Atlas Shrugged Part II – Either Or

I went to see the second installment in the projected ATLAS SHRUGGED movie trilogy, and my reaction was mixed. Let me divide my reactions into the good, the bad, and the indifferent. There are some minor spoilers in this review, so read on at your own peril.

For those of you not familiar with the story: the United States of the near future is suffering from an economic depression brought on by the greed and corruption of the allegedly altruistic and upright populist and socialist reformers in all walks of life. Those whose work allows the society to continue to function, from artists to jurists to philosophers to inventors to entrepreneurs, are mysteriously vanishing one by one. Dagny Taggart, the ambitious and ultra-competent Vice President in charge of operations of an transcontinental railway, sees her nation and her company disintegrating in the rising tide of irrationality, culminating in the imposition of Directive 10-289 which outlaws normal economic activity. She seeks to find the mysterious figure behind the disappearances, the man who vowed to stop the motor of the world. Who is he? Who is John Galt?

The first good is that this movie was ever made at all. It seems that all my favorite books of my childhood and youth are being made into movies that are faithful to the original work, and as trilogies or series. That would have been (as Vizzini would say) inconceivable even a decade or so ago.

I am embarrassed to admit to my Catholic friends that this is a favorite book of mine. Yes, I actually like Ayn Rand’s monomaniacal hammering of her points and her overblown vitriolic rhetoric, which veers into self parody. I like it for several reasons.

First, she is the logical thinker. If her premises were true, her conclusions would be true. That is more than I can say for any other modern philosopher since the Nineteenth Century.

Second, I do not mind the repetition and the forty-page speeches pile-driving the same few points home over and over again. It is a sad necessity in the Twentieth Century, which future historians will call the Age of Unreason, because the preferred method of defending political, economic, social and philosophical views is Newspeak, that is, the misuse of language to obscure or invert the truth.

We live in a day and age when the Leftwing media and academia and opinion makers redefine the Paynim Terrorist as the victim, and the massmurder victims as the aggressors (as “little Eichmanns” ). In such an environment, where all the intellectuals are brutally and insolently illogical, their debates consisting of carefully calculated insults or incoherent shrieks of hysteria or both, remorseless repetition cannot be avoided. Ours is the age which has perfected the art of not listening.

Third, I like any novel that attempts to address deep issues, and that puts the study and practice of philosophy into a heroic light. I invite the reader to make a list of books where philosophy is explicitly described to be a good thing. I can think of only one other, also a science fiction book (WORLD OF NULL-A by A.E. van Vogt). You will be shocked at the paucity of the list, considering that we live in an age more in need of philosophy than any previous age; ours is the first era that has deliberately and consciously rejected the use of reason as a tool for discovering truth, and heaped scorn upon the idea that truth exists or can be discovered.

I hope no one is shocked if I call this a science fiction book. ATLAS SHRUGGED is in the same company as NINETEEN EIGHTY FOUR and BRAVE NEW WORLD or even SIXTH COLUMN. It is a dystopia book, and cleverer than most, because it shows the step by step progress leading to the dsytopia, which Huxley and Orwell do not bother to show; and it is unique in that it has a happy ending, or at least a Pyrrhic Victory.

It concerns a daring young inventor who could have been the twin brother of Richard Seaton, who invents the secret of total conversion of energy, whoops, sorry, secret of harnessing atmospheric electricity, using his superior mind to battle an oppressive regime, striking out from his secret base hidden beneath a holographic screen of rays, while his enemies feverishly work to complete their sound-wave weapon using a futuristic metal alloy stolen from the inventor’s fellow inventor and steel magnate, M Reynolds Crane, whoops, Bedford, whoops, Impey Barbicane, whoops, Reardon. Do we recognize any of these tropes from the science fiction field?

The grounds on which I think it can be argued that ATLAS SHRUGGED is not science fiction is that it is too deep, for it deals not just with the impact of science and technology on the characters and plot, which is the core of science fiction, but the impact of the philosophy, including morality, economics, politics, epistemology, and others which form the philosophy that makes science and technology possible.

Fourth, despite that Ayn Rand discards the metaphysical and frankly religious foundations which make liberal society possible, she is a stalwart and unapologetic, even fanatical, defender of the liberal values underpinning the American Constitution and the Free Market society. She makes the case, and makes it correctly, that Capitalism is the only moral methods of distributing goods and services, as everything else requires coercion.

(By ‘liberal’ I mean ‘classical liberal’ that is, the political philosophy advocating equality, the free market and limited government. I apologize that enemies of liberty have poisoned this word by appropriating it to the use of totalitarian socialism, but it is the technically correct word to use to describe the post-Monarchic social order in the West.)

My own disagreements with Ayn Rand are few but deep and professional rather than personal. I bear her no ill will. I could get along with a Randian, and, if I did not have children, I could live in a Randian-style or Robert Heinlein-style libertarian commonwealth. It would be something like living on the Las Vegas strip. The disadvantages would be severe, but at least the state would not force me to pay for Sandra Fluke’s contraception out of wedlock.

By contrast, my disagreements with socialist both of the Marxist and Fabian style, and for their sick apologists, is inflamed with ill will. Members of my family have suffered great personal loss and hardship at the hands of those the Left applaud and shield and support; and my familiar loves, my patriotic fervor, and my zeal for the Church all combine to make my hatred for the atrocity called Socialism vehement and absolute.

So despite Ayn Rand’s poisonous atheism, her support for the abomination of prenatal child-murder, her appalling advocacy of infidelity in marriage, her gross stupidity about all human interactions that cannot be forced into a simplistic capitalistic model, I take no personal offense. I have never been harmed by an Objectivist, nor even insulted.

So, the good is that this movie was made, and it was fairly faithful to the book.

There are two places where it was not faithful, and, of these two, one is brilliant, and the other disappointing. I will mention the disappointment in a paragraph below.

