among peers is established, including the instructor; the instructor and other participants values each individual’s thoughts and reactions, while the best reasoning remains the highest authority; Mastery Learning research on how individuals acquire mastery in knowledge and skills found that the attitude of the teacher seriously affects the students self-image and motivation, (Dweck, 1999, passim),
- The validation of the person of each individual because each person’s participation with rational arguments adds value for the other participants,
- The encouragement of the habit of taking responsibility, giving validation to the virtues of others, and working together in a rational way.
The discussions improve radically from one session to another because of the awareness generated by the debrief, and the expectation of achievement and cooperation. These methods benefit from the strengths of peer-learning and exchange (Brown, et al., 1989, Orr, 1987).
In Socratic Practice, the teacher uses his or her expertise to craft the entire environment of the class:
- Every participant sits in a circle facing all the others as equal intellectual explorers.
- The room is well-lit and comfortable to enhance concentration.
- No phones or outside distractions are allowed.
- Works are chosen and taught in a purposeful order, so that students can discover their meaning and connections themselves and find joy in doing so. They are invited to engage with the material rather than passively receive it.
- Focus is on paying attention to the deepest meaning of the works studied and each other through questions of clarification, i.e. what does the other person mean?
- Solid evidence and reasoning are required for all opinions.
- The instructor takes a limited role and gives feedback in a way that is kind, but honest, encouraging student awareness of each other, and cooperation through self-moderated exchange.
- Students are encouraged and enlightened as to how to respectfully listen by the instructor’s sincere attempts to hear and understand what the other is saying, before replying.
- Students are responsible for their own contributions and encourage contributions from others.
- Reflection at the end of the discussion about what went well in the discussion and what can be improved generates a high level of self-awareness and self-generated improvement in learning from session to session.
Csikszentmihalyi’s research on Flow, the psychology of optimal experience, shows that attention is the most limited cognitive resource (Csikszentmihalyi, 1991). But it’s husbanded very well in this type of seminar.
- Every person’s reasoned contribution is valued; being active makes it easier to pay attention,
- The specially selected texts are of deep interest about issues of importance; this makes it highly motivating to pay attention to the discussion.
These skills are enormously practical: a 2014 study by Association of American Colleges and Universities and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems analyzing Census Bureau data of 3 million U.S. residents found “the overwhelming majority of employers are desperate to hire graduates who have a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems.” (Samuelson, 2014)
Lastly, students report that these seminars require the best of them; their best thinking, behavior, and awareness of others.
“You see how much value you have to offer and to add to your own thinking. It’s not a zero sum game like in traditional education where you’re trying to compete with each other and there’s one answer. It’s not “the right answer”; it’s better and better answers. Everyone’s building a mosaic of truth together. We all study one text but there many objective truths in it, you’re benefiting from hearing all these different ways to understand things objectively and truly. And you realize you have something to contribute. It doesn’t have to be the perfect thing, but together it fits with what other people are saying.” – Michael Natividad, junior, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
“Be careful not to ask [your] questions of the [students]. Only when [students] seek to answer questions which they themselves ask, do they commit themselves to the hard work of finding answers that are meaningful to them…give only as much guidance and encouragement as is necessary to elicit the [students’] interest.” Maria Montessori (1937, p. 26)
“Comparing this method to the regular educational system, this unavoidable feeling of frustration comes up: Why, with such a fantastic method, isn’t there a change? The passion in learning that everybody had is proof of this seminar’s effectiveness.” Tobias Mihura, junior, Clarin High School, Buenos Aires
The authors are sure they have not communicated all the ways in which teachers of free enterprise can encourage the values of a free society in the classroom micro-society. We welcome suggestions and wish to learn from the skills of others. But we urge such teachers to reflect on what kind of habits they are encouraging in their students. We hope that we have triggered reflection on how to develop the virtues needed for freedom.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, Chapter 1, Moral Virtue http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.2.ii.html
Brown, J.S., Collins. A. & Dugid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, Jan/Feb, 21-42.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihalyi. 1991. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Perennial.
Dweck, C.S. (1999).Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Philadelphia: Psychology Press/Tarylor & Francis.
Goodwin, Danny. August 31, 2012. “Maria Montessori Google Doodle: How Montessori Education ‘Programmed’ Google’s Founders.” Search Engine Watch.
Jasper Project on Cognition and Learning. 2000. Vanderbilt University.
Kaufmann, Walter. 1980. Discovering the Mind. New York: McGraw Hill.
Lillard, Angeline. 2005. Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Montessori, Maria, translated by Anne Everett George. 1912. The Montessori Method, New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/montessori/method/method-V.html
Montessori, Maria. 1938. The Secret of Childhood. Bombay: Orient Longsman.
Montessori, Maria. 1989 (1955). The Formation of Man. Oxford: Clio Press. http://www.moteaco.com/abcclio/form.html
Montessori, Maria, 1994 (1948). From Childhood to Adolescence. Oxford: Clio Press.
Orr, J. (1987). Talking about Machines. Palo Alto: Xerox PARC.
Samuleson, Scott. March 28, 2014. “Would You Hire Socrates?” The Wall Street Journal.
Sims, Peter. April 5, 2011. “The Montessori Mafia.” The Wall Street Journal.
Strong, Michael. 1997. The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice. Chapel Hill: New View Publications.
Association of American Colleges and Universities. January, 2014. “Liberal Arts Graduates and Employment: Setting the Record Straight.” http://www.aacu.org/leap/documents/nchems.pdf
Ms. Enright would like to thank Rachel Davison for initiating the idea of the presentation leading to this paper as well as for her lovely work on the presentation, and K.R. for his encouragement and help with the ideas and vision.
Originally published at the conference site of the Association of Private Enterprise Educators. http://www.etnpconferences.net/apee/apee2014/User/Program.php?TimeSlot=12
|By Marsha Enright|
Winter 2010 — If you’re familiar with two- to five-year-old children, then you understand what Aristotle meant when he said “All men, by nature, desire to know.” Very little will stop the young child from exploring the world and trying to learn—sometimes to the exasperation of parents!
The young child who turns into the restlessly eager-to-learn, -to create, -to achieve adult is the fountainhead of human progress. Michelangelo, Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Ayn Rand, Craig Venter, Steve Jobs—these are the people that never lost their two year old’s passionate, internally-generated drive to know and, consequently, change the world.
This is the state-of-mind which education in a Good Society would strive to achieve. These are the type of people who made Renaissance Florence, Enlightenment England, Revolutionary America, and our technology-abundant current culture possible. By nurturing this state of mind, the Good Society would create a self-perpetuating future of rational ideas, science, technology, liberty, and inspiring art in the renaissance of a New Enlightenment.
Before describing the shape of that education, let’s consider what kind of cultural backdrop would support that state of mind.
Upward Striving: The Essence of the New Enlightenment Culture
Reason, achievement, and liberty would be commonly accepted values and revered openly: ironically, this is not as different from today as we might think, but it would be much more consistent, well-justified, and widespread. Achievement in all fields would be honored much more uniformly and that of entrepreneurs and good businesses would be praised often on the nightly news. Capitalism would be celebrated as a boon to mankind.
Unlike today, these three values would be understood as an integrated whole, valued in all endeavors, from poetry to politics. Heroes of reason, liberty, and achievement would be widespread role models, rather than confined to comic books as freaks with supernatural powers. Only a shrinking minority would revere rap stars or leftist academics, like those who strategized the Chicago Way to the White House.
All excellent work would be honored. Individuals would feel proud of whatever they deservedly achieved, whether as a janitor or a jazz violinist. Schools would cater to vastly different educational needs; some for the academic life, some the artistic, some the trades, some for business, athletics, or the military—any productive area of human endeavor. A culture of creativity would surround the developing child.
All education would be private, mostly supported by tuition income with help from a vast array of private philanthropy. Responsibility for educating children would fall clearly to the parents. It would be the norm for parents to value individualism and independence in their progeny. Most parents would know that they should practice objectivity and forbearance in regard to their children. Their responsibility as nurturers would be to help the child develop into an achieving individual, passionate about his work, whatever that might be. Constant, upward striving, i.e. real progress, would be the bellwether of such a society.
(For a taste of these attitudes, read the novels of the early 20th century author Henry Kitchell Webster, such as Calumet K, The King of Khaki,and The Thoroughbred, recently available in paperback.)
Rather than “give my child everything so they won’t have to work as hard as I did,” parents would teach their child the joy of responsibility and work, like Frank Hanna’s father, the investment banker featured in The Acton Institute’s documentary The Call of the Entrepreneur. Instead of taking his two sons to Little League, Frank’s father provided opportunities for the boys to work at various family businesses. This gave the boys the experience of achievement and a taste of making money from it, plus the analytic knowledge to understand how businesses work. After a brief stint as a lawyer, Frank joined his brother in opening their own investment banking firm, reveling in the joy of finding great businesses to capitalize.
Those families with massive wealth would impart the responsibility of wealth and the ethic of achievement to their progeny. Rather than becoming dissolute ne’er-do-wells who don’t know how to live up to the previous generation, such heirs would find their passion and use their wealth to achieve it. Those in the family interested in the family business would become thoughtful stewards of the wealth, like Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged, adding to the family’s achievements. I saw a current example on the TV show Undercover Boss in which Dave Rife, head of family-owned White Castle Corporation, expressed his desire to make his grandfather proud by improving the corporation the grandfather started.
