Monday, April 18, 2011

Atlas Shrugged

There is a new movie out: Atlas Shrugged

I have not seen the movie.  I have read the book.

The author of the book, Ayn Rand, was a refugee from Communism.  Seeing first hand as a child the destruction of freedom through government collectivism and coercion during the Russian revolution, she became an advocate of human liberty.  She found Communism to violate the rules of logic.  She delved into a philosophy of objective reality - which she called simply "Objectivism" - which stood out like a sore thumb in the 20th century world of Subjectivism.  As a novelist, essayist, and philosopher, she opposed Big Government at every turn in her adopted country, the United States.

Ayn Rand was a complicated, if not convoluted, figure, whose legacy is even more complex.  In her lifetime, she was a rather unlikeable tyrannical grumpy self-centered and morally-challenged Atheist who is today often quoted by tea-partying Fundamentalist Christian political activists.  She heroically opposed Communism, but also berated any act of love to another person as morally evil.  One of her close disciples was Alan Greenspan, who though at one time was a champion of the Randian notion of a hands-off government (which included a separation of currency and state through the gold standard) was to become the chairman of the Federal Reserve - the very institution devoted to the destruction of hard currency and the very motor behind Big Government itself.  The Fed is the American version of central economic planning and the state control of capital.  The continued legacy of Ayn Rand is filled with such ironies.

Karen De Coster has a balanced and nuanced consideration of Ayn Rand and her lasting legacy here.

Here is an Issues, Etc. podcast about Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged, an interview with Dr. Clay Jones of Biola University.  I think Dr. Jones does a very good job of showing the good, the bad, and ugly - and even more ugly (the latter "ugly" I disagree with him) - about Ayn Rand and her philosophy (of which the novel Atlas Shrugged is a manifesto).  I do take exception with a couple of his statements, however, first his assertion that U.S. senator Dr. Rand Paul (the son of U.S. representative Dr. Ron Paul) was named after Ayn Rand.  This is not true.  He also criticizes Alan Greenspan for not proposing enough regulation.  I think that is a fantasy.  Alan Greenspan held the levers of Big Government in ways utterly contrary to the principles of small government and sound money.

One excellent point that Jones makes - which is another Randian irony - is the fact that one of the reasons Communism fell is that it did not consider original sin.  Like most Utopian schemes, it falls flat because it is based on a flawed view of humanity.  Communism fails (as Rand points out) because it does not account for human selfishness.  The great irony is that Rand also denied original sin - thus sowing the seeds of her own Utopia's demise.

In spite of all of this, I think the book is a good read.  It is tedious, plodding in plot, and often plastic in its characters.  The dialogue is wooden and at times reads like a philosophy tome.  But the premise is brilliant, and the overall story is clever.  Besdies, it's an important work for many reasons.  It will make you think about the role of government intervention in the free economy, innovation, capitalism and capital, labor and markets, and what the limits of freedom are.  It is a thought-provoking work that has - for good and bad - made a huge impact on our modern life and political discourse in the western world.

I'll probably check out the film when it gets to Netflix. 


George said...

Rand Paul likes Dostoevsky? Man, what's not to like about him then? Paul, that is. Except he's not as much of a non-interventionist as his father.

And as dearly as I love Todd Wilken & Issues Etc, I don't think he understands libertarianism too well & especially that not all libertarians are Randians & that libertarianism is not dependent on Ayn Rand.

chaplain7904 said...

I enjoyed the book. I would like to see govt model itself after the ideal presented in the book. That would be an answer to the prayer we pray for "good govt" in the 4th petition.

SKPeterson said...

There are plenty of good Austrian critiques of Rand (are they too Subjectivist, or Subjectivism rightly understood?) that show that libertarianism is not some monolithic outpost of Objectivist philosophy.

Rev. Larry Beane said...

All insightful comments!

I do think LCMS Lutherans sometimes lean in the direction of statism, partly because of a tendency toward political conservatism (which in America often manifests itself as interventionism, uncritical patriotism, and a quickness to use force and go to war to solve problems), and partly because of an emphasis on Romans 13 (which does not absolve government from its own need to obey the law).

In spite of this, I do find a lot of LCMS Lutherans beginning to move away from the kind of conservatism that simply rubber stamps a seal of approval upon anything the state does.

The conundrum is how do we serve Caesar the way we ought when Caesar himself disregards the law? I think Acts 4:29 lays out the principle. How that is implemented in our day and political structure is where it gets complicated.

Paul said...

William Penn: "As governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too. Wherefore governments rather depend upon men than men upon governments. Let men be good, and the government cannot be bad; if it be ill, they will cure it. But if men be bad, let the government be ever so good, they will endeavor to warp and spoil it to their turn."