Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Daniel Hannan Reviews Atlas Shrugged

I concur with this review of the 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged by the Russian-born American novelist and political philosopher Ayn Rand.

The philosophy of Ayn Rand (developed during her own childhood nightmare of living through the Bolshevik Revolution) is a complete repudiation of Communism and of all forms of collectivism. Rand makes a powerful moral argument for capitalism and for individual freedom.

The downside of her philosophy (which she called Objectivism) is that it posits that all altruism is evil - even when done completely privately without government involvement or compulsion. She is also fiercely Atheistic, and denounces all religion as evil.

And yet even with these caveats (along with her followers' cultishness and her own shameful conduct of her sad personal life which does not serve to vindicate her philosophy), there is much to be learned from Rand. Her essays are better than her novels - though even Atlas Shrugged is brilliant in parts. The premise is unique and promising (the producers and thinkers of society find a way to "go on strike"), heroic (Rand's good guys and bad guys are not hard to figure out, to say the least), and the book's rhetorical device, "Who Is John Galt?", has been iconic among conservative thinkers around the world for half a century. However, as a novel, the well-conceived plot falls flat on its face. The book is far too long, and Rand's storytelling is dreadfully wooden; her characters are simply too robotic to be realistic.

Nevertheless, I recommend it.

It has had a profound effect on American conservatism and libertarianism. It is a work of literature of the same genre as 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World. It forces us to rethink our premises about the "common good" and the role of government. Even Christian conservatives and/or libertarians can draw from Rand - in spite of the bad storytelling and the hard edges to her philosophy. And I agree with Hannan that a film version might be just what the doctor ordered to clean up Rand's sloppiness and verbosity.

And as an aside, I find it a breath of fresh air to find a politician like Daniel Hannan, a thinking conservative who can truly write, witty, brilliant, at times fiercely independent, and unashamed to mix Latin, French, and American slang in a well-crafted book review.

If more Congresses and Parliaments around the world had more men like Daniel Hannan, perhaps we could afford to ignore Ayn Rand and not heed the warnings in books like Atlas Shrugged.

1 comment:

Rebekah said...

It's been a long time since I read it so I can't vouch for its total non-sophomorism, but back in the day I thought Rand's We the Living was a really good piece of fictional narrative that expressed her philosophy in the relevant historical context without all the blather and overwroughtness of AS and The Fountainhead.