Atlas Shrugged – book discussion as the movie comes out

Today I noticed on Twitter that a movie based on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is soon to be released.  At least the first part of the book in the first installment of the movie.

And it’s pronounced like the letter “I” with an “n” tacked on.

By coincidence, I am in the midst of rereading it.   Boy… did she need an editor.  Her endless descriptions of meaningful looks and more than likely some personal fantasies make some sections real “page turners”, and not in the good sense.

That said, I think Atlas Shrugged is one of those books we should all have read at some point.  Given the fact that the movie seems to be coming soon, it might be hard to get it from the library.  But you also could find it at a used bookstore… and through Amazon by that link I gave above.

Keep in mind that her main accomplishment is her ability to make the unwary or slightly-informed reader feel superior to every one else he knows or meets.  Thus, for young people, this book can produce bothersome results…. for a long time.

And… it is uncanny how some of the economic and social lines of the plot describe our own time.  And given that it was written in the 50′s, it has some pretty good science fiction riffs.

I had read Ayn Rand’s book when I was in my first year of university and was – in my youthful way – impressed by her notions concerning excellence and her criticism of altruism. Her “objectivism” is … interesting.  Interesting … in the way we Minnesotans often use the word.

There is something flawed at the heart of her thought, however.  I can still resonate with her fierce blasting of cringing altruism, the self-satisfied sort.  I can still resonate with her exaltation of the excellent.

That said… aside from the objectivism and some of her more turgid prose, her book reads as film noir ought to feel.

Given that this movie is coming out soon, it would be interesting to have some discussion here about Atlas Shrugged from an informed Catholic perspective.

The first thing one has to get past, of course, is her near reduction of the divine to the human and exaltation of the human to nearly godlike status.

Come to think of it, how else could her characters pick up 20 different thoughts and conflicting emotions from the mere side-long glimpse of the side of the face of a person across a room. C’mon Ayn.

Thoughts?

UPDATE:

My friend Greg DiPippo alerted us in the combox, below, to the Youtube video of Wm. F. Buckley interviewed on Atlas Shrugged.

Also, I found the trailer to the new film, part 1.   It is very slick and updated.  I wish it was more of a 1950′s period piece in the film noir style it deserves.

And do read Acton Institute’s comment on the new film: Atlas Shrugged – See the Movie, Skip the Book.

UPDATE:

An essay on the not exactly conservative Salon called How Ayn Rand ruined my childhood.

My parents split up when I was 4. My father, a lawyer, wrote the divorce papers himself and included one specific rule: My mother was forbidden to raise my brother and me religiously. She agreed, dissolving Sunday church and Bible study with one swift signature. Mom didn’t mind; she was agnostic and knew we didn’t need religion to be good people. But a disdain for faith wasn’t the only reason he wrote God out of my childhood. There was simply no room in our household for both Jesus Christ and my father’s one true love: Ayn Rand.

[...]

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40 Responses to Atlas Shrugged – book discussion as the movie comes out

  1. Pachomius says:

    Objectivism denies the virtue of charity, denies faith, denies that all mankind is equal in God’s sight, and ultimately does not simply separate and make extreme a virtue but actively denies everything Christ came for. It is the resurrection of the heart and soul of the Kingdom of Satan, and, given its popularity in the USA, it represents a grave threat to the Church and Her teaching which must be fought. I pray it remains as unheard-of and unread on this side of the Atlantic as it has been hitherto. It is, in short, evil.

    Aside from this, Ayn Rand’s books are, as literature, totally worthless. [So... that would be a "No" vote, then.]

  2. Mike says:

    If you like seeing through the artistic con job Rand’s reputation puts on, read Tobias Wolff’s novel, OLD SCHOOL. It’s a fabulous, wise, witty take on her persona and prose. If you teach at a boys school–or went to one–you will also love this novel

  3. dep says:

    poor ayn rand. in an interview shortly before her death, she said that her death would mark the end of the world, so far as she was concerned. let us pray that at that moment she reconsidered.

    her view of altruism is troubled by the same fallacy that is embraced by modern liberals when it comes to the subject: it isn’t altruism when it is at the point of a gun.

