Thursday, May 27, 2010

Atlas Shrugged: Selected Excerpt Series

Atlas Shrugged was written by Ayn Rand in 1957. Her experiences growing up in the former Soviet Union shaped her understanding of society, human nature, politics and economics. What she described in fiction over fifty years ago can be glimpsed in our country’s political and regulatory climate today. Yet, for all her wisdom and prescience, Rand’s personal philosophy of Objectivism falls short of the mark.

Were we to inhabit a universe without God, her philosophy would be of the highest worth. The existence of God and His revelation in the person of Jesus Christ exposes Rand’s fatal flaw: Man is not an end in himself—he must ultimately answer to a higher authority. This great fact gives justification and meaning to acts of compassion toward others, something Rand cannot countenance outside the context of self-interest.

This one issue aside, Rand’s philosophy has much to offer. Her defense of capitalism and its many benefits cannot be easily overturned. Her often shocking devotion to personal liberty challenges the deepest of assumptions. Finally, her ideas about virtue and human nature uncover a mountain of thought-provoking truth. Whatever your political views, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged promises to engage your mind as its exciting narrative unfolds.

The following is one of a number of passages that struck me as I read through the over one thousand pages of dense prose. I plan to post more excerpts and commentary in the coming days.

Quote #1 features Francisco d’Anconia, captain of the copper industry and one of the central heroes of the story, discussing the “looters” (those who steal via government policy) and the end of American civilization:

“Do you wish to know whether that day is coming? Watch money. Money is the barometer of society’s virtue. When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion—when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing—when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors—when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you—when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice—you may know that your society is doomed. Money is so noble a medium that it does not compete with guns and it does not make terms with brutality. It will not permit a country to survive as half-property, half-loot.” (p.383)

He goes on to decry the end of the gold standard as a loss of an objective measure of value. Paper currency can be more easily manipulated and controlled. This is not to say that we should all be buying gold from Glenn Beck. However, we should be skeptical of the mystical powers vested in the Federal Reserve.

But what of the rest of the paragraph? Any of that look familiar? It doesn’t take a Henry Waxman congressional investigation to see all the shady deals and kickbacks infesting our American legislative process. My purpose with this first quote is not to make a final pronouncement. Rather, I thought it would be a good way to pique your interest and get you thinking. More quotes will be coming soon.


oddcincy said...

That paragraph reminds me of one guy who invented a system that would blanket the entire country in free high-speed Wi-Fi, even those parts where you're now lucky to get dialup. It was technologically viable, would be supported by ads like NetZero, and would give rural populations the same access to info as everyone else. But the FCC rejected his application, citing cell phone companies' concern that it would interefere with cellular signals. (yeah, I'm sure signal strength was their greatest concern. *cough!* bullcrap *cough!*) The FCC, who produces nothing, interefered with the production of another.

BTW, even without God, man is not an end unto himself. I think one of the reasons Ayn Rand's characters can be so self-centered is that none of them have children. On the household level of the economy, communism prevails, with each child being given resources according to his need and not his (presumably low) output. It also prevails when working adults support elderly parents and/or the disabled. It's just what makes humanity more advanced than the animals.

I think the problem with communism is that it doesn't scale up well. It prevails on the level of households, and I've seen it work in small liberal arts colleges, but the commune is always small enough that every member of the community would know everyone else at least by face. You need that ability for everyone to check on everyone else. When the group becomes large enough that you lose that ability, then things can easily go to crap.

Philip said...

I'm glad you mentioned something about children. I remember thinking something like that at one point but I had forgotten. Taking care of children would be quite a challenge for John Galt and Dagny!