Tag Archives | Atlas Shrugged

Books: Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’ at 60

My relationship with Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand began years ago. As most reading this may know, the fictional story of man’s mind on strike is Rand’s magnum opus. I read the mysterious tale, which struck me as both knowing and searching, one summer in Chicago. I recall thinking that it was at once epic, cautionary and glorious. When I finally finished, I felt exalted. I’ve read Atlas Shrugged, which was published 60 years ago today, several times since.

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But that first time was indelible. I was confused, serious and young, still forming my thoughts and views and, frankly, wanting more from life than sometimes seemed possible. I remember reading Atlas Shrugged — in my apartment, while riding on the El or Chicago & North Western railroad or on the rocks on Lake Michigan’s shore — and thinking that this story was suddenly, strikingly very important and relevant. I had lived long and hard enough to know that its characters, plots and theme were true, though I knew I had more to learn.

Reading Atlas Shrugged was part of my lesson plan. It turned out to be much better than that. This is a plug, not a review. Yet writing even this brings back the searing emotions I experienced while reading Atlas Shrugged as a young man. I was caught up in the thrills, suspense and drama of everything from finding the motor to losing the lights of New York City. I hung on every page and thought about every chapter. I recall being stopped by passengers on the train. I was often harassed or scolded but I was also met, on occasion, with an abrupt interruption by someone who’d say something short, direct and oddly personal. They’d usually spot me reading. Then, before disembarking, they’d simply tuck a briefcase, newspaper or package of cigarettes away while coming to face me and say: “Who is John Galt?” I’d look up. We’d almost always part in silence with a nod or a smile.

Yet there’s loneliness while reading this epic tale. I experienced it that summer in Chicago, again when I re-read it years later, and again and again, as the world closed in, resembling the dystopian America Rand conceived, re-created and dramatized with romantic realism, power and a passionate love for life. The story of the woman of ability who runs a railroad in a rotting civilization and who is the ideal man breeds a sense of alienation, at least it did for me, while at the same time yielding a sense of clarity and peace. I am enlightened, soothed and uplifted when I read Atlas Shrugged. I am horrified, too, of course, and the libertarian movie trilogy narrowly and unfortunately focussed on that, but, mostly, I am exalted. Though it is fiction, this is the world in which I live. It is richer and more vibrant than the horror of a civilization coming to a grinding, screeching stop.

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand teases, sketches and distinguishes with literary brilliance what makes the world go. She does this eerily, compellingly and with grace, depth and grandeur. That I’ve found it takes a lifetime — at least it does for me — to contemplate, reflect and integrate the wisdom to be gained from its themes is less discouraging now than it was when Atlas Shrugged was in its 20s. I celebrated in Boston when Rand’s last published novel turned 35, ten years after its author had died, and again in Colorado when it turned 50. And again at the first Objectivist Conference (OCON) in Chicago and this summer at the world’s first OCON in Pittsburgh. I think of it when the lights go out, trains derail and Washington directives come down. I think of it when the manmade glows, rockets soar and the individual rises above the collective and for his own sake.

I think of Atlas Shrugged, too, when the best men fall, hide or stumble. The world is still confusing, though I am less confused, perhaps even more than when I read it when I was young. There is still so much about life that stings, saddens and looms, and, 60 years after it shocked the West and was denounced by the dominant thinkers, Atlas Shrugged is here to read, enjoy, think about, ponder and inspire.

In my general adult writing course, I recently read “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury and a draft of a short-short story I wrote called “Escape from Indigena”. Each student reads or listens and formulates what he thinks is the writer’s theme. This immersion in the writing process, which I call Writing Boot Camp, is a kind of mental fitness training for living in a world that still sometimes feels like it’s about to “blank out”, expire or has just plain gone bad. Atlas Shrugged is foremost a novel about what being alive means. It is poetic, serious and profound. I first read it because I passionately wanted to live. I write this because I still do. So, this is my 60th anniversary plug for Atlas Shrugged, which is to say — if you want to read a great and powerful American novel, especially if you, too, sense that something’s horribly wrong with the world and you want to know why so you can live and enjoy your life to the fullest, do something wonderful for yourself: read Atlas Shrugged.

