SOLO-International Op-Ed: Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged--Back to the Top of the Pops!

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Sun, 2009-03-15 21:50

A specter is haunting the world.

The specter of capitalism.

On October 10, 1957, Atlas Shrugged was published by Random House.

Thirteen years in the writing, including two years on the novel's key philosophical exposition, Galt's Speech, Atlas instantly alienated all elements of the establishment. It still does. Yet according to an oft-quoted 1994 US Library of Congress poll, more respondents were influenced by it than by any other book apart from the Bible. Fifty years after its publication, the New York Times wrote it up as “one of the most influential business books ever written.” Now, as its grim prescience is vindicated in a statism-induced crisis of unprecedented magnitude, it is poised to become the most influential business (or philosophy) book ever written. Incredibly, it now sits at number 24 on Amazon.com overall, and number 1 on the fiction list! The book that was reviewed, variously, as "execrable claptrap," "not in any literary sense a serious novel," "written out of hate," "grotesque eccentricity," "crack-brained ratiocination," "a pitiful exercise in something akin to paranoia," "longer than life and twice as preposterous," etc., has easily eclipsed the reviewers who denounced it so apoplectically. The book that unashamedly touts muscular individualism, freedom and laissez-faire capitalism is being sought out as never before as people thumb their nose at the politicians' Big Lie that the free market is responsible for the current crisis.

An analysis of the reasons it was so hated yields also the reasons it is still so loved. Atlas, far more explicitly than Ayn Rand's previous best-seller, The Fountainhead, challenges, in Rand's own words, "the cultural tradition of two thousand five hundred years." It demolishes the sacrificial ethic that permeates the belief systems of that entire period. It repudiates the proposition that man's highest purpose and duty is to sacrifice himself—be it to God, the state, society or his neighbour. It roundly condemns the equation of ethics with suffering. "The purpose of morality," says one of its heroes in a startlingly direct and outrageous formulation, "is to teach you not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live."

Say what?!

Thus did Ayn Rand enrage religious conservatives and secular "liberals" alike. In the latter category, Gore Vidal could write that Atlas was "perfect in its immorality"; in the former, Whittaker Chambers could lambast it for its "materialism" (this, of a book glorifying the human spirit) and insist that from every page one could hear the command, "To a gas chamber—go!" (this, of a book whose climactic speech contains the following: "So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate—do you hear me? No man may start—the use of physical force against others ... Do not open your mouth to tell me that your mind has convinced you of your right to force my mind. Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins"). Ayn Rand demonstrated to all comers on the political spectrum that their fondly-held and fiercely-fought disagreements with each other were, at root, illusory—a home truth that those who heard it would rather not have. That is why the book was and is so hated.

Against their stale self-abasement and conformism, Rand urged man to rise, to achieve his proper estate: "an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads." That is why the book is so loved—by any human being who has not let his "fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all."

The title Atlas Shrugged is, of course, an allusion to the mythical hero who carried the world on his shoulders. It portrays real-life Atlases— inventors, thinkers, scientists, entrepreneurs, artists, labourers—shrugging off their burdens and going on strike. Their burdens—the "looters" and "moochers" who expect their "needs" to be met through the efforts of the Atlases—are left to their own devices (prayers, snarls and demands for the unearned) as one by one the strikers repair to a safe haven, a hidden libertarian society, "Galt's Gulch," where they deal with each other rationally and voluntarily, awaiting the inevitable collapse of the collectivist cannibalism they have left behind. Small wonder Atlas is resonating so loudly in the era of Bailout Bolshevism!

The reviews quoted above, and many more like them, nearly did Atlas in. On the strength of dismal initial sales, Random House became convinced that they had a commercial failure on their hands. But some critics got it right. John Chamberlain divined that Atlas was "directed towards the creation of an entirely new mental and moral force in the world." Ruth Alexander, in the New York Mirror, proclaimed that "Ayn Rand is destined to rank in history as the outstanding novelist and most profound philosopher of the twentieth century." And then the sense of life of millions of Americans took over. As Barbara Branden writes in The Passion of Ayn Rand: "As always in Ayn's professional career, it was predominantly word of mouth that caused the sagging sales of her novel to pick up—then to soar—then to skyrocket through printing after printing and edition after edition and year after year."