To be entirely faithful, the book would have had to have been set in an alternate retro future springing out of a 1930′s America where railroads were the main form of transport and hauling, the jet plane unknown, America’s presuperpower sized Navy so small that it could not capture a modern pirate operating off the coast of New York, and radio the main mass medium. Honestly, an adaption that faithful would have been a distraction.

So the writers (John Aglialoro, Brian Patrick O’Toole) modernized the story with a very elegant conceit: gas prices in the future are prohibitive, making rail the cheapest hence main form of transport, putting the nation back in the same economic situation as the 1930′s.

This leads to an odd complaint, and it is, in fact, my main complaint with the film: the most memorable and striking image in the film, the one that drew gasps from the audience, was the 800 dollar tank of gas Dagny pumps into her truck at one point, the abandoned cars marked with “Don’t Take” signs, and one-gallon jugs of gas for sale by street vendors in New York.

The image of a post-petroleum world is the one most audience members, I have no doubt, will come away with lingering in their memory. It has particular poignancy now, with gas prices driven to an all time high, and our own version of Directive 10-289 halting offshore drilling, Hydraulic fracturing, Keystone pipelines, et al., hindering or stopping energy production. If this movie has any effect on the Election (at the time of this writing, four days hence) it will be because of that image.

Which brings us to the bad. My main complaint it that the most striking images and scenes in the book are not in the movie, and the most unforgettable characters in the book are portrayed blandly, without much fire and zeal. My complaint is that, for an Ayn Rand movie, there is not enough Ayn Rand in it.

For example, the parable of the Twentieth Century Motor Car company (which is the culmination of a long chapter of detective work on the part of Dagny and steel baron industrialist Hank Rearden, attempting to investigate the origins of an abandoned motor of nearly infinite potential) in the book is an excruciatingly clear and eye-opening examination of what actually would and does happen when a company is run taking from each according to his ability and paying to each according to his need.

In the movie, either for reasons of brevity or balance, this whole central parable and scene is merely summed up in a few lines of dialog by a character actor, the rather charming repairman who lends Dagny his truck (since he works for her company, he smiles and say, “Borrow it? It’s your truck, ma’am” and points to the Taggart logo on the door.)

Again, for reasons of brevity, the character of Ragnar Djanneskjold was eliminated. The character of Dagny, who was portrayed so ably by Taylor Schilling in the first movie, was replaced here by Samantha Mathis, who, to be blunt, is too old for the part, lacking the beauty and the fire that Dagny in the book is described as having.

Francisco D’anconia, who in the book is a gorgeous Latin playboy and man-about-town, but actually an inwardly suffering secret agent for the mysterious forces behind the disappearance, and who should have been played by a young Ricardo Montalban dressed like Erol Flynn or Fred Astair,  was horribly miscast. The writers forget to tell the audience that this was Dagny’s childhood friend and ex-lover.

Francisco’s famous ‘is money the root of all evil?’ speech is in the movie, but it falls curiously flat, because the film makers did not take the time to set up the trivial shallowness of the partygoers. Nor does movie establish their parasitical relationship with Francisco’s copper mines; and the culmination of the scene in the book, where Francisco with malicious glee causes a bank panic when he lets slip that his shares are worthless — in other words, showing to those who claim money is evil exactly what the results of their philosophy in action would be, were it not for their dependence on the altruism of the productive members of society whom they despise — was simply not in the movie.

Eddie Willers was horribly miscast. Instead of the loyal and rabbitty man from the book, he was portrayed by a looming and muscular man who exuded an air of confidence and strength. He should have played Francisco.

But lest I be accused of one-sidedness, let me hasten to add that Hank Rearden was correctly cast, and the actor did a brilliant job, and the scene where he defies the ‘Fair Share’ board despite the threat of prison made me want to stand and cheer. Cheryl Taggart, despite that she has only one or two lines, was well cast, and make her character real and convincing, and the shrewish Lillian Rearden was likewise perfectly cast, and perfectly memorable.

Which brings me to the indifferent. This movie could have been great, despite being the middle of a trilogy, but it did not try hard enough. The audience should have been cheering when Francisco risks his life to save the mills during the scene of the explosion at the Rearden steel plant, and should have been sick to their stomach when the bad guys push through the Executive Order 10-289, excuse me, I mean Directive 10-289. The points in the movie were not hammered home on an emotional level.

I think, all in all, the movie makers made a mistake of not playing up the melodrama which is the main appeal of the book. With all due respect to my Objectivist friends, the characters in ATLAS SHRUGGED are meant to be two dimensional and simplistic, or, to put it more flatteringly, archetypes. The good guys are supposed to represent the goodness of reason, self reliance, love and productivity, and the bad guys are supposed to leer and twirl their mustaches and flourish their black capes while tying the maiden to the railroad tracks, or, in this case, tearing up the railroad tracks in the name of altruism. The movie failed to make the characters broad and clear and outrageous, which was one of the main strengths of the book.

Let me conclude by saying that I am not necessarily the correct audience for the movie. I have read and reread the book, and the movie was made for those who have not.

Indeed, I am such a fanboy of ATLAS SHRUGGED that when a character came on stage named “Mr Small” I knew immediately that this was not a name from anyone in the book, because, despite the high number of characters, I knew all their names. Of course, there is one character who is never given a name, at least, not a last name: the ‘Wet Nurse’ assigned by the government as a political officer to oversee Hank Rearden’s operations. “Small” is a perfect name for Mr Non-Absolute. I am sure Ayn Rand would have approved.

As I said, the good, the bad, and the indifferent for me is summed up in the fact that watching Dagny pump an 800 tank of gas while a wary gas station owner, shotgun in hand, watches her through a screen door is the most memorable image in the film. It is a good image, and it strikes home to the audience, some of whom filled up their tanks with petrol produced under our current ‘mixed economy’ — Obamagas — on their way to the theater.

