Atlas Shrugged

I read Ayn Rand’s, Atlas Shrugged, over the late summer. A number of things should be taken as given: First, I love very long books because I’ve been a fast reader since a child. I hate short books because, if good, they are over too fast.

Second, I read this book for a reason. Certain folks in our political arena swear by the theories propounded by Ms. Rand. In fact, one of them at least required his staff to read the book. That would be Paul Ryan, the author of a budget that would basically eliminate Social Security and Medicare over time.

So, to an extent, Ms. Rand is a bible of economic thought. And did I say it was long? Like over a thousand pages.

Frankly, the story is fairly interesting. The creative venture capitalists, one by one disappear from the world as they rebel against a world that has gone “nanny state.” Of course in the world’s race to support everyone, everything becomes lousy, all incentive to do well is gone. People expect a paycheck for just showing up, and sometimes not even for that.

It could have been an interesting and fun fiction of a brave new world as Rand envisions it. But it fails rather miserably because she can’t help telling you constantly about her strange and quite serious economic and political views.

She really believes that the only worthwhile people are the venture capitalists and their drive to create. She believes all will be well in all of society if they are given free rein to do as they wish. Sound familiar? It’s “trickle down” economics in a nutshell.

Oh, and it’s minus religion, for Rand is a rather vehement atheist. This makes it all the more amusing that the far-right in this country has glommed onto this tome as their bible, for they are most assuredly pretty darn evangelical at the same time.

All you really need to know about Ayn Rand and why she thinks as she does, is clear when you know that her and her family fled Russia and communism after losing their middle-class livelihood after the revolution. It is the basis of her beliefs. Collectivism is of course the evil she rails against.

This could have been a good book, based on the fairly interesting characters she devises. It is of course a bit amusing that her “industrialists” are all good, and her collectivists all bad. This even goes to sex, which apparently can only truly be enjoyed to its full potential when both parties give way to utter wanton personal pleasure as their only focus. Then it gets hot. The collectivists all have pedantic and rather boring sex.

Some how this all plays into Rand’s personal life where it was very publicly known that Rand was having an affair with a man with full knowledge and apparent agreement of her husband and the other man’s wife.

Still, I plowed through, and would have enjoyed it, but I thought she actually cut the book off at the wrong point, which is the obvious and inevitable capitulation of the collectivists, admitting their errors. This was foreseeable at page 200 probably.

The worst part of the book was the something like 80-page long “address” by the mysterious John Galt over the airways to all America. Rand here goes on and on and on and on, repeating her points so many times, that it becomes an effort of sheer will to read on through.

It is not her best book. The Fountainhead frankly is better written. Still, if you like ’em long, and can get past the constant and boring economic and political “lessons”, you can enjoy it.

I don’t recommend it or not. I’m fairly ambivalent.


8 comments on “Atlas Shrugged

  1. I haven’t read “Atlas Shrugged” but I have read Rand’s biography and watched the movie “The Fountainhead” with Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal from Rand’s book of the same title. The scenario is pretty much the same as that which you laid out for “Atlas ..”

    Ms. Rand is really a romantic and idealizes to the hero character way too much. She’s of the delusion that man is more pure and moral than he really is.

    She is also a hypocrite because she couldn’t make it on her own when she first came to this country and had to borrow some money from relatives to get by until she found steady employment. Later in life she apparently did not save enough from her book sells to pay for medical problems derived from smoking two packs a day. It turns out she eventually had to go to the “nanny government” to collect Medicare and social security.

    • You are correct. She did indeed go on SS, which I just find hysterically funny. Frankly, most of the knee-jerk followers of hers have little if any understanding of economics. I am continually astounded that Milton Friedman was a close friend and in her inner circle. That is just plain weird to me, but then perhaps I don’t know Friedman’s thinking as I thought I did.

      And I agree, her characters tend to be one-sided, though I did find a couple of them quite interesting. I just wish she had spent a lot more time on the plot, rather than the lessons. But then, I guess I wouldn’t know about her then.

  2. […] ahead. Fair is fair. I am a glutton for punishment. No sooner did I slog through finish, Atlas Shrugged, than I trudged onward with The Fountainhead. This is slightly less the tome, being only 700-ish […]

  3. I was a close friend of Ayn Rand in her final years. There’s a lot of factual falsehood in what is said here. First, Atlas Shrugged is not a political or economic novel. There is not much economics in it (though there is some). The novel is about, in her own words, “the role of the mind in human existence.” and about dramatizing a new moral code: rational selfishness. How did you miss that? That’s not a rhetorical question, I sincerely would like to know because most people in the Tea Party movement also take Atlas to be political-economic.

