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Ayn Rand’s philosophical project comprises successive negative and positive moments of inquiry. It began as a historically constituted critique of the Russian duality of religion and statism. It embraced a positive synthesis, seeking to transcend false alternatives by integrating categories traditionally kept separate and distinct. Given her critical view of dualism and her vision of the ideal individual and the ideal society, Rand was faced with the typical problem of all radical thinkers: how to move from theoretical prescription to practical implementation. Like most radical thinkers, Rand looked to history for instruction. attila versus the witch doctor Though her view of history was far more complex than some of her ­ essays suggest, Rand’s popularized exposition projects an almost apocalyptic­ battle between good and evil. Rand’s conception reflects her Russian roots. In Russia, the two main philosophic fashions of the Silver Age proposed conflicts in similar apocalyptic terms. The mystical Symbolists warned of the impending doom of the old order; the materialist Bolsheviks posited a life-and-death struggle between communism and capitalism. Rand’s apocalyptic imagery, however, is less a clash between good and evil than one between good and two interpenetrating versions of evil. Rand relied upon symbolic metaphors to dramatize the historical opposition and mutually beneficial support that mystics and materialists derived from history and resolution 333 334 ayn rand each other. Rand understood the value of symbolic figures as an “adjunct to philosophy.” She appreciated Nietzsche’s aesthetic distinction between Apollo and Dionysus because it enabled people “to integrate and bear in mind the essential meaning of complex issues.”1 Following Nietzsche, Rand’s ­ symbols were designed to achieve the same clarity and integration. They encapsulate her repudiation of mysticism and statism, each of which requires the other in order to survive. They formalize the organic relationship between the “man of faith” and the “man of force”: These two figures . . . are philosophical archetypes, psychological ­ symbols and historical reality. As philosophical archetypes, they embody two variants of a certain view of man and of existence. As psychological symbols, they represent the basic motivation of a great many men who exist in any era, culture or society. As historical reality , they are the actual rulers of most of mankind’s societies, who rise to power whenever men abandon reason. (New Intellectual, 14) Drawing from a designation made initially by Nathaniel Branden, Rand identified these archetypes as Attila and the Witch Doctor.2 Attila rules by brute, physical force, whereas the Witch Doctor rules by mysticism. Like­ other dualities, these archetypes “appear to be opposites,” but they are united by a pronounced hostility to the conceptual level of consciousness. Attilas seek to achieve physical domination by ruling the bodies of their subjects and seizing their material products. They regard people “as others regard fruit trees or farm animals.” They exhibit a “perceptual mentality,” which is as close to “an animal ‘epistemology’ . . . as a human consciousness can come.” Attilas are the anti-conceptual mentality incarnate. They do not understand the cognitive roots of production. They see no need to comprehend “how men manage to produce the things [they covet]” (New Intellectual, 14–16). In modern social science, Atillas contribute to the fragmentation of knowledge and the compartmentalization of the disciplines. They view the problems of social life in a piecemeal, concrete-bound fashion, rejecting all forms of “system-building” as “irrational, mystical and unscientific” (43–44). In the face of such anti-conceptualism, it is little wonder that people are drawn psychologically to the Witch Doctor. Rand argues that human efficacy requires a comprehensive view of the world. The Witch Doctor attempts to fulfill this need. But the Witch Doctor’s attempt at comprehensiveness is saturated with mysticism. By manipulating floating abstractions, the Witch Doctor “seeks to rule . . . men’s souls.” A Witch Doctor views his or her own consciousness as an “irreducible primary,” obliterating “the distinction ­ between consciousness and reality, between the perceiver and history and resolution  335 the perceived.” The Witch Doctor damns the material world, the body, and the self as evil, asserts an ineffable grasp of a higher reality and proposes to lead people to paradise. The Witch Doctor achieves spiritual domination through the “lethal opposition of the moral and the practical,” reducing people to sacrificial animals by attacking their self-esteem (16–18). Thus, whereas Attilas prey on peoples’ bodies, Witch Doctors prey on their souls. Whereas Attilas focus on “concretes unintegrated by abstractions ,” Witch Doctors accept “floating abstractions unrelated to concretes.” Both...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780271061214
Related ISBN
9780271062273
MARC Record
OCLC
860712160
Pages
496
Launched on MUSE
2013-11-04
Language
English
Open Access
No
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