Atlas Shrugged: The Hidden Context of the Book and Film

Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates. – Mark Twain

There was nothing else even remotely interesting at Blockbuster — so we rented ATLAS SHRUGGED.

Well, after all,  I often talk about Ayn Rand and her passionate followers, who have effectively taken over the U.S. Libertarian movement, influencing much of the rhetoric we hear from the American Right… though none of the policies have ever been actually enacted during Republican rule. I’ve published both scholarly papers and popular articles about Rand’s fiction and philosophy.

So, I thought, why not give her acolytes one more shot at selling me on her biggest, most-central tale? An honest person does that. Whereupon, with a sigh, but opening my ears and mind, I slid the disk into the player….

== For the record ==

First a couple of honest disclaimers:  1) It may seem that I am aiming most of my critical attention, lately, at “right-wing authors.” (Last time I dissected Frank Miller’s travesty “300,” showing how it tells outright historical lies in service of a deeply anti-American theme. ) But I do notice foibles of the left!  For example, I promise soon to offer up that long-awaited piece about James Cameron’s beautiful but misguided film, AVATAR.

2) As one of the few sci fi authors who delivered a keynote at a political party convention – indeed it was the Libertarian Party – I may seem somewhat of a “heretic” to the Rand-followers who now dominate the LP. But no one can deny my ongoing campaign to get folks to read Adam Smith, the founding sage of both libertarianism and liberalism.

Like Smith, I believe in fair and open competition – the greatest creative force in the universe and the process that made us.  Encouraging vibrant, open rivalry – in markets, democracy, science, etc – is one reason to promote universal transparency (see The Transparent Society ), so that all participants may base their individual decisions on full knowledge. That positive aim – also preached by Friedrich Hayek – should be the goal of any sane libertarian movement… instead of fetishistically hating all government, all the time, which is like a poor workman blaming the tools. Anyway, a movement based on hopeful joy beats one anchored in rancorous scapegoating, any day.

(Smith also favored feeding and educating all children, for the pragmatic reason that this maximizes the number of skilled, adult competitors, a root motive of liberalism and a role for government that is wholly justifiable in libertarian terms.)

For my full, cantankerously different take on the plusses and minuses of contemporary libertarianism — and other oversimplifying dogmas — have a look at this essay: Models, Maps and Visions of Tomorrow.

Only now, with due diligence done, let’s get back to ATLAS SHRUGGED: THE MOTION PICTURE.

== Rand’s Books… and the Movie ==

Despite my low esteem of Ayn Rand’s simplistic dogma, I do rate THE FOUNTAINHEAD as by far her best book. In its smaller and more personal scope, that novel offered a pretty effective (if melodramatic) portrayal of  uncompromising genius having to overcome the boneheaded doorkeepers of art and architecture — two realms that are always beset by bullies and villainy.  In that tale, the hero’s adversaries came across as multi-dimensional and even somewhat plausible, if also a bit cartoonish. Indeed, the 1950s Gary Cooper movie was pretty good, for a Rand story.

Alas, in contrast, ATLAS SHRUGGED takes on civilization as a whole — all of its institutions and enlightenment processes, top to bottom — calling every last one of them corrupt, devoid of hope, intelligence or honor. Moreover it proclaims that the vast majority of our fellow citizens are braying, silly sheep.

(Consider this irony; a movement propounding that all people can and should think for themselves also teaches its adherents to openly despise their neighbors as thinking beings. A party that proclaims fealty to market forces also holds that the number of deciders and allocators can and should be very small. In other words, you can have Hayek or Rand. Not both.)

But pause a moment. How does the book hold up, strictly from the perspective of writing and art? Well… I won’t mince words. ATLAS SHRUGGED royally sucks as a novel, with cardboard characters, rivers of contrived coincidence and dialogue made of macaroni. (Can you dig a 70 page SPEECH?) Of course, none of those things matter if your taste runs to an endless smorgasbord of resentment. In which case the speechifying is mother’s milk!

Heck, the left produces plenty of polemics just as turgidly tendentious. In fact, I just pretty much described The Handmaid’s Tale.

