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The Who: Quadrophenia

Atlas Shrugged Revisited

A few days ago on Facebook a friend remarked, apropos Independence Day, that "We're doomed because of Ayn Rand." Then earlier today my friend Stu left a comment on this post from 2014 saying he had given up on reading Atlas Shrugged with 300 pages still to go. He mentioned that he hadn't been able to locate a previous post--posts, actually, two of them--that I'd written about it. They were written eleven years ago and I found, on re-reading them, that they still seem relevant and interesting. So I'm bringing the subject up again.

At the time I knew a little about Rand, of course; I guess everybody does. I knew her horrible reputation in the eyes of many across the philosophical and political spectrum. And I knew that she had a lot of adoring fans, and had founded a slightly cultish philosophical school called Objectivism. But apart from a couple of things which I'd read in my teens and not been much impressed by, and didn't remember very well, I didn't actually have any firsthand knowledge of her work. So I decided to read Atlas Shrugged "because it is apparently a very influential book, and I wanted to understand why and how—why people like it, and what it teaches them." The result was a review and a follow-up. Here they are:

Ayn Rand, Crank

A Few More Notes on Ayn Rand

These two pieces were the occasion of one of the liveliest discussions ever to occur in the comments here. If I remember correctly one thread passed the 200-comment mark, which probably makes it the longest ever. Apparently the first post somehow came to the attention of some zealous Objectivists, and they came looking for an argument, which they got. Unfortunately those discussions are lost, I guess forever. At the time I was on Blogger and used the old Haloscan commenting system. It shut down, and a lot of interesting discussion went with it.

Rand is a sort of extreme libertarian, which conventionally puts her on the political right, though many conservatives consider her a mortal enemy (see Whittaker Chambers's famous review of Atlas Shrugged). But many progressives hold views that are fundamentally compatible with hers: hostility to Christianity, for instance, and above all the doctrines of the sexual revolution, which are 100% compatible. Hers is a hard-nosed and explicit statement of attitudes and inclinations which are present deep in the roots of American culture. And I suppose that's part of the reason why her work remains popular. 

WhoIsJohnGaltA guy who really likes the sound of his own voice, for one thing.


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Man, it's hard to believe those posts are from 11 years ago! I would have guessed six or seven tops.

I wasn’t surprised, but only because I’ve learned to take my first thought on such things and increase it by 50 to 100 percent.

I wasn’t surprised, but only because I’ve learned to take my first thought on such things and increase it by 50 to 100 percent.

My bowing out of AS has nothing to do with her philosophy and everything to do with bad writing and storytelling. I'm happy to read fiction written by people I differ with politically, but it has to be good fiction. AS is just so extremely bloated and the seed of a plotline is so thin, and of course you are correct, she IS a crank. In what I read I cannot recall any sort of religion ever being mentioned, but maybe it was, or any children at all, even peripherally. I really just don't get the interest in this book; but maybe most that hold it in esteem have not actually read it, though I would guess that Alan Greenspan has. There isn't much about sex either, or am I missing something there too? (Spoiler alert) Dagny starts with Francisco d'Anconia, then moves on to Hank Rearden, and then apparently to John Galt - but at three very distinct stages, so I would not label her as promiscuous or anything. Hank is committing adultery, but as I mentioned before there is no religion and since his wife and family are among the "looters" they are very contemptible and not worthy of the reader being concerned with. I think there is the seed of a good book lost in this mess. That book would need to be about a third the length, and have more character development, and no one delivering speeches.

" I really just don't get the interest in this book"

Well, that's a part of my recurrent interest in the thing. I can understand Alan Greenspan or somebody who's a devotee of her philosophy thinking this is a great book. But other people? In particular I've wondered about Christians and others who don't share Rand's philosophy but think it's a great story. I cannot understand that at all. As far as exciting plots go, Moby Dick is a page-turner in comparison.

I don't mean that there's a lot of sex, but that the view of sexual morality in the book (implicit but clear) is basically the same as that of the sexual revolution.

"I’ve learned to take my first thought on such things and increase it by 50 to 100 percent."

That's probably a good rule of thumb. I recently read a book that I bought in 2013 (I knew because the receipt was tucked in). But if you'd have asked me when I bought it I would have said two or three years ago.

Rob, I have a measure which is 'before or after I came to the States.' So for instance, I remember Mac's discussion of Ayn Rand and the Objectivists attacking us as being when I was in Aberdeen. I remember asking a Kenyan philosophy PhD student in Aberdeen to go onto the Com box and help disperse those flies! So its at least nine years ago. And it wasn't really at the end of my time in Scotland. So I would have guessed about ten - even though, like you, it does seem like three or four years ago. I have this cut off point in my life when I left home, and everything is before and after.

