Where can we find the wisdom needed to deal with growing cultural strife and political conflict? An upcoming conference of Ayn Rand scholars looks to the Age of Enlightenment for inspiration and solutions. The event, Ayn Rand Conference USA–Live, will be hosted online November 6 and 7, 2020.
The conference aims to be especially relevant to students, young people and relative newcomers to Objectivism. The online format will make it easy to communicate directly with speakers, via Zoom’s chat and Q&A modules. And in a nod to the Enlightenment era’s drawing rooms full of interesting thinkers, the conference will feature “virtual salons” hosted by speakers and ARI staff — breakout rooms where participants can interact with a speaker of their choice.
What’s more, the first talk will be open to the public, broadcast live on ARI’s YouTube and social media channels. The remaining talks, Q&A and social events will be open only to registered conference attendees.
Those familiar with some of the ideas and ideals of the Enlightenment will hear fascinating insights into the strengths and weaknesses of those ideas that Rand identified and addressed in her own writings. Scheduled presentations include talks by experts in Objectivism who regularly speak and write about Rand’s philosophy and its application to today’s big questions:
- Onkar Ghate — “The Enlightenment and the Foundations of Liberty and Progress” (preview video here). What were the essential ideas that defined the Age of Enlightenment? How did those ideas lead to the founding of America and the explosion of progress that was the Industrial Revolution? And why — in spite of that progress — did the world reverse course politically, leading to the rise of totalitarian statism in the 20th century? This talk explores the philosophical ideals of the Enlightenment, the deficiencies in Enlightenment philosophy, and what is needed to shore up those deficiencies and put the Enlightenment’s ideals, for the first time, on a fully rational, fully defensible foundation.
- Gregory Salmieri — “Extracting Force from Society” (preview video here). People often speak as though freedom were a default state from which human societies have strayed. This talk argues that the opposite is true. In a state of nature, human beings are unfree because they are under constant threat of force from one another. Extracting this force from human society is a tremendous achievement that has only ever been partially and fitfully reached. The greatest single step in the liberation of humanity was the founding of the United States of America based on Enlightenment ideals. But these ideals were never adequately defended or consistently applied, and our history is one of progressing toward freedom in some respects while backsliding in others. Those of us who value freedom must appreciate the achievements of the past and work to complete them in the future. The alternative is a descent into barbarism.
- Tara Smith — “Reason, Faith and the Road to ‘Alternative Facts’” (preview video here). Respect for reason has suffered a notable decline in recent decades. This lecture examines one of the central contributors: the attempt to evade the fundamental alternative between reason and faith. It surveys numerous ways in which people disparage reason (sometimes unwittingly) and explains why the prevalent tendency to fudge the reason/faith alternative cannot succeed — and has actually hastened reason’s decline.
- Robert Mayhew — “Ayn Rand and Enlightenment Attitudes toward Religion” (preview video here). The rebirth of reason that the Renaissance made possible, in the Enlightenment period that followed, was a reassessment of religion. This lecture sketches the main trends in a number of Enlightenment figures’ attitudes toward religion — with a focus on faith and Christian ethics — and then describes to what extent Ayn Rand’s criticism of religion represents a continuation of the Enlightenment approach to religion, and in what way she goes beyond it.
- Yaron Brook — “The Consequences of Enlightenment.” The Enlightenment enshrined in Western culture a deeply held respect for reason, science and individualism. The result was an explosion of progress unprecedented in human history. In this talk, Yaron Brook discusses the consequences of the Enlightenment, and the future progress that’s possible if Enlightenment ideals can be reestablished on the more secure foundation provided by Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism.
As a preview of the whole conference, here’s a short video by ARI’s chief philosophy officer, Onkar Ghate, on the historical importance of Enlightenment ideas: