September 25, 2013

I've never read "Atlas Shrugged," but after all these years, I'm adding it to my Kindle.

I'll explain this to you, but could you please, if you need a Kindle, use this linkto check out the spiffy new Kindle Fire? Or go in through the Althouse Amazon portal and buy whatever you want, including a copy of "Atlas Shrugged," if you, like me, have some use for it. Or do you already have it on your shelf? I know at least one of my readers kept 2 copies of "Atlas Shrugged" on his shelf, and perhaps he systematically handed off copies of it to people who wandered into his lair and said, "Why do you have 2 copies of 'Atlas Shrugged'?"

I hope you enjoyed the quality of my commercial effort, above, and feel inclined to show your appreciation by using those links, or just by continuing to read this. You've wandered into my lair, and maybe you're saying "Yeah, why would anyone after resisting 'Atlas Shrugged' all those years finally relent?"

And it is many years. I'm quite old! I don't need any philosophical-ideological mental nourishment to power me forth in this life. It's not breakfast time chez Althouse. When I was young, a classmate — this was high school — chided me for not reading anything that wasn't assigned by teachers. That wasn't quite true — though I did apply myself assiduously to consuming whatever the government indoctrinators put on my plate — but I was quite sensitive to insinuations that I was in any way not a good person. And I read the book this teenage boy insisted on giving me: "Anthem." Sorry, old man who was once that boy, but it didn't change my life, it's still the only Ayn Rand book I ever read, and I don't remember anything about it, other than that it might have been science fiction.

The reason I'm downloading "Atlas Shrugged" into my Kindle this morning is the reason I buy most of the ebooks I buy: I want to be able to do searches, find the context of quotes, and cut and paste text into this blog. I happen to need "Atlas Shrugged" right now, because Ted Cruz — the filibustering Ted Cruz — was quoting from "Atlas Shrugged," and I was using a quote on the blog, in the previous post, and I have a lot more to say about the quote, and I can't do it without the context.

Having written that long post, I found myself going into my own comments section to say something more. Quoting the first line of the passage Cruz had quoted  — "There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong..." — I said:
That's already wrong!

2 sides to every issue?!

Ridiculous.
I was about to add:
I guess she may mean, there's what's right and however many other things people might think, all those other things are wrong. All those other things constitute one side, the wrong side.

Who thinks like that?! I don't believe that anyone who thinks like that can ever get elected to public office (unless they lie to people along the way).

I've never read "Atlas Shrugged," but I know it's a novel. If Ayn Rand is so dedicated to the truth, why did she write fiction? I assume it's so she could say drastic things with deniability. Those quoted lines are said by some fictional character, right?
And that's when I needed the text.  I do a search on the word "poison," the most distinctive word in the passage that springs to mind. (From: "In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win.") Actually, there are other distinctive words, more likely than "poison" to pinpoint the text I want. "Knave" and "transfusion" would have been better bets. "Poison" appears 9 times in "Atlas Shrugged." (Boldface added.)
Without us, they are corpses and their sole product is poison, not wealth or food, the poison of disintegration that turns men into hordes of scavengers. p. 620.
Okaaay.
Somewhere, he thought, there was this boy’s mother.... Had she fed him tainted refuse, he thought, had she mixed poison into his food, it would have been more kind and less fatal. p. 994. 
We're closing in on page 1000, and still, I've not reached the "poison" I'm seeking.
"Then I saw what was wrong with the world.... Just as the parasites around me were proclaiming their helpless dependence on my mind and were expecting me voluntarily to accept a slavery they had no power to enforce.... so throughout the world and throughout men’s history, in every version and form, from the extortions of loafing relatives to the atrocities of collective countries, it is the good, the able, the men of reason, who act as their own destroyers, who transfuse to evil the blood of their virtue and let evil transmit to them the poison of destruction, thus gaining for evil the power of survival, and for their own values— the impotence of death. I saw that there comes a point, in the defeat of any man of virtue, when his own consent is needed for evil to win— and that no manner of injury done to him by others can succeed if he chooses to withhold his consent. I saw that I could put an end to your outrages by pronouncing a single word in my mind. I pronounced it. The word was ‘No.’" p. 1048
No, that not it. But we seem to be getting warm, because the transfusions are there now too. It's the image of the tube that has good lifeblood coming from the able people who are getting poison back. And here's the quote I'm looking for, on page 1054, and we're deep into a long peroration, too long and too late in the story to put me in a position to call Rand out for taking cover within fiction.
“The man who refuses to judge, who neither agrees nor disagrees, who declares that there are no absolutes and believes that he escapes responsibility, is the man responsible for all the blood that is now spilled in the world....

“There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil. The man who is wrong still retains some respect for truth, if only by accepting the responsibility of choice. But the man in the middle is the knave who blanks out the truth in order to pretend that no choice or values exist, who is willing to sit out the course of any battle, willing to cash in on the blood of the innocent or to crawl on his belly to the guilty, who dispenses justice by condemning both the robber and the robbed to jail, who solves conflicts by ordering the thinker and the fool to meet each other halfway. In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit. In that transfusion of blood which drains the good to feed the evil, the compromiser is the transmitting rubber tube.

