Posts Tagged Ayn Rand

Japan faces more confusion amid leadership vote – Yahoo! News

Japan — which is set to see its sixth prime minister in five years — has fumbled recently to find leadership to tackle formidable challenges, including recovery from a massive earthquake and tsunami in March and the battle to bring a nuclear power plant sent into meltdown by the disasters under control.

Even before the disasters hit, the nation was already ailing with serious problems such as an aging population and stagnant economy.

None of the five candidates looking to replace Naoto Kan as prime minister is expected to win the needed majority of 200 votes in balloting among legislators in the ruling Democratic Party in the first round of voting, set for Monday. If no one gets a majority, a run-off between the top two candidates would follow.

The winner of the Democrats’ leadership vote is almost certain to become the nation’s next prime minister because the party controls the lower house of Parliament, which chooses Japan’s chief.

Public interest has been stunningly low, underlining the widespread disenchantment with politics.A debate Sunday among the candidates was not carried live on any of the major TV networks.

via Japan faces more confusion amid leadership vote – Yahoo! News.

Ayn Rand on the nature of politicians in a mixed economy:

“In a controlled (or mixed) economy, a legislator’s job consists in sacrificing some men to others. No matter what choice he makes, no choice of this kind can be morally justified (and never has been). Proceeding from an immoral base, no decision of his can be honest or dishonest, just or unjust – these concepts are inapplicable. He becomes, therefore, an easy target for the promptings of any pressure group, any lobbyist, any influence-peddler, any manipulator – he has no standards by which to judge or to resist them. You do not know what hidden powers drive him or what he is doing. Neither does he.

From the above Yahoo! News article:

At Sunday’s debate at a Tokyo hotel, candidates appeared in agreement, all promising a revived Japanese economy and a resolution of the nuclear crisis in comments heavy on rhetoric but scant on concrete proposals.

Ayn Rand on the pretense of knowledge (my emphasis):

Now observe the results of such policies and their effect on the country[the U.S.A.]. You
have seen that Nixon’s wage-price controls, imposed two years ago [this article was written in 1973] for the purpose of slowing down inflation, have accelerated it. You have seen that a shortage of soybeans, which you probably do not buy, has led to the shortage of most of the food items which you do buy and need. You have seen a demonstration of the fact that a country’s economy is an integrated (and self-integrating) whole – and that the biggest computer would not be able to predict all the consequences of an edict controlling the price of milk, let alone an edict controlling the price, the costs, the sales, the amounts of wheat or beef or steel or oil or electricity. Can you hold in mind the total of a country’s economy, including every detail of the interrelationships of every group, every profession, every kind of goods and services? Can you determine which controls are proper or improper, practical or impractical, beneficent or disastrous? If you cannot do it, what makes you assume that a politician can? In fact, there is no such thing as proper, practical or beneficent controls. [The Ayn Rand Letter, July 16, 1973, PDF.]

“Managing the economy”, according to “the pretence of knowledge” as expressed by thinkers such as Hayek, is impossible for anyone or any group of people, however good their computers are. “formidable challenges, including recovery from a massive earthquake and tsunami in March and the battle to bring a nuclear power plant sent into meltdown by the disasters under control…an aging population and stagnant economy.”

Politicians always promise more than they can deliver. And the voters always seem to believe them, and then complain bitterly when the politicians don’t deliver.  Sometimes I almost feel sorry for the politicians. Almost. From the Diplomat:

The Japanese people want a lot of nice things from their government: the rebuilding of the areas devastated by the triple disaster, a comfortable retirement, affordable, high-quality healthcare, a vibrant public education system, secure borders, etc. But quite how the government will provide for these desires, if indeed such a task is at all possible, is another issue dividing the candidates.

