You are rapidly making Jeanie sit up, come up, and take notice, and that this not a common thing or a compliment I can speak often. I'm familiar with E.R. Dodds' work, which was one of the books that truly shook up my Randian mythology of a single, perenially resurfacing image of human greatness. Have you by any chance read Orlando Patterson's works, patricularly Freedom in the Making of Western Culture?
Let me speak with a directness that usually isn't my weapon of choice:
On fascism: Joe, while I agree with you, and like you, agree with you after many years of bitterly fighting the notion, that Rand's critics who assail her has 'fascist' have a point, that fascism is a terrible word for what you are describing. "Fascism" is a specific poltical-economic system of mass-mobilization for a radical restoration of traditional elites under a totalitarian assimilation of social and economic power to the state in a corporatist model. This does not describe Rand. "Elitism" and "Authoritarian morality" are terms that do fairly describe Rand at times, and this is what people who call her "fascist" are getting at, and it is I believe what you are getting at. But in all these cases, the result is both the intellectual confusion of authoritarianism or totalitarianism with the specific historical reality and political form of fascism and a desensitization by overuse to a word that should be reserved for situations of awful weight. One can say Rand's the theories are a variant of the ubermensch thesis, one can say her ethics are authoritarian in Fromm's sense, one can call her an elitist, but she is not fascist- and some of her heirs, such as Leonard Peikoff, Chris Sciabarra, and Arthur Silber, have written insightfullty against fascism as a horrfyingly creeping contemporary reality in ways that should be commended for the use of fascism in a precise and serious way. I must protest the casual use of the term you borrow from Rand's critics, even if I see some truth in what they- and you- are getting at.
As for the value of Nietzschean eltitism, let me say I myself am greatly indebted to Nietzsche, in some ways more than to Rand. And I'm of two minds regarding the ubermensch thesis.
One the one hand, I've come to the conclusion that in a sad way, we're really all human, in the sense that when I've looked closely at my own life, happiness has always been more in having the courage to admit what I in fact desired, instead of worrying so much about what I should desire, with a liberal openness to but not duty to investigate other forms of enjoyment. It's been in a willigness to think, reflect, and theorize my livf, both for the enjoyment of theory and as a tool of intelligent living... but it's also been a willingness at other times to just shut up with myself and enjoy. It has been as much listening to feelings as anything else. It's been willing to accept social realities, and not conform to them but learn to how to find a rewarding life within them even if it meaning romancing traditional structures one's better jusgement would tear down, a willingness to accept some emotions that don't match one's ideals while fighting to to the death for other emotions one has to fight for. It's a matter of stopping saying other people do not matter and finding a balance between ignoring those people you can, winning acceptance from those you want and need to, and finding some places you can live life and be human and others where you can be respected for the highest you are and the highest you can experience. And all this isn't a heroic ethic; I know my own worth, I have fought bloddy battles and Hell for my own soul, someof them against these precious Objectivists themselves, and I've done my part to fight for what I believe in, but at the end of the day what I want out of life is a complicated mess of pleasure, respect, love, pride, intelligence, warmth, humor, art, food, drink, self-indulgence, fame, family (or the closest I'll ever find), reverence, thrill, and lust that makes me nothing more, and nothing less, than human, and the major difference between me, Nietzsche, and Fred Flintstone is what experiences I've had in life, where my passions have been fueled, bled, fulfilled, burned, enticed, encouraged, rerouted, and hurt beyond healing, how intelligent I've become at learning how to live them, and how lucky I was next to the next person.
I feel very sad to say this, but as someone who truly has suffered to live an Objectivist code, suffered to live a Straussian's code as a student of philsophy, and someone who lives the most extreme of lives... I must say in all honestly that what made me happy was having the courage to do what I had to do, go where I had to go, and find the extreme place than happened to be the one place I could find real but really normal happiness. I'm a cultural radical, a philosophical virtuosa, a radical libertarian, a Pagan flake, and an.. oh, damn prudence!... I hate equivocations- I'm a whore recreating the profession of courtesan, I'm a submissive in training that would make the good prattlers of bourgeouis 'discipline' faint at a description what I'm putting myself under... and guess what, I'm doing it all for the same common, good life that some boring, bourgeouis homeowner I will inevitably end up on the barricades against is fighting for (and I'll sleep with him that night... life's a mess!). And I look at people from all over politics, the social spectrum, and all religions, and I find that somewhere they are just trying to protect and cherish whatever happiness they have found in life.