  4. Brad says:

    Pelagianism par excellence, with a chaser of Arianism (it always follows, doesn’t it?).

    That said, I like the Fountainhead movie if only for Patricia Neal, who looked just like my grandma. Neal flirted with RCIA for many years and I think ultimately never took the plunge into those waters. May God have mercy on her.

  5. benedetta says:

    I was “subjected” to Rand as required reading in 8th grade advanced English course in large public school. Well-meaning hippie teacher also had us parse rock and folk song lyrics, especially Rush and Simon and Garfunkel. Some students were totally hooked on Rand’s philosophy from that moment on and in lieu of support from a faith, it became the lens with which they viewed the world, and it led to a certain nihilism and cynicism. Baby boomers regarded our generation as “apathetic” but I think that it was worse than that. While they read Simon and Garfunkel from a hopeful perspective, in the light of how it all played out, it spelled out doom in our minds. From our vantage, no one ever managed to “get back to the garden”. The Rand novels do have an appeal, and her worldview seems to point to a way to live, an “authenticity”.
    At any rate, the ideas of excellence in the arts was not something noticed by our 8th grade circle. But students were absolutely convinced that this “altruism” in Rand’s rendering amounted to selfishness since altruistic acts were only motivated out of the selfish interest in saving one’s own soul to “get to heaven”. If you argued in favor of this altruism you had to argue that the world was better off with the presence of the altruistic acts and results of them than not.
    It seems that we all at that time underestimated the presence of a loving and merciful God.
    When I think of Rand’s philosophy I am always reminded of the often quoted and even exalted “advice” of Polonius to Laertes…”to thine own self be true”. A wonderful professor of Shakespeare I had in college, Austrian, who was a Shakespearean actor as well as a scholar, and used to literally right in the classroom “perform” certain passages, even to the point of, tears, all around…well, he totally decimated the notion of this as being the best or optimal sort of fatherly advice from Polonius to Laertes. I have no doubt that it sounds, on its surface, like a good code with which to approach the world and the concerns of life and that it carries with it a certain utilitarian success. I’d be interested in hearing what others have discovered in reading (of one’s own free will or being forced in school setting) Ayn Rand’s works.

  6. Eoin Suibhne says:

    Couldn’t resist:

    There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

    [ROFL!]

  7. mr. crouchback says:

    The best conservative review of Atlas Shrugged remains Whittaker Chambers’ classic 1957 National Review article. The piece is full of great quotes, including this one:

    “We struggle to be just. For we cannot help feel at least a sympathetic pain before the sheer labor, discipline, and patient craftsmanship that went to making this mountain of words. But the words keep shouting us down. In the end that tone dominates. But it should be its own antidote, warning us that anything it shouts is best taken with the usual reservations with which we might sip a patent medicine. Some may like the flavor. In any case, the brew is probably without lasting ill effects. But it is not a cure for anything. Nor would we, ordinarily, place much confidence in the diagnosis of a doctor who supposes that the Hippocratic Oath is a kind of curse.”

    The full article can be found at NRO. Apparently, Rand was so hurt by the review that she never forgave WF Buckley for running it.

    [Thanks for that reference. Here is the link to NRO.]

  8. rakesvines says:

    For it is the visionary content that makes this work remarkable – imho. Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is Orwell’s 1984 in the economic environment.

  9. teomatteo says:

    Now that you mention it. I read Ayn Rand’s classic (after reading the Fountainhead) while in High School and i think that it left me tuning more towards atheism. Yes, i must say that it did lean me towards a very materialistic view of the world.

  10. dep says:

    re. mr. crouchback: did you know that one of bill buckley’s last books, a novel, is about ayn rand? it’s called “getting it right,” and it was published in 2003 by regnery. it sheds some light on both rand and her paramour, nathaniel branden, the pop psychologist.

  11. Eoin Suibhne says:

    Mr. Crouchback:

    That is, indeed, a devastating review. When I first read it several years ago, I had to rethink my then generally favorable view of the book.