Ayn Rand comments on the type of consciousness that does not consider ideas important in themselves, only as means to a pragmatic end:

A perceptual consciousness is unable to believe that ideas can be of personal importance to anyone; it regards ideas as a matter of arbitrary choice, as means to some immediate ends. On this view, a man does not seek to be elected to a public office in order to carry out certain policies – he advocates certain policies in order to be elected. If so, then why on earth should he want to be elected? [The Ayn Rand Letter, June 4 1973, PDF.]

Again, from the above Yahoo! News article:

At Sunday’s debate at a Tokyo hotel, candidates appeared in agreement, all promising a revived Japanese economy and a resolution of the nuclear crisis in comments heavy on rhetoric but scant on concrete proposals.

The ideas of the various candidates apparently are relatively unimportant in themselves; they are merely means to an end – getting elected (or in this case, chosen by Mr. Ozawa). (More in the small differences between the 5 candidates can be found at the end of this AP article on Yahoo! Nuclear power key topic in close Japan leader race. Sat Aug 27, and in the Diplomat article Why DPJ Leadership Race Matters, August 29, 2011 (or read the comment by mareo2 ]

Mr. Ozawa is a political genius, says the Diplomat, no doubt echoing the opinion of many.  Political genius seems to mean someone who has contributed little to solving Japan’s major challenges, as listed above in the AP article. A hint at the true nature of Mr. Ozawa’s “political genius” might be seen in his reasons for not supporting the publicly popular former diplomat, Mr. Maehara, and for supporting the somewhat emotional and eccentric Mr. Kaeda:

“Kaieda was also the first lawmaker to raise the prospect of restoring Ozawa’s party privileges, suspended after his indictment” [Kaieda’s weakness wins Ozawa’s support, Asahi.com 2011/08/28]

“Maehara expressed eagerness to meet with Ozawa … But he would not budge on Ozawa’s party privileges, which were revoked by Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other senior party officials over a funding scandal.” [Maehara’s economic, security policies likely center of debate. Asahi.com 2011/08/25]

“Maehara also talked with former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who reportedly asked Maehara, if he wins, to consider offering Ozawa a senior party post.” [Maehara’s overture to Ozawa. Japan Times, Thursday, August 25th, 2011]

Why might revoking Ozawa’s party privileges be a bad idea? “When he was secretary general of the party during the brief Hatoyama administration, he obliterated all the DPJ’s and the government’s policy crafting institutions, leaving himself as the sole guide of the nation’s policy making. It was this power grab that turned the other major party leaders against him” [The Diplomat, ibid.]

Why did “the other major party leaders” turn against him? Was it because they believed that it was a bad idea for a single person to have their hands only on national policy-making? Or because they wanted to be that person?

Fumbling leadership

Back to the AP article Japan faces more confusion amid leadership vote: “Japan — which is set to see its sixth prime minister in five years — has fumbled recently to find leadership to tackle formidable challenges”

Recently? Define, “recently”? As VOA reporter Steve Herman tweeted, “No Japanese prime minister has spent 500 days in office since Koizumi”.

The Diplomat article begins, “ It’s easy to make light of the proceedings, which will elect the seventh prime minister Japan has had in the last five years. Just another election, some might argue, giving the country a leader without giving it leadership.  There’s certainly much merit in such scepticism. Given that the partisan political divisions that bedevilled the premiership of Kan – both of the Diet (Japan’s parliament) and the DPJ – will still be present and waiting to shackle the initiatives of the new DPJ leader, there’s little hope of Japan’s next leader’s lasting any longer than his five immediate predecessors. “

Yet the article makes little attempt to explain why Japan will have 7 prime ministers in 5 years, why none has spent 500 days in office since Koizumi. The nearest writer Michael Cucek comes is to explain the split within the DPJ that occurred as a result of Ozawa’s power-grab described above, which led to : the division of the DPJ into two streams: a ‘mainstream’ group whose guiding principle is to keeping Ozawa away from the levers of power, and an ‘anti-mainstream’ group of both Ozawa loyalists and DPJ members who have noticed that since Ozawa’s ouster, the DPJ has known only electoral failure.