Bu the most striking scene in the book was absent from the film. No, I do not mean the scene where the lights of New York go out — although that also has a topical reference this week — I mean this:

The six thousand of us were crowded on bleachers built way up to the rafters of the plant’s largest hangar. We had just voted for the new plan and we were in an edgy sort of mood, making too much noise, cheering the people’s victory, threatening some kind of unknown enemies and spoiling for a fight, like bullies with an uneasy conscience. There were white arclights beating down on us and we felt kind of touchy and raw, and we were an ugly, dangerous mob in that moment. Gerald Starnes, who was chairman, kept hammering his gavel for order, and we quieted down some, but not much, and you could see the whole place moving restlessly from side to side, like water in a pan that’s being rocked. ‘This is a crucial moment in the history of mankind!’ Gerald Starnes yelled through the noise. ‘Remember that none of us may now leave this place, for each of us belongs to all the others by the moral law which we all accept!’

‘I don’t,’ said one man and stood up. He was one of the young engineers. Nobody knew much about him. He’d always kept mostly by himself. When he stood up, we suddenly turned dead-still. It was the way he held his head. He was tall and slim — and I remember thinking that any two of us could have broken his neck without trouble — but what we all felt was fear. He stood like a man who knew that he was right. ‘I will put an end to this, once and for all,’ he said. His voice was clear and without any feeling. That was all he said and started to walk out. He walked down the length of the place, in the white light, not hurrying and not noticing any of us. Nobody moved to stop him. Gerald Starnes cried suddenly after him, ‘How?’ He turned and answered, ‘I will stop the motor of the world.’ Then he walked out. We never saw him again.

We never heard what became of him. But years later, when we saw the lights going out, one after another, in the great factories that had stood solid like mountains for generations, when we saw the gates closing and the conveyor belts turning still, when we saw the roads growing empty and the stream of cars draining off, when it began to look as if some silent power were stopping the generators of the world and the world was crumbling quietly, like a body when its spirit is gone — then we began to wonder and to ask questions about him. We began to ask it of one another, those of us who had heard him say it.

We began to think that he had kept his word, that he, who had seen and known the truth we refused to know, was the retribution we had called upon our heads, the avenger, the man of that justice which we had defied. We began to think that he had damned us and there was no escape from his verdict and we would never be able to get away from him — and this was the more terrible because he was not pursuing us, it was we who were suddenly looking for him and he had merely gone without a trace. We found no answer about him anywhere. We wondered by what sort of impossible power he could have done what he had promised to do. There was no answer to that. We began to think of him whenever we saw another collapse in the world, which nobody could explain, whenever we took another blow, whenever we lost another hope, whenever we felt caught in this dead, gray fog that’s descending all over the earth. Perhaps people heard us crying that question and they did not know what we meant, but they knew too well the feeling that made us cry it. They, too, felt that something had gone from the world. Perhaps this was why they began to say it, whenever they felt that there was no hope. I’d like to think that I am wrong, that those words mean nothing, that there’s no conscious intention and no avenger behind the ending of the human race. But when I hear them repeating that question, I feel afraid. I think of the man who said that he would stop the motor of the world. You see, his name was John Galt.”

56 Comments

  1. Comment by Sean Michael:

    Dear Mr. Wright:

    Very interesting essay, altho I’ve never read ATLAS SHRUGGED. I would quibble a bit with you saying only this book and WORLD OF NULL-A treated philosophy and pihilosophical ideas seriously. I argue that my favorite SF writer, Poul Anderson, also took philosophy seriously in his works (and theology as well!). Examples being his advocacy of the free market economy in his Polesotechnic League stories, defense of reason in “A Chapter of Revelation,” and respectful treatment of Christianity both in the story previously cited and many other works like THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS, “The Problem of Pain,” THE GAME OF EMPIRE, etc.

    I would also cite James Blish three “After Such Knowledge” books as examples of an SF Writer treating philosophy/theology seriously. Esp. A CASE OF CONSCIENCE.

    Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “I would quibble a bit with you saying only this book and WORLD OF NULL-A treated philosophy and philosophical ideas seriously.”

      I would quibble, too, because that is not what I said. I said “…books where philosophy is explicitly described to be a good thing…”

      There plenty of books containing some degree of wisdom and insight, indeed, most do. There are some books that explicitly recite or show examples of the beneficial result of a particular practice in politics or economics or far more often morals. But I would not call Aesop’s Fables philosophy.

      And many stories editorialize: Robert Heinlein’s later books are nothing but. But a book like STARSHIP TROOPERS can be a sermon about civic militarism or STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND can be a sermon about free love, without approaching anywhere near the terrain I mention: one where philosophy is the good guy.

      I could have said “books where one of the heroes is a philosopher, and his discipline is explicitly described to be necessary and beneficial to mankind” and listed Hugh Axton (from ATLAS SHRUGGED) and Lavoissier (from NULL-A).

      • Comment by Sean Michael:

        Dear Mr. Wright:

        I concede you made a good point: “…books where philosophy is explicitly described to be a good thing…” And I also concede it’s rare to find SF books where one of the heroes is a philosopher and his thought called necessary and beneficial to mankind. In that sense I agree not many SF books have characters like Hugh Axton and Lavoiiser.

        Characters in works of SF and fantasy are more likely to cite Confucius, Marcus Aurelius, Jesus the Christ, St. Thomas Aquinas, etc., as the models they respect and aspire to emulate. Rather than be one of those philosophers.

        Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

  2. Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

    I don’t see why you might think that Catholics would have a problem with the book. The Church has never, to my hearing, advocated putting everyone into monasteries……..

