2012-06-15

Neil Peart, Ayn Rand, and Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism

Here's an excerpt from a recent interview with Neil Peart, drummer of the band Rush, who famously wrote lyrics inspired by the writings of Ayn Rand in the 1970s:
This is somewhat random, but you were interested in the writings of Ayn Rand decades ago. Do her words still speak to you?
Oh, no. That was 40 years ago. But it was important to me at the time in a transition of finding myself and having faith that what I believed was worthwhile. I had come up with that moral attitude about music, and then in my late teens I moved to England to seek fame and fortune and all that, and I was kind of stunned by the cynicism and the factory-like atmosphere of the music world over there, and it shook me. I'm thinking, "Am I wrong? Am I stupid and naïve? This is the way that everybody does everything and, had I better get with the program?"

For me, it was an affirmation that it's all right to totally believe in something and live for it and not compromise. It was a simple as that. On that 2112 album, again, I was in my early twenties. I was a kid. Now I call myself a bleeding heart libertarian. Because I do believe in the principles of Libertarianism as an ideal – because I'm an idealist. Paul Theroux's definition of a cynic is a disappointed idealist. So as you go through past your twenties, your idealism is going to be disappointed many many times. And so, I've brought my view and also – I've just realized this – Libertarianism as I understood it was very good and pure and we're all going to be successful and generous to the less fortunate and it was, to me, not dark or cynical. But then I soon saw, of course, the way that it gets twisted by the flaws of humanity. And that's when I evolve now into . . . a bleeding heart Libertarian. That'll do.
This response is of obvious interest to me because of my own relationship to the works of Ayn Rand.

I was a rabid Rand fan in my late teens and early twenties. While I have gone through periods of ebbing and flowing with respect to adhering to the principles of Objectivism, I don't think I have ever yet reached a point where I could say that her words no longer speak to me.

Part of that may be because my idealism has never been "disappointed." My ideology doesn't always win every battle, but even when it loses, it still remains true.

Part of that may also be due to the fact that I can easily separate Rand's polemics from her actual ideas. Like many people I know, Rand seemed to be someone who spoke harshly first, and then justified the harshness of it later. She was forced into a situation in which she always had to defend her ideas, and when that happens, a person starts to become extremely polemic. So when I read Rand these days, it's more than the literal truth to me; rather, it's a series of ideas conveyed by a very opinionated person with a gift for eloquent and fiery language.

And of course, the other major part of my adherence to Ayn Rand's ideas is the fact that I have investigated a great deal of the source material. Rand described herself as a writer first, and then a philosopher. She is often criticized as a philosopher; she is seldom criticized as a writer.

Like anyone who has a real day-job, she understands less about her hobbies than people who engage in those hobbies as a full-time day-job. But inasmuch as she managed to fuse together the important teachings of Aristotelian logic and the classical liberal tradition, she stood alone in her time. Nowadays, there are so many libertarian thinkers out there that we all have a tendency to forget Rand's role in sparking the modern movement.

And of course, the Rothbard crowd still won't call off their dogs. In a few decades, they will have probably managed to write her out of the history entirely.

So, to sum up... I still like Rand's ideas, but I've delved much deeper than that now. They were a great introduction. The source material is richer. None of this makes Rand bad.