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Individual liberty or collectivism?

August 30, 2012

“…nearly perfect in its immorality.”

Gore Vidal, reviewing Rand’s Atlas Shrugged

“…shot through with hatred.”

The Saturday Review, on Atlas Shrugged

“…can be called a novel only by devaluing the term.”

The National Review, on Atlas Shrugged

“[The] creative faculty cannot be given or received, shared or borrowed.  It belongs to single, individual men.”

Howard Roark, The Fountainhead

This article will give greater meaning to Barack Obama’s outrageous declaration in Roanoke that, “If you own your business, you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.”

Obama’s minions in the press claim that highlighting the president’s Roanoke quote is ripping an incidental remark out of context or bungling his intended syntax.  Taking together all the president’s actions since assuming the throne in the Oval Office, it’s easy to see his remark in Roanoke fits quite well with his agenda: ATTACK THE INDEPENDENT INDIVIDUAL.

When people perceive their society is being infiltrated and taken over by Collectivism, how should they respond?  What is their ultimate fuel in the battle for liberty?

What do they resurrect as the ideal that is being scorched by Collectivism?

Yes the Constitution, yes the Bill of Rights, yes the Republic.  But what were those documents and that form of government there for in the first place?  What WAS the great ideal that lay behind them?

And if very few people can recall the ideal or understand it, what then?

The ideal was and is THE INDIVIDUAL.

But not just the individual.


But not just the free individual.


Which is why I’m writing about Ayn Rand.

This was an author who lifted the subject of individual power beyond anything seen since Nietzsche.  To grasp her Promethean effort and accomplishment, you have to read her books at least several times, because your own reactions and responses will change.  She was attempting to dig a whole civilization out from its smug certainty about the limits of freedom, from its compulsion to borrow and steal worn-out ideas.

I write this because the matrix of modern life has no solution without a frontal exposure of the meaning and reality and sensation and emotion and mind and imagination of INDIVIDUAL POWER.

Ayn Rand, in her unique way, climbed the mountain of power and told about the vista that was then in her sights.  She exercised no caution.  She knew the consequences would be extraordinary.

The characters she creates who embody power are electric.  You experience them beyond mere fiddle-faddle with symbols.

Rand wrote two novels that still reverberate in the minds of millions of people: The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

The books have inspired unalloyed adoration and hatred.  They are received as a magnificent tonic or a dose of poison.

Readers who hate Rand’s work hate her for daring to present the power of an individual in full force.

Rand’s major heroes, Howard Roark and John Galt, are artists.  Creators.  They bow before no one and nothing.  They invent.  They decide.  They imagine.  They refuse to compromise.  They leave the team and the group and the committee and the bureaucracy and the collective behind them in the dust.

They contradict every element of collectivism.  They see it for what it really is: the attempt to kill off the individual.

Society is ever more, over time, a mass concept.  It extols obedience to rules that hem in the individual.  Society’s leaders, through illegal dictum, deception, and force, define a space in which all life is supposed to occur.  That is the “safe zone.”  Within it, a person may act with impunity.  Outside that space, protection is removed.  The protection racket no long applies.

Once a controller owns a space in which others live, he can alter it.  He can make it smaller and smaller.  He can flood it with caterwauling about “the greatest good for the greatest number,” the slogan of the mob.  He can pretend to elevate the mob to the status of a legitimate “democratic majority” who are running things.  He can con whole populations.

On the other hand, we are supposed to believe that individual power is a taboo because men like Hitler, Stalin, Napoleon, Attila, and Alexander once lived.  That is the proof.  We are supposed to believe that individual power is always and everywhere the expression of dominance over others and nothing more.

If we only take into consideration “what is best for everybody,” we will see our way out of the morass.  That’s what we’re told.

Civilizations are being made more puerile because it is children who are most vulnerable to the “greatest good for all” maxim.  It is children who can be suckered into that ideal overnight.  And those who buy the maxim do, in fact, revert back in the direction of being children.

At this late date, significant numbers of people are waking up to the fact that “greatest good” is being managed and manipulated by new Stalins and Hitlers, who care about humanity in the same way that a bulldozer cares about the side of a building.