Blogger EX-SKF summarises the Japanese attitude nicely: “”It doesn’t matter who’s at the top, they’re all the same” has been the attitude of most Japanese from the time immemorial. At the same time, they trust the government authority (yes, even today) and clamor for a strong leader to guide them.

The voting is taking place now, and is live on the Internet here. The two runoff candidates, Noda and Kaeda have spoken, and the doors have been closed. Voting is now taking place.http://www.dpj.or.jp/presidentialelection2011 The names of the legislators are called one by one, they come up on stage, go to a booth to write their choice and put their ballot in the box.


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Review of The Atlas Shrugged Film | The Libertarian Alliance: BLOG

Another excellent review of the movie of Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged”. If only the movie lived up to the quality of these reviews. It looks like the people who made it were not equal to the task. It sounds like a movie version of Howard Roark’s Cortland Housing Project.

Still, the movie distorts, and really destroys, the motivation behind Rearden and Dagny’s affair. If Rand’s novel has one fundamental idea, it is that the moral choices of a person’s private life and public life lead to the same kinds of consequences. This is the real internal conflict within Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart, who are actually the true enemies of John Galt throughout most of the book. Their lack of understanding and their willingness to live and produce for the “looters” needlessly prolongs the suffering of the world. Crucially, Rand also believed there was a connection between private behavior (especially sex) and one’s deepest held values, which is why her ideal man could never fall for a chorus girl, but only a heroine. The movie ignores this completely and manages to strip away the emotional complexity of characters in an Ayn Rand novel—which is no mean feat.

The problem is that the real world policy prescriptions of those promoting the movie don’t fit with Rand’s vision. The kinds of places that could develop the motor that draws its energy from the atmosphere no longer exist, as Bell Labs and other private research laboratories have fallen from glory and institutions like DARPA don’t exactly fit with the Galt’s Gulch mentality. Insofar as the American economy has a future, it seems to be based on manipulation of debt by the elite, litigation by the middle class, and selling ringtones among the lower class, with the occasional brilliant entrepreneur starting a website so we can more easily discuss Rihanna.

Ooohhh! Kerr-POW!

 The moral code of the corporate elite of this country and the capitalist pinups Rand’s fanboys want us to fight for are promoting the exact kinds of altruism and victim worship that Rand despised. If the kinds of “producers” identified here went “John Galt,” the only things that would change would be the decline in Democratic donations.

Kerrrrr-POWWWW!! A devastating comment on our times.

via Review of The Atlas Shrugged Film | The Libertarian Alliance: BLOG.

 [yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PK5Sq3bIHY’]

Now THIS is the trailer for the movie it could have been (although my dream  line-up is a young, Al Pacino look-alike for Francisco d’Anconia, and maybe Laura Linney as Dagny Taggart):

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w151-e_Y_XE’]

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6W07bFa4TzM’]

The “John Galt” theme sounds like something for “The Waltons”. Would this be something Richard Halley would have written?

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aV2mULGktiw’]


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A White Nationalist Review of “Atlas Shrugged, Part I” | The Libertarian Alliance: BLOG

Let’s change the subject from “nuclear crisis”, “Fukushima” and “tsunami disaster” for a second.

Ever since I heard that (finally) a movie had been made of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”, I’ve been dreading having to make up my mind whether I will go and see it or not. After reading this excellent review, however, I’ve been spared the agony: I don’t think I’ll bother (tho I might relent and watch it on DVD). It would have to be a remarkable movie to be worth seeing, frankly. Unfortunately, and sadly, predictably, it is not a remarkable movie, perhaps underscoring Rand’s belief that society has been on a downhill track since the end of the 19th century: we just ain’t man enough to realize our true potential. Or as Elrond put it, “Men ever fail of their promise.”