To develop flourishing individuals, education would have to be based on the science of fundamental biological and psychological needs. These principles would call for the development of skills such as the habits of first-hand observation and excellent reasoning which enable objective judgment, so important for knowing what is exactly true in order to achieve success. Skill in creativity is equally important in solving problems and finding new solutions in all aspects of life. Further the integration of mind and body, including a great deal of self-knowledge, is crucial to effective functioning and happiness. The ability to effectively interact with other people is also essential to achieving happiness in home and work life. Finally, it’s almost impossible to live well without the ability to effectively put thought into action. These are some of the needs and abilities—important to a well-lived life—which would be nurtured in a great education.
Furthermore, the people who would implement this approach would be committed to individualism. This means that although teachers, parents, and administrators would recognize that there are universal human needs, they would also realize that individuals vary greatly in the particular way they develop and must have their needs met distinctively. For example, a gregarious child must work hard to develop his independence, while an introverted child not interested in or sensitive to others might need to learn more social awareness to work most effectively in the market.
Schooldays in the Good Society
Well, that’s great you say—but what would a school actually look like in a better future?
For one thing, it would not look much like the average grade to graduate schools of today, which are more often factory-like warehouses than exciting, attractive environments in which to explore the world and oneself.
Students would not be confined to the classroom.
Market competition would provide a plethora of choices, one school building more beautiful and luxurious than the next, even for the most inexpensive schools. If you doubt it, just think of how much more attractive Dunkin’ Donuts stores have become since the spread of Starbucks. The buildings would be well-integrated into natural landscapes or cleverly designed in highly urban environments to keep children in touch with nature and natural opportunities to observe and experiment. The layout would make it easier to make physical activity—the connection between body and mind—a regular part of the day.
The typical school in the Good Society would have classrooms filled with beautiful learning materials which would appeal to the students’ senses and would involve movement, shape, and color to cement concepts in memory. These materials would concretize the concepts and information students need while absorbing their attention effortlessly and appealing to their interests.
Each day, students would choose their work from an array of challenging materials from most knowledge areas. Students of several ages would attend the same classroom, providing an environment more representative of adult life than traditional schools, and giving students an opportunity to learn from each other and practice their mastery of knowledge by instructing other students.
Students as young as toddlers might work with others, but they wouldn’t have to. The result? Many would love to work together, giving students the experience of freedom of association and practice in teamwork. Part of the curriculum should consist of instruction in important social skills, from the appropriate way to blow one’s nose to how to express anger to a classmate in a productive fashion. This way of working readies students for a social life in which they can express and enjoy their individuality in a civil manner.
Excited conversation would take place throughout the classroom, as students share in their discoveries and ideas. The environment would be strategically arranged to allow the student freedom to move, work, make many choices throughout the day, and get feedback from reality about the success and the appropriateness of behavior.
Learning materials could be used for multiple problems; once the basic function of the material is mastered, students can discover their own problems and solutions, thereby encouraging creativity.
As befitting a society that values productiveness and rejects the separation of theory and practice, practical knowledge would be highly esteemed in the Good Society. From the age of three, students would have practical responsibilities for shared school property, returning materials to their place for use by the next student, cleaning up after themselves, feeding animals, or greeting visitors. At the upper levels of education, young adolescents would engage in real work, such as growing food, creating saleable products, operating retail businesses, or taking care of farm animals—all integrated with their academic learning. These activities would enable them to explore career opportunities and enjoy the achievement of production and meaningful work during their energetic adolescent years.
Adolescents would study the classics, such as Plato, Aquinas, Bacon, and Shakespeare, for a strong grounding in the liberal arts. The liberal arts would be recognized as essential to a complete education because, by learning philosophy, history, literature, science, mathematics, music, art, and the history of all these subjects, students grasp the way all subjects are related to each other. They also learn what ideas and events created present-day culture. This knowledge would be vital to maintaining a free and just society, because it would help students learn what made freedom and prosperity possible and how to protect it. Furthermore, the liberal arts would provide a broad base of knowledge to each student. This would enable each individual to adapt more easily to market and career changes. Two 20-year studies of top CEOs and scientists substantiate this view. They have found that the vast majority of these high achievers obtain their undergraduate degrees from small liberal arts colleges.
Because knowledge is practical, students would not be confined to the classroom. It would only be the taking-off point for exploring and experiencing the world. Remember Francisco D’Anconia’s education “all over the world” in Atlas Shrugged? On a more limited budget, every child would have such experiences: going out to explore the places in which he lives, learning to shop for himself, camping, and working in local businesses. Their responsibility and independence would grow with their age.
Schools in the Good Society would be motivated to provide the best possible teachers because the inspiring ideas and values in the culture would demand it through market competition. What kind of teachers would be the most effective in aiding a young person’s work to become the best person he or she can be?
Effective teachers would be highly knowledgeable in scientifically proven child psychology and the philosophical principles of a flourishing life. They would be persons of high character and achievement; passionate individuals who love to learn and form excellent role models for students. They would be empathetic and kind, nurturing the young spirit while inspiring it.
Teachers would also be sensitive to the vast differences among individual interests, abilities, and methods of learning. Their role would be to nurture each child into a flourishing adult, whatever form that would take—plumber or physicist, actor or entrepreneur. They would be the child’s advocate and parent educator, helping the parent understand the nature and needs of each individual child.
You may recognize my description of the school in the Good Society as a well-implemented Montessori school.
Like Objectivism, the principles of the Montessori philosophy of education are complex and must be very intelligently understood and practiced in order for their implementation to be consistently successful. I have yet to find anything more excellent for a deep understanding of and fulfillment of the child’s-to-adolescent’s learning needs than a well-implemented and authentically-implemented Montessori school. I believe this philosophy and method of education would be widespread in the Good Society—perhaps its principles would be so well-accepted as to become the common conception of education.
In many respects, the Montessori classroom deeply implements a philosophy of individualism. Yet, the ideas and practices of collectivism often hold sway among many of its teachers, parents, and administrators, undermining the Method’s results. These can be the ideas of radical environmentalism, which mystically values “The Earth” over human life. Or they can be the ideas of altruism which encourage students to dedicate themselves only to charity as the highest of goals. Or they can be an anti-capitalist attitude, which is ignorant of economics and sees all trade as zero-sum.
Rather than these attitudes, the Good Society would encourage a more sensible environmental approach which values clean air and water, and recognizes human time as the scarcest of resources. It would value the creative improvement of human life in whatever form that takes—business, science, art, or charity—and the immeasurable improvements to life possible through free trade.
In the Good Society, the Montessori approach would need to be expanded in various ways, especially to include the values lauded by Ayn Rand, such as an appreciation of capitalistic creativity and achievement.
And that wouldn’t be hard, because the Montessori classroom, materials, and methods already nurture creativity and achievement. Just ask Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, chef Julia Child, and a bevy of other successful entrepreneurs, all of whom were Montessori students. Or ask the thousands of parents and high school teachers who notice the remarkable difference in attitude and action between those of their young people who have attended Montessori schools and those who haven’t. That’s because the Method encourages individual thinking, conceptual development, and an integrated approach to studying subject-matter, while giving the child structured freedom to creatively explore passionate individual interests.
In the Good Society, the Montessori approach would be immeasurably enhanced with the following:
1. Systematic, highly conscious work on reasoning skills;
2. A stronger emphasis on the liberal arts;
3. A study of free market economics and the institutions of liberty;
4. An expansion of the Montessori Method to the college level.
What are some of the ways these changes would be implemented?
1: To develop cognitive skills, the program would have an extra, explicit focus on thinking skills, objective reasoning, and creative thinking, especially for the upper high school or college level. Students would be taught at least these elements of effective thinking, if not more:
• Observation, or paying careful attention to facts and accurately identifying them;
• Inference, or accurately drawing conclusions from information;
• Implication, or accurately drawing a second conclusion from the truth of a first conclusion;
• Induction, or accurately generalizing from knowledge of particular things to general principles;
• Deduction, or accurately identifying specific conclusions from general principles;
• Integration, or making the connections and relationships between thoughts and ideas to a unified body of
• Productive rearrangement of knowledge or creativity;
• Introspection, or the art of effectively identifying the contents and processes of one’s own mind;
• Evaluation or successfully identifying the value for oneself in what is observed and concluded;
• Implementation, or how to successfully use one’s thoughts to achieve one’s ends.
2: Excellent life preparation means being able to participate knowledgeably in civil society—just as the citizens of the early U.S. republic did. Their high rate of excellent literacy made The Federalist Papers the subject of everyday reading and debate; this would be the expected norm in the Good Society. Studying the liberal arts, students would be introduced to important and difficult works such as those of Plato and Aristotle, Bacon, Locke, Bastiat, and Rand at an early age, with intensive study of them in college.
3: Students would learn about the heroes of business and the achievements that made our civilization possible, along with the heroes of science, history, mathematics, and literature. And they would be introduced to the ideas and history of freedom and tyranny early in their school life.
4: Finally, as is done for students at other developmental levels in Montessori schools, the developmental needs of the young adult would be thoroughly considered to craft the teaching methods, setting, activities, and curriculum of college students.
College as it Could and Should Be
So what would college look like? There would be far more exact scientific research and understanding of what human beings need at the college level to develop well, resulting in a plethora of choices. And within an institution, careful scientific observation and experimentation about the best means of learning would be de rigeur, as it is in every authentic Montessori program.
Parents and students would be treated more like customers of a service business.
According to Michael Novak in The Fire of Invention, by 1852 there were more colleges in Ohio than in the whole of Europe. The sharp differences among the more than 4,400 colleges we have today are being dulled by government oversight of policies, curriculum, and finances. Government loans drive affirmative action policies. The accreditation process, which has been required only since the advent of government funding for college, hampers innovation. According to studies done for the Association of College Trustees and Alumni, accreditation does little to assure and excellent education.
Everything would be run more efficiently with little or no bureaucracy—it would instead be actually responsive to customers. Parents and students would be treated more like customers of a service business, every college competing to do the best job possible, instead of leaving students alone to get through a mandated course of study.