  12. Peco says:

    Aside from a lot of criticism of Ayn Rand, Objectivism, her atheism, and her almost rabid obsession against even the mere hint of altruism, the book Atlas Shrugged was pivotal in my understanding of the very real danger of big government. The statist outlook, whether it be soft liberalism, socialism, state socialism, fascism, progressivism, etc. are antithetical to freedom. “Government, like fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

  13. nola catholic says:

    At the heart of Rand’s writings is her philosophy of ethical egoism, a philosophy that is completely at odds with Christian moral philosophy. It’s the notion that the good is what is one’s own self-interest. Ethical egoists are some of the least respected ethicists in modern ethics, which says something knowing most philosophy departments today. Most ethicists today would agree that ethical egoism completely neglects the basic moral demands of ethics. Rand’s writings may be of interest to those who are uber-fans of capitalism, but they are woefully ignorant concerning well founded moral philosophy. In my experience, ironically Rand is more often the butt of jokes from philosophers while the average lay person seems to tout her “philosophical excellence.”

    This is why her books are very dangerous because while there is a tendency for conservatives to love her assessment of the economic motives inherent in society, the true end of her line of thought does not cohere with conservative values. Any Catholic who reads her should understand that her notion of the exaltation of self-interest is antithetical to what John Paul II called the “Law of the Gift” that lies at the heart of Christ’s life and teaching.

  14. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Pachomius sounds like a priest at my parish who was visiting and he gave a sermon on Ayn Rand that sounded like that. Great.

  15. wmeyer says:

    I have read and re-read Atlas Shrugged several times. Rand was a deeply flawed individual, with what most Catholics would have to agree was a very disordered personal life. That said, she made many excellent points in Atlas. Also, she was nearly prescient in her description of the collapse of our society. I reject her atheism, of course, but her views on competition, self-reliance, and rigidly objective evaluations of economic value are all sound, and are, in fact the principles which built this country from wilderness to an economic powerhouse. The focus in the last several decades on equal outcomes–functionally impossible, as God did not create us identical–has led to the dumbing down of our society, and the casting aside of our greatest business strengths: invention and manufacturing.

    Atlas Shrugged is a book everyone should read more than once, though I confess I have only once made it through John Galt’s radio monologue, which is certainly the weakest element of the book, and vies with Moby Dick for tedious.

    One of my concerns over the coming movie was that they would try to actually squeeze the book into one film. Impossible. Even the trilogy they have planned is dicey. Movies are well suited to implementing short stories, not so much to novels. That’s why LOTR is so long. I was also dismayed at the original notion of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Further, from the first time I read the book, the perfect casting for Francisco would have been the late Raul Julia. However, I will seek out a place where I can see the film in first release. And unless it is devastatingly poorly done, I will reserve judgment until all three films have been released. The 1949 film of The Fountainhead was stripped to the bone, and to anyone who had not read the book, may have been incoherent.

    Whether you agree or disagree with her premises, Rand has provided food for though, and for excellent discussions.

  16. beez says:

    Truth is, Atlas Shrugged inspired my own novel. Of course, unlike my novel, people have read Atlas Shrugged. (Well, more than about 250 people. :) )

    I enjoyed it, although the lack of editing not withstanding, I had some moral objections to it even then, and that was before I returned to my Catholic faith.

  17. Martial Artist says:

    @ Brad,

    You are correct about Neal’s attending RCIA, but she was received into the Catholic Church about four months before she died on August 8, 2010. She is interred in the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, CT, which is where her friend, the early 196os actesss Dolores Hart had become a nun and ultimately prioress. I recall seeing an hour-long interview of Dolores Hart on EWTN shortly after Neal died.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  18. wmeyer says:

    Brad: According to the article on Wikipedia, which meshes with my own recollection, Neal did become Catholic in later life.

  19. hald says:

    Yes, Ms. Rand’s writings could be called dangerous just as many other useful things are, e.g. fire, automobiles. If we cast caution to the wind, all of these things can be very dangerous and even destructive. If, however, we are careful and judicious in our use of them, they can be extraordinarily helpful indeed.