Given such source material — and universal boos from both critics and the viewing public — was I surprised to find that the movie version of Atlas Shrugged bites, at the level of basic film 101 storytelling?  For example, it is only in the last five minutes that the director deigns to clarify a core villain! As for the “heroes”… well, their famously emotionless “I don’t give a crap” mien may work for campus geeks. But not in cinema, where passion propels.

(A deeply ironic and smirk-worthy “oops” appeared on the cover of the DVD version, blurbing ATLAS SHRUGGED as a saga of “courage and self-sacrifice” — which would be the ultimate Randian sin!)

== A High Point ==

One sequence of this film does stand out.  I’m a sucker for lyrical cinematography, especially when it involves beautiful scenery, or else a love-ode to fine technology.  And there’s about ten minutes in ATLAS SHRUGGED when we get both, as the male and female leads ride their new super-train along shimmering rails made of miraculous metal, speeding across gorgeous Rockies and over a gasp-worthy bridge.

The emotional payoff — two innovators triumphing over troglodyte naysayers by delivering an awesome product — portrayed Rand’s polemical point in its best conceivable light.  (I am all for that aspect of the libertarian dream! Indeed, it is the core theme that makes THE FOUNTAINHEAD somewhat sympathetic and persuasive.)  So, for ten minutes, we actually liked the characters and rooted for them.  Significantly, it is the portion when nobody speaks.

Alas, though. The film then resumed a level of simplistic lapel-grabbing that many of us recall from our Rand-obsessed college friends — underachievers who kept grumbling from their sheltered, coddled lives, utterly convinced that they’d do much better in a world of dog-eat-dog.  (Using my sf’nal powers, I have checked-out all the nearby parallel worlds where that happened; in those realms, every Randian I know was quickly turned into a slave or dog food. Sorry fellows.)

Ah well. Let’s  set aside the pathetic storytelling, crappy direction and limp drama to appraise the film on its own, intended merits. On what it tried to be. A work of polemical persuasion.

== The Core Polemical Purpose ==

rand-societyATLAS SHRUGGED is, after all, an indictment of modernist, enlightenment, Smithian-liberal civilization. To Rand, this “great experiment” has all been one big mistake, doomed to expire from its own internal contradictions.

(I use that Marxian expression deliberately. For, in significant dialectical ways, Ayn Rand was deeply influenced by Karl Marx–virtually an acolyte, in fact. Thematically, she simply changes the list of villains, but keeps the nearly identical scenario of bourgeoise decadence, guild protection and teleological decay.)

ayn-rand-societyHence we witness society making one dismal choice after another — an endless chain of socialist or meddlesome-statist outrages against individual initiative. Laws that punish or seize companies who “compete too well.” Or civil servants trying to force faux-equality on everybody, crushing the truly creative wealth producers.

Indeed, if I ever witnessed our nation passing the kind of insane bills that are reported in this film (piled one-after-another, every five minutes), heck, I’d be looking for John Galt myself!

Yet, I’m enough of a libertarian to know that foolish things do happen! Witness Europe, mired in nanny-state entitlements, eight week vacations and a “right to retire” as young as 55.  Self-defeating regulations prevent companies from firing workers, with the consequence that they seldom hire new ones! As for the movie’s heroine, Ayn Rand chose a railroad heiress for good reasons. The old Interstate Commerce Commission (dissolved by the democrats in the late 1970s, but still a horror when she wrote) was the classic exemplar of a government bureaucracy “captured” by lordly oligarchs and used as a tool to squelch competition.

In other words, the endless litany of “leveling” crimes against creative enterprise that roll across the page/screen in ATLAS SHRUGGED aren’t entirely without real-world analogues! Her fictional crimes against creative enterprise are based on a genuine complaint… that Rand-ites regularly exaggerate more than 100-fold, alas, into caricatures and absurd over-generalizations.

To see this danger expressed far better – and more succinctly – than Rand ever managed, read the terrific Kurt Vonnegut story: Harrison Bergeron. Other expressions of legitimate libertarian worries can be seen in the fiction of Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein. They have a point.

Okay, the core worry is a valid one and somebody in society should keep warning us! Though ideally, someone with common sense and proportion, alas.

