April 26, 2011

"Atlas Shrugged: Part I"

From my movie review in Taki's Magazine:
Atlas Shrugged: Part I is the most universally despised movie of 2011, but I liked it. Critics hate this adaptation of Ayn Rand’s 1957 cult novel for predictable ideological reasons, while Randites are embarrassed that their exalted capitalist system failed to pony up the munificent financing necessary to give Rand’s doorstop novel the blockbuster treatment they feel it deserves. ... 
To my surprise, I quite enjoyed Atlas Shrugged. Although the story is a hymn to the overdog, this low-budget movie has underdog appeal. I soon started to root for the plucky filmmakers to pull off their high-wire act of making a movie that’s distinctive—not distinguished, but still very 1957 in texture—without having anywhere near enough of the dollars that Rand idolized.

Read the whole thing there.

60 comments:

Pam Maltzman said...

I just got back from seeing the movie this afternoon. I really liked it. It stuck to the spirit of the book, and I don't care if it didn't follow every last plot twist in the book.

I look forward to the next two installments. It's quite an achievement to have gotten this movie made, and I am happy that it exists.

ReticentMan said...

Interesting. I had almost been convinced by all the negative reviews that the movie wasn't good, but now I'll probably see it.

I loved The Fountainhead, but only made it through about 20% of AS. My opinion of AS was that it was exactly the same thing as TF except 3 times as long and boring.

97 minutes sounds fun though.

Wes said...

The book is magnificent but it is not something to be read in a few nights, not so much because of the length, but because it challenges almost every basic idea you have. In a sense, you have to be ready for it.

If you go to Barnes and Noble you will find tons of her books (they still sell several hundred thousand per year). I would recommend starting with The Fountainhead because it is shorter and has a smaller scope, although it has far more depth than most books you will read. But once you understand The Fountainhead, you are in a much better position to take on Atlas Shrugged.

Dave said...

I saw the movie and was pleasantly surprised too.

Crony capitalists were a major target of Rand's in the book as well.

Aaron said...

Steve, read the book. Yes, some parts of it are silly or overwrought, and yes, Rand could have been a better writer (or had a better editor). The sex/rape stuff is weird, and Rand's insistence on trying to tie her atheism into everything is annoying and unnecessary. But it's an important book that gets some things, like the looter mentality, strikingly right.

As you suggest, though Rand is famous for being anti-government, the bad guys in Atlas are primarily crony capitalists who use the power of government (and unions, media, and social pressures) to suppress their competition. Galt (spoiler) "went Galt" because his company's owners and employees decided to turn the place into a communist shop -- no government involvement there at all. Government types, when they appear in the book at all later on, are basically opportunists riding the coattails of changes the crony capitalists are driving. At the end of the book (spoiler) one of the heroes is writing a new Constitution -- hardly an anti-government thing to do.

eh said...

Never had the patience to read the book.

I guess it would take less time to see the movie.

But then normally when I see a movie and find out it is based on a book, I like to read the book as well.

It's a conundrum.

(Some -- I grant not everyone -- might find it interesting to see the movie Three Days of the Condor, one of the best movies of the '70s IMO, and then compare its plot with the book, Six Days of the Condor, by James Grady. And then ask the question: Why was the plot of the movie changed? Was the plot of the book perhaps a bit too close to the truth?)

Anonymous said...

Ayn Rand was not only morally bankruupt but was a remarkably bad writer. I read "The Fountainhead" at 17 when I had vague hopes of getting a college scholarship and attempted to make myself believe in her philosophy. Then I grew up.

I'll pass on the movie.

TGGP said...

Reason's blog started grouping reviews based on reviewer ideology. There were a number of libertarians/Objectivists/Rand-fans who disliked it, very few who were none of the above and did. So Steve should badger them to link him.

Haven't seen it or read the book, don't intend to. Stirner > Rand.

Harry Baldwin said...

Soon, the triumphant twosome are personally laying pipe.

I bet you chuckled triumphantly as you typed that.

Thanks for the first positive review I've seen. Everyone else whose opinion I trust is a huge fan of the book, while you haven't read it, so obviously your perspective is different. Having read it 35 years ago its a vague memory, so my reaction may be closer to yours.

Anonymous said...