Ayn Rand, after growing up in the USSR, knew something about the paradise of the common man.  She saw it play out.  She could eventually look back and see, with certainty, that writing her two novels in the Soviet Union would have cost her her life.

Rand refused to compromise her exaltation of individual power.

But she was acutely aware of the nature of compromisers.  Such characters, brilliantly and mercilessly drawn, are there in her novels, in the full bloom of decay.  Are they!  Peter Keating, the pathetic and agonized hack; Guy Francon, Keating’s boss, a socially connected panderer and promoter of hacks; Jim Taggart, moral coward in extremis; Ellsworth Toohey, prime philosopher of the mob impulse; Robert Sadler, the scientist who sold his soul.

Around us today, we see growing numbers of these very types, peddling their phony idealism over and over.  Among them, Barack Obama, promoting class warfare, dependence on government as the source of survival, generalized hatred of the rich, and a phony empty  “we are all together” sing-song collective mysticism.

Again, keep in mind that Rand’s two major heroes, Howard Roark and John Galt, were artists.  This was no accident.  This was the thrust of her main assault. The artist is always, by example, showing the lie of the collective.  The artist begins with the assumption that consensus reality is not final.  The artist is not satisfied to accommodate himself to What Already Exists.

The dark opposite of that was once told to me by a retired propaganda operative, Ellis Medavoy (pseudonym), who freelanced for several major non-profit foundations:

“What do you think my colleagues and I were doing all those years?  What was our purpose?  To repudiate the singular in favor of the general.  And what does that boil down to?  Eradicating the concept of the individual human being.  Replacing it with the mass.  The mass doesn’t think.  There is no such thing as mass thought.  There is only mass impulse.  And we could administer that.  We could move it around like a piece on a board.  You see, you don’t hypnotize a person into some deeper region of himself.  You hypnotize him OUT of himself into a fiction called The Group…”

Rand was attacking a mass and a collective that had burrowed its way into every corner of life on the planet.  If you were going to go to war against THAT, you needed to be fully armed.  And she was.

Rand was prepared to elucidate the physical, mental, and emotional DEPTH of her heroes’ commitment to their own choices, their own work, their own creations.  She wasn’t merely dipping her toe in the water of that ocean.

Howard Roark, her protagonist of The Fountainhead, remarks:

“And here man faces his basic alternative: he can survive in only one of two ways—by the independent work of his own mind or as a parasite fed by the minds of others.  The creator originates.  The parasite borrows…”

Parasites don’t want anyone to stand out from the group, the swamp, the collective.  Because that presence of someone who is so separate from them could trigger alarm bells and confirm their deepest fear:

an individual with power and his own singular creative vision can exist.

Parasites want you to believe you’re just a drop of water in the great ocean, and once you attain “higher consciousness” you’ll give in and float in the sea, and you’ll offload that oh-so primitive concept of yourself as Self.  You’ll be One with all the other undifferentiated drops of water.

In their ritual of joining, people are awarded a mantrum: “I’M NOT VERY MUCH.”

Just that little phrase can open the door into the Collective.

In The Fountainhead, architect Peter Keating utilized a second assertion as well:


Keating, the social grasper, finds acceptance from people of influence.  They welcome him and reward him with architectural commissions because, well, they think they are supposed to; after all, his name has been bandied about by “those who should know Quality.”

It’s a world in which no standards apply except the opinions of people who carry weight.

And Peter is conventionally handsome, he’s the golden boy, he’s quick, he can design buildings that look like other buildings, he can work with others, he can look like he’s enjoying life, he’s good at parties, he’s congenial.

On what other basis should rewards be handed out?  What else exists?

Unfortunately and fatally, Keating knows the real answer to that question, since he’s the boyhood friend of Howard Roark, the architect who does have a singular and astonishing vision, who stands beyond the crowd without trying.

Keating returns to Roark time after time; to insult Roark, to beg him for help, to be in the presence of a Force and breathe clean air.

Not determined enough to be himself, but still possessed of a shred of conscience, Keating is caught in the middle, between the man of vision and power (Roark) and new friends who offer him, Keating, “the glittering world”—and the grips of this vise are unrelenting.

Adulation, money, success, fame, acceptance…Keating is given all these things, and still he destroys himself.

