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Life Imitates Art

May 23, 2012

Back in 1957 an immigrant from Russia, Ayn Rand, finished her fourth and final novel. It had taken her a decade to write, but nothing in it sounded dated – in fact, in many ways, it takes place “outside of time.” The novel is very long, actually three novels in one, and follows Dagny Taggart, female railroad executive, as America collapses around her and she tries to hold it together.

Ayn Rand, nee Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum, left Lenin’s workers’ paradise in 1926, just in time to live through the US Great Depression. She was an author and screenwriter, today best known for her novels Anthem and The Fountainhead, as well as her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged.

Rand never wrote another novel. She became somewhat of a celebrity as a popular philosopher, and in some circles her personal life began to overwhelm the messages of Atlas. Like many visionaries, she seemed to polarize those around her, creating extremely dedicated disciples of her Objectivist philosophy as well as vicious detractors.

Atlas Shrugged is a title that many people will recognize even if they have not read the book. It has never gone out of print, and continues to sell hundreds of thousands of copies per year. Since 2009 it has even enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence in popularity due to its frightening similarity with current political and economic events.

After decades of attempts at making a film of the book (including an unfinished script by Rand herself), the first third of the book was filmed and released independently by investor/producer/screenwriter John Aglialoro on April 15, 2011. It was not financially very successful and it was strongly attacked by critics – which was expected by the producers to some extent, owing to the political orientation of most film critics and the subject matter of the film – and because it was not produced by and marketed by a “major studio.” Part II is to be released in October of 2012, just prior to the American Presidential election.

I was reminded of the book today while listening to yesterday’s radio show by conservative talk show host Mark Levin. Levin, unlike most talk show hosts, generally presents a highly logical argument based in a strict reading of the US Constitution and a coherent political philosophy. (This does not mean Mr. Levin does not become emotional on his show – quite the contrary! On first listening a new listener my be quick to label Levin as just another talk radio “hothead,” but after listening for a very short period of time, it will become apparent that this is a man who loves his country, and the US Constitution, without reservation.)

Rand attempted to cover a number of large themed in writing Atlas. The book requires patience and dedication to read and understand, but the time spent is well worth it. One of Rand’s major points is the importance of the individual and how the control of the individual by the state ultimately destroys the economy of the country and the ability of its citizens to have hope for their futures. The near-future (for 1957) America is controlled by misguided statists, crony capitalists, and purely power-hungry politicians.

Obviously Atlas is a cautionary tale at first, showing what could happen to America if current trends continue unchecked. It also shows a bold, if somewhat unbelievable, means of fighting back. The “men of the mind,” as Rand calls them, go on strike and withdraw from the world, closing their businesses and withholding their creativity, work, and capital. They are led by an unknown named John Galt, whom many believe is not even a real person until late in the book.

So why the title of this piece? After all, I’ve written about Atlas before. Well, listening to Levin this morning (the podcast of last night’s radio program), I was struck – and not for the first time – by how much less explanation Levin would need to do if everyone had read Atlas.

Unfortunately, like Obama’s political strategy for the current Presidential campaign, the ancillary themes of Atlas are often brought up as a way to invalidate the primary philosophies of the book. For example, since it was first published one of the many criticisms of the book is its atheistic tone. This is true – Rand was an atheist from the time of her youth in Russia. She does not attack any particular religion, but refers to ministers and priests as “mystics.” She also wrote about the sexual relationships of her characters as based much on respect for the values of a person, and her characters have sex outside of marriage, but she does not eliminate the concept of love.

For Rand, her religious beliefs, or lack of them, and her devotion to rational thought drove the rest of her philosophical development. The atheistic underpinnings of her philosophy have caused difficulty for conservatives for generations. Conservatives often are people of faith, especially those for whom a pro-life position is a cornerstone of their belief structure. It might be said that the American conservative movement would not have been nearly as effective as it has been since 1980 if not for the membership of pro-life Americans.

I don’t personally find Rand’s economic and political philosophies in the book to require atheism to ring true. Today, people who lack strong religious beliefs often align themselves with the Liberal agenda. I think the cautions Rand provides about the way government crushes individualism, creativity, and enterprise transcend the atheist beliefs Rand personally held.

Many people, myself included, have quoted Rand’s characters. Most of the time they quote the heroes of the book – Dagny Taggart, Hank Rearden, John Galt, and others. Less often have I seen pull quotes from the crony capitalists, union leaders, and politicians. Those are the people we need to read to see the parallels with what is going on in America today.

Wesley Mouch, lobbyist and later government Economic “czar” –

“We can’t theorize about the future,” cried Wesley Mouch, “when there’s an immediate national collapse to avoid! We’ve got to save the country’s economy! We’ve got to do something!” …

“You’ve been making temporary adjustments for years. Don’t you see that you’ve run out of time?” said Rearden…

“We can’t afford any theories!” cried Mouch. “We’ve got to act!”

“Well, then, I’ll offer you another solution. Why don’t you take over my mills and be done with it?” said Rearden. …

“Oh no!” gasped Mouch.

“We wouldn’t think of it!” cried Holloway.

“We stand for free enterprise!” cried Dr. Ferris.

“We don’t want to harm you!” cried Lawson. “We’re your friends, Mr. Rearden. Can’t we all work together? We’re you friends.” …

“We don’t want to seize your mills!” cried Mouch

“We don’t want to deprive you of your property!” cried Dr. Ferris. “You don’t understand us!”

“I’m beginning to,” said Rearden.

Balph Eubank, a “novelist” who has never had one of his novels sell three thousand copies –

“Our culture has sunk into  bog of materialism. Men have lost all spiritual values in their pursuit of material production and technological trickery. They’re too comfortable. They will return to a nobler life if we teach them to bear privations. S we ought to place a limit upon their material greed.”

Fred Kinnan, union activist and one of the few “honest looters” in the book –

“I’m a racketeer – but I know it and my boys know it, and they know that I’ll pay off. Not out of the kindness of my heart, either, and not a cent more than I can get away with…. Sure it makes me sick sometimes, it makes me sick right now, but it’s not me who’s built this kind of world – you did – so I’m playing the game as you’ve set it up and I’m going to play it for as long as it lasts – which isn’t going to be long for any of us.”

By the way, you can find many quotes and character analyses at http://www.shmoop.com/atlas-shrugged/.

I could go on and on, but you really need to read the book and get them in context. Some parts of it read like what must go on in discussions behind closed doors between Obama and Axelrod. Others sound chillingly like what we hear from the Administration, the lame stream media, and academics.

All I can do is tell yo this: If you have not yet read Atlas Shrugged, you need to do so NOW. Even busy or slower readers should be able finish it before the November elections. Actually, you should read three books before the elections: Atlas, and two books by Mark Levin: Ameritopia and Liberty and Tyranny. These will change your life and your outlook on your country. I guarantee it!

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