I mean, gee whiz. Ayn Rand railed against the ICC… and it was eliminated! Canceled, rubbed out, utterly erased by the very same democratic processes that she and her followers despised. Competition among railroads was restored and it was done by a mix of pressure from a savvy public and resolution by genuinely reform-minded politicians. If Ayn Rand were writing the book today, a railroad would not have been her chosen archetype.

I wonder: did anyone making the film ever ponder this? Did any Randians notice at all?

== A Remarkable Chain of Ironies ==

I guess I sound pretty harsh. Only now, let me do one of my famous contrary swerves and openly avow something that Ayn Rand gets right. Despite gross exaggeration, she pretty much nails the basic problem!

Almost every time the book or film depict some betrayal of human competitive ingenuity, it happens like this:

A conspiracy of “old money” oligarchs gathers in conniving secrecy, exerts undue political influence and misuses government power for their own, in-group self-aggrandizement. Except for a few, pathetic union stewards, the ruination of market forces is stage managed from the top. The squelching of entrepreneurial enterprise and the corruption of trade is always executed by villainous old-guard capitalists! Moguls who don’t want any rivalry from rambunctious newcomers.

Now think about that. Socialists do come under derision from Rand, but mostly as ninnie, do-gooder tools of the scrooge-oligarchs!  In fact, this is where her followers get things right!  Anyone who considers the long, lamentable epic of human history will recognize this as the ancient pattern, pervasive across 99% of cultures — with the most prevalent sub-version being feudalism.

randianWhat Randians never explain is how getting rid of constitutional-enlightenment government will prevent this ancient curse from recurring. (Were the oligarchs stymied in ancient China, Babylon or Rome, where liberal constitutions were absent?) Indeed, enlightenment governments are the only force that ever kept the feudal sickness partially in check! Exactly as prescribed by Adam Smith.

(Name another society that ever made more libertarians, hm?)

In other words, by her very own premise, the answer isn’t for creative people to “go on strike.” It is to fix the tool (government) by yanking it out of the hands of conspiratorial criminals who have improperly seized it.  You do that with transparency, with light. Not by blaming the tool and throwing it away.

== You Are Getting Very Sleeeeepy… ==

Oh, but more ironies abound! Here you have a polemic about individualism, that portrays one accomplished CEO after another “gone missing”… dropping out of sight after each one listens to a solitary pitchman from a utopian community, who croons “Come. Follow me and joiiiin usssss.”.

Um, let’s see. When have we heard that before? Drop everything. All your past loyalties and the companies you’ve built. Stop fighting for your family or country. Listen to this incantation and follow our charismatic leader to the special society he has built, just for the exclusive elect, like you!

Good lord, does she have to make the hypnotism-cult thing quite so explicit? So very much like Jim Jones and David Koresh? Did you know that Rand-followers who recite her catechisms light up exactly the same parts of the brain as other true-believers pronouncing passages from the Bible or Koran or Hindu Sutras? And these are not the corners of cortex used by scientists while performing analytical or “objective” reasoning.

But you don’t need any of that to conclude we’re dealing with a cult. Just follow the recruitment process used by John Galt. (Who surreptitiously sabotages successful companies in order to drive their owners into his arms! Oh, criminy.)

UnknownYes, I’ll admit that Ayn Rand at least portrays technology as good. That gives her points over the dismal Tea Partiers, or Fox, or the equally dismal (though far less-numerous) science haters of a ditzy-fringe far left.  Alas, she treats technology like something magical. Lone inventors weave a spell and suddenly there’s a new metal or new motor. The vast intricacy of collaboration, development, supplier networks, and infrastructure is both a topic to Rand and an excuse for incantatory over-simplification.

But it is science that truly gets short shrift. Ayn Rand’s lack of any reference to scientific research that might support or falsify her assertions about human nature should send alarm bells clanging. Her ignorance of Darwin, for example, is almost identical to Marx, but much less excusable, given when she lived.

The analog to Rand is not the scientist Darwin, but the rhetorician Plato. Sure, she claims to prefer Aristotle. But in both verbal process and reasoning style, she is Plato’s truest heir.