Like most 23 year olds, I was enamored with Rand - but I always had this uneasy feeling something was very wrong... having read up on her and understanding a little more about Jewish ethnocentrism and universalist movements, at 44, I am not so enamored any more.

Anonymous said...

"It's quite an achievement to have gotten this movie made, and I am happy that it exists."

LOL. I bet you are!

Anonymous said...

http://www.mcsweeneys.net/2008/11/20tucker.html

John D said...

I really enjoyed the movie too. It was true to the overarching themes of the novel. The scenery, as Steve noted, was spectacular. Mostly, I enjoyed it because it was a gigantic eff-you to leftists, statists, anti-capitalists, etc, etc.

I would not call it a great movie, but rather a very satisfying one given that you NEVER hear the kinds of messages that emit from it from other movies. For the at least half of the country that chafes at the multicultist, statist, relentless denigration of old America (read white America), this was a satisfying movie indeed. People actually cheered when it was over. As an aside, I live in Arizona, so my city is not demographically overwhelmingly white, but the people who went to this movie were ALL white, so far as I could tell. I would have guessed that many of them had not actually been to a movie in a long time, too, so the messages being conveyed in this movie were really red meat for them (us). Again, not a great movie, but very satisfying and enjoyable nonetheless, and I'll definitely be seeing part 2 if they ever make it.

Anonymous said...

I never realized before that "Rearden" is an anagram of "Rear end."

Veracitor said...

You can take the girl out of Russia* but you can't take Russia out of the girl.

Ayn Rand's fascination with steel ("Rearden metal") and railroads in the 20th Century reflects Russian thinking, not American.

American interest in those things peaked in the 19th Century-- by the 20th, Americans had directed their attention to intricate and flexible machines such as automobiles and airplanes (steel production and railroads were old-hat in America).

Indeed, only the Depression and the forced austerity of the war years (during which technical advances, factory production, and motor fuels were diverted to the war effort) prolonged the American lifespan of passenger railroads (and many other technologies) which were already obsolete by the mid-1930's.*

(In 1951 American passenger rail travel was already down 50% from the mid-WWII peak. Railroad system mileage had peaked in 1916. In Russia, though, railroad mileage expanded throughout the 20th Century.)

I will speculate wildly that if Rand had been an American (by cultural background, I mean; I'm not questioning her allegiance) she might have given the Taggarts an airline and Dagny could have fought the aluminum-plane cartel and the C.A.B. for the right to fly improved aircraft built with a titanium-like "Rearden metal."


*Wow, someone at the Ayn Rand Institute sure chose an ugly photo to illustrate a biography of a woman who cared about her (middling but not repulsive) looks.

**America's remaining long-haul passenger railroads are tax-funded boondoggles.

Robert Philabaum said...

ReticentMan -- You stopped reading Atlas Shrugged just as it was about to get going. The first 25% is work to get through, once past it gets tough to put it down -- except for during the speeches. Rand's philosophy holds true in both books, but they are very different.

Two things Steve:

"Wyatt is dependent upon America’s last privately owned railroad, Taggart Transcontinental, run by feckless scion James and his dynamic sister Dagny."

The John Galt Line (essentially a secret subsidary of Taggart Transcontinental) is not the last privately owned railroad, it is the railroad however that Wyatt is dependent upon because it has been given the exclusive right to service the region.

"Soon, the triumphant twosome are personally laying pipe." ..... uh LOL yes.

Actually I am surprised you enjoyed it without having read the book. To be honest, I would actually recommend against seeing the movie if one has not read the book. Yes the book is a difficult read as you can't read it as you would a mass market paperback. In order to understand Atlas Shrugged, the book must essentially be studied.


Graham Beckel as Ellis Wyatt was the strongest character in the film, though the dinner table converstaion scene felt odd, unnatural, pushed. I thought the dialog between Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) and Henry Rearden (Grant Bowler) was at times some what weak and sappy. Matthew Marsden's portrayal of James Taggart was very weak, possibly that could have been on purpose and meant to be representative of his spinelessness and lack of strong moral character, but I doubt. Something about Edi Gathegi's portrayal of Eddie Willers seemed pushy, arrogant, over aggressive; also portrayal of the role by a black seemed odd. And considering Francisco d'Anconia (Jsu Garcia) essentially grew up in the USA, in Ayn Rand's mind he probably did not have an accent.