In an age of weasel-words, the appeal of Atlas Shrugged is its unambiguity. Conventional pseudo-defenders of capitalism speak in muffled voices and genuflect to the morality of sacrifice for the common good. Who among them would dare to point out the obvious truth that if benefit to others be the criterion of virtue, Bill Gates, acting in his self-interest, is infinitely more virtuous than the selfless Mother Teresa? As has been demonstrated comprehensively by free market economists, the "collective" benefits of self-interested action are real—but they are a consequence, not a primary (a point usually lost on said economists). The present crisis, contrary to the claims of Barack Chavez-Obama and the unreconstructed socialists in Washington and academia, is caused not by self-interest but by government restrictions on it.

Self-interested action is good because it is the expression of rational judgement. Rational judgement is good because it is by this means that human beings live (even those who don't exercise it are dependent on those who do). And life is morality's only defensible standard of value, the only possible criterion by which we can meaningfully designate anything as "good." By that standard, happiness—one's own, individual happiness—becomes one's highest moral purpose. In that discovery and all that flows therefrom, including the imperative of political freedom, lies the moral revolution of Atlas Shrugged. To paraphrase Gore Vidal, the book is perfect in its morality.

How Ayn Rand would savour the delicious irony that the renewed pandering of powerlusters to parasites has sent her magnum opus back to the top of the pops!

How the politicians must be trembling at the command that is heard from every page: "Producers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains; you have a world to win!"

Lindsay Perigo: editor@freeradical.co.nz

SOLO (Sense of Life Objectivists): SOLOPassion.com


( categories: )

Reprehensible Review

atlascott's picture

Three conclusions that are mentioned in this "review" reveal more than the declarants intended:

1. That all of Ayn Rand's characters are "Aryan" with blond hair and sharp cheekbones.
2. That none of her characters are "human" in showing "weakness and flaws."
3. That Atlas is "not really a novel."

False, all three, and they reveal the fact that none of these morons ever gave it a chance.

"It is a vile book."
"It's a book for obsessives--it's a cult book."
"All of her heroes are individuals...but in life things are produced by groups..."
"She was a Libertarian fanatic...and a strange human being..."

Shame on them.

The Atlas Shrugged review was disgusting...

Marcus's picture

...but have a look what they said next - how they also didn't like what was written by the left-wing 'we need more regulation' Liberal Democrat shadow finance minister, Vince Cable.

Generally on this program it is rare for these critics to like anything - unless it is cutting-edge pomo-wankery (and even then sometimes not).

The second-handers' mild

Lance's picture

The second-handers' mild tirade in the video shows them perplexed and unable to see issues with that additional sense. When one sees the world with no clear perspective, it is no surprise that one would never be sure of issues behind events.

I'm still trying to work out the non sequitur right at the end that went something like this:

"She reduces every transaction to a financial transaction and that is what becomes her vision, her utopia ... and that's quite curious in a world where the monetary systems are falling apart"

She really does not grasp the difference, she lines up the "money system" and the transactions between characters as if they were the same! She would have made as much sense had she said:

"She reduces every transaction to a financial transaction and that is what becomes her vision, her utopia ... and that's quite curious in a world where there is yoghurt"

And as for the useless lump Andrew Roberts' comments, about ideology, reality, fanaticism and what can and can't happen:

I'm sorry but there is no such thing as pragmatism, at least not in the way that people use the word as an appeal to drop ideology. There are only ideological principles, people either have them or they don't and anytime anyone appeals to pragmatism, they are asking you to forego your own ideological principles and adopt theirs.

Hi Howard

gregster's picture

Yes, you're probably spot on.

I, like Jeremy and Linz, am dismayed at the treatment given the book and philosophy. And you're dead right. It's becoming obvious even to second-hander statists that their system isn't working, hence the discussion, and it is welcome.

I remember a comment years ago by a NZ libertarian Deborah Coddington; she found that her journalism became much-aided by her discovery of laissez-faire capitalism and/or Rand, in that, it enabled her greater clarity in seeing issues by principle and offered her a confident standpoint.

The second-handers' mild tirade in the video shows them perplexed and unable to see issues with that additional sense. When one sees the world with no clear perspective, it is no surprise that one would never be sure of issues behind events.

When I say second-handers here, I mean that they were probably concerned with their public comments' reception from colleagues.