==Ayn Rand on Privacy==

All right, veering briefly aside from Atlas Shrugged, let’s see what Rand says about privacy, a topic I happen to know a lot about:

“Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.” 

Of course, there is a level at which Rand is simply stating the obvious. That autonomy and long lives arose as our technology and civilized complexity improved. When food surpluses were meager, only a tiny aristocracy could be subsidized and unchained from the land. But a mixture of science and continental peace mixed with our ability to trade goods and services till even science fiction authors can now pretend we are producers of a primary product, worthy of being fed by farmers.

As for the quote itself: as usual, Ayn Rand mixes some core truths of the Enlightenment with mystical teleology.  The rise of the individual – never steady or even – has been a core theme of the West, ever since the Renaissance, and especially the Enlightenment. But this progression isn’t fated, ordained or even natural.

Rand looks at a couple of hundred years and one quarter of the planet, and assumes the trend is unstoppable. But Huxley and Orwell – backed up by Malthus and Darwin – showed us what’s “natural.”  The diamond-shaped social structure that we take for granted can all-too easily slump back into the oligarch-dominated pyramid.

Only Enlightenment methods ever offered an alternative hope. Rand followers take it for granted. Indeed, they assume that we can dismantle the processes and structures that Adam Smith prescribed, that made the Enlightenment work in the first place.

They bear a burden of proof that we would not just slump back into the condition that prevailed, for thousands of years, before Smith and his colleagues came along.  In America, that slump is already well underway.

== The Posterity Problem ==

rand-anthemBut the best is saved for last.  I hope at least a few libertarians – those most-favored with our greatest human trait, curiosity – have hung with us to this point.

Elsewhere, I’ve revealed the biggest and most telling red flag about Ayn Rand – one that I’ve not seen mentioned elsewhere. It is that none of her characters, at any level or in any way, ever indulge in the most basic human project, bearing and raising and loving children.

There is a reason that Rand absolutely and consistently avoided any mention of procreation — because writing in even one member of a next-generation would shine searing light upon the biggest flaw of her hypnotic spell, revealing that her “fresh” tale is actually the oldest one in the human saga.

Look, we all know this about aristocracy — that it seldom breeds true. In the past, royal or aristocratic houses would grow fat, lazy and decadent. England’s Plantagenets managed to stay virile for 400 years but most lines devolved much quicker. Oligarchs had to make inheritance-of-privilege state policy! They gave top priority to quashing open markets, science, democracy or equal justice! Because any of these liberal processes might engender new competitors to rise, afresh, from below, exposing the spoiled great-grandkids to dangerous rivals.

Yet, even so, there was some churn! A violent form of social mobility.  Inevitably those decadent houses got toppled by new, fresh blood. By vibrant competitors who grew lean and tough in exile. Who trained and gathered their forces in the woods, then swooped in to storm the castle!  And thereupon established a new lordly line.

This ancient cycle is the very essence of what Ayn Rand stands for.  Her characters are the brash, virile, sturdy, innovative barbarians, born free and ready to seize destiny in their own two hands, ripping fortune out of the clutches of pathetic old-fart lords who are spent and bereft of might. It’s the oldest story, writ-new and draped with modernist garments. Even in her portrayals of sex, the closest parallel is a godlike Viking lord who kicks down the door and takes what he desires. Because he is the grandest thing in all directions. And because he can.

It is an ancient mythos that resonates deeply in our bones and especially within pasty-skinned, pencil-necked nerds, who picture themselves as Achilles, as John Wayne, as Ender Wiggin, as Harry Potter or some other demigod. An old, old formula that was mined by A. E. Van Vogt and L. Ron Hubbard and Orson Scott Card and so many others.

Bwe-livingut therein lies a problem!  It’s the romantic Phase One of the old cycle that Rand admires – the rise of a self-made buccaneer who seizes lordship from decadent, inbred fools.

Phase Two – what happens next – she never talks about. She averts her eyes and the reader’s attention.

Why do none of Rand’s characters ever have kids? Because they’ll inherit the olympian status wrested by Howard Roark or by Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden. Sons and daughters of demigods, they will assume privileges and power that they never earned through fair competition. They will take lordship for granted as a right of blood, and use it to squelch new competitors from rising to face them on a level playing field. It’s what happened in 99% of human societies.