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I assume you are being sarcastic. Ayn Rand was a vituperative atheist, who referred to Christians as ‘mystics of the spirit’ and as hatred-eaten looters and moochers and mystics; and she regarded religion as the opiate of the stupid, and adultery as the highest expression of erotic and Platonic love. John Galt’s long speech dwells for an inordinate amount of time on the concept of Original Sin, which he defeats with the ferocity of a small boy toppling an unresisting scarecrow. Myself, I would say the doctrine of Original Sin is the only part of Christianity that is utterly reasonable, utterly obvious, and utterly beyond dispute.

      • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

        Not being sarcastic. I guess I am in the minority, because I don’t, as a rule, connect the person that the author is with the book I am reading. As to Mr. Galt’s speech dealing with Original Sin, the age is so anti-Catholic, I guess it just didn’t seem noteworthy. Worrying about Original Sin (a rather abstract concept) is kind of hard to do when Infanticide is so mainstream that the Government funded research into “fetal stem cell research”, so that all could “benefit” from the murder of children…..

        • Comment by Mary:

          It’s at the root. Denying that there is something obviously flawed in the human heart is necessary to declare that whatever you want is your right.

          It is so at the root that I remember (fondly) an online discussion full of Christians and atheists mildly agreeing that there was considerable point to the doctrine of Original Sin, though the atheists rejected its theological implications. You see, we were all conservatives.

          • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

            I got that. It was just that the whole book seemed to demonstrate how Original Sin can twist even Virtues. When I read the book, “The Speech” was kind of funny, in context, to me. I mean, a dystopia is a rather odd place to deny Original Sin, is it not?

          • Comment by robertjwizard:

            Denying that there is something obviously flawed in the human heart is necessary to declare that whatever you want is your right.

            And yet that is not the argument. Not even close. Rand’s purpose in arguing against Original Sin is not to establish whim-worship or hedonism. It is exactly against that that she hammers home most incessantly.

            Actually her argument, if you follow it long enough, is that Original Sin and its implications lead to whim-worship.

            With no comment from me whether or not she was correct, what you have stated is actually the opposite of what she said.

            Not that I care to argue. I am not even as much of an Objectivist as I was when I started posting here. I just like the occasions when I get to lord it over with my 20 years of study vs. wikipedia summaries or less. And some of you really let me lord it over you – 3 years running now! Exemption to Mr. Wright, of course.

            • Comment by Mary:

              But I wasn’t talking about the book. I was talking about what to worry about. Given the prevalence of infanticide, denial of original sin may seem trivial, but since infanticide prevails because people think they have a right to evade the easily predictable consequences of their acts, original sin is very important.

      • Comment by robertjwizard:

        She never said Christians are looters and moochers. Mystics of the spirit, yes. That the philosophy of Christianity enables looter and moochers, including those Christians who are looters and moochers, was the point. But she never implied that if one is a Christian one is therefore a looter and/or moocher.

        She regarded religion (the belief in, the faith in) as a psychological weakness, not as an issue of intelligence. Your inference of her regarding religion as the opiate of the stupid is unsupported by any evidence of her connecting stupidity to religious belief.

        I, however, have evidence of her explicitly denying this and saying it was a psychological weakness (no more flattering I suppose, but it does have the virtue of being something she actually said). See her 2nd Donahue interview (I know there is at least one other reference but it escapes me at the moment).

        • Comment by robertjwizard:

          Never mind. My apologies to you and Mary. This is the sort of discussion I’ve been avoiding like the plague.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          My recollection, which could be faulty, was that in her article “Requiem for Man” concerning POPULORUM PROGRESSIO, the Papal Bull which came out when she was publishing her newsletter. Her condemnation was somewhat stronger than you here imply.

          Let me see if I can find a quote. GO GO GADGET INTERNET!

          The kind of sense of life that produced the [papal] encyclical “Populorum Progressio” . . . The dominant chord of the encyclical’s sense of life is hatred for man’s mind—hence hatred for man—hence hatred for life and for this earth—hence hatred for man’s enjoyment of his life on earth—and hence, as a last and least consequence, hatred for the only social system that makes all these values possible in practice: capitalism.

          The kindest thing I can summon up to say about this is that no one would be deceived into believing this who ever met a Catholic, or talked to one for five minutes, or even heard a reliable rumor about one. The pagan religions hated the body and thought the Earth was a prison. Genesis says the Earth since creation was good and very good. The Puritans and Muslims hate sex and the female body. The Catholics made marriage into a sacrament. The only thing we disapprove of is unlawful or irrational sex, that is, sex not in accord with right reason: fornication and perversion. Mormons and Muslims are teetotalers and iconoclasts; Catholics are the artists and artisans and wine-bibbers and produced or maintained all the most glorious works of art of the West.

          I have heard that she at first intended to put a good and an evil version of a religious character in ATLAS SHRUGGED, to parallel Hugh Axton and Dr Stadler, the good and bad philosopher, or Dagny and James Taggart, the good and bad entrepreneurs, and so on, but decided that there was no way to work in a good Christian character without detracting from her atheist, selfish, allegedly rationalist theme.

          So, I have read every word she ever committed to print. I know darned well what her attitude toward religion was. “Opiate for the stupid” is not a phrase of hers to describe us, but “hatred-eaten mystics” is.

          • Comment by John Hutchins:

            “Mormons and Muslims are teetotalers and iconoclasts;”

            Mormons are actually huge into art and religious art at that. You have in the past put up imagery that was produced not only by members but by the LDS church itself without even realizing that the image was from Mormons and not Catholics. You also have used images from Greg Olsen as well, he is also LDS. Mormons also nearly universally have pictures of Jesus and of a temple hanging on their walls somewhere.

            In Utah at least the LDS church actually has spent quite a bit on constructing, repairing, and preserving works of art and worship sites of other faiths. We have in one of our articles of faith: ” If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” We just don’t venerate or worship the images or statues.

            • Comment by DGDDavidson:

              I can second that; I’ve been to Temple Square and seen the beautiful art there, and I’ve seen lovely Mormon art in other places as well. The Mormons do not seem to belong in a list of iconoclasts. Perhaps it was a slip; the Calvinists might deserve the label, but not the Mormons.

