Read my article “Bridging Ayn Rand and Pittsburgh” in the winter edition of Pittsburgh Quarterly, currently on sale at certain newsstands in the city of bridges. I bought a copy at a downtown Pittsburgh shop during a recent visit over Thanksgiving (more on the trip below). It’s an account, and I think perhaps the first in publication, of the philosopher who described herself as a radical for capitalism and what contends as the foremost city of the Industrial Revolution. I pitched a few ideas to my editor and publisher and this is the byproduct of the one he thought best serves the magazine’s readers.
In the piece, which may become available online, I focus on the Forties, when Rand wrote her observations of Pittsburgh in her journal, corresponded with an admiring book critic for a Pittsburgh newspaper and prepared for the movie adaptation of her 1943 novel The Fountainhead. All of these tie into each other and relate to an interesting comment by Objectivist scholar Greg Salmieri, whom I interviewed for the article. Dr. Salmieri, who’s editing the University of Pittsburgh Press series of books studying Rand’s philosophy, gives his opinions on Rand’s ideas and how they’ve been interpreted within the context of today’s false left-right political dichotomy.
I am delighted that publication of the first article about Rand and my hometown coincides with the first reprinting of my article about Andrew Carnegie in Capitalism Magazine (read it here). Carnegie is one of my first heroes. I became fascinated with him as a boy. As with Ayn Rand, the more I learn and know about this man, the more I admire him. I wrote this piece several years ago as a sidebar to an article I’d been asked to write for a magazine.
Having just visited the city of Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and, yes, Carnegie Hall (not the one portrayed in Green Book), I can happily say that I think you’ll find this profile of Andrew Carnegie worth reading. I won’t be surprised if you discover that you’ve learned something new and admirable, even exciting, about this amazing man, whose birthday I celebrated while I was in Pittsburgh.
One of the things I love about Pittsburgh is that its residents have real awareness, knowledge and appreciation, even admiration, for capitalists and captains of industry. Wherever I went on Carnegie’s birthday while visiting Pittsburgh, everyone with whom I discussed the man was instantly interested, engaged and aware of his legacy, his stature, his greatness. I’ve written about Pittsburgh on this blog several times, and will write more soon about this year’s Thanksgiving trip, but I find that I am often surprised by this city’s unique ability to wall off the world’s spreading religion of hatred of moneymaking. There’s real reverence for it here, however unpolished or weary it may be. The city of steel, in this sense, can spark like that.
This is one reason it was wonderful to see the new movie about Pittsburgh’s pioneering child development host, Mr. Rogers, with my family in Pittsburgh. It’s a warm, thought-provoking film that holds your interest as an individual, challenging you to introspect, engaging you with silence, not screaming, blaring, sensory-driven assault. Yet it comes together as a whole, respecting the uniqueness of each individual and his choices, even when those choices deviate from traditional notions of family, holidays and what constitutes a proper gathering. See A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers by yourself, alone and in solitude or with a friend. Or with your chosen family as I did. Read my movie review on the cover of the New Romanticist here.
Look for more posts — on its theater, culture, hospitality, downtown and sports — about this fall’s trip to Pittsburgh soon.
Several intellectuals in the Objectivist movement have been called upon to a contribute to a new compendium of essays attempting to apply Ayn Rand’s philosophy to politics. The result is what its editor, hedge fund manager, author and TV analyst Jonathan Hoenig (The Pit), titles A New Textbook of Americanism. The paperback edition, which includes newly published writing by Ayn Rand, is a useful resource for sorting through today’s complicated and deeply confused political debates.
By picking up on what Rand (1905-1982) started in association with a motion picture organization in Hollywood before writing Atlas Shrugged, Hoenig’s idea to continue her effort to answer certain questions she formulated and intended to eventually answer with new essays is an interesting and inviting proposition. Each reader, whether he’s an Objectivist or not, can read these essays and make a judgment.
That Hoenig adopts Rand’s take on the term Americanism is itself a departure from today’s loud, vacant discourse. So, the book, best read in bits according to one’s unique political confusions, interests and passions, challenges the left-right status quo.
