I do not enjoy social events, especially those attended by people "important" in their own estimation. So, in spite of the RSVP, I had, as usual, thrown the invitation away.
I wouldn't have attended either, if Peter Reddington had not called me himself.
"Mark, this is Peter Reddington. I know you do not like these affairs, but I think you'll be interested in this one."
"Well you're right about my not liking these one-upmanship contests, Peter. Why would I be interested in this one."
"Because Roger Conant returned his invitation and will be attending."
I must not have answered right away. Perhaps Peter thought I had fainted, because I was suddenly aware of a somewhat alarmed voice on the other end.
"Mark, ...Mark! Are you there?"
"Oh! Sorry, Peter. Got lost in thought for a moment. Thank you so much for calling. I'll definitely be there, ah, ..., but, can you tell me the time again. I'm afraid I threw the invitation away," I said sheepishly.
"Saturday, Mark. From one in the afternoon, until..., well, whenever. You know how these things go.
It was at the Reddington's estate, but it was really a FALF foundation soiree organized by Stu Rothwell, and no doubt bought and paid for by Stu Rothwell. The real purpose of the shindig was to promote FALF, Rothwell's redundantly named, "Freedom and Liberty Foundation."
I could not imagine why Roger Conant had chosen to attend. I know why he was invited. He's fabulously wealthy, though you might never know it. As much as such wealth made possible, he was completely devoid of ostentation.
He seldom drove himself, except when sporting around in his Allard J2X MKII. You would find him dressed as often in jeans and boots, as jacket and tie. I don't think I ever saw him in a suit.
Those who did know he was wealthy obviously thought he was influential. He was, but not in any way others would have liked to use that influence.
Most of the guests were already there when I arrived, though the only one I was really interested in was not there yet.
It was the usual mix of self-important writers, artists, and publishers, all with their own slant on what a proper society ought to be—libertarians, voluntaryists, agorists, anarcho-capitalists, anti-state and anti-war activists, outright anarchists, even oxymoronic individualist-feminists, as well as a few free-market "conservative" types who were more big government war-industry supporters than lovers of freedom.
The views were spread pretty wide and included those whose ideas of "freedom" were nothing more than hedonistic license and others whose ideas of activism were just short of terrorism.
Peter introduced me to the lovely blond, Joanne Fitzgerald Tylor, one of the few guests I had never met. I knew she described herself as an individualist-feminist, a label I regarded as absurd. No individualist I knew joined anything, much less some other "-ism" associated with some select group. But I was determined to keep my views to myself and enjoy the party. Miss Tylor was articulate and pleasant enough company for the moment. I wondered what she would think if I told her what I enjoyed most was just looking at her. She was definitely feminine and a pleasure to look at.
It was while I was talking to Miss Taylor that Roger arrived in his Alard which he parked haphazardly on the lawn. Unlike some of the academic and lawyerly types adorned in their three-piece, "I'm serious and important," suits, Roger breezed in wearing casual slacks and a simple Italian silk blazer.
Peter went over to greet him. "So glad you could make it Roger. Would you like a drink."
"I should think I would, Peter, thank you. It was a lovely but hot ride over so make it something good and cold. A gin and tonic would be lovely.
Peter called one of the roving waiters over and gave the order.
"Shall I show you around and introduce you, Roger."
"Thank you, no. That will not be necessary. I know everyone here, though most won't know me, I suspect, and that's just fine with me," Roger grinned, flashing his dimples.
Someone, a Mr. Mark Watson, I believe, had been holding forth on the nature of a free society. A "Voluntaryist" society, I think he called it.
Roger had been listening and interrupted:
"Pardon me Mr. Watson, I'm Roger Conant. I don't mean to interrupt, but I have a question, if you'd indulge me."
"Of course," Watson replied, apparently appreciative of the interest.
"I understand what your view of a free society is, as well as similar views by many of the others here. What I do not understand is how you, or any of the others intend that such a society should come to be."
"Excuse me, if you don't mind. I'd like to answer that question if I may. I'm Aaron Krooke."
"Yes I know who you are, Dr. Krooke. How do you do. I do not mind if you answer the question if Mr. Watson doesn't mind."
"Oh I don't mind," Mr. Watson politely demurred, "Although I don't think his answer would be quite the same as mine."
It was quite obvious Mr. Watson was disappointed, in spite of his answer.
Dr. Aaron Krooke is the President and Executive Director of the ARF (Ayn Rand Foundation). Tall, thin, and very academic.
"The Ayn Rand Foundation." he began, "is spearheading a social revolution combating the anti-reason, anti-individualism, anti-freedom, and anti-capitalism views that dominate today's culture. Ayn Rand taught that the course of history is the inevitable product of philosophy.
"To correct the downward spiral into collectivist totalitarianism, in America and in the whole world, only requires the transformation of a society's fundamental philosophy. In our war of ideas, the victory will come by defeating today's anti-philosophies, like collectivism, moral relativism, and multiculturalism."
Only in the mouth of Doctor Krooke, it came out, "collectiwism, mowal welatiwism, and multicultuwalism."
I had never heard Doctor Krooke speak before and I was left with that extremely uncomfortable feeling one has when witnessing someone else's embarrassing poor performance.
