March 26, 2011
Will Conservatives Defend Atlas Shrugged This Time Around?By Theo Willem
On April 15, tax day, the movie Atlas Shrugged will be released, and the attacks from the Left have already begun. The trailer of Atlas Shrugged (Part I) has already over a million hits on YouTube. The Left at least knows who their enemy is. The real question is whether conservatives will defend Atlas Shrugged this time around. Or will they remain silent?
At the 50th anniversary celebration of the book Atlas Shrugged in Washington DC, October 06, 2007, Barbara Branden, a long-time friend and biographer of Ayn Rand said the following:
But what was even worse, according to Barbara Branden, was the lack of public support that Ayn Rand received. There were no public voices supporting her. There were prominent public figures who had written Ayn Rand privately, but they were silent in public. Ayn Rand had defended so many people, especially businessmen, but no one had defended her, at least not in public. It was that silence, according to Barbara Branden, that was unbearable for Ayn Rand.
One would think that when Atlas Shrugged was released in 1957, conservatives would at least have supported her. That didn't happen. In fact, one of the worst attacks came from The National Review, written by Whittaker Chambers, entitled "Big Sister Watching You," in which he wrote: "From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: To a gas chamber -- go!"
Unlike Whittaker Chambers, and most other critics, Ayn Rand actually had experienced the tyranny of totalitarianism first-hand. Her novel, We The Living, was based upon her early life in Russia. Ideas for Ayn Rand were real. They weren't an isolated academic exercise; they were about freedom and slavery, capitalism and statism, life and death.
When Ayn Rand immigrated to the United States, she embraced the United States whole-heartedly. Ayn Rand was a great admirer of the founding fathers and always said, proudly, that she was not an American by birth, but by choice. In her book Philosophy Who Needs It, she wrote:
Toward the end of her later life, however, Ayn Rand became disillusioned with the society and culture in which she was living. She didn't hear anybody defending America; she didn't hear anybody fighting for America 's ideals -- as the country seemed to be slipping deeper into a real version of Atlas Shrugged.
In a similar way, so many conservatives today are disillusioned with the Republican Party. For two years under the George W Bush Presidency (from 2002 to 2004), the Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate. Yet what did they accomplish? Which bloated government departments were eliminated or reduced? What alternative vision was offered? Government only expanded.
In last year's election, there again was a glimpse of hope when the Republicans took the House in a historic landslide victory. The voters had spoken. The Tea Party had spoken. But that night, the celebration for many conservatives ended as soon as the new Speaker of the House spoke. Instead of John Boehner providing the nation with a new vision as an alternative to socialized healthcare and the ominous growth of the welfare state, John Boehner, the new leader of the opposition, broke down in tears and spoke incoherently about his past life. The verdict is still out, but it appears it will be another status-quo Republican Congress.
In Ayn Rand's book, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Ayn Rand was very critical of the conservative movement. And even though this book, like Atlas Shrugged, was written over 50 years ago, so much of it still rings true today. The conservative movement didn't have the intellectual courage to defend capitalism, nor to uphold the principles on which America was founded. In the chapter, "Conservatism: An Obituary," she wrote the following:
After Ayn Rand's death in 1982, her work began finding more and more admirers. Today it has been reported that Atlas Shrugged is the most influential book after the Bible, and according to the Ayn Rand Institute, the sale of Ayn Rand's novels are breaking all records.
It cannot be denied that some of today's most prominent intellectuals, especially on the conservative side, have been influenced by Ayn Rand. And at any Tea Party rally, Ayn Rand's ideas are present, and so are posters of her. Yet, strangely -- even 50 years after Atlas Shrugged -- so many intellectual conservatives appear hesitant or afraid to admit that they have been influenced by Ayn Rand.
There are some public voices, however, supporting Ayn Rand's ideas. Only some weeks ago I heard Rush Limbaugh reading sections of the book The Virtue of Selfishness on the radio. It was from the chapter "Doesn't Life Require Compromise?" In this chapter, Ayn Rand writes that one cannot compromise on certain fundamental principles. Mr. Limbaugh seemed to be directing this at the current Republican Congress.
Regularly, on the Fox News Channel, John Stossel can be seen discussing the ideas of Ayn Rand. Only a couple a months ago he did a special segment on Atlas Shrugged.
In 2008, on September 25, Geert Wilders, the conservative Dutch politician, in a speech said:
In Alan Greenspan's memoir, The Age of Turbulence, Greenspan recalls being pulled asides by high ranking members of Putin's government, and to his surprise, being asked about Ayn Rand. Alan Greenspan had been a close friend of Ayn Rand and his writings are also presented in Rand's book, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.
And so the question is: Will conservatives defend Atlas Shrugged this time around? And, can they afford not to?
The great American productivity, the great American economy, the almighty US dollar are sadly things of the past. The culture and the mood of today remind me of a scene towards the end of The Fountainhead, when Gail Wynand says: "The age of the skyscraper is gone. This is the age of the housing project . . ."
If there is to be an American revival, can there be one without a philosophical argument in favor of America 's founding principles and its political-economic system of capitalism? And can Ayn Rand's name be left out of the equation?
Or is it time to embrace Ayn Rand as a great American? Time has shown to be on her side, but patience with the status-quo conservative movement and the Republican party is running out.
Theo Willem is a freelance writer in living in the San Francisco Bay Area.