Here is why The Fountainhead provoked such rage from the self-styled elite: they’re committed to live on an insider’s rotting feast of mutual admiration and support, and in Keating they see themselves reflected with a clarity they’d assumed was impossible to construct.  But there it is.

The very people who launched attack after attack at Rand, for “pawning off such preposterous characters as real,” were boiling inside, as they viewed themselves on the screen of her imagination and in the pages of her novel: characters riddled with compromise, bloated with pretension, bereft of integrity.

Keating is eventually reduced to an abject yearning: would that his life had been lived differently, better—yet at the same time he maintains a dedication to hating that better life he might have had.  He’s consumed by the contradiction.  He sees his own career fall apart, while Roark’s ascends.  The tables are turned.  But beyond that, Keating has administered a poison to his own psyche, and the results are all too visibly repellent.

The Keatings of this world carry water for their masters, who in turn find bigger and better manipulators to serve.  It’s a cacophony of madness, envy, and immolation posing as success.

The world does not want to watch itself through the eyes of Ayn Rand.  It does not want to see the juggernaut of the drama playing out, because, as with Keating, it is too revealing.  And yet Rand has been accused, over and over, of being an author of cartoon personae!

She elevates characters and destroys other characters.  She picks and chooses according to her own standards and ideals.  She never wavers.  She passes judgment.  She differentiates vividly between the forces and decisions that advance life and those that squash it.

Again and again, she comes back to the fulcrum: the collective versus the free individual; the featureless consensus versus unique creative power.

Creative power isn’t a shared or borrowed quality.  One person doesn’t live in the shadow of another.  The creator finds his own way, and if that weren’t the case, there would be no basis for life.

We are supposed to think existence by committee is a viable concept.  This is a surpassing fairy tale that assumes the proportions of a cosmic joke.

After the upcoming presidential election in America, we will have one of two jokers in the White House.  Whatever they say, whatever they claim, they are messengers of the Group.  I have been approached, as perhaps you have, to support, “as any intelligent person would,” the lesser of two evils with my vote.

But you see, you need a standard by which you can know how evil the lesser is; if it is too far down in the dank mass of the primitive swamp, why offer a shred of support?

When a house has been battered for so long that it is falling apart before your eyes, you have to design and build a new one.  Empty rhetoric about repairs and staving off looming crises carries no weight.  It is merely an urging to a fool’s errand.

When Barack Obama let slip his remark in Roanoke—“if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that, somebody else made that happen”—he was advancing his attack on the individual and his exaltation of the collective into a new dimension.  Obama voiced a supreme and familiar Marxian contradiction.  As any fool knows, the attribution of a creation is to the person who was its creator.  Yet in Obama’s words, the visible became invisible.  The person who did it didn’t do it, the person was missing in action, the person who painted the canvas didn’t paint the canvas.  Instead, the prime mover was the public sector, the collective.  The collective created the painting.

This twist is intentional obfuscation.  For those whose minds are already weak, in disarray, unformed, the substitution of the collective for the individual is acceptable.  It’s, in fact, rather interesting.  It has the kick of novelty.

The strategy is cogently described in The Fountainhead by Ellsworth Toohey, a newspaper columnist and philosopher of the collective, a little man who is covertly and diabolically assembling a massive following.  In speaking of a playwright, he explains:

“Sure he’s good but suppose I didn’t like him.  Suppose I wanted to stop people from seeing his plays.  It would do me no good whatever to tell them so.  But if I sold them the idea that you’re [an ordinary writer] just as great as Ibsen—pretty soon they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference…then it wouldn’t matter what they went to see at all.  Then nothing would matter—neither the writers nor those for whom they write.”

If the public is told that the owner of a business didn’t create that business, but instead the public sector, the collective did, and if this theme is pushed and emphasized by others, on other occasions, eventually the absurd notion will take hold.  Then it won’t matter what is done to the independent individual, because he was never really there at all in the first place.  He was just an invisible nonentity.

Contrast this treatment of the individual with the stand that Howard Roark takes during his climactic trial, at the end of The Fountainhead:

“But the mind is an attribute of the individual.  There is no such thing as a collective brain.  There is no such thing as a collective thought.”