The Hush of Charlottesville

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This summer’s violent clashes, climaxing with a neo-Nazi’s recent murder of a protestor in Charlottesville, Virginia, highlight the false left-right division destroying the nation’s political discourse. A desperately needed debate over the government’s proper role has been replaced by mindless assaults, grunts and rants between warring tribes — an anonymous band of anarchists, Marxists, transgendered, Moslems, feminists and multiculturalists versus a band of Nationalist Socialists, traditionalists, Christians, racists and nativists — bringing what Leonard Peikoff subtitled his great study The Ominous Parallels, “the end of freedom in America”, closer. If you really want to know why both left and right are destroying America, read The Ominous Parallels. If you prefer the great novel, read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

First, much of the horror over what happened in Charlottesville strikes me as insincere. If you value life, you’re rightly horrified that the young woman in Charlottesville was murdered by a car driven by a Nazi. However, you were also horrified when an innocent American in Barcelona was mowed down by a vehicle driven by an Islamic terrorist days later, too. Why the glaring disparity in public expressions of horror? I think it’s because Islamic terrorist attacks murdering Americans are accepted by most Americans as common and normal. Why does a Nazi’s murder elicit outrage while a jihadist’s murder does not? Or, for conservatives, vice versa? That’s the vicious cycle; those on the left, who dominate today’s major businesses and media, deny and downplay wrongdoing on the left and among their favored tribes, such as Moslems. So do those on the right, who deny and downplay wrongdoing on the right and among their favored tribes, such as Christians. Both should consistently and persistently defend the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Some on both sides do to the extent possible with mixed premises.

But, in general, those on the left and the right do not. I think this leads both to today’s deep, tense political disunity and also to the pervasive sense of sameness, the maddening status quo that Donald Trump claims to oppose (i.e., “drain the swamp”) which actually makes an anti-intellectual leader of his low caliber possible and which he, in fact, supports (see his continuation of Obama policies on ObamaCare, such as community rating and guaranteed issue, the Iran deal and, last week, more endless war with yet more troops in Afghanistan). This is my second point — that, as families and friends, conservatives and liberals, colleagues and teammates are divided over a range of issues, the state gains more power over the life of the individual. (Again, read Leonard Peikoff’s brilliant book, The Ominous Parallels, about pre-Nazi Germany to learn why). Voters for Trump and Obama may fight in the streets, forums and media threads but on fundamental issues, such as health care as a right or Snowden as a traitor, Obama and Trump loyalists agree. As they do, the government spreads more of the same.

This goes to my third point. Here, I invoke this moment in American history as the hush of Charlottesville; a kind of national silence and suppression as the public essentially stops speaking the thoughts on their minds. This is extremely dangerous. As I argued when I endorsed Starbucks‘ idea for a national discourse on race, the fragmented nation needs more speech, not less. Banning Nazis from dating apps, as OKCupid recently did, banning “hate music” from music apps, as Spotify recently did, and supporting groups that persecute the individual for exercising free speech, as Apple recently did when endorsing the Southern Poverty Law Center, which persecutes secular feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and former Islamic jihadist Maajid Nawaz for denouncing Islam on principle, discourages exercise of free speech, though certainly as private companies they have the right to such actions.

Look at what happened to the Starbucks campaign, which was attacked by both the leftists and the conservatives. Anti-Starbucks leftists and anti-Starbucks conservatives came together to denounce a free speech exercise initiative. The result is widespread silence among reasonable people who think they can’t get a decent hearing and more inflammatory speech, including by the inflammatory president (again imitating his inflammatory predecessor), and, worse, initiation of the use of force on both sides. The left, especially Communists and anarchists, has a long history of trying to destroy the U.S. government, from assassinating presidents to riots whether attacking President Truman, the Standard Oil Building or Carnegie Steel with anarchists, Puerto Rican terrorists or the Unabomber. So, too, does the right, from assassinating President Lincoln to blowing up a federal building in Oklahoma City and abortion clinics with Confederates, Christian terrorists, and various misanthropes. The worst monsters in history, from Charles Manson and the Rev. Jim Jones to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, spawn from the left. But both sides seek government control and are fundamentally wrong.

