By Joseph Kellard
One day as I drove down Lexington Avenue, I understood the reverence author-philosopher Ayn Rand had for New York City.
From an incline along that avenue, a vantage point from which I'd never seen Manhattan, I was awed by the many tall, stately buildings that lined the perfectly straight street for miles. Finally I had grasped how this view that resembled a canyon, along with the entire metropolis, sprang not from nature, but from the human mind.
I was reminded of a passage from Miss Rand's novel The Fountainhead: "I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York's skyline. Particularly when one can't see the details. Just the shapes. The shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man made visible. What other religion do we need?"
On Sept. 11, 2001, after I'd watched Islamic terrorists destroy the Twin Towers and the innocents within them, I was reminded of what Miss Rand wrote about evil:
"They do not want to own your fortune, they want you to lose it; they do not want to succeed; they want you to fail; they do not want to live, they want you to die; they desire nothing, they hate existence ... You who've never grasped the nature of evil, you who describe them as 'misguided idealists,’ they are the essence of evil."
This passage from Atlas Shrugged serves to answer people who are bewildered over how human beings can act so savagely. At root, terrorists are motivated by nihilism, the desire to destroy values and existence.
These terrorists understood that the skyscraper is uniquely American.
Because of our nation's unprecedented liberty, Americans were free to form independent judgments and act on them. This atmosphere spawned the Industrial Revolution, which saw great technological advances and laborsaving devices, such as the steel girders and elevators that made skyscrapers possible. The Twin Towers specifically embodied capitalism and its foundation: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which spawned America's unsurpassed prosperity.
Those gleaming, soaring, stately towers were a proud boast of all these sublime human achievements and values. And this is why the nihilists twice targeted them. They hated them because of their source: the liberated human mind. They don't want America's freedom, its industriousness, its technological advances, its high standard of living — or its skyscrapers.
They only want us to lose them through their destructive acts.
This upcoming war is between America and religious fundamentalism (of any kind). In essence, Americans use reason to choose their values and actions; the fundamentalists have blind faith in God's dogma. We value freedom; they value theocratic totalitarianism. We value the individual; they sacrifice the individual to supernatural entities (e.g., God and heaven). We pursue and achieve happiness here on earth; they damn this earth and martyr themselves for an afterworld.
At root, we want life and they want death. The United States should give the murderous Islamic fundamentalists what they want, in part, as an act of justice for we Americans who want to live.
* This column was mildly edited from its original version that was published in the Oceanside/Island Park Herald in September 2001.
* The painting, The Sun Also Rises, by Frank O’Conner (Ayn Rand’s husband), appeared on the 25th anniversary editon of The Fountainhead.