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New Intellectual Movement

 

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Integrating Thought and Action

by Luke Setzer

derived from the New Traditionalist concept and essay by Eric Heubeck

[Disclaimer: Due to some scathing but valid critiques by trustworthy Objectivists, this article should be viewed as an item for critical analysis only.  Scroll to the bottom to read the critiques.]

  1. Introduction
  2. The Problem--An Over-Reliance on Political Activism
  3. A New Direction
    1. Still Engaged--But Outside of Politics
    2. Remaining Importance of Defensive Politics
    3. New Intellectuals and Libertarians
    4. Movement Must Serve as a Force of Social Intimidation in Its Intermediate Stage
  4. Some Basic Premises
    1. The Movement Must Understand What Motivates Human Beings
    2. Good Results More Important than Good Intentions--Naiveté Not Excusable
    3. Support of an Elite More Valuable than Support of the Masses
    4. Value of Art and Images
    5. Value of the Tangible Versus the Abstract
    6. Movement Must Be Based on the Transmission of Ideas, Not Their Creation
    7. New Intellectuals Must Be More Culturally Sophisticated
    8. It Is in the Movement's Self-Interest to Improve the Quality of Its Membership
    9. New Intellectuals Must Concentrate on Students and Young Adults
    10. The Movement Must Be Willing to Appear Obnoxious
  5. Ground Zero of the New Intellectual Movement: The Study Group
    1. What Are Study Groups?
    2. Study Groups Will Cultivate Civilized Values
    3. Study Groups Will Provide a Shared "Sense of Life" Experience
    4. Book Clubs Lay the Groundwork for Study Groups
    5. Acceptance by Fellow New Intellectuals More Important than Acceptance by Wider Society
  6. Final Thoughts
    1. Even if We Lose, We Still Win
    2. Discussion Lists Have Little Value--Action Is More Important
    3. The Next Step

  1. Introduction

    This essay does not include a theoretical justification for, or even a definition of, an Objectivist (i.e., culturally rational and life-affirming) society. Ayn Rand and other writers have already done this with far more skill and erudition than I would be able to. For the sake of this essay, I will assume that the reader is already familiar with and sympathizes with the goal of an Objectivist society at some level.

    However, few of those Objectivist thinkers, or those influenced by Objectivist thought, have made any serious attempt to directly put their ideas into practice on a global scale. The unspoken assumption seems to be that if enough time is spent improving our intellectual sophistication and honing our arguments, our ideas will win more and more converts due simply to their irresistible appeal, and by some mysterious mechanism which no one has ever chosen to explain, our society will slowly but surely learn to cherish Objectivist values.

    This way of thinking must be categorically rejected.

    This essay is based on the belief that the truth of an idea is not the primary reason for its acceptance. Far more important is the energy and dedication of the idea's promoters--in other words, the individuals composing a social or political movement. The Objectivist movement has paid little attention to the qualities of the people working in the movement, and the relation of such qualities to the achievement of our goals. At least part of the reason for our failure must be attributed to insufficient interest by intellectuals in organization, the personal development of activists, and--most importantly--action and engagement in the world. The Objectivist movement has suffered, in other words, from a lack of follow-through on its most meaningful ideas.

  2. The Problem--An Over-Reliance on Political Activism

    The Objectivist movement is defensive, defeatist and depressed. It lacks virility, energy, intensity, vigor, aggressiveness and vitality. This is because Objectivists have failed to devote the proper amount of energy to developing an alternative cultural world-view opposed to the dominating liberal and conservative ones. They have instead devoted much of their energy to electing sympathetic politicians and lobbying the government to pass or overturn particular laws.

    There are two problems with this strategy. The first and more obvious is that it is exceedingly and progressively more difficult to exert political influence when the cultural assumptions underlying those political goals are being steadily eroded by the popular culture, if no serious attempt to retard or reverse that erosion is ever made.

    Secondly, an over-reliance on political change seems to reinforce the very politicization of society that Objectivists often bemoan, by ratifying the notion that an individual's personal happiness is inextricably bound up in the activity (or inactivity) of government. While government is certainly intrusive and plays too large a role in our society, the government is not totalitarian. There are plenty of opportunities to make our society more culturally Objectivist, and our lives richer and fuller, apart from political change, but Objectivists have shown very little interest in pursuing those opportunities. They have shown far more interest in expanding political freedom than in seeing that Americans make good use of the freedom they already have, and as a result, they have succeeded in neither. The lack of interest in the latter goal is curious, since freedom for its own sake has never been a Objectivist goal, at least in theory.

    The result of this misplaced focus is a society that increasingly does not recognize culturally Objectivist views, and is gradually coming to despise them. The Left has long understood that nothing can be achieved politically unless and until one can capture the imagination of the people--and imaginations are seldom captured by policy wonks on C-SPAN. They understand that a governing regime must acquire moral legitimacy before it can win the consent of the people, and all governments, particularly one such as ours, require some level of consent to govern.

    The relatively recent successes of New Left ideas in law and legislation have only been made possible because their proponents were able to capture the cultural institutions--e.g.. the media, academia, publishing houses, advertising agencies, Hollywood--some years earlier. All of these institutions have by and large surrendered to the Left, with any opposition being limited to assorted muffled complaints and pathetic appeals for fairness. Meanwhile, Objectivists dedicate themselves to political activism all the more furiously in the hope that it can compensate for their weakness in the non-political sectors of society. This effort must be dismissed as hopeless and self-delusional.

    Objectivists must honestly assess the predicament that we are in. We must understand that the American people are not on our side, at least not reliably so, and they will be less so as time goes on. But more worrisome still is the fact that Objectivists themselves often no longer understand or support a truly culturally Objectivist vision of America. Being Objectivist has come to mean nothing more than holding the belief that every man has the inalienable right to make as much money as he possibly can. True intellectual Objectivists are now seen as oddities in the movement who must be tolerated, or even silenced in order that the movement appear credible in the eyes of the leftist guardians of good taste.

    To sum up, the basic problem confronting us is that those who are familiar with the theoretical underpinnings of Objectivism are not particularly interested in putting their ideas into practice, and those who are engaged in activism are not well-read and are obsessed with public policy matters. Those who think do not act, and those who act do not think. If this continues, the Objectivist movement will cease to exist in every way but name.