“You, who are half-rational, half-coward, have been playing a con game with reality, but the victim you have conned is yourself. When men reduce their virtues to the approximate, then evil acquires the force of an absolute, when loyalty to an unyielding purpose is dropped by the virtuous, it’s picked up by scoundrels— and you get the indecent spectacle of a cringing, bargaining, traitorous good and a self-righteously uncompromising evil."
Is this cranking you up? It doesn't work on me. I think moderation is a virtue, but in this imagery, virtue is blood, evil is poison, and moderation is a tube. You're supposed to feel this as a flashy display of reason, but it's full of emotional bluster and heavily reliant on metaphor. I'm being asked to regard myself as a rubber tube.  No.

I'm blogging, so I can just say: No, I am not a rubber tube. But if I were a writer of 1000-page novels, I would see that I could pronounce a single word in my mind. I would pronounce it. The word would be "No."

I'm not accepting this picture of life in terms of people with good blood and people with bad blood and everyone else as a bunch of tubes conducting a big old transfusion that's just got to stop, so this ongoing peroration — a filibuster of sorts — feels nightmarish. It contains enough reason and coherence to pull listeners along, to make them feel smart and energized. That's the most dangerous sort of irrationality. Completely irrational speakers repel all listeners. But this sort of material draws people in. The way to draw an audience is with a transfusion of irrationality and rationality — to be the rubber tube.

74 comments:

Glen Filthie said...

I cannot imagine why anyone would resist reading it unless they are choosing to be deliberately ignorant, Ann.

In my opinion it should be mandatory reading at the high school level, as should Das Kapital and Mein Kampf.

Kids these days grow up economically and politically ignorant and it shows - just look at what is going on in the Whitehouse these days.

Henry said...

Macaulay's History of England, Vol. 1

Search for "Trimmer":

[Halifax] was the chief of those politicians whom the two great parties contemptuously called Trimmers. Instead of quarrelling with this nickname, he assumed it as a title of honour, and vindicated, with great vivacity, the dignity of the appellation. Everything good, he said, trims between extremes. The temperate zone trims between the climate in which men are roasted and the climate in which they are frozen. The English Church trims between the Anabaptist madness and the Papist lethargy. The English constitution trims between Turkish despotism and Polish anarchy. Virtue is nothing but a just temper between propensities any one of which, if indulged to excess, becomes vice. Nay, the perfection of the Supreme Being himself consists in the exact equilibrium of attributes, none of which could preponderate without disturbing the whole moral and physical order of the world. 20 Thus Halifax was a Trimmer on principle. He was also a Trimmer by the constitution both of his head and of his heart. His understanding was keen, sceptical, inexhaustibly fertile in distinctions and objections; his taste refined; his sense of the ludicrous exquisite; his temper placid and forgiving, but fastidious, and by no means prone either to malevolence or to enthusiastic admiration. Such a man could not long be constant to any band of political allies. He must not, however, be confounded with the vulgar crowd of renegades. For though, like them, he passed from side to side, his transition was always in the direction opposite to theirs. He had nothing in common with those who fly from extreme to extreme, and who regard the party which they have deserted with all animosity far exceeding that of consistent enemies. His place was on the debatable ground between the hostile divisions of the community, and he never wandered far beyond the frontier of either. The party to which he at any moment belonged was the party which, at that moment, he liked least, because it was the party of which at that moment he had the nearest view. He was therefore always severe upon his violent associates, and was always in friendly relations with his moderate opponents. Every faction in the day of its insolent and vindictive triumph incurred his censure; and every faction, when vanquished and persecuted, found in him a protector. To his lasting honour it must be mentioned that he attempted to save those victims whose fate has left the deepest stain both on the Whig and on the Tory name.

RecChief said...

I still think that passage has nothing to do with moderation. There are absolutes.

"But the man in the middle is the knave who blanks out the truth in order to pretend that no choice or values exist."

That isn't a definition of moderation that I am aware of. It looks like post-modernism. It's a description of a system where all ethics are situational. It's also a fair description of the ethical system that allows a lawmaker to vote 'present' on legislation.

Gabriel Hanna said...

Ayn Rand speaks in her own code, and that's one reason why she's hard to read and easy to misunderstand--or misrepresent. "Loafers" and "moochers" are two of her pet words, and some others appeared in the excerpts Ann quoted.

For instance, she is often criticized by those who haven't read her as advocating "selfishness". But she does not use the word the way they use it. To Ayn Rand, choosing to help another person because you love them, or you want to, or for some other reason that you chose is "selfishness"--your motive comes from your self, you did not do it because you were obligated to. Mark Twain put this similarly when he pointed out that the altruists who do good are benefiting because they feel good when they do good,and so can be legitimately characterized as acting in their self-interest.

So Ayn Rand is easy to mistake or misrepresent, you have to bother to learn her code, which to my mind is one of the biggest failings of here writings. She was too egotistical to speak English in any other than her own way, and those who did not bother to learn her version were simply not worth accommodating.