Headless chickens like Obarmy.

bravo !

Howard's picture

And by the way, to the writer of this Op-Ed: bravo!

Howard

sooner than you think ... ?

Howard's picture

Like all of you folks, I too disliked what I saw on that video-clip. However, unlike you folks, I don’t see it as a hatchet job at all. I found the reaction and commentary made by the journalists/intellectuals about Atlas Shrugged to be exactly what I expected, even “normal”. Since I am new to posting on Objectivists forums, perhaps I can add a comment which may possibly remind many of you of something that is easy to forget when you frequently interact with likeminded people. And that is how infinitesimally small and unknown an accurate understanding of Ayn Rand’s ideas are outside of a tiny group of devotees.

Of course I am aware that her books have sold in the millions; unfortunately that fact does not mean that her ideas, and more importantly, her style of expressing them, are widely understood by these millions. Nor do these millions understand why she used certain phrases and expressions for dramatic effect. To most people, “The Virtue of Selfishness”, is just that, the idea that greed and self-centeredness are a virtue. Given that, yes, the woman must be “mad” as a hatter, and her books the type that only appeal to an adolescent mind.

Of course we would like to believe that they should know better than that, and that educated people should not give commentary about subjects they know little about. But to be honest, we don’t hold that standard of an in-depth knowledge when the commentary is about Karl Marx. Now bear in mind that I’m talking about a 5 minute television commentary; obviously our level of expectation changes in a classroom or if we were watching a one-hour documentary. No, when it comes to this type of venue, for the most part we usually consider it sufficient for the talking-heads to have a very “general” understanding based on a handful of reliable sources.

But in this case we are pissed, and understandably so! But perhaps we are being a tiny bit unrealistic? Think about the reality of the educational background of most journalists or intellectuals; what were they taught by their professors? Think about what resources they would use (which newspapers, blogs, critics, friends …), to gather information about different subjects. And then take into account what are today’s most widespread and socially accepted ideas in the Western world?

For me there were 2 things that stood out about that video clip. The first was that the subject was even being discussed at all; that Ayn Rand’s ideas have become a topic that is now worthy of being derided publically, at length (5 to 10 minutes of TV time is allot by our modern standards - lol) and by somewhat well-known people. This is completely at odds with the typical treatment of ideas like Rands; which is normally to either to totally ignore them, or to quickly mention them with a dismissive and sarcastic comment. The second thing that jumped out at me is the way they framed it, Rand’s book versus the book by one of the current darlings of progressive intellectuals. Once again, I’m struck by the fact that that normally it would be considered unseeingly and disrespectful to even make the comparison in the first place.

Maybe that video is an indication, that it’s sooner than you think. Eye

Howard

I know most 'journalists'

Jeremy's picture

I know most 'journalists' today sit around fondling themselves over Marx, and how great his heir Obama is, but the clip really pissed me off. This was no honest, concise British discussion on matters of frank and worldly importance, just some self-gratified mewling about 'dehumanization' (in reference to one of the most human books ever written) and calling a dead woman 'quite mad'.

Since the world has ignored individualism and derided libertarian principles and ideas for so long, since collectivism has won the day for millennia, and we are 'mad', what does that make the world in its current libertarian-free state? Sane?

Aha!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Now I know why I liked Atlas so much: there are no children in it!

The usual bromides from the usual kinds of wankers. Rand's "defender" was the worst. "Lily-livered shit" indeed, Jeremy.

Just one big 11 minute

Jeremy's picture

Just one big 11 minute blank-out. Even the guy put in place to "defend" the book was full of lily-livered shit. None of them had answers, all of them were cowards. An inexcusable hatchet-job by what passes for journalism today. Brain-dead indeed! Run away, flee the evil capitalists!

Here's the clip of Atlas Shrugged review...

Marcus's picture

BBC evening news...

Marcus's picture

...is reviewing 'Atlas Shrugged' tonight because in their words 'it is currently flying off the shelves'.

"Ayn Rand's classic 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged is selling like hotcakes. In the book a number of "capitalist commandos" forsake American society in which the government is pursuing increasingly interventionist policies, to firefight economic meltdown. And in The Storm, Vince Cable analyses the present crisis (which he predicted) and gives his pro interventionist solutions.

I wonder which you would pick?"