I don't speak like this too often, and it's foolish as Hell to do it in a public place like this, but your own wrestlings with elitism and the democratic spirit, with Paglia, Rand, and Nietzsche, touch the nerve of the feelings that war within me, or used to war and now dance with a few sparks and clashes, more in theatrics than in crusadership. For another part of me is aristocratic indeed, and says that whatever the issues of happenstance, motivation,, and justice there are rare, rare heights and beauties in this world, so teribly rare... so terribly rare that I look at Objectivists who talk about their devotion to the heighest and how they'll never settle for anything less, and just blink. Not because I don't believe in any heights,but because they're not experiencing the heights and don't notice it. I see these Objectivists, who in philsophical purity wear nothing but Randian colors, and I simply cannot understand how they can't see that the average Randian trinket is just as cheap and gaudy at the latest Marxian one, the latest Chrsitian one, the latest multiculturalist junk... that your avergae Randian article is a missing-the-point, heard-it-a-thousand times rehash of a familiar formula, copied by people with the strength for one great experience of passion in Rand that burned their capacity out of them, and now they mouth Rand's words without being able to get to her inner spirit. It's not that there's anything worse in Rand that the others, quite the contrary. The followers of all faiths are mediocre hobos who sold out, with a few of them being good enough to develop the implications of their founder but no new insights, and a very view able to expound the scope of the insights, relate and synthesize two or more brilliant sources, and maybe come up with a couple of minor insights themselves. But the true great wonders of the world and man- the Rands, the Marxes, the Goethes, the van Goghs, not to mention the Socrateses and the Moseses, who shouldn't really be pluralized, are in the end so much closer to each other than they are to any of their followers(for all their irreconcilable differences), and once one really experiences how humiliatingly magnificent true greatness is, the rest is just so much straw. And frankly, call it a whore's ethic if you will, I don't see much difference between the Rand-gave-me-certainty-in-all-my-middle-class-American-SUV-cravings and the idiot followers of Chomsky, or feminism, or conservatism/Christianity/religious right/Islam/Jungianism (no offense), who all just found in their masters an excuse for feeling in all too easy certainty in what they were already doing. I'm quite aware that the first part of what I wrote above places me in not to entirely a different camp, and to some degree and in some sense I'm aware of it, and it makes me unable to call myself a philsopher. But at the same time, knowing a history of philsophy where everyone short of Socrates had their divided loyalites, portions of their life cordoned off to God or to Caeser, Quixotic, stupid obsessions, deeply felt loved that had no thing to do with philsophy, just the ordinary tiredness of human living, it is hard to know whom among human beings to worship, and at times I am tempted to tell this pompous trash to crawl back into the gutter where it belongs and this streetwalker does not. But then was sees what has been done, the highest that has been thought and said, and that I, at least, know of no higher tribute than Rand than to say that she created a stunning, blinding universe that is not the last word on the human spirit, one then falls down in admiration of what humanity is capable of and oneself never will be.
I am not a skeptic, I don't believe truth is impossible, I don't believe it is impossible to know what to fight for, even to die for. But I find it sad, difficult to believe, and yet eternally inevitable, that with all the greatnesses of the world that people fight so hard to extinguish other greatnesses as threats to their own. I am not Chrisitan, but I wish an Objectivist could see the burning fir ein a monk's eye in the heart of penance, could understand the tortured rapture as he kneels before the passion on the cross. I wish they could understand the meticulous, spiderlike complexities of the world of Foucauldian poststructuralism, the strange decentering and rifts of eddying waters that destablize the soul into metaphors that entrances others to postmodernism. I wish that the sons of Enjolras could understand the passion of left-protestors on the barricades, or that those who damn the ecologists could once, just once, fall into tears over the wild, untouched grottoes of moss and rocks over Pacifica and feel a tang of sadness to look up and see the dull instrument of power lines. And I wish all of those others some know the fierce, radiant certainty, the utter and just conviction that Rand provides, that the sharp, clear lines of ones own eyes that can cut cleaner and more permanently than every word said, written or agreed upon in the entire world. And I wish that all of them could know how terribly difficult it is, seeing them all, to choose.
Sigh. I'm not sure if I'm impossibly young for a twenty-five year old or I've finally grown up and grown old as I swore I never would. But I have trouble beleiving in these wars of aesthetic extermination. Do not these Objectivists know that their enemies, who they deride as mindless, have, at least the best of them, their dreams of their own, loves of their own, experiences of their own that they would die for? Why can't they see that the intellectual absurdities some feminist or postmodernist corkscrews into are no different than the Objectivist who, to defend individualism, ends up being able to say with a straight face that other people are irrelevalant to one's happiness, or that females are making up all sexism in society, or that Ayn Rand discovered the one true philsophy and that Plato, Kant, Marx, whoever are evil bastards we shouldn't read anymore. Cannot they see that by living as Objectivists, they pay a price, never to experince so many wonders that Rand does not teach, cannot teach, and that the allegiance of some to Foucault or Plato or Christ is not a matter of intellectual poverty, but of richness in passions that Rand makes impossible just their own makes Rand's?
I speak as one well aware that my own passions came at theprice of plunging a heated dagger into others I will never experience except in wisrfulness and torment again. But there is no life.no philsophy, and no god or godlessness for which one does not pay a Price.
All right, I'm done. I'm sending a copy of this to you persoanlly, as the moderator will probably justly kill this interminably long stream of consciuosness- which I forgot is another Objectivist heresy (I don't suppose it's just possible that this might help some O'ists understand why some value streams of consciousness, and that if they disparage logical writing when they defend that value, O'ists disparage something worthwhile too in their best-intention attacks of streams of consciosuness to defend logic?). Well, I'm a Pagan infidel anyway- Rand's-little-helpers can go take it to my Goddess for all I care, and if that's "irrational", fuck them! (or not) But you are such an oddly *honest* person, and I'm not used to people who wear intelligence so inconspicuously- Heaven knows I don't! That virtue is closer to the spirit of Socratic excellence that the mindless idol-worship of supreme-in-ignorance Objectivists and, to be honest, the eternal overeducated courtesanship of a player like myself. Not that I do not have my good social reason for the best use of intelligence I will ever have in this facile, sort-of-modern, same-old-story society. But it is good, impossibly good, speaking as a Cynic, to see someone who has the guts, nonpretentiousness, fortune, and ability to be *honest*.
I may not speak, I may not walk, but I can see. That's one out of three better than half of these pretty pretenders and window-shoppers.
I sit and wonder which half of a courtesan's code I will betray by either speaking in graceless truth, or keeping silent in truthless grace.