This is a first-rate review. The author really knows his Rand, his history, and his movies. And, he can write (“During the first run of the John Galt line, Dagny Taggart and Hank Readen’s achievements are dwarfed by the beauty of the landscape. The focus should have been on the train, the rails, the rising throb of the engines, the telephone poles rushing by faster and faster, as a vast streamlined art deco engine shot like a bullet toward the gossamer arc of the great bridge of Rearden metal. The spectacular Rocky Mountain landscape and sky should have been hidden by a drop cloth of clouds, fog, and rain.”)

I don’t share the author’s racial-collectivist philosophy, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading his review of this movie.

Why was Atlas Shrugged made on the cheap? Apparently the producers could not come up with a script or a concept good enough to raise the money and attract the talent to do a first rate movie, and since their option was expiring, they decided to do a second rate movie instead and managed to pull off a fourth rate one. This level of cynicism is frankly breath-taking. One has to ask: Is this how Howard Roark would have made a movie?

via A White Nationalist Review of “Atlas Shrugged, Part I” | The Libertarian Alliance: BLOG.

tamara de lempicka autoportrait

tamara de lempicka autoportrait


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Yoko Ono on Japan’s Devastation, Dating and Discovering John Lennon’s Genius – Spinner Canada

Yoko Ono on Japan’s Devastation, Dating and Discovering John Lennon’s Genius – Spinner Canada.

“The clamor of indignation that rose against Howard Roark and his temple astonished everyone, except Ellsworth Toohey. Ministers damned the building in sermons. Women’s clubs passed resolutions of protest. A Committee of Mothers made page eight of the newspapers, with a petition that shrieked something about the protection of their children. A famous actress wrote an article on the essential unity of all the arts, explained that the Stoddard Temple had no sense of structural diction, and spoke of the time when she had played Mary Magdalene in a great Biblical drama. A society woman wrote an article on the exotic shrines she had seen in her dangerous jungle travels, praised the touching faith of the savages and reproached modern man for cynicism; the Stoddard Temple, she said, was a symptom of softness and decadence; the illustration showed her in breeches, one slim foot on the neck of a dead lion. A college professor wrote a letter to the editor about his spiritual experiences and stated that he could not have experienced them in a place like the Stoddard Temple. Kiki Holcombe wrote a letter to the editor about her views on life and death.”

via Triforce of Freedom: Objectivisme, transhumanisme & financiële vrijheid from “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand, Section 2 “Ellsworth Toohey”, chapter 12.


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Key ideas – a list in progress


Camouflaged !

Originally uploaded by Kamala L

See the picture? Can you help her pick out the handful of items that she really needs to keep?

What are the key ideas in the field you are teaching? If you are teaching American history or culture or literature, what are the key ideas that you think the students need to get over the next 15 weeks?

If you have to choose, which will it be: the Declaration of Independence or the latest Lady Gaga/Beyonce music video?

I’ve been listing certain key concepts that seem important for people learning English in Japan to know. Overarching these is the notion of the importance of ideas. Read the rest of this entry »


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Economics books that help you tell the future

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Historian and Austrian economist Gary North writes that many people are confused by the media’s pronouncements on gold, inflation and deflation:

Self-Inflicted Confusion and Paralysis: Thinking About the Economy Without Understanding Economics

If called upon to outline the arguments of each position, they could not do it. They have no idea of what they have read. They are utterly confused. Why? Because they do not read books on economics. They read only websites.

For years, I was one of “they”: I was trying to educate myself about finance, investing and economics by reading only websites. I wasted a lot of time. I eventually discovered the 3 books that Gary North recommends below.

If you are confused, you can get clear by reading three short items: Rothbard‘s mini-book, What Has Government Done to Our Money? (pdf), my mini-book, Mises on Money, and Rothbard’s The Case Against the Fed (pdf). All of them are free. If you really want to understand, read Rothbard’s textbook on money and banking, The Mystery of Banking (pdf). It is free. Then you will be ready for the booklet published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Modern Money Mechanics.