The current college system is, basically, a certification program for work or graduate school, i.e., “You’re worth X to your employer.” It results in an odd business structure. Students fail to graduate, or take longer than needed. Five years is the current average, no doubt enabled by low-cost government loans which delay the pain of borrowing money until after graduation. Fifty-seven percent take six years to complete the BA! This breaks down as follows: 60% of whites, 49% of Latinos, and only 40% of African Americans graduate within six years.
It’s ironic that our current culture tolerates such high risk in one of life’s biggest purchases, a college education. Where else do we put up with such results, for so much money? Not at Starbucks. Could you imagine “Sorry, even though you’ve paid, you can’t have your coffee”? Richard Vedder (of the Center for College Affordability and Accountibility) and a variety of economists and researchers attribute this failure to the lack of accountability caused by easily obtained government loans.
In the Good Society, colleges would be free from government interference or help. The higher education market would be a hotbed of competition, as it was in the U.S. up to the last 40-50 years. Many more small colleges would arise to give personalized guidance and service, and allow students to more easily know and be connected to their teachers and other students.
Not as many people would attend college. Many would be interested and skilled in non-academic areas such as crafts, the trades, the arts, and business. Their high school education would be so rich and thorough that they would be knowledgeable citizens without college. Further, non-college-level work would be honored for its excellence and importance in our civilization so that people without a college degree would not feel like second-class citizens as they often do today. There would be no government-generated push for “everyone” to attend college, resulting in the current idiocy of BAs for Construction Management and MBAs necessary to run a McDonald’s. Rather, high school education would be far more challenging and deeper than it is today, and there would be a rise in detailed, targeted technical education post-high school.
At the college level, inexpensive education obtained through online information, lectures, and demonstrations would be bolstered by judiciously chosen, close, in-person relationships with caring tutor/professors. Precious in-person time would be spent on productive discussions and deep conversations about their studies with these tutors and with other students. Tutor/professors would be expert guides to learning, not task masters.
Technology would be used for information delivery and rich simulations through which to practice all kinds of skills, from sports, to governance, to running a business. And it would also enable the use of new tools of evaluation such as Experiential Sampling which is now used in the study of “Flow,” i.e., high performance and optimal experience. Experiential Sampling researches individuals’ real-time experiences, i.e., actions, thoughts, and feelings. It could be used to find out more about professorial effectiveness. New tools of psychological evaluation and growth derived from the discoveries of Martin Seligman and other researchers in the psychology of high functioning, happy individuals would also be used to craft better in-class processes.
Colleges would design work, portfolios, and experiences to show employers and other schools their students’ achievements, instead of depending on unvalidated and inconsistent evaluations by professors not trained in human development or even the rudiments of teaching. Instead, professors would be required to learn the principles of learning and teaching and they would have to regularly train and review teaching methods and curriculum.
Rather than study in cloistered academic settings for years and years, colleges would offer creative and collaborative learning programs with businesses and other work settings as the norm, as well as opportunities at job sites. One current example is the relatively new program at the John M. Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts which requires its students, starting in freshman year, to work in teams on projects.
Ultimately, the education practices of the Good Society would result in an unimaginable outpouring of excellence, energy, and creativity, far beyond even the imagination of science fiction writers. Because these practices nurture the best within each individual, we can foresee a future of amazing technology, higher human fulfillment, and inspiring art. Peace would be widespread, driven by the shared values of reason, individualism, achievement, and freedom. Let us work our mightiest to see such a society in real life.
Marsha Familaro Enright, formerly a psychotherapist, co-founded in 1990 the Council Oak Montessori School (elementary level), of which she is the president and administrator. Enright is currently the president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, and leads development of the College of the United States and its wholly independent scholarship fund. Enright also is a writer for The New Individualist magazine.
Originally published in The New Individualist and at: http://www.atlassociety.org/print/1302
Tom Wolfe, American Iconoclast
by Marsha Familaro Enright
Originally published in The New Individualist, Fall, 2006
Tom Wolfe is one of the most original, honest and unfettered contemporary observers of American culture alive today. Originator of the New Journalism in the ‘60’s, Wolfe’s fiction-like forays in reporting have kept him at the leading edge of insight for decades. And he’s hilarious! He skewers pomp, pretension and preening evenhandedly–and his fellow members of the press are often well-roasted. His originality with language is phenomenal, his psychological insight and depth remarkable. Best of all, his entirely first-hand view of the world always shines through.
Just as Ayn Rand closely observed and essentialized American culture during the first half of the twentieth century, Wolfe studied our culture “in the field” during the second half and beyond. He ranged all over the country: geographically, culturally, artistically, and intellectually. His books offer the reader vivid accounts about the full range of the “American carnival,” from the outrageous car culture of Southern California (“The Kandy-Kolored, Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby “) to demolition derbies (“Clean Fun At Riverhead”), to the inner workings of the ultimate in ‘high’ culture snobbery–the New Yorker editorial offices (“Tiny Mummies!”).
From the ‘60’s onward, he seems to be on a mission to discover what makes American culture such a vast array of paradoxes–and in his later works, he eyes philosophy for answers.
Who is this wild man of journalism and fiction? A hugely popular and prolific author, Wolfe is probably best known for his novelesque account of the NASA space program, The Right Stuff (1975), made into a movie of the same name. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia and educated at Washington and Lee (B.A., 1951) and Yale (Ph.D. American Studies, 1957) universities, Wolfe spent more than ten years as a reporter for such institutions as the Springfield Union, The New York Herald-Tribune, Esquire and The Washington Post. In 1960 as Latin Correspondent at the Post, he won the Washington Newspaper Guild foreign news prize for his coverage of Cuba.
Along with Jimmy Breslin, Wolfe became one of the original staff writers of New York magazine, which had started as the Herald’s Sunday supplement. While on staff there, he began writing articles for Esquire magazine, many of which later formed his first book, The Kandy-Kolored, Kool-Aid Streamline Baby, published in 1965. These essays birthed the new, colorful, dramatic, story-telling style of writing which was later dubbed “The New Journalism.” The methods of this new style changed the face of reporting forever.
If you want a sample of an hilarious piece of journalism about journalism-and insight into Wolfe-read the essay “The New Journalism” in The New Journalism (1975). To begin with, he aptly summarizes his experience in graduate school, which motivated him to become a journalist in order to have exciting real-life experiences:
“I’m not sure I can give you the remotest idea of what graduate school is like. Nobody ever has…Half the people I knew in graduate school were going to write a novel about it…No one ever wrote such a book, as far as I know…the subject always defeated them…Such a novel would be a study of frustration, but a form of frustration so exquisite, so ineffable, nobody could describe it. Try to imagine the worst part of the worst Antonioni movie you ever saw, or reading Mr. Sammler’s Planet at one sitting, or just reading it, or being locked inside a Seaboard Railroad roomette, sixteen miles from Gainesville, Florida, heading north on the Miami-to-New York run with no water and the radiator turning red in an amok psychotic overboil, and George McGovern sitting beside you telling you his philosophy of government. That will give you the general atmosphere.” (The New Journalism, 1975, 16)
He then analyzes what made “The New Journalism” new: harnessing methods of the novel to infuse stories about real people and events with drama, local color and psychological depth. This included describing whole scenes of a person’s life-witnessed directly by the journalist-extended dialogue, and shifting points of view. It required the writer to spend considerable time with subjects, questioning them about their thoughts, feelings and motives. “They had to gather all the material the conventional journalist was after-and then keep going. It seemed all-important to be there when dramatic scenes took place, to get the dialogue, the gestures, the facial expressions, the details of the environment. The idea was to give the full objective description, plus something that readers had always had to go to novels and short stories for: namely, the subjective or emotional life of the characters.” (35)
This required that the reporters have “the moxie to talk their way inside of any milieu, even closed societies, and hang on for dear life.” Writers like George Plimpton trained as an amateur with the Detroit Lions football team and turned it into Paper Lion; Hunter Thompson rode with the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang before almost being stomped to death by them; Gay Talese chronicled boxing great Joe Louis’ life. This new style was in contradistinction to the “century-old British tradition in which it was understood that the narrator shall assume a calm, cultivated and, in fact, genteel voice. The idea was that the narrator’s own voice should be like the off-white or putty-colored walls that Syrie Maugham popularized in interior decoration…a ‘neutral background’ against which bits of color would stand out. Understatement was the thing.” (32)
And distinguish himself from understatement he did. Wolfe’s works became populated with wholly original turns of phrase that are so on-the-mark, many have migrated into our vocabulary. Tom Wolfe invented terms like “the Me Decade;” “the Right stuff,” and “social x-ray,” but according to the biography on his publisher’s website, his personal favorite is a Southern turn of phrase he introduced to the written word–and the national scene-in 1964-“good ‘ol boy.” He also “found a great many pieces of punctuation and typography lying around dormant when I came along-and I must say I had a good time using them. I figured it was time someone violated what Orwell had called ‘the Geneva conventions of the mind’…a protocol that had kept journalism and non-fiction generally (and novels) in such a tedious bind for so long.”
Using these new writing inventions, Wolfe has spent decades describing wildly-changing, status-seeking American fashions in delicious detail, whether it’s taking a limo four blocks to a party or owning a plantation. From his sharp observations he has crafted pithy characterizations like that of renowned symphony conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein and his “radical chic” buddies (another phrase he coined) or fictional Charlie Croker of A Man In Full (1998). He’s wondered at the chasm between the people (the “proles”) and the intellectuals and literati, between the glorious productivity, abundance and creativity of American culture and the Intellectuals’ gloomy, apocalyptic evaluation of that self-same culture-all expressed with his usual, interwoven sarcasm.
