Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is sometimes an almost unbearably bad novel, but it keeps selling. I just finished rereading it trying to find what can be redeemed from it beyond the obvious fact that it opposes the evil of collectivism. I need more because it is easy to find a more concise and interesting hatred of socialism in the scouring of the Shire in Lord of the Rings. Any book which has moved so many to do good must have some of God’s image in it.
And yet the book reminds of the worst sort of “Christian” novel where the story is just a disguise for advocacy of a point of view. An idea centered novel can work, I think Chesterton does it well and Lewis in That Hideous Strength fairly well, but it needs an interesting plot, some mystery, or characters about whom a reader can care. Atlas Shrugged has the worst characters I have found in a “famous’ novel. It has no discernible plot and it moves forward ponderously. The “love scenes” are embarrassing but not in a sexy way unless violence without romance is your idea of hot.
There is no place in a quick review to argue against Rand’s philosophy, but then she doesn’t argue either. She asserts when she should argue and substitutes anecdotes for demonstrations. Some of her views of the poor are ugly enough to make Jim Wallace almost appealing.
Her style kept tempting me to write parody. Good guys are gaunt, proud, and lean. Bad guys are soft and paunchy. Women like getting hit. . . and heroes have an odd tendency to blondness.
(I have been writing my daily Rand parody sentence for fun but not much profit. Here is today’s: “She saw his gaunt face, angled and tanned by outdoor work, and realized that his labor had made him young. His blonde head was hardly touched by grey and his proud bearing was mirrored in his firm resolve to always and forever give value for value: the only value he knew. “)
But perhaps Rand’s writing is a matter of a taste I can acquire. Rand doesn’t like God, romance, or most art, but God loves her, her book isn’t consistently selfish, and it contains artful moments.
There is one obvious good to Rand in her flaying the sacred cows of our leadership class and then tanning their skins and selling them for profit.
There was a time when it was dangerous to flay the man of business. Now there is a whole sub-culture where it is necessary to do so. Plutocrats always need to be mocked, but Rand noticed that now anybody who built a business gets mocked.
Or to a gulag.
Ayn Rand fights back. She loves, no worships, the man who builds a business. This is pretty appealing to anyone who living in the parts of American culture that sniff at business builders.
Business leaders must dread their introduction into any piece of pop culture. Hollywood movies make millions showing how greedy most businessmen are for wanting to make millions. The Gilded Age industrialists did great good, but schools mostly call them robber barons and point out the abuses. Many of us view any wealthy person as Scrooge in need of redemption.
Sucking up to the business leader is bad but so is demonizing them. Some mills are undoubtably dark and Satanic, but some brought light and better lives to impoverished regions. Dickens turned his righteous wrath on the abuses and brought on needed reforms.
We are all Dickens now . . . and some balance in novels, movies, and film is needed.
Once in Disneyland, surrounded by some of the most expensive technology available, my family heard actors advance the notion that we would be better off without technology. We left the theater and rode a sophisticated ride utilizing this technology.
Years of teaching gifted students suggests to me this may have an impact on career choices. Most students will work in some form of “business,” but few gifted students know that when they come to college and they are often apologetic for it (“I am just an accounting major.”) if they do.
Colleges and universities reinforce this silliness when they treat the vocation of business as “mere moneymaking.” They raise money from free marketeers and then purify it by putting it to “noble” uses. Often the money goes to attack the system that raised the money, even at Christian colleges.
There are few humbugs more delicious than fierce critics of American modern culture sitting in endowed chairs made possible by modern American culture. In Christian colleges, there is often the addition of generational theft as contemporary scholars use funds given by founders of a college to teach the very ideas that caused the founders to found!
Such schools apologize for the vices of safely dead funders while continuing to spend their money. I wait in hope for the scholar who tells a business leader: “We are going to advocate policies directly opposed to the ones you believe. Give us your filthy money and let the purification begin.”
Ayn Rand drowns these phonies an ocean of ink made from pure gall. Hundreds of pages later, you might begin to pity university professors, media types, or politicians, because Rand is utterly unfair, but then you recall that last evil executive out to take over the world and you have to smile.
Any sensible man would end up wanting more John Locke than John Gault but there is something to learn from Rand. God help us