Rand on Free Will and Rationality before the 1943 Letter
Zarathustra lightens the load by stopping the climb, having the little monster off his shoulder, and spelling out what is the deep abyss drawing down his spirit: The present moment, and every present moment, is connected to an infinite past and an infinite future. Whatever occurs now must have occurred before in such an infinite past and must occur again in such an infinite future. Over and over, it goes (Z II “On the Vision and the Riddle” 2). “The knot of causes in which I am entangled recurs—it will create me again! I myself belong to the causes of the eternal recurrence. / I will return . . . not to a new life or a better life or a similar life: / —I will return to this same and selfsame life, in what is greatest as well as what is smallest . . . . / . . . / to once again teach the eternal recurrence of all things” (Z III “The Convalescent” 1).
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The ringed determinism binding the human will is a very hard one in Nietzsche’s understanding. “If ever a breath came to me of creative breath and of heavenly necessity that forces even accident to dance astral rounds: / If ever I laughed with the laugh of creative lightning that follows rumbling but obediently the long thunder of the deed: / . . . / Oh how then could I not lust for eternity and for the mystical ring of rings—the ring of recurrence! / . . . / For I love you, oh eternity!” (Z III “The Other Dance Song” 3; see also I “On the Three Metamorphoses;” II “On Redemption.”) Nietzsche, loving life and the world, reaches yet for joy even with all the pain and heavy chains of necessity (Z IV “The Sleepwalker’s Song” 8–10; cf. BGE 9).
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It is likely Rand had always rejected the Marxist doctrine of economic determinism (Milgram 2004, 12; Ridpath 2004, 91). “The mode of production of material life determines the general character of the social, political, and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence determines their consciousness” (Marx 1897 ). In Fountainhead, Rand gave to Toohey the proclamation “there was no such thing as free will, since men’s creative impulses were determined, as all else, by the economic structure of the epoch in which they lived” (PK VI 77). To the villains, too, goes proclamation of the type of determinism accepted by Nietzsche. Toohey says “‘we are merely the creatures of our chemical metabolism and of the economic factors of our background . . . . There are, of course, apparent exceptions. Merely apparent. When circumstances delude us into thinking that free action is indicated’” (HR VII 615).
A writer in Toohey’s circle writes a novel whose point is that there is no such thing as free will (GW I 421). A distinguished critic in Toohey’s circle remarks “‘talent is only a glandular accident” (GW VI 503). Nietzsche, of course, would not make small of the creative individual. He would elevate in spite of the chains of determinism.
The virtues of the creator in Fountainhead are: independence, creative achievement, loyalty to reason, and integrity, which includes courage (737–40). . . . The choice of independence or dependence “rests upon the alternative of life or death” (739–40). “The code of the creator is built on the needs of the reasoning mind which allows man to survive” (740).
Within the virtues of the extraordinary creator (such as Howard Roark) are the virtues of good people in general. Rand continues: “Degrees of ability vary, but the basic principle remains the same: the degree of a man’s independence, initiative, and personal love for his work determines his talent as a worker and his worth as a man” (F 740). For every good individual, honesty, courage, and basing one’s self-respect on “personal standards of personal achievement” are virtues (658). For every human being, to suspend one’s faculty of independent judgment is to suspend consciousness, and “to stop consciousness is to stop life” (659).
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When we turn from Fountainhead to Atlas, we find Rand’s ethical thought fully developed. Seven moral virtues are articulated, for all individuals: rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, and pride. Here the virtues are argued not only upon a characterization of the kind of individual who makes human existence possible—the individual self-sufficient, self-motivated, self-generated—but upon a characterization of all life preceding and supporting rational, volitional life: organism-life as “a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action” (AS 1013).
In the manuscript for Anthem (1938), Rand has the protagonist Equality 7-2521 reflect: “I will, for I know my desires, and I am free in that which I desire” (quoted in Milgram 2005, 19). He is not thinking simply that he is presently free from the coercive orders of other men. He is saying that man’s will is free by nature. To be directed by one’s own will is the natural state of human beings. In the 1938 edition, Equality writes: “My will, which chooses, and orders, and creates. My will, the master which knows no masters. My will, the liberator and conqueror. My will, which is the thin flame, still and holy, in the shrine of my body, my body which is but the shrine of my will. Many words have been granted me, and some are wise, and some are false, but only three are holy: ‘I will it’” (quoted in Mayhew 2005b, 40).
Early Rand held to considerable freedom of the will, contrary Marx and Nietzsche. The will for Rand is spirit. Human will, joy, and thought are of the inner self, which is spirit. If the will were only drives of the body, it would not be free or sacred. This sense of sacredness does not entail belief in the supernatural nor opposition to reason, which is itself part of the holy self.
We have seen that in The Fountainhead, too, deterministic materialist reduction of human life is rejected by Rand (PK VI 77; HR VII 615; HR X 649). Deeper than the bones, for man, is his soul (GW III 471). Roark says to Wynand “‘we live in our minds, and existence is the attempt to bring that life into physical reality, to state it in gesture and form’” (HR II 558). All living creatures have a life source, which is their constitutional idea. Failure of organism integrity, compromise of its life source, is death (PK XV 205). Similarly, to set against the central constitutional idea particular to one’s self is a failure of an integrity that may be called moral integrity (ibid.). A person of integrity is self-motivated, a self-sufficient spirit (HR XI 660). Life itself for man requires human consciousness, which is independent judgment (HR XI 659). Life itself for man requires creators (HR XVIII 737). The vision, strength, and courage of a creator comes “from his own spirit” (ibid.). Human creators are “a first cause, a fount of energy, a life force . . .” (ibid.).
For all individuals, not only extraordinary creators, seeking the best, loving one’s work, and choosing independence is seeking, loving, and choosing life—one’s own life—against death (ET XI 349; HR XVIII 739–40). In her fully developed ethical system of Atlas Shrugged, the choice of life or death remains implicit in one’s choices for virtues such as integrity, productiveness, and independence.
In Fountainhead loyalty to reason had been a virtue alongside virtues such as integrity and independence. In Atlas loyalty to truth in all things by reason, which is termed rationality, is the premier virtue. And the choice to think becomes the life-or-death choice underlying all the life-or-death virtues of Rand’s full system: rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, and pride (see also Wright 2009, 258–62, 265–70). “That which you call your soul or spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call ‘free will’ is your mind’s freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom, the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and character” (AS 1017; see further a, b, c).