The reader can find it in an early essay from a book about ‘60’s culture, The Pump House Gang (1968):
“What struck me throughout America and England was that so many people have found such novel ways of …enjoying, extending their egos way out on the best terms available, namely, their own. It is curious how many serious thinkers–and politicians–resist this rather obvious fact. Sheer ego extension–especially if attempted by all those rancid proles and suburban petty burghers–is a perplexing prospect. Even scary one might say…I was impressed by the profound relief with which intellectuals and politicians discovered poverty in America in 1963, courtesy of Michael Harrington’s book The Other America. And, as I say, it was discovered. Eureka! We have found it again!…When the race riots erupted–and when the war in Vietnam grew into a good-sized hell–intellectuals welcomed all that with a ghastly embrace, too. War! Poverty! Insurrection! Alienation! O Four Horsemen, you have not deserted us entirely. The game can go on.”
And he is still wondering about it in his most recent book of essays, Hooking Up, published in 2000. This book ranges from art to neuroscience, and even a Cato Institute seminar is examined. The title essay “What Life Was Like at the Turn of the Second Millennium: An American’s World” opens with:
“By the year 2000, the term ‘working class’ had fallen into disuse in the United States, and ‘proletariat’ was so obsolete it was known only to a few bitter old Marxist academics with wire hair sprouting out of their ears. The average electrician, air-conditioning mechanic, or burglar-alarm repairman lived a life that would have made the Sun King blink. He spent his vacations in Puerto Vallarta, Barbados, or St. Kitts…Our air-conditioning mechanic had probably never heard of Saint-Simon, but he was fulfilling Saint-Simon’s and the other nineteenth century utopian socialists’ dreams of a day when the ordinary workingman would have the political and personal freedom, the free time and the wherewithal to express himself in any way he saw fit and to unleash his full potential…Americans could boast of a freedom as well as a power unparalleled in the history of the world.
“Our typical burglar-alarm repairman didn’t display one erg of chauvinistic swagger, however. He had been numbed by the aforementioned ‘intellectuals,’ who had spent the preceding eighty years being indignant over what a ‘puritanical,’ ‘repressive,’ ‘bigoted,’ ‘capitalistic,’ and ‘fascist’ nation America was beneath its democratic façade. It made his head hurt. Besides, he was too busy coping with what was known as the ‘sexual revolution.’ If anything, ‘sexual revolution’ was rather a prim term for the lurid carnival actually taking place in the mightiest country on earth in the year 2000…Sexual stimuli bombarded the young so incessantly and intensely they were inflamed with a randy itch long before reaching puberty,” which Wolfe then goes on to describe.
As the reader can see in the foregoing, typical passage, Wolfe does not merely notice blatant contradiction and hypocrisy–he finds them like a homing device finds its target hidden in a dark cultural and intellectual labyrinth and reveals it to the world. Likely this skill, on top of his material success, accounts for the screaming fury of the literati. In “My Three Stooges” Wolfe recounts how his surging fame and success with the novel A Man in Full–which pre-sold 1.2 million copies–motivated the likes of ‘modern’ novelists Norman Mailer, John Updike and John Irving to denounce him in public as beneath literature. Wolfe chuckled about it on national TV and thanked them for increasing his publicity.
A Man in Full is set in contemporary, dynamically growing Atlanta, teeming with vivid characters and detail about the New South. The bulk of the story revolves around real estate magnate Charles Croker and his attempts to hold onto his empire tooth and nail. The story reveals many strata of Atlantan society, both white and black. However, the reader can see Wolfe’s concern for our contemporary culture in his sympathetic portrait of Conrad Hensley, a young man whose upbringing by déclassé middle class hippies leaves him lacking in most of the technical and social skills that make survival and success possible. In this story, Wolfe’s recognition of philosophy’s power is most apparent, through the aid a book of the ancient Greek philosopher Epitectus gives to the self-development of the young man. After an excruciating run of events leads Conrad to one of life’s nadirs, he turns it around by incorporating Epitectus’ principles of integrity and courage into his life. Later, the dramatic plot explicitly turns on issues of philosophy as the young man’s life intersects with Charlie Croker’s.
Wolfe’s fictional characters are not heroes on the grand scale of Victor Hugo, but they can be larger than life, and some, like Conrad, do achieve real values over multiple obstacles through honesty and fortitude. Wolfe admires and honors ingenuity, courage, honesty, hard work, self-responsibility, and science–and competence and achievement over status. In his 1975 The Right Stuff, his admiration shows for the many engineers and scientists who made the Space Program possible. At the same time, he marvels at the status and honor accorded the Astronauts before they had gone on any missions!
His own personal values are most clearly apparent in the subdued tone of his celebratory essay, “Two Young Men Who Went West” in Hooking Up. In it he recounts the history and achievements of Robert Noyce, founder of Intel. Noyce is little-known outside of Tech circles but lionized there, a legend in the semi-conductor industry, “a national treasure” as one writer testified in all sincerity. Noyce forged a new corporate culture, the culture of achievement and single-minded work, the entrepreneurial, independent and self-responsible culture of Silicon Valley, through the principles and practices he instituted as head of his young company. Wolfe traces his ideas and values back to Grinnell, Iowa and its 19th century, Dissenting Protestant individualist roots. Wolfe respectfully reports that at his death, the unreligious Noyce was celebrated by “swarms of people [who] left [a memorial service] with the mournful feeling that some sort of profound–dared they utter the word ‘spiritual’?–force had gone out of the life of the Silicon Valley.”
Apparently, Wolfe deeply resonates with 19th century Dissident Protestant values. In a Brown University interview some years ago, Wolfe revealed this about himself: “Some years ago at a conference a student in the audience asked me why I write. I never asked myself that question in my life. I started free associating. I thought of the Presbyterian catechism for some reason. The first question is who created heaven and earth? The answer is God. The second question is why did he do it? It’s interesting, the answer is “for his own glory.” So I used that as my answer. It was probably a more honest answer than most.
“To me the great joy of writing is discovering. I started out as a journalist. I still love the adventure of going out and reporting on things I don’t know about.” (Mahdesian interview)
Wolfe comes by his appreciation of modern intellectuals honestly. He drew the ire of the art world with his essays-cum-books on art and architecture, The Painted Word (1975) and From Bauhaus to Our House (1981). In the first, he argues…so to speak…that the fame of modern artists is wholly dependent on the trumpeting of art critics–not on any value or skill of substance might actually possess. When it came out, the art world howled at this characterization and Wolfe–ever the incendiary–fed the fire by appearing on TV in his trademark white Southern Gentleman’s suit, homburg and gloves.
In the second, he perforates the pretensions of Modern Architecture, the sort Ayn Rand describes as the new fashion near the end of The Fountainhead.
“Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, has there ever been another place on earth where so many people of wealth and power have paid for and put up with so much architecture they detested as within they blessed borders today?
“I doubt it seriously. Every child goes to school in a building that looks like a duplicating-machine replacement-parts wholesale distribution warehouse…Every new $900,000 summer house in the north woods of Michigan or on the shore of Long Island has so many pipe railings, ramps, hob-tread metal spiral stairways, sheets of industrial plate glass, banks of tungsten-halogen lamps, and white cylindrical shapes, it looks like an insecticide refinery.” (From Bauhaus To Our House, 1981, 1).
The books maps out how plain white walls and glass and steel boxes became the cynosure of architectural style in the wealthiest country that ever existed. He traces this fashion back to economical worker housing designed by Corbusier and Mies Van der Rohe after World War I, and fawning American intellectuals me-too-ing European fashion.
Amid the acerbic observations and witty descriptions, I have seen him searching for an answer to the following questions: why does the U.S.-the greatest civilization in history-self-flagellate, and why has it descended into hypocrisy and perversion rivaling the Roman Empire? This paradox peoples much of Wolfe’s work. He sees U.S. culture and events through classic American eyes of common sense, respect for productivity and hard-work, and no-nonsense skewering of hypocrisy. As a self-made man, he appreciates the good fortune of our freedom and individual expression. And he struggles to find some objective grounds, some reasonable formulation of wholesome values–in other words, a philosophy that supports and realistically grounds the basic American values of common sense, productive creativity, self-respect and the individual pursuit of happiness.
Some feel Wolfe’s approach to events and characters is cynical. I think he strives to present an unvarnished view of American culture, with its warts as well as its gold nuggets. He is a reporter, after all. In his fiction, his characters are not idealized portraits, but neither are they journalistic: his characters are highly stylized examples of human possibilities, extracted from Wolfe’s perspicacious observations. He knows that status is a driving motive among men–he doesn’t like it, because he believes in merit. That’s why he seems to have some admiration for even mixed characters like real estate tycoon Charlie Croker. Charlie has created, he’s produced real wealth. Wolfe lauds him for this and spears him for his craven status seeking. He does not romanticize real people beyond their actual achievements–we see this in The Right Stuff-but he does present real heroes in all their glory, like Bob Noyce and Chuck Yeager (whom Wolfe made famous).
Wolfe shares with Ayn Rand the ability to deeply parody social-climbing antics. He could be describing Kiki Holcombe of The Fountainhead when he scrutinizes the “social x-ray” women of ambitious New York society in his first novel, Bonfire of the Vanities (1975). This book, as his other novels, is replete with detailed accounts of self-aggrandizement and blatant status seeking. In an interview, he declares “My real interest is in the subject of status, which has to do with how people group themselves, rank themselves.” However, unlike Rand, he is not morally affronted by it. As a philosopher, Rand rails against the energy spent social-climbing and presents an alternative-a new, secular ethics and approach to self and others based on achievement and merit, qualities Wolfe clearly admires.