YoungHegelian said...

I've always been surprised by the modern conservative movement's appropriation of Ayn Rand, but Rand's KISS (Keep it simple, stupid) notions of morality make her a great source of sound bites for a political movement (e.g. "Who is John Galt?").

While Rand's appropriation by conservatives is weird enough, I'm also old enough to remember that in the 60's, the counterculture Left appropriated her for her Nietzschean in-yer-face morality & her radical atheism. That, too, was a WTF? appropriation handily forgotten by the modern Left.

Rand's philosophy was always one that was more valuable for its component pieces than for the whole, a reality that would no doubt trouble her greatly.

Econophile said...

From the previous post you quote here: "If Ayn Rand is so dedicated to the truth, why did she write fiction?" You should also add Rand's Romantic Manifesto to your kindle.

I think of you more as a contrarian than a moderate, Ann. So ubercontrarian, in fact, you've resisted reading this contrarian novel Atlas Shrugged!

My hope is that as you read it, you will appreciate Rand's own iconoclasm.

Auntie Ann said...

I was assigned "Anthem" in high school by my government indoctrinators. It's still the only Rand I've read.

Crunchy Frog said...

Moderation is not necessarily a virtue, and must itself be taken in moderation.

Country A: We want to live together in peace.

Country B: We want you to die.

Exactly where is there room for a middle ground? Moderation only results in slow motion suicide for Country A.

Evil cannot be negotiated with. It must be opposed 100%.

Mitch H. said...

A month ago you were insisting that emotion is a necessary component in rational argument, and the month before that, you were suggesting that the emotional component in legal reasoning is, and ought to be, the dominating element.

Which is it professor? Or are you containing multitudes this year?

Again, never been a fan of Rand, her followers always seemed high on Neitzschean adolescent swagger.

Big Mike said...

One year in college I had an Objectivist for a roommate and read Atlas Shrugged in self-defense.

It's not a great book.

surfed said...

The Fountainhead was a better read, a more cogent and focused book and you get the same dose of the philosophy.

And, as an added plus, you don't have to wade through d'Anconia's multi-page riff when you just want to get on with the story.

Further added plus - Howard and Dominique's sparkfest after a (ahem) hard day in the quarry.

Ron Nelson said...

It is harsh to say that the well-intentioned are the facilitators of evil. And yet there is no lack of evidence for this.

Your own posts regarding Obama's governance suggest that your 2008 vote was a well-intentioned facilitation of bad government. That McCain may well have been nearly as bad does not excuse well intentioned indifference to the probable damage that Obama would do if he meant what he said.

Yes, the speeches in Atlas Shrugged are too long and turgid. It is a Jeremiahed. But at its heart it does cry out for people to think, think! Yes, you want everyone to be happy, healthy, safe and well fed. But it is not going to happen. And the politicians who say it will if everyone (except them) just gives up a little more are playing you and condemning the larger society to greater impoverishment.

Ron Nelson said...

It is harsh to say that the well-intentioned are the facilitators of evil. And yet there is no lack of evidence for this.

Your own posts regarding Obama's governance suggest that your 2008 vote was a well-intentioned facilitation of bad government. That McCain may well have been nearly as bad does not excuse well intentioned indifference to the probable damage that Obama would do if he meant what he said.

Yes, the speeches in Atlas Shrugged are too long and turgid. It is a Jeremiahed. But at its heart it does cry out for people to think, think! Yes, you want everyone to be happy, healthy, safe and well fed. But it is not going to happen. And the politicians who say it will if everyone (except them) just gives up a little more are playing you and condemning the larger society to a loss of liberty and greater impoverishment.

surfed said...

Addendum: In the movie Dirty Dancing (1987) Baby confronts Robbie to pay for Penny's abortion. Robbie refuses to take responsibility and preaches “Some people count and some people don’t” and then hands Baby a used paperback copy of The Fountainhead saying, “Read it. I think it's a book you'll enjoy, but make sure you return it; I have notes in the margin

Kit Carson said...

Yes, Atlas Shrugged is great. But her earlier novel, Fountainhead, is her greatest work. Fountainhead is much shorter and she presents all her main themes and her analysis more clearly and in more entertaining fashion. The epic scene where Ellsworth Toohey explains himself and his intentions is one of the most significant pieces of writing of the modern world. Reading those few pages may well change your life.

surfed said...

Re: Howard & Dominique's sparkfest - Rand always said she wrote the scene as Dominique's "engraved invitation to rape". Schwing.

Tank said...

I've never read "Atlas Shrugged," but I know it's a novel. If Ayn Rand is so dedicated to the truth, why did she write fiction? I assume it's so she could say drastic things with deniability.

If there was ever a person who did not care about deniability, it was Ayn Rand.

That said, and having read most of her stuff, and being in strong agreement with the capitalism/responsibility aspects of her themes, that book is a tough slog. I too would recommend The Fountainhead instead.

Shawn Levasseur said...

If you get tired of the slog through Atlas Shrugged, let me recommend the abridged version of the audiobook.