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/new...

I will post some video of this when it becomes available.

Edit: No surprises here, a bunch of left-wing cynical art-crtics butchered the book with all the sort of worn-out cliches you would expect. The only positive was at least the book got mainstream media attention which will help to boost sales even more I suspect. However, I will still post the video of it when I can.

Accurate

Jeff Perren's picture

Superbly put, Ross, and fully accurate... but for the possibility of one tiny point. I'm pretty sure their vanity is insatiable.

True, Jeff.

Ross Elliot's picture

"They are Progressives, which means they are much more comfortable with the Fascist style of statism. "

The Left have realised that the Third Way is the Smart Way. Control is a lot more fun than responsibility. Pointing the finger is easier than taking the rap. Obama, Pelosi, et al, are really just posers in a global reality show. The disregard shown for the consequences of their actions is obscene, but all they're really concerned about is not being voted out of the Big Brother house before they've satisfied their vanity.

Quibble

Jeff Perren's picture

In the end, it's a quibble, but I doubt Pelosi or Obama can accurately be called communists, or even socialists. They are Progressives, which means they are much more comfortable with the Fascist style of statism. If this were 1933 (and thank Galt it ain't), the Obamateur would be singing the praises of Mussolini instead of groveling before Khomeni. You know, come to think of it, given that, I'm not sure our prospects wouldn't be better if it were 1933.

Correct

Lindsay Perigo's picture

The Communist Manifesto it is. The conclusion is especially interesting:

Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

Proletarians of all countries, unite!

Interesting because in the C20 Marxists realised open advocacy wasn't getting them anywhere in advanced, industrialised countries, and Gramsci launched his spectacularly successful "Long March through the Culture."

I'll tell Paris her services are not required by the fastidious Men of SOLO. Eye

Marx, both times.

Jeff Perren's picture

"A specter is haunting Europe - the specter of communism." Karl Marx

The last line is from Marx, too. ("Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains." from The Communist Manifesto.)

But since I wouldn't be interested in a night of passion with HW Hilton or Paris Hilton, you'll have to do a little better.

A night of passion with Hilton

HWH's picture

Linz, coming from you I don't quite know what to make of it,but can only suspect the worst.

Hopefully it has nothing to do with the challenge of an indomitable sphincter, or am I flattering myself Puzzled

Hey you all, listen up, it's the Communist Manifesto?

The last is a satire of

Aaron's picture

The last is a satire of Marx, I didn't get the specter reference though. Marx as well?

Aaron

Oh, and ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

There's a prize (a night of passion with Hilton) for whoever first correctly identifies what it is to which the opening and closing sentences of this op-ed allude. Eye

Bosch

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Strong stuff, Lindsay, especially your finish, as it should be.

You know how it is around here, Bosch - KASS, not TAS! Eye

'Self-interested action is

Bosch Fawstin's picture

'Self-interested action is good because it is the expression of rational judgement. Rational judgement is good because it is by this means that human beings live (even those who don't exercise it are dependent on those who do). And life is morality's only defensible standard of value, the only possible criterion by which we can meaningfully designate anything as "good." By that standard, happiness—one's own, individual happiness—becomes one's highest moral purpose. In that discovery and all that flows therefrom, including the imperative of political freedom, lies the moral revolution of Atlas Shrugged. To paraphrase Gore Vidal, the book is perfect in its morality.
How Ayn Rand would savour the delicious irony that the renewed pandering of powerlusters to parasites has sent her magnum opus back to the top of the pops!' - Lindsay Perigo

Strong stuff, Lindsay, especially your finish, as it should be.

http://fawstin.blogspot.com/

Linz

Jeremy's picture

That's it!  Got that around here somewhere...

Jeremy

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I was wondering if you or anyone recalled in which book Rand described the scenario of, and I'm totally paraphrasing here, a man's daily life and his unamed sense of dread and hopelessness under a collectivist regime. Might have been For the New Intellectual....can't remember, damnit!

I don't have my books with me but I think the essay you're referring to was in The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, subsequently reissued as Return of the Primitive.

Brook in Wall St Journal

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Is Rand Relevant? by Yaron Brook.

