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Monday, November 25, 2013

Atlas Shrugged - The World According to Ayn



I read Atlas Shrugged when I was in high school and I loved it. Of course, as a sophomore, I was interested in the story and the characters, not the political philosophy. 

Now, since Ayn Rand has become the darling of the right-wingers, I'm trying to read it again to see what they find so compelling. It is a struggle this time. I can see why Ayn would appeal to teenagers and conservatives because it is simplistic in its black and whiteness. There are no shades of gray, no nuances in Atlas Shrugged. It is 1009 pages of tiny, dense lettering of straight-on pedantry. 

Every character is either a man among men (including the heroine, Dagny Taggart) or a worthless little wimp. None of Rand's characters are multi-faceted, complex beings who agonize about their life's decisions. In her own philosophy, which she called Objectivism, Ayn Rand lauded rational self-interest. She believed that by doing what makes you happy, it will automatically follow that your acts will serve as a benefit for others as well. She applauded the virtue of selfishness.

Re-reading Rand, it is easy to see where Mitt Romney came up with the "makers and the takers". We are all one or the other in the world according to Ayn. Her style fits the Tea Party - "if a man doesn't work, he doesn't eat" attitude of today. You really don't do anyone any favors by giving them assistance. Food stamps and subsidized housing only makes people weak and dependent. 

Ironically, Ayn Rand rejected all religions and intimations of a spiritual life. Reason was her God. Laissez faire capitalism was her mantra. I don't know how the Religious Right gets around that aspect of her teachings, ignores it, I suppose. Rand believed your destiny was in your own hands - no excuses. She glosses over the misfortunes that befall human beings. Her heroes succeeded by the strength of their determination and confidence. Orphans came up through the ranks and before you knew it, they were able to buy the steel mill. You too could do this, she implied, if only you were strong enough. But oddly enough, all of Ayn's main characters were gifted with supreme intelligence to go along with their iron will, which I imagine helps immensely.

I'm only about one/third of the way through Atlas Shrugged. I can only slog through so much at one time. I put it down for a while, then go back to it. I wanted to write a review when I finished but I'm really not sure I ever will finish so I'm doing it now. 

I can honestly see how some people would latch onto Ayn and her philosophy. It makes a world made up of myriad complications seem simple. The path forward is so clear. She gives people permission for people to be selfish. Finding your own happiness is your highest calling. Heck, who wouldn't like to believe that was true? Rand was one of the original Prosperity Theologists. 

It is all up to you, she tells you, and if you don't make it, its your own damn fault, weakling.