Atlas Shrugged at 50

Apparently Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged is turning 50, a fact I know only because my fairly libertarian-tilted feed reading list has been deluged of late with retrospectives. 

One of the oddities of posts on Ayn Rand is that every author seems to feel required to say something like "I like her work but I am not in total agreement with everything she says."  Uh, OK.  I'm not clear why this proviso seems so necessary.  I have never heard someone saying "I am a big fan of Mozart" and then following up with "but I don't like all of his works."  I am sure that is true, but they don't bother saying so.   I am a big fan of Ayn Rand, in particular with her non-fiction essays, but of course there are parts of her writing I don't agree with.  For example, I would be less likely to take her advice on managing my love life than I would to eat out of Hannibal Lecter's cookbook.

What Rand did so well in Atlas Shrugged was to take collectivist and anti-rational philosophy and play it forward in practice in a very compelling way. She demonstrated with almost mathematical precision the end results of collectivist philosophy.   The entropic United States in Atlas Shrugged, running down under the weight of socialism, has turned out to be repeatedly prescient.  For this reason, I find her anti-heros to be more memorable.  I see analog's to the Jim Taggerts and Lee Hunsackers and Starnes children nearly every day in the news.  Through these analogs, Rand still helps me place current events in their philosophical context. 

By the way, if you enjoyed her novels but have never read her essays, I encourage you to do so.  The Virtue of Selfishness is a reasonable place to start.  She was not the first person to voice many of these messages (Hayek and others were saying many of the same things) but because of her novels, I, like many others, heard them first from her.


  1. Marina @ Sufficient Thrust:

    Thanks for this post. I feel the same way -- I don't qualify my like of other authors/composers/etc. and I shouldn't have to do with Rand. Yet, because I'm in my early 20s, I almost always feel compelled to defend my answer of "Atlas Shrugged" to "What's one of your favorite books?" with a caveat that I am not one of those pie-in-the-sky recent teenagers who is unaware as to the realities of life.

    Hm. I don't think I'm going to defend it anymore. It's the Marxists who should be defending *their* positions...

  2. Kevin:

    I have never heard someone saying "I am a big fan of Mozart" and then following up with "but I don't like all of his works."

    That's because Mozart's most vocal fans don't sometimes resemble a cult. Being a fan of L. Ron Hubbard's science fiction without being a Scientologist isn't the right analogy, either, but it might be closer than the Mozart one.

  3. Jim Hart:

    It's kind of like replying that your agnostic...because you are scared of what people might think when you say you are atheist. Of course, my response...a bit more crass yet... is from Ayn Rand. To paraphrase: I would not call myself an atheist, as that would imply that I don't believe in a god which doesn't exist.

    A perfect place to start with her non-fiction works is "Philosophy: Who needs it?". This books purpose is to help us all understand that philosophy should be taught and that everyone needs it, whether or not theirs' matches hers.

    I went to one of the objectivist seminar things once... I even met Peikoff. It was pretty "Trek-y", if you know what I mean. Their "weirdness", however, in no way dissuades me from identifying myself as an objectivist.

  4. Sol:

    I think the thing is, as long as there are notorious unthinking, uncritical fans running around, I feel like I sometimes have to make that "not in total agreement" statement.

    Likewise, I am a huge fan of science fiction, but I am in no way a part of organized science fiction fandom. That is to say, I love reading (and to a lesser extent, watching) science fiction; I never feel the urge to dress up in costume or sit around singing badly written songs about being beat up in high school but taking refuge in reading about different worlds.

    So just as going to science fiction conventions always makes me feel badly out of place even though we all love the same source material, going to Objectivist club meetings in college convinced me I wasn't an Objectivist. It seemed to be a collection of somewhat broken kids who felt superior but didn't ever do anything real. Clearly, the meetings were not something any of Rand's heroes would have gone to.

  5. TCO:

    I liked THE FOUNTAINHEAD. Will I like ATLAS?

  6. Saintly:

    Rand is a great author. I hear that in person she was a bit much, but compared to all the politically correct nothings who write political fiction and analysis now, she is very refreshing!

  7. Brandybuck:

    I've only read Atlas. Hated it. Hated being told I was an evil person for not being a militantly selfish atheist. Hated the smug adolescent tone of the book. Hated the absurdity of it all. It was only much later that I learned of the weird cultish going-ons surrounding her "movement".

    Fortunately, none if it rubbed off, and I remain a radical minarchist libertarian.

  8. Duane Gran:

    Back when I was a staunch objectivist I regularly included the disclaimer that I didn't agree with her every position for two reasons:

    1) Some of her positions really are extremist
    2) She demanded of her adherents to take the whole philosophy so it is assumed you buy into it all whenever you express affinity for her views

  9. Bill Brown:

    Gah, you people! Please do not confuse Objectivism with its adherents. I'm a card-carrying Objectivist and have been for nearly 20 years now. I've been a club president and I've been to two seminars. I have met some really weird people but I have also met some absolutely incredible people. I am also a member of a MINI club and the ratio of weirdos to great people is approximately the same. The libertarian groups are the exact same way.

    If you accept the ideas, then call yourself an Objectivist. Don't worry about being associated with the rationalistic elements of the movement--you'll differentiate yourself enough if you're actually different from them.

    Incidentally, what advice about "managing your love life" did you find so objectionable? I cannot recall any prescriptive essays on the subject.