Thursday, February 19, 2009

Atlas Slugged

I am trying to read Ayn Rand's Altas Shrugged. Since I made fun of the Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore's last month when he recommended it to every member of Congress, I have noticed a number of allusions to Atlas Shrugged from the market pundits on CNBC. This morning, Rick Santelli openly proclaimed himself a Randian true believer.

While there is nothing surprising in finding Rand fans among CNBC pundits who regularly tout the wonders of free markets and the evils of government, I am curious about the frequency with which I have been hearing her referenced recently. It is possible that they have been making such allusions for years and I just never noticed, but I suspect that there is more to it than that. For one thing, the market failures of the last year have discredited many conservative economists forcing ideologues like Santelli and Moore to cite works of fiction as authority for their views.

I also wonder whether the more frequent references to Rand aren't in part a reflection of the breakdown in the coalition between uber-libertarians and conservative Christians that has powered the Republican party since 1980. I have always thought that it must have been rather painful for fans of Rand's militant atheism and her celebration of "prime movers" to suck up to the anti-intellectualism of the Religious Right. I wonder whether the more open embrace of Rand reflects a loss of patience with the bumpkinism of the Palin wing of the party.

I first tried reading Rand when I was in high school because a couple of guys in the chess club assured me that she was the ultimate font of all wisdom. However, rather than starting with one of her novels, I picked up The Virtue of Selfishness and I got bored with it pretty quickly. A couple years ago though, I caught The Fountainhead on cable and I enjoyed it pretty well. When I ran across a copy that my wife had read for some class in college, I decided to give it a try. I found Rand's prose pretty wooden, but imagining Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal and Raymond Massey delivering the dialogure helped a lot. Unfortunately, Atlas Shrugged is 400 pages longer and I don't have any positive associations to help bring this to life.

I am only about seventy pages in so far and I can't count the number of times that I have cringed in pain at the sledgehammer subtlety with which Rand drives home her themes. I had figured out pretty early that the character of the composer Richard Halley would be a paragon of misunderstood creative individualism like the architect Howard Roark in The Fountainhead. However, Rand takes no chances:
"The music of Richard Halley has a quality of the heroic. Our age has outgrown
that stuff," said one critic. "The music of Richard Halle is out of key with our
times. It has a tone of ecstasy. Who cares of ecstasy nowadays?" said another.
Ouch! Ouch! Alright! I get it, Ayn. I get it! Genius is unappreciated and resented by the masses. It is the one great truth that all high school chess club members understand.


  1. I wanted to let you know that I found this post extremely distasteful. Your gratuitous use of the R-word doesn't make you "edgy" or "provocative." I think you're generally a pretty clever guy, and it's a shame to see you resort to bathroom humor.

  2. BB,

    Thanks. I look forward to taking a closer look at your posts after I finish the book.