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I do not digress. Leftist U.S. political strategy and tactics, I know firsthand and this originates with the New Left, is systemized to initiate the use of lower levels of force, such as throwing rocks at police and others they oppose, in order to provoke greater acts of force in defense or counter-offense. As we’ve seen with the vile, racist thugs of the right, followed by the president’s outrageous equivocation, the right responds to the use of force with the use of force. So, the cycle disrupts civil law and not in some benign display of civil disobedience. The use of force as a means of resolving disputes becomes more common. Judges are shot (the most recent by a rapist’s father in Ohio). A left-wing terrorist from Illinois attempts this summer to assassinate members of Congress. The assault on Dallas police, too, which murdered five police officers, is committed by a racist who’d cited Black Lives Matter and says he sought to kill white policemen.

Police, legislators and judges are crucial to the proper role and function of the United States government. At the same time, government officials such as President Trump and San Franciso’s mayor and police chief make reckless statements which exacerbate tensions, leading to more destruction of private property and bloodshed, as happened before with Obama and the first Bush. In this sense, the false left-right dichotomy is especially damaging and dangerous. Contrary to the left’s hyperbole in the aftermath of the murder at Charlottesville, however, the gravest danger lies not in the racism expressed in exercises of free speech and free association, which is relatively rare and was widely denounced. Leaving aside the deficiency of Charlottesville’s government in protecting the public and preventing the murder, the greatest danger lies in the silence that follows our deepening divisions. It precedes worse outbursts to come.

An orthodox Jew opposed to the Trump administration recently wrote about this self-imposed silence, this soft censorship, in Forward (read the essay here). Those on the right, too, undoubtedly know in a hardened, pompous and cynical culture dominated by New Left orthodoxy why one might feel compelled to go silent. But, to paraphrase the gay community’s anti-AIDS slogan, silence in this tense, national post-Charlottesville hush ultimately equals death. Conservatives and leftists alike, and, of course, those of us Objectivists and like-minded Americans for rights, reason and capitalism who are the true liberals, must speak up and strive under the most difficult circumstances to engage in rational discourse as often as possible. Going silent now, as the left and right resort to murder, masked destruction and radical plans for their respective forms of religious totalitarianism is the worse thing one can do. (For a preview of what horror may result from your silence, read religious conservatives’ anti-gay, anti-contraceptive Nashville Statement, a kind of pre-theocratic companion piece to the New Left’s Port Huron Statement — which condemns, for instance, “sexually immoral behavior” and affirms, for instance, “obedience to Christ”).

The more you exercise your absolute right to free speech — which is not a right to initiate the use of force, block traffic and violate the law — today, the less likely there’s murder, mayhem and dictatorship tomorrow. Americans must break the hush of Charlottesville and start speaking up and speaking out, especially with those with whom one disagrees. In a few weeks, as the University of California at Berkeley is scheduled to host conservative speakers on campus, the silence will be tested. If America still stands for liberty, the hush will be breached in peace with voices exercising free speech. In the meantime, to make sense of the world, as always, I urge every adult to read The Ominous Parallels and Atlas Shrugged.

Preview: ‘Atlas Shrugged Part 3’

ASP3 posterAccording to the filmmakers, and this is a so-called spoiler alert, former Congressman Ron Paul appears in a cameo in the third and final installment of the independent movie trilogy, which they’re calling Atlas Shrugged: Who is John Galt? (Read my reviews of Atlas Shrugged Part 1 and Atlas Shrugged Part 2).

I’ve learned that Ron Paul, a libertarian Christian who does not grasp let alone advocate and practice Rand’s philosophy, appears in a scene following Galt’s speech. Besides Ron Paul, Atlas Shrugged Part 3 includes appearances by Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Grover Norquist, Matt Kibbe, Jonathan Hoenig and other conservatives, libertarians and fans of Rand’s work. The film is directed by James Manera, produced by Harmon Kaslow and John Aglialoro, and it features Kris Polaha as John Galt and Laura Regan as Dagny Taggart. The film also includes Rob Morrow, Joaquim de Almeida and Greg Germann. I’m planning to post a review this summer before it opens in September.

