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“I can’t answer that yes or no, unless you give me time for a long speech on it” -Ayn Rand in her HUAC testimony

I have very nearly completed reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It was on our bookshelf while I was growing up, but I never paid much attention to it. My mother suggested I read it, which was probably why I didn’t touch it for so many years. When my super cutie-pie niece was born in March, my mom came to visit. Along with the baby gifts for my sister, she brought me some books. Deciding to be open minded for a change, and knowing that many of my friends had read the book and enjoyed it, I gave it a try.

At first I thought it was such an interesting story. I liked the characters and their relationships, and I didn’t mind the wordiness too much. But then the story didn’t end. It still hasn’t, eight months later. It just keeps getting worse. Now I hate the characters and I hope they all die tragically. (I’m not done yet so if that’s not what happens, don’t tell me!) It’s true that I believe most novels would be better off as short stories, but this book takes the cake in terms of being preachy and repetitive. We get it, Ayn Rand! You think government should stay out of business and personal affairs and also that people are stupid. The concept of writing philosophy in the form of a novel is so wonderful and it really could have been amazing, regardless of how I feel about her crazy, unrealistic, extremist philosophy.

But that is not what most upsets me about Ayn Rand (who was actually named Alisa Rosenbaum). Her books may be wordy and preachy, but at least she had conviction, right? Wrong. Ayn Rand was a hypocrite. She spent thousands of pages writing about Objectivism: “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” One who lives according to this philosophy should strongly object to any attempt to directly stifle another’s productivity.

Yet Ayn Rand was a member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the preservation of American Ideals, which stated: “…As members of the motion-picture industry…we refuse to permit the effort of …totalitarian-minded groups to pervert this powerful medium into an instrument for the dissemination of un-American ideas and beliefs. We pledge ourselves to fight…to divert the loyalty of the screen from the free America that give it birth.”

Really, Ayn? It’s ok to prevent someone who has different beliefs than you from “productive achievement” (ie publishing books or producing movies)? Rand was active in several anti-Communist groups aimed at stifling free speech. That’s all well and good if you believe that nobody else is entitled to have a different opinion than yours. But if you believe that everyone is entitled to “reason as (one’s) only absolute”, HOW DARE YOU try and stop someone from pursuing his “noblest activity” by participating in these groups and testifying in HUAC?!

Even Ayn Rand can’t live up to her own ridiculous extremist philosophy. I think Atlas Shrugged is best left as a long-winded novel, not a philosophy book. In an article recently sent to me, Atlas Shrugged was described as such: “Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal.”

November 2011
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