              I might add, too, that from the little I know of them, the Puritans don’t deserve their reputation for hating sex. They held marriage in very high regard. The Paradise Lost is a Puritan work, and it not prudish by any reasonable standard.

            • Comment by Darrell:

              There may be some confusion here caused by Mormons not using crosses or crucifixes. That, or Mr. Wright is using icon in a technical sense in which case most Protestants and Restorationsts are iconoclasts.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              Sorry, my statement is not what I meant to say. The sentence was supposed to be a parallel (A is B and C is D) but I wrote it as if it were all inclusive (A and C are both B and D). Allow me to retract and clarify. What I meant to say was Mormons are teetotalers and the Muslims are iconoclasts.

          • Comment by robertjwizard:

            “Opiate for the stupid” is not a phrase of hers to describe us, but “hatred-eaten mystics” is.

            And that was my only point, just accuracy. I think her opinion of psychological weakness applied to the common man of whatever religion. I think her opinion of the pope, higher clergy, and the institution itself was much, much lower. She makes the latter pretty clear in her introduction to the article.

            I am not attempting to soften up her view, especially not to you, and that would be a folly. But I honestly think her statement applied mainly to the religious professional. I doubt she would have had as her personal friend in her last years a devout Christian woman who attempted to convert her numerous times, if she viewed her as a hatred eaten mystic.

  3. Comment by paul.griffin:

    Hmm. I definitely don’t count myself a fan of Rand. I tried to read The Fountainhead once, but stopped and threw the book away once I got to the part wherein her archetype of ideal, perfected man rapes a woman. It was not merely that a character was being raped (as such a scene could have its literary purposes), it was how much Rand seemed to enjoy writing about it. It was right in her eyes that this purported shining example of the apex of humanity should take advantage of another merely because he was powerful enough to do so.

    She supported many economic ideas that I think are important, but my problem with Rand was not explicitly with her economics, but her ethics, teleology, and theology(such as it is). And to speak of economics is to speak of ethics. You are superficially discussing money, but in reality you are discussing what is good and right for a person to do with their life, and therefore what a person is for.

    I could not shake the feeling, reader her writing, that Rand was a strong supporter of the death of God and the rush of power filling the void. I cannot think of a more hell-like situation, where we are individually concerned only with the destruction of those weaker than us until one stronger comes along and pays us the same favor. Sooner or later you run out of people to kill.

    Flannery O’Connor, someone whose writing I have always admired both for its literary beauty and theological depth, had this to say about Ayn Rand in a letter to a friend:


    “I hope you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky.”

    That last dig was double-edged, as Rand was a vocal supporter of Spillane as some sort of apotheosis of literary talent. Between the two, I’m more than happy to toss Rand into the nearest garbage pail and spend my evenings with the likes of O’Connor.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “I could not shake the feeling, reader her writing, that Rand was a strong supporter of the death of God and the rush of power filling the void. “

      Your feeling is entirely justified. She explicitly says that her ideal of perfection, John Galt, is a man who just so happens to be born without original sin. We Christians are exiles and pilgrims on Earth; John Galt is the man who is meant to live on Earth.

      In sum, Ann Rand is a heretic. She takes some ideas from the Judaeochristian tradition, which she elevates to the summum bonum, the sole and supreme good, and denigrates others which are of equal value and authority for the sake of achieving intellectual simplicity. She has all the fervor and the odium theologicum of a heretic, and the reformist zeal.

      My tastes do not run to Flannery O’Conner, whose view of mankind tends to the morbid and grotesque. Ayn Rand’s talent as an artist should not be underestimated: it requires considerable discipline in writing to subordinate every sentence and word to the overall theme, without losing the passion and melodrama. Like Tolstoy, her skills as a novelist were greater than her skills as a philosopher, which is why her characters act more admirably then their spoken philosophy, and hers, would indicate one should.

      But I doubt anyone would argue the point that Ayn Rand was a more shallow writer than Flannery O’Conner.

      • Comment by paul.griffin:

        My tastes do not run to Flannery O’Conner, whose view of mankind tends to the morbid and grotesque.

        I can certainly understand why some find her writing more than a bit repulsive, but one thing I truly love her for is that she was always willing to discuss what her writing was about, what it meant, and what her intentions were in writing a particular story. Her stories were grotesque, but the freaks were not the point, but rather the pointers (I cannot say the same of my experiences with Faulkner, but I have not read enough of him to feel that my opinion on his writing carries much weight).

        In her essays, addresses, and published letters, she often discusses that most of her writing is about a “moment of grace”. My visceral reaction to the word “grace” has changed substantially since I began reading O’Connor. It is a terrifying prospect in her stories, wherein God breaks through all of a person’s defenses and comforts and they are left there in the midst of the wreckage to either recognize their need for Him and reach for salvation, or try to return to the lies they have been living in. The problem is that O’Connor rarely shows us the affected character’s decision and so we are left with an image of destruction to contemplate. It’s like ending a song without resolving to the root chord, we are left feeling uneasy.

        I do not find it grotesque to think that, in relation to God, we are all in a similar situation of self-constructed lies and comforts that we think will protect us. The freaks of her writing are the literary equivalent of shouting at a nearly deaf person or drawing a very large picture for the nearly blind.

        Still, not everyone’s cup of tea, I suppose.

      • Comment by Mary:

        Rand was a Marxist heretic. She took the notion that economics was driven by a single factor, and picked a different one than Marx did.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Not really. There is no similarity between Rand and Marx in their view of human nature, their epistemology, metaphysics, moral theory, political theory. Marx was particularly and definitively the enemy of the classical liberal enlightenment, rejected individualism in favor of the collective, whereas Ann Rand took the basic enlightenment idea of personal liberty and individual sovereignty and brought it to a logical, and some would say absurd, extreme.
          You are comparing opposites.

