“I hate that book. I hate her. I wrote a thesis paper in school about her hatred for people and the human race.” If that’s how you feel, you might have clicked on this link by mistake. No matter – I’m glad you are here! You are welcome and I do hope you stick around. The earlier invective was unloaded on an unwary fellow who dared to answer “Atlas Shrugged” to the innocent question “What’s your favorite book?” Sort of over the top, don’t you think? Have you ever heard statements like that about Barbara Kingsolver? Or Suzanne Collins? Or Clive Cussler?
But we hear this all the time from different folks about Ayn Rand. And the world really is divided in their response to Atlas Shrugged, or my favorite The Fountainhead. Some see Rand as a Philosopher Queen standing above society; some in her “Objectivist” movement wish to set in place another ‘smelly little orthodoxy’ by establishing a closed system with purity tests and excommunication processes (I think she’d be displeased); while others call her the devil and revile her for telling the story of men and women who dare to stand alone.
That is if folks are even allowed to read her at all these days. The nouveau guardians of wisdom have deemed the works of Ayn Rand a violation of the “safe spaces” they wish to create – and her work is not read as much as it should be in colleges. Those who do acknowledge her find their defense in mockery; attempting to lampoon what they cannot silence. “Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we’d pick up,” as President Obama once said. The more honest rejection comes from the socialists and their communist cousins who attempt to turn the argument against their centrally planned systems on the Rand-readers. “Ya, it’s nice in theory. A utopian world, and I can see the appeal – but those ideas have never worked in real life. You have to grow out of them.” A friend of mine – who I often look to for insight, as usual has the best response to this assertion, “Free markets are what happens when you leave people alone to produce and trade peacefully without intervention. There is no “perfect free market utopia.” Just like the equilibrium in economics is never a reality, just a tendency. Of course, some libertarians argue differently and that’s why they argue “they didn’t do it right.” Freedom allows people to act on their ideas and to create things in reality and then they trade with each other for what they want; the more freedom the better that happens. No one can guess the end goal, because there is no fixed collective goal. Its apples and oranges to compare a free market to a planned economy, because the fundamental premises are so different.”
And through it all, Rand does find her way – a cult classic that is slipped under doors and handed over at the bottom of laundry baskets in darkened dorms policed by the know-nothings. So again, why the odd reactions to Rand? I don’t know.
But, for fun, I’m gonna guess. My theory is that the reactions are so visceral because of how the books make the reader feel. And those feelings reveal a lot about the reader, to themselves and to others. So I’ll tell you how The Fountainhead makes me feel. Unafraid. That’s the best word for it. Sure, empowered or encouraged could also work. To know that opposition is natural, that popularity is often a front for surrender, that success is not guaranteed, and that we alone must be the judges of our work, of our ideas, of our lives – of ourselves. And that life is a struggle; for our beliefs and for our place and for our freedom. All of these are things that I have felt naturally, that I have experienced in life and that I have seen in the world around me – put to a good if sometimes loquacious prose by a gifted storyteller. That is all.
So why the hate? Since that is not an emotion I share about Rand, I can only make the following educated guess – if Rand makes me feel unafraid, it is likely that the people who hate her do so because reading Rand makes them afraid. For them – I suppose – a world where people are asked to stand alone; a world where “you did build that, you did make that happen,” must be scary because they feel like they are placed at the mercy of others. Now, depending on others doesn’t bother them – that is the heart of socialism, as the comfortable cushion of “somebody else made that happen” proves. What is truly scary however is if they are dependent on people who they need, but who don’t need them in return and know it: and have the audacity to say it, thereby shattering the illusion. Of people who they don’t understand, of instincts they don’t share, of motive power they do not possess. While they feel need – they also feel unneeded. That certainly is scary, isn’t it?
The camera moved to Galt. He remained still for a moment. Then, with so swift and expert a movement that his secretary’s hand was unable to match it, he rose to his feet, leaning sidewise, leaving the pointed gun momentarily exposed to the sight of the world – then, standing straight, facing the cameras, looking at all his invisible viewers, he said: “Get the hell out of my way!” Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged