Libertarian History/Philosophy

50 Years of Shrugging

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Robert Stacy McCain in the Washington Times celebrates this month's 50th anniversary of Ayn Rand's blockbuster Atlas Shrugged, with some quotes from yours truly. I relate the whole Rand story, among many other things, in my own blockbuster, Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement (dedicated promo site here).

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  1. Man, I am SO high!

  2. “Part of the reason why Rand has been so influential is that she presented her ideas in a novel,” Mr. Hudgins said. “It’s one thing to read a dry philosophical treatise. It’s another thing to read an exciting story where those ideas are told through characters and action.”

    And yet most of Rand’s unthinking detractors have probably never read her essays, preferring to parrot stale gossip about Rand the personality instead of focusing on the merits of Rand’s ideas, which, after all, are the only things that really matter.

  3. It’s another thing to read an exciting story where those ideas are told through characters and action.

    Exciting story? Characters? Not in the version I read. But maybe I got an original unedited draft because there was this crazy 60 page rant by some whackjob towards the end.

    I’m sure the tighter, edited cut that this guy read was much better.

  4. Sigh. One of these days I’ll read the damn thing. In my one and only try a couple years ago, I couldn’t get past the first couple hundred pages.

  5. Was “The Fountainhead” really Rand’s first novel?

    I thought it was “We the Living.”

    Sean Dougherty

  6. Was it ever made into a movie?

  7. Still one of the most influential novels I have ever read, but I gotta agree with de stijl. Anyone who read far enough to get to the rant ALREADY got it. Nice to reemphasize the central points but Jeebus.

    p.s., Who is John Galt?

  8. Rhywun,

    Give it another shot but only continue if you enjoy it (I quit during the speech – good lord that was horrible). If you want to read a plot summary and the finer points of Objectivism go to Wiki or somesuch.

  9. This is John Galt Speaking.

    Im going to beat you over the head with 100+ pages on why I’m awesome and you’re not.

  10. Oh Christ, I’m about 3/5 of the way through it at the moment. I can almost feel the spectre of the rant haunting me. Is it okay to skip? I think I must.

  11. If only Rand hadn’t just talked the talk, but walked the walk as well, she wouldn’t have been so bitter. Rationalizing dishonesty is always harder when you claim that your philosophy is the pinnacle of integrity.

  12. Am I the only one that enjoyed the 60 page speech? I thought it was beautiful and summed up a lot of thoughts I had but didn’t know how to articulate at the time. Reading Atlas Shrugged for a class in college is what turned me into a libertarian.

  13. Exciting story? Characters? Not in the version I read. But maybe I got an original unedited draft because there was this crazy 60 page rant by some whackjob towards the end.

    Yeah, really. Galt’s lecture is worthy of Fidel Castro’s libertarian twin brother (it’s been timed at three hours).

  14. I like the rants. I just didn’t care for sci-fi ending.

  15. Ben,

    No. You’re totally cool if you enjoyed it and got something out of it. I can’t really get down on someone else’s aesthetic or intellecual pleasure.

    It just wasn’t my reaction, but then again I stop reading about 20% of the books I start.

    If I don’t enjoy something about the work, or if I’m not learning anything new, or if I’m really grated by the prose style, etc. I just quit. I have better ways to spend my time than be super annoyed yet feel some stupid obligation to finish a book just because I started it. I’ve stopped reading the canon of most of the leading lights of Western literature and I’m damned proud of that.

  16. So I take it that it has not been made into a movie?

    I am done reading some 50 pages, but at some points I just had to “scan” through a page or two. I am sure there is a message, but am a bit too impatient.

  17. ed, what’s your take on Rand’s thinking detractors?
    I’ve read her essays, including the ones she has disavowed and the ones that have been either overlooked or disavowed by many of her supporters.
    Her work is, at best, philosophically inept.
    Where it is correct, it is so by accident, and, typically, is so because she has stolen [*perhaps* inadvertently] the work of others.
    “measurement ommission” is a joke, and clearly traces back to the work her (only?) philosophy instructor was exposed to and brought back, with high excitement, to Russia.
    As it stands, it fails on the merits.
    Her “theory” of language is so bad one can hardly even call it “uninformed”.
    Her claims about ‘resentment’ are an inept recasting of a small part of the work of Max Scheler.
    In short, where is she is original, she is incorrect. Where she is correct, she is not original.
    As a popularizer, she clearly deserves praise.
    Sadly, she serves almost as well as a “de-popularizer”. A role fully adopted by most of her legacy crew of supporters.

