Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Apollo and Dionysus Revisited

In 1969 Russian immigrant intellectual Ayn Rand wrote an essay called "Apollo and Dionysus." At this point, Rand had emerged as a leader among those seeking to defend the free market and fight the encroachment of Leftism. Her positivism resembled conservative movements in its embrace of liberty, but diverged on the issue of religion. Many of Reagan's speeches from this period show a powerful influence by Rand, except for his sincere Christianity.

She wrote this piece during a summer that witnessed man landing on the moon and the Woodstock concert. Rand noted that 300,000 attended the $7 concert while over a million traveled to Florida to watch Apollo 11 blast into space. To her these events represented the two possible paths of the United States and mankind in general.

Rand talked about Apollo's symbolism as a Greek god. He represented a realistic viewpoint as well as the determined individual spirit. If one theme underlies her novels and essays, it is the power of the individual to do great things when unfettered by law or convention. Dionysus, the half-brother of Apollo, represented the power of the collective experience. He was the god of wine and fertility, but represented delusion. In other words, Dionysus was the god of feeling good whereas Apollo represented harsh reality.

Intellectuals did not "feel good" about the triumph of American ingenuity in 1969. Column after column reminded readers how much more could have been spent on the welfare programs that we now know ruptured the social fabric of much of the nation. Few intellectuals applauded the amazing achievement or understood the wider value of the technology created by NASA to get men there and back. Certainly few remembered that this was a dream championed by a president, Kennedy, whose liberalism did not fully overwhelm his belief in the power of the individual nor the greatness of his nation. Of course today's liberals cite his belief in America's space program as a reason for his greatness.

On the other hand, Woodstock, to read accounts in Newsweek and the New York Times "who called it the 'Nightmare in the Catskills'" was a disaster. Planners had underestimated the need for sanitary facilities, food, water, or health care. Cars were parked in residents' yards and farms. Concert goers destroyed property, and used porches and yards as bathrooms. They shared a vision of seeking a grand collective experience that would validate or at least help them understand their rootless individualities. Rand called them a party looking for a Fuhrer.

The problem, according to Rand, lies in a culture and society that believes happiness is the absence of struggle. Avoidance of individual problems and the maintenance of self-esteem become paramount. People feel strong not through personal achievement, but by the power of the group. National Socialism was built by people who were perennial losers in life, who could only rise by using brute force to steal from and smash those who had done well for themselves.

It is imperative that we remain vigilant as believers in liberty. Freedom means that we have natural rights to keep the rewards of our work, that we can satirize the president-elect without being called racists, that we can proudly talk about our accomplishments since 1981 in making this country great. That includes the effectiveness of President Bush.

Just because liberals have won an election does not mean they can force us to go along with their ideas on how to redefine America. This is a country of individualism. Collectivist ideals are meant to control society, not better it.


  1. Awesome post. I was re-reading parts of Atlas Shrugged last night and it was awesome to come across this post today. Thanks a lot for this great post.

    Where are the 'men of the mind' to lead us today. I feel like they are few and far between. I hope we aren't selling our freedom and liberty to fast that we won't be able to change directions as a nation without a lot more pain then is necessary.

  2. Thank you! Keep reading up because it helps when debating with the other side. I'd also suggest Milton and Rose Friedman's book Free to Choose. A very well written book on free market economics. It should be required reading somewhere in school.