I sent the above quote to a friend who wrote back that he finds reading economics books incredibly tedious. Not long ago, I would have had the same reaction. What changed? Read the rest of this entry »


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Why I no longer read John Derbyshire

John Derbyshire, photographed in June 2001.
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Update: Derbyshire’s homepage at Taki magazine includes links to some of my favourite libertarians/Austrian economists, such as Tom Woods, Karen de Coste, Peter Schiff, Justin Raimondo and Paul Gottfried (OK, I’m not sure Gottfried is a libertarian and he’s probably not an Austrian economist, but I like what he writes update: but he is a fan of HL Mencken), soDerbyshire’s not all bad. However, reading his posts just reminds me of why I’m not a conservative.

John Derbyshire writes and speaks well: imaginatively, highly knowledgeably, and with sarcastic humour. He’s been in my Google Reader for, oh, at least 2 months (a long time by my standards). I’ve learned much about good writing from reading his columns and something about how to put together an amusing and informative radio show. I also was interested in his report on how he put all his “attic stuff” online. But even though he is a fellow British expatriate, after reading his latest radio show transcript and one of his recent opinion columns, out he goes. I’m sure he will be mortified, and he may well write to me to beg to be re-instated, but I am adamant (although, perhaps, for a large fee…)

The first reason is his attempt to be humorous at the expense of the nine people murdered by the Defense Force of a certain Middle East nation. Don’t get me wrong: I’m no bleeding-heart liberal; indeed, Derbyshire’s no-nonsense conservatism was one of the things that attracted me about his writing. Derbyshire unerringly nails the false perceptions and phony values that mislead a lot of perhaps otherwise well-meaning folk:

  1. warm feelings about helping colorful third-world peasants escape from colonial oppression;
  2. The boats were filled with peace activists wearing beads and sandals, singing Pete Seeger songs and scattering rose petals on the waters of the Mediterranean as they went. Their mission was to bring much-needed food and medicine to the poor, peace-loving souls in the Gaza Strip;
  3. This Atrocity aroused the indignation of that mighty power for justice, liberty, and truth — the international community. Wherever in the world there is a hungry child, an anxious mother, a helpless invalid, or a victim of injustice, the international community will soon be on hand to cool the fevered brow, apply balm to the wounds, wipe away the little child’s tears, murmur words of gentle encouragement, and bring relief to the oppressed.

Derbyshire’s response is basically to completely exonerate the murderers, asking rhetorically if they are not to be permitted to defend themselves. I just found his response too pat, the repetition of the old conservative bromides too predictable. His complete exoneration of the murders seemed to me to reveal a harsh set of values which I do not share.

the poor, peace-loving souls in the Gaza Strip, who have been languishing in sickness and hunger since the cruel Israelis, for no reason but sheer malice, imposed a blockade on the place three years ago.

“For no reason but sheer malice” is clearly false; however, is the implied opposite therefore necessarily true? In addition, I thought this comment by libertarian Gary North more to the point:

The State of Israel has suffered its worst setback in public relations in my lifetime. I can recall nothing even remotely close. The PR disaster has barely begun to unfold.

The person who planned the Turkish resistance took a page out of Saul Alinsky‘s Rules for Radicals (1972). The overarching principle of Alinsky’s system is this: the action is the reaction.

The goal is to provoke a response that embarrasses the target. Alinsky recommended nonviolence. His model was Gandhi. But violence can be effective, too. Mild violence is implemented in order to gain a more powerful response, one that seems to be overkill.

I have studied his tactics for almost 40 years. I first wrote about them in 1983. I posted an article on this in March. http://www.garynorth.com/public/6274.cfm

The six ships that sailed for Gaza were tests. They were opportunities for a confrontation. That is a basic plan of action for Alinsky. If there is no resistance, this displays weakness. It undermines the will to resist. If there is resistance, the plan works if this resistance is seen by the public as excessive.

He goes on to list 9 actions which would have in all probability avoided bloodshed and, in the writer’s opinion, more importantly avoided falling into the “Alinsky trap”. (The article is only available to members.)