Minor complaints. Personally, I thought it was a great movie. So what if it wasn't Angelina Jolie, I am not a know little of pop culture.

There was one significant error though in my opinion. Dagny was not offered a cigarette at the diner. That cigarette was important.



As for Standard Oil: Vindicating Capitalism: The Real History of the Standard Oil Company

http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2008-summer/standard-oil-company.asp

Kylie said...

So does Dagny enjoy rape as much as Dominique does?

Paul said...

Anyone who says they have read Atlas Shrugged from cover-to-cover is either a liar or spent a year in solitary confinement at some horrible Objectivist gulag.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear that it's not a complete basket case as a film. Like many others I too tried a long time ago to read it. I couldn't make it.

But then I couldn't read the truly god-awful Robert Ludlum spy book The Bourne Identity either. But this over long, turgid and badly written novel somehow became the basis for a remarkably good movie. Who'd a thunk it?

Albertosaurus

Truth said...

"having read up on her and understanding a little more about Jewish ethnocentrism..."

'Jewish Ethnocentrism'...that's code for 'HBD' right?

Dave said...

"I will speculate wildly that if Rand had been an American (by cultural background, I mean; I'm not questioning her allegiance) she might have given the Taggarts an airline and Dagny could have fought the aluminum-plane cartel and the C.A.B. for the right to fly improved aircraft built with a titanium-like "Rearden metal.""

Railroads are far more central to the U.S. economy than airlines, today as well as when Atlas Shrugged was written. Not for long haul passenger travel, but for freight. Most Americans fly once or twice a year, if that. Without air travel, they'd have to wait a week longer for their packages to arrive from Amazon.com.

Without rail, the economy would crash: half of our electricity is generated by coal-fired plants, and that coal is mostly transported by rail. Most other commodities are primarily transported by rail as well.

Granted, passenger rail figured prominently in Atlas Shrugged as well as freight, but I think that had less to do with Rand's memories of Russia than it had to do with her memories of the 1930s in the U.S.: despite nominally being set in the near future, the aesthetic of Atlas Shrugged was clearly set in the U.S. of the 1930s.

vinteuil said...

People talk such rot about Ayn Rand's writing. It's "wooden," or "heavy-handed," or just plain "bad," they repeat, over & over & over again.

I beg to differ.

It's not like I know nothing about good writing: I more or less obsessively read & re-read Shakespeare & Gibbon & Eliot & (in translation) Homer & Dante & Proust, &c &c &c.

And it's not like I know nothing about bad writing: I'm kind of addicted to historical fiction - so much so that I end up reading a lot of sub-fusc stuff by deservedly neglected authors.

So let me tell you: Ayn Rand was, by any reasonable standard, an absolutely brilliant writer.

It must be twenty years since I cracked open my yellowing paperback copies of *The Fountainhead* & *Atlas Shrugged* - but I've just spent a few minutes doing so, at random - and, you know what?

That woman's writing is like nothing else I've ever come across, before or since.

And she's writing in her second language!

Aaron Baugher said...

To those who reject the book for the bad writing or the wooden, childless characters or the weird sex stuff, I'll ask the question I always ask (and have never gotten an answer) when the Atlas Shrugged bashing starts: Can you recommend a book that gets right what Atlas gets so right -- the looter mentality, the way productive people's abilities are used to shame them and keep them producing, the contradiction in the whole system that Rearden finally sees when he meets with Taggart's group for the last time -- but is better written and doesn't try to package all that up with atheism and women needing to be dominated sexually? Is there a better book that lays it out as starkly as the conversations Dagny has with the heirs of the Twentieth Century Motor Co.?

If such a book is out there, I'm dying to read it. Until then, I'll settle for rereading Atlas now and then and skipping over the silly parts (and no, I'm not in a gulag).

Anonymous said...

The big joke is that the biggest tycoons today are politically leftist. And they will not shrug but shoulder big government to control the masses as sheep.

Mel Torme said...

Look, I read all the way through The Fountainhead, and I regretted it. I was stubborn about finishing it and had a lot of time off, and I thought it would get better. It's not the politics, just the long, drawn-out descriptions of people that are a real waste of time. It shouldn't take 3 pages to describe someone drinking a glass of water.