          • Comment by Darth Imperius:

            Exactly. Ayn Rand was the Mirror Universe Marx, who believed that the productive capitalists must revolt against the tyranny of the parasitic socialist masses. She was also a schoolgirl Nietzsche and an admirer of serial killer William Edward Hickman, who she called a “Superman.” She was also a proto-Satanist, about whom Anton LaVey said: “My religion is just Ayn Rand’s philosophy with ceremony and ritual added.” She was also a pure sociopath.

            All of which should be high praise in my book, but I still don’t like her. I find her to be a hack as both a writer and a philosopher. Nor do I care for her sterile rationalism and anti-mysticism, which produced an ideology that was evil and inhuman, but not in a good way. Finally, she was hideously ugly, which implies a hideous soul, in accordance with the expression “monstrum in fronte, monstrum in animo.” This isn’t the proto-Sith philosopher you’re looking for. Move along.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              “All of which should be high praise in my book, but I still don’t like her.”

              Which should give you pause to think. If you espouse a doctrine that you hate in others, you espouse hypocrisy.

              “Finally, she was hideously ugly, which implies a hideous soul”

              The word ‘shallow’ means someone who judges people by outward appearances. A hypocrite is someone who puts on an outward show to impress the shallow.

            • Comment by robertjwizard:

              Ah, well, not getting any work done tonight anyway…

              What you should realize, my young apprentice, is that not everyone lives second-hand through third, fourth, and fifth removed sources of information from blogs.

              Or, you are a liar.

              Having almost all of her written material at my fingertips I can look up (and have already done so many times) your claim. In fact she does not praise Hickman as a “Superman”. This she ascribes to the character she is working on, Danny Renahan for a novel The Little Street which never got past the planning stage.

              What you did not include (and no one who spreads this crap with the glee of destruction for its own sake does) was the fact that this is from her private writing journals from when she was around 23 years old or so. As anyone who writes fiction can assuredly tell you, when you are brainstorming out a brand new idea, you do not censor or restrict the flow of your thought at all – you are open to any possibilities. This is where you hash it out, throwing away 99 ideas for every 100 that occur to you.

              The relation of her character is stated:

              The model for the boy is Hickman. Very far from him, of course. The outside of Hickman, but not the inside. Much deeper and much more. A Hickman with a purpose [this will make sense to anyone who knows her developed view of dictators]. And without the degeneracy. It is more exact to say that the model is not Hickman, but what Hickman suggested to me.

              That said, she was at that time a miserable little Nietzchean, and I find little to admire of her. And some of the things she writes in those early entries are pure crap. You trying to pass off private writing journals as if they were her mature, published views is a cheap parlor trick defeated by a single ray of fact.

            • Comment by robertjwizard:

              I am not done with you yet, Sithy.

              She was also a schoolgirl Nietzsche…

              She did indeed start out as a follower of Nietzsche. She ended up opposed to him in every single fundamental. Any reading of Nietzsche and Rand, especially by Atlas Shrugged, will make that obvious.

              She was also a proto-Satanist, about whom Anton LaVey said:

              LaVey ripped numerous sources including Aleister Crowley, John Dee and others. He did this because he was a violent, unemployable loser who lived off his father and friends his whole life. He resorted to plagiarism to meet the deadline. He was also an habitual liar.

              Also, if that quote is real, he is still wrong. Just because a gelatinous piece of puss like LaVey says it is, does not make it so – does not mean he had any understanding of the ideas (and judging from his life, he was the opposite of a thinker). I have read everything of Rand’s and had a brief flirtation with Satanism way back in the 80′s (I really misunderstood those Black Sabbath records!) and read the Satanic Bible – there is no correlation.

              She was also a pure sociopath.

              Ironic. At that point in your post I thought you were trying to sell us on her!

              Also incorrect diagnosis according to my DSM-IV

              Finally, she was hideously ugly, which implies a hideous soul, in accordance with the expression “monstrum in fronte, monstrum in animo.”

              I really shouldn’t even acknowledge such a retarded comment. You sir, are completely lost – without a clue or rudder.

              To save you time since you will do it eventually. Go to church, get clean, and get some therapy.

            • Comment by Mary:

              “monstrum in fronte, monstrum in animo.”

              So what you are saying is that having given us all glimpses into your soul, we should all know you are as ugly as sin on the outside?

    • Comment by Darrell:

      “Authors want their names down in history; I want to keep the smoke coming out of the chimney.” — Mickey Spillane

  4. Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

    If her premises were true, her axioms would be true. That is more than I can say for any other modern philosopher since the Nineteenth Century.

    A dreadful indictment, indeed. I suggest that it may even be a little more harsh than you intended. :)

  5. Comment by robertjwizard:

    I did go see part one last year, based on that, I could not go see part 2. I probably know nothing else better than that book, and have often thought about its adaptation.

    Without going into a whole song and dance that would exceed the length of your post, I feel the whole project is being done by made-for-tv people with a dash of independent film boredom tossed in for good measure. It is as if no one reread this thing before tackling the project and forgot altogether the dramatic flare, the starkness, the archetypes.

    She writes in such a way that it would be better as a serious animation. First time I had that thought. Scratch that – it would be bad a** as animation. You could, in the right hands, really express it perfectly in that format.

    I found it wrong on so many levels, I couldn’t even begin. Although your idea of a young Ricardo Montalban suggests we are probably on the same page – now there was a presence. ALL HAIL RICARDO MONTALBAN! HAIL!

    I am embarrassed to admit to my Catholic friends that this is a favorite book of mine. Yes, I actually like Ayn Rand’s monomaniacal hammering of her points and her overblown vitriolic rhetoric, which veers into self parody.

