Evolution vs. revolution

Ayn Rand has inspired many people. But how people incorporate her ideas into their lives is often radically different. For a classic example, compare the differences between ARI and TAS. Both claim to be inspired by Ayn Rand and both claim to be promoting her ideas to the general population. However, their approach to spreading these ideas differ radically. Leaving aside a moment the philosophic differences between the two organizations, which of the two views is more likely to be effective?

While there are similarities between how the two institutes try to influence the culture, such as writing op-eds, classes in Objectivism, faculty support, summer conferences, etc., the main difference stems from what I call their "meta-approach". By meta-approach, I mean the underlying reasoning behind the approaches they use in spreading Ayn Rand's ideas. These meta-approaches are consistent with the philosophic differences between the organizations, concretizing their philosophic world views.

TAS holds that Objectivism can be promoted through evolutionary channels by introducing Objectivist thought to open debate. In fact, they see Objectivism itself as capable of evolutionary changes. They invite disagreement and dissent in hopes that it'll make the core of the system stronger. They also believe that introducing the ideas of Objectivism under gentler, softer terminology will enable the general public to accept the logic of Objectivism. In their mission statement, they state that Objectivism gives "a unique perspective on the issues". They also "seek to influence the course of debate and the climate of public opinion." In other words, they want people to slowly but surely evolve into Objectivists.

ARI firmly holds that Objectivism is revolutionary in nature and that the political/ cultural establishment is largely incapable of changing without a revolution. To that end, they focus on a two pronged attack; 1) educating individuals, particularly students, in the fundamentals of Objectivism, and 2) disseminates Ayn Rand's ideas to the general public. There is no compromising and no watering-down of ideas. ARI "seeks to spearhead a cultural renaissance that will reverse the anti-reason, anti-individualism, anti-freedom, anti-capitalist trends in today's culture." For ARI, the revolutionary nature of Objectivism "requires a reversal of our society's fundamental philosophy." ARI is directing the majority of its resources to educating today's young. They seek to bypass the establishment and the older generation who are unlikely to change their minds anyways. Rather they are focusing on the young, who have not been brainwashed (or brainscrubbed, as I like to say) by the latest crap being spread around.

Which of these approaches is most likely to succeed? Is the evolutionary approach or the revolutionary approach most appropriate? The best way to determine which of the two methods will succeed in producing a cultural change is to look at history.

For political changes, history is pretty clear. Revolution is the only means of radically changing politics, usually through violent means. Even Britain's adoption of the Magna Carta was not entirely an evolutionary change. Although, they perhaps were the closest to demonstrating that evolutionary political change is possible. One could also look at the American government which has slowly evolved (or shall I say devolved) from its original manifestations of a rights respecting government in 1787 into the welfare state it is today. But that would not be quite fair because the evolution was possible because of flaws in the original constitution that allowed politicians to abuse it.

For cultural changes, history is less obvious because revolutionary changes may not involve the political structure and hence is reported less often. But they do involve radical changes to made suddenly. Although I lack the time to do a thorough historic study of revolutionary cultural changes, I will throw my backing to ARI's approach. An evolutionary approach may be appropriate if your timespan for change is 200 years, but it is unlikely medical technology will allow me to live that long. An evolutionary approach may also be appropriate if elements of the philosophy being promoted already exists within the culture. For America, this may be true, but it is so confused with the anti-reason, anti-individualism, anti-rights movements, that it is difficult for many people to make sense out of the right ideas even when presented in clear and convincing terms. The best option at this point is to do avoid the direct head-on fight the evolutionary change demands, and instead direct the fight toward the new intellectuals, to the young who have a chance of developing the right ideas early and to have the most impact in spreading those ideas. With the revolutionary approach, change will come within 50 years (or sooner). It is well adapted to by-pass the establishment, though there will certainly be some backlash once the establishment realizes what is going on. But hopefully that backlash will be too little, too late.

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