By this, I mean that, in total, it’s easily distinguishable from either a conservative or a leftist manifesto. Each contributor, most of whom are academic intellectuals, and many of whom I know or am acquainted with, speaks for himself, not for Ayn Rand. To varying degrees their pieces are thought-provoking cases, essays and arguments about pressing political issues that relate to daily life.
For example, Hoenig writes:
If you give someone a wristwatch, does he become its rightful owner? Of course he does. He did not earn the money to buy the watch himself, but, upon you giving him the watch, it becomes his property. When a person who rightfully owns something gives it to someone else, that thing becomes the property of the recipient by virtue of the right of the giver to assign his property as he sees fit. An individual’s right to property, whether it is a wristwatch or an estate, includes the right to dispose of it.
The American founders identified life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness as man’s inalienable rights because they are a requirement of life. As Ayn Rand clarified, “just as man can’t exist without his body, so no rights can exist without the right to translate one’s ideas into reality — to think, to work and to keep the results — which means: the right to property.”
This example is an illustrative counterpoint to the prevailing opposition to property rights from leftists — including the swarm of leftist legislators such as Ocasio-Cortez or Warren — and from the new block of authoritarians on the right such as the first explicitly pro-eminent domain president Donald Trump. Many examples in the book challenge today’s false, toxic right-left alternative while clarifying or at the very least making a case for the Objectivist political ideal.
One scholar depicts America’s frontier history to provide proof that “Americanism heralded the natural aristocracy of ability, inventiveness, daring, and hard work.” Another points out that “a fortune made is always a fortune caused.” A philosopher writes that, contrary to the dog-eat-dog descriptions of capitalism as a ‘survival of the fittest’, literature’s Robinson Crusoe offers the more honest capitalist ideal because the stranded islander “…has to build shelter, learn to hunt, and make his own clothing. If he does not succeed in creating wealth, he will die. It is produce or perish.”
The author’s conclusion that the Industrial Revolution brought Americans unparalleled progress with “… the steamboat, the railroad, electricity, the telegraph, the telephone, the light bulb, refined oil, antiseptics, vaccines, the phonograph, the camera, the automobile, the radio” is undeniable.
Not that Hoenig’s A New Textbook of Americanism is a history lesson. Instead, the collection of essays generally weaves historical and other data points into specific political thought. Author Don Watkins takes on charity as a right, concluding that “to establish capitalism will depend on [Americans’] willingness to confidently and unapologetically reject the notion that a person’s need entitles him to the property of others.” Economist Richard Salsman correctly observes that when the government “imposes tariffs on imported steel, and thereby restricts supply and raises the price of steel domestically, it does so to give domestic steel companies a profit they did not produce and do not deserve.“
The net effect of reading the book is a challenge to the reader to think for himself. Some of the essays are better than others, of course, in terms of the quality of writing and persuasiveness. Depending on one’s preference for and exposure to various media in today’s sensory-driven culture, some, perhaps many, of these arguments have been made better and/or often before. Other intellectuals, including those who are not in academia, might make more compelling cases.
But Hoenig’s reach for general American audiences and those who strive for understanding Americanism is laudable; as the thinker’s self-defense, A New Textbook of Americanism is on the right track.
And in what other new book will today’s discouraged, confused or disoriented American individualist, looking for guidance toward achieving the nation of the enlightenment, find Ayn Rand differentiating patriotism from nationalism in her 1974 talk to U.S. military cadets at West Point and this excellent excerpt from the third and most recent book by Leonard Peikoff: “All the key features of a capitalist state — its validation, its powers and limits, the prerogatives and interrelationships of its citizens — are unified, because all are derived from a single principle: the worldly self preservation of the individual.”
Recently, an article in the Atlantic divulged the depth of reflexive anti-Americanism in Germany, another nation which Dr. Peikoff has brilliantly studied and examined. It turns out that a reporter for Germany’s leading publication, Der Spiegel, a magazine featured as having an admirable goal in The Lives of Others (2006), “fabricated information in more than a dozen articles—most of which were meant to reveal America’s brutality.”