I normally don't like abridgments, but it's read by Edward Herrmann, a great actor that if you saw him you'd recognize him ("oh yeah, THAT guy"). Herrmann does a masterful job in bringing the characters to life.

The unabridged audiobook has recently been updated with a new reader, but the first time I sampled it years ago, it was read by someone with a near-monotone range that I couldn't imagine listening to that man for 40 to 50 hours.

David said...

I tried the book few times when I was younger and found it unreadable.

Doubt I'll try again.

I had the same experience with Ulysses.

Of course there was an exam question on it. I wrote a non responsive answer about how the book was unreadable. Got an A on the exam. This in 1964 when A's were difficult to get.

I have no idea what this proves. In the past I thought it was proof of my insight and brilliance, but now I realize it may just have been a bored professor doing the grading.

David said...

Nice reference, Henry. Thanks.

surfed said...

@Kit Carson - Toohey's scene - 100% concurrence.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Yes. Read Fountainhead before Atlas Shrugged, which would have been better served, imo, by the title Rand wanted, The Strike.

Christy said...

At 16 I thought Atlas Shrugged was the greatest book ever. At 30 I wanted nothing to do with any adult who embraced it. I forget now why, other than the fact that by then I'd discovered my own shortcomings and realized her philosophy was based on what should be and ignored what was. When young I believed we could all work to achieve the best of all possible worlds. Now I simply want to cultivate my own garden.

bwebster said...

Ann: Here's a review I wrote back in 2009 after re-reading it for the first time in 30+ years. The book as a novel has some profound flaws, but her political observations were spot-on.

Richard Dolan said...

"It contains enough reason and coherence to pull listeners along, to make them feel smart and energized. That's the most dangerous sort of irrationality. The most irrational speakers repel all listeners. But this sort of material draws people in. The way to draw an audience is with a transfusion of irrationality and rationality— to be the rubber tube."

Really nice exercise in verbal jujitsu. And, like Ann, I don't care to think of myself as a rubber tube.

I've been puzzled for a long time by the devotion that Ayn Rand gets from many right-of-center folks. I've started her books but never been interested enough to finish them. She's a bit dreary and long-winded in the way she makes her political point, and her point has never struck me as a particularly compelling picture of how people live and interact. But others will certainly disagree. To each, etc.

Reading this post, I was trying to think of a comparable work of fiction that has gained a similarly iconic foothold among lefties. There was a time (long ago) when Zola, or Dos Passos, or even Steinbeck might have filled that space. Today, I suppose, it would have to be a fictional work that showcased lefty ideas about race/class/gender. But nothing comes to mind.

William Chadwick said...

Now that we're in "Il Dufe's" second term, ATLAS SHRUGGED has become pretty much a work of non-fiction, so I'm not sure that the novelistic aspects will still be entertaining.

ken in sc said...

I have a way of reading which envolves me in concentrating on nouns and action verbs, and ignoring almost everything else. This allows me to enjoy many books that I would otherwise find very boring. I ignored all most all those long speeches in 'Atlas Shrugged'.

To appreciate Ayn Rand, one has to read “We the Living”. It is her best work and did not require so much ignoring on my part, nor will it on yours.

I think you will understand her better if you read it.

(this may show up twice because of conflicting edits)

buwaya said...

Ayn Rand was NOT using fiction as a cover for outrageous views, not that I think they are outrageous. Her essays are the same as her novels.

I was a fan from boyhood and I have read pretty much everything she published. Were it not for an unfortunate accident of geography I might have been that boy that tried to force Rand on you. Well, probably not. Even then I knew that was a bad way to get girls. A cynic even then.

Rand was all about emotions. Its all rhetoric, strong stuff meant to stir up geeky young men, who almost demand to be worked up into a rage.
Thats why you have all that blood and poison.

She is an oddity among female writers in having a following mainly of young men. I guess there's just something about an angry woman.

She had a lot to be angry about.
She was much like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, stabbing at her enemies from hells heart. The logical/philosophical stuff seems to be mainly a rationalization for an exercise in hate.

Like most people I grew out of Rand-fandom as I got over myself and grew more sympathetic and tolerant of defective humanity, not least because it became uncomfortably clear that I was myself open to the charge of being a "looter" and a "moocher", and in no way qualified to be a Randian hero.

Curiously though, I find her more interesting now. Age brings a lot of twists to ones world view. From young romantic certain of everything to self doubt and more tolerant maturity, and over, eventually, to tired disgust.

She had no worthwhile philosophy or ethics, and the rabble-rousing is now leaden, but what remains is observation and analysis. Being a good hater she was obsessed with her enemies and she put all her exceptional intellect into studying them. She drew from life as it were. Her villains are much more real than her heroes.

Every day I see something new that could have come straight out of Ayn Rand. As Ahab, she saw and clearly described every wart and barnacle on her whale.

She was also a prophet. Back in the 1960's, knowing her subject, in her essays she predicted the modern red-green-corporatist-bureaucratic alliance. Only Schumpeter was ahead on that piece of Cassandra-ism, but he didn't have the details, she did.

buwaya said...