“We inherit the products of the thoughts of other men.  We inherit the wheel.  We make the cart.  The cart becomes an automobile.  The automobile becomes an airplane…The moving force is the creative faculty which takes product as material, uses it and originates the next step.  This creative faculty cannot be given or received, shared or borrowed.  It belongs to single, individual men.  That which it creates is the property of the creator.”

“Yet we are taught to admire the second-hander who dispenses gifts he has not produced above the man who made the gifts possible.”

We are now in an age where EVERYTHING BELONGS TO EVERYBODY.  A sitting president tells us, in an unguarded moment, that the human being who created a business “didn’t build that.”  The creator didn’t create it.

Therefore, the creator doesn’t own it.  It is not his property.  It can be used, taken, twisted, disposed of by the State.  And if you don’t believe we’re already in that vise, you’re not awake.

Far from being a slip of the tongue, Obama’s remark was a battle flag raised in a night of the long knives.  He is the latest in a line of demagogues who fully intend to reverse the course of history.  That record shows us the heroic struggle to replace WE with I.

From the earliest days of our planet, since its habitation by humans, the tribe and the clan and the priest class and the monarchy, all claiming divine right, have enforced the WE.  Finally, the I, which was always there, emerged fully enough to overthrow the criminals and murderers who were restraining the individual.

But now we are being pulled back into the primitive swamp of the past, through the systematic application of a pseudo-philosophy called collectivism.  The I is turning back into the WE.

To people who carry advanced technological devices around with them wherever they go, which give them the capability to communicate instantaneously with anyone on the planet, this prospect seems ridiculous, impossible.  We are so…superior, how could this happen to us?

It is happening because IDEAS are slipping away as useful and necessary instruments of survival.

New generations are being raised and schooled in a sulfurous atmosphere of slogans designed to dead-end, from a number of directions, into a foggy “share and care” terminal, where “everything for everybody” and other so-called humanitarian banners wave in the rafters above secular leaders, who speak like priests and assure us that, very soon, the world will be a better place because we, as individuals, are absolving ourselves of the need to think of ourselves as individuals.

O yes, thank God, we are melting down.  We are becoming One with All.  We are allowing the goods of the realm to be apportioned by those who understand justice.  Why carry the burden of creating something and then having to stand for it and be proud of it?  Why think and imagine and create your own way into the future of your best and most profound vision?  Why bother?  And why, therefore, allow others to do so and cause disordered, disharmonious ripples in the great silent lake of humanity?

Let us, as ancient Greek vandals once did, chop away our most sacred statues, the ones that represent the I, and then let us watch as WE is reinstalled at the entrance to every public building.

Within the WE, individuals can hide and escape and postpone and delay, and imbibe the drug of forgetfulness, and listen to the chimes of paradise.

Roark continues to mount his courtroom speech:  “An architect uses steel, glass, and concrete, produced by others.  But the materials remain just so much steel, glass, and concrete until he touches them.  What he does with them is his individual product and his individual property.”

Obama:  “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.    Somebody else made that happen.”

Roark:  “Rulers of men…create nothing.  They exist entirely through the persons of others.  Their goal is in their subjects, in the activity of enslaving.”

Obama:  “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.”

Roark:  “When the first creator invented the wheel, the first second-hander invented altruism.”

Obama:  “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.  Somebody else else made that happen.”

Roark:  “The love of a man for the integrity of his work and his right to preserve it are now considered a vague intangible and an inessential.”

Obama:  “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.”

The president of the United States is so far removed from the sanctity of the free individual and what the free individual creates and what that truly means, he may as well be walking on a different planet.

I nominate Saturn or Jupiter, or perhaps a world beyond our solar system altogether, where he can spin his collective fantasies to himself and contemplate, when he is finally driven to, what it means to be a free individual.

Jon Rappoport

The author of an explosive new collection, THE MATRIX REVEALED, Jon was a candidate for a US Congressional seat in the 29th District of California.  Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, he has worked as an investigative reporter for 30 years, writing articles on politics, medicine, and health for CBS Healthwatch, LA Weekly, Spin Magazine, Stern, and other newspapers and magazines in the US and Europe.  Jon has delivered lectures and seminars on global politics, health, logic, and creative power to audiences around the world.