The members of the ARS's Steering Committee serve three year terms, and 2017 marked the end of Darryl Wright (Harvey Mudd) and Jason Rheins' (Loyola, Chicago) terms on the Committee. To replace them, Robert Mayhew (Seton Hall)and Carrie-Ann Biondi (Marymount Manhatten) have joined the Committee. Professor Mayhew has been a member of the Committee in the past, has frequently served on ARS panels, and he is well-known those interested in the study of Ayn Rand as (among other things) the editor of several posthumously published works by Rand (most recently The Unconquered), and of collections of Essays on each of Rand's novels. Professor Biondi will be known to many readers of this blog as the editor of the journal Reason Papers. But Society members may be less aware of her work on Rand (which includes a thoughtful review essay on Tara Smith's Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics). So I am pleased to point readers to an excellent piece of hers that was recently published in IAI News (an online publication of The Institute of Art and Ideas).
The piece takes its title, "The Courage to Face a Lifetime," from the famous boy-on-a-bicycle scene that begins Part IV of The Fountainhead. Rand later remarked that the scene expressed "my own desperate longing for the sight of human achievement" and that she was surprised that so many readers understood and responded to it (RM 164). Here is Professor Biondi's apt summary of the scene:
A young man recently graduated from college rides his bicycle through the hills of Pennsylvania, wondering whether life is worth living and whether he should pursue his dream of being a composer. He longs to see others’ achievements as tangible products of their quest for happiness, if only to see that it’s possible. Suddenly, he is confronted with a newly finished summer home community that seems to spring organically from the sides of the hills. He notices a man perched on a boulder who serenely gazes over the beautiful homes in the valley below. After finding out that the man—Howard Roark—is the architect responsible for the scene before them, he thanks Roark and confidently rides off into his future armed with “the courage to face a lifetime.”
It is Roark's architecture that has this powerful impact on the boy, and many readers have a similar experience with Rand's novels; for as Biondi remarks, it is "unusual to encounter literature that embodies such benevolent, life-affirming values." Rand's commitment to such values and her ability to express them stems from her philosophy, Objectivism, which Biondi summarizes as follows:
Reality exists, we can know reality objectively through our senses and the use of reason, one’s own happiness is one’s highest moral purpose (egoism), limited government is justified only for the protection of individual rights, people should be free to trade the fruits of their work (capitalism), and the purpose of art is to project and experience in concrete form one’s vision of life.
Objectivism is an inextricable part of the the aesthetic power of Rand's novels, and it is inspiring and empowering in its own right, as expounded by Rand and others in non-fiction essays. Biondi goes on to discusses several aspects of Objectivism in greater depth in the course of debunking four "oft-repeated myths about Rand's views." Her piece is worth reading and worth recommending—especially to young people curious about Rand's ideas and the hostility with which they are often met.