Ayn Rand came out of the Russian intellectual tradition. Her milieu was profoundly influenced by this -

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_Is_to_Be_Done%3F_(novel)

Her work is the same sort of thing, in English and turned against the party of Chernyshevsky.

surfed said...

@Richard Dolan - Travels with Charley by Steinbeck was a work of fiction. Maybe that? Or is it too recent circa 1960?

Tom said...

Althouse, I believe you'd find The Fountainhead a more enjoyable read. In fact, I've often though of you, as a blogger, blogging in a similar manner as Howard Roark worked in architecture. To the point that I could see you destroying this blog if it was co-oped and transformed into something without your consent. What I believe that Rand was getting at - at least in my limited understanding - was a sense of personal ownership and self-accountability.

In Atlas Shrugged, she explores these concepts more. And while she always warns against the "looters" and "moochers", it is on the productive and creative that she aims her lesson - your success or failure is owned by you and is created or destroyed by your choices. What she telling the productive and creative is that there are those would will use all manner of tactics to instill in your a sense of guilt. But it is your choice to accept or reject this premise. This is not moderation in the political sense of, "should we put the road in this location or that?" -- those choices are not what Rand is getting at. Rand is asking the virtuous to understand the nature of personal ownership and self-sovereignty.

My initial reaction to both books was probably more of an adolescent "I'll take my ball and go home" reaction. Only over time did I understand that life really requires me to understand my values and to live those values based on my choices, not others. It doesn't mean I divorce myself from others - in fact, just the opposite - it means valuing who I love in the deepest sense.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Henry,

Thanks very much for the Macaulay. ISTR that a "trimmer" was originally someone on a sailing vessel who went over to the other side when the boat was in danger of overbalancing. I've done that practically all my life, politically speaking -- arguing the conservative side in liberal environments and the liberal side in conservative environments.

Granted, I've spent most of the last quarter century in very liberal environments, and my trimming skills in the other direction have somewhat atrophied. But I do try.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Ann, I've had this simultaneous desire to read Atlas Shrugged, and reluctance to be seen buying it, even (no, especially) by Amazon, for a long time now. Maybe I'll actually do it this time.

William said...

I read her in high school when I was looking for some over arching philosophy that would explain the raw, contradictory data of life. I don't know if such a philosophy exists. Certainly not for me. Mostly I've just muddled through. I've never felt that people needed greater discipline and a political philosophy to achieve selfishness........I don't think fiction gives you a philosophy, but it does give you an attitude. Writers like Hemingway, Hunter Thompson, Salinger, or, God help us, Jane Austen can shape one's responses to life in ways that Ayn Rand can never approximate.

traditionalguy said...

Ayn Rand has become an inspiation to many a proud narcissist. Other than that, she does affirm that selfishness is always a virtue among people.

With that kind of friend, you don't need enemies.

She could make you a good CPA, but she would make the worst relationship friend that you could ever be cursed with.

Anthony said...

I read Anthem a couple of years ago, mainly because I'd been hearing more and more about Rand, but also because I finally decided to see what it was that supposedly inspired Neil Peart and Rush to do 2112*.

I admit it was fairly simplistic, but it was shockingly so; sometimes you need things displayed in primary colors to kind of knock your assumptions for a loop. Is a society so fully controlled by The State that the terms "I" and "me" have been banished really that far-fetched? Maybe. . . .but the point remains: The State exists to maintain and extend its control. That is its primary function.

* Peart's been a bit dodgy on Rand. The liner notes say he was inspired by "the genius of Ayn Rand" and much of his early lyrics seem very libertarian, but he's also since kind of backed off and become far more run-of-the-mill Liberal. One quote even said he'd not even read Anthem and just happened upon the same theme by accident. So, who knows.

sonicfrog said...

Glen Filthie said...

Kids these days grow up economically and politically ignorant and it shows


That always cracks me up, because kids of pretty much every generation are so economically and politically astute!!!!

Not!

And on only having "2 sides to every issue"????

That's a standard logical fallacy -denying the middle. I think we get used to the two sides idea because we live in a society that contains a lot of duality all around us... Husband and wife, day and night, black and white, high and low, ying and yang, Bicameral legislatures....

It's comfortable.

Yes, there is right and wrong. But there is also an awful lot of gray too.

Smilin' Jack said...

I'm being asked to regard myself as a rubber tube. No.

Why do you insist on taking the extreme position? In the spirit of moderation you should at least admit to being, like, an enema bag or something.

Robert Cook said...

"Read Fountainhead before Atlas Shrugged, which would have been better served, imo, by the title Rand wanted, The Strike."

Actually, ATLAS SHRUGGED--the title (not the book, which I have read)--is succinct and poetic, the only bit of artistry Ms. Rand can be truthfully said to have achieved in her life.

Austin said...

"Atlas Shrugged" is truly a dreadful, awful book. It is filled with fatuous dialogue, a ridiculously contrived plot,, and egregiously hypocritical themes. Smith, Hayek, and Friedman serve the cause much, much better.

