Years ago I read Atlas Shrugged, every last word of it. I read it because I thought a woman was incredible. She gave me the book and told me it was one of her favorites. And so naturally I thought it needed to be my favorite, too. It was that simple. Just a blip.
I still have that book somewhere. It is held together with masking tape and stained with a little blood I left after opening a coffee can. I literally tore through that book!
We were only 21 or 22 and she was indeed incredible. Being young and — let’s admit it — naive gave the idea of recklessly plowing ahead while the world cowered and pouted in the corner had some appeal, especially if a beautiful young woman seemed to deem you capable.
It didn’t seem to take long for both the shine of the book — and of the girl — to fade. Other ideas were everywhere, and kind of like dating, you do test ideas for a reason.
The rise of the Tea Party as well as the radicalization of the Republican Party gave me reasons to re-read Atlas Shrugged. And I couldn’t do it.
Atlas Shrugged is merely an ok bit of American modernist literature, one that has been taken far too seriously mostly because Ayn Rand, the novel’s author, was pretty good at self-promotion and getting connected. She also “created” a so-called philosophy of objectivism. In reality, it is all rather silly and pedestrian.
I know people can be influenced by books they read and not take every word literally. They can be captured by the tenor of a book and its ideas, and not necessarily its details. I also know that people can be influenced by books they have never read (the usual case, alas) and therefore get caught up more in the trends an idea generates than the ideas directly.
However, I find it very unsettling that some political leaders on the right claim the influence of this book as they speak and campaign. Really?
First, I wonder if they have indeed read the book or whether they fall into the “caught up in ideas” camp. But I also wonder how this book of all books can be the most cited book only behind the Bible — the Bible, for Christ’s sake! — and only slightly more often than Adam Smith, misunderstood though he may be.
So I have wanted to write about Atlas Shrugged, but haven’t. (Who has the time or the will to read hundreds of pages of THAT again? There’s no young woman these days.) Lot’s of people have gone back to the book, however, and there’s stuff to be gleaned from that.
But where’s the easy Atlas Shrugged primer with the book’s key ideas all neatly lined up?
Allow me to show you! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this post is nothing more than an endorsement for another post. Please now turn to Adam Lee’s excellent explainer, “10 things I learned about the world reading Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged'” over at AlterNet. You can also find it here on Salon.com.
Now when you hear a politician embrace Ayn Rand in the name of rugged American individualism you’ll know what they mean, presuming, of course, the politician understands Ayn Rand.
Nonetheless, you can see Rand’s objectivist values bleeding throughout conservativism today. It’s so patently simple-minded and misguided that a twenty-something might — might! — be forgiven for getting embroiled in the hype, but the leaders of what we want to believe is the world’s greatest and most powerful democracy?
Think about it.