  20. Martial Artist says:

    I read Atlas Shrugged for my senior year High School English class. It had a profound impact on my life through the present, some 48 years later. Despite her notably shallow and exaggerated characterizations, she captured some needful truths that are surprisingly concordant with Catholic teaching—I am thinking here particularly about the consequences of adhering to the Church’s teachings in re subsidiarity and respect for the person. Exposure to the ideas in that particular novel, and even subsequently to her Objectivism (as difficult as that may be for some of you to accept), led me back to God in my mid-20s and to the Catholic Church beginning in 2008.

    All of that having been said, I am unsure if I will see the movie, as I know what sort of unappetizing hash Hollywood can make from even the best novels.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  21. Mark of the Vine says:

    I recall that a lot of anarco-capitalists I knew worshipped this book. It was almost like a sacred text. Needless to say, not too many of them were keen on Christian virtues.

  22. Gregory DiPippo says:

    Optime Z. and Mr. Crouchback, this interview with W.F. Buckley about Rand is also quite interesting.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KmPLkiqnO8

  23. JKnott says:

    Brad:
    “Neal flirted with RCIA for many years and I think ultimately never took the plunge into those waters. May God have mercy on her.”
    You will be pleased then to know that, according to the nuns at Regina Laudis Abbey in Bethleham CT, Patricia Neal came into the Church 4 months before she died last August.
    She was a great friend of the nuns for years and it was not unusual to see her praying quietly in the back of the convent chapel. She was was responsible for founding a small outdoor summer theater at the Abbey which produced one play per season: very often a musical. It has since become a tradition that one weekend in August actors “come to the Abbey”.
    I attended last summer on the evening of the same day that Patricia Neal was buried there. The nuns went on with the show but were obviously instrumental in having her finally come into the Church.

  24. Winfield says:

    Optime Z., Mr. Crouchback, Gregory DiPippo: I wrote a brief review of Bill Buckley’s novel, “Getting It Right,” for the Weekly Standard back in 2003:

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Protected/Articles/000/000/002/365rglqj.asp

    Since it’s behind a paywall, here’s the most pertinent paragraph:

    Leonora Goldstein, whose immigrant father died at the order of a Communist-controlled union, seeks temporal redemption at the side of Ayn Rand and her “Collective,” the ironically named (at least ostensibly) group of disciples whose allegiance Rand required and received. Renaming herself Leonora Pound at Miss Rand’s suggestion, the better to resemble the WASP heroes of Rand’s novels, she meets Woody at Buckley’s home, while helping found Young Americans for Freedom. (Among other real-life conservatives to appear in the book are Stan Evans, Lee Edwards, Alfred Regnery, and the leadership of National Review.)

  25. “Thus, for young people, this book can produce bothersome results…. for a long time.”

    Indeed. I really disliked her writing, when I tried it, because it seemed to be exalting the same sort of intellectual pride that I found one of my worst traits at the time.

    Her ideas of economics are not too far off — too extreme, but probably closer to right than the modern West’s near-socialism; but she leaves out huge areas of human experience, and so everything else falls apart. Economics is the one area of life that mostly *can* be analyzed in the sort of terms she uses, and so her economics are mostly okay – but then that makes people (libertarians and a certain sort of conservative) who see that value the rest of her thought far higher than it deserves.

  26. jeffreyquick says:

    I have a higher opinion of Atlas as literature than you do. And as an anarcho-capitalist for over 30 years (now I call myself a “radical subsidiarist”), it’s been a very important book to me. That said, Rand’s life was pretty screwed up, and movement Objectivists are generally nutcases. Objectivism and Wicca were the cases that convinced me that human attempts to establish a workable system of morality were doomed to failure, and led me into the Church. I still have extreme difficulty with those who think that the social teaching of the Church abrogates the 7th and 10th Commandments.

  27. ArtND76 says:

    I read Atlas Shrugged back in the early 90′s, when the economy was stuttering and I was glad to have a job. It was recommended to me by my boss, a small business proprietor. As others have noted much more eloquently than I can, her opinion of altruism is contrary to anything Christian.