It's catchin on

gregster's picture

One Jenny Turner in the guardian, another self-contradicting reviewer, said

“Could this be because Rand's wordy masterwork foretells the collapse of capitalism? That is indeed what happens in the book: machines break, production dwindles, society collapses into riot. And the novel knows exactly where to point the finger: it's all the fault of big government, which is choking the free market under layers of anti-business law.”

And then goes on:

“The question, then, isn't so much why Rand now? It's more whether Randianism can have a long-term future, now that capitalism no longer seems to need any help when making a fool of itself.”

Muck.

Saw from Noodlefood this interview on PajamasTV with Yaron Brook.
Is Atlas Shrugging?

I wonder if this inspired Rand?

Marcus's picture

Yes, delicious irony indeed.

Sam Pierson's picture

Yes, delicious irony indeed. She's still scaring all the horses. What-a-lady! Great Op-Ed Linz.

An Economist article...

Marcus's picture

...in February caused a lot of noise in the UK press.

"Reviled in some circles and mocked in others, Rand’s 1957 novel of embattled capitalism is a favourite of libertarians and college students. Lately, though, its appeal has been growing. According to data from TitleZ, a firm that tracks bestseller rankings on Amazon, an online retailer, the book’s 30-day average Amazon rank was 127 on February 21st, well above its average over the past two years of 542. On January 13th the book’s ranking was 33, briefly besting President Barack Obama’s popular tome, “The Audacity of Hope”." [Shock and horror for all Obama groupies!]

http://www.economist.com/finan...

"Brad Pitt, Oliver Stone, Angelina Jolie, Rob Lowe, Jim Carrey, Sandra Bullock ... even Raquel Welch has got in on the act in her declaration of the life-changing properties of Rand's deathless, self-important iconoclasm. In the popular TV series Mad Men, advertising agency boss Bert Cooper namedrops Ayn Rand a few times and lends a copy of Atlas Shrugged to favoured employees."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/book...
....................................................

Great press release, thanks Linz!

It's got everyone talking..even Colbert couldn't resist

HWH's picture

 and even though he attempts to turn it into satire and parody with some canned laughter, it's just not as funny as he had hoped for.

There's no such thing as bad publicity..even for AS

See it here

 

I admit that reason is a small and feeble flame, a flickering torch by stumblers carried in the starless night, -- blown and flared by passion's storm, -- and yet, it is the only light. Extinguish that, and nought remains.- - Robert Green Ingersoll

Awesome that Atlas has had

Aaron's picture

Awesome that Atlas has had this kind of resurgence! Here's hoping it has some serious influence!

Aaron

Nice Linz

gregster's picture

Granville Hicks of the New York Times Book Review complained,

“Not in any literary sense a serious novel, it is an earnest one, belligerent, and unrelenting in its earnestness. It howls in the reader’s ear and beats him about the head in order to secure his attention, and then, when it has him subdued, harangues him for page upon page. It has only two moods, the melodramatic and the didactic, and in both it knows no bounds.”

Hicks, Granville. “A Parable of Buried Talents” The New York Times Book Review 13 Oct. 1957:4-5

Not enough beatings around heads, obviously.

Love it Linz

HWH's picture

 The Viking smiled as men smile when they look up at heaven; but he was looking down. His right arm was one straight line with his lowered sword; his left arm, straight as the sword, raised a goblet of wine to the sky. The first rays of a coming sun, still unseen to the earth, struck the crystal goblet. It sparkled like a white torch. Its rays lighted the faces of  those below. "To a life," said the Viking, "which is a reason unto itself."

"We the living..Ayn Rand"

Sometimes I see Ayn as the Viking and substitute the goblet with a copy of AS, and this imagined vision presents me with the proper sense and context of her motive and the historic achievement that is AS. 

I admit that reason is a small and feeble flame, a flickering torch by stumblers carried in the starless night, -- blown and flared by passion's storm, -- and yet, it is the only light. Extinguish that, and nought remains.- - Robert Green Ingersoll

Beautiful

Kasper's picture

kkulak

  Killer Op-Ed, Linz. 

Jeremy's picture

 

Killer Op-Ed, Linz.  Definitely going to circulate it in my emails. 

Partially related, I was wondering if you or anyone recalled in which book Rand described the scenario of, and I'm totally paraphrasing here, a man's daily life and his unamed sense of dread and hopelessness under a collectivist regime.  Might have been For the New Intellectual....can't remember, damnit! 

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