I don't get it with Ayn Rand. It all looks SOOO boring.

The material certainly is. I find the phenomenon oddly fascinating though. Maybe I should say morbidly fascinating.

I have a couple measures like that, Grumpy, but they're a little further back in time and thus foggier and not very serviceable.

I keep track of my entire adult life by the dates when my children and grandchildren were born. I have a lot to work with.

Also, there's before and after the tree fell on the house.


Hurricane Katrina is a handy one for me. But then I find that I can't remember whether such-and-such an event happened before or after it. Also it doesn't help with the 14 years since.

I suppose living in totally different places does help. Because there's the room I read Mac's piece in, and the people I discussed it with. Its a compleat dividing line because everything is different. But I agree its crazy. I can't believe I went to Manhatten four years ago.

My last relocation was 1992, so that's not a whole lot of help most of the time.

I'm shocked that I have trouble remembering when I started moving into retirement. It's partly because it was a phased thing that's still going on. Also because it was over the Christmas/New Year holiday so I have to think about whether it was the old year or the new one.

My last move was in 2006. Time-wise everything since then is kind of a blur.

It makes me think that, in the olden days, when people lived in the same house from marriage until death, they probably had a somewhat different sense of time.

I think they must have. Seems to me that even people who stay in the same town for their whole lives have a somewhat different perspective. Maybe not "sense of time" but something. The place as it was in the earlier time and as it is now are more of a piece.

Though judging by this conversation, their sense of time might simply be a total blur :)

I guess that’s one way of interpreting “more of a piece.” :-)

Ive just finished watching Chernobyl. It was pretty good

So I hear, but it doesn't sound like a subject I want to spend that much time on.

Looking forward to seeing 'Chernobyl' at some point. Just finished 'Close to the Enemy,' which started out well but was just so-so by the end. It also has a prominent subplot involving an adulterous relationship which is portrayed quite positively -- very annoying.

Next up -- final season of The Leftovers, then final season of The Bridge (Danish).

Rob, I have been listening to On Sunlight and in Shadow and am really enjoying it. I have been surprised how hard it has been to get Helprin's books from the library.


Yes, that's a really good book! Surprised you're finding them difficult to get hold of, although I must say I don't know that much about audio books.

In other Helprin news I scored a cheap (under $5) copy of Winter's Tale just yesterday, in pristine condition. So now there are three on my shelf, one which I have read (In Sunlight and in Shadow is the one).

Nice to move from Rand to Helprin. Someone who cannot write to someone who can!

I am only listening to the audiobook, because I can't get the book. I have been waiting for Memoir .... for months. And nothing else is available in this library system that includes 15 public libraries and about 10 university libraries including U. Of Miss.

If I could afford to buy them, I wouldn't have a problem.


Have you tried interlibrary loan? Usually that only takes about two weeks, and that's getting books from all over the country.

Winter's Tale is the Helprin title I've most wanted to read. Haven't gotten to it though.

I was thinking about doing a blog post on this, but since we're on the subject of tv etc: I finished the new Stranger Things a couple of days ago. Mostly enjoyed it, but with some big reservations. Did not like it nearly as much as the first. They probably should quit now. Arguably should have stopped with the first one. But apparently there's going to be at least one more.

I've had a hard time finding Helprin's books in libraries, too. Just found this in a piece on him in Tablet Magazine that may at least partially explain the reason why that's the case:

He admitted, days before the review of his recent book was supposed to come out, that he knew the New York Times was going to trash the novel. “They always do,” he told me, jokingly, almost seeming not to care. When I asked him about his prose he admitted that there was something not exactly of this era about his style, which is not to say it is anachronistic or archaic.

I'm always wary of people who blame politics or something of that sort for hostile views of their work. But I can well believe it's true in this case.

Maybe it's a location thing with Helprin's novels. Our county library, centered in Pittsburgh and including 60+ branches, has at least four copies of each of his books. A few titles show 15-20 copies in the system.

I'm sure politics has a lot to do with the negative attention to Helprin's work, but there is also the fact, as the quote above implies, that he doesn't kowtow to literary modernism. This take is briefly fleshed out here, and is pretty much dead on, in my opinion:


His passages about how women affect men are enough to condemn him in many circles, but then, this is Mississippi, so it wouldn't be a problem here. I expect that they may have had them, and they didn't get checked out.


I was intrigued by the name of the writer of that piece: "Pietros Maneos de la Mancha, Son of Sappho and Herakles." I haven't read this yet but it looks interesting:


Possibly no more than interesting.

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