The second reason is another of Derbyshire’s values:

Living processes, presumably including those that comprise human thought and feeling, are complicated chemical reactions…. Biologists have known this stuff for a long time, but most nonspecialists have been reading only the first bit of Hamlet’s address: “What a piece of work is a man!” A few more revelations about our species’ jumbled, chaotic deep history, and we shall be in the “quintessence of dust” camp, where man delights not us.

Yawn. “We’re just a bunch of chemicals.” I thought Ayn Rand had dealt with that one pretty effectively, e.g. in Atlas Shrugged

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Why I don’t read newspapers

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More specifically, I don’t read opinion pieces. Here’s an example of why I don’t. In the Dec. 24th edition of the Financial Times, Harry Eyres wrote in a piece called Human beings or human resources?

… the Enlightenment project of raising human reason to god-like power has had disturbing results. These can be seen both in the state of nature, reduced and damaged possibly beyond repair, and of human beings, retooled as “human resources” – that is, means to be exploited rather than ends in themselves.

Really? What faculty is journalist Harry Eyres using here to figure out whether, in fact, nature has been  “damaged possibly beyond repair”? What faculty is he using to distinguish between human beings and human resources? Gut instinct? Emotion? Reflex? Ayn Rand would have a field-day with this: “an attack on human reason… part of the arsenal in the battle between reason and progress on the one hand, and those who would have us return to barbarism on the other.” Even worse, Eyres is a journalist, a moulder of public opinion, and as an educated man, he should know better.

As Constitutional historian John Whitehead wrote elsewhere in a different context, The media has been very bad about informing us about what is going on. They focus on surface things.

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Learning from history

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Does history repeat itself? Can we learn anything from ancient civilizations, especially the ones that declined and fell? Nah!

Thanks to scribd, I’m reading Ayn Rand-contemporary, Isabel Paterson’s “The God of the Machine”, which begins with a brief history of the Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Romans, and asks, for instance, why the Romans beat the Phoenicians in naval supremacy:

with the strongest fleet on the seas, and with a naval experience gained though centuries, the Carthaginian admirals lost six out of seven of the naval battles, despite the fact that the Romans had never possessed a quinquireme before this time (the first Punic war), and very few Romans had ever set foot on shipboard.

Later, the Roman civilization also declined and fell, though for different reasons (Paterson writes) than the earlier ones of Egypt, Carthage and Greece. Here’s how it happened:

The exactions of the bureaucracy increased, and the number of officials multiplied. More and more of the flow was diverted from production into the political mechanism… the bureaucracy took such a large cut, at length scarcely anything went through the complete circuit. Meantime, the producers, receiving less and less in exchange for their products, were impoverished an discouraged. Naturally, they tended to produce less, since they would get no fair return; in fact, effort from which there is no net return must automatically cease.  They consumed their own products instead of putting them up for exchange. With that the taxes began to dry up. Taxes must com from surplus. The bureaucrats inevitably came down on the producers, with the object of sequestrating the energy directly at the source, by a planned economy. Farmers were bound to the soil,; craftsmen to their workbenches; tradesmen were ordered to continue in business although the taxes and regulations did not permit them to make a living [see Atlas Shrugged]. No one could change his residence or occupation without permission. The currency was debased. Prices and wages were fixed until there was nothing to sell and no work to be had.

Those silly, silly Romans. How could they not see that would never work! No wonder the Romans were left on the rubbish heap of history. Now US, we would never go down THAT road, would we?

Oh, wait.