    Shouldn’t be too entirely scandalous. We may just next week have a Catholic fanboy going to the White House (pray, cross fingers, sacrifice family cat, etc) who made no secret of his love of the book. That is, until his disingenuous denial to get on the ticket, or to bow to the pressures of economically ignorant clergy.

    I remember being disappointed at the end of Galt’s speech because it was over. The speech is usually the part people complain about because of its length, or they skip over. I lapped it up like a three year old girl and an ice cream cone; she’s disappointed at the end too because it is gone.

    It is a good thing it got made at all. And since it has been now proven to be capable of being done it can now be remade.

    Who hasn’t been hoping since Monday that Disney will attempt to remake the SW prequels now that Lucas has bowed out of the whole franchise and sold Lucasfilm? I have. Put Joss Whedon on it – now! And change the originals back – HAN SHOT FIRST! Please, Goofy, Mickey, give me my childhood back!

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I thought the John Galt speech was a rare and brilliant achievement. Philosophical writing and dramatic writing use different tools and seek different goals, and Ayn Rand attempted, in my opinion successfully, to achieve both. So, I did not think it too long.

    • Comment by John Hutchins:

      “And change the originals back ”

      I just hope that 7, 8, and 9 are between the time of Return of the Jedi and the start of Heir to the Empire as I have heard that they are not based on Heir to the Empire. In other words, I hope that Lucas hasn’t set them up to completely destroy and rewrite the entire canon that he oversaw the creation of. It almost seems like he enjoys making his biggest fans angry at him and has no worries that the franchise could be hurt because of this.

      • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

        I think Lucas has a bigger clue then most of his fans will allow. Lucas seemed to understand from the beginning that episodes 1, 2, and 3 would not be fun to watch. He started at 4, “when the good stuff starts”. I rather enjoyed episodes one, two, and three, but I knew going into it the Fall of the Republic to Corruption was not going to be fun. I just wish that he had kept the poor Count as the good guy for all three of the films. Would have been glorious……

      • Comment by robertjwizard:

        In the interview I link to below, Lucas says he had rough treatments of episodes 7-9 and he has handed them over to the new head. I assume those were the ones he made after the first movie became a success. I do not know if they have any relation to the Heir to the Empire series. It is possible that those books were based off the those treatments.

        One hopes they are merely rough treatments. He’s good at first round ideas. Indiana Jones as we know him is his idea while Speilberg had something quite different in mind. It’s letting him get into the directing and scriptwriting that things go awry.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyqlTi7lkhY

    • Comment by Mary:

      You know, I think the weak point in the original trilogy was that Obi-Wan knew the truth about Darth Vader. If I had been ret-conning that, I would have made Obi-Wan have been telling the truth as he knew it. Then we would also have had a harder fight, because the good guys would have had an obvious weakness, instead of knowing everything.

  6. Comment by Jacob:

    I haven’t seen the movie, so this relates more to the book (my apologies). When I first encountered Ayn Rand, I was a die hard mystic. So much in fact I was a reason hater (which is odd, considering my love of computers). Most of the intellectuals I knew either favored Nietzche or some variant of scientism. Their poor behavior led me conclude that intellectuals knew nothing of how to treat others, or conduct themselves with fairness or decency. I did not think either option was very helpful in discovering the good life.

    I was very much a fan of Aldous Huxley’s “Perennial Philosophy”, which I tended to regard Judaism as the closest Western equivalent. As my main concern was the horrors I saw while reading “Brave New World”, the Jewish focus on family appealed to me. Other notions such as honesty and fairness also had a big impact. It was at this point I discovered “Atlas Shrugged” and your own “The Golden Age” around the same time (completely separate, strangely enough…I took it as a sign…if that sounds superstitious, my apologies). I encountered a view of reason that I had not encountered before. To be sure, as someone who was pursuing a Jewish life, her atheism and views on sex were turn offs, but there was so much else to like. How her heroes treated each other. The very integrity of reason itself. By this I mean that reason and logic are built on the attempt to treat the world honestly (I note that C.S. Lewis would later say something to the effect that honesty is a basic requirement for reason to function…and I would say forms the very core of reason itself). True things are true, A is A, etc… It had a common sense feel about it that I could not deny. At that point, I was officially a convert. I kept many of my mystic views. I let them be tamed however by the though of such as Epictetus, Aristotle, Bahya Pakuda and Maimonidies (and later C.S. Lewis among others). This has become my current view on reason. We can think a lot of strange and imaginative ideas. It is one of the functions of reason to tame them. I don’t have the time for philosophical ruminations that I once did, so I haven’t put much more effort into it than that.

    Anyways, my conversion to Christianity was sometime later, so in a roundabout and odd sort of way, you could say my conversion to Christianity was a result of me reading Ayn Rand.

  7. Comment by joeclark77:

    I read the book once but didn’t like it, even though I was at the time an atheist and libertarian. The main thing was that Dagny and Rearden were obviously to me the heroes of the story, but to Ayn Rand they fell into the category of “chumps” while Galt (primarily an irritating activist) was deemed by the author to be the hero, he and his friends the playboy and the saboteur. Dagny dumping Rearden to fall for the loathsome Galt was as preposterous to imagine as, say, Sarah Palin dumping Todd and running off with Ron Paul. The book was like War and Peace (in more ways than one) except that it never reached a conclusion, the characters never learned why they were wrong. Instead the joke was on us — it was written by a woman who genuinely thought that the universe was such that the flawed characters were in fact right about everything.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “Dagny dumping Rearden to fall for the loathsome Galt was… preposterous”

      Much as it pains me as an Ayn Rand fan to say it, but, yes, you are right. Rand’s theory was that love was an expression of one’s highest values, so that you should love those the most like you and hate those the least. This theory is foolish to say the least, since it take no account of shared experiences, and ignores the phenomenon that we often hate those who agree with us on all points but one: for example, Protestants and Catholics, Shia and Sunni, Bolsheviks and Nazis, et cetera. The story of Cain and Abel shows more clear insight into human nature than the idea that Dagny would fall for the personalityless John Galt.

