To Isabel Paterson [Letter 148]

Item Reference Code: 145_PA4_009_001

Date(s) of creation

August 4, 1945


Isabel Paterson


Note: The second page of this letter appears to be missing.

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10,000 Tampa Avenue
Chatsworth, California

August 4, 1945

Dear Pat:

Good God!

You must have forgotten me entirely. You do not seem to remember any more what I said, what I thought or why I thought it.

You spent pages arguing against things I have never said. Some of them, the exact opposite of what I said. I don’t know what made you do it. I won’t even try to explain it to myself.

To begin with the last and worst: you write: “For example, you assume that the order of events or inventions in time in somehow an order of value or merit. You have been annoyed, because I am not interested in movies and don’t like the radio, when apparently you think I ought to because they are ‘modern’.” I cannot argue on the basis of what I “apparently think.” I speak on the basis of what I think. And I have told you what I think on this particular subject—at great length and in great detail. You may have forgotten. That is legitimate. But it is not legitimate to put words into my mouth which I never said, nor to ascribe to me reasons which are not my reasons. I have never defended anything on the grounds of its being “new” nor condemned anything on the grounds of its being “old”. I do not even understand such a manner of thinking. If it can be called thinking.

Whatever else you have forgotten, you must surely remember that I am the person who’s made a point of describing myself as “reactionary” when facing any so-called modern intellectual. That is the word that scares our good Republicans out of their wits—and that is the word I chose deliberately to apply to myself, with the explanation that if “modern” is what we have now, I am a reactionary who wants to go back to what we had before.

And I am the person to whom you find it necessary to write this: “In your philosophical assumptions you ignore the fact about this country—even when it was founded, it was actually less ‘modern’ than the contemporary fashion in thought. It was really a counter-revolution against the political ideas drawn from the scientific philosophy that begins with the Renaissance, etc.”

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Note: This page contains paragraphs of overlapping text, which have been transcribed as accurately as possible. Some of the overlapped text seems to be duplicated from the lower portion of this page, some of it may be duplicated from other pages of the letter.


My philosophical assumptions? When did they have anything to do with any question of “oldness” or “newness”? Whose language are you speaking? Certainly not mine.

I have never defended the radio because it is “new.” I have never even defended it as a means of communication, nor as a vehicle for the transmission of thought, nor as an “instrument of thought.” I have defended it—and do—whole-heartedly, devotedly, enthusiastically—[[as a medium for the transmission of music. I have said that to you more than once. You ignore the subject of music entirely—and go into a furious attack against the radio as a medium of thought. It’s a backward medium? Quite so. It’s a vicious medium? Possibly. All I want from it is to listen to good music. So what’s the point?

[indiscernible text]
when technical means can be found to achieve that. I spy a technical advance, not a musical one. The function of radio is not even to “change” music, nor to push it forward nor backward. Only to transmit it. And the transmission of music is the radio’s only and proper function.

Do you mean that radio will and must replace books, because it’s an inferior medium that can be used for speeches? In other words, the appearance of a possible and inferior medium must necessarily drive out the superior one? Is that it? If not – what?

Do you mean to say that since radio can also be used by fools who’ll try to substitute it for books, radio as such is evil and backward? If that is your argument, it is the same kind of argument as saying that an automobile is evil because bad drivers misuse it. If that is not your argument—what is your argument? And why argue that with me at all?

Neither have I ever defended the movies on the ground of their being “new.” I have defended them — [text ends]

I don’t see any relation between the radio and books. I see a relation between the radio and public speech making. The invention of books did not stop men from making and listening to speeches. Just as the invention of the written word has not stopped the use of the spoken word. Each has its own specific function and place. The radio merely extends the]] audience of an orator. It has nothing to do with the audience of a writer. WHO has claimed that an “auditory gadget” is an advance upon the printed page? I haven’t.

I do see a relation between the radio and a concert hall. It is a great convenience to be able to listen to a concert at home. It is a great technical advance when technical means can be found to achieve that. I say, a technical advance, not a musical one. The function of radio is not even to “change” music, nor to push it forward nor backward. Only to transmit it. And the transmission of music is the radio’s only and proper function.

Do you mean to say that since radio can also be used by fools who’ll try to substitute it for books, radio as such is evil and backward? If that is your argument, it is the same kind of argument as saying that an automobile is evil because bad drivers misuse it. If that is not your argument—what is your argument? And why argue that with me at all?

Neither have I ever defended the movies on the ground of their being “new.” I have defended them

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on the ground of their being a superior dramatic medium—in relation to the stage, to the spoken drama. But I spent a whole evening in your country house discussing this one point—my views on the movies—and if all you cared to ascribe to me is the point of “newness”, which I never uttered, I see no use in launching here into a detailed account of my ideas on the movies.