No, Wolfe doesn’t like the status-seeking, but he accurately and incisively reports it–and prods it with his razor wit and clever neologisms. Ever the journalist, Wolfe accepts the constant competition for status as basic to human life, even in such apparently rational groups as scientists and philosophers. I think he can sharpen readers’ eyes to this competition, enabling them to recognize it more often in their own social circles, and in themselves-however rational they may seem. He revels in the creativity and exuberance of American culture, with its open expression of personal values–of ego. He also worries about the descent into decadence and depravity in the past 40 years, and the lack of self-respect characterized by such phenomena as MTV and contemporary fraternity practices. He understands the siren call the current culture has on youth, with the concomitant drowning of personal self as illustrated through the main character in his 2004 novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons. He is not a hard and fast traditionalist–how could he be, with his independent views? He seems to be struggling to find some objective grounds, some reasonable formulation of wholesome values.
Over the years, I have felt like a detective–finding the clues for Wolfe’s deep love of country in work after work, but never hearing an open admission from him. The clues are there in The Right Stuff, From Bauhaus to Our House, The Painted Word, Hooking Up, and other books. Finally, in an interview this year in the Wall Street Journal, he voices his opinion:
“I also believe in the United States. I think this is the greatest nation that ever existed, still is. It’s really the only really democratic country in the world. Find me one country, just one country in the entire world that would let a foreign people-different culture, different language, and in many cases different color than the majority of the native stock-take over politically an entire metropolitan area in less than one generation. I’m talking about the Cubans in Miami . . .”
“I’m very democratic,” he says after a time. “I think I’m the most democratic writer whom I know personally, though I don’t know all writers of course.” (the precise reporter!)
“I really love this country. I just marvel at how good it is, and obviously it’s the simple principle of freedom. . . . Intellectually this is the system where people tend to experiment more and their experiments are indulged. Whatever we’re doing I think we’ve done it extremely, extremely, extremely well.” Silence. “These are terrible things to be saying if you want to have any standing in the intellectual world.”
Ever the jokester…its one of the things to which some people point, I’m sure, to prove his cynicism. I find it more in the vein of Mark Twain: caustic and always ready to puncture pretensions, even his own. His tone is not deeply serious or ironic in a weighty, European way. He’s led a rebellion against European intellectual domination-at least in journalism. His tone is distinctively American–light-hearted, irreverent and with an intellectual innocence nonetheless–like Mark Twain rather than Dostoevsky. Some might take exception to his style–as many have to Mark Twain-but his trenchant observations communicated through fresh eyes always delight me. I envy all the literary gold a new Wolfe reader will find.
Mahdesian, Linda. “Tom Wolfe, Zeitgeist Czar.” http://www.brown.edu/Administration/George_Street_Journal/v20/v20n24/wolfe.html
Picador Publishers’ Official Tom Wolfe Website. 2006. www.tomwolfe.com/bio.html#.
The Kandy-Kolored, Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby 1965
The Pump House Gang 1968
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test 1968
Radical-Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers 1970
The Painted Word 1975
Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine 1976
The Right Stuff 1979
In Our Time 1980
From Bauhaus to Our House 1981
The Purple Decades 1982
Bonfire of the Vanities 1987
A Man In Full 1998
Hooking Up 2000
I Am Charlotte Simmons 2004
Written by Ronald Merrill and Marsha Familaro Enright, and edited by Enright, Ayn Rand Explained is now available at Open Court Books, Amazon, on Kindle, and in bookstores everywhere.
Ayn Rand and her ideas are in the news more than ever – 50+ years after her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, was published. What’s driving this rising interest and influence – even politicians like Paul Ryan and Barack Obama talk about her?
Who was this Russian fireball? Why do her ideas speak to the hearts of Americans generation after generation? How are her ideas giving courage to people of all walks of life, from business to art?
Ayn Rand Explained is an engrossing account of the life, work, and influence of Ayn Rand: her career, from youth in Soviet Russia to Hollywood screenwriter and then to ideological guru; her novels and other fiction writings, including the perennial best-sellers, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged; her work in ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics; her influence on—and personal animosity toward—both conservatism and libertarianism.
Merrill and Enright describe Rand’s early infatuation with Nietzsche, her first fiction writings, the developments behind her record-breaking blockbuster novels of 1943 and 1957, her increasing involvement in politics in the 1950s and 1960s, including her support for the presidential candidacy of Barry Goldwater.
Rand’s Objectivist movement was first promoted through the Nathaniel Branden Institute, headed by her young protégé and designated heir. The Institute advocated a complete worldview on politics, economics, religion, art, music, epistemology, ethics (“The Virtue of Selfishness”), and sexual relationships. For several years the Institute grew rapidly, though there were ominous signs as some leading members were ‘put on trial’ for their heretical ideas, and ignominiously drummed out of the movement.
In 1969, Branden himself was expelled by Rand, the Institute was shut down, and all members who questioned this ruling were themselves excommunicated and shunned by Rand and her disciples. Branden became a best-selling author of psychotherapy books, with a following of Objectivists who had dissociated from the official organization headed by Rand, and after her death in 1982, by Leonard Peikoff. One of Rand’s inner circle, Alan Greenspan, later went on to get his hands on the steering wheel of the American economy.
Objectivism offers a comprehensive package of beliefs encompassing the ethics of rational egoism and dedication to a consistently rational method of thinking and acting. This includes a rejection of all religion and outright atheism and a view of the arts as expressions of deeply held, mostly subconscious, philosophical views of the world. It also advocates personal freedom from political interference, a moral defense of laissez-faire capitalism, and radically limited government as a protection of the individual, positions deeply aligned with the project of the American Founders.
The last few years have witnessed a resurgence of Objectivism, with a jump in sales of Rand’s novels and the influence of Rand’s ideas in the Tea Party movement and the Republican party. While gaining membership, the Objectivist movement continues to be divided into warring factions, the two major groupings led by the Ayn Rand Institute (Yaron Brook) and the Atlas Society (David Kelley).
Ayn Rand Explained is a completely revised and updated edition of The Ideas of Ayn Rand, by the late Ronald E. Merrill, first published by Open Court in 1991. It includes not only new information about Rand’s rocketing influence, but new stories about her personal relationships, and new analysis of her life and ideas.
Here’s what people are saying about it:
“Ayn Rand is in the news now more than ever—but the media consistently misunderstands her. Read Ayn Rand Explained for a thorough and clear introduction to her ideas!”—JIMMY WALES, founder of Wikipedia
“Ayn Rand Explained takes us on an exciting exploration of Rand’s provocative worldview and expertly traces its huge contemporary impact on politics, economics, art, and culture. Marsha Familaro Enright provides much new information and probing, in-depth analysis. A surprising, intriguing take on a controversial writer.”—CHRIS MATTHEW SCIABARRA, author of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical
“I immensely enjoyed reading Ayn Rand Explained. Packed with fascinating information, much of it new, the book is a real page turner—and a reminder of why Rand’s novels are continuously making their way onto best-seller lists.”—VERONIQUE DE RUGY, Senior Research Fellow, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University
“Co-authored by two thoughtful admirers of Rand’s, Ronald Merrill and Marsha Familaro Enright, this modest volume is full of new tidbits about her life, the evolution of her thought, under-recognized aspects of her ideas, the ongoing development of the Objectivist movement, and Rand’s influence on society. An updated revision of late entrepreneur Merrill’s “The Ideas of Ayn Rand”, educator-author Enright adds biographical details, sociological updating, and thoughtful summaries of Rand’s ideas to this little gem.
“Ayn Rand has penetrated our societal conscience. Deceased since 1982, her books continue to be best-sellers, decades after their original appearance. She is known to have inspired VP candidate Paul Ryan; a second movie based on her 1,000+ page magnum opus is currently in theaters; and she is even discussed in a current Rolling Stone magazine interview with the President. Her cultural presence is remarkably polarizing – she seems to inspire either deep-seated admiration or equally passionate resentment. The opinion-less commentator is as rare as the proverbial black swan or an independent voter. Love her or hate her, Rand continues to draw widespread attention for her passionate defense of rationality, self-interest, capitalism and atheism.
“For those interested in what “all the fuss is” about Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism — especially those afraid to commit to her ultralong novels — will find this concise summary of her life, ideas, and influence a godsend. Those who are already familiar with her life and work, but who are looking for a fresh perspective, will find that here, too.
“Enright is responsible for bringing novel material with the brand new first three chapters. They add excellent material on Rand’s life, her thought, and her impact on our society. This is especially helpful given that Merrill’s original book was published in 1991, so updating is welcomed. Also, Enright’s own experiences with the Objectivist movement from the beginning, including personal interactions with Rand herself, add intriguing material, interweaving these up-close observations with the development of the wider movement. The remainder of the book is a thoughtfully edited version of Merrill’s thoughts, intertwined clearly with Enright’s own insights, especially at points of disagreement, which are clearly delineated. It is a model of even-handedness.
“One welcomed aspect of this book, given the subject matter, is its consistent tone of critical admiration of Rand, her life, and her ideas. Too many books are either fawning, sycophantic cheerleading for Rand or harsh, condemning diatribes against her. This supportive volume, with a critical, independent touch where needed, is a welcome addition to the growing literature surrounding this unique Russian immigrant to America.” — William Dale, M.D., Ph.D.
This film celebrates the productive virtue, passion, creativity, and heroism of
entrepreneurs around the globe.
By Marsha Familaro Enright
The New Individualist, Jan/Feb 2008 — This past September, I was thrilled to see The Call of the Entrepreneur, a new documentary by The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, headed by Roman Catholic priest Robert Sirico. Beautifully filmed in high definition, with inspiring music and a riveting story, this documentary celebrates the productive virtue, passion, creativity, and heroism of entrepreneurs around the globe. It dramatically makes the case for the moral value of capitalism—and it’s about time.
