Thursday, August 27, 2009

Atlas Shrugged, Then Looked for His Reading Glasses

I had, believe it or not, never actually managed to read any Ayn Rand. She's one of those authors who is viewed as a necessary element of a well-rounded education. Somehow, though, it was my lot to never be assigned The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. Lately, though, I'm feeling stirred to remedy that.

Why?

Well, because Ms. Rand speaks deeply to the heart of the American conservative. I make it a point to read the blogs of folks who believe that health care reform is evil, and who view progressives and Democrats as evil, and who are, when I comment on their musings, happy to let me know just how hopelessly wrong I am. Sometimes, amazingly enough, they are people I've come to like.

For those folks, Atlas Shrugged resonates powerfully. The way that Ms. Rand articulates the purpose of humankind harmonizes with and informs the ethos of American conservatism, both through the objectivist philosophy she expresses in her writing and the way she writes. Understanding her mindset is, as I see it, a good way to grasp the spirit that moves in the hearts of the Right.

Earlier this week, I went to pick up the book at the library. This, I suppose, was getting off the to the wrong start. Libraries are a public good, and given what I know about Ms. Rand's view of government, are probably off limits to most objectivists. There were four identical copies of Atlas Shrugged on the shelf, all new fat bricky paperbacks. I opened one. It was bigger than I thought, at one thousand and sixty nine pages. Hmmm, thought I. For an author whose philosophy claims to be rooted in rational precision, that's a whole heck of a lot of text. But the page count was a bit misleading. Unlike the countless high school students who bump up their font size to flesh out their papers, this book could have been several hundred pages longer.

The font was tiny to the point of being abusive, perhaps 8 point, maybe less, making no compromise for those among us whose vision is not perfect. I'm still better than 20/20, but the idea of reading over 1,000 pages of microscopic prose suddenly seemed daunting.

But I know Ms. Rand well enough to know that it was appropriately daunting. She had nothing but contempt for the weak. Was I weak, one of the parasites who lack the courage to even enter the hallowed gates of Objectivist thought? It was a challenge. It was a test. I committed myself to continue. I would not be so easily cowed.

So into the introduction I went.

7 comments:

  1. "Understanding her mindset is, as I see it, a good way to grasp the spirit that moves in the hearts of the Right."

    For perhaps a portion of the Right, but I doubt her views are held by the entirety of the Right side of the political spectrum. I tend to think that Rand was a reactionary. After all, she did come from the Soviet Union and the extremes and human rights abuses that form of government encapsulated, I think, set her into the opposite extreme.

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  2. I agree, but given how much of conservative political discourse these days involves shouting about the evils of socialism and government as an institution, I think there's conceptual purchase to that statement.

    That's the theory, anyway. F

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  3. Indeed, and that "shouting" in regards to government is steeped in an almost pathological hypocrisy. Most on the Right seem to have no problem with a large, intrusive government, so long as it suits their ends. The previous 8 years are a case in point.

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  4. The Right uses Rand when she fits their purposes, but (as Jonathan notes) they're as pro-government as their progressive counterparts.

    Conservatives will probably dismiss Rand as a literary hack when they learn about Garret Garet's book 'The Driver' and its query, "Who is Henry Galt?" (published years before Atlas Shrugged).

    For all her ranting and raving about individualism, Rand supported the government's role in defending intellectual property rights. This was a tremendous flaw in her philosophy, since intellectual property rights are nothing more than a legal monopoly (Google: Stephan Kinsella).

    My critique notwithstanding, it's my hope that Rand's work will lead more sensible readers toward Libertarianism.

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  5. @newworldview - Do you have a blog? I'd love to read more of your ideas. Would you consider yourself of the anarcho-capitalist or anarchist school of Libertarian thought?

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  6. @Jonathan - I used to keep a blog on Xanga under this same name, but lost interest in it a little while ago. It's still up and running, but it contains a lot of personal/family content, and my opinion has changed since I wrote there. I'm lazily kicking around the idea of starting a new blog.

    I'd encourage you to spend time at mises.org and lewrockwell.com (if you aren't already). Those sites have far more interesting, in-depth commentary than I could ever provide.

    I don't know how to classify myself anymore, though I do note with interest that I am named Jonathan as well.

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  7. @newworldview - Jonathan meet Jonathan, nice to meet me.

    I do spend an inordinate amount of time at lewrockwell and mises, as well as acton.org and the Cato institutes various sites. I don't know about you, but I think one day the good Reverend here will fully embrace his anarchist tendencies and help expose the Emperor's lack of clothing. ;o)

    Have a good one.

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