Kemmis and Roark on the eastern Montana frontier

So far in class, we have studied the Rand and Kemmis readings as representing diametrically opposite political worldviews.  Rand’s character Roark is the embodiment of classic liberalism and individualism whereas Kemmis represents civic republicanism and the common good above individual needs.  However, I don’t necessarily agree with this depiction.  Roark is certainly as classic liberal as they come, but I don’t think Kemmis is nearly as extreme.

Rand vouches for complete individual independence and completely condemns all self-sacrifice, arguing that the history of the world is one of an individual creating something and everyone else copying him.  To represent the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Kemmis would have to be arguing for a complete subversion of the self to the common good.  This is not what he says.  He merely argues that it is oftentimes in individual’s best interests to work in a group and that society is trending too far away from that realization.  The core example of his thesis is how his family coexisted with the Volbrecht family on their barn in eastern Montana in the early 1950s despite huge differences in personal values that under other circumstances probably would have kept the two families from having anything to do with one another.  However, the harshness of frontier life left the Kemmises and Volbrechts no choice.  They coexisted because it was in their best interest as individuals to do so, not because of some altruistic desire to aid the common good.  Therefore, despite the fact that Roark and Kemmis seem to possess opposite viewpoints, I actually think they can be compatible.

One can value the individual interest above all while still accepting Kemmis’ premise that people need to work together to achieve common goals.  The common good and the individual good are often the same thing- the common good is, by definition, what’s best for the greatest amount of individuals.  Individuals enter the confines of society not out of altruism, but out of self-interest.  Roark even accounts for this by saying, “An architect requires a great many men to erect his building… they work together by free agreement and each is free in his proper function” (Rand 409).  In this case, a large group of individuals work together to achieve a common goal that is also in each individual’s best interest.  This is why men created societies in the first place.

The fly in the ointment of my argument is that Roark stresses the need for independence and that “the only good which men can do to one another and the only statement of their proper relationship is-Hands off!”  This obviously is not compatible with Kemmis’ belief that people’s interests are interdependent and I can’t claim otherwise.  However, the fundamental point Roark makes is that everyone should act in their own interests, and he accepts that individuals must often cooperate to make this happen.  No subscriber to Roark’s worldview would ever wholly support Kemmis and vice versa.  But like the two families on the eastern Montana frontier, they could accept each other’s differences and coexist if required.  To borrow a Kemmis term, there is enough common ground between the two’s viewpoints for them to be compatible.

 

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