  3. A New Direction

    The dire predicament in which we find ourselves demands a drastic change in strategy by cultural Objectivists. It is becoming increasingly clear that we must heed Paul Weyrich's call for a tactical retreat from the fields of political battle--not totally or permanently, but until such time as we can confidently proclaim that New Intellectuals are a force to be reckoned with in the wider society. Without this, any offensives using political means are doomed to failure. They are therefore a waste of our people's time, money, and energy, and for that reason should not even be attempted. We will never succeed in taking over political structures until we can convince the American people that we can be trusted to take them over, and to do that we must win the people over culturally--by defining how man ought to act, how he ought to think about the world around him, and what it means to live the good life. Political arrangements can only be formed after these fundamental questions have been answered.

    Once this basic belief is accepted, our next task is to develop the means by which it can be put into practice. We must, as Mr. Weyrich has suggested, develop a network of parallel cultural institutions existing side-by-side with the dominant leftist cultural institutions. The building and promotion of these institutions will require the development of a movement that will not merely reform the existing post-war Objectivist movement, but will in fact be forced to supersede it--if it is to succeed at all--because it will pursue a very different strategy and be premised on a very different view of its role in society.

    Our movement--which we will call the New Intellectual Movement--will not seek to immediately replace the dominant culture. A retreat will allow us to regroup and find our bearings. The overemphasis on effecting change through political activism has left us disoriented, distracted, and overly prone to accept the cultural assumptions of the Left. But this tactical retreat will ultimately lead to strategic victory.

    A central mission of this movement is to advance a true intellectual counter-culture based on our supreme and ruling values of reason, purpose and self-esteem. The New Intellectuals will not be exclusively Objectivists, but most of them inevitably will be. What binds the New Intellectuals is a belief that each individual has a responsibility to obey reason and law rather than whim and anarchy. New Intellectuals reject the statism, hedonism and subjectivism which permeate modern life. We share a willingness to face reality and repudiate false ideologies that bear no relation to how people really think and how people really live.

    There will be three main stages in the unfolding of this movement. The first stage will be devoted to the development of a highly motivated elite able to coordinate future activities. The second stage will be devoted to the development of institutions designed to make an impact on the wider elite and a relatively small minority of the masses. The third stage will involve changing the overall character of American popular culture.

    1. Still Engaged--But Outside of Politics

      It must be emphasized that this new movement will not be "disengaged" from the wider society, only "differently engaged." We are, quite simply, replacing political activism with cultural activism as the center of our focus. While the visibility of the new movement will be less pronounced than the existing (political) Objectivist movement in the short term, the seeds that we now sow will have dramatic repercussions over the long term. We have the capacity to fundamentally transform the face of American culture in the 21st century by following a different path, one built on the aggressive dissemination of our cultural values, rather than the idle hope that enough of our cultural values still remain in the body of the American people to carry us on to a few more isolated electoral victories.

      We will never stop being engaged in the wider culture. We will not "hunker down" and wait for the storm to blow over. Our strategy will be to bleed this corrupt culture dry. We will pick off the most intelligent and creative individuals in our society, the individuals who help give credibility to the current regime. To do this, we will promote a set of beliefs more compelling than that of our opponents. We will launch a movement with more energy and more intensity than our opponents are capable of summoning. When the choice is made clear, the people--cultural elites and non-cultural elites alike--will vote with their feet by either joining or patronizing our institutions and abandoning those of the Left and Right, and the reigning regime will collapse from lack of support.

      Our movement will be entirely destructive, and entirely constructive. We will not try to reform the existing institutions. We only intend to weaken them, and eventually destroy them. We will endeavor to knock our opponents off-balance and unsettle them at every opportunity. All of our constructive energies will be dedicated to the creation of our own institutions.

      We will maintain a constant barrage of criticism against the Left and Right. We will attack the very legitimacy of the Left and Right. We will not give them a moment's rest. We will endeavor to prove that neither the Left nor the Right deserves to hold sway over the heart and mind of a single American. We will offer constant reminders that there is a third alternative, a better way. When people have had enough of the sickness and decay of today's American culture, they will be embraced by and welcomed into the New Intellectual Movement. The rejection of the existing society by the people will thus be accomplished by pushing them and pulling them simultaneously.

      We will use guerrilla tactics to undermine the legitimacy of the dominant regime. We will take advantage of every available opportunity to spread the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with the existing state of affairs. For example, we could have every member of the movement put a bumper sticker on his car that says something to the effect of "Public Education is Rotten; Home School Your Kids." This will change nobody's mind immediately; no one will choose to stop sending his children to public schools immediately after seeing such a bumper sticker; but it will raise awareness and consciousness that there is a problem. Most of all, it will contribute to a vague sense of uneasiness and dissatisfaction with existing society. We need this if we hope to start picking people off and bringing them over to our side. We need to break down before we can build up. We must first clear away the flotsam of a decayed culture.

      In terms of our long term prospects, because we will be seen as a purely defensive movement, not interested in imposing our views on anyone, only interested in being left alone, we will surely gain the sympathy of the public. The dominant culture will see its life-force being sapped, and it will grow terrified. It will do whatever it takes to destroy its assailant. This will lead to the perception that the dominant statist culture is empty, hollow, desperate and has lost its mandate to rule, because its only basis for authority is coercion, much like the Communist East Bloc. Sympathy from the American people will increase as our opponents try to persecute us, which means our strength will increase at an accelerating rate due to more defections--and the enemy will collapse as a result.

    2. Remaining Importance of Defensive Politics

      We must stay involved in the political arena. We do not expect to make any gains through politics. But as our movement grows, the Left and Right will become increasingly likely to try to use the powers of the state to squelch our movement, using whatever pretext they are able to invent. We will need to stay engaged in politics for purely defensive purposes. But all hope for long-term restoration must lie with the new movement. Our only involvement in the political process should be designed to more effectively accomplish secession from, and perhaps eventually, a widespread influence over, the wider culture.

      We have repeatedly shot ourselves in the foot by expecting too much from the Democratic and Republican Parties. Of course, New Intellectuals should not defend any party when it pushes legislation that makes the government more intrusive than it currently is. But we should not sacrifice a united front by trying to badger either party into doing what it is incapable of doing. That is a waste of the political capital of the party and the time and energy of our people, simply for the sake of "fighting the good fight."