I'm sure Roger had the same impression as I, but ever courteous, he made no sign of it. He calmly asked, "Do you mind a couple of question, Dr. Krooke?"
Perhaps Dr. Krooke was unaware of the affect of his Elmer Fudd speech mannerism, because he replied with apparent self-assuredness, "Of course not."
"What do you mean by a, 'society's fundamental philosophy?' Isn't it true that societies do not have philosophies, that only individuals do? If what you mean by a, 'society's fundamental philosophy,' is only the philosophy most people have, how do you intend to change that?"
"The ARF wages this war on two fwonts: education and dissemination." Dr. Krooke explained. "Thwough a number of education pwogwams we twain Objectivist soldiers who will cawwy the message of Objectiwism to the world. Our dessemination pwogwams weach out to schools, uniwersities, and other owganizations pwowiding Ayn Wand's books and other objectiwist literature to spwead the pwinciples of Objectiwism to the world."
"Dr. Krooke, yours is not a large organization is it?"
"That's twue. About 60 indiwiduals altogether."
"I think I read that one of your staff, Larry Bungstringer, has estimated the number of self-identified Objectivist to be something like 20,000 in the whole world."
"Yes, that's his estimate. But it could easily be many more."
"You have about 60 people to do the job of educating people and disseminating Objectivism. Just in this country, the government has approximately 4 million professional educators spreading the gospel of big government, collectivism, and socialism in the public schools which the students are forced to attend. No one has to listen to your teachers. So, my first question is, do you really believe your 60 people can change the minds of the millions of people being educated by the government with 67,000 teachers for your every one?
Before Dr Krooke could answer, Roger continued:
"The second question is this. Even if there were five times as many Objectivists in the world as Larry Bungstringer estimates, that would only be 100,000. Ayn Rand regarded religion as a kind of proto-philosophy, didn't she, Dr. Crooke?"
"Yes, she wrote that."
"Every religion, then, represents a different philosophical view, and everyone one of them is different from Objectivism. There are over 160 million Christians in this country, 50 million of them are Catholic. In addition to Christians, there are 3 million Jews, as well as over a million each of Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus. So there are at least 166 million people who hold views opposing the views of a possible one hundred thousand Objectivists. I'm sorry Dr. Krooke, but haven't you already lost your war?
Perhaps it was only courteousy, but Dr. Krooke did not interrupt when someone else, one Deena Hussy, who described herself as an, "Objectivist philosopher with a doctorate in philosophy," asked impudently:
"What do you know about Ayn Rand?"
Roger turned quickly to the questioner and smiled. "Oh, a little. She wrote some books didn't she? Atlas Hunched and The Wellspring, or something like that."
Those who did not know Roger must have thought him extremely ignorant. I only chuckled, and I saw a few eyebrows raised.
"Her greatest book was Atlas Shrugged." the impudent one began. "It is second only to the Bible in influence. It is still one of the World's best sellers, and remains one of the greatest influences in the world for capitalism and individual rights. The Objectivist movement, named after her philosophy Objectivism, is the most important movement for individual rights and free markets in the world."
"In the whole world?!" Roger mocked. "This movement, you say, is named after Ayn Rand's philosophy?"
"Yes, that's right."
"How odd," Roger mused almost to himself. "A movement named for a philosophy which it contradicts."
"What do you mean? The Objectivist movement is based entirely on Rand's philosophy of Objectivism."
"Well, if those in this movement had actually read and understood Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, and For We the Living, as well as Rand's non-fiction books, her journals and her correspondence, they would know that a 'movement' of any kind flies in the face of all that Rand stood for, believed in, and wrote about. I doubt very much if any more than a handful of individuals who call themselves Objectivists have read much Rand at all, or have the slightest understanding of her philosophy. If you had read and understood her, for example, you would know she wrote, 'I want to make it emphatically clear that Objectivism is not an organized movement and is not to be regarded as such by anyone.' I presume that includes Doctors of Philosophy, Miss Hussy."
"Rand couldn't have said any such thing. You made that up."
Roger ignored accusation.
"Perhaps. You might check the, ah..., June, 1968 issue of The Objectivist, if you've heard of it.
Though obviously stunned, Miss Hussy quickly recovered.
"I... I thought you didn't know about Rand."
"I said I knew a little, not that I knew nothing."
Perhaps she was only re-arming, but Miss Hussy fell silent for the moment and another suited academic spoke:
"You actually seem to know a great deal about Rand and her philosophy Mr. Conant."
"Oh, Dr. Sciscabara, isn't it. Please call me Roger."
"Very well, Roger. I'd be interested in what you think of Rand's philosophy Objectivism."
"I think philosophy does not belong to anyone. Whatever Rand got right about philosophy is no more hers than whatever Antoine Lavoisier got right about chemistry is his. Truth is discovered, not created. I admire Rand, but do not agree with many things she wrote. She did get some things right, however. Oddly, it is those things most people least like about her philosophy, especially those who call themselves Objectivists."
"Would you care to give me an example of what she got right that Objectivists don't like!" Dr. Sciscabara was smiling, but it was not a question; it was a defiant demand.
Well, Roger did give an example, which brought a lot more excitement to the party, and which I'll tell you about next time.