The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Atlas Shrugged wasn't fiction
Tom Smith

As I've said before I thought it was so bad as a novel I couldn't read it.  It's looking better all the time as prophecy unfortunately.


http://rightcoast.typepad.com/rightcoast/2009/01/atlas-shrugged-wasnt-fiction-tom-smith-.html

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Tom Smith
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Comments

I'm sorry, Tom, that you found Atlas Shrugged to be a bad novel, because it's one of my favorites in terms of both content and literary style. I think Rand writes very much along the lines of the 19th-century romanticist tradition, such as Hugo and Dumas. Even if you dislike her literary style, though, I hope you still agree that it's better than the turgid nonsense of the stuff that passes as "literature" today, such as James Joyce.

Posted by: Adam | Jan 23, 2009 10:13:11 AM

Adam,

I've read Hugo and Dumas and Raynd is no Hugo or Dumas. I read The Fountainhead and set Atlas Shrugged down when I realized that getting the time I was wasting with it back was simply impossible. I never had that feeling with Hugo or Dumas.

Posted by: unhhyphenatedconservative | Jan 23, 2009 10:43:55 AM

Atlas Shrugged would have been fine if it didn't take forever to read. Listen, we got the point Rand, how about getting to the climax already. Rand tends to repeat her point so much that it becomes less and less stimulating as the book continues.

Posted by: Dwils | Jan 23, 2009 11:29:30 AM

'Atlas Shrugged' was prophecy.
'The Fountainhead' was boring.

'We, the Living' was powerful.

Posted by: Glenmore | Jan 23, 2009 2:03:02 PM

It's not so bad if you skip a bunch of the speeches. National Review’s review of the book as literature was spot on. It does today read more and more like prophecy. I almost asked “Who is John Galt”, when CNN was playing at the sandwich shop.

Posted by: Heather | Jan 23, 2009 2:03:39 PM

I greatly enjoyed Rand's novels, though they are almost a genre to themselves. There aren't many novels that so explicitly and exhaustively make a theme of philosophy. More readable than Melville, anyway.

Ugh. I'd prefer that Atlas Shrugged were less relevant to Bailout World.

The good news is that the public (so far) isn't thrilled with this process, and will realize how much of the 'stimulus' is simply derived from the pork barrel wish lists that have been sitting around in Congressional desk drawers for many a year.

Posted by: Silvering | Jan 23, 2009 2:05:04 PM

Atlas Shrugs feels didactic is becasue its main plotline, the one one which the entire action is built is given away in blurb or the ads. If you do not know that and are simply reading, it's one of the most suspenseful and thrilling reads there ever was.

Posted by: alar | Jan 23, 2009 2:12:11 PM

I have a pen pal in Germany who I just advised to read Atlas Shrugged (called "Wer ist John Galt"). I hope she does, being the good little Socialist she is.

Posted by: swift boater | Jan 23, 2009 2:21:10 PM

I'm afraid Rand underestimated the problem. Where are the rational men today with whom one could gladly resort to a Galt's Gulch? Whom can you trust when a totally inexperienced communist racist has just been elected President and has an 80% approval rating? Where is our John Galt?

Posted by: Robert Speirs | Jan 23, 2009 2:32:42 PM

Have you been following current events? Alan Greenspan, one of Rand's closest disciples and one of the main guys responsible for the financial crisis, just went in front of Congress and basically said his underlying philosophy-- i.e., the one in *Atlas Shrugged*-- was wrong. You got your thesis exactly backwards, Greenspan tried to follow John Galt's advice and that got us... nationalized banks.

Posted by: SLHamlet | Jan 23, 2009 2:34:41 PM

She was a little melodramatic for me in 'Shrugged' and certainly repetitive but maybe that’s why the epic sticks in our minds so well.

'Fountainhead' was a better read to me and I think it captured, better, the media's influence on all of this.

Posted by: Jimmy | Jan 23, 2009 2:45:16 PM

As a "novel", I agree, Atlas Shrugged is verrrry slow. One must remember that the author was Russian. Have you read anything by Dostoevsky? Do you remember that flick, Ivan the Terrible? ... But as a treatise on economic philosophy, Atlas Shrugged is the most important book of the 20th Century. It's in a class with The Wealth of Nations -- which also can be a serious slog. It should be approached as education, not entertainment.

