Keith Boyea's Blog

Notes & Commentary on National Security, Current Affairs and Bourbon

A Mild Defense of Ayn Rand

Thesis: Ayn Rand introduced me to philosophy, so even though I now think her ideas are bad,  I’ll always have a soft spot for her.

In early 2007, after leaving Afghanistan for the last time, I read Atlas Shrugged.  At the time I was only mildly aware that Ayn Rand existed, and I was completely ignorant of objectivism.   I was hooked.  I quickly read The Fountainhead and started in on all her non-fiction work.  If you met me in 2007 or 2008 and I went full Randroid on you, I apologize.  I’m more embarrassed now than you were petrified at the time.

I was also completely ignorant of philosophy.  I had taken exactly one course on philosophy at the Air Force Academy, which I slept through most days because the instructor didn’t take attendance.  All I remember from the course is just war theory, so when I encountered Rand, in her non-fiction works, ranting about metaphysics and epistemology, I literally had to look the words up in the dictionary.

Rand also had some emotional appeal for me.  17 of my previous 24 months at the time had been spent in Afghanistan or Iraq.  During those 17 months, the last vestiges of Christianity escaped me.  (The wars and my loss of Christianity are related.) Reading Rand’s vociferous attacks on religion were therapeutic.  It was like the rebellion against my parents that I should have done when I was 18, but didn’t.

For some reason I was never quite clear on, Ayn Rand hated Immanuel Kant.  I, of course, had never heard of the man.  But to my own small credit, I read a little bit about Mr. Kant and found out he was a pretty influential fellow in the development of modern philosophy.  About the same time, I began graduate school, and my infatuation with Rand began to die (though it hung on longer than it should have).

While I am embarrassed that it took Ayn Rand, (Ayn Rand!) to get me interested in philosophy, I’m glad she did.  I am a more intellectually realized person because of my study of philosophy.  I’ve often quipped that a large part of education is turning the Rumsfeldian “unknown unknowns” to “known unknowns.”  Philosophy is a gigantic field; I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t know much about a lot of it.  But learning to recognize what I don’t know has been pretty important.  It has made me more humble, more willing to challenge my intellectual preconceptions, and just an all around better person.  And in a very real way, I owe that to Ayn Rand.


Written by keithboyea

July 15, 2011 at 7:13 am

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  1. How we relate to and interact with the world is driven by the mental model we have of it. The study of Philosophy has provided me a structured way to build better models. I came to it late in life and quite by accident as much as necessity. It was an effort to, as you put it, turn “the Rumsfeldian “unknown unknowns” to “known unknowns””.

    It doesn’t matter how you got to Philosophy – reading Ayn Rand is as good a route as any. I hope that it will bring great satisfaction and opportunities for growth for you. No doubt, you’re already well on your way. That much I was able to gather from your essay.

    Best regards,
    Shrikant Kalegaonkar
    twitter: shrikale

    Shrikant Kalegaonkar

    July 15, 2011 at 12:40 pm

  2. […] I returned in 2007, I was tired and primed to rethink things.  (This partially explains my Ayn Rand period.)  I picked up a copy of Imperial Hubris, and while at first I didn’t agree with its […]

  3. I actually know what that’s like. When I first studied philosophy in high school I became an absolutely insufferable postmodernist who thought that Descartes’ skepticism was the bees knees for the next two years. What you went through is quite natural I think: Philosophy is so abstract that our first exposure is wonderfully profound. As a result, we tend to become so infatuated with our own sense of awe (derived from our favorite first-studied philosopher) that we gloss over how truly technical and critical it can be. Only when we look into it more as a historical endeavor do we realize the old adage that philosophy is built on the bones of dead theories.

    As for the loss of one’s religion being therapeutic… absolutely. Many apostates seem kinda stuck on what people refer to as the “angry/militant/internet atheist” mode. But frankly, I don’t know what is the appropriate and healthy way to react EXCEPT to be angry after discovering you’ve been fed bullshit for years. Some people let go of it, some people don’t, but I think everyone needs to vent at first.


    September 21, 2011 at 7:54 pm

  4. […] and Iraq was appalling–what god of any stripe would allow that?  I went through a Rand phase, during which I was the angry […]

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