Whatever the artistic merits of the picture, which I expect to be bad or mixed, the press release about Congressman Paul’s appearance includes a quote with which I partly agree: “Atlas Shrugged is a fantastic book, but [it’s] much more than a story – [it’s] a philosophy. It’s influenced millions of people already and because of its greatness [it’s] going to continue to influence a lot of people.” Actually, her novel is a literary presentation of Rand’s philosophy. The question, besides “Who is John Galt?” is whether anyone whom the novel, its theme and Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, influences will be free to think, create and live. This, as Rand dramatizes in her 1957 masterpiece, is up to each of us.

Movie Review: Ayn Rand & the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged

Surprisingly, there’s a lot I don’t like about the new Ayn Rand documentary, which I watched with a sold-out audience, including friends who worked on the 84-minute film, at a special screening at the ArcLight Hollywood last night. Because I know many of those who appear in or worked on it, I wanted to like every second of Ayn Rand & the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged and there is much to like in this movie, which I enjoyed as an experience of seeing Ayn Rand on the big screen again. By the time we see what relevance Rand’s epic novel has to today’s dark times, there are many good points, read directly from her 1957 Random House bestseller and contrasted with well-chosen works of art depicting opposing ideas. But the good points get bogged down in an overbearing movie.

With a booming male narrative, breakneck pace and incessant score, the independent documentary is better suited to the intimacy and immediacy of television. Writer and director Chris Mortensen achieves amazing results given the ground he has to cover in this short time frame. There’s just too much material crammed into the movie, which covers the truly prophetic Atlas Shrugged, set in what novelist and philosopher Rand called the day after tomorrow and dramatizing America collapsing under a corrupt establishment of government regulators and their favored businessmen who prey on individual achievement. Nothing wrong with being ambitious, but the unfortunately named Ayn Rand & the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged, which at its worst plays like a bombastic infomercial, delves into the book’s history at the expense of explaining key connections to today’s events.

The film relies too heavily upon two discredited Rand biographers, Jennifer Burns and Anne Heller, both of whom wrote deeply flawed accounts of Rand’s life in 2009, though they don’t repeat their worst errors or transgressions here. Presumably, they’re included for balance, the lack of which was a criticism of Michael Paxton‘s excellent Oscar-nominated 1997 documentary, Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, but this effort is best when it sticks to people who know and grasp Rand’s life, art and ideas, such as former Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) director Mike Berliner (editor of Rand’s Russian Writings on Hollywood and Letters of Ayn Rand) and current ARI President Yaron Brook. What most Atlas Shrugged readers know, that reading Ayn Rand makes you feel awake and alive and achieves a sense of weightlessness, is left to Burns for observation. But neither Burns nor Heller has much credibility on the subject.

A steady stream of scholars and students and businessmen capably discuss Rand’s ideas and the students’ insights are most effective in demonstrating the relevance of Atlas Shrugged. The most prophetic points are in abundant evidence and the discussion of the tunnel scene is particularly clear and compelling. However, Objectivists will want to know where is English literature professor Shoshana Milgram, who has lectured extensively on Rand and her greatest literary influence, Victor Hugo, or philosophy professor Robert Mayhew, who has edited several volumes on Rand’s courses and writings, or Rand’s heir, Leonard Peikoff? Each of them has produced outstanding material about Atlas Shrugged. General fans of the book may simply wonder at the absence of literary scholars in a film about the power of a novel.

As propaganda for an exceptional book that runs over a thousand pages, contains larger-than-life themes that challenge the dominant ideas of our times and tells the unforgettable story of the mind on strike, Ayn Rand & the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged partially succeeds. Among the assets are images of Ayn Rand in rare footage, including the author at a press conference with the film’s comic relief, a colorful movie producer named Al Ruddy (The Godfather), who pitched a movie version of Atlas Shrugged to her until she pitched it back (and did he drop the ball). Other footage includes scenes from the first cinematic adaptation of Rand’s novel, last year’s unsuccessful Atlas Shrugged, Part 1, and a rarely seen clip from President Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell speech, in which Ike essentially warned about encroaching total government control of industry. So there is plenty of good, insightful material here, and Mortensen’s judgment can be impeccable, but there is too much of it, it is too imposing, and, as usual, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which has remained in print, sold over a million copies and should be read and studied by every rational man and woman, deserves better.