As one of those “ominous parallels” which Hoenig’s book points out, our own American president snidely condemns this nation with the question: “you think our country’s so innocent?”
Jonathan Hoenig’s compendium dispels both leftist contempt for America while answering the ignorant, anti-American president with an informed, intelligent reply: Yes…because it is—and this is why.
Whether you’re an activist, an influencer or an Objectivist, or any, all or none of these, you may gain knowledge in these pages. For example, that the estate tax was not fixed as a permanent part of American law until 1916 and that, “before that, any attempt to impose a tax on estates was treated as an aberration to help the government [weather] a temporary emergency.”
You may also be inspired, as I am, by Americans in their Americanism. As one intellectual observes in this volume, “Steve Jobs [once] said: “[W]e think the Mac will sell zillions, but we did not build a Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do the market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build.”
Now and again, an advertisement comes along that tells a magical tale. Years ago, a short ad which aired during the Super Bowl featured a cancer patient whose husband supports her while a song capturing the emotion of such a connection plays (watch it here). The Coca-Cola ad featuring Pittsburgh Steeler Joe Greene tossing his jersey to a hero-worshipping boy made an impact in 1979 (watch it here).
Though I think advertising is elevated in stature by today’s mixed, partly state-sponsored economy, ads can have value. Apple‘s strikingly anti-totalitarian “1984” ad comes to mind (watch it here).
Leave it to the ingenious Elton John (The Diving Board, Made in England, The Union) to create such an ad. With the John Lewis ad agency, he’s made an indelible Christmas advertisement for his final Yellow Brick Road tour which at once combines virtues with the commercialism of Christmas.
Typical of Elton John, whose triumphant, inspiring life story was the subject of one of my first chosen writing assignments, the video (watch the ad by clicking on the image at left) bucks the status quo. Elton John’s video glorifies the life-changing power of a material possession as a Christmas present. Indeed, the advertisement depicts the bestowing of a gift of extravagance. The gift, shown as both the climax and origin of an unforgettable story and larger than life career, nested in the music of one of Elton John’s most haunting and romantic songs, is exactly the type of Christmas present the anti-capitalist preachers denounce and rail against every holiday season.
Elton John’s ad goes deeper than superficial notions of commercialism. In powerful sound, melody and motion pictures, the ad dramatizes virtues such as pride and productiveness and examines introspection, proper parenting and the selfish pursuit of happiness. That Elton John’s promotional clip also echoes the season’s uniquely solitary moments, when the person who values the wholeness of a lifetime tends to ponder the memory and legacy of loved ones who are gone, speaks to its stark emotional power.
As Elton John embarks on his farewell tour, his Christmas-themed ad depicts the reflection, contemplation and thought about the meaning, value and intimacy of a life well lived and that which makes it possible … including the sacred commitment to achieving one’s values here on earth which, thanks only to capitalism, can culminate in the giving of something manmade, wanted and wonderful.
Read and indulge in The Pit: Photographic Portrait of the Chicago Trading Floor to recreate Chicago’s capitalism at its best. Published by Chicago trader Jonathan Hoenig’s Capitalistpig earlier this year, this softcover picture book of traders on Chicago’s trading floor features excerpts from The Pit: A Story of Chicago by Frank Norris (1903) such as this one: “A man gets into this game, and into it, and into it, and before you know he can’t get out…and he don’t want to.”
Inspired by the 1903 book by Norris, hailed by the Washington Post when it was published in 1903 as “one of the best descriptions of the wheat pit”, The Pit is the story of a businessman who begins trading, becomes enthralled and is “ultimately ruined by the Chicago futures markets, a fascination ‘worse than liquor, worse than morphine.'”
Jonathan Hoenig, an OCON speaker and Fox Business analyst whose introduction, dedication and acknowledgements pay tribute to the novel, the photographers, traders, trading pit and, of course, Chicago, worked on the floor, which closed in 2015. With 88 pages of color and black and white photos — several with detailed captions — of downtown Chicago’s pit in action, accompanied by selected prose from the novel, the reader gets a strong sense of the thrill of capitalism in the afterglow of its purest period on earth and what once made Chicago “the city that works”.