    I regard the true source of prosperity to be the sum of altruistic actions in society, given that altruism is properly defined (and I think a number of people have a skewed notion of what it means to do what is best for one’s neighbor because God has not inspired it in them – because they have not asked God to help them with their study and understanding). A marine drill instructor can appear cruel until it is considered that he trains those in his charge so that they have the best chance to continue to draw breath until old age.

    That said, she points out with frightful clarity the results of the concentration of government power in terms of abuse of the 7th commandment – “thou shalt not steal”. There are too many in the world today who mistakenly think that charity can be performed best by a government, when in fact the government – using law as an instrument – can not possibly be “adjusted” or “tweaked” enough to truly be charitable, even if the motives of the politicians in control are truly just – and they seem to rarely be in spite of the multitudes of long and loud proclamations about caring for the poor, weak and helpless. This becomes a pretext for legalized theft, not charity, not “just wages”. But Ayn seems to think that power only corrupts the government and the rabble, not the competent businessperson. I see 2 categories of legalized theft today: one of them Ayn points out – the political war between factions seeking to control and plunder each other (rich people and corporations with hidden agendas that publicly say high taxes and spending are a good thing – as long as they have their loopholes, large corporations seeking to regulate small competitors out of business and unions of all sorts with the same opinion) and the other Ayn seems to me to miss entirely – the “deregulation” in the extreme so that contract law can be manipulated to defraud consumers and workers.

    A better, shorter read in my opinion would be “The Law” and other works by Frederic Bastiat.

  28. MBinSTL says:

    In Ignatius Press’s 2004 title, Architects of the Culture of Death (ISBN: 9781586170165), Ayn Rand is treated as one of the “architects”.

    One of the book’s authors, Dr. Donald DeMarco, has a piece online offering similar insights as provided in the paperback : Ayn Rand: another architect of the culture of death.

  29. Thomas S says:

    I could listen to Mr. Buckley speak for hours on end. Too bad his son abandoned the Faith. Say a Hail Mary for Christopher.

  30. Rachel says:

    An article that came out last week on Salon is pertinent to this interesting discussion. It’s called “How Ayn Rand ruined my childhood” and it’s at http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2011/04/04/my_father_the_objectivist .

  31. oblomov says:

    I read Anthem when I was eighteen, and rather liked it at the time, but when I years later tried Atlas Shrugged I struggled mightily and finally gave up the ghost somewhere in the middle third of the novel. Rand wasn’t that great a stylist, and she’s on the turgid side as a story teller, but mostly I found her to be one dimensional, sanctimonious, and lacking in empathy. A very little of the ‘virtue of selfishness’, goes very far indeed.

  32. Lbark says:

    I honestly can’t imagine why anyone likes this book. I read 100 pages of it and it was a complete waste of time. It’s not just that Objectivism is repugnant, which could (and should) be forgiven in what is ostensibly a narrative work; it’s not just that it’s childish and dumb; it’s not even that Rand’s “characters” come in two types, tediously godlike author-surrogate or irredeemably moronic strawman. It’s that Rand is an astonishingly bad writer, at the sentence level and everywhere else. Here’s the sentence I always drag out to make fun of the novel: “The thought of leaving Taggart Transcontinental did not belong among the things she could hold as conceivable.” But really, I could just as well use the one right after it: “She felt terror, not at the thought, but at the question of what had made her think it.” Or any other sentence in the book, really. It’s such horrible craftsmanship, and even if Atlas Shrugged had anything else to recommend it I’m not sure it would be worth looking at. As it is, it’s a complete waste of time (or so say the first 100 pages) and I can’t see any reason why anyone should read it, unless they have read everything else in the entire world multiple times.

    [Imagine how bad it would have been had she lived in the age of laptops and word processors.]

  33. Mrs. O says:

    I am glad I don’t have enough attention span and being a real page turner, safe from her nonsense.
    My kids are much like me and I could hear my daughter saying ” can’t you sum that up!”. But, I will flog myself and read it – the penance will be for her and others.

  34. dcs says:

    There was simply no room in our household for both Jesus Christ and my father’s one true love: Ayn Rand.

