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An Interview with Elan Journo: Tips for Aspiring Intellectuals

May 7, 2013 by

Ayn_Rand_InstituteMichael F. Shaughnessy –

1. First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and your education and experience?

My name is Elan Journo, and I work at the Ayn Rand Institute. I write, edit, and speak on public policy issues, from the perspective of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism; and I lead the policy research team at ARI, which includes recruiting and training new analysts and fellows. What brought me to this kind of work was my interest in journalism and philosophy, especially the application of philosophic ideas to current affairs, such as foreign policy. Much of my writing and research looks at how moral ideas shape U.S. foreign policy.

2. Now, you are presenting some “tips for aspiring intellectuals“. What brought this about ?

At the Ayn Rand Institute, we hear from fans of Rand’s writings who are inspired to study her ideas, and who want to write and speak about how those ideas apply in the world — say as scholars and professors, or as journalists and policy analysts. The Institute offers those folks courses, seminars, and grants. The idea for the livestream webinar is to share some tips with those interested in bringing Rand’s ideas to policy debates, and letting them know what resources ARI has to offer. The one I’d highlight is our Junior Fellows Program. These fellowships, which are paid positions, last up to a year. We bring on 2-4 recent college (and grad school) graduates to join ARI’s policy team to carry out research and writing, so that they gain a first-hand experience of what that kind of work is like.

3. Let’s just look at one tip- what in your mind is the most important aspect in terms of becoming a true intellectual?

One of the best pieces of advice I have heard, and that I pass along to people, came from a brilliant scholar whose work I respect a lot. His point was simple, but it bears emphasis: read. Read widely, read deeply into a subject, read work by people whose ideas you find sympathetic — and, especially, read work by people whose views you think you oppose.

Whatever your views, to be effective at communicating them and having an impact on how people view a topic, you need to know your opponents view, why others find it plausible, why you think it’s wrong, and how to show that it’s wrong.

4)      For a high school student who perhaps is introduced to Ayn Rand’s work- say, Anthem or The Fountainhead- what would be an important next step?

I would encourage them to read Atlas Shrugged, which offers the full expression of the Rand hero — and a thrilling dramatization of her philosophic ideas.

5)      In your opinion, are the schools fostering an inquiring spirit, or a spirit of intellectual discussion?

In my experience, some do, but they’re rare. Unfortunately, too many schools leave students ill equipped to read, to learn and to form their own views.

6)      In many on-line classes, there are discussion Boards, but very little of substance is discussed. How can an aspiring intellectual change this?

When considering discussion of current affairs or timeless philosophic issues, Rand often encouraged her readers to “check your premises” — and she had a lot to say, for example in her essay “Philosophical Detection” (in Philosophy: Who Needs It), about what it means to read critically and identify the underlying ideas and premises behind a viewpoint. I believe trying that tack can be really fruitful in those discussions.

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