The Intellectual Bankruptcy of Our Age (Free MP3 download)
By Ayn Rand
In this 1961 lecture, Ayn Rand argues that America’s intellectuals defaulted on their responsibility to understand and defend capitalism. In particular, Rand contends that intellectuals failed to grasp the source of businessmen’s productivity and the destructive effects of collectivist schemes implemented by physical force. By failing to uphold the value of individual liberty, intellectuals paved the way for authoritarian states and the decline of freedom in the twentieth century.
Addressing a predominately liberal audience, she begins by indicating that she used to envy the liberals because “their leaders entered political campaigns armed not with worn-out bromides, but with intellectual arguments.” But today, she explains, she has no cause to envy the liberals anymore. Rand explains why she believes that both liberals and conservatives are intellectually vacuous when it comes to political issues. She also highlights how both political parties are essentially against freedom—although in different ways—and for some form of authoritarian planning, whether or not they realize it.
Speaking to those whom she calls the “non-totalitarian liberals” and the “non-traditional conservatives”, Rand asserts the nation’s desperate need of a new generation of intellectuals who take ideas seriously. She then undertakes an extensive analysis of today’s intellectuals, focusing on how they often uphold many liberal ideals without any knowledge of how to implement them in reality, and without any serious consideration for how achieving those ideals requires the subversion of individual liberty. Along these lines, Rand discusses how intellectuals have failed to undertake any serious scholarly study of the history of freedom versus state control, comparing and evaluating how men have flourished or perished depending on the political principles that defined the social systems under which they lived.
By not giving serious regard to free markets, and by not clearly identifying what is required to achieve their ideals in practice, intellectuals have, Rand argues, committed treason against what should actually be an ideal social system: complete political and economic freedom. Furthermore, she contends, intellectuals have paved the way for increasingly authoritarian states, and have even become apologists for monstrous dictatorships like the Soviet Union.
This was Ayn Rand’s first of many lectures delivered at Boston’s Ford Hall Forum, America’s oldest (founded in 1908) continuously operating free public lecture series. Over the years, such luminaries as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, and Henry Kissinger have appeared on its podium. This lecture is 44 minutes long, followed by a 17-minute Q & A period.