Smilin' Jack said...

I read most of Rand in high school, mostly because she was the first thinker I'd come across who was both an atheist and a capitalist. She's not a great prose stylist, but there are a few remarkable passages that stick with you. Her basic mistake is that she followed Aristotle in defining man as a "rational animal," but she then ignored the "animal" part, which experience shows us is the most important part.

Econophile said...

traditionalguy: Ayn Rand has become an inspiation to many a proud narcissist. Other than that, she does affirm that selfishness is always a virtue among people.

Who is more of a narcissist: Barack Obama or Paul Ryan?

Also, you should read Gabriel Hanna's comment above on Rand's "selfishness" and her meaning of the term. Or even "The Virtue of Selfishness" itself perhaps--I think you would genuinely appreciate it.

Henry said...

Atlas Shrugged was readable as a kind of gaseous Hindenburg melodrama. I'm baffled how anyone can recommend The Fountainhead. That was as unreadable as any novel I've ever picked up. It doesn't help that Rand conflates ideology with aesthetics. Foolishness results.

Jim Howard said...

I'm the same age as our Professor, and was and still am strongly influenced by Ayn Rand.

I couldn't swallow the whole Objectivist Kool-Aid over one primary issue:

Smoking

Rand loved to smoke, and pretty much required those who wanted to be in her inner circle to smoke also.

She considered smoking a symbol of man's domination over nature. She said.

Certainly all the heroes in her books are chain smokers.

(Our Professor and I grew up in an era when everyone smoked everywhere, and where free market capitalism was a foreign concept in schools. So liking free markets and hating smoking made me a double rebel, a feeling that I liked as teenager. )

Even as a small child I could see that heavy smoking was killing my parents, as it eventually did. And it was a stinky and dirty habit to boot.

As much I admire her clear analysis of free markets verses Obama style crony capitalism, I could never really warm to Ms Rand.

It was clear to me then and now that you can't both be a heavy smoker and simultaneously claim to a totally 'objective' person.

PS: Your damn electric cigarettes totally count as smoking!

Lydia said...

Keeper sound-bites:

William at 1:25 pm: "I don't think fiction gives you a philosophy, but it does give you an attitude."

buwaya at 12:53 pm: "She was much like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, stabbing at her enemies from hells heart. The logical/philosophical stuff seems to be mainly a rationalization for an exercise in hate."

Robert Cook at 1:58 pm: "Actually, ATLAS SHRUGGED--the title (not the book, which I have read)--is succinct and poetic, the only bit of artistry Ms. Rand can be truthfully said to have achieved in her life."

Crunchy Frog said...

Reading this post, I was trying to think of a comparable work of fiction that has gained a similarly iconic foothold among lefties. There was a time (long ago) when Zola, or Dos Passos, or even Steinbeck might have filled that space. Today, I suppose, it would have to be a fictional work that showcased lefty ideas about race/class/gender. But nothing comes to mind.

Rachel Carson, "Silent Spring". One book, single-handedly responsible for the deaths of countless millions. No other work of fiction comes close.

It still can't hold a candle to Das Kapital, however.

Basil said...

Professor, how is it that you both profess not to have read or studied Ayn Rand and then criticize her so confidently? This is the opposite of how a professor should approach a subject. First, read a selection of her works, including the best novel she wrote, "We the Living." Then take a class from a professor who understands what she was about and who might give you some insight. Then think about these things for some time. Then, critique her body of work. Altas Shrugged is a long, too long, book exploring a philosophical idea, that explores the relationship between those who create and those who take and destroy.

buwaya said...

Ayn Rand served our purpose, those of us who are conservative capitalists, like few others could have. Hayek, Friedman, Smith, and the accumulated scribblers of the National Review could not have done what she did.

She was no literary genius, the books are an acquired taste for many, the philosophy was hokey, the ethics were flawed, and her deepest motives, probably, were less than transcendent.

But she could inspire passion among millions, and still does. There is no possibility of victory without that. Winning a religious war, which this was and is, requires a holy rage and a childrens crusade.

Hyphenated American said...

I read Ayn Rand first time when I was 30. Before that, I read Hayek and dozens of Russian writers and economists. One quick point - I was born, raised and educated in the USSR, so I assume I understand Rand's writing on a much deeper level than a lot of other folks.

And yes, Atlas Shrugged is not "literature", it's a piece of political propaganda, a rather effective and inspiring piece of political and economic analysis. Any debate about out policies would be limited without at least affirming that "I am not your slave, I don't owe you anything, the fruits of my labor belong to me" is a very valid, reasonable and in the end honest point of view.

I believe that Ayn Rand provided a very useful perspective on our discussion about society - a perspective which adds a lot to the view of such giants as Hayek, Friedman, Sowell and the others.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Robert Cook said...

"Read Fountainhead before Atlas Shrugged, which would have been better served, imo, by the title Rand wanted, The Strike."

Actually, ATLAS SHRUGGED--the title (not the book, which I have read)--is succinct and poetic, the only bit of artistry Ms. Rand can be truthfully said to have achieved in her life.