I guess there's no way I can read Atlas Shrugged, even though I AM in the Gulag. Yes, gulags have internet and cable now. I am looking forward to the movie if it plays at our next "movie night at the gulag", as Boss-man likes to call it. Better yet, it'll be free on a Chinese website very shortly. You've got to be up for the out-of-synch Chinese speaking with the messed-up English sub-titles, but, hey, that's free enterprise, which is what Ann Rand was all about anyway, right?

Really, though, I am looking forward to seeing Atlas Shrugged, mostly to piss of our statist establishment. I stick by what I said about Rand's writing style.

Aaron Baugher said...

Vinteuil, I don't mind her writing either, though I'll admit it could probably benefit from Steven King's rule: cut out 10%. It is pretty slow-paced, and she doesn't mind belaboring a point. But I like long books; The Stand is a personal favorite too.

I also suspect she holds the world record for most uses of "somnambulist" in a book that's not actually about a sleepwalker.

Veracitor said...

I don't say that Rand should have foreseen, in the mid-1950's, that America's economy would come to be led not by heavy industry, but (basically) by computers and wanking. However, she really should have noticed by the mid-50's that railroads were old hat.

Rand made the sort of error then that might lead an author today to set a big novel of the near future against the background of the newspaper business (the kind seen in Citizen Kane or maybe All The President's Men)-- whle ignoring the Internet! Imagine "In the year 2015, D.T., heir to a newspaper empire of Hearst-like proportions, battles other newspaper publishers and socialistic government regulators for the right to utilize labor-saving revolutionary new color presses..."

It doesn't matter how important railroads (or steel,* or electricity) are (or were) to the American economy. They're not glamorous, in the Virginia Postrel sense (well, nowadays their old symbols may evoke some retro-├Žsthetic sense of glamour) and haven't been for most of a century.

I wasn't trying to minimize the value of railroads to America, but to point out they were fairly dull by the time Rand used them in her book and their centrality to the movie is faintly ridiculous.**

If the movie producers had set their movie in the 1930's (even an alternate-universe 1930's) the railroad stuff would have seemed more appropriate.

I think if Rand had been an American, she might well have put her heroes into more glamorous lines of business-- activities of greater interest to post-WWII Americans.

Indeed, considering that in the 1950's American railroads had long since been subjected to stifling socialistic regulation, a novel about the threat of same seems at bit behind-hand.

*Americans hardly make steel anymore--our mini-mills mostly recycle scrap. Aluminum smelting, copper refining, etc. have also mostly gone overseas.

**The last American "railroad movie" set in the present-day was Silver Streak, a comedy. Transsiberian was set in Russia(!), and Runaway Train was a kind of horror movie. There are plenty of other railroad movies, but they were all set in the past.

Ray Sawhill said...

I liked "The Fountainhead" -- found it a really effective potboiler of ideas. You do have to read it really fast, though. But "Atlas Shrugged" -- dear god, one of the slowest-moving, most boring novels I've ever tried to get through. Couldn't make it. I was curious about where she'd take the story, though, so I listened to an abridged audio version of it and made it all the way thru that. Classic example of what can happy when the ideas overwhelm the fiction. Drivel and boredom.

Hey, no one else adores the 1949 King Vidor version of "The Fountainhead"? Feverish, expressionistic, and fast -- overblown bliss. When Patricia Neal watches Gary Cooper handle that jackhammer, camp heaven is with us.

Dave said...

"It doesn't matter how important railroads (or steel,* or electricity) are (or were) to the American economy. They're not glamorous"

And neither are industrialists, even though Richard Florida's 'creative class' would starve and freeze without all the boring industrial stuff like coal, rail, etc. One of Rand's goals was to glorify the prime movers of the economy, who Hollywood usually ignores in favor of cops, district attorneys, writers, gay cowboys, costume-wearing super heroes, karate-teaching janitors, etc.

Anonymous said...

LOL - these threads always bring out the Rand cult members to tell us what a brilliant writer she was, how wonderful her novels are, how we have't read her (or read her all the way through, or enough, or "with proper appreciate and insight").

