As I write the topic line for this post I am thinking of my mother and her coffee mug and mouse-pad that say just that: ‘Who is John Galt?’ – the disillusioned anthem of the independent hard-worker in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Mom gave the book to me to read when I was 15 and I read like a demon through every class break and into the early morning. But why talk about it now? I just came across an article in The Spokesman-Review : Bill requires all Idaho kids to read ‘Atlas Shrugged.’
Now, the perpetrator of the bill is painting it as a lesson to the board of education regarding other rules and repeals. He isn’t really going to follow through, but the article brings up popular opinion on the book that I wanted to ponder.
“The 1957 novel has been embraced by libertarians and the tea party movement, in part for its opposition to “statism” and embrace of capitalism, as Rand expressed her philosophy of “objectivism,” focusing on “the morality of rational self-interest.” In recent years, the novel has been touted by conservative commentators including Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.”
It’s been a while since I’ve read it and perhaps my 15 year old mind was being dazzled by themes in the book that it wanted to see, not the themes that everyone else was seeing. Honestly, I don’t quite get conservative adopting of the book. Maybe it’s my 33 year old mind not really understanding politics outside of seeing how they’re practiced. But here goes, here’s some pondering:
I’ll admit that Ayn Rand pitches a hard line in Atlas Shrugged and that all of her hard lines in all of the books I’ve read of her’s have glowed with capitalism. Though capitalism, to me, has always been a non-partisan, non-denominational love. In fact, economic systems are not political systems, no matter how much they are confused.
Rand’s “morality of rational self-interest” seemed a meaner, seedier quest for human perfection and self reliance along the lines of Louisa May Alcott’s Transcendentalism. Though where Alcott may suffer the public because it is embiggening, Rand leaves the public because they are insufferable. The public here are the masses of fictional devices who rely and profit completely on another’s talent, success, and drive. These devices may or may not reflect actual persons.
What I got from Atlas Shrugged is that a person’s utmost responsibility is to himself, and that, whether admitted or no, everyone functions in their own self-interest. No action is without selfishness. This self-interest must be balanced to the needs of the society one chooses to function within. It’s almost anarchic when you consider that the ultimate self-responsibility exhibited in the book is leaving/disappearing from/abandoning the society that doesn’t blend with one’s own ideals and needs. This is why I never considered Ayn Rand’s writings to have anything to do with politics and why I wonder at their adoption by conservative groups. Don’t political parties need government? Isn’t anarchism about having none?
Oh, but you may say they are trying to change government for the better in line with “rational self interest.” Changing the society you live in admits to loving/needing it the way it is as well. It is supporting the structure put in place by those who oppose you. Consider, when you cannot win an argument the energy you put into arguing is wasted. You cannot argue someone out of their beliefs. You can leave them be and go do something productive with your time and money.