Blake Scholl addresses Objectivists in Pittsburgh. (Photo by Scott Holleran)
Watching Boom Supersonic founder and CEO Blake Scholl address this summer’s Objectivist Conference in Pittsburgh, I was struck by the newness, youth and growth of the movement to advance Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism. Blake is a friend whom I’ve known since he was a student at Pittsburgh’s distinguished university named for two great American capitalists — Andrew Mellon and Andrew Carnegie — at the end of the 20th century. Today, Blake’s a leading new voice for capitalism, seeking to reclaim and restore supersonic air travel.
As the only philosophy to advocate capitalism on the ethics of egoism, which Ayn Rand (1905-1982) reduced to what she boldly and, I think, rightly called the virtue of selfishness, Objectivism is perfect for attracting, inspiring and guiding productive achievers such as Blake Scholl, who departed after his talk in Pittsburgh to Paris, where he tripled orders for Boom Supersonic’s new jet (its XB-1 Supersonic Demonstrator is scheduled to fly at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California in 2019). The system of ideas created by the author of Atlas Shrugged is bound to foster businessmen such as Blake Scholl, who presented his vision for aviation based on speed, convenience and quality before what the Ayn Rand Institute claims is its largest annual Objectivist Conference.
The city of steel, bridges and exemplary education, Pittsburgh, too, is the perfect place to exhibit an enticing preview of the manmade. Pittsburgh was at the crux of creating the world’s single, greatest period of productive achievement, the Industrial Revolution. This magnificent city, where pioneering soldiers, frontiersmen, industrialists, doctors and artists protected and forged the nation’s most enduring new enterprises — in medicine, engineering, energy, movies, television and the arts — continues to be underestimated. Just like America, Ayn Rand and the best minds.
Certainly, Boom’s Blake Scholl is not infallible; he may make mistakes in executing his vision. However, with Blake’s presentation, the Objectivist movement reaches a higher point — fittingly, in a tower located next to railroad tracks at the south bank of the Monongahela River in a proudly industrialized metropolis which climaxes at a golden triangle pointing West, stretching into lush, green hills. This year’s OCON included lectures on intellectual property, stoicism and the gold standard. Ayn Rand biographer Shoshana Milgram delivered insightful talks on Rand’s interviews with industrialists and an examination of Rand’s favorite novel, which is about building a grain elevator. There was a screening and discussion of the Oscar-nominated documentary Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, trivia and talent events and a panel discussion on free speech with Flemming Rose, a journalist who once published a Mohammed cartoon and still needs police protection. Pittsburgh doctor Amesh Adalja spoke on the history of infectious disease in the city where his heroes, Drs. Thomas Starzl and Jonas Salk, made medical history. OCON Pittsburgh — during which the Pittsburgh Penguins won hockey’s Stanley Cup and I visited family and friends and saw the Pittsburgh Pirates defeat the Colorado Rockies at PNC Park — included tours of the Homestead blast furnace once owned by Andrew Carnegie‘s U.S. Steel, Henry Clay Frick’s (1849-1919) home and owned works of art and Fallingwater, the home Frank Lloyd Wright designed for Pittsburgh department store owner Edgar Kaufmann in 1936. I was writing TV scripts on deadline during the conference and missed some talks, events and mixers. And, while certain conference services, staff and events failed, fell flat or need improvement, others were good, new or interesting.
Blake Scholl’s talk stands out as an Objectivist hallmark. That this Carnegie Mellon University graduate stood as a businessman against the cynicism and anti-intellectualism of our times to demonstrate that the good is possible and that air transportation can and ought to be grand, fast and glorious realizes Ayn Rand’s depiction of man as a heroic being. That he did it in Pittsburgh is perfectly rational. So, here comes evidence that the potential for the gleaming, industrialized future Ayn Rand’s idealistic novels envision, promise and dramatize can be made real. Whatever happens on the day after tomorrow, to paraphrase a condensed description of Atlas Shrugged — a novel, it must be recognized, which also depicts a dramatic episode of aviation adventure — this is true, which is cause for all thinkers to want more of what Objectivism explains and offers for living here on earth.