Ayn Rand faces a steep burden of proof that “this time it’ll be different.” A burden she never picks up. Rather, she shrugs it off.

If there are offspring, then the reader might become consciously aware of this inevitable outcome. and realize: “Hey, I’ve seen all this before. It’s the same old boring-human pattern, and nothing new, after all.”

== The Problem Is People… ==

ayn-rand-selfishnessOh, but maybe I am reading too much into this aversion toward kids. After all, as the recent film reminds us, Ayn Rand was pretty much an equal opportunity hater of people, in general. (As evidenced by her passionately-admiring defense of the horrific murderer William Edward Hickman.)

Just look at how brothers are portrayed in ATLAS SHRUGGED.  Always treacherous, small-minded, parasitical and craven. Clearly, Rand is no Nazi, no believer in the paramountcy of blood. Sons, daughters, brothers and sisters? Neighbors? Strangers? Spouses? Co-workers? Civilization? Bah, who needs em. Who needs anybody?

Well? I said she ignores Darwin and this is consistent! Reproductive success? Fie and feh!

Her ubermensch demigods are less like “lords” – obsessed with establishing an inherited clan of privilege – than they are pirates – superior in boldness and in mind, going wherever they like, taking what they deserve by the very essence of what they are.

And hey, doesn’t everybody love a pirate?

Yoho. That’s the life for me.



Filed under economy, society

15 responses to “Atlas Shrugged: The Hidden Context of the Book and Film

  1. sftheory1

    Excellent post! A very interesting take on Rand and her form of libertarianism.

  2. Sothis58

    Wonderful expose. I am surprised you didn’t mention the obscure but apt parody of Atlas Shrugged that Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson used in the Illuminatus! trilogy, Telemachus Sneezed.

  3. Ayn Rand was a big influence on my philosophical education but it was equal parts agreement and frustration. I was one of those who read her as a teenager and held her in high esteem but even then felt that her literary expressions of Objectivist philosophy was stymied by a lack of knowledge in the sciences and a lack of respect for other people’s capabilities and morals.

    That said, the core of the book resonates today and that shows in phenomenal sales for any book, let alone a book over a half century old. I have yet to see the movie but I will- and regardless of the quality I will watch parts two and three as well if they are produced. From what I read, it suffers from being treated explicitly as the first of three parts.

    Like Rand, I don’t want to dismantle the state, I want to limit its power to do harm. As long as the state has an unfettered ability to give and take trillions of dollars through command economy regulation and “fair” taxation, the rich and powerful have to engage in purchasing privilege and protection. Unless there is a hard and philosophically consistent limit on the state’s power, oligarchy is an inevitable survival mechanism of the powerful.

    The rich have no choice but to lobby and pay tribute to the political class- because if they don’t, their taxes will go to subsidize their competition and they will find the rules they must work under are rigged against them. Microsoft tried to ignore this mess and they were attacked by grandstanding politicians until they opened a lobbying office in Washington and started paying off both parties to the tune of tens of millions of dollars a year. Their regulatory problems magically went away. The Koch brothers are constantly complaining about being forced into this just to stay in the game.

    Rand’s exaggeration of this was a literary tool to show it in as stark and clear a light as possible… but then her literary heroes response to it was rather ill thought out.

    Unlike Rand, I have faith that humanity will see the harm done when society is consumed by the rich buying protection with their billions and citizenry buying protection with their votes- and the politician happily taking from each to sell to the other. I have faith that most people will come to understand that we are social animals who’s self interest extends out to the people around us and that the state perverts that sense of community as it goes about damaging what it purports to protect. The education, health and welfare systems have bloated to levels that are bankrupting us as they tip over to doing more harm than good. This isn’t a bastardization of the state’s actions, it is the natural function of a monopoly that enjoys the ability to force its customers to pay whatever it deems is needed.