Economic and political developments in the last thirty-odd years have proven the factual case for the superiority of capitalism, but the moral case remains to be won. The harnessing and molding of self-interest through capitalism towards creative, productive, life-enhancing, happiness-achieving ends must be trumpeted to the world. This documentary is a clarion call.
The film’s theme is the unstoppable energy, optimism, creativity, and productiveness of the entrepreneur, which has made our world possible. It starts with a dairy farmer in the small mid-Michigan town of Evart, interweaving his story of ingenuity, perseverance, and calculated risk with the thrilling and heart-wrenching story of communist refugee and media magnate in Hong Kong, and that of a self-made merchant banker in Atlanta. Each of these entrepreneurs is remarkable.
Jimmy Lai, founder of giant Next Media, recounts his journey from the desperate poverty of Guangzhou province in communist China to his position as a media mogul aiming to foster freedom through information. The son of a merchant family stripped of their wealth, Jimmy’s mother was sent to work in the fields all week while he and his siblings fared for themselves. The boy left school at the age of ten to work in a railway station, which changed his life.
The communists, he comments, painted China as wonderful in contrast to the nasty picture they presented of the outside world; but his eyes were opened by the travelers at the train station. Their dress, speech, and even the kind way they treated him gave him an education. “I was never treated so well before,” he recalls. After ravenously eating a bar of chocolate handed to him by a client, he resolved to go to where it was bought: Hong Kong. He had to beg his mother for a year before she would allow him the dangerous journey in the hold of a sampan to the freedom of Hong Kong.
Dairy farmer Brad Morgan was searching for a more cost-effective way to dispose of tons of cow manure when his undying curiosity and creativity led him to the compost business. Although he appears only moderately educated, Morgan skillfully uses scientific and business experts from far and wide to turn his farm into one of the largest and best composting businesses around.
Investment banker Frank Hanna describes how his father, rather than guiding his sons to sports or leisure on the weekends, would take them to various properties the family owned. Together, they performed all the chores and learned the processes involved in running businesses—lessons Hanna used well as he and his brother built their merchant-banking business. Hanna has combined this practical knowledge with a study of free-market economics, not only for his successful business but for philanthropy, as well. Recently, he was named Philanthropist of the Year by Philanthropy Magazine because of the thoughtful and principled approach he takes to charity.
In addition to these inspiring stories, the movie deftly explains some key economic concepts through simple illustrations, including the tremendous value that capital markets create—something Tom Wolfe’s bond trader in Bonfires of the Vanities didn’t seem to know. Experts such as Peter Boetkke from George Mason University andWealth and Poverty author George Gilder cameo with pithy explanations of economic principles.
From the opening, the movie attacks the ridiculous idea that capitalism is a zero-sum game, visually puncturing that argument with sweeping views of New York and Hong Kong. You would think that just one of capitalism’s nay-sayers would ask themselves the question: If it’s a zero-sum game, where did all this stuff come from? How did we travel from the caves to New York City?
In justifying the virtue of the entrepreneur, The Acton Institute emphasizes the other-oriented attitude of the entrepreneur in contrast to the view that entrepreneurship is merely about greedy wealth-acquisition. The documentary argues that the entrepreneur must focus on the needs and desires of other people in order to succeed. One of the film’s messages seems to be that entrepreneurs are virtuous because they work for other people, performing a kind of altruism. In fact, during a question-and-answer session after the movie, executive producer Jay Richards confirmed this, emphasizing that the “al” in “altruism” means “other.”
It’s unfortunate that Acton feels the need to justify the goodness of the entrepreneur by his or her ability to help other people. Helping others is a valuable benefit of what they do, but, clearly, that is not always the entrepreneur’s motive. Morgan, Hanna, and Lai are obviously working for the laudable motives of enjoying the exercise of their own powers, and for their desire to change the world for the better—according to their own vision. While entrepreneurs must focus on the needs and desires of others for trade, many entrepreneurs create products that others could never imagine, or imagine wanting, such as PCs or “pet rocks.” Like almost all creators, entrepreneurs often face unrelenting criticism and resistance. Most often, the entrepreneur has to be pig-headedly persistent—“kinda stubborn,” as Morgan calls himself—in his own vision to bring new values to the world. Although the actions of entrepreneurs wonderfully result in benefits to others, in order to succeed, they must cleave to their own selves, to their own vision. Sounds rather self-interested, doesn’t it?
Indeed, the film’s commentators express discomfort with the concept of greed and criticize John Stossel’s ABC specials that focus on greed as a positive force in the market. Unfortunately, in the moral wars, the film’s eschewing of greed could be seen as apologetics for the basic self-interestedness of the entrepreneur, a discomfort that can be attacked by those more consistently altruistic in the self-abnegating sense.
The problem lies in the loaded concept of “greed.” Conventionally, the concept of greed, like that of selfishness, emphasizes excessiveness—in this case, the desire to acquire or possess more than one needs. But what of the entrepreneur’s stubborn insistence on pursuing his vision when others want him to stop? Is that excessive? Is that greedy?What’s needed is a clearer parsing of the concept of greed. Greed to acquire and possess values is a strong human motivational tendency. A more neutral term for this tendency is “ambition.” It’s a good thing that humans have this tendency, or they might not be sufficiently motivated to survive and flourish. It’s a tendency that can be aimed toward good or ill. The primeval, undisciplined tendency of greed often results in the pursuit of fame, money, or power at the expense of integrity, honor, love, family or friendship. Each person needs to focus the aim of his or her greed toward productive values, not toward destructive ones. That makes the moral difference.
On the other hand, some self-defined individualists would do well to broaden their almost autistic concept of the well-lived life. As Aristotle said, man is a political animal. Humans tend to have a great desire to interact and affect others, even when pursuing their own interests.
This transformational power is a sacred ability, because it makes human flourishing possible. As George Gilder says in the film, “There is no reason to explain poverty—poverty is the natural human state” before the first entrepreneurs, the farmers, changed the world. Productive creativity should be celebrated with joyful sanctity—and this film goes far in that direction.
Given the religious orientation of The Acton Institute, the ultimate message of the film is that man becomes nearer to God through creativity. With stirring music and shots of Michelangelo’s “Creation,” the documentary’s climax testifies that man’s creative ability is God’s gift to man, granting man a special place in the universe. This is the religious idealism of former centuries—a view contrary to that of the radical environmentalists, who consider man and his reality-transforming reasoning powers to be an unnatural scourge upon the earth. Rather, this Scholastic religious doctrine sees man as closer to God than any other creature, by his participation in God’s ability to create. The commentators, including Father Sirico and George Gilder, affirm the inspiring nature of this relationship to God.
As a thoroughly committed scientist and a nonbeliever, I was struck by the topsy-turvy nature of this view. Man’s ability to create and transform reality rather than merely adapt to the given is fundamental to his survival powers, acquired through evolution. Man’s reason and imagination, exploratory tendencies, and especially the energy, persistence, and independence of the personality type that typifies entrepreneurs, allow him to remake the world to suit his purposes. Isn’t it interesting that men feel the need to capture the sacredness of this fundamental of human nature by projecting a god with the same ability—and making man his special protégé?
This transformational power is a sacred ability, because it makes human flourishing possible. As George Gilder says in the film, “There is no reason to explain poverty—poverty is the natural human state” before the first entrepreneurs, the farmers, changed the world. Productive creativity should be celebrated with joyful sanctity—and this film goes far in that direction.
The Call of the Entrepreneur is premiering around the country at small venues, through organizations like the Sam Adams Alliance. Acton hopes to get it onto PBS affiliates or commercial TV. Despite its philosophical shortcomings, I urge you to see it and to enjoy its dramatic celebration of the optimism and lavish productivity of the entrepreneur.
By Marsha Enright and Gen LaGreca 11:32 AM 09/15/2011
Constitution Day (September 17) commemorates the 1787 signing of the document that established the United States of America. But like the victim of a terrible accident, the government that was formed that historic day in Philadelphia is hardly recognizable today, and the heart that propelled it — the principle of individual rights — is on life support.
Ironically, what started as a government of radically limited powers now mandates that the nation’s schools “hold an educational program on the United States Constitution” on the holiday of its signing.
In fact, the best “educational program” comes from James Madison, the man who scoured political thought and history to create the blueprint for our government, earning him the title “father of the Constitution.” He has a crucial lesson for us on property rights.
To prepare for his lesson, let’s contrast today’s treatment of our First Amendment rights with that of property rights.
People would be shocked if the president of the United States said: “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough speeches,” or “you’ve given enough sermons” or “you’ve authored enough books.” Virtually all Americans would protest such remarks and boldly assert that it’s a free country, so they can say, preach or write whatever they please.
Yet the president can get away with saying: “I do think at a certain point, you’ve made enough money.” And he can get away with seizing and redistributing our money in order to “spread the wealth around,” with only a minority shouting in disbelief at the outrage. These dissenting voices have been unable to stop a century-long growth of the welfare state.
Consider the onslaught against property in recent years: The city of New London, Connecticut can seize Susette Kelo’s house and land to sell to a shopping mall developer. Congress appropriates billions of our dollars and redistributes them to the companies of its choice, including failing banks, auto manufacturers and solar panels producers. And businesspersons like Warren Buffet blithely suggest that the wealthy be taxed more.
Are these attacks on our possessions accepted because the right to property is a lesser right, one that isn’t inalienable like the others?
In his article “Property,” Madison emphatically says no. He explains that our right to property is as untouchable as our freedom of speech, press, religion and conscience. In fact, he views the concept of property as fundamental, pertaining to much more than merely our material possessions.