A letter to the Chinese Premier, from a free-market-loving U.S. businessman’s blog:

An increasing number of citizens in this country have had enough of the BS and, having been ignored when EESA/TARP was debated (by over 100:1 we told Congress not to bail out those bastards who ripped both us and you off) are intentionally reducing their output.  This of course reduces the tax base against which our government can extract money to pay you with.  Further, our government has over the space of more than 30 years embarked on programs that allow any US Citizen to effectively live for free, paying nothing.  There’s not a thing you can do about this, and we both can and are de-funding our government’s ability to tax.  Have a look at tax receipts – the government is running a near-$2 trillion deficit for this reason above all others.  Attempts to raise taxes on the remaining productive citizens simply cause more of them to decide to join those who erect their middle finger toward Washington DC, choosing Food Stamps and Medicaid over hard work.  There’s a phrase for this: “Going Galt.”  I recommend you read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” – I’m sure there’s a Chinese translation somewhere.

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Atlas Shrugged revival

(The first part of this post is cross-posted from another blog of mine). As well as re-reading Atlas Shrugged for the next session of my Reading Group, I’ve also assigned The Fountainhead to a returnee student whose English is fluent. I’ve been creating worksheets for him, and will be posting them online, possibly here.

According to this press release on the website of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, sales of Rand’s blockbuster Atlas Shrugged have greatly increased this year and last year:

Reports from trade sources indicate that consumer purchases of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged have tripled in the first four months of 2009 compared to the first four months of 2008…. “Annual sales of Atlas Shrugged have been increasing for decades to a level not seen in Ayn Rand’s lifetime. Sales of the U.S. paperback editions averaged 74,000 copies a year in the 1980s, 95,000 copies a year in the 1990s and 139,000 copies a year in the current decade. After reaching an all-time high during the novel’s 50th anniversary in 2007, another new high was reached in 2008 and an even higher mark is expected for 2009.”

More than 6,500,000 copies of Atlas Shrugged have been sold to date.

This short blog entry Ayn Rand and the Tea Party Protests gives 3 reasons why so many people are buying and reading Atlas Shrugged:

Stephen Moore identified one reason in his Wall Street Journal column, “Atlas Shrugged: From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years.” Atlas Shrugged depicted a future in which America descends into economic chaos due to ever-increasing government regulations. Each new problem spawns new government controls that merely deepen the crisis. The result is a downward spiral that nearly destroys America. Many Americans are finding Rand’s predictions uncomfortably close to real-life events.

Another reason for Rand’s appeal is her emphasis on the moral dimension. One of her themes was that no country can survive when its government constantly punishes good men for their virtues and rewards bad men for their vices. Americans correctly recognize that it is unjust for the government to take money from those who have lived frugally to bail out those who have lived beyond their means. Honest men should not be forced to pay for the irresponsibility of others.

Finally, Atlas Shrugged resonates with many Americans because they recognize that our current crisis is not just about bailouts and budget deficits. It’s also about a more fundamental issue — the proper scope of government.

Yaron Brook, Director of the Ayn Rand Center, writes on the Fox News website about a fundamental point of Atlas Shrugged:

“Atlas Shrugged” argues that ideas shape society. A society that values reason, the individual, and freedom creates the United States of America. A society that denounces the mind, preaches self-sacrifice, and worships the collective creates Nazi Germany. What “Atlas” shows is how our culture’s ideas–particularly its ideas about morality–are

Atlas Shrugged
Image by Laughing Squid via Flickr

moving us step by step away from the Founding Fathers’ ideal.

There are, of course, critical articles, ranging from the dismissive, to the abusive, to the weakly reasoned. The dismissive can be dismissed, as the author himself admits he’s never actually read any Ayn Rand:

According to my friend and former colleague Scott Galupo in the Washington Times, sales of the book had tripled through April as compared to the same time period last year. I can’t say that I’ve ever read Rand, and Scott’s assessment of the book doesn’t increase my interest

Showing great trust in Scott Galupo, a man whom he dismisses as being usually wrong, Robert Schlesinger assures his readers that the Galupo piece is worth reading, tho the excerpts he quotes suggest that the main reason Schlesinger thinks it is worth reading is because it reinforces his own preconceptions (and obviates the need to actually read the book). Galupo’s main reason for dismissing Atlas Shrugged is that he thinks it is escapist fantasy. Galupo states

that American conservatism has shown great adaptability in the face of 200 years of federal governmental expansion, but that it nonetheless still suffers fringe-nuttery, as evidenced by the Rand/Atlas resurgence.

