Monday, July 16, 2012

Atlas is Still Shrugging

Above is a 2010 John Stossel segment on the controversial novel Atlas Shrugged by author-philosopher Ayn Rand, still a best-seller half a century after its publication.

Rand was a victim of the Bolshevik revolution who managed to emigrate to the states.  Her philosophy is known as "Objectivism," and it stresses individualism over collectivism, capitalism over socialism, reason over faith, and personal liberty over government intervention.  Atlas caused a firestorm when it was written, and still does today.

Rand's militant atheism, train-wreck of a personal life, abrasive personality, cult-like following, and disdain for altruism made her a controversial figure.  And yet her principled defense of the individual against the coercion and violence of the mob - especially the mob of meddlesome government and mooching bureaucrats - most especially when they collude with businesses to limit or eliminate competition - is hard to attack.  Graft, corruption, and parasitism are seldom good for economies or individuals.

Her novels are often filled with unrealistic flowery prose (more philosophical manifestos than real-world dialogue), flat characters, and often extend to proportions of a marathon when a 10k would have been a more appropriate pace.  And yet, her novels are refreshing over and against the mealy-mouthed postmodern literature so common today: filled with formulaic hand-wringing themes of gender, ethnicity, and predictable political correctness.  By contrast, Rand's "good guys" are heroic and unapologetically brilliant, and her "bad guys" are smarmy and loathsome - if not creepy.  There is no waffling from Rand as to where she stands, and she is not afraid to tell a story to project her philosophy.  And as wooden as her dialogue often is, as one-dimensional as her characters often are, I resonate with this quote from Doug Casey
I can't count the thousands of times I've seen people act in ways [Ayn] Rand depicted in her novel [Atlas Shrugged]. Heroic people struggling to innovate and create wealth; the intellectually dishonest refusing to question their superstitions; hypocrites who go through mental gymnastics to make excuses for themselves; and just plain dirtballs acting the way they always do.
The novel is in the process of being made into a trilogy of movies.  Part one came out last year.  Part two is due out this fall.  The plan is for the conclusion to be released next year.  The trailers for parts 1 and 2 are below.

No Christian is going to agree 100% with Ayn Rand.  And yet, based on different premises, Christianity does defend the sanctity of the individual, as well as confessing in the Ten Commandments that it is wrong to take the property of others.  Communism and Socialism were defended and championed by many prominent but misguided idealistic Christians in the 19th century.  One example is Edward Bellamy, the Baptist Socialist novelist who wrote two remarkable Utopian novels about what the year 2000 would look like in a Socialist America.  Rand's writings looked forward to a similar time-frame and concluded that, rather than a Utopia, Socialist America will be a tragic Dystopia.  

We 21st century Americans can look back on the great thinkers and storytellers Rand and Bellamy with the 20-20 vision of the entire failed (and bloody) experiment of Soviet Communism, now on full display in mankind's past to be dissected and analyzed.  We see where Bellamy's philosophy leads.  Planned centralized economies always destroy incentive, punish the productive, line the pockets of "crony capitalists" and government bureaucrats alike, cost mankind in terms of inventions that never happened and lives ruined by Big Government, and inevitably lead to gulags and concentration camps - all under the guise of "equality" and "fairness" and "social justice."  Rand exposes the Marxism of the Nanny State and demonstrates how even soft chains only serve to enslave the minds of men.

Though there is much about which to to disagree with Rand in her philosophy, there is also much that commends itself to us today in a world where the United States federal government has nothing to check its own power, and where the brightest and best are beginning to look for other places to call home rather than comply with crippling taxes and regulations here in the "land of the free." 

We may not be too far from finding "Who is John Galt?" uttered in whispers and scribbled on walls. 

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