    More concretely factual: Ayn Rand died with a large estate. Her income in her final years was well over $100,000 per year (in pre-inflation dollars). She did not “go on” social security. She of course, completely rationally, accepted a payback of some of the money she had paid in.

    On sex, yes part of the *philosophy* (not politics or economics) she advocated in Atlas is that sex is a response to values, especially the degree to which one values oneself, so that deep sexual passion is not possible to a man like James Taggart who had no values.

    I could say more, but I’ll stop here.

    • If you don’t see the political and economic implications in AS, then I don’t think you were paying attention. Fully half the book is consumed with her retelling of her political and economic philosophy. That’s why it is charged with being so incredibly boring. I responded to her silly idea of rational selfishness. That IS her economic philosophy. And of course, everyone “accepts a payback of some of the money they paid in.” Duh.

      I do like your attempt to defend her sexual philosophy. Mostly in the real world we call it “female submission.” You might check out the world of Master/Sub. I think you would find it most recognizable.

  4. “The novel is about, in her own words, “the role of the mind in human existence.” and about dramatizing a new moral code: rational selfishness.”

    Rational selfishness? How do you think she meant that? Is this the term she used to define her “new moral code”?

    “She did not “go on” social security. She of course, completely rationally, accepted a payback of some of the money she had paid in.”

    Pardon me? How is what everyone else does who “goes on social security” different from what you selfishly rationalize Rand did as accepting “a payback of some of the money she had paid in.” That’s exactly what Social Security is all about, like any retirement pension. This is semantical dodge ball you’re playing here. Clearly you have strong biases in favor for Rand but this explanation of her accepting something she railed against all her life as “completely rational” is a lame response.

    The link I used to connect Rand and her use of SS and Medicare pointed out that two of her closest libertarian comrades – Rose Wilder Lane and Isabel “Pat” Paterson – both rejected Social Security benefits on principle. According to a Rand-friendly article by journalist Patia Stephens. “Lane, with whom Rand corresponded for several years, once quit an editorial job in order to avoid paying Social Security taxes. The Cato Institute says Lane considered Social Security a ‘Ponzi fraud’ and “told friends that it would be immoral of her to take part in a system that would predictably collapse so catastrophically. Lane died in 1968.

    Rand often spoke of moral absolutism, saying ‘There can be no compromise on basic principles,’ but the realities of aging and illness seem to have softened her stance. Social Security, and perhaps Medicare, allowed Rand and her husband to maintain their quality of life, remain in their apartment and live out their final years with dignity.”

    You claim that her income in her final years was well over $100,000 per year but clearly the medical cost she incurred from necessary medical treatment for her lung cancer 8 years before she died consumed most of that income and without SS and Medicare she would have likely been a ward of the state since collecting these funds “allowed Rand and her husband to maintain their quality of life, remain in their apartment and live out their final years with dignity.” Was she merely engaging in “rational selfishness” here by collecting what she paid into the system?

    As a final note, not everyone who works hard all of their life has the good fortune to have an income of $100,000 a year, not only at retirement but throughout their working lives. Nor is there the equal opportunity as many Libertarian idealists promote for everyone to make such incomes. The ability to put any aside for retirement is virtually impossible for millions so without this “forced” retirement deduction from their paychecks these people would have nothing. Something I’m sure they don’t regret having to pay into all their lives when faced with this reality.

    • Actually, as best I can tell from AS, her rational selfishness is the theory that what I earn is mine to do with what I wish period. Here theory is that somehow, that all ends up helping the entire world. Of course it’s a very convenient claim. She is a great proponent of the idea that “greed is good”. She is utterly in love with the MEN who take risks and make bold choices. I think in the end a whole lot of Ayn Rand has to do with her sexual fantasies, that are portrayed in her “ideal man”.

      I think Ayn would argue that her SS was payback for the “creation of her writing” rather than the poor slob who puts wrench to nut, and in her mind, is just one of an interchangeable series of mindless robots. Ayn sees them as takers.

      You make a great indictment of her obvious “both sides of the fence” stance. As with many conservatives, they talk a game they don’t really play themselves, but it’s because “they are different” and the rules aren’t supposed to apply to them.

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    really fastidious, all can without difficulty know it, Thanks a lot.

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