    3. New Intellectuals and Libertarians

      There are operational libertarians and there are ontological libertarians. There is nothing in this movement that an operational libertarian would find objectionable. It does not seek to replace an intrusive leftist state or an intrusive rightist state with an intrusive Objectivist state. Moreover, the likelihood that this movement would result in an Objectivist society is far higher than the likelihood of any strategy succeeding that self-identified libertarians are advocating, because this movement does not promote a direct confrontation with the state, but a sort of "weaning off," or a "walking away" from the state. The state will lose its power when people no longer feel they need it, and only then. Our goal should be to teach the cultural elite, and all people, to find meaning in their lives outside of politics. If they do, perhaps they will leave the rest of us alone.

      But the New Intellectual Movement must be willing to lose allies among those self-styled libertarians who brought themselves on board the Objectivist coalition. While our movement is not anti-freedom, and the practical effect of our ultimate ascendancy to political power (should that happen) would be an increase in political freedom for Americans, we choose not to make a fetish of political freedom. We recognize that there are other freedoms besides political freedom--such as the freedom not to be subjected to a barrage of cultural decadence at every turn. In fact, it could be argued that this is a more important freedom, because popular culture is considerably more pervasive than the hand of government in most people's lives.

      The ontological libertarians make their arguments in terms that the perfectly happy life is a life free from all restraint. The use of these arguments has been a convenient way to achieve some of the short-term goals of Objectivists, because this argument is presented in ontological terms acceptable to the Left--but it has been disastrous to American society. It was an alluring temptation that should have been resisted. It has reaffirmed the world-view of the leftist, which holds the unbridled, irrational ego at its center. This pitiful compromise has undermined the foundation of any resistance to the Left based on the promotion of a fundamentally different world-view. This devil's bargain has therefore helped to perpetuate the decimation of traditional American culture, with its accumulated wisdom and mores and traditions of self-governance, which is the basis for any hope of a truly workable political freedom.

      New Intellectuals must make their arguments in terms of the profound human need for freedom and its life-enhancing benefits, and not in terms of the glories of nihilism, if we can consider them allies and not opponents. As cultural activism becomes more important to our movement, and political activism less so, it will become obvious to all bystanders that we have less and less in common with many libertarians whose philosophical foundations are not sound.

    4.  Movement Must Serve as a Force of Social Intimidation in Its Intermediate Stage

      We must create a countervailing force that is just as adept as the Left at intimidating people and institutions that are used as tools of left-wing activism but are not ideologically committed, such as Hollywood celebrities, multinational corporations, and university administrators. We must be feared, so that they will think twice before opening their mouths. They must understand that there is some sort of cost involved in taking a "controversial" stand--although positions cannot honestly be labeled "controversial" if Objectivists are unable to mount a meaningful opposition. Perhaps once we are able to mount such an opposition, we will be able to take some of the trendiness out of leftist cultural activism, because lukewarm advocates of leftist causes will be forced actually to get their hands dirty. Support of leftist causes will no longer be the path of least resistance.

  4. Some Basic Premises

    1. The Movement Must Understand What Motivates Human Beings

      We must perform a brutally honest analysis of what motivates human beings. We must understand what makes them tick, whether that motivation is attractive or not. We must channel undesirable impulses to serve good purposes. For example, it is important to emphasize that the alternative counter-culture must be just that--alternative. It must be different from anything people are familiar with. It is a basic fact that an us-versus-them, insider-versus-outsider mentality is a very strong motivation in human life. For better or for worse, this has to be recognized and taken advantage of for the good of the movement.

      Moreover, the New Intellectuals must be interested in learning about sociology, social psychology, and the dynamics of social change. We must study examples of dissident and counter-cultural groups that succeeded in ascending to dominance--we must learn from them.

      We must recognize the world as it is, not as we may like it to be; but we must never let this line of thinking descend into cynicism.

    2. Good Results More Important than Good Intentions--Naiveté Not Excusable

      We will apply a scientific analysis to every problem. We will be results-oriented rather than good intentions-oriented. Making a rational effort and being ideologically sound will be less important than advancing the goals of the movement. We must learn to be more self-critical. Our efforts should be less haphazard, less prone to fits and starts, and they should make better use of accumulated knowledge and past errors.

      We must recognize, but not get hung up on, the evils of our opponents. Otherwise, we squander our precious life energy. We can only control our own actions and responses. We must stop whining when we see an example of leftist and rightist double-standards and hypocrisy and accept reality as it exists. The only question to be asked is, what are we going to do about it? We must learn to change our own thinking and our own behavior. We must always operate based on this cardinal principle: Leftists and Rightists are morally responsible for the evil they commit; but we as Objectivists are morally responsible for not having done more to prevent them from committing that evil. We must learn to treat leftists and rightists as natural disasters or rabid dogs. If we act as if this were in fact true (of course, it is not), we will not needlessly expend our energy on being upset with our opponents.

      This is not to discount the importance of reminding ourselves on a regular basis why we ought to hate leftist and rightist ideology, in order to keep ourselves motivated to better fight it. But we must be aware that this is what we are doing as we do it--such propaganda must be seen as a catalyst for action, not a substitute for action. We must always understand exactly why we do what we do as we do it, and why our opponents do what they do. We must stop operating according to self-delusion and wishful thinking. Good intentions and good effort count for nothing.

      The new movement must learn never to be satisfied with the way things are. We must ask a long series of "whys" to understand how we arrived at our current condition and what must be done to change it. For example, if a fight is winnable, why have we not won it? If it is not, why are we not diverting our efforts elsewhere?

      We must always recognize and anticipate the strategy of our opponents. There is no excuse for ever being surprised by the ferocity or ingenuity of their attacks.

      One especially naive belief held by most Objectivists (at least as betrayed by their actions) that seems to have real staying power is that ideas have a way of disseminating themselves. In many Objectivist publications, for example, it is unclear who the intended audience is. Articles tend to cover old ground and rehash old arguments, which is pointless if the intended readership is made up of Objectivist activists who are already familiar with them. But if the intended audience is made up of people who do not already agree, they most likely will not be reading such a specialized publication, but rather reading a newspaper or watching television news, or more likely, they will not follow public affairs at all.

      What the activists instead need is a better understanding of how the current situation has arisen and how to coordinate strategy, so they will be prepared to take action in the real world. For instance, they need to know more about the history of the Left than any leftist. They need to be able to beat a leftist in any debate. They need to be able to make him look utterly foolish. They need, in other words, to become hyper-intellectual--this will make them more self-confident, and with self-confidence, they will have the power to prevail. But the Objectivist movement is not properly preparing its activists to do what needs to be done. They are instead tossing random opinions into the circulation of national discourse, and merely hoping for the best.