Published in 1957, and things in it are now appearing in our newspapers. All one has to do is change up the tech a little bit. How little our industrial culture has really changed from 50 years ago; and how little have changed the politicians who think they know how to run it. Scary.

Posted by: Jeff P. | Jan 23, 2009 2:53:36 PM

Really, anyone who knows the slightest thing about Rand's ideology and what Greenspan did would never say that Greenspan was following Galt's advice. Greenspan repudiated Rand a long time ago, if not in word, then in deed. Rand was completely opposed to government interference in the economy in any way, and obviously you cannot both accept that idea and work as the chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Posted by: Steve in Philly | Jan 23, 2009 2:56:03 PM

Nice try, SLHamlet, but you don't have a clue what you are talking about at best, and are dishonest at worst. Leading Objectivist intellectual Harry Binswanger makes mincemeat of your bullship here: http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=5353

Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with Rand's ideas knows full well that Greenspan, were his "underlying philosophy" that of Ayn Rand, would never have taken the helm of the Federal Reserve. Hell, Rand dramatizes that very point in the book, when John Galt refuses to accept the position of "economic dictator" -- to which the Fed chairman is the closest analog in reality.

.

Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with Rand's ideas knows full well that Greenspan, were his "underlying philosophy" that of Ayn Rand, would never have taken the helm of the Federal Reserve. Hell, Rand dramatizes that very point in the book, when John Galt refuses to accept the position of "economic dictator" -- to which the Fed chairman is the closest analog in reality.

Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with Rand's ideas knows full well that Greenspan, were his "underlying philosophy" that of Ayn Rand, would never have taken the helm of the Federal Reserve. Hell, Rand dramatizes that very point in the book, when John Galt refuses to accept the position of "economic dictator" -- to which the Fed chairman is the closest analog in reality.

.

Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with Rand's ideas knows full well that Greenspan, were his "underlying philosophy" that of Ayn Rand, would never have taken the helm of the Federal Reserve. Hell, Rand dramatizes that very point in the book, when John Galt refuses to accept the position of "economic dictator" -- to which the Fed chairman is the closest analog in reality.

Posted by: Seerak | Jan 23, 2009 2:58:59 PM

jeebus, the code on this site is ass.

Posted by: Seerak | Jan 23, 2009 2:59:31 PM

Wesley Mouch: most perfect name for, most perfect characterization of, a self-serving bureaucrat.

And remember, laws are not passed for the "good of man;" they are passed with the intent that genuine producers must break such laws and become controlled by bureaucrats/looters like Wesley Mouch.

Posted by: Koblog | Jan 23, 2009 3:00:59 PM

Methinks you've misinterpreted Greenspan. What he said was entirely consistent with throwing yourself down to the floor sobbing and tearing at your hair while moaning "we should have left the market alone in the first place - once it's been skewed so badly by regulation, the pent-up force pulling it back to equilibrium becomes like an overfilled dam, and when it goes, everything goes!"

No one reads Rand for the brilliant literary style. It's pretty turgid, stilted stuff in that regard. But, as comprehensible and comprehensive statements of political philosophy, they are masterful.

And even then, you probably need to already be on that same page - or at least in the same chapter - with her philosophy in order to understand just how good it is. I read Neal Stephenson because it's brilliant, captivating work, but I read Rand because it tells me more about why I believe what I believe than I knew before.

Posted by: bobby b | Jan 23, 2009 3:01:04 PM

Wesley Mouch: most perfect name for, most perfect characterization of, a self-serving bureaucrat.

And remember, laws are not passed for the "good of man;" they are passed with the intent that genuine producers must break such laws and become controlled by bureaucrats/looters like Wesley Mouch.

Posted by: Koblog | Jan 23, 2009 3:01:27 PM

I read Atlas Shrugged as a sophomore in high school - as a novel it's appropriate for sophomores: it's didactic as hell, strident (Whittaker Chambers review in National Review is a classic) and full of cardboard characters. But, its basic points about the parasitic nature of government is certainly true. At least a Classics Illustrated version should be required reading in the high school civics course, along with Mother Goose's "The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg."

