Tag: Heroes

Echoes through time: the very dreams that blister sleep

It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation. Religions, philosophies, arts, the social forms of primitive and historic man, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth.

Joseph Campbell (1904 – 87), The Hero With a Thousand Faces (Ch 1, para 2)

Charles Handy – sage of sovereign professionals

The Sunday Times has a profile and short interview with social philosopher Charles Handy. At 87, he has a new book out.

Handy foresaw and defined the concept of a portfolio career. His Shamrock Organisation predicted the world of outsourcing, the gig economy and B2B freelancing in the manner of the sovereign professional.

Continue reading “Charles Handy – sage of sovereign professionals”

Echoes through time: whoever offers to another a bargain

Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chooses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens.

Adam Smith (1723 – 1790), An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

Too often, focus is on the [wicked] “self-love” rather than on the proper context.


Image: Shutterstock

Downtime: Marcus Aurelius – Warrior, Philosopher, Emperor by Frank McLynn

We talk a lot about Marcus Aurelius, but often know nothing beyond the 100-odd pages of Meditations, the published collection of his private notebooks.

Frank McLynn corrects this with a comprehensive biography of the famed philosopher-king. It’s a weighty read, but fascinating. I came away a much richer understanding of Roman history, economy, geography and military as well as some insight into the man and his beliefs.

I think it’s fair to say that McLynn is no Stoic himself, but it is interesting to understand the history of Stoicism and how it was understood in Marcus’ own time.

If I’m not too late, this would make a fantastic holiday read.

Thumos – relight the fire in your belly!

Lost values?

Sometimes, it feels as if our world is lacking in those old-fashioned qualities of responsibility, integrity and honour.

Instead, we have a culture of “rights”, entitlements and expectations. Of “alternative facts” and blatant, cynical lies. Too often, the spoils seem to go to those with the straightest faces and the brassiest necks.

In his recent series of insightful posts, What We Know About 2018, Nicholas Bate ventured (I suspect rather hopefully) that:

It will be World-Wide Year of Ownership

Human beings will re-discover the lost art of taking responsibility; accepting history as well, history; agreeing to disagree but staying civil and realising the ‘sound-bite’ lacks both width, depth and certainly any kind of length.

I’m not sure I see it, sadly.

As an aside, earlier this month I took a wicked pleasure in hearing the editor of GQ magazine, Dylan Jones, describing his experience of photographing and interviewing Jeremy Corbyn for the cover of his magazine. For a day or two, he was everywhere (for example here, here, here and here) delighting other editors and interviewers with his behind-the-scenes revelations. And, selling magazines.

It was funny, but also, I felt, a bit dishonourable to have invited the politician onto the cover of his magazine and then to tittle-tattle like an excited teenager about what went on.

The lost concept of thumos

Anyhow, back on track. If we feel we’re losing the ideals of honour and integrity, then we have certainly lost the very concept of “thumos”.

The Art of Manliness blog introduced me to the idea the other day with a post entitled: Jack London on how to live a life of thumos:

The philosopher Plato thought that the soul of man could be compared to a chariot and consisted of three parts: a dark horse which represented the appetites, a white horse that represented thumos, and the charioteer which symbolized reason, and worked to keep the two disparate steeds in balance.

Of the three parts of the soul, thumos is the hardest for us moderns to grasp. The ancient Greeks thought it essential to andreia, or manliness, but there’s no one word in contemporary language that is a real match for it. Even for the Greeks, it was a multi-faceted force that they saw as the “seat of life.” Thumos was the source of emotion – particularly a righteous anger that manifested itself not only towards one’s enemies, but also at oneself for failing to live up to one’s own principles and code of honor. Thumos was the juice to action and the energy of drive – particularly that which led a man to fight, preserve his honor, become the best of the best, and leave a legacy. It was also the location of a man’s philosophical code – a matrix of discernment through which he pondered possibilities and intuited decisions. Thumos was a man’s spiritedness, his fire in the belly.

The post is a great introduction to the concept, but I find it’s been a recurring theme of the blog (maybe unsurprisingly given the blog’s title). You can find more about the ideas, here:

Fire in the belly

The juice to action, the energy of drive, the fire in the belly. Now, there’s a concept to play with. It underpins all those other fading concepts of integrity, honour and responsibility and is, surely, essential to all sovereign professionals.

Re-light your fire.


Photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash

Ayn Rand – hero of the Sovereign Professional

So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by men who produce. Is that what you consider evil?

When you accept money in payment for your effort, you do so only on the conviction that you will exchange it for the product of the effort of others.

Thus opens an eloquent defence of capitalism by the character Francisco d’Anconia in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (Part II, Chapter II, pages 410-415 in the Penguin Modern Classics edition).