    3. Support of an Elite More Valuable than Support of the Masses

      We will initially operate according to the belief that it is more important to win over the elites (or create a new, better one) than to build up a mass movement. Furthermore, it is more important to have a few impassioned members than a large number of largely indifferent members. The amount of energy and self-assurance that we are able to inculcate in the leaders of our movement will ultimately determine its success or failure.

      The new movement must be, in part, exclusive and elite. It must not be afraid to pass along a body of knowledge that is not readily accessible to and understandable by everyone. The strong appeal of a feeling of exclusivity and superiority will give our members a reason to endure the slings and arrows of popular disapproval.

      The New Intellectual Movement will appeal to the masses, but not immediately. The ideas of the masses never come from the masses. To the extent that the masses are more Objectivist than the elites, this is primarily because the masses have a long collective memory from the Enlightenment, and they still value the beliefs articulated by a long-lost elite. The Objectivist instincts of the American people will continue to erode unless a new elite is formed to refresh that memory.

      We must recognize that literature and philosophy do not appeal to the masses. This is why we must develop ways to spread our philosophy using intuitive, "sense of life" means--especially the moving image.

    4. Value of Art and Images

      We must place a high value on art, because the most important thing any movement can do is capture the imagination of the people. One must give them dreams and ideals that have been put in terms they can understand, and that touch their hearts, as opposed to their rational minds. If we cannot capture the imaginations of our members, then we cannot expect our members to make great investments for us. There must be a common repository of books and movies that everyone in our movement is familiar with and inspired by, so anyone can quote a line that will be recognized by everyone else. Young people already do this, only with the wrong movies, songs, and other products of popular culture.

      We have the example of schoolboys studying Homer in Ancient Greece. No Greek would be considered properly educated without an intimate familiarity with Homer. This taught Greeks what their ideals should be, how they should act, and gave them a common base of reference which united them as members of a society. The films Braveheart and Gladiator are possible examples from current popular culture that could serve a similar, but clearly more limited function.

      There is no medium more conducive to propagandistic purposes than the moving image, and our movement must learn to make use of this medium. A skillfully produced motion picture or television documentary has tremendous persuasive power. It has the power to bypass not only the old prejudices that have been assiduously cultivated by the Left and the Right over the past few decades, but also the innate skepticism of the viewer, the resistance to new ideas. Rational arguments simply do not have this power, and all arguments made in print tend to appeal to the rational, critical faculties of the mind to a greater or lesser degree.

      The visual image allows us to illustrate our beliefs and arguments to our members and others in highly compelling terms--we will be able to show all the examples of cultural decadence, irrationality and disingenuousness in public debate, combined with our commentary, selectively edited and arranged for maximum impact. It avoids the abstract generalizations that tend to characterize many Objectivist arguments. It also allows us to show what we think is right about our current culture--examples from movies or television that we as cultural Objectivists support and are excited by. The large amount of capital needed for involvement in this medium is hard to come by, and those with the most creativity and skills in this area are by and large not cultural Objectivists--but these hurdles must be overcome sooner or later.

    5. Value of the Tangible Versus the Abstract

      This movement will understand that it is not enough to talk in abstractions only. We need to offer clear examples whenever possible. And the ideas must be lived by our members if they are ever to be actualized in the wider society. The power of example is far greater than the power of exhortation. This is a cardinal premise of the new movement.

      An excessive amount of intellectualization divorced from application in the real world is a kind of escape from reality, or the creation of a virtual reality. Thinking becomes tired, static, and inward-looking. People become more interested in creating mental utopias than in having a real impact on society. Scholars become mere pedants; ideas are no longer creative and vital.

      Ideas interest us only insofar as they offer a guide to action. There is a place in society for abstract, academic discussion. This is not that place.

    6. Movement Must Be Based on the Transmission of Ideas, Not Their Creation

      This movement is not about the creation of ideas, it is about the transmission and dissemination of ideas. Objectivism already exists, but it is largely unknown. As it finds its audience, Objectivism will become more creative and will respond to the challenges of the present. The creators of the future will find their inspiration from the great ideas of the past. We maintain that the dearth of new creative thought grounded in Objectivist sensibilities is due to a disconnection from the great ideas of the past, because those ideas have not been given life and relevance. The New Intellectual Movement will be a revolution in organization, not ideas, but the results will be equally, if not more dramatic.

      The ideas that form the basis of the new movement have been well articulated by people who value theory but not action. It will be the job of the New Intellectual Movement to transmit these ideas to a more action-oriented elite, and through them, to the masses. An action-oriented elite is necessary to force people to confront ideas they would otherwise not be exposed to. Ideas do not automatically have consequences. They do not have an impact in direct proportion to the truth they contain. They have an impact only insofar as adherents of those ideas are willing to take measures to propagate those ideas.

    7. New Intellectuals Must Be More Culturally Sophisticated

      The new movement cannot be seen as a movement of rubes, or knee-jerk yahoos, or surly malcontents. We must make it clear that we are seceding from popular culture not because we are unable to cope with modern life, but because much of modern life does not interest us. We understand popular culture--we get it--we simply find it empty and meaningless.

      We may reject the culture of our opponents, but we must never fear it. We must understand the appeal of popular culture before we can hope to draw people away from it. People will not take us seriously until they are convinced we have taken the time to understand its appeal. We need the perspective to be able to compare our current culture with culture at its best, so we not only know when popular culture falls short, but also when it, on occasion, provides examples of culture at its best.

    8. It Is in the Movement's Self-Interest to Improve the Quality of Its Membership

      We have a dearth of human material that shares our intellectual values. These people must be created in our own institutions. They must be given a refuge as their nascent beliefs are coming into fruition. They must be sheltered and protected. Improving the quality of the people who make up the new movement will be a primary concern.

      The new movement must understand that it is not enough to wait for people to come to us. Objectivists now seem to feel that the success a Objectivist activist can achieve in the Objectivist movement is his own business, merely a matter of building a career. This view must be categorically rejected. It is in the interest of the New Intellectual Movement that every member be given the support to reach his maximum potential. It is imperative that every member be made to feel more confident about his beliefs and abilities, because the movement as a whole suffers from a lack of confidence. Furthermore, there must be a place for people who do not work in the movement for a salary. The New Intellectual Movement is a cause, not a business.