    When the late Murray Rothbard came in contact with Ayn Rand’s inner circle, they advised him to divorce his wife because she was a Christian (or, more precisely, to try to convert her to atheism, and if that failed, to divorce her).

  35. wolfeken says:

    The problem with hardcore libertariansim is that it is me-me-me. This is why Ayn Rand supported legalized abortion, had no children and hated religion.

    Traditional Catholics seems to flock toward the paleoconservative ideology, and for good reason. There needs to be some sort of faith (which Rand called “extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason”) and charity (Rand: “I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty”) involved in the thought process, as the me-me-me way of thinking results in chaos and depravity.

    Be careful praising Ayn Rand, folks.

    Excerpt from “Of Living Death” in The Objectivist, Ayn Rand, October 1968:

    “An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn). Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?”

  36. Gail F says:

    David Bentley Hart has a hilarious essay in the current print issue of First Things about it, I highly recommend it! I don’t know if it’s available online or not. It starts with a famous Charlton Heston line from a film about apes…

  37. Gail F says:

    Oh, and PJ O’Roarke has a review online. Also very funny.

  38. Norbert says:

    I have read “Atlas Shrugged” only as an adult in his 47th year, so I will admit up front that I missed out on the the compelling appeal to youth that this work is reputed to carry. I’m most interested, Fr. Z., about your statement that Rand’s “main accomplishment is her ability to make the unwary or slightly-informed reader feel superior to every one else he knows or meets.” A few more thoughts on this statement would enlighten me greatly.

    As for my take on “Atlas:” I would hazard a guess that Rand’s main appeal is her ability to succinctly and incisively diagnose those tendencies of society that lead to the evils of Big Government and the subsequent development of a culture of whining mediocrity. But that is a long way from saying that the cure she proposes is any less evil, much less any good at all. For example, she points out that seeking handouts is undesirable compared to seeking productive work – and so wrongly concludes that altruism is evil. She sees love and generosity enabling or exacerbating people’s laziness – and so wrongly concludes that ALL our relationships – even the most intimate ones – should be based on a concept of trade. On and on it goes, as she sees an evil and then suggests a greater one to eradicate it. Very good diagnosis, very bad proposed cure – much like prescribing a nuclear holocaust as not only a proper but the best if not only means of ending human suffering.

    I find it helpful to keep Rand’s background in mind. She came of age during the era of post-Czarist Russia and that experience must have shattered her belief in many social institutions and by default cemented her belief in the individual, since that was all that was left in which to believe. To me the book’s bias makes perfect sense from such a point of view.

    Philosophically, she is flawed from the beginning. If human relationships are to be based on the concept of trade, which she asserts, then there is the problem of raising the young, who cannot offer anything (yet) in return and who likely can never repay their primary benefactors. I find it a bit hypocritical of Rand that she claims that giving to one’s own children is not an act of sacrifice (since sacrifice = altruism = EVIL!!!) but giving to others’ children is. Hmmm ….. only one who has not dealt with children can make an ignorant statement of that magnitude! This kind of statement – and there are a few more similar ones I cannot recall – strongly suggests that Rand knew very well that her philosophy lacked coherence and so she resorted to a bit of artistic redefinition to make the data fit the theory.

    But even lacking philosophical objections, her view of humanity is terribly narrow. She seems to suggest that the summum bonum of this life is to produce excellence and be paid for it in accordance to its worth. Yes, these are good things. But economics is only a tiny part of life, even if it’s an important one. Here again is where I keep her background firmly in mind. At some point in her life she must have gotten fixated on the idea of pay for goods produced, and run with it. As a Catholic in particular I find it glaringly obvious that whatever satisfaction I derive from being justly paid for anything I produce, such satisfaction cannot ever add up to the happiness I desire from deep within, and this is a simple existential truth that Rand misses. We’re always wanting more. So is it not logical that people should desire more pay than that which is just since life is merely an economic proposition, as Rand suggests?

