Carl Barney skiing

Craig Biddle: I’m sitting with Carl Barney at his lovely home in Southern California. We’re surrounded by beautiful Bryan Larsen paintings—including Triumph of Daedalus Over Fate and Futility and How Far We’ve Come 2. Enormous curved-glass sliding doors open automatically to a pristine, garden-wrapped terrace with a black-bottom swimming pool. Suspended in midair above the water is a large bronze sculpture of a chiseled man executing a perfect swan dive. His reflection off the pool is as vivid as the sculpture itself. Beyond the terrace, pool, and garden is the Pacific Ocean as far as the eye can see.

That’s just an indication of the material values in view from where I sit. But I’m here to speak with Mr. Barney about spiritual values, specifically his philosophic ideas and moral principles, the values he credits for his success.

Mr. Barney is a businessman-philosopher—that is, a businessman who understands the importance of philosophy, studies it with an eye toward its practical application, and puts it to work in his life and ventures. For details on this, I’ll let him do the talking.

Thank you, Carl, for taking time to speak with me and for inviting me to your beautiful home. This is a feast for the eyes.

Carl Barney: It’s my pleasure.

Biddle: As I understand it, you came to America in the 1960s with about $100 dollars and went on to achieve the American dream—and then some. How and when did you become interested in philosophy, and what role has philosophy played in your life?

Barney: Well, I want to return to your introduction if I may. Yes [gesturing to the surroundings], this is the good life—or, more accurately, part of it. And it was inspired by the novels and philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Ayn Rand dramatizes powerful ideas in her fiction and elaborates them in her nonfiction, showing how and why philosophy is a practical, life-serving necessity. Among other ideas, she emphasizes that your ambitions and dreams and values are really important. She inspires us to seek the highest and best for ourselves in life. There’s a wonderful quote from the heroine of her novel We the Living: “It’s a rare gift, you know, to feel reverence for your own life and to want the best, the greatest, the highest possible, here, now, for your very own. To imagine a heaven and then not to dream of it, but to demand it.”

I love that quote, and I live by it.

I’m creating a heaven on earth in my life. This beautiful home is part of my heaven. And Rand’s works inspired me to live this way, to live fully. Even my love of these beautiful paintings and sculptures [gesturing] is inspired by her ideas. I mean, I knew virtually nothing about art and cared little for it before reading The Romantic Manifesto, which is one of my all-time favorite books. That book is the reason I fell in love with great art.

Biddle: When did you first read it?

Barney: The first time I read it was on a ski trip thirty years ago. I kept the paperback in a back pocket of my ski pants and would pull it out on the lift, read for ten minutes, put it back in my pocket, ski down the mountain, get on the lift, and take it out again. It was riveting. It made so much sense. Rand explained the nature and value of art in fundamental philosophic terms, yet in plain English. I devoured the book. It fuels my passion for art—and, in turn, the art I bring into my life fuels my soul. . . .

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