ARC’s Yaron Brook revisits “Apollo and Dionysus”
In 1969, Ayn Rand assessed the state of American culture in a Ford Hall Forum lecture titled “Apollo and Dionysus” (listen here for free). In this classic (also reprinted as an essay in Return of the Primitive), she identifies two dominant–and antagonistic–cultural trends, showing how each is dramatized by the year’s foremost events: the lunar landing and Woodstock. The former demonstrated the scale of human achievement possible through dedication to reason and reality. The American public’s exuberance for the Apollo mission, she maintained, sprung from an admiration for man and rational values. The Woodstock festival was the complete antithesis: a celebration of carnal emotionalism, mysticism, and collectivism, its revelers typified a cultural trend abhorring the individual and the mind.
What has become of America since 1969? Which has had the greater influence, the tribalism of the hippies or the heroism of the space mission? These questions are the subject of “‘Apollo and Dionysus’ Revisited,” an April 2008 lecture by Yaron Brook, recently made available for free on the web. In his own appearance at the Ford Hall Forum, Dr. Brook reflects on Rand’s insights and considers the ebb and flow of the cultural elements she identified, from the 1970s to the present day.
I highly recommend listening to both of these talks in sequence. Delivered to a packed house, Rand’s talk is lively–riddled with audience laughter and applause–compelling, and brilliantly executed. It’s one of my personal favorites, showcasing Rand’s energy and intellect and offering an indication of what it was like to hear her speak in person. It is an eloquent commentary on a historic year and, characteristic of Rand’s writing, it is also strikingly timeless. Though the particular events she discusses happened forty years ago, her emphasis is that the cultural trends of which she speaks, and the philosophical ideas that give rise to each, have ramifications far beyond 1969.
The enduring relevance of her point is underscored in Dr. Brook’s 2008 talk. He shows how the two antagonistic trends are still at work. Not wanting to give away too much, I’ll say only that for those who prefer the triumph of Apollo 11 to the hysteria of Woodstock, it is a foreboding talk. But as the talk points out, the direction of our culture can still be changed for the better.