Sanity filter off

Due to the motion of Mercury, my horoscope advises me to "run any really audacious ideas through a sanity filter." So I ran the idea of consulting astrologers through the filter and straight away I had a problem. I decided to turn the filter off before typing "Ayn Rand" into Google News.

In the Wall Street Journal Stephen Moore writes that if only Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, "were required reading for every member of Congress and political appointee in the Obama administration. I’m confident that we’d get out of the current financial mess a lot faster." Even with the filter off I had trouble dealing with this idea. According to Wikipedia, Atlas Shrugged is longer than War and Peace. It’s also printed in type so small nobody over 50 is able to read it without a magnifying glass. Washington would be deadlocked for months while senators squinted at the tiny text through their reading glasses. But maybe that’s Moore’s cunning plan — the less the government does, the better off we’ll be.

Devotees of Ayn Rand’s 645,000 word novel are convinced that any rational person who reads it will be converted to the philosophy of Objectivism. Rand argued that philosophy determined the course of history and wrote the book in the hope that it might save the world from destruction.

Atlas Shrugged is set in the near future. American civilisation is collapsing as the result of a strike. But the people who are striking are not ordinary workers, but industrialists, engineers, scientists, artists and philosophers. One by one they’ve abandoned the world to its fate and moved to a secret location in Colorado where they are led by a brilliant engineer named John Galt. Galt has discovered an entirely new concept of energy and used it to create a motor that draws static electricity out of the atmosphere, producing limitless quantities of power and rendering coal, diesel and petrol motors obsolete.

Of course the Galt motor is actually a sophisticated literary device known as a metaphor. The real engine of development is the human mind — Galt himself is the motor. As I’m sure you’ve experienced yourself, the life of a genius is almost unbearable in today’s society. The world is filled with mediocre individuals who envy anybody whose achievements are greater than their own. As one of Rand’s characters puts it: "They bare their teeth at you from out of their rat holes, thinking that you take pleasure in letting your brilliance dim them — while you’d give a year of your life to see a flicker of talent anywhere among them."

Rand argued that the organised irrationality of big government was stifling achievement. She saw her novel as a kind of prophecy which dramatised a process which was already underway. When reader Rudolf G Crute wrote to her with some questions about the novel, Rand replied:

The philosophical and political trends which are destroying the country in my novel, exist today and dominate our culture. Their practical results have not yet reached the state portrayed in Atlas Shrugged, but we are moving in that direction. However, a trend can be stopped and changed. History is determined by men’s philosophical convictions. It is philosophy that brought to world to its present state and it is only philosophy that can save it — a philosophy of reason, individualism and capitalism (p 612-613).

It’s not just Moore who’s spruiking the book in the media. In the Spectator Fraser Nelson urges readers to pick up a copy of Atlas Shrugged where they’ll find "plenty of chilling analogies for the current economic collapse".

Perhaps Moore would be reassured to know that some members of Congress have already read Atlas Shrugged. Congressman Ken Calvert lists it as his favourite book while Paul Ryan hands it out as a Christmas present and makes his interns read it. And in case you’re wondering, Ayn Rand did approve of Christmas.

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Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
15 years ago

I couldn’t finish it.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
15 years ago

People in Hollywood keep threatening to turn it into a movie but I don’t think anybody’s been able to get their screenplay past Leonard Peikoff.

I can’t help imagining the movie as Soviet-era steampunk. It’s the kind of future a Russian girl of the 1920s might have imagined — streamlined trains, heavy industry, complex mechanical gizmos and a magical Teslaesque device that generates power out of thin air. The Rearden metal means that all the ultra-modern machinery has a blue-green hue.

Using any real-world technology invented after 1940 would destroy the whole thing.

Damian Jeffree
15 years ago

I hear Alan Greenspan was a devotee, if that is the right word, of Rand’s.

Wasn’t he last heard reconsidering the last 40 years of his thinking?

15 years ago

It was about that long ago that he wrote in favour of the gold standard for one of her essay compilations.

15 years ago

Stephen Moore writes that if only Rands novel Atlas Shrugged, “were required reading for every member of Congress and political appointee in the Obama administration. Im confident that wed get out of the current financial mess a lot faster.

Oh yeah

After all Greenspan was disciple of Rand’s. It’s a cinch that we need more of her in economics. One wonders at the moral veracity of someone preaching ultimate freedom who then has the temerity to dictate what sex partners and musical tastes her associates should have. Methinks perhaps she’s not all that opposed to Stalin and Hitler after all.

Maybe she hates ’em ’cause she ain’t ’em.