You write: “A thing is neither true nor false because it is old, or because it is new.” Good God, Pat, are you really talking to me? Or do you have me confused with anyone else?

You write: “You have adopted the ‘humanistic’, ‘scientific’, theanthropic philosophy.” I have not adopted any philosophy. I have created my own. I do not care to be tagged with anyone else’s labels.

There may be many points in my philosophy which you may have grounds to question. If these grounds are rational, I shall always be glad to hear the questions raised and to discuss them and to acknowledge myself as wrong, if I am proved to be wrong, and to correct my stand accordingly. I see no point in discussing what some fools said in the past and why they said it and what error they made and where they went off the rails, if such a discussion is supposed to be a refutation of my philosophy.

You write: “The frightening kind of rationality you find in the philosophers is precisely your own kind.” If 756 pages of a novel plus nights and nights and nights of discussion have not made clear to you what my kind of rationality is, a letter won’t do it. The fault may be mine. It may be yours. I am past the point of caring to discover which. I simply won’t make any more attempts to define what I mean by rationality.

But I will mention that the “frightening kind of rationality” I referred to in my letter—was the discovery I made while reading the philosophers that it is actually impossible for man to be irrational. Let him yelp against reason all he wants. Let him accept the premise that there is no such thing as reason at all. And all his subsequent ideas and actions will follow in perfect logical sequence from that premise. His actions will become irrational and insane—but in perfect agreement with his premise. It was not a discovery to me, it was more in the nature of an illustration and a substantiation.

Now, more of your points: as a denunciation of my kind of rationality and of the general weakness of

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the syllogism, you write: “Plato reports Socrates as saying that the community, the City, had a right to take his life, even unjustly, because the City was the same as his parents. There is the assumption first that parents actually have a right to take the life of their child for no cause and second that the collective is the same thing as a natural parent. Neither true.”

That’s right, neither is true. But how are you going to prove that it isn’t true? By rational argument? Or by the fiat of revelation? If this last, Plato can well say that his revelation tells him it’s true—and that’s that. In fact, that’s just about what Plato did say. Or must we assume that there is no rational argument which could prove that parents have no right to the life of their child, and that the collective is not the same thing as natural parents? And if there is no such rational argument, we must accept something else? And if a rational argument is simply a statement that makes sense—must we assume something else when we find that we can’t make sense?

Now, to the question of God—where your presentation of what you assume to be my position simply made me sick.

You state my assumption as: “if God exists, man is a slave,” and you proceed to say: “Why? Your assumption there is actually that a creative mind necessarily makes a slave of any person less creative who also happens to exist. Does it? If that is so, you have no proper grievance against your reviewer who said that a world of Roarks was Fascism.”

First, I do not wish to mention the name of Roark in any such connection. You could have made the same point using another illustration. I have always thought of you as a person of extremely delicate sensitivity, your fighting manner towards Republicans notwithstanding. I thought you had delicacy in important matters. I did not think you’d stoop to this. I, who love to argue, will not bother to argue or explain myself on this particular point. I’ll let you guess what I mean, if you care to.

But I will discuss your point, omitting your choice of illustration. No, I do not think that a creative mind necessarily makes a slave of any person less creative who also happens to exist. A creative mind does not and cannot reach into another mind, whether more or less creative or otherwise. A creative mind does nothing to another mind—except offer it material to digest, which the other mind may digest

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or not, as it pleases. A creative mind is not omnipotent. Its greatness and beauty and nobility is precisely that it neither has nor seeks any power over any other mind. But I’m speaking of a human creative mind, am I not? That is all the word means to me, anyway, that is all I can understand.

But if you speak of God as a “creative mind”, you imply something entirely different from the conception of a human mind. I do not know precisely what you or anyone ever really implies by the conception of God or God’s mind. I gather only, by such definitions as are given, that God’s mind is something which man’s mind is not. Therefore, I see no possible, conceivable rational excuse for applying any conclusion whatever about God’s mind to the sphere, nature and virtue of man’s mind. I see no rationality in a statement such as: “Ah, you think that God’s mind enslaves men? Therefore, you must think that man’s mind enslaves men.” But there, you see? I expect a rational excuse. That is probably the reason why I despise man’s mind, despise man’s creative faculty and write books that denounce creative men.

Can you interfere arbitrarily with what I am doing? Yes—physically. No—mentally. Can a brick kill me? Yes. Can a brick get into my mind and tell me what to think or do? No. Can an omnipotent being do that? Yes.

An omnipotent being, by definition, is a totalitarian dictator. Ah, but he won’t use his power? Never mind. He has it.

You may be surprised to hear, however, that the above is not even my main argument against God at all.