      I have a personal and very odd reason for calling John Galt personalityless. I was once running a role playing game based (roughly) on the diceless Amber system, where the player characters had the power to enter any universe they could imagine from any book or story. One of them walked to Galt’s Gulch in ATLAS SHRUGGED, to save Eddie Williers from where he was stranded by the dead train. When they ran into the trifecta of Galt, Danneskjold and DAnconnia, as the moderator, I was obligated to give them some personality: Danneskjold had an outrageous Nordic accent like the Swedish Chef on the Muppet Show, and D’Anconnia sounded like Ricardo Montalban. For Galt, when the player character demanded of him why he did not save the United States more quickly, he said he had taken so many years working on his speech. That got a burst of laughter from the room. Galt explained sadly that he was an engineer, not a speech writer.

      Well, the moment I had to portray John Galt as an engineer who was not good at speechifying, he had more personality in my imagination. As a writer, one has to develop a sense of when a character is developed and when he is not. Rearden was a well developed character. Galt was not. Wyatt from FOUNTAINHEAD is a well developed character. Rourke was not.

      The book was like War and Peace (in more ways than one)

      Good point. If you read Tolstoy’s essays, you realize that he is much better author than he is a philosopher. His ideas were silly. I think Ayn Rand’s ideas are better, and are presented in a more tightly logical fashion, but she seems to think mankind can be rational and will follow self interest without external coercion, and all of history contradicts her. Her ideas in many ways are sillier, because she can produce a reasonable sounding argument, and scalding rhetoric, to support them.

      • Comment by robertjwizard:

        I think the real problem with Galt and Roark is they are supposed to be characters without contradictions nor conflict. Roark had a little as he made blunders throughout the book, and came to learn from them, and even suffer a little.

        But by the time you get to Galt, you have a character with no conflict – conflict being the essence of drama. He has no arc, no errors, no blunders, no hesitation, nothing to learn.

        While I understand her motive in wanting to present the ideal man (whether not one judges him to be such is not the point), such a concept does not work for mostly the same reason having God as an acting character in a novel doesn’t work. God also has no arc, no errors, no blunders, no hesitation, and nothing to learn.

        Your example of giving Galt a problem – something he wasn’t good at – illustrates the problem quite clearly (then why am I talking? I’m bored, alright?). Then he had interest, conflict, arc.

        Even though the Bible is not a novel – even Jesus had his moment of weakness on the cross.

        The conception of Galt is against the very nature of a novel. Now Francisco and Rearden, those were some characters with meat on them because they had all the things Galt did not. Galt was more a negation of what proper drama requires. Luckily for him, and the book, there were these other great characters.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Ironically, Galt’s one moment of drama is when he is being crucified (or electrocuted) by the State Science Institute, that is, he is suffering for the sake of his love for Dagny. It is behavior that a straightforward reading of Ann Rand would denounce as selfless, albeit she does (somewhat unconvincingly) say that such acts of selfsacrifice are justified if the victim actually has a deeper selfish motive beneath.

          • Comment by robertjwizard:

            I am pretty sure the crucifixion similarity was intentional. I always suspected Dagny’s denial of knowing Galt was ripped from the story of Peter as well.

            Good strategy. Although I believe that the crucifixion of Francisco would have had more impact. You can’t connect with Galt.

        • Comment by Mary:

          You can certainly put perfect characters (of their type) in a story. Jeeves. Sherlock Holmes. Just don’t try to rouse sympathy for them.

          • Comment by deiseach:

            Oh, I think Sherlock Holmes is not perfect – he does tell Watson to whisper “Norbury” to him when he looks to be getting over-confident, as that was a case where he was completely on the wrong track. He does have flaws or less than perfection all round. What humanises Holmes is his friendship with Watson.

            But I have to admire you ladies and gentlemen who managed to read an entire Ayn Rand book (or even more than one!). I tried, a few years back, to do so because I was seeing so many references to her characters, her philosophy, etc. I picked up “Atlas Shrugged” from the shelf in the bookshop, flipped it open to a random page, and read that, then put it back.

            I couldn’t stand the character of Dagny (I think this particular page had her wibbling on about how she liked jewellry given to her by her lover, because the bracelet was like a chain, symbolising her possession by him as though she were his slave). My reaction to this was “Oh, buttons!” (bowdlerised) and I wanted to slap her – though I suppose she would have liked that.

            I certainly could not contemplate the misery of reading an entire book full of that tripe, so to this day, I have never enjoyed the pleasures of being lectured by A Perfect, Sinless Man on the perfect, sinless system of running the world.

            Alas, alack, and woe is me! :-)

            You couldn’t drag me to see those films, either, so I’ll just have to go to my grave without ever having read or seen “The Fountainhead” or “Atlas Shrugged”.

            • Comment by joeclark77:

              In the spirit of full disclosure, I skipped most of the John Galt radio speech in the book. As do most people, I think. Anyway, you’re probably better off reading something by Heinlein. Same atheistic libertarian philosophy, same annoying habit of having one character in the book stand in for the author and lecture the reader repeatedly, but Heinlein tells much better sci-fi stories.

              • Comment by John C Wright:

                Heinlein also has more wit and humor, but, in my humble opinion, he does not write with anything near the discipline and craftsmanship of Ayn Rand. I mean that seriously: there is nothing in her book, not a word, that does not serve her rhetorical purpose. Heinlein reads like a first draft. It is a good, casual style, but it is not tight, and there is often no theme and darn little story arc. Look at the lack of structure in, say, STARSHIP TROOPERS or GLORY ROAD.

                Not that a relaxed and meandering style is not good for certain things, but, still, Ayn Rand shows superior craftsmanship.

  8. Comment by Mary:

    Are you reading Freefall? It has a smuggler whose stock in trade is religious texts!

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