      The new movement will promote discipline and loyalty and self-investment. Advancing one's personal interests by harming the interests of the movement will never be overlooked or forgotten. The movement must have an intolerance for backstabbers and traitors.  It must reflect a movement that possesses the self-confidence to demand victory for itself, and to ostracize individuals who interfere with the realization of our goals. I do not refer to genuine differences of opinion. This is not a totalitarian movement. I refer to "Objectivists" who feel tempted to denounce other Objectivists merely to gain the approval of the cultural elite, or for personal gain.

    9. New Intellectuals Must Concentrate on Students and Young Adults

      The new movement will inevitably be geared toward children and young adults, especially their education. We will accomplish the goal of retaking our country only when large numbers of young people are educated outside of the indoctrinating environment of many public and private schools, universities, and of course, the popular culture. At this point in their lives, many of their ideas are still in the formative stage, the more so the younger they are. Furthermore, young adults (of college age and above) should be given a large role in the organization of the New Intellectual Movement, as many older people, because of work and family life, simply do not have the time to devote to reading, discussion, and action (and all three are equally important). They also often lack the necessary energy, enthusiasm, and idealism that is prevalent in youth. However, retirees could also make a valuable contribution to the movement.

      College students must be a key audience for our movement, since they are free of excessive time commitments and they find themselves in an environment that (theoretically) encourages activism and exposure to new ideas. We should consider creating alternative fraternities where intellectuals can live, interact with each other, learn from each other, socialize with each other. New Intellectual fraternities can help replicate lifestyles from the past--emulate "civilized" behavior from the past--by discussing intellectual ideas, literature, and art, and then acting based on what has been learned. Members of the fraternities and collegiate study groups should build each other up in every possible way: in terms of public speaking skills, debating skills, physical fitness, intellect, manners, aesthetic sense. It is imperative that our ideas be lived and not merely discussed.

      A basic problem is that most bright, creative, dynamic, energetic young people with leadership skills become leftists, and this is why most student leaders--who eventually become the leaders of society--tend to be leftists. New Intellectual fraternities and collegiate study groups can help reverse that tendency.

    10. The Movement Must Be Willing to Appear Obnoxious

      Our movement must be highly provocative. The thing we have most to fear is that we will be ignored.

      Cultural Objectivists must understand the predicament we are in. We must be willing to take measures that perhaps we would be unwilling to take under different, more ideal circumstances. We will have standards--we will never try to justify dishonesty, destruction of the personal reputation of our opponents, cheating, assault, etc., in the service of victory for our movement. However, we will not consider ourselves above appearing "unseemly" or surrendering some our personal dignity. We must be willing to shake people out of their complacency--which means being obnoxious if the situation requires it--because given the fact that the dominant leftist culture and rising rightist culture is safely ensconced, complacency only serves the interests of our opponents.

      It is not enough to say that Objectivist philosophy is more sensible than that of the Left or Right. If we leave it at that, we will only attract "sensible" people to our movement. But "sensible" people do not go to the barricades, they do not make great investments for a movement. And the experience of the Objectivist movement has shown this to be the case. We need more people with fire in the belly, and we need a message that attracts those kinds of people. As Plato said, "madness comes from God, whereas sober sense is merely human." We should keep this in mind if we expect our people to make superhuman investments for the movement. We must reframe this struggle as a moral struggle, as a transcendent struggle, as a struggle between good and evil. And we must be prepared to explain why this is so. We must provide the evidence needed to prove this using images and simple terms. Putting the debate in terms of mere freedom, the "leave us alone" mentality, does not inspire apocalyptic fervor.

      Some will argue that "Objectivists" do not believe in apocalyptic fervor. The reader should simply ask himself, is he happy with the state of cultural activism in this country? If not, does he think it likely that conditions will improve in the future by operating according to the current rules? And if not, is he willing to witness the death of true civilization in this country so that Objectivism will not suffer the ungentlemanly taint of "fervor"? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, this movement will not appeal to the reader.

  5. Ground Zero of the New Intellectual Movement: The Study Group

    1. What Are Study Groups?

      The study groups will develop a cadre of scholar warriors. They are the vanguard of a counter-cultural movement. Study groups are the basis of all short-term activity.

      Study groups will be imperative because they will be the means by which we combine thought and action. Members will be asked to read relatively difficult or abstract works of political and social philosophy. They will then be asked to come up with examples from our current society that might illustrate some principles contained therein.

      This will not be a movement of talkers. Participants will be expected to engage in tangible, constructive activity. They will be asked often what precisely they have done for the good of the movement. The new movement will not, unlike much of modern Objectivism, be a spectator sport.

      Study groups, as their name implies, will be engaged in the intensive study of culture and ideas, but the understanding achieved through that study will be applied in the form of action. Action is defined as either

      1. the subversion of leftist-controlled or rightist-controlled institutions, or

      2. the creation of our own institutions of civil society, whose sole purpose is outreach to, and the conversion of, non-intellectuals.

      Action is partly designed to lead to direct results in society, mostly as a way to build up the qualities of the membership. A membership that never acts is useless, because it does not become more capable, and does not learn from its mistakes. Furthermore, action in the world encourages the identification of the member with, and dedication to the group.

      For example, we will go to public lectures given by leftists and ask them "impolite" and highly critical questions. We must, of course, be fully prepared beforehand for these sorts of excursions, and we must also be prepared to embarrass ourselves, especially at first.

      Money for the new movement will come primarily from the membership at first, because very few foundations will be willing to support us initially. As our movement grows, even if more funding comes from foundations, requirements for personal contributions must remain high to make people believe they are personally invested in this movement. Again, members cannot be allowed to think of themselves as spectators in this movement.

    2. Study Groups Will Cultivate Civilized Values

      The coming battle for the hearts and minds of Americans is ultimately a battle between civilization and barbarism. The fight between civilization and barbarism is a fight that takes place in society at large, as well as in the soul of each individual.

      Civilization means, in part, the mores and inherited traditions that encourage self-governance and profound respect for the rights of other individuals, as well as an appreciation for objective truth, in a way that is sustainable and in harmony with our essential human nature. It is concerned with the intellectual health of society and bodies responsible for perpetuating those traditions. It is the opposite of barbarism, which means obeying one's lowest range-of-the-moment drives; barbarism means fidelity solely to one's whims, not to a rational social code worked out over centuries, representing the accumulated wisdom of generations of men and women. Albert Jay Nock defines culture at its best as "lucidity of mind, intellectual curiosity and hospitality, largeness of temper, objectivity, the finest sense of social life, of manners, of beauty." This view of culture is clearly incompatible with irrational, unbridled egoism or self-sacrifice.

