Atlas Summer: Introduction

Close Encounters of the Rand Kind

My first encounter with Ayn Rand came in high school.  In my senior philosophy class, my teacher introduced me to The Fountainhead.  The book appealed to my philosophical bent and I enjoyed Howard Roark’s passionate, downright reckless individualism.

Let me reiterate: I was in high school.

The teacher who recommended the book to me did not look like Mr. Russo from Freaks and Geeks.

I have not read another Ayn Rand book since.  This was not because of Rand-hatred.  (I will address that later.)  I went to college.  Had a job at a TV station.  Then I went to grad school and worked in a museum.  During those years I read other books.  Books by Ayn Rand just did not figure on my list of books to read.

I am currently working as a temporary employee.   This status should provide an interesting X-Factor in reading Rand’s 1300 page magnum opus.  A job provides many things, including money.  A steady income stream will help and I would really like a fat wallet.  Is this greed or simply the desire for self-preservation?

As a critic of popular culture and politics, Atlas Shrugged presents itself as a fascinating test case.  I have read many reviews of the book.  The surprising trend is that either the reviewer loves the book, saying it is the best book ever written by a human, or it is the worst thing ever written, worse than Battlefield Earth, the Silmarillion, and Eragon combined.  I am curious about how one book could generate such hyperbole from both ends.

“If you’re good at something never do it for free.”  A = A.

Why So Serious?

The hyperbolic reactions caused by Atlas Shrugged have turned the book into a volatile commodity.  Proponents speak in religious terms, equating his or her reading experience with St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.  Ayn Rand is the greatest writer ever.  Within the book lay the key to unlocking wealth, power, and prestige.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the book generates a ferocious and equally fanatical hatred.  One parallel is the Two-Minute Hate in Orwell’s 1984.  The hatred can get borderline irrational, mere disagreement with the text turning into violent screeds.

Seriously, it’s just a book.  It’s fiction!  One sees reverence and piety directed at sacred texts, not at lengthy potboilers written in the 1950s.

What’s the point of all this, anyway?

Since 2009 the United States and most of the world has endured an economic cataclysm the likes of which has not been seen since Herbert Hoover sat in the Oval Office.  Calling this global catastrophe the Great Recession will remain one of the monumental understatements of American history.  It is akin to saying Hurricane Katrina gave Louisiana a little more moisture for a few days.

The multiple causes of the Great Recession have been debated endlessly.  The cascading crises within the subprime mortgage, housing, credit, and currency areas all have a singular culprit.  The culprit is less a person than an amorphous vituperative philosophy commonly called “deregulation.”  Whenever the banking and the financial sectors are deregulated, economic cataclysm is soon to follow.  It resulted in the Great Depression, the Crash of 1987, and 2009.  Three major systematic collapses within a century, how is that a stable economic system?  Capitalism seems about as stable as Corey Haim.  But, hey, after a period of legislative rehab, we can deregulate the industry again.  The Dow will never go down, we’ll all be rich, our 401Ks will be huge!  One more time.  One more hit.  (The Corey Haim metaphor was not a mere pop culture reference.  Corey Haim is dead because he thought he could have just one more hit and his body would take it.)

A metaphor.

Karl Marx, the bête noire of Ayn Rand, once said that capitalism plants the seeds of its own destruction.  With Goldman Sachs selling junk stocks to widows and retirees, British Petroleum turning the Gulf Coast into a black oily hellscape, and a two-party democracy unable to pass necessary legislation to prevent socioeconomic collapse, one has yet to here a coherent counter-argument from free-market advocates.

“Atlas Summer” will take an in-depth look at Ayn Rand’s very long and very controversial work.  The analysis will be in the same spirit at Red Letter Media’s eviscerations of Avatar, the Phantom Menace, and Attack of the Clones. Everything from historical context, economic philosophy, and literary craft will be subjected to our gaze.

As a fan of box office bombs, camp, and pop culture notoriety, I am willing to give Atlas Shrugged a chance.  Despite my serious issues with deregulation and the free market, I want to hear the arguments from the other side.  It is not my task as a book reviewer and cultural commentator to read and watch things I completely agree with.  That’s boring and narrow.  One’s view of the world should be leavened with different opinions, different viewpoints, and different backgrounds.  As people are wont to say, “Some of my best friends are …”

Too many voices agreeing on the same things cause epistemic closure.  During this project, we want to hear from you.  The Rand-hater.  The Rand-lover.  If I got something wrong in my summary and analysis, point it out to me.  Even though I am a pretty good reviewer, I am also fallible.

It would be great if some enlightening discussion can be generated with this project.

A Few Questions

  • Why has this book remained popular?
  • Some people say this is the best book ever written.  Compared to what?  Examples.
  • How is Rand’s philosophy different from Marx, de Sade, Adam Smith, Friedrich von Hayek, John Maynard Keynes, and others?
  • Is “going Galt” a bad thing?  (Considering the actions of Enron, WorldCom, Goldman Sachs, and British Petroleum.)

NB: Coffee is for Closers is also looking for a conservative voice during this project.  If you think Atlas Shrugged is a great book, please contact either Matt or I.  A variety of voices will heighten the quality of discussion.

  1. April 4, 2016 at 7:40 am

    Very late arrival to the party but in a nutshell here’s the problem.

    The book is consistent and if it does preach anything other than the fact that self interest is all you need to move the world, it preaches consistency. The people who start out as being evil remain evil, the people who start out being virtuous remain virtuous, the fact that this happens as the world literally crumbles down around them is scary for most people because every other book out there is preaching moral transformation and that’s what they’ve grown accustomed to. That being said, there is a minor character in the book that does go through this moral transformation but it’s so far off into the background that people hardly remember him and most don’t even read that far.

    Your approach on the other hand is woefully inconsistent from the get-go. And here’s why:
    you state that “the causes of the Great Depression have been debated endlessly” which implies that the subject is at least not settled, even embroiled in constant debate, but just two sentences later you assert that “deregulation” is the main culprit, without actual reference to what “deregulation” was, what its immediate effects were, what prompted it, what regulations were imposed in the first place (the sequence must be free->regulated->deregulated). Within the span of three sentences you have proven to hold inconsistent views but claim yourself to be perfectly rational. Everything else is dreamtalk.

  1. June 21, 2010 at 9:19 am

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