Wrong again. She didn't achieve artistry with that title, she submitted to the title that was thought up and pressed upon her by her significant other, and probably the publisher too.

So much for your "truthfully".

And given the hard hitting nature of the novel's message, "The Strike" is a far more appropriate title. We'll save the clever imagery and its "Hey! I get it! How cool am I!" for the self-congratulatory snobs.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Jim Howard,

PS: Your damn electric cigarettes totally count as smoking!

Ann may not pass this comment, because it's not germane to the OP, but I'll try anyway.

What in tarnation is wrong with e-cigarettes? You take something whose positive benefits were a nicotine hit and a social gluing mechanism, and whose massive downsides were cancer, emphysema, and assorted other ugly conditions, nasty ineradicable smells, stained teeth, and smoke irritating to all the non-smokers around you.

Someone comes up with a way to get rid of all the downsides, just keep the upsides. And people are absolutely furious about it. Because if your smoking isn't stinky, and can't give you or anyone around you lung cancer, and in fact is roughly as dangerous to the people around you as chewing gum, then we can't make you go take your smoke break/penance out in the pouring rain any more, that's why.

Obligatory tiresome disclosure: I don't smoke, and never have. My husband has never smoked. My mom never smoked. My dad smoked a pipe occasionally, until mom made him quit. I have, as they say, no dog in this fight, except to say that it's strange to see people who really hate smoking as such, even when it's been modified so that it harms neither the user nor anyone else.

whswhs said...

Maybe you should try reading it. It's the greatest pulp novel ever written. The speeches are perfectly in character: The villain of a pulp novel always makes a long speech explaining his master plan to the hero and sometimes to the whole world, and structurally John Galt and his allies are the villains of the plot most of the way through, until the big reveal. I certainly find it entertaining still.

eddie willers said...

Sorry, old man who was once that boy, but it didn't change my life,

I've been asked if Atlas Shrugged changed my life.

After some thought I said, "No....but it did change my mind".

PS. Ann, you will now know where I got my screename. Though I am unable to be a Randian hero, I can at least cheer them on.

Inga said...

Ayn Rand smoked herself into lung cancer and after years of demonizing Social Security and Medicare she ended up on both. Hypocrite.

gadfly said...

So Ann Althouse believes that moderation is virtue. Ayn Rand easily blows a hole in that argument in one paragraph from her treatise on "Extremism - or the Art of Smearing." Read carefully:

If it were true that dictatorship is inevitable and that fascism and communism are the two “extremes” at the opposite ends of our course, then what is the safest place to choose? Why, the middle of the road. The safely undefined, indeterminate, mixed-economy, “moderate” middle—with a “moderate” amount of government favors and special privileges to the rich and a “moderate” amount of government handouts to the poor—with a “moderate” respect for rights and a “moderate” degree of brute force—with a “moderate” amount of freedom and a “moderate” amount of slavery—with a “moderate” degree of justice and a “moderate” degree of injustice—with a “moderate” amount of security and a “moderate” amount of terror—and with a moderate degree of tolerance for all, except those “extremists” who uphold principles, consistency, objectivity, morality and who refuse to compromise.

Mike Dini said...

Ann -- You are normally interesting. It isn't April fools. Are intentionally trying to piss off the type of individual that tends to follow your blog? This is the sort of tripe I’d expect out of Chris Matthews.
Don't jump into Atlas Shrugged from Anthem. Read Fountainhead first. You've decided beforehand not to like the books but at least you will be able to talk intelligently about the novels. You didn't do that here.

Harve3 said...

Harvey Mallory didn't read Atlas Shrugged until arriving at Purdue for post-graduate study circa 1961. Added to my Kindle library because the price was right and the level of abuse heaped on the authoress and her adherents in the left-media. It remains a difficult read because of the need to suspend disbelief, but the insights are there; she was well-read, but extreme.

Skookum John said...

The book is awful, with cartoon characters whose mouths Rand fills with windy polemics. Did I say windy? I mean positively logorrheic.

And yet, it is one of the most important books I have ever read. Especially in the last five years, when it seems that her one dimensional characters are springing to life and trying their damnedest to recapitulate her story.

I suggest you skip over the jeremiads, except for Francisco d'Anconia's "Money Speech". It's much shorter than some of the other monologues, more practical and with less philosophical bullshit, and I think it is one that a much wider cross section of libertarians and conservatives can agree on. Certainly it is the nucleus of the relatively moderate amount of Randian influence I retain from reading the book.

Henry said...

@gadfly -- You should read The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell. Orwell accepts as a premise that Western culture is slouching toward either Fascism or Socialism. He discounts entirely the ability of the milquetoast liberals or the brain-dead Torys to sufficiently confront Fascism. Capitalists sell themselves to the highest bidder. Labour? Pshaw.

Orwell quite clearly sees how dangerous Fascism is. But in his vision, only Socialism is vital enough to confront the threat. The rest of the West is washed up.

The irony, of course, is that within a few years of the publishing of that volume, Hitler would be defeated by a holdover Tory relic named Winston Churchill allied with the great capitalist empire that was and is America.