      This is also the opposite of a society produced by false ideology. Such ideology is a substitute for genuine thought, and it is the opposite of all true civilization. A central goal of the movement will be the destruction of false ideology in whatever form it takes.

      The study groups, and through them, the New Intellectual Movement as a whole, will be the means by which the goals of civilization, high standards, and cultural refinement are injected back into society. We have claimed the prerogative to be obnoxious when the occasion demands it. Furthermore, we recognize that refinement and obnoxious behavior can conflict. A rule of reason will mediate. Means should not be allowed to compromise ends, but talk of ends is moot if there are no intellectuals in existence to pursue those ends.

      Study groups will provide an opportunity to discuss movies and books and other cultural products that reflect the values of this society and those of societies separated from ours by time or place. Study groups will rediscover and disseminate our Enlightenment heritage. They will share examples of the Objectivist ethos at work today, perhaps even unbeknownst to the creator of the work. From there, the long-term objective will be to encourage the creation of new works of art that self-consciously reflect the values of the New Intellectual Movement. We operate according to the belief that current popular culture is distinctly uninspiring, and a great people ought to be able to find inspiration in its culture.

    3. Study Groups Will Provide a Shared "Sense of Life" Experience

      Objectivism wrongly applied becomes irrationally individualistic at the expense of the beneficial synergies of rational teamwork. We must find meaning as part of an organization with shared values. For example, it is not enough for a Objectivist writer to watch a movie, write up a good review in a magazine, encourage other people to watch it, and expect that to form the basis for a movement that is able to stand up to the dominant culture. We must watch movies together and then discuss those movies as a team.

      Study groups should engage in rationally benevolent charitable activities, partly to build esprit de corps, partly to create positive feelings about our group in the minds of the public, partly to create an alternative to government solutions. Study groups together with other organs of the movement should provide everything that a person could want in terms of social interaction, with the exception of workplaces and fellowships (although fellowships will in some cases be allied with the movement).

      We must recognize that bonding with others in one's generation or society is the means by which values are strengthened and perpetuated. It is vitally important that we bond in such a way that the values perpetuated are our own.

    4. Book Clubs Lay the Groundwork for Study Groups

      The tragic success of the Communist movement lay in its ability to enlist the aid of sympathizers called "fellow travelers". Such a strategy in itself is not evil, although the message of the Communists clearly was evil. Given the time-proven effectiveness of enlisting outside help, the New Intellectual Movement should imitate the Communist distinction between party members and fellow travelers. Study groups will require high levels of dedication, discipline and self-investment. Those who are unable to perform will be asked to leave. But it would be unwise to send the signal that there is no place in the movement for people who are otherwise sympathetic to our message. They will be considered allies, but they will not be accorded the status of movement leaders.

      Based on this premise, the book club is designed to be the organ of the New Intellectual Movement that is most accessible to outsiders. The book club will be open to all interested individuals, and will be responsible for introducing its members to Objectivist ways of thinking. The level of commitment required of book club members will be much lower than that required of study group members.

      The study group will recruit mainly from the book club. Members of the book club will discuss ideas at a lower level of intellectual sophistication than the study group. Once the study groups have been firmly established and have arrived at an adequate level of intellectual sophistication, the leaders of the study group will be responsible for choosing the books or other cultural products that will be discussed in the book club, and drawing up the agenda and list of discussion questions for each meeting.

    5. Acceptance by Fellow New Intellectuals More Important than Acceptance by Wider Society

      The members of the New Intellectuals must make public affirmation of their identification with the new movement. They must seek approval for their actions from other New Intellectuals, and not from the wider society. It is unrealistic to assume that very many mortal human beings will be able to withstand in isolation the vitriol and hatred that our movement's program will engender. Culture wars generally seem to inspire higher emotions than verbal wars over economics, foreign policy, etc., because they address the most fundamental questions of what matters in life. Our people must learn to have contempt and scorn for the wider society, and reject it in all ways. This will never happen so long as our people seek accommodation with it.

      It is important that we form fully well-rounded people who feel that they are lacking nothing that the dominant leftist or rightist culture can offer them. For example, sports leagues will be included for young people in the intermediate stage, in order to bring in people who might not otherwise be interested in joining. It is important that there be something for everyone, that there be a place for all kinds of different people. Not all members will be intellectuals, although intellectuals will instigate the new movement.

  6. Final Thoughts

  1. Even if We Lose, We Still Win

    Even if our views do not become the dominant views in society at any point in the near future, this must not be seen as a defeat. At least we will have offered many Americans another choice, a refuge from the dominant culture, and a way to at least live a reasonably decent and pleasant life in the midst of rampant social corruption and mysticism. We will provide people with access to the best civilization has produced--literature, philosophy and art. We will be a godsend to those who want to raise themselves up and make themselves more than what they are. Popular culture now acts as a giant narcotic, offering an escape from the difficulty and hard work of realizing our Ideal Selves. Our movement's intention is to break that addiction for as many individuals as possible.

  2. Discussion Lists Have Little Value--Action Is More Important

    We must be careful not to over-theorize, or wait until we have everything thought out perfectly before we start to take action. Action is the most important element at first, because much of learning is evolutionary, and one of the best ways to learn is by making mistakes in the real world--but, of course, there is never any excuse for making the same mistake twice.

    Objectivists have an excessive tolerance for incessant talking. The discussion list based on this essay will only involve as much discussion as it takes to form the philosophical basis for local study groups in various parts of the country, and the list will then coordinate the agendas of the study groups. Study groups will be in charge of conducting actual activities. Study groups must form the primary venue for the transmission of ideas, because a discussion list cannot lead to action. Again, the basis of our movement is the integration of thought and action. Neither one is more important than the other.

    We should expect some infighting and sectarianism in our movement at first, as we try to decide what exactly we think should be the basis of our movement--precisely for which cultural values we are fighting. This should not worry us especially, because over time, as we engage each other, as well as the wider society, an equilibrium will be achieved, and a balance will be struck between the competing goals of unity and size in our movement.

