One of the more interesting essays in Ayn Rand's Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal is called "The Cashing-In: The Student 'Rebellion.'" It constitutes an early critique of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. Rand's venom is directed in equal measure at the worthless Berkeley administration, at the deluded, contemptible rioters, and at the liberal establishment; she blames the anger of the students on modern philosophy, especially pragmatism and existentialism. This anger is unfocused, unarticulated, because it lacks philosophical and ideological content--as such, it is the product of liberal consensus society and the degradation of the university.
All this, like Rand's work in general, is easy to take issue with. But it is important to realize one thing when attacking her: Ayn Rand is, for all her loudmouthed claims to the contrary, not a philosopher at all. She is first and foremost a polemicist. This is evident, for instance, in her tendency to attribute to isolated events the characteristics of historical shifts; in her easy movement from one premise of condemnation to another, without any necessary logical connection between the two; in her focus on the personalities and minutiae of events rather than abstract underlying concepts (I have found that this is true of most of the work published in the sixties that we today are inclined to call philosophical). Perhaps the philosopher is latent in her, but is always buried by the avalanche of unfocused, unending indignation, which, lacking structure and symmetry, tends by its deficiency of aesthetic appeal to destroy the significance of the work.
Accordingly, there are lots of little ironies scattered through her text. Unfamiliar with Paul Goodman, she sees fit to smear him along with his student companions, though he probably had more affinity with her than anybody else in Berkeley at the time. She mounts a spirited defense of "system-building," though her beloved natural and constitutional rights were articulated by men whose impulse it was to combat precisely that tendency. She sets up a series of antinomies inherent in the regulation of public property, and her own interpretation of them comes out looking much weaker. All these are the excrescences of rage, not philosophy--not even her own elaborate and Cartesian philosophy.
But in the text, concealed amidst the froth, there is a manifesto. Rand proposes that the really effective and justified student rebel must possess, more or less, three qualities: anti-collectivism, which implies intellectual independence; rationality, the willingness to expose premises and assumptions and argue from them; and a recognition of the power and necessity of ideology. None of these are bad ideas; in fact, they are really prerequisites for any kind of philosophy. But they also constitute something else: intellectual courage.
In our unheroic days, courage means little--perhaps saving a baby from a fire, perhaps killing a terr'ist once in a while. It is a quality few of us ever have the chance to demonstrate. Intellectual courage, on the other hand, is apparently all over the place, especially in the academic fetishization of "speaking truth to power." We pretend that the latter is really equivalent to the former, when in reality there is nothing easier, nothing more harmless, nothing less courageous than being an oppositional intellectual. Take, for instance, Derrick Jensen's The Culture of Make Believe. It bristles with epater les bourgeois: "we" need to realize that civilization is bad, that nature is great by itself, that capitalism is bad, that the state is bad, that pollution and industrialization and war are all bad, bad, bad. No doubt hippies everywhere stretch grimy hands toward their cocks at such a profusion of rhetoric. But these ideas, however true they may be, have no function other than convincing ourselves of our own righteousness. Does anyone, deep inside, really believe that there is a practical function to this thousand pages of labored j'accuse? It only serves to widen the gulf between our avowed ideas and our actions, between the things we pretend to believe and the things we end up committing ourselves to.
Intellectual courage is not a conflict against The System, though someone intellectually courageous may reject it. Intellectual courage is, above all, a fight between the philosopher and herself. It involves her constantly probing her ideas for inconsistencies, conceding and adopting the arguments of her worst enemies, embracing unavoidable conclusions, however unappealing. And it is that quality which shines through most strongly in Rand's work. It is necessary, but not sufficient, for philosophy.