    Shirley Knott

  18. I think her major flaw was the Aristotelian flaw of fundamental assumptions. A is a. And if you disagree, you’re anti-life!

    She was really good at being so blustery and confident in her rhetoric that people only listened to her conclusions, not her premises, which is ironic because “check your premises” was one of her buzzphrases

  19. Shirley
    let us know what you really think.

  20. “So I take it that it has not been made into a movie?”

    Just starting production. Angelina Jolie is going to play Dagny.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0480239/

  21. I skipped The Speech. Well, I’d turn a couple of pages, skim a paragraph or three, and if it was something that had already been covered, I moved on.

    No doubt this makes me a second hander.

  22. As a popularizer, she clearly deserves praise.

    And that, frankly, is all that matters in the end to those of us who find philosophy a colossal bore 🙂

  23. Book changed my life. Period.

    However, I must confess that I did skip around 6-8 pages of the radio speech. I got the point and was sold already halfway through the book.

    (I’m actually getting an Art Deco style AS inspired tattoo this year.)

  24. A is a. And if you disagree, you’re anti-life!

    Nice try, Randolph. That’s monumentally stupid. Let me help you. “A is A” means a thing is itself. It can’t be itself and something else at the same time. It’s an axiom so simple a child can understand it. It’s the adults who have a problem with it, but that’s more the province of psychology than philosophy. Learning to identify your psychoses is the first step to wellness. That is, if you can manage to come to grips with the law of identity. Good luck with that.

  25. Does anyone else find it ironic that objectivism became a small religious cult?

  26. Um, a thing can be itself and something else at the same time. A square is a rectangle and a square at the same time. My sister is a sister, a mother, and a daughter at the same time. There are many things that are dual (or triple! or quadruple!) natured.

    I’m not saying I hate Rand, I actually really enjoyed Atlas Shrugged, and she played a big role in the development of my political thought. But her philosophy was bull.

  27. Angelina Jolie! You must be kidding me!

  28. Randolph,

    The axiom “A is A” doesn’t imply that an object can’t have more than one attribute or that one definition can not be a subset of another.

  29. But who is the master who makes the grass green?

    haha I don’t want to have an objectivism argument, they always end sadly and in rounds of poo-flinging. I read the Objectivist Epistemology book, I understood it, I just don’t think it’s the best model for our reality.

  30. Just starting production. Angelina Jolie is going to play Dagny.

    I wonder how they’ll deal with the speech:

    [John Galt comse on the radio.]

    Randians in a basement: [jumping for joy] Hooray! It’s John Galt! We’re saved!

    [Cut to two hours later…]

    A Randian: Damn, this is boring. Is there anything else on?
    Another Randian: [fiddling with the knob, with no apparent effect] Oh dear Aristotle! He’s on EVERY SINGLE CHANNEL!

  31. The ATLAS movie has not “just started production” in the sense of any actual cameras filming actual actors acting out an actual script. It’s just being planned. Actual director committed now, so it’s close—but nothing is sure til cameras start rolling and often not til long after that.

  32. OH P.S. to Brian Doherty (since you apparently read comments!)- I just finished Radicals for Capitalism and it was excellent, and speaking of Rand the Rand/Rothbard interactions were hi-larious.

  33. To anyone who put down the book because he couldn’t get through the first 200 pages, I understand. But it gets much better after that.

    She was really good at being so blustery and confident in her rhetoric that people only listened to her conclusions, not her premises, which is ironic because “check your premises” was one of her buzzphrases.

    I don’t think it’s ironic. IIRC, “check your premises” applied only when you faced a contradiction, i.e., “There is no such thing as a contradiction. Check your premises.”

  34. I enjoyed “Atlas Shrugged” and considered it an eye-opener when I finally read it about 10-12 years ago. I even enjoyed the book’s flaws–it’s a very bold piece of work, and to pick at it seems a bit unfair. Like many, however, I skimmed through the big speech.

    The book was considered ‘unfilmable’ for a long time, and I question whether this latest attempt will succeed. Further, a film that is essentially about the romance of the rails seems highly anachronistic now, which might take away from the impact and turn it into another “Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow.”

  35. Randolph—Thanks for kind words! I’m pretty sure all of us read the comments, tho we aren’t always inspired to jump in…

  36. tho we aren’t always inspired to jump in…

    And I thought that we were an inspiring bunch! Though, I do get your point Brian. Still haven’t read “Radicals” yet. But it is on my to do list.