Theory is lovely, but history holds all the cards.

Mark Trade said...

Moderation is fine, as long as you don't force it in others. You do not get to decide that what you think of as moderation is moral for others. That's an essential part of Rand I think you're missing.

Henry said...

@gafly -- To follow up. Rand has nothing to add to Orwell, 30 years later. Orwell at least had the excuse of writing before World War 2.

FleetUSA said...

Any Rand, especially in The Fountainhead & Atlas Shrugged, was a seminal thinker for me. My whole career was based on the principle that I have to do my best and take care of those I love the most.

Her books were recommended to me by a women I adored and still do - even though she took another path. Sadly

FleetUSA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gadfly said...

@Henry said:
@gadfly -- You should read The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell.

I do apologize for not providing access to Ayn Rand's "Extremism . . . or the Art of Smearing" which is not about Marxism and Fascism at all.

It is written as a defense of political extremism which she believes to be far more principled than the mushy, mind changing, too-many-shades-of-gray moderates that demonstrate little understanding and discipline in their moral and cultural pursuit of life. The first casualty, of course, is the rule of law.

friscoda said...

Porfessor,

Read them all but read We the Living first. Rand's depictions of the effects of a statist/totalitarian system on the psyches of bystander victims is spot on.

By the way, Rand got the idea for A.S. from a turn of the century UK book - The Secret of the League. She was able to develop the idea more completely awhile making the story a little bit of a mystery. She likely got the idea for Anthem from We by Zamiatin.

After 2008, A.S. is no longer fiction. After you read it, ask yourself whether Chris Cox ( a supposed Republican/Reaganite) was channeling some of the statist loving characters in AS when he suggested -as chairman of the SEC - that "we" just needed things to standstill for a little while in order to be able to straighten them out. Look at Obamacare waivers, Solyndra, etc - all examples of the "aristocracy of pull". Did you ever imagine that these types of actions would occur in the open in the US?

Lastly, von Mises considered Rand the "most courageous man in America." Not a bad reference.

Leit Bart said...

No explanation needed. With Kindle, we can all finally read the fine print. My paperback version of Atlas has print that is microscopic.

So . . . sorry to tuck this in here, but I saw no open thread: mobile death squads in Holland are killing elderly coalitions of the willing. WTH?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2430479/One-thirty-deaths-Holland-euthanasia-choosing-end-lives-cancer.html

Robert Cook said...

"Wrong again. She didn't achieve artistry with that title, she submitted to the title that was thought up and pressed upon her by her significant other, and probably the publisher too.

"So much for your 'truthfully.'"


So if Rand did not create the only good thing about the book--its title--then, truthfully, Rand achieved not one iota of artistry in her life, but was merely a purveyor of turgid and melodramatic propaganda.

Robert Cook said...

The irony, of course, is that within a few years of the publishing of that volume, Hitler would be defeated by a holdover Tory relic named Winston Churchill allied with the great capitalist empire that was and is America."


You're forgetting Russia.

Lost My Cookies said...

The Muppet Show taught me that "poison" is the French word for "fish bone".

An ex-girlfriend taught me that anything can be a poison in high enough doses.

Learn from my experience, read the Cliff's Notes and use the time saved to watch the Muppet Show.

Henry said...

@Robert Cook -- Good point, though the Russia part offers no irony. The conflict between Fascism and Communism was part of the theory. What Orwell refused to countenance is that the bourgeois -- his bourgeois -- could defend itself on its own terms.

Henry said...

@gadfly -- True, I was responding to your extract, which is boilerplate early-twentieth-century political theory.

The first casualty, of course, is the rule of law.

How that follows from a fight between extremes, I don't know.

I would argue that the extolling of process, as opposed to the extolling of outcomes, is a distinct ideology of its own. A holding to the rule of law may quite easily express as moderation. I refer you to the passage on Halifax I quoted far upstream.

SamsMum said...

Scanning the book for quotes will hardly give your critique "context." Read the book Professor.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Robert Cook,

You're forgetting Russia.

That would be the USSR, and I see that you've left out the bit where Hitler and Stalin began the war as allies, and it was not Stalin who broke the alliance. Stalin was totally cool with Hitler until he invaded. They both had such delightful plans for Poland!

Robert Cook said...

Michelle,

Nevertheless, the Russians fought against Hitler longer than we did and vastly more Russians than Americans died in the fight. Whatever the political intriques between Hitler and Stalin, one cannot truthfully state it was America (with a li'l bit 'o help from the Brits) who defeated Hitler. It was an allied effort and we cannot know how the war would have gone if any of the allies had not participated.

As for Hitler and Stalin having been cooperative for a time, one can also point to the tyrants and murderers with whom American has allied itself...until it suits our purposes to turn on them.

Global politics is not a matter of good guys vs. bad guys, but a constant shifting of alliances and enmities between powerful entities all seeking their own ends. There's certainly nothing we can point to in our recent forays into warring abroad that can identify us as the "good guys." We're just big gangsters fighting little gangsters for control of turf and resources...the age old story.