Nope. Sorry. We have read her all the way through, and she is horrid. Wooden, boring, uninteresting through-and-through. It takes a Rand cultist to think this drek is "good writing". These are the same idiots who think that Ayn Rand is a "philosopher".

Sorry, saying that you "know good writing" and "know bad writing" doesn't make it so. Thinking that Rand's dreadful tomes are good writing invalidates your opinions on the matter. You're letting your ideology drive your discernment.
Every single person I've met who claims to like Rand's novels was at the time or had been a student and fan of Rand's politics. I've never met a big fan of Rand's novels who wasn't also a fan of her politics - and no I won't take the word of an anonymous blog commenter on that score either.

Look, we all understand how marginal Rand's politics were at the time and how many people saw her as the antidote to communism and socialism which seemed to be winning at the time. But just because people felt they needed someone like Rand back then, does not make her novels any better than they really are. No one would have read them without the politics. They simply aren't that good.

Dave said...

Rand was a didactic writer, and her dialogue in Atlas Shrugged was pretty wooden. Her descriptions, too, were drawn-out, and she beats her arguments to death (interestingly though, Rand's letters were better written).

But the plot was clever, and as a novel of ideas, Atlas Shrugged remains unique. Capitalists helped build America into the economic powerhouse it was at mid-century, and until Rand few sought to defend them, let alone praise them.

Rand was also more nuanced in her praise of the true entrepreneurs among businessmen and her condemnation of the crony capitalists than most lefties that just condemn the whole bunch, without bothering to differentiate.

Also, as seems to be the case from her letters (I just read a random handful in the book of them), Rand was more nuanced in her 'objectivism' than most hardcore Randians today. For example, in a few of her letters, she wrestles with messy, real world subjects like giving money to the child of a deadbeat relative (if memory serves, she does part with some cash there).

Anonymous said...

"So let me tell you: Ayn Rand was, by any reasonable standard, an absolutely brilliant writer."

Well... I can't write worth shit, so she was indeed a great writer as far as I'm concerned. Though I didn't finish it--I generally don't finish novels, even really good ones--, I really enjoyed the first 50 pgs of FOUNTAINHEAD and hope to read the whole thing one day. I did see the movie about five times and just love it. Though Rand claimed to be a rational objectivist, she admitted that her writing style was mythic, and indeed her stories have appeal cuz they are attempts at modern mythology.
Greeks had gods to represent forces of nature. In the modern world of science, business, and industry, Rand understood our need for gods and heroes based on industry, power, and money.
This is why I don't take a film like FOUNTAINHEAD seriously as philosophy, but I think it has genuine value as mythology. Patricia Neal is a goddess in that movie, and the final image of the hero Roarke standing atop the skyscraper--the modern Olympus--and watching the goddess ascend toward him from below... wow, stunning!!!

Anonymous said...

I think the appeal of ATLAS SHRUGGED the novel is its sci-fi mythic craziness. And, the real appeal of Marxism was also more spiriutal and 'irrational' than rational.

The reason why OCTOBER(aka TEN DAYS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD)and FOUNTAINHEAD(the film)succeed owes to their courage to be crazy. OCTOBER is a fever dream of the Bolshevik revolution. From beginning to end, it is unapologetic and overpowering. And Vidor's FOUNTAINHEAD's romantic delirium takes no prisoners

I never really liked REDS cuz Beatty tried to rationalize the Bolshie revolution as an act of do-goodery. I suppose it's well-made and in good taste--like Matewan by Sayles--, but it lacks craziness at the core of any genuine radical vision. Revoution has to be rated-R, not PG. One can make a rational film that is critical of revolution or radicalism, but pro-revolutionary work of art must have the wherewithal to dream, sing, and dance(like Zorba). There is nothing duller than a radical true-believer trying to earnestly and rationally lay our what he believes. He may do so as an intellectual or theorist but not as an artist. Why is BATTLE OF ALGIERS a great film? Because it's true to history or because it's morally on the side of the 'good guys'? No, because it sanctifies revolution as an act of ultimate sacrifice, a very thrilling one at that.

Anyone who watches FOUNTAINHEAD or OCTOBER for ideas or a rational argument has to be an idiot. Fantasies don't work that way. Similarly, only a fool would listen to CARMEN the opera to get a rational assessment of love. Great films and operas inspire and invite a certain level of craziness.