My main argument is that the conception of God—or such as I have ever heard or read—denies every conception of the human mind. What is omnipotence? What is infinity? What is a being which is limitless—when the basic conception of existence in man’s form of consciousness is the conception of an entity—which means a limit? An entity is that which other entities are not. What is an entity which is everything?

If there are answers translatable into human terms, I am always very interested in hearing them. If there aren’t—I shall just have to recognize my limitations, one of which is the inability to understand anything at all, except in human terms.

The only important point in all this is why you

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found it necessary to take up with me the subject of God, at this time, by letter—when it is probably the most difficult subject of all, and we didn’t succeed very well even when discussing it in person for hours. You told me once (oh, more than once!) that for the purposes of the book I am writing—my statement of man’s proper morality—the question of God does not have to be discussed, that I do not need to go into the metaphysical questions of the origin of man and the universe, that my thesis will hold as based on man’s nature—without any explanation of the origin of that nature. Then why fight me on that at this particular time? Or is it merely in the nature of a general discussion?

I ask this, because it seems to me that I gather the purpose of this particular discussion. You see, I am very careful in my choice of words. I do not put words into your mouth nor ascribe to you intentions you never had. I don’t say this was your purpose, I say certain indications in your letter point to the possibility that it may have been your purpose. If it wasn’t, correct me. The purpose I mean is that you believe that unless I accept God, I will have betrayed the cause of individualism, that the case for individualism rests on faith in God—and on nothing else. To the best of my rational understanding, the opposite is true. But you may be right—if you can prove it. But before you proceed to tell me how Descartes, Voltaire, the “humanists”, the “scientists” etc. destroyed individualism, destroyed the dignity of man and prepared the way for the totalitarian state—explain to me how Thomas Aquinas, the greatest philosopher ever to accept and defend the conception of God, advocated the Inquisition and the burning of heretics for the good of society? When you have accounted for that, philosophically, you may proceed to batter those in whom you see some similarity with my thesis (though there really is none) all you wish.

Actually, if I can sum up my attitude on the question of God, it’s this: from all I can gather, the definition of God is “That which the human mind cannot grasp.” Being a rationalist, literal-minded and believing that it is a moral obligation to mean what you say, I take the persons who made the above definition at their word, I agree and obey them: I don’t grasp it.

Incidentally, I know some very good arguments of my own in favor of the existence of God. But they’re not the ones you mention and they’re not the ones I’ve ever read advanced in any religion. They’re not proofs, therefore I can’t say I accept them. They are merely

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possibilities, like a hypothesis that could be tenable. But it wouldn’t be an omnipotent God and it wouldn’t be a limitless God.

Now, to the personal. I have been at this letter for over four hours now. No, it’s no a reproach. Just an observation. I dropped my writing and grabbed my typewriter. I am almost tempted to add: it serves you right, now go ahead and read all this.

You still tell me to have a good time. I still don’t know how to go about it. My good time is only at my desk. Yes, I bought some stunning clothes—the best there is—Adrian’s. I’m delighted with the way I look in them. It even surprised me. But I feel, a little wistfully, that there are really very few people for whose sake it’s worth making the effort to look attractive. However, I’ll wear the clothes in New York—and hope Leonard Read will be stunned—and hope you will be, too. That will be worth enjoying. I’m planning now to be in New York by September 10—or as near to it as the studio can arrange the transportation.

Did Linda [Lynneberg] write to you that Frank and I have adopted a son? Well, not exactly—he’s twenty-one, so he can’t be adopted. But he’s now living with us—and we both consider him in the nature of a son. He was a pilot in the Pacific—out of the Army now, by reason of two airplane crack-ups and malaria. How did I find him? He hitch-hiked across the continent from New York, because he had read The Fountainhead. I’ll tell you more about him when I see you. It’s a very curious thing to me—he’s a replica of me, as I was at twenty-one, or as near a replica as one person can be of another. Frank says that he’s a kind of re-incarnation of me before the time.

I do subscribe to Books—but I get it about a week later than the proper Sunday. I didn’t get two issues, I suppose because of the strike, strangely enough the two that you sent me. Sure, I’d like you to send me the best-seller lists in advance, if it’s not too much bother. I remember your story about the woman writer you gave hell to, because she asked you to arrange her subscription. I got mine all right. I’m still saving the BookWorm.

Frank asks me to tell you that he’s knee-deep in alfalfa irrigation—and is perfectly willing to let the world go to hell. I’m not. I’ll always hold out for the exceptions.

Love from both of us,


AR’s paragraph about her “adopted” son refers to Thaddeus Ashby, a young fan, who later admitted to AR that his whole “history” (including being a combat pilot) was fictitious. See her subsequent letter of August 25, 1950, to Archibald Ogden [Letter 431] in this exhibit.