Ayn Rand and Objectivism

Ayn Rand has always been a divisive figure. Perhaps strangely in a world of increasing self-obsession, her philosophy of objectivism is denounced as selfish and amoral. But is this really the case?

To understand Rand’s philosophy, it helps to understand her background.

Born in Saint Petersburg in 1905, she was 12 when she saw her father’s business confiscated by the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution. The family fled to Crimea, later returning but suffering desperate privation. As an adult in the United States, Rand made several attempts to have her parents and sisters join her, but they could not obtain permission to emigrate. In a 1959 television interview, she said she didn’t know whether they had survived or not.

The Revolution opened universities to women, but Rand’s studies were interrupted  when she and other “bourgeois” students were expelled. Only complaints from visiting foreign scientists enabled the students to graduate.

Rand’s subsequent antipathy towards the power of any state to interfere with the rights of the individual is understandable.

But, what is Objectivism, the philosophy Rand developed?

The philosophy is grounded in reality, reason, capitalism and self-interest. It is the last of these that often causes controversy. However, the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) describes it like this:

Selfishness, in her philosophy, means:

  • Follow reason, not whims or faith.
  • Work hard to achieve a life of purpose and productiveness.
  • Earn genuine self-esteem.
  • Pursue your own happiness as your highest moral aim.
  • Prosper by treating others as individuals, trading value for value.

Rand herself, in various interviews fuelled the fire with assertions that seemed sometimes to be wilfully provocative. But, in reality, is it any more than a blend of Aristotle, Stoicism and Adam Smith?

Aristotle and reason

Rand believed that man should “hold reason as an absolute” and claimed that Aristotle was the only philosopher to have truly influenced her:

I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.


Stoicism, as summarised by the Daily Stoic holds that:

Stoicism has just a few central teachings. It sets out to remind us of how unpredictable the world can be. How brief our moment of life is. How to be steadfast, and strong, and in control of yourself. And finally, that the source of our dissatisfaction lies in our impulsive dependency on our reflexive senses rather than logic.

Stoicism doesn’t concern itself with complicated theories about the world, but with helping us overcome destructive emotions and act on what can be acted upon. It’s built for action, not endless debate.

Although the famous stoic Marcus Aurelius would place greater emphasis on duty and society than is apparent in Rand, he also believed in reason, reality and the self:

A little flesh, a little breath, and a Reason to rule all – that is myself.  (Meditations, 2.2)

Adam Smith

Adam Smith famously wrote of self-interest:

Every individual… neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it… he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.


“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

Although, he had no truck with “selfishness” in the common understanding of the term:

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.

So, perhaps we would be better served by understanding Rand’s philosophy as a blending of existing strands and by reading the novels for which she is most famous in that light.

Her most famous novels, The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), are fables. A tad longer than the standard set by Aesop, but fables nonetheless; simplified and exaggerated to emphasise their point.

Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged is 1,168 pages long. It opens, famously, with the question: “Who is John Galt?”

And, when the mysterious John Galt finally addresses his audience, the speech runs, non-stop, to 60 pages. In places, the book is turgid, laboured and leaden. The conservative author, and one-time associate of Rand, William Buckley said, “I had to flog myself to read it.”

But, it is an utterly memorable fable of strong characters driven by a deep integrity to do what is right in the face of a government seeking to stifle individual freedoms and harness its entrepreneurial talent, until that talent begins to disappear. It’s a fantastic tale, but not without lessons for today’s world.

In the UK, the top 1% pay 27.5% of all income tax (rising towards one third by the end of this parliament); the top 5% provide 47%. Just 1% of firms pay four fifths of all total corporation tax.

Recently, the Economist looking at a environment of Brexit-y uncertainty drew parallels with the business-hostile world described in Atlas Shrugged. And, just yesterday, the Sunday Times warned of the irony of leaving the EU only to suffocate in home-grown restraints: Don’t leave the EU just to become more European.

Atlas Shrugged is, just about, worth reading. If all else fails, you’ll have the gist of it in the first hundred pages, then read d’Anconia’s speech (as above) and resort to a synopsis for the rest.

 The Fountainhead

Rand described this as “an overture to Atlas Shrugged”. At just 727 pages, it’s an easier read than its successor.

The book centres on an idealistic young architect unwilling to compromise on his beliefs or fall in line with the accepted world of compromise, pastiche and mediocrity.

That said, I’m not sure it stands the test of time as well. There are a couple of scenes that definitely don’t play well and seem only to support the worst accusations against Rand.

Again though, strong characters playing out a fable that has relevance for the world today.

So, Hero of the Sovereign Professional? Yes, because here are strong characters preaching self-reliance, looking to no-one to support them in the face of mediocrity and an unrelenting pressure to conform for an “ill-conceived greater good”.

Here’s Rand’s first ever television interview (from 1959):


And, here’s William Buckley’s perspective:


Image: Wikimedia