In Ayn Rand’s philosophical masterwork, the bad guys are a conspiracy of old-money plutocrats who gather in conniving secrecy, exert undue political influence on the political process and misuse government power to line their own pockets. Gee, who does that sound like?
By David Brin
(Originally posted at Contrary Brin)
Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates. - Mark Twain
There was nothing else even remotely interesting at Blockbuster — so we rented Atlas Shrugged.
I often talk about Ayn Rand and her passionate followers, who have effectively taken over the U.S. Libertarian movement, influencing much of the rhetoric we hear from the American Right… (even though no Libertarian policies have ever been actually enacted during Republican rule). I’ve published both scholarly papers and popular articles about Rand’s fiction and philosophy.
So, I thought, why not give her acolytes one more shot at selling me on her biggest, most-central tale? An honest person does that.
For the record
First a couple of honest disclaimers: (1) It may seem that I am aiming most of my critical attention, lately, at “right-wing authors.” (Recently, I dissected Frank Miller’s travesty “300,” showing how it tells outright historical lies in service of a deeply anti-American theme – see Why the Occupy Wall Street kids are better than the #$%! Spartans. ) But I do notice foibles of the left! For example, I promise soon to offer up that long-awaited piece about James Cameron’s beautiful but misguided film, AVATAR.
(2) As one of the few sci fi authors who delivered a keynote at a political party convention – indeed it was the Libertarian Party – I may seem somewhat of a “heretic” to the Rand-followers who now dominate the LP. But no one can deny my ongoing campaign to get folks to read Adam Smith, the founding sage of both libertarianism and liberalism.
Like Smith, I believe in fair and open and vigorously creative competition - the greatest innovative force in the universe and the process that made us. Encouraging vibrant, positive-sum rivalry – in markets, democracy, science, etc – is one reason to promote universal transparency (see The Transparent Society ), so that all participants may base their individual decisions on full knowledge.
That positive aim - also preached by Friedrich Hayek - should be the goal of any sane libertarian movement… instead of fetishistically hating all government, all the time, which is like a poor workman blaming the tools. Anyway, a movement based on hopeful joy beats one anchored in rancorous scapegoating, any day.
(Adam Smith favored feeding and educating all children, for the pragmatic reason that this maximizes the number of skilled, adult competitors, a root motive of liberalism and a role for government that is wholly justifiable in libertarian terms.)
For my full, cantankerously different take on the plusses and minuses of contemporary libertarianism — and other oversimplifying dogmas — have a look at this essay: Models, Maps and Visions of Tomorrow.
Only now, with due diligence done, let’s get back to ATLAS SHRUGGED: THE MOTION PICTURE.