What is an Autonomist? An Autonomist is an independent individualist.
I was introduced to a new publication today that states in it's claimed purpose, "In a word, we uphold Objectivism ...." This is a very new publication, and I do not intend to criticize it, but in reading its "Statement of Purpose," and introductory article describing its intentions and goals, I noticed something missing which seems to be missing in all organizations and publications that dedicate themselves to Objectivism or Objectivist themes.
The thing that is missing is an ultimate purpose, or at least one consistent with the philosophy they are promoting. If pressed, I suppose, they would say their purpose is to promote Objectivism, which is a good thing, but what they hope to accomplish by this promotion is not clearly stated. I do not like to guess in such cases, but based on the kinds of programs and articles emanating from these organizations and publications there is an implied purpose or goal, which is, to ultimately bring about a social revolution that will result in the kind of society Objectivism regards as, to quote the publication, a "proper social system."
If this is the ultimate purpose of self-proclaimed Objectivist organizations and publications it is a mistaken one—at least it is not the purpose for which Ayn Rand wrote either her philosophy or her fiction. While she does describe the "ideal" society and the moral basis for it, it was not with the intent or purpose of producing that kind of society that she wrote, not even her Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal.
Why Ayn Rand Wrote
Most Objectivists do not know why Ayn Rand wrote philosophy at all, which is a wonder, since she stated it often enough, and even those who do, are not aware of what Rand's grand purpose was. Of course her ultimate purpose was the same as that of all men, the enjoyment of her own life, but what it was she had set as her specific purpose, the fulfillment of which would be the enjoyment of her life, very few people know.
Now anybody might know why Ayn Rand wrote philosophy, because she has explained it.* It was not her chosen profession. She chose to be a writer, a novelist, and she wanted above all to write about a certain kind of character. She knew the kind of character she wanted to write about would require a specific philosophy—but when she looked for the philosophy appropriate to kind of character she had in mind, she discovered none existed, and if she were going to write about that kind of character she would have to first discover that philosophy. She did, and called her philosophy Objectivism.
But philosophy was not her primary purpose or ultimate goal. Philosophy was only a proximate end and though almost no one knows what her ultimate end or purpose was, I do!
Before you get the impression I am making some wild claim of deduction, or having inside information, or some kind of mystic insight, let me assure you, I know what Rand's ultimate purpose was because she plainly stated it.
Even if she had not plainly stated it, we ought to have been able to deduce it from her writings, or even from her philosophy. The Fountainhead was dedicated specifically to that purpose, and Atlas expanded the theme to include the supporting philosophy. In a letter to Marjorie Williams she wrote:
"That one word—individualism—is to be the theme song, the goal, the only aim of all my writing. If I have any real mission in life—this is it." [The Letters of Ayn Rand,
"Arrival In America To We The Living (1926-1936)," To Marjorie Williams, July 28, 1934.]
Individualism is Autonomy
In case you missed the significance of what Ayn Rand wrote, let me emphasize it:
individualism ... is ... the only aim of all my writing.
Autonomous means, "not controlled by others or by outside forces, independent in mind or judgment, self-directed." When applied to man, it means an, independent individual. It means exactly what Ayn Rand means by an individualist.
In 1941 she wrote a 1,500-word version of an earlier unpublished work ("The Individualist Manifesto") entitled "The Individualist Credo," which was published in the January, 1944 issue of Reader's Digest as "The Only Path to Tomorrow," in which she said:
A Wrong Method
"From the beginning of history, two antagonists have stood face to face, two opposite types of men: the Active and the Passive. The Active Man is the producer, the creator, the originator, the individualist. His basic need is independence —in order to think and work. He neither needs nor seeks power over other men —nor can he be made to work under any form of compulsion. Every type of good work— from laying bricks to writing a symphony— is done by the Active Man. Degrees of human ability vary, but the basic principle remains the same; the degree of a man's independence and initiative determines his talent as a worker and his worth as a man.
"While men are still pondering upon the causes of the rise and fall of civilizations, every page of history cries to us that there is but one source of progress: Individual Man in independent action." [Emphasis mine.]
Whether a future "proper social system," in the Objectivist sense is possible is in doubt, but it is certain that all the programs, seminars, conferences, publications, and promotions of all the institutes, centers, alliances, and organizations that call themselves Objectivist will not bring about such a social change. Ayn Rand knew the kind of social change required to increase individual liberty does not come about by means of organized programs and promotion. Almost anything can be advanced that way, from religion to used cars, but the truth must be propagated by another method.
It is what Rand means by, "every page of history cries to us that there is but one source of progress: Individual Man in independent action," and certainly not the self-imposed collective movements of institutes, organizations and programs.
At the end of, "The Only Path to Tomorrow," Ayn Rand wrote: "... there is a New Order of Tomorrow. It belongs to Individual Man—the only creator of any tomorrows humanity has ever been granted." It will not be organizations or movements that bring the "new order," but the free action of autonomous individuals. Whether that action will be the realization of Objectivism, or just correct philosophy, it will be individuals, acting on their own, for their own reasons, purposes, and ends, that will bring it about.
Ayn Rand has always understood this, and though she thought of it in terms of her specific philosophy, which was the best that existed at the time, she understood it had to be independent individuals who accomplished it:
"I regard the spread of Objectivism through today's culture as an intellectual movement—i.e., a trend among independent individuals who share the same ideas—but not as an organized movement. The existence (and the later policies) of NBI contributed to certain misconceptions among some of its students and the public at large, which tended to put Objectivism in an equivocal position in this respect. I want, therefore, to make it emphatically clear that Objectivism is not an organized movement and is not to be regarded as such by anyone." [Ayn Rand, The Objectivist
, June 1968, "A Statement Of Policy, Part I."]
* "I am often asked whether I am primarily a novelist or a philosopher. The answer is: both. In a certain sense, every novelist is a philosopher, because one cannot present a picture of human existence without a philosophical framework; the novelist's only choice is whether that framework is present in his story explicitly or implicitly, whether he is aware of it or not, whether he holds his philosophical convictions consciously or subconsciously. This involves another choice: whether his work is his individual projection of existing philosophical ideas or whether he originates a philosophical framework of his own. I did the second. That is not the specific task of a novelist; I had to do it, because my basic view of man and of existence was in conflict with most of the existing philosophical theories. In order to define, explain and present my concept of man, I had to become a philosopher in the specific meaning of the term." [Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual, "Preface"]