In college I read Atlas Shrugged. It was a matter of love. A woman I loved fiercely gave me her copy. And so I love the book. Kind of.
Keep in mind that she could have given me a bus ticket to read and I would have thought it great literature. Also let me tell you that I was 20 years old. Those reasons are solid enough for me to “love” the book — at least they were many years ago — and maybe the only valid reasons to love the book either then or now.
Although, to be honest, as a young man thinking I had nothing but opportunity ahead of me, absolute individualism made a lot of sense. I was, after all, in college and free from most worry. I grew up fortunate, or at least fortunate enough.
But the poet in me took over; and I still enjoy this much about the book. I found myself daydreaming about days when men wore fedoras and leather-heeled shoes. I liked to think of spartan coffee shops on empty windswept city street corners. Newspaper meant something real and tangible to me. Khaki was sexy. In short, I created a myth — or a sort of nostalgia — that hadn’t any basis in my own experience, but instead in an experience of fantasies that fit the Ayn Rand aesthetic. Quickly that nostalgic fantasy more sense than any moral or philosophical message in the book.
I even thought of my girlfriend as my Dagny Taggart.
So I grew up. I think too many people reading too much into Ayn Rand have not grown up. They are still reading their girlfriend’s book.
For my part, I realized that not everyone could own a railroad or a steel mill. More importantly, I understood that this raised very interesting ethical, economic, and social questions. I understood, too, that we needed people who could own and run railroads. A large part of Atlas Shrugged, however, deals with people who choose not to run their railroad…or their factory or their lab or their whatever. They take their marbles and go home. That’s objectivism, I suppose. Does it work? It is hard to see how.
There is a lot of childish pleading and begging — almost like fetish porn — running through Atlas Shrugged. (“Oh please…please, please, please…please…”) There is a lot of self-serving gratitude, too. Who is John Galt? If Hank Rearden were born today in Somalia, would he build a great foundry? Probably not. But there is no room for reality in the fiction of Atlas Shrugged. It is pretty scary, therefore, when your political leaders start to cite it as a guiding philosophical text.
The captains of capitalism depend as much on the success of the majority as much as the majority depends on the success of the captains. It is that simple. You don’t really need to dig deeply into Ayn Rand’s populist pseudo-philosophy to understand that. Even I, as a twentysomething, quickly sorted that out.
To say, as Paul Ryan says, that you are motivated by the thought and writing of Ayn Rand demonstrates a sort naivete and a not-so-careful reading or understanding of her thought. Plus you have to pick and choose, if you’re Ryan reading Rand. Religion — especially Catholicism — was not high on Rand’s list of institutions she tolerated, for example. What should God-fearing conservatives think of that? And in some rather uncouth ways, one might side her with feminists. Ouch.
Never worry if you are a conservative, however; you primarily look for important-sounding fluff to stilt your platform anyway. Pick and choose what works, i.e., what fools the followers most directly. Sound intelligent, be intelligent. Your platform will stand sturdy and strong.
Is that platform made of pine, by the way, as in Ayn? Make sure you get your lies right. Too many Anns want no part of it.
- Ryan’s love-hate with Ayn Rand (politico.com)
- Ayn Rand Revisited (marcys.wordpress.com)
- Paul Ryan does an about-face on Ayn Rand – Christian Science Monitor (csmonitor.com)
- In Ayn Rand We Trust (woodgatesview.com)
- Where Is The Liberal Ayn Rand? (npr.org)