My guess is ATLAS SHRUGGED the movie is like REDS. It's well-meaning and earnest but lacks the craziness so central to the original mad vision. For all I know, Vidor may not have shared or endorsed Rand's ideas but he understood their mythic character and composed an art-deco visual symphony.

If Randism is about mythic individualism, the only kind of director who could have done justice to her books is a powerful and grandiose auteur. FOUNTAINHEAD the movie is no work of art, but it does has a kind of greatness owing to visonary zeal of its director.

I suppose satire would require a cooler, more critical, and rational approach--as in the very fine OUR MAN IN HAVANA--, but there was little that was satirical in Rand. She had no patience for it. Hers was a jeremiad. He didn't poke fun at her opponents. She smited them(or thouight she did).

PS. After SOCIAL NETWORK's championing of Zuckerberg, do we really need ATLAS SHRUGGED for a pro-capitalist message?

Pauline Sarris said...

"having read up on her and understanding a little more about Jewish ethnocentrism..."

There is something to this but not as charlatans like Kevin MacDonald--at this point, a sad joke of an intellectual--might suggest.

A novel that I picked up--though didn't finish--some time ago was SALOME OF THE TENEMENTS by Anzia Yezierska, and I kept on thinking... Ayn Rand, Ayn Rand. No, Anzia was not an objectivist or libertarian, but the Jewess protagonist in her novel is a force of nature, a strong powerful personality who gets what she wants. The rich wasp character--based on John Dewey--is fascinated by her cuz she's the kind of woman who won't take NO for an answer.

And Rand was nothing without her 'force of nature' personality. Just look at her giant eyes. They aren't content to be merely eyes; they want to be THE EYES. Though Jewesses like her may not have been very attractive in purely physical terms, they had the brains, candor, confidence, and pushiness that fascinated mild-mannered wasp men. In fact, we can see some of this in Sailer's fascination with tiger mom Amy Chua. She's kinda crazy too, a real self-promoting egocentric riot.

Wasp men were familiar with free-thinking women, smart women, educated women, etc since wasp community had plenty such. But Jewish women had something extra: a kind of zaniess, madness, fanaticism, radicalism, and chutzpah that made their heads spin. Some might call it 'bad manners', but it could be fascinating to the more frustrated and alienated members of the wasp elites.

The Jewess brimming with life inspiring and invigorating a staid, laid-back, stuck-up, and/or repressed wasp has long been a running cliche in popular culture--the Negro counterpart is found in movies like LILIES OF THE FIELD. Consider WHAT'S UP DOC, where Ryan O'Neal the dull wasp finds real love/life through the intervention of Barbra Streisand. HAROLD AND MAUDE is about a lifeless young wasp kid who learns the song and poetry of life through an old eccentric Jewess. Woody Allen's godawful INTERIORS is about a zombie-like wasp hubby who has a second chance at happiness through a relationship with a Jewish woman. And though Julie Christie's character in MCCABE AND MRS MILLER isn't overtly Jewish, she comes across as a pushy no-nonsense go-getter Jewish-like woman who teaches a wasp how a real business is run. (She also has frizzy hair like so many Jews. Her feisty feline weaseliness leaves Miller feeling like a confused and outwitted dog. It also turns him on.)
Wasp girls may be prettier, but the Jewess is more lively and engaging; once a wasp male becomes intoxicated with the Jewess, a dull pretty face simply isn't enough--it lacks personality. Though Streisand was always ugly, she was more fun to watch than Candace Bergen, who was just Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

So, I think we need to take into account Rand's force-of-nature Jewish personality into account when we try to understand the appeal of her works. Just like 'I HAVE A DREAM' speech owed much to King's voice, Rand's books are stamped with her crazy, lively, exciting, made, take-no-prisoners personality, which soon became a cult of personality.

Steve Sailer said...

"Pauline Sarris"

I like that name. You should stick with it for awhile.

Aaron said...

Yes, these topics always bring out the Randians who treat her like a prophet. They also bring out the anti-Randians who call "idiots" anyone who appreciates her books. Thanks for that.

I'm a Catholic traditionalist, so I've got no use for her atheism or worship of Man, and I wince at plenty of things in the book. But again, show me one that does it better. Show me a book with characters that portray the looter mentality as well as James Taggart, Wesley Mouch, and Dr. Ferris. I'd be very grateful. If Rand was such a bad writer, someone should have been able to improve on it by now, right?

