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Ayn Rand coined the terms 'mystics of the body' and 'mystics of the mind' to describe the progressive left and the religious right respectively. Although I understand what she means, I am curious why she chose the term 'mystic'. Anybody have an explanation?

asked Sep 16 '11 at 22:34

Conservative%20Atheist's gravatar image

Conservative Atheist
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edited Sep 16 '11 at 22:57

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦
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The actual terminology that Rand employed was "Mystics of Muscle" and "Mystics of Spirit." Her point in referring to them both as "Mystics" was to indicate their non-rational approach to knowledge.

Behaviorists, as an example of the Mystics of Muscle, thought that "knowledge" was a result of "programming" by Stimulus/Response mechanisms. See excerpts from The Stimulus and the Response from "Philosophy: Who Needs It.

Another example of this approach is the Marxist idea that workers are conditioned by the tools of production. A variant of this is found in the hoplophobia exhibited by the anti-self-defense movement in America whose core tenet is the idea that the mere presence of guns leads to violence.

Theists, as an example of the Mystics of Spirit, think that "true knowledge" is best obtained by appealing directly to the "Spirit" in chief, however they may have imagined "Him." Whether it be the World of Forms accessible only to Philosopher-Kings or the Kingdom of God accessible only to the Faithful (with proper mediation, of course) "true knowledge" is bestowed by some element or entity from a higher plane of existence. Some theists do allow for the acquisition of mundane knowledge but deny that it has any element of certainty or permanence to it. Presuppositionalists argue that even this activity falls under the purview of God.

The Collective Unconscious is secularized example of this same notion, although the higher plane is psychic or psychological rather than existential.

The Mystical is opposed to the Rational. Rand chose Mystic because of its opposition to Mind. She thus identified what both schools of mysticism were opposed to: Man's Mind.

“Whatever else they fought about, it was against man’s mind that all your moralists have stood united. It was man’s mind that all their schemes and systems were intended to despoil and destroy." 1

And for her brilliant exposition of the two major variants of this mystical approach:

“They have taught man that he is a hopeless misfit made of two elements, both symbols of death. A body without a soul is a corpse, a soul without a body is a ghost-yet such is their image of man’s nature: the battleground of a struggle between a corpse and a ghost, a corpse endowed with some evil volition of its own and a ghost endowed with the knowledge that everything known to man is nonexistent, that only the unknowable exists.

“Do you observe what human faculty that’ doctrine was designed to ignore? It was man’s mind that had to be negated in order to make him fall apart. Once he surrendered reason, he was left at the mercy of two monsters whom he could not fathom or control: of a body moved by unaccountable instincts and of a soul moved by mystic revelations-he was left as the passively ravaged victim of a battle between a robot and a dictaphone.1

I believe that it is from this passage that the anti-mind dichotomies came to be characterized as "Mystics of Spirit" and "Mystics of Muscle."

And while the Mystics of Muscle are easily understood to be anti-mind, sometimes the lip service paid to knowledge by the Mystics of Spirit can lead one to believe that they are not anti-mind themselves. What one must be aware of is the hierarchy of knowledge they employ. Divine knowledge can infuse man's mind and man can use mundane reason to further his understanding within limits. But man's mind, as such, is limited; any contradiction between man's reasoning and divine knowledge is due solely to the paucity of man's mind, not the irrationality of divine knowledge. Here is a good recap of the hostility shown in the writings the New Testament to the efficacy of man's mind.2

So this is yet another example of Rand's analysis leading to the understanding that false dichotomies often operate from the same accepted premise and that both opposing sides are united in their opposition to the truth.

1Galt's Speech, Atlas Shrugged

2Although Nee is not mainstream xtianity, I used this because he lists several biblical references to this subject. For those preferring more direct sources, see Romans 8:7, James 4:4, The Natural Man, and Who is the Natural Man for starters. Following the cross-references will give you more material, if you desire it.

answered Sep 17 '11 at 16:03

c_andrew's gravatar image

c_andrew ♦
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edited Sep 17 '11 at 16:42

Let us not forget the lip service that the left also pays to knowledge. The left are outspoken proponents of education, and because of their nonreligious aspect, they are identified as the intellectuals in our society. Our education system is effectively the church of muscle.

(Sep 17 '11 at 19:30) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Thanks John, The institutions of the Left do assume the protective coloring you describe; their basic philosophies are more obvious. Behaviorism is almost the textbook illustration of the no-mind approach whereas the mystics of spirit, being more nebulous, aren't as easy to so categorize. I like your characterization of modern education as the "church of muscle." They even admit that "socialization" is their primary doctrine. Another name for their conformist doctrine might be, "Monkey See, Monkey Do." And if you don't do what all the other monkeys are doing, well, then...

(Sep 17 '11 at 20:10) c_andrew ♦ c_andrew's gravatar image

There is a very good set of excerpts on this question in The Ayn Rand Lexicon under the topic of "Mystics of Spirit and of Muscle." The terminology goes all the way back to Galt's speech in Atlas Shrugged, and extends far deeper than merely "left" and "right" in politics.

Also be sure not to miss an even more substantial set of Lexicon excerpts under the topic of "Mysticism." Ayn Rand classified any form of rejecting reason as mysticism, including not only the conventional form ("Mystics of Spirit") but also the worshippers of brute force ("Mystics of Muscle"). Both variants reject reason in favor of attempting to rely on emotions for cognitive guidance.

answered Sep 17 '11 at 16:09

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
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Asked: Sep 16 '11 at 22:34

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Last updated: Sep 17 '11 at 20:10