Posted by: Cato Renasci | Jan 23, 2009 3:01:46 PM

As I perceived it, Rand's purpose in Atlas Shrugged was to communicate the ideas by wrapping it in a stylized story. I found her characterization thin and idealistic, fitting with the tone and purpose of the novel but making it more difficult to consume as literature and lending to the slower feel many address. I have not read Dumas, but see no comparisson with Hugo, whose decadent style and exposition weave a tapestry reality about his characters and settings, yielding a more robust and richer experience in the narrative of the plot. As for the disparaging remark on Melville, see my praise of Hugo, as I liken their styles in this regard.

Posted by: submandave | Jan 23, 2009 3:06:03 PM

If you don't like the book, you mihgt try the audiobook. The Blackstone one is stellar I think. The reader is my favorite, I think Christopher something, and he does other books in the same philosophical vain. His Mouch is priceless.

I'm not a literary critic, but if I get some emotional reaction out of a book I'm pretty happy. And hearing some of those speeches sometimes is my only sanity in a world of diaper-wearing, crying, adults.

Posted by: Morgan | Jan 23, 2009 3:17:01 PM

I'm surprised to read here that some found the novel impossible to read, boring, etc. I read the book when I was just eighteen...surprised it made as much of impact as it did then, being so young and not having much life experience...but it did. That was twenty years ago and honestly, our family hasn't really talked much about Atlas Shrugged until somewhere around late last summer, in recognizing these old yet familiar themes playing out in real life. There is definitely something happening. The WSJ article simply said what so many of us out here are already thinking.

Posted by: oskikatt | Jan 23, 2009 3:19:47 PM

I don't know what sadder: That I'll see the socio-economic collapse of America in my lifetime, or that I'll enjoy it when it happens.

I see this process ending with hyper-inflation, followed by the general public opting-out of the dollar into a non-fiat currency based on some objective object of value--probably metals, though not necessarily precious metals (a "bill of lading" for a 100 lbs. of copper in some warehouse). The governments that form after the crisis will eventually catch on and start taxing and spending with the new non-fiat currency, but the difference will be that they will have no control over the value of this currency. Their ability to deficit-spend will be greatly diminished. One problem solved.

This process will happen with little violence or actual, literal poverty. Say what you will about liberals, but they don't have the will to pick up a gun and shoot their fellow citizens for not participating in their view of the world--especially if their fellow citizens are shooting back at them. A civil-war scenario like the 1860s is out of the question. Liberalism will be over when the producers of capital say that it's over, and the liberals won't have the will or ability to stop them. As for poverty, take any homeless person you find on the street, and they have a better quality of life than Henry VIII. So it will be with whoever is unemployed or dispossessed during this current crisis.

Out of the crisis I hope will come a generally diminished power of government, and more generally, the will and ability of people to oppose their will on others. E.g. try and open up your own cocaine bar in your own neighborhood in violation of some words that some politicians put on paper. Cops will arrest you, magistrates will indict you, government lawyers and judges will prosecute you, juries will convict you, more cops will seize and auction off your property, and a multi-billion dollar prison system will feed and house you for the rest of your life. It takes a tremendous amount of coordination of human activity to accomplish this, with everyone involved believing that their initiation of force upon you is just, correct and efficacious. It is to be hoped--after the crisis--that this coordination will break down, and that government will give up trying to right every wrong in the universe.

Posted by: TheAbstractor | Jan 23, 2009 3:21:47 PM

In the interest of accuracy: Ayn Rand was a polemicist. Charlotte Bronte was a novelist.

Posted by: David | Jan 23, 2009 3:34:46 PM

In Atlas Shrugged, Rand postulates that the nation's relative handful of productive people can retreat to a survival doomstead in the Rocky Mountains to ride out the Malthusian die off of all the human lives unworthy of life, then move back into the void they left and resume doing business. But she doesn't provide a means for repopulating the country because none of the heroes has children or even seems to want them. Three of the superior men even compete for one superior woman, and the losers apparently have to spend the rest of their lives celibate.

Posted by: AdvancedAtheist | Jan 23, 2009 4:00:41 PM