"Though Rand claimed to be a rational objectivist, she admitted that her writing style was mythic, and indeed her stories have appeal cuz they are attempts at modern mythology."

I've always thought a big problem with the reception of this book is that people expect it to be some sort of documentary, like the title is How To Destroy Leviathan and Start the Objectivist Utopia in Ten Easy Steps. So many of the objections are that it's not realistic -- the characters don't have children, it doesn't have enough "middle" people (just Eddie), the hero's magical inventions make things unrealistically easy for him, etc. All true. But it's not supposed to be realistic. As you say, Rand was a self-professed Romantic, and it's supposed to be mythology. Maybe it'd help if it'd been set in the far future or distant past, making it more clearly science fiction or mythology.

i, me said...

Atlas Shrugged, and most all other futuristic novels totally missed the boat about the importance of race in politics and advancing government control. The only futuristic novel that comes close to being 'prophetic' in that way is Camp of the Saints- were it not for its totally unpc subject - it would be as widely cited as, say 1984

i, me said...

Anyone who says they have read Atlas Shrugged from cover-to-cover is either a liar or spent a year in solitary confinement at some horrible Objectivist gulag.
I read it twice, and the Fountainhead five times. I have since rejected Objectivism- i always thought there was something 'wrong' about it.. i just couldn't put my finger on it.. look at Ayn Rand's 'heir' leonard peikoff or however you spell his name he thinks we should:
a. support israel
b. bomb/nuke muslims
c. take the Christ out of Christmas.

Natheniel 'Brandon''s real name was blumenthol, Barbara "Weiden' was Wiessberg or something like that.

Hmm what does this sound like?

ADM said...

"Atlas Shrugged, and most all other futuristic novels totally missed the boat about the importance of race in politics and advancing government control."

It is not a futuristic novel. It's less prophecy than a jeremiad or testament. Rand was about how things should be than shall be.

ADM said...

I hope to finish FOUNTAINHEAD one day but I never had much desire to read ATLAS SHRUGGED. The latter seems like a strike novel, except it's about employers than employees going on strike. Do I wanna read a 1000 pg tome about conflict of economic interests?
The economy is essential to our world but not very exciting.

What makes FOUNTAINHEAD a glorious read is its hero of the creative-visionary-artist-architect. Though most people associate Rand with money, wealth, and power, Roark is appealing for his pure commitment to his art and vision. He will not sell out for money, fame, or acceptance. He's a starving artist, and Rand adores, indeed worships, him for it. Better to be pure and poor than rich and ridiculous.
Of course, Roark is, in some ways, Rand after an imaginary race/sex change operation into a tall wasp male.

So, Rand wasn't all about money or for money for money sake. For Rand, money was a means to gain something else. A gangster version of Randism would be Tony Montana(and I'll bet Stone, the screenwriter, was a Rand fan as a kid).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJ7HZATMKBY

In FOUNTAINHEAD, Roark meets a superrich media tycoon, but Rand thinks more highly of Roark than the rich guy(whose name I forget). She admires the rich guy as an economic giant, but that's not enough to make the Randian pantheon. A business visionary isn't the quite the same thing as an artistic visionary. To succeed in business, one has to shake hands, make compromises, and give the vulgar masses what they want. The rich guy did so and made a shitload of money, but he possesses nothing that is pure; even the woman is something he bought than truly won. Roark, in contrast, may never realize his dreams, but his dreams are pure as gold.
What Rand idealizes is the partnership between the superrich guy and the pure artist. The rich guy will roll up his sleeves, make a shitload of money from the stupid masses, and then use that money to finance the great pure project of the great artist. There lies the true meaning and worth of money and power: to support the great genius who cannot be understood in his own time but may come to change the course of history. Money is a means, not an end.
In a way, it was the Old Hollywood ideal too. Moguls would make 10-20 movies for mass tastes to make lots of money and then finance a film of artistic worth. And it was in this way that CITIZEN KANE got made. Welles enjoyed complete artistic license and the entire gizmo of studio machinery cuz the moguls had made enough money to finance such 'radical' projects. And though underappreciated in its time, no movie changed the course of film history as much as CITIZEN KANE. So, there is some value in Randism.