  3. The Next Step

    The reader will have noticed that this essay contains no evidence. It is not concerned with converting anyone to a certain way of thinking. However, certain people will find that its arguments resonate with them, and express beliefs they have long held on an inchoate level. These are the people who will provide the critical mass to begin the organization of the new movement.

    If you are sympathetic to the basic premises set forth in this essay, I welcome your questions and criticisms in order to better clarify my positions and my thoughts on the direction the New Intellectuals must take, particularly in the initial stages. Please contact me at UCFObjectivistClub-owner@yahoogroups.com. I would particularly like to invite your participation if you would be willing to organize a book club in your hometown. I especially encourage you to send the link to this page to anyone who you think might be interested in any of the ideas contained in the essay.

    We have a lot of work to do. Let's get started.

 

CRITIQUES
from Sense of Life Objectivists

PETER CRESWELL:

Is this piece serious, or is it satire? It's hard to know. "The Objectivist movement is defensive, defeatist and depressed," you say. Well, speak for yourself, buddy! I don't see defensive, defeatist or depressed SOLOists - perhaps you're just shaking the wrong tree? :-)

I have to say that, whether satire or serious, this whole pathetic 'call from arms' makes me queasy. At time it's simply defeatist; at others it just sounds like the foolish wishful thinking of a drunken Saturday night: 'I've got it! I've got the answer! Let's all use snappy bumper stickers!' Sadly, the euphoria of such a strategic masterplan looks less lustrous in the cold light of a hungover Sunday morning.

That reaction may be unfair, but the confused magic bullet you propose seems ill thought through.  For example "... we choose not to make a fetish of political freedom. We recognize that there are other freedoms besides political freedom--such as the freedom not to be subjected to a barrage of cultural decadence at every turn." Political freedom a 'fetish'!? Don't you understand that without that peculiar 'fetish' of freedom you [or 'we'] have no freedom to engage in any battle at all, including the battle against cultural decadence? Sure, cultural decadence and lack of political freedom are inextricably linked as we know (although there is no such thing as a 'freedom not to be subjected to ... cultural decadence'), so why not engage the battle at every level? Why give away one level of the battle just 'cos it's not your own 'fetish.' Apply the division-of-labour principle and encourage those who battle for your values when you cannot, or will not. In any case, I would disagree with you that there is an' "over-reliance on political activism" in Objectivism anyway. Are we looking at the same thing?

And another question: Just who is this 'we' white man? Who is it that you're speaking for here? It's certainly not me.

My unease grew as I read each new contradiction in your manifesto, e.g., there is something to be said for the argument that "we [just who are you speaking for, I wonder?] will initially operate according to the belief that it is more important to win over the elites ... than to build up a mass movement." Fine, I think, as it is to the intelligent elite to whom Objectivism has always been pitched - to anyone who chooses to think. So, if that's to be 'our' strategy, why then must 'we' as you say "recognize that literature and philosophy do not appeal to the masses. This is why we must develop ways to spread our philosophy using intuitive, 'sense of life' means--especially the moving image." ?

Um, is it just me or does that make no sense at all? Let's appeal to the elite by appealing to the masses? Nice reasoning. To advance philosophy by not proselytising for it? What could be more ingenious. I'm pleased AR chose not to follow this advice, choosing instead to advanced her ideas and her career by precisely the path you decry - shamelessly elitist writing promoting the cause of philosophy - her philosophy - in several stunning novels that proved to have overwhelming mass appeal (second only to the Bible, according to the Library of Congress). Literature and philosophy combined masterfully, and persuasively, and commercially. But that strategy is not successful, you say.

Ah well, let's see what successful strategy 'we' should be following then: "We must place a high value on art, because the most important thing any movement can do is capture the imagination of the people." Yes, true ... except that art is not simply didactic, as you seem to intend here. In any case, you carry on to say "One must give [the people] dreams and ideals that have been put in terms they can understand, and that touch their hearts, as opposed to their rational minds." Um, I begin to feel my sarcastic bone developing, but that's fine as it's apparently okay to be obnoxious. :-). 'We' want art, you say, but we don't want literature. 'We' want to develop New Intellectuals, you say, but without an appeal to rational minds. Hmmm. Obviously the strategy of a very rational mind.

You continue with: "this movement is not about the creation of ideas, it is about the transmission and dissemination of ideas. Objectivism already exists, but it is largely unknown." And would continue to be so, I suggest, as long as such flabby thinking as advancing ideas by not appealing to rational minds  is what is offered up for clear-headed strategy. 

"Objectivists have an excessive tolerance for incessant talking." Too true. And too many have a penchant for wooly thinking when it comes to strategy - they're convinced there's some magic bullet that will secure the nirvana they're sure is just around the corner. Face it, we're fighting a cultural accretion of two-thousand years - as Rand herself recognised. The dominoes ain't going to topple with a few bumper stickers and some great movies. The battle needs to be fought at every level, but you must realise the importance of every level, particularly the philosophical.

As you say: "We must learn to be more self-critical. Our efforts should be less haphazard, less prone to fits and starts, and they should make better use of accumulated knowledge and past errors." Too true, and in this instance I would definitely counsel more self-criticism. Look, pursue your study groups by all means. Sell your bumper stickers. Concentrate on students and young adults - but make sure when you're talking and writing and 'concentrating' you've got something to say, and something about which to study. You want to fight for cultural  values, it seems, but when you say you have yet to decide "precisely for which cultural values we are fighting" I can only shake my head in wonder. I'm afraid I can only conclude you want to set out on a journey without knowing where you're actually going.

If you want to fight for a philosophy you've first got to understand it, but equally you have to espouse it. Openly. Passionately. Eloquently. You can't just smuggle it in like a hip flask at a wowsers' convention, only imbibing from it yourself - and then never in sufficiently sustaining drafts, and only when no-one's looking.

Wooly thinking and good intentions on their own are never going to move the world, and nor are they going to advance Objectivism. More's the pity. If it did we'd be there already. You say "Those who think do not act, and those who act do not think." Too true, too often. Can I suggest, as gently as I can, that you take your own advice.

ROBERT BISNO:

this manifesto disturbs me. it almost reads as though it is trying to turn objectivism into a collectivist crusade. the demand on disseminating ideas rather than generating them, on fire instead of prudence, the calling of political freedom a fetish (?!?!?!) all of this reminds me more of jack booted thugs than of the philosophy of howard roark. however this text is intended, the way it comes across is light years away from how I see objectivism.

