The Night Watchman

A Small Beacon in the Night of Unreason
raised and maintained by Per-Olof Samuelsson

My Journey through Objectivism

A short autobiographical sketch

Why anyone else should be interested in the story of my life is beyond me; but anyway, here it is (or at least part of it, since I leave out my pre-Objectivist days):

Back in 1972 I was living and working with some other people (we were all at that time members of a dangerous religious cult, but I won’t tell you which one, because it is just too embarrassing). At one point one of my friends was reading The Fountainhead with obvious fascination, and another one had read it earlier. Since I had never heard of Ayn Rand before, I asked about her, and I was told she was an advocate of capitalism, atheism and egoism. I was intrigued by this, especially the last, because I had never thought that egoism could be a good thing.

The bookstore in the town where we lived (which was not in Sweden) stocked Ayn Rand’s books, so I bought The Romantic Manifesto. As you know, there is an analysis in this book of the first exchange between Roark and Keating, and after having read that I had to read The Fountainhead, too. After that, I was hooked. I bought Atlas with some misgivings, because I couldn’t imagine Ayn Rand could repeat, much less surpass, what she had done with The Fountainhead. (I was wrong.) Then I bought and read the rest of the books that were available at that time, I ordered her periodicals and I managed to get hold of the Brandens’ old book Who is Ayn Rand from a library.

During the next few years I read and re-read The Fountainhead and Atlas so many times that I lost count. (I pride myself of having the most torn copy of The Fountainhead in existence; I had an equally torn copy of Atlas, but unfortunately I lent it out to someone who misplaced it.)

Another thing I did during those years was translate Anthem into Swedish. The translation was published many years later. (I started on Atlas, too, but only finished the first chapter.)

After some time (too long) I decided to break away from the religious cult I had belonged to – and of course I have to credit Ayn Rand’s influence for making me take this decision. So in a very real sense, Ayn Rand saved my life. I went back to my home town and started to rebuild my life from scratch. I took odd jobs as a teacher, which was rather insecure, because I didn’t quite have the formal qualifications; after some years I found a job in a library, where I have worked ever since. (I’m a "second assistant librarian".) I had to retire last summer, because the law in Sweden does not automatically grant people over 67 the right to work for their living.

I also managed to overcome my shyness for girls and establish a lasting romantic relationship (unfortunately, I haven’t quite managed to convert my lady-friend to Objectivism, but we are reasonably happy together all the same).

Also in the late 70’s I translated Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal into Swedish. (The translation was published in 1984.)

It was also Ayn Rand who sparked my interest in Ludwig von Mises and the "Austrian" school of economics. And this led to my discovery of George Reisman, who I think is an even greater economist than Mises.

There weren’t many admirers of Ayn Rand in Sweden at that time (there are many more of them now), and the ones I encountered were Libertarians rather than "hard core" Objectivists.

To give you an idea of what it was like being an Objectivist in Sweden in those years I could tell you the following: We the Living had been translated into Swedish, and I proposed to the local library that they should buy it. The result was that I was given a long lecture by a librarian, who had never read a word of Ayn Rand, about what a lousy writer she is. The incident really made me sick at heart and disturbed my night’s sleep for a couple of years.

However, in 1982 I came into contact with Henrik Unné, who had himself discovered Ayn Rand and Objectivism not too long before. Henrik used to play Leonard Peikoff’s taped lectures in his home so I went to Stockholm about once a week to listen to them. Then, in 1987, Henrik had the idea that we should publish translations of Ayn Rand’s essays as a series of pamphlets. Since I’m interested in translating and already had experience with this kind of work, I took on the task of making those translations. (I also did the menial work – copying, stapling, stuffing envelopes, putting on stamps, going to the post office.) Between 1987 and 1996 37 such pamphlets were published, most of them by Ayn Rand herself, a few by Leonard Peikoff and other Objectivist luminaries.

I cannot say this endeavor was a great success, because we never got as much as 100 subscribers. Nevertheless, I believe it has had some impact and that some people have discovered Objectivism through it.

During those years, I also visited some Objectivist conferences held in Europe, and thus came into contact with a few more Objectivists; I also for a short while was a member of the "Objectivist Study Group", an e-mail discussion group. In 1993 I visited the last conference held by The Jefferson School.

I also did some writing of my own: articles and letters-to-the-editor. Some of those writing was published, but most was not. (I am working on getting all of it published on my own website.)

In the mid-90’s, with Henrik’s help, my old translation of Anthem was also published. And we had plans to also publish The Virtue of Selfishness (most of the essays were already translated). But this project took a sorry end.

At about that time, Leonard Peikoff and some other "luminaries" had the gall to declare George Reisman "immoral" and no longer part of the "movement". I looked into the matter and found the charge completely unfounded – and nothing but a cheap vendetta against a great man. I made my position clear, and I did not mince my words. The result was that Leonard Peikoff expressly forbade me to publish any further translations. (Henrik took Peikoff’s side in this conflict, so that was the end of that friendship.) The story is documented on my web site, in case anyone is interested.

In a very real sense, Ayn Rand saved my life. In an equally real sense, Leonard Peikoff destroyed it.

Destroyed or not, the course of my life is not determined by categorical imperatives (like "Stop translating!") from Leonard Peikoff. So, in the course of the next few years, I completed the translation of The Virtue of Selfishness and also translated The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution. (My non-Objectivist lady-friend was a great help to me throughout this work.) I sent copies of both those translations to Leonard Peikoff. (I don’t believe in secrecy.) The first time, I got no reaction from him; the second time he threatened me with a law suit if I as much as showed my translations to other people. I cannot afford such a law suit. Thus, I’m now deprived of one of my main goals in life. And the people of Sweden are saved from all the detrimental effects coming about because of my translation work. (This, of course, is intended as a sarcasm.)

A remaining goal (which I don’t think anyone can take away from me) is to achieve some sort of "final synthesis" of Objectivism and "Austrian" economics. I have made a start, but it is a large subject and I don’t know if I will achieve it before I die.

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Published by : Per-Olof Samuelsson, Järnvägsgatan 13, SE- 645 31 STRÄNGNÄS, Sweden
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