But it exposes the contradiction in her worldview. She opposed altruism, but the argument in FOUNTAINHEAD is essentially altruistic. The message is that a man should seek great fortune not for fortune's sake but to support the pure artist who refuses to make compromises. The businessman must compromise(lose his soul to gain the world) to enable the pure artist to realize his pure dream. It's like the Medicis did a lot of bad shit to rake in megabucks but then used that money to patronize some of the greatest works of art ever.

In the end, the rich guy in FOUNTAINHEAD sacrifices his fortune, life, and woman so that Roark can realize his vision and triumph as god-man. If that aint altruism, I don't know what is. So, when Rand opposed altruism, I think she meant she shouldn't live for others but not that others shouldn't live for her.

Roark of FOUNTAINHEAD is promethean, a creative force, which makes him more interesting and inspiring the Atlas-like figures in the longer novel. Their service to the world, as crucial as it is, is phyusical. They are the shoulders, not the creative minds, of the world.

flenser said...

Capitalists helped build America into the economic powerhouse it was at mid-century, and until Rand few sought to defend them, let alone praise them.


No. Rand champions the businessman/inventor, people like Alexander Bell, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford. "Capitalists", those who make money off money, are not praised by her.

Aaron said...

The book's main heroes are an engineer, a steel inventor/tycoon, a copper mining heir (who worked his way up through the business despite that), a railroad exec (ditto on the working her way up), a composer, a doctor, a judge, and an oilman who just recently struck it rich by drilling where everyone else said he was wasting his time. Some are tycoons, but self-made from creating things or providing tangible services.

One is a banker, but he disappeared when a court ordered him to give a loan to a guy because the guy couldn't afford it -- quite reminiscent of Bush's minority home ownership push.

David said...

Read Atlas Shrugged at 13. Skipped all the parts featuring the villains. Re-read it (all of it) almost continuously to my early 20s. I know the book backward and forward. It does tend to dry up during Parts 2 and 3, with the single oasis of the "Galt's Gulch" part, which Charles Murray likes.

Alissa Rosenbaum's ("Ayn Rand"'s) philosophy has one main flaw, imo. She is a radical advocate for the "blank slate" theory of human nature. The central premise of her metaphysical view of man (those years of imprinting the lingo!) is that anybody can do anything, if he wills it and works hard; and under that, that race doesn't exist. Her argument is this: any assumptions that are contrary to the notion that the human mind has only self-created, willed identity contradict the possibility of volition. This is preposterous. A stupid person can choose to go right or left just as well as a smart one, for example.

Her real objection is that any restriction, any pre-fixed identity, to a person's mind may foreclose the possibility of his becoming Cyrus, the hero of an adventure story she imprinted on at about age 9. To figure out a way for Man (esp herself) to become Cyrus or Cyrus-like was the central project of her life. She called it "Man-worship."

I submit that this fantasy is what underlies anything false and bad in her books and philosophy. She was like a 10 year old training herself to become Batman and fight the Joker. (She also spent a lot of time wanting to meet her Batman.)

Despite her generally positive celebration of honest entrepreneurs (as opposed to crony capitalists like Orren Boyle and Jim Taggart), the radical blank slate theory is false and therefore has bad consequences intellectually. The most relevant of these is that the type of individualism it fosters leaves any population it influences open to ethnic predation.

A stroll through the websites of the Ayn Rand Institute and members will reveal essays proclaiming:

- the moral superiority of Israel (Batman) over basically any nation (except possibly America, for the sentimental reason that Rand, whom it sheltered, praised it). The moral person offers support to Israel, no matter what.

- the Arab nations (Joker) must be wiped out. The Arabs must be nuked, all of them: none are innocent. "Mass death" in the Arab world is the ARI's Mid-East policy prescription.

- Open borders is an unlimited good; any opposition to it is racist and backward.

- MLK was a great man; his philosophy, the essence of America.

- Abortion is not a regrettable necessity, nor merely a political right; it's pro-life. (Heller's bio says Rand had at least one known abortion.)

- "People who make money off money" (the words of a commenter here) are the equal of the giants in Atlas Shrugged. International bankers are world-historical heroes. The