LUTHER SETZER:

Wow, I have had numerous people look at this essay and this is the first time I have heard anyone say anything critical about it!  This is good feedback!  All I did, really, was to massage Heubeck's essay and see how it turned out.  I made no pretense of being original with this particular work.  It will be interesting to see what other readers have to say about it.  I may just drop the whole thing and start from scratch.

JOSEPH ROWLANDS:

"jack booted thugs"?  Isn't that a little over the top?  I'm reminded of the review of Atlas Shrugged saying something like "to the death camps you go!".

I thought Peter's comment was a little too critical, like he was looking for a fight.  For instance "One must give [the people] dreams and ideals that have been put in terms they can understand, and that touch their hearts, as opposed to their rational minds."  He interpreted it as bypassing the rational mind entirely.  When I read it, I just assumed it meant dropping the whole reason/passion dichotomy, where you have to bombard people with logic but you're not allowed to give your arguments a bit of life.  Even if you could interpret it as wanting to bypass the rational mind, I don't see any reason to assume it.

I can also see why someone would argue against political fetishness.  It's not hard to see that many Objectivists-in-name concentrate entirely on politics, ignoring most of the rest of Objectivism.  They do argue for freedom, but often on economic grounds.  Their intellectual position is closer to the Austrian school of economics then Objectivism.  Rand pulls them in, but they go down another path.  And then you get "Objectivists" arguing that anything you do is "good", if it doesn't coerce others.  One of the strengths of SOLO is that we recognize that we're in a cultural war.  See the Credo:

"We see ourselves most emphatically as being at war with the current culture: the culture of anti-heroes, nihilism, destruction & dishonesty ".

Now I can understand Peter's motivations some because this piece makes a mistake it argues against.  That is, it doesn't "make better use of accumulated knowledge and past errors".  As far as strategy goes, there are a lot of ideas it completely ignores.  And it does seem to take the "magic bullet" approach, which is to try to offer the solution that will ensure victory.  I'm more than happy to have the war waged on many fronts.

It argues as if a lot of actions that take place are worthless, when in fact there is some worth to them.  For instance, arguing on forums does give people better conceptual tools.  You have to not only learn your own positions well, but typical responses to those positions.  This is one way of doing it.  Another example is the transmission vs. creation of ideas.  It ignores the fact that new understandings of the philosophy can create powerful arguments.  The creation of ideas is often a result of trying to better understand the philosophy, and then sharing your results with others.

So yeah, it's got a lot to be desired.  It's also very long.  And it doesn't read with a coherent theme.  It's like a shotgun approach to strategy.  It hits all kinds of points, and tries to give the impression that it's a well-developed plan of attack, but doesn't seem to be.

That doesn't bother me too much, though.  It's food for thought to anyone who wants to think about these issues.

ROBERT BISNO:

I dont mind the cultural war aspect of it. what I mind is well, this honestly reads in many ways like a collectivist manifesto. and unlike the idiotic "to the gas chambers -- go!" comment about atlas, there are grounds to say this here. i'm sorry, but the second anyone starts referring to political freedom as a "fetish" which is less important than cultural wars, its time to run in the other direction. this is not just some minor error or misprioritization either. bad culture is just annoying. the lack of freedom can kill you. people who write these words cannot fail to know this, especially if they are objectivists -- this is the declaration of a brute who wants to control men's minds and culture and, more sickeningly, is willing to appeal to objectivism to do it.  remember: a decline of aesthetics is merely obnoxious.  a decline of politics can kill you.

there are numerous other lines in this piece which provide me with similar levels of consternation, however, I find the line about political freedom being a fetish to be the most egregious by far: it is not a fetish, it is life itself, and if someone does not understand that, I would really not feel safe trusting them with any level of authority.

LUTHER SETZER:

When I read the words in Heubeck's original piece, I took it to mean that the free culture he had in mind would be one in which people would have the liberty to publish irrational, nihilistic tabloid trash and garbage but would generally have sense enough not to produce it or to consume it.  To create that cultural climate, he proposed the New Traditionalist Movement.

You are correct to say that lack of political freedom can kill people.  I do not think Heubeck would deny that.  All I suggested was to focus on creating civil institutions where people who share our values can plant the seeds of their own growth in a nurturing environment.

The bottom line is that I agree with you that we need to remain constantly vigilant against tyranny, but not so preoccupied with it that we fail to achieve our other values in the finite time we have on this Earth using the liberty we already have.  Not everyone has a "Personal Mission Statement" of full-time advocacy of liberty, although some will.  The rest of us have to fit that advocacy into our hierarchy of other values in a rational management of time and life.

LINDSAY PERIGO:

I must apologise for my friend Mr Cresswell. He's an Irishman you know. Can't take him anywhere. :-)

Actually, I thought his critique contained many valid points, as well as being brilliantly written. It's not often nowadays that one has the pleasure of being able to take time out from the import of what one is reading & savour the sheer eloquence of the writing. This was one such occasion.

Luther, I agree with the critics here that Heubeck/Setzer lacks cohesion. There were many times I hollered in approval, many times I was just puzzled & some times when I emitted a raspberry noise (such as the "fetish" bit).

The fact is, you're never going to create a monolithic, one-shoe-fits-all Objectivist fighting force. My & Joe's approach is "horses for courses." Let people do what they enjoy, & let people be active in the areas that appeal to them. If it be politics, so be it. Let no one pretend he has a magic bullet. There ain't one. But if it's "rational passion" you're after, then you need look no further than SOLO. We're already here! :-)

Linz

LUTHER SETZER:

Many thanks to all who took the time to review this piece.  Even though the critiques stung a little, they definitely served as an educational growth experience.

What I shall do in the next few days is:

  1. Drop the link to the essay from the footer of the pages of the Club web site.

  2. Add a disclaimer to the top of the essay summarizing its flaws.

  3. Append the comments from this board to the bottom of the essay for permanent future reference.

I am sure Mr. Heubeck will find these comments of interest as well.

Over the long range, I have an idea for a substantial revision of the "Ideal Self" essay linked in the header of the pages of the Club web site that can synergize with both the SOLO (TM) approach and that of the Fellowship Of Reason (R).  Once it is done, I will post a link to this board for more scathing yet educational critiques!  :-)

PETER CRESWELL:

Bravo, Luther, for your sober response to the (sometimes) heated criticism.

:-)

 

 

Objectivism 101
Objectivism 101