In the narrow sense, Madison says, “A man’s land, or merchandize, or money is called his property.” But in a wider sense, “A man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them … in his religious beliefs … in the safety and liberty of his person … in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them.”
He then concludes: “[A]s a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.”
This statement represents a profound expression of the individual’s sovereignty over his possessions of every kind: spiritual, intellectual and material. According to Madison, a human being is master of his mind and body, his beliefs and possessions, his person and property. It is all the province of the individual to create and control.
Madison argues that there is no parceling of rights. Our rights to life, liberty and property are indivisible. The reason for this was explained with unusual clarity by Ayn Rand two centuries later: “The right to life is the source of all rights — and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life.”
Government, according to Madison, is “instituted to protect property of every sort,” and is judged solely by this yardstick: “If the United States mean to obtain or deserve the full praise due to wise and just governments, they will equally respect the rights of property, and the property in rights.”
But what does our current government do? Instead of respecting our material property at least as well as it does our other rights, its redistribution of wealth, strangling regulations on business and deeply ingrained entitlement mentality are blatant assaults on our right to property. As Ronald Reagan famously remarked: “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”
It’s as if Madison looked into the future as he observed: “When an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected.” That is precisely our current situation.
Today, the huge onslaught of regulations such as Dodd-Frank, Obamacare and the EPA’s controls on energy production has brought us almost to the point of economic paralysis. Buying and selling homes, as well as autos, has all but halted. Companies are hoarding cash and not hiring as they fearfully watch the latest attempts by government to control them. The stock market is epileptic, with seizures up and down triggered by the latest political and economic news. With these curtailments on our right to acquire, use and control our property in the economic realm, the very essence of our liberty — the right to free action — is lost.
Even worse, government’s violation of property rights isn’t limited to the economic realm. Because our rights are interconnected, it’s spreading to all aspects of life.
Consider the trial balloons we’ve already seen to limit free speech, such as the so-called “Fairness Doctrine” or “Net Neutrality.” Or consider the expanding government grip over deeply personal areas of our lives, such as regulations on what fats or sugars we eat, what physicians we see, what health insurance we buy, what treatments or drugs we’re allowed to have — and what our children may bring to school for lunch.
Because our rights can’t be divided, if we lose one, we could lose them all. That’s why we have to fight against government intrusion in the free market with the same moral certitude — and the same fire-in-the-belly — that we’d have if the government invaded our homes without a warrant, or forbade us to peacefully assemble. We have to treat the government’s encroachment on the economy as we would an encroachment on our opinions, beliefs and conscience.
On Constitution Day, let’s remember Madison’s lesson on the full meaning of property — and fight for our right to property as if our life depended on it, because it does.
Gen LaGreca is author of Noble Vision, an award-winning novel about the struggle for liberty in healthcare today. Marsha Familaro Enright is president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, the Foundation for the College of the United States.
As September 11th approaches, Americans remember the morning in 2001 when the World Trade Center turned to rubble. It is a fitting time to consider the nature of the civilizations that collided that day—and how to defend ours.
In their quest to establish a worldwide caliphate, radical Islamists invoke morality, claiming they have God’s sanction for performing their barbarous acts.
To defend Western civilization, we, also, need to invoke morality. But although the world envies the wealth we’ve achieved, it is widely seen as the product of soulless materialism, of unbridled “greed,” of unscrupulous self-indulgence.
What moral claim, then, can we make for our way of life?
To understand the moral values of the West, let’s turn to its beginning. In her prescient 1943 work of political philosophy, “The God of the Machine,” Isabel Paterson chose as the symbol of Western man a figure from Ancient Greece: Pytheas. This enterprising merchant left his homeland to explore Britain and beyond, seeking tin to make bronze. Insatiably curious, Pytheas also discovered the relationship between the moon’s phases and the tides, and was the first to describe the aurora and other phenomena.
Pytheas epitomizes the Western spirit: a self-directed man whose free will determines his life’s course, a thinker who employs reason and science to understand the world around him, and a producer who seeks to sell goods in peaceful trade.
From its founding, America was intended to be the country where Pytheas could flourish—the first nation established to protect the life, liberty, and property of the individual. It did so by curbing government power over the peaceful activities of its citizens.
In this, the contrast between America and radical Islam could not be greater.
Whereas Thomas Jefferson exhorts us to “Question with boldness even the existence of a God,” militant Islam kills people for apostasy.
Whereas James Madison proclaims a man has “a right to his property” and equally “a property in [all of] his rights,” Palestinian Islamists strap suicide belts on five year-olds, seizing their young lives to fight ancient vendettas.
Whereas the Declaration of Independence affirms America’s devotion to life, Osama bin Laden declares: We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the difference between us two.
“The excellence of the West” lies in its “respect for the human being, the recognition of his individuality, the liberty it has granted him,” observes Saudi Shura Council member and Muslim reformist Ibrahim Al-Buleihi.
“Humans are originally individuals,” he continues, “but cultures (including Arab culture) have dissolved the individual in the tribe, sect, or state.” It is only “with the diffusion of philosophical ideas from [Ancient] Greece” that “the human being became an individual of value for himself . . . and not merely a means for others.” (Profile of Al-Buleihi, The Aafaq Foundation, July 6, 2010)
Thus, in our civilization, a person is born free to live for his own sake and to pursue happiness. In radical Islam, a person must obey a central authority and sacrifice his life to its aims. Which society is better?
Granted the West’s superiority, why is radical Islam advancing? Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim, cites “an active propaganda campaign” in which “the Saudis invested at least $2 billion a year over a 30-year period to spread their brand of fundamentalist Islam.” (Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2010)
Why aren’t we passionately defending our civilization? Certainly, money isn’t the obstacle. Is it because we don’t understand the nobility of our individualist foundation, including the virtue of private advancement and profit?
We must never forget that we’re the country of Pytheas: a people of free will, free minds, and free enterprise. Our spectacular prosperity is not our dishonor, but the glory of our liberty.
It is said that Ground Zero is “sacred ground.” In truth, all of America is sacred ground—because the individual is sacred here.
We must assert the moral superiority of our civilization—or lose it to our enemies.
Marsha Familaro Enright is president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, the Foundation for the College of the United States. Gen LaGreca is author of Noble Vision, an award-winning novel about the struggle for liberty in health care today.
Originally published at The Daily Caller, 9/8/2010.
On a spring day in 1743, a towering figure in our country’s founding was born: Thomas Jefferson. His skillful hand carved much of the character of America.
Today, however, what Jefferson so painstakingly crafted lies pulverized almost to stone dust. Were he alive to celebrate his birthday this April 13, instead of sipping champagne, he might want to drown his sorrow in whiskey.
What has happened to the revolutionary ideas he penned on the parchment that is the soul of America, the Declaration of Independence? How many of today’s citizens—and elected officials—understand the stirring proclamation that every person possesses certain “unalienable rights,” among which are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”?
Today, most Americans don’t understand their rights; the entire concept has been hopelessly muddied. Many now believe that if they want or need anything—from health care, to a “decent” salary, to help paying their mortgage—that they have a “right,” through government taxation and regulation, to compel others to provide it for them. As a result, our actual rights have been eroded at an ever-increasing pace.
So, in homage to Thomas Jefferson, and with his guidance, let’s examine some features of our real rights, to set the record straight.
According to Jefferson, our rights are unalienable. This means that individuals possess rights in virtue of being human. They are neither granted nor invalidated by any person, king, congress, or group. Might does not make right; individual rights are a sacred temple that even the will of the people must respect. “[T]he majority, oppressing an individual,” says Jefferson, “is guilty of a crime . . . and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society.”[i] Further, because they stem from universals of human nature, these rights are legitimate in all societies and all eras. As such and properly understood, they form the rock-solid foundation of our freedom.
Contrary to modern misinterpretations, our real rights—to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness—are rights to take action; they are not entitlements to goods and services. Jefferson defined liberty as “unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.”[ii] This means we may act in our own behalf, for example, to earn money and buy health care, but we may not expect the government to tax and regulate others to provide us with health care for free.
Rights belong to us as individuals, with each of us possessing exactly the same ones. There are no “rights” of groups—be they farmers, seniors, students, workers, homeowners, or the like—to any special privileges at the expense of others. According to Jefferson, “Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare but only those specifically enumerated [in the Constitution].”[iii] What, then, would he have thought of our current government’s using taxpayers’ money to provide privileges to countless special-interest groups—through bank bailouts, government-backed mortgages, programs for the arts, government housing, car-company loans, etc.?
As understood by Jefferson and his contemporaries, our rights include the right to property, which entitles us to keep the things that we legitimately acquire. Does a rich person have less of a right to property than a poor person? According to Jefferson: “To take from one because it is thought his own industry . . . has acquired too much, in order to spare others who . . . have not exercised equal industry and skill is to violate the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.”[iv] What, then, would he have thought of the recent referendum passed in Oregon—typifying the practice of many states, as well as the federal government—in which a majority levied substantial additional taxes on businesses and the wealthy? Wouldn’t that seem like a few sheep and a pack of wolves deciding what to have for lunch?
Jefferson valued productive work as a noble part of the American character. When his Monticello farm fell on hard times, he began producing nails, and did so proudly because “every honest employment is deemed honorable [in America]. . . . My new trade of nail-making is to me in this country what an additional title of nobility . . . [is] in Europe.”[v] He scorned the “idleness”[vi] of the European aristocracy, calling their courts “the weakest and worst part of mankind.”[vii] He expected people to use their minds to judge conflicting ideas, overcome obstacles, and achieve goals, extolling reason as the autonomous person’s tool for successful living: “Fix reason firmly to her seat and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion.”[viii]
When his 15-year-old daughter had difficulty reading an ancient text, he admonished: “If you always lean on your master, you will never be able to proceed without him. It is part of the American character to consider nothing as desperate—to surmount every difficulty . . .” Americans, he continued, “are obliged to invent and to execute; to find the means within ourselves, and not to lean on others.”[ix] What, then, would he have thought of today’s government “entitlements,” which encourage idleness while discouraging people from making their own decisions?