    Her laissez-faire view of government is naive because human beings just aren’t that perfect. How is it that the business person somehow manages to escape the vices that beset both the government and the commoner? Rand’s portrayal of worship of the ideal of money is comically tragic. It’s comical because it’s so contrived, as if anyone really is at risk of worshiping the ideal of money. It’s tragic because it’s often worship of actual dollars, in terms of the bottom line, that drive these supposedly virtuous businessmen into treating others as mere means to their economic ends.

    Of course, her view of persons as units of trade also logically lead to evils such as euthenasia, because what else can one do with those who no longer produce? Perhaps Rand also found a way to talk around that issue, but if she did, I can’t recall, and I really don’t consider the book worth a reread, particularly Part III (I think) which was the exposition of her philosophy. The John Gault speech was about the most ponderously tedious mass of undisciplined verbiage I’ve made myself digest. I think Rand could have heavily condensed that part without losing her meaning, but I believe she wished to make absolutely sure that we got the full benefit of viewing every facet of the jewel of her philosophy and so did not wish to deprive us of even a single pearl of wisdom. Barf!

    But an even more fundamental epistemological problem: Rand’s philosophy says that the individual is the measure. Any philosophy that purports to making the individual his own measure cannot allow itself to make any further prescriptions, as this authority has been radically handed over to the individual. In a world that lacks any self-evident truths, as far as I can see, radical individualism surely and very quickly devolves into total selfishness and then into mere solipsism and even anarchy. Rand gets around this by asserting that if everyone really saw things correctly, there could be no disagreement, her point being that Objectivity will produce agreement. But some of us can’t buy that – for the simple reason that we’ve never seen it. She might as well say if everyone would just agree with her then we’d all get along just fine! And she tends to be the intellectual despot on just about every page of her book. To say at once that greed is a virtue and then to say one can never treat people as one’s means is to very nearly make a self-contradictory statement, if not intellectually, then surely in the realm of actual flesh and blood. Show me the greed-driven businessman that can genuinely respect the other as a person and thus an end in himself – I suspect that kind of a being is hardly what we would call “human.” Rand’s mere assertion of an idea hardly makes it factual – and it is curious how blind one can be to the human condition while at the same time believing oneself to be objective.

    In sum: Good summary of what’s economically/politically wrong with the world, terrible suggestion of a cure, and a particularly illusionary view of the goodness of unrestrained (capitalistic) human nature. Taken as a whole, the book is not worth reading, but I enjoyed reading Part I which kind of had the air and tone of a cosmic mystery in the waiting. Too bad the rest of the book, particularly the exposition of her philosophy, was such a disappointment.

  39. bookworm says:

    As a teenager my husband had read some Ayn Rand and was heavily into Objectivism before returning to the Catholic faith (this all happened before I met him). When I met him he still had some of Rand’s books, and out of curiosity I read, or attempted to read, several. I gave up on “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead” after about 40 pages.

    I think Norbert hits the nail on the head when he says that Rand overreacted to the abuses she experienced in Soviet Russia and saw happening in Nazi Germany. Because those regimes twisted the notion of “common good” or “good of society” to justify what they were doing, Rand went off the deep end in the other direction and insisted that there was no such thing as common good at all, only “every man for himself” individual good.

    The one thing Rand got right, in my opinion, was to insist that ideas matter, and that there is such a thing as objective truth (that’s why she called her philosophy “Objectivism”). She did a great job of skewering the pretentions of 1950s and ’60s leftists. One essay of hers that I did like compared the crowd that gathered to watch the launch of Apollo 11 (calm and orderly) with the crowd that invaded Woodstock the following month (chaotic, disorderly, dirty).

    Objectivism is the kind of philosophy that appeals to young, healthy, single people with no responsibilities to anyone but themselves. It loses its appeal pretty quickly once you get married, have children, get old or sick, or have a sick or disabled child.

  40. bookworm says:

    A very interesting book ABOUT Ayn Rand, for those who want to know more about where she was coming from, is “The Passion of Ayn Rand” by Barbara Branden, who with her husband Nathaniel Branden, were close friends of Rand and her husband Frank O’Connor in the 1950s and most of the ’60s. Let’s just say that, among other things, it shows that Rand didn’t always practice what she preached.