  37. Nobody beat me to it? The best summary of Atlas Shrugged and/or The Fountainhead is still “a sermon with a cast”.

    Obligatory South Park:

    It seemed exciting and magical, but then I read this: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I read every last word of this garbage, and because of this piece of s**t, I am never reading again.

  38. I like the rants. I just didn’t care for sci-fi ending.

    Well, that is just the bit of info I needed to go get a copy. My last bit of resistance has gone up in smoke 🙂

    On that “A is A” thing, I had no idea that “The Deer Hunter” was Randian at it’s core! “This is this and nothing else.”

  39. Who can get excited about an “Atlas Shrugged” movie when there is talk of a “At The Mountains of Madness” movie?

  40. Guy,

    Good call. The Deer Hunter is probably the best movie I’ve ever seen.

  41. what what what????? Mountains of Madness movie!!!!! Please tell me it’s not a Uwe Boll production.

  42. Guillermo Del Toro is reportedly doing At The Mountains of Madness. He’s definitely got the chops to do it based on Pan’s Labryinth.

  43. OK, I need a list of “libertarian movies” to watch. I thought Legends of the Fall had lots of libertarian themes.

  44. Brazil, in a way. It’s just an awesome all-around movie. I would say almost any dystopian movie has libertarian undercurrents.

  45. One other thing, did Ayn Rand actually describe Arabs as savages and said something about how they stole our oil? Was it in one of her books? Was it an interview? Anyone knows the context of what she had said? Underzog (whom I don’t take for serious) keeps mentioning that.

  46. Randolph: A movie called “Brazil”?

  47. yes, the movie’s called Brazil. And Rand did say that, I believe it was in an interview or later essay that she wrote.

  48. Randolph Carter: RE: Who is the master that makes the grass green?

    I first read that in one of Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic trigger series. He’s got some great Zen koans in there. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t agree with objectivists. With Korzybski’s work on General Semantics, it seems like holding on to old aristotlian logic is rather silly.

  49. “a 1991 survey by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Library of Congress ranked it second only to the Bible in terms of its effect on readers.”

    Of course, we’re not necessarily talking about the same group of readers.

    “Who can get excited about an ‘Atlas Shrugged’ movie when there is talk of a ‘At The Mountains of Madness’ movie?”

    Cap’n, we are reaching Nerd Overload!

  50. My 1/2000th Au oz: Ayn Rand created a philosophy that rejected irrationality, religion, and cults of the personality. She also created Objectivism, which is an irrational cult of the personality.

  51. Randolph:

    yes, the movie’s called Brazil. And Rand did say that, I believe it was in an interview or later essay that she wrote.

    Thanks. I am really curious as to why she said that? Why would she utter such a collectivist statement? Strange.

  52. Like many libertarians, I started off with Ayn Rand and went through an Objectivist phase. Then I got over the Objectivism but kept the libertarianism, due to Jan Narveson, Robert Nozick, David Friedman, and an immersion in Austrian economics in college.

    Over the past nearly 20 years, my views of Rand have evolved greatly. At first, I thought she was an OK philosopher and a mediocre novelist. Then I thought she was a mediocre philosopher and a terrible novelist. Now, I think she is a generally confused philosopher but a pretty good novelist, with all of her quirks and didacticism being among her main charms.

  53. I just ordered her On the Virtue of Selfishness (200 pages). Hopefully I’ll get to understand her philosophy in a little less than 1200 pages.

  54. Thanks. I am really curious as to why she said that? Why would she utter such a collectivist statement? Strange.

    iih,

    It has been many years since I read it, but I believe it was in an essay that Rand published in the late 1960’s or early 70’s. The essay presented some of her views regarding America’s foreign policy in the Middle East – specifically the furnishing of military aid and support not only to Israel but also to various Islamic countries. To paraphrase her, she said that just as it was in the American Old West, it should still be against the law to sell guns to savages.

    I do not recall whether she was refering only to Arabs or also to Israelis as well. I do remember that she was castigating US foreign policy for helping to keep certain dictatorships in power. As to why she may have been biased against some of the Arab countries (if indeed she was) it might help to know that Rand was of Jewish heritage. Granted that she was an athiest and a denouncer of all organized religions, still one never completely escapes one’s roots and cultural biases.

  55. smartass sob:

    Luckily I checked back on this thread. Thanks a lot, I think that puts things in better perspective.

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