When the economic crisis hit back in 2008, Atlas Shrugged jumped to the top of the best seller list – a favorite of libertarian-leaning folks. I had a basic idea of the story, and an understanding that it espoused free-market capitalism and was strongly anti-socialist. When I ran across it in the books on CD section of the library, I thought I would see what all the hype was about. After finishing about a third of the book, I decided that it was better for my soul to put it down. This post attempts to explain why.
There are basically two types of people in Ayn Rand’s universe. I say in her universe, because based on what I read, this novel was intended as a fictional portrayal of her philosophy of objectivism. The first type, to which most belong, are unexceptional, selfish drones, who worship statism, government-guaranteed equality of outcome, and the charitable cause of the day. They hate people who succeed and don’t work enough to succeed themselves. This is the typical stereotype of the liberal socialist.
The second type are the achievers. They work single-mindedly at their jobs, love success and the trappings that goes with it, and feel it is their right to use and abuse anyone around them to achieve their success. They are fundamentally selfish and care nothing for other people. It is the typical stereotype of the capitalist.
So, from my viewpoint, their are no morally redeeming characters in this book. The achievers are supposed to be the heroes, but they are just a bunch of narcissistic jerks. They think that neglecting your family, committing adultery, greed, lying and other deceits are all ok as long as they are committed in the interest of making yourself happy. Apparently, this is a key feature of objectivism: “The proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness or rational self-interest.” Morality based on self-interest. Really? It is no surprise that objectivism rejects the idea of a Creator. I would hazard to guess that for Rand, the atheism came first and the corrupt philosophy came as a result of that. Much like communism, in that regard, although I am sure she wouldn’t like the comparison.
So, in Atlas Shrugged, there is a false dichotomy between the corrupt and lazy socialists and the narcissistic and selfish capitalists. No charitable loving Christian types to be found. In fact, in the third of the book which I read, there was not a single example of one person simply loving another. The closest facsimiles to love that I could see were hero-worship and lust. And now that I write that, it occurs to me that one of the symptoms of today’s sick culture is in fact the confusion of lust and sometimes hero-worship for love. Did Rand help bring that about, or was she only an early echo?
What concerns me is the popularity of this book. It is a perfectly fine thing to “get the government off our backs”. But not at the expense of total moral degradation.