    The primary area that Ayn Rand fell short in her understanding is that we don’t take care of the less fortune because of some twisted guilt inculcated in us by Machiavellian statists… the statists can only wrest this power to themselves because we genuinely want to help the people around us. The trick lies in the convincing the voter that everyone else isn’t as decent and well meaning as they are and that the only way to help the downtrodden is to get the state to force everyone else to “do the right thing”. The rich make exceptionally good targets for this. No matter how many hospitals or schools they build, no matter how many billions they donate to charity, it is never enough.

    The state’s interference in charity and social support is even more insidious than its interference in the economy because it distances us from the problems even as it exacerbates them. There is no bureaucracy that will fix the problem it was created to fight and then shut itself down. The purpose of a bureaucracy becomes the bureaucracy itself.

    That is a long way around to saying that I am a libertarian, not because I don’t care about those who are less fortunate than I, but because I care too much about them to leave their care to the state. Without the trillions of dollars taken out of the economy to feed the insatiable maw of government “charity” there would be tens of millions fewer people in need of help. Left to our own devices, a prosperous society would be willing and capable of helping the far smaller number who would genuinely needed assistance.

    That is a very different world than the one envisioned by Ayn Rand; she portrayed a dystopic worst case scenario while I prefer a future more in line with the historic trend of things getting better through the application of knowledge and reason. Sure it will be in fits and starts but it will get better… even if right now we’re stumbling through one of those fits.

  4. Dave Eave

    Of course it is exaggerated, it is literature… show me any novel that does not belabor and exaggerate and over symbolize the point it is trying to make.

    Granted, there are absurdities… and as a libertarian, i do not see anyone trying to demolish the constitution, rather argue for more adherence to it.

    The strike is the solution after so much collusion ( all exaggerated for dramatic purposes) has poisoned the well that more laws cannot fix what has been put in place.

    Look at the situation of modern day Education Institutions, Transportation Infrastructure or even Tax Systems. You cannot get anywhere logical or productive from where we are. Too much bureaucracy has entrenched itself, constructed the Strawman media frenzy you describe in your referenced posts so that neither side can constructively provide any change.

    You have to scrap it, and start over with the lessons learned and provide better, more enlightened and streamlined oversight if we are ever going to afford to be so great again.

    Otherwise, the mire is to thick to trudge thru with flashlights, especially with the few who dare being labelled as bigots, and branded with the exaggerated anarchists. ( I am not denying these demagogues exist, just as the Mouchers do… spouting the party lines, but most people exist in a realistic reasonable sphere)

    After all, if we have to compromise in order to be productive… this is the hard line you have to pull in order to get the oligarchic regulators somewhere back to the middle in terms of reasonable government. And you have to admit, as far as spending goes… we have drifted WAY to the left. Regardless of which side has been in charge.

  5. Nice take on Rand. I am one of those who adore the book and all the rules it breaks for story telling. But then again, I also love pirates.

    The film should have been an hour longer, and came out as though it was rushed through, which it was. It was a bold attempt at independent filmmaking, but…….I think it was a missed chance that came out in fragments of broken glass instead of one large social mirror which I believe was the intention.

  6. Greg Davis

    You write: Why do none of Rand’s characters ever have kids?

    Henry Rearden has his son Philip.

    Or was that exaggeration?

    Poor review. It would take me hours to respond to the misinterpretations.
    Such as Rand being more Platonic than Aristotelian (and Aristotelian would be wrong), and especially the ill-aimed straw man of “libertarian” constitutional-enlightenment government. Rand was anti libertarian.

    The explanation for the continued use of rail in 2016 is given at the beginning. Did you only watch it once?

    Meanwhile you (and many others) will be complaining about the repeating boom/bust centrally-planned collapses having spitefully denigrated a writer who will do more for humanity than snivelling pessimists and offered the reasons and the solutions for the inevitable collapse.

  7. Brad

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the film and novel “Atlas Shrugged.

    Could you elaborate on your comment re: “Handmaid’s Tale?” Do you disagree with the politics of the novel or the “turgid, tendentious” style?

    Do you think that real-world persecution of people like the characters in Atwood’s book exists in the world today? Do you agree that the “John Galts” of todays society are the true downtrodden?

    – Brad

  8. “Self-defeating regulations prevent companies from firing workers, with the consequence that they seldom hire new ones!”


