While I have to say that I take issue with many of the things Ayn Rand taught and even some of her life choices, I absolutely love that she is a powerful intellectual who is not only willing to admit that there are absolutes but she insists that any clearly thinking person will admit it too. She goes even further than that, though, by consistently maligning those who refuse to see that morality always exists on both sides of any argument and that moral judgment is always taking place. In her article “The Argument from Intimidation,” found in The Virtue of Selfishness she states:
“Moral evaluations are implicit in most intellectual issues; it is not merely permissible, but mandatory to pass moral judgment when and where appropriate; to suppress such judgement is an act of moral cowardice.”
She goes on to explain that in any given intellectual confrontation, all the individuals involved are utilizing methods of persuasion to win others to their way of thinking. The “argument from intimidation,” she explains, is an intellectually lazy approach to discussion. It is essentially a vacuum–an argument that is really no argument at all. It is devoid of reason, thought and evidence and consists mainly of passing moral judgment on one’s opponent rather than giving them solid reasons to believe in what you have to say. It is “substituting moral judgment for intellectual argument.” In practice, Rand explains that the Argument from Intimidation looks something like this:
“‘Aristotle? My dear fellow-‘ (a weary sigh) ‘if you had read Professor Spifkin’s piece in-‘ (reverently) ‘the January 1912 issue of Intellect magazine, which-‘ (contemptuously) ‘you obviously haven’t, you would know-‘ (airily) ‘that Aristotle has been refuted.’… Such teachers are frequently assisted by the ‘liberal’ goon squad of the classroom, who burst into laughter at the appropriate moments.”
Rand then states that “in our political life, the Argument from Intimidation is the almost exclusive method of discussion.” She said that in 1964. Having headed another 50 years down the same road, examine where we stand today in our public and university classrooms, in the local and national media, in the political debates on every imaginable subject. The Argument from Intimidation is virtually all one sees–people passing moral judgments on each other without either being willing or able to stand behind a solid principle and argue for it’s truth and the necessity of it’s adoption.
This is a tragedy of major proportions because it is arresting all the good thinking that could go on and substituting in it’s place moral and character attacks of all kinds. If Rand is right, then when we watch a debate, what we are witnessing is people dancing around the real issue and avoiding suggestions for a real solution. And what is the result? Nothing. We end right where we began, with the same problems unsolved and the same people maligning each other.
And if Rand is right, we are left to ponder: Where is the true discussion?! Where are those with the education and reasoning skills to actually give arguments of substance and clarity? Where are those who aren’t intimidated by weak and shallow attacks, who see the real issue and address it? Where are those with the deep understanding of moral principles and the willingness to stand behind them at all costs?
“The most illustrious example of the proper answer to the Argument from Intimidation was given in American history by the man who, rejecting the enemy’s moral standards and with full certainty of his own rectitude, said: ‘If this be treason, make the most of it.'”