As the turbulent year 2020 draws to a close, it is important to remind ourselves how philosophy can serve as an anchor in unpredictable times. Toward that end, we offer this letter from Tara Smith, professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the Ayn Rand Institute’s board of directors. “Philosophy gives us fundamental, timeless truths,” she observes, “truths that don’t change with the latest report from the CDC or the latest dictate from the governor’s mansion.” We agree with her that only a sound philosophy can provide the guidance we need to achieve health and happiness, and that Ayn Rand’s ideas are more important now than ever.
2020 has been a year of tumult. Due to the pandemic and compounded by the government’s erratic and often authoritarian response to it, many people have become sick, lost jobs, lost businesses. Most of us have not been able to spend time with people we care about and engage in some of the activities we most enjoy. Our ability to make rational, long-term plans has been torpedoed.
In these unpredictable times, Ayn Rand’s ideas are more important than ever.
Philosophy gives us fundamental, timeless truths—truths that don’t change with the latest report from the CDC or the latest dictate from the governor’s mansion. And as Rand so often stressed, these truths are practical — they make a life and death difference to our ability to seize command of our lives and chart progress, whatever the challenges and unexpected setbacks we encounter.
Think of the difference it makes to someone who believes he is a puppet controlled by external forces — versus someone who knows that he is an agent able to exercise enormous control over his own life. Who is more likely to throw away a year of his life watching Netflix — and who will search for a way to achieve ambitious goals despite new and daunting challenges?
Think of the difference between someone whose life is directionless, or directed by a set of duties imposed by external authorities — and someone who is committed to a hierarchy of personal values, culminating in reason, purpose, and self-esteem. Who is likely to be overwhelmed by the bleak vision of life conveyed by the daily news — and who will continue to seek out values and find joy in life despite trying circumstances?
One of the things I have found most energizing over the past several months is watching friends influenced by Rand’s ideas turn 2020 into a year of growth. I’ve seen people launch new businesses and undertake major creative projects as well as make quieter strides in self-improvement and life-enhancement, concerning everything from health and fitness regimens or deliberately re-connecting with old friends over Zoom to carving out time to pursue long sidelined loves, such as drawing or poetry or hiking.
Ayn Rand called Objectivism a philosophy for living on earth. It has been that, for me, for over four decades. During the stress test of 2020, it has been my anchor. And, through all seasons, Objectivism has been at the root of my happiness.
The Ayn Rand Institute’s mission is to help people discover, understand, and use Objectivism to make the most of their lives. Whether it’s by promoting Rand’s books, offering webinars and courses, or providing in-depth education through the Objectivist Academic Center, ARI and its scholars enable growing numbers of people worldwide to grasp Rand’s philosophy and to apply it as a guide to life.
With your help, we can reach countless more in 2021.
I wish you a very happy New Year — the kind that only a sound philosophy makes possible.
Professor of Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin
Member of the Board of Directors, Ayn Rand Institute