    First off, while the Euro is in big trouble due to — wait for it — the very wealthy bankers and “masters of the universe” that Rand so widely lauded, “nanny states” like Germany and France are by far outperforming the US economy.

    Second, the so-called “coddled” western European worker who puts in his or her time and expects outrageously ostentatious things like being able to retire at a reasonable age and health care is much less of a burden on any society than the overpaid CEO who drives his company into the ground and then gets a multi-million dollar golden parachute. Often, these same people are hired to head up other companies which they also promptly destroy.

    Sorry Libertarians, but the reason adults don’t take you seriously is because your government-free society already exists — it’s called Somalia.

    You’re welcome to move there asap.

  9. Kevin Horner

    While I have little constructive to say, I imagine there will be quite a few Rand-ains coming here to froth at the mouth over their idol being written of in the same sentence as Marx: “For, in significant dialectical ways, Ayn Rand was deeply influenced by Karl Marx–virtually an acolyte, in fact.”

    Mr. Brin – I only wish that it were possible that libertarians or the Right were as thoughtful as you… for that matter, the Left too. The problem is that it is nearly-impossible for normal people to be in goverment, so the people that have the money (or who are given the money) to get elected are either beholden to that money, are clinging to power, or are trying to demolish our society for some insane reason. Until all public elections are publically-funded (and thus no need for campaign donations) will that change.

    Ah, well. Another fantasy.

  10. Well done. Especially appreciated as it’s one of the few critiques of Objectivism I’ve read that discusses Rand’s ideas instead of using her personal eccentricities or philosophical/practical inconsistencies as the strength of its argument.

  11. Interesting read but I have to wonder about one of your premises.
    “300 tells outright historical lies in service of a deeply anti-American theme.” I think you vastly over estimate movies as political commentary. Not one person I ever met connected 300 with politics.

  12. xmichaelx

    You’ve hit on all my anti-Rand peaves but one: Her economics don’t work in a global market. This is why Atlas Shrugged-land is a single civilized country in a sea of lesser countries, with no competition.

    In a current Rand-ian world, Reardon makes something great, China steals it and makes it cheaper, and sells it back to whoever wants it. Reardon dies destitute.

  13. Greg Davis

    “The “libertarians” . . . plagiarize Ayn Rand’s principle that no man may initiate the use of physical force, and treat it as a mystically revealed, out-of-context absolute . . . .

    In the philosophical battle for a free society, the one crucial connection to be upheld is that between capitalism and reason. The religious conservatives are seeking to tie capitalism to mysticism; the “libertarians” are tying capitalism to the whim-worshipping subjectivism and chaos of anarchy. To cooperate with either group is to betray capitalism, reason, and one’s own future.”

    from What Can One Do? from Philosophy: Who Needs It

    As for the comment that Somalia is a libertarian paradise, you may be right, but Somalia lacks objective law, and Rand was not libertarian – see above – and do some thinking, not just repeating what your lightly-read older hippie brother told you.

    Rand on Government:

    “If physical force is to be barred from social relationships, men need an institution charged with the task of protecting their rights under an objective code of rules.

    This is the task of a government—of a proper government—its basic task, its only moral justification and the reason why men do need a government.

    A government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of physical force under objective control—i.e., under objectively defined laws.”

  14. Dorrie Bly

    I went through a phase of Ayn Rand in my teens. It was very clear to me at the time that I was the centre of the universe and that it was very petty and unfair of my parents, teachers, and society in general to insist on treating me as if I were not, and Ayn Rand agreed! See, they were jealous of me, and of her, and of all the other superior people who are better than the mass of humanity because we just are, and the whole of society was designed to bring us down to their level and prevent us from achieving our glorious destinies. This is good stuff in your early teens. It’s worth wading through that horrible thick prose just to be included in the special peoples’ club (and the reader aways is, it never says ‘most of humanity are pointless and don’t count, and that means you’).

    I understand the appeal, but anyone over the age of fourteen ought to know better.

  15. Greg Davis

    “I understand the appeal, but anyone over the age of fourteen ought to know better.”

    Dorrie, that’s mischievous, your making it sound like a Bible.

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