Jefferson swore “eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man,”[x] ardently defending the spiritual and intellectual freedom of the individual. He held that a person’s beliefs and values were an entirely private matter and that “the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions.”[xi] What, then, would this champion of freedom of religion, speech, the press, and conscience have thought of recent threats and insinuations by public officials to influence the content of radio programs? What would Jefferson have thought of a president, able to wield the full coercive powers of the state, discouraging people from listening to the opposing viewpoints of private individuals?
As individuals possessing the right—and glory—of self-sovereignty, what, then, is the proper role of government in our lives? The Declaration explains “that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” Wise government, Jefferson elaborated, “shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”[xii] Government’s exclusive purpose is to protect us from acts of force or fraud, which violate our rights—e.g., to apprehend and punish aggressors who would pick our pockets or break our legs—but otherwise, to refrain from regulating or controlling our lives.
Jefferson’s vision provides “for a government rigorously frugal and simple . . . and not for a multiplication of officers and salaries merely to make partisans . . .”[xiii] What, then, would he have thought of today’s ever-growing swarms of agencies, commissions, and departments that, following King George III, “harass our people, and eat out their substance”?[xiv] What would he have thought of the 2,700-page health-care reform bill passed in the dead of night, with backroom bribes used to obtain the votes of congressmen unclear about its massive contents and implications? Do we have any doubt that Jefferson would be horrified by such corruption and by the dangerous, unprecedented powers this legislation has granted to the state?
Thomas Jefferson fought for a country in which the government had no power to encroach on the mind, the life, the liberty, or the property of the individual. He fought for a country in which the individual, for the first time in history, could live for the pursuit of his own happiness instead of being a pawn in the hands of the state.
Within a mere page of the calendar of history, the world-shaking recognition that freedom is every person’s natural state and sacred right led to the abolition of slavery, the suffrage of women, and the spread of human freedoms in nations around the globe. The dawn of liberty upon the modern world began with the founding principles of America, which the author of the Declaration of Independence so ably articulated.
On Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, we must grasp again and hold dear the fragile gem of freedom that he so carefully carved. We must protest the hammering away at our individual rights by the ignorant, the deceived, and the unscrupulous. And we must polish the ideals for which Jefferson pledged his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor.
Gen LaGreca is author of Noble Vision, an award-winning novel about the struggle for liberty in health care today. Marsha Familaro Enright is president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, the Foundation for the College of the United States
[i] Letter to P. S. Dupont de Nemours, 1816
[ii] Letter to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1819
[iii] Letter to Albert Gallatin, 1817
[iv] Letter to Joseph Milligan, 1816
[v] Letter to Jean Nicolas Démeunier, 1795
[vi] Letter to Peter Carr, 1787
[vii] Travelling Notes for Mr. Rutledge and Mr. Shippen, 1788
[viii] Letter to Peter Carr, 1787
[ix] Letter to Martha Jefferson, 1787
[x] Letter to Benjamin Rush, 1800
[xi] Address to Danbury Baptist Association, 1802
[xii] Inauguration Address, 1801
[xiii] Letter to Elbridge Gerry, 1799
[xiv] Declaration of Independence, 1776
Copyright © 2010 by Marsha Familaro Enright and Gen LaGreca. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the authors and inclusion of their byline.
Permanent Link: http://marsha-familaro-enright.com/a-sad-birthday-for-jefferson/
Originally published at: http://dailycaller.com/2010/04/09/a-sad-birthday-for-jefferson/
Published April 9, 2010 at The Daily Caller
It’s been a year since Stephen Moore’s article, “Atlas Shrugged: from Fiction to Fact in 52 Years,”seemed to ignite an explosion of interest in Ayn Rand. Sales of this prescient novel tripled; two Rand biographies have been selling like hotcakes; and references to her in the media have skyrocketed.
Yet, some free-market defenders continue to repudiate her and her ideas, as they have for decades. It used to be conservatives such as William F. Buckley of National Review trashing “Atlas Shrugged;” now the critics include libertarians, such as Heather Wilhelm of the Illinois Public Policy Institute, who penned “Is Ayn Rand Bad for the Market?”.
But in their rush to distance themselves from Rand, they succumb to a deadly philosophic trap. It results from their anxious desire to apologize for the individualistic, self-interested motives that actually drive free markets. This anxiety prompts them to defend capitalism on the opposite premise: that capitalism is good only because it is “other-directed”—i.e., that it grants certain groups, such as the poor, opportunities to acquire wealth and power.
Over the decades, this has led such apologists to launch unpersuasive and futile crusades, such as “compassionate conservatism” and “bleeding-heart libertarianism,” which are not defenses of capitalism, but embodiments of its opposite. For example, conservatives and some libertarians plunged headlong into the moral and logical pitfalls of collectivism when, led by “compassionate conservative” Republican president George W. Bush, they created Medicare Part D, then the biggest-ever addition to welfare entitlements.
Likewise, Wilhelm summed up what too many on the right think, when she writes that free markets are best “sold” on the premise that, above all else, they help society’s neediest. She adds that “Rand’s insistence on the folly of altruism, however, tends to overshadow and even invalidate this message.”
You bet it does—and with good reason. That’s because no one can defend capitalism and free markets logically and consistently without a moral validation of enlightened self-interest as the highest good.
After all, the left didn’t rise to power because they had facts and rational arguments on their side. The empirical case for the superiority of capitalism in bringing a better life to the poor is overwhelming, whether we compare Chile to Cuba, Hong Kong to communist China, or the fully communist China of the past to itself today. So, one has to ask: Why haven’t these arguments won over all those who claim to want to help the poor?
The answer is that the left’s ascendance to power wasn’t driven by economic fact but by a moral vision thinly covered with economic claims. This vision was accepted by millions only because of the moral philosophy of self-sacrifice that dominates our culture.
That morality claims that the highest good for each individual is to live for the sake of others—for society or the collective. Ultimately, it implies that each of us is a moral slave to someone else. Whether it’s Marx’s “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” or Hitler’s admonition to live for the German Volk, or Pol Pot’s belief that “since he [the individual] is of no use anymore, there is no gain if he lives and no loss if he dies,” the morality of self-sacrifice kills liberty because it subordinates the individual’s life to the group.
This is the morality that brought us the carnage of the 20th century.
The arguments of “compassionate” libertarians and “bleeding-heart” conservatives do nothing to challenge this ethic. They merely try to slip capitalism in under the tent of collectivist moral philosophy, telling everybody, in effect: “Don’t worry; even though sinful, individualistic self-interest drives capitalism, it is good because it can be harnessed to serve groups, such as the poor.”
In other words, these would-be defenders of capitalism merely “me-too” the collectivist moral claim that our primary ethical responsibility should be the welfare of other people. In this view, they march lockstep with those on the left who revile individualism and capitalism as being anti-poor, anti-caring.
Their view couldn’t be further from the truth. Free-market capitalism arises from a social vision that cares about the smallest minority of all: the individual. That vision recognizes the moral superiority of the right of the individual to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—the very vision identified by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence and fought for by the Founding Fathers.
What is this right, if not the right of each person to pursue his or her own highest self-interest? Remember, the slogan of the American Revolution was “Don’t tread on me.”
Yet, that “selfish” American Revolution established a social system that created the most productive nation the world has ever seen, with the highest level and broadest distribution of wealth. It was a system based on individual rights, limited government, and equal justice under the law, in which everyone could keep and enjoy the fruits of his or her own efforts.
This system was fair because it gave each person the equal opportunity—and the pride-enhancing challenge—to make the most of his or her life, poor and rich alike. In fact, only a capitalist society can truly serve the interests of the poor and the disadvantaged, as well as the rich and the capable, because it is at root based on justice for the individual. And justice for the individual is justice for all.
This is what makes capitalism morally superior to collectivism.
Ironically, given the prevailing presumptions about self-interest, capitalist societies such as the U.S. are also the most charitable. Our individualistic system created a nation of magnanimity due to our unimpeded productivity, overflowing abundance, and benevolent sympathy for other individuals struggling for their own lives, liberty, and happiness.
It’s amazing that in all their talk of Rand’s “harsh message” and “confrontational language,” many free-market defenders haven’t asked themselves why her writings have inspired millions to become advocates of capitalism. They don’t understand that she completes the 18th century vision of the American Revolution by presenting a morality that fully justifies capitalism and individual freedom.
Rand’s morality of rational, enlightened self-interest defends the individual’s right to his own life, the power of his own liberty, and the glory of his pursuit of his own happiness. She said: “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive work as his noblest achievement, and reason as his only absolute.” Her message—that “man’s proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads”—is a message of the glory of the individual, unshackled and free.
We urgently need Rand’s vision of the moral nobility and greatness of a social system based on enlightened self-interest if we, the 21st century advocates of freedom, are to finally free the world from the death grip of collectivism. And that is a vision we must defend with “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
Marsha Familaro Enright is president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, the Foundation for the College of the United States. Gen LaGreca is the author of Noble Vision, an award-winning novel about the struggle for liberty in health care today.
Copyright © 2010 by Marsha Familaro Enright and Gen LaGreca. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the authors and inclusion of their byline.
Originally published at:
Do You Love Atlas Shrugged And The Fountainhead? Would you like to Have More of Their Worlds In Your Life?
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