In Defense of the Autonomous Individual

Special Fund-Raising Drive

My book on Atlas Shrugged is doing well, and my publicity drive to promote it is still ongoing, but now it’s time for me to start moving on to intellectual work on the next big project.

I’ve been teasing for a while what that next project is going to be, and now is the time to announce it—and to ask for your help, as I have before, to be able to do it.

I actually have two projects I’m going to be starting, one on a much shorter deadline than the other. I’ll give you a very brief description of the second project before asking for your immediate help with the first.

My longer-term project is a book of essays under the heading Ayn Rand Revisited. One of the unique things about Ayn Rand as a writer is that so many of her broad and profound philosophical ideas were presented in articles commenting on the political controversies of her day. For example, she would introduce a big new idea in epistemology, the “anti-concept,” in an overview of the Republican National Convention of 1964. But that means that these original articles can seem increasingly distanced from the political debates of today. The goal of this book will be to make those ideas more immediately relevant by discussing how they connect to the political and cultural concretes of today.

Here’s an idea of what I mean. In commenting on a recent debate between Sohrab Ahmari and David French, I shared in passing something that came from my preliminary research for this project.

“I’ve recently been doing some research on the Supreme Court rulings in the early 1970s that established a supposed constitutional basis for local regulations against pornography. These are the rulings that established the idea of ‘local community standards,’ and their basic argument, put forward by conservative Supreme Court justices, was that government has the authority to ban anything that is considered ‘offensive’ by a local community.

“Looking back more than four decades later, ask yourself which side of the cultural and political debate has actually put this into practice. It has not been the conservatives, because laws against pornography have largely been dropped. Instead, this idea has been embraced by the left, and it has been embraced particularly on the more stridently leftist college campuses, which enthusiastically embraced the idea of banning anything their little communities find to be ‘offensive.'”

The reference here is to Ayn Rand’s 1973 article, “Censorship: Local and Express,” in which she discussed those Supreme Court rulings and warned against precisely this result.

Given the dozens of articles Ayn Rand wrote providing philosophical commentary on the events of her day, I think you can get some idea for the potential scope of this project.

This is what I intended to announce as my next big project—until this summer, when I saw reports from a conference of “nationalist” conservatives, a resurgent wing of the right that is explicitly anti-individualist.

At the time I quoted Yoram Hazony railing against “the atomic individual, the free and equal individual, as the only thing that matters in politics” and an observer summing up the event as “a rejection of the individual as the basis for political life.”

I concluded: “For Objectivists, frankly, this is our moment—a moment of opportunity and also a real challenge to us to step up when America requires our voices. The disturbing part of the past few years has been watching one conservative intellectual after another, one conservative institution after another, succumb to the new fad of illiberal conservatism—and to see that there is no real institution capable of mounting a strong, truly intellectual, philosophical defense of liberalism…. Coming to the rescue of the right, and of the country as a whole, is a job for which Objectivists are uniquely prepared. At any rate, I see this as a task for which I am uniquely prepared.”

I think you see where this is going. My first priority, now that I’ve finished writing my book on Atlas Shrugged, is to begin a new book—shorter and written for more of a general audience—that will be a philosophical and cultural defense of the “autonomous individual.”

My working title is Prime Movers: In Defense of the Autonomous Individual. It will present the case for individual autonomy as an inescapable metaphysical reality, as the driving force of human achievement and progress, as the very foundation of morality, and as a political necessity.

To support this book, go to TracinskiLetter.com/support and give as generously as you can. See below for more about what you will get in return for different levels of support.

I feel a sense of urgency on this project, because the anti-individualist conservatives are coming out with their own books thick and fast. For example, see this excerpt from a new book by R.R. Reno, editor of First Things—the same people who brought us Sohrab Ahmari’s illiberal conservatism. Reno rails against “atomization, dissolving communal bonds, disintegrating family ties, and a nihilistic culture of limitless self-definition” and promises to find the answer in “solidarity”—a slogan borrowed from collectivists on the left—and “unity and common purpose.” That’s our enforced unity to a common purpose he hopes to choose for us.

In this regard, we’ve been through quite a whipsaw in the recent past. A decade ago, at the height of the Tea Party movement, Atlas Shrugged was soaring back onto the bestseller lists, she was being accepted as a part of the canon of the right, and people were looking to her ideas as an answer to the left-wing collectivism of the Obama era. Now the big trend on the right is toward contempt for the individual and glorification of the collective.

In my hopeful moments, I see this as a pendulum swing that cannot last and has to rebound. But there is no impersonal force that is going to make that happen. It will happen only because people rise up and make effective arguments, as Ayn Rand did during the rising tide of collectivism in the 20th Century.

Right now, I don’t see anybody else of prominence on the right who is ready to do that. In my interview with David French—the writer selected by Sohrab Ahmari as his punching-bag for “classical liberalism”—I offered David a chance to give an explicit defense of individual autonomy, and he slid away from it, choosing to defend freedom of religion as freedom for “faith communities.” If we’re waiting for standard-issue conservatives to come out with full-throated defense of the individual, we could be waiting a long time.

In short, I am going to write this book because it needs to be done and nobody else is doing it.

To be able to write it, I need your help.

I’ve done this before, with my book on Atlas Shrugged, and the terms are essentially the same. Donors at any level get their names listed in the front of the book and early access to an electronic copy. Donors at $100 or above also get a signed copy of the paperback when it is published. Donors at $250 or above also get a free year of The Tracinski Letter. Donors at $1000 or above get a special listing in the Acknowledgements of the book as “sponsors.”

Contribute at any level, and you get the knowledge that you helped produce a desperately needed book defending the independent individual against a rising tide of right-wing collectivism.

You really will be the ones who make this happen. I don’t have a sinecure at a think tank or a university, and while I’m getting a lot of articles published, these days I’m writing as a freelancer. So your crowdfunding is what makes it possible for me to keep going, and particularly to put the effort into a book, a project that requires months of lead time before it comes to fruition.

If every one of my readers gave only a small amount, I could quickly have this project fully funded. But not everyone is willing or able to give, so please donate as much as you can. Last time around, what really put the project over the top was a sizable group of $100 donors—and a small core of “sponsors” who gave $1000 and above.

Your donations don’t just help with specific projects. They help me do the work I’m always doing: engaging in the mainstream cultural and political debate. For example, my recent article on “identity politics” didacticism taking over the art world just went up at The Bulwark. And your support is why I was able to be there and involved in the debate when the illiberal conservatives launched their big assault on the mainstream of the right early this year.

This is something that obviously works hand in hand with my new Prime Movers book project, because at the moment the political and cultural debate in this country has greater need for an advocate of individualism than it has for a long time.

Please help make that happen.

Thanks in advance.—RWT

PS: Again, go to TracinskiLetter.com/support to help make this defense of individualism possible, or you can mail a check to The Tracinski Letter, PO Box 6997, Charlottesville VA 22906.

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