Murray Rothbard, himself no fan of Ayn Rand and her coterie (he was a member for a while, though he seems to have always admired her novels), would have some critical (at the same time as intelligent and informative) things to say about this “great adaptability” of conservatism.

Galupo’s article refers to an (in)famous contemporary review of Atlas Shrugged by Whittaker Chambers.

The Moderate Voice is almost equally scathing:

The message of that turgid 1200-page opus, that money is the root of all good, has inspired those who need justification for extreme selfishness and for looking down at the rest of humanity as “looters” and “moochers.”

The novel has certainly inspired a large number of people, including (famously) Angelina Jolie and Alan Greenspan (and we can add Murray Rothbard whose admiration for Rand’s novels did not prevent him from seeing through the phoniness of  Rand and her admirers); I’m sure all of them were merely looking for justification for extreme selfishness. Nowhere is it explicitly stated that “money is the root of all good”, but at least one character, Francisco D’Anconia, challenges guests at a party with the following question: “You say that money is the root of all evil. Have you considered what is the root of money?” The dollar sign is admittedly used in the novel as a symbol of the vision of capitalism that Rand ascribes to the Founding Fathers (or some of them, at least).

Megan McArdle is a more sympathetic reader:

I look to Atlas Shrugged more for conveniently totable beach reading than an economic blueprint.  What’s interesting to me, though, is how many details Rand did get right–like the markets in “unfreezing” Ukrainian bank deposits, so similar to the frozen railroad bonds of Atlas Shrugged.  Or the cascading and unanticipated failures, with government officials racing to slap another fix on to fix the last failing solution.

McArdle then attempts to explain Rand’s accurate description of socialism at work:

She was able to describe these things so well, of course, because she’d seen what an economy looked like while it was being wrecked.  All of Rand’s writing is dominated by the fact that she lived through the birth pangs of Soviet Russia, and saw her family’s business destroyed by Lenin’s ideology, and extraordinarily incompetent economic management.

While the biographical background is true, it is dangerous to assume that Rand was merely describing what she had lived through, and that that explains the realism of her descriptions. What evidence is there that Rand’s writing is dominated by the fact that she lived throught the birth pangs of Soviet Russia? Rand herself rarely mentioned it or her family background. What dominates Rand’s writing is its powerful chanpioning of laissez-faire capitalism and individualism and its finely argued excoriation of socialism of any kind. Rather than her childhood experience, I would locate the explanation elsewhere. Rand dug deep into ideas to find the root principle or value at their base. Barbara Branden wrote about Rand’s adopting, at the tender age of 12 or 13

a method that she called thinking in principles… she meant the process of systematically and explicitly identifying the reasons behind each idea she held and the relation of each idea to all the rest… Later, in her novels and nonfiction lectures and essays, the meaning of thinking in principles came to focus on the “why”, by looking for the abstraction that united and explained two or more concretes (Branden, B., The Passion of Ayn Rand, New York: Doubleday, 1986, 22).

This can be confirmed by reading almost anything Rand wrote, either fiction or non-fiction (e.g. Philosophy – who needs it?). It is more likely, therefore, that Rand’s accuracy in “predicting” some of today’s events comes from her understanding of the ideas, the principles, that underpin the decisions, statements and actions taken today in the financial crisis. Rand was not of course the only one to understand the core principles and basic philosophy behind socialism, nor was she the only one to “predict” the present financial crisis, and many of those others who did predict it did not have the benefit of Rand’s childhood experience to guide them.

Ayn Rand
Image via Wikipedia
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Disclosure of Material Connection: My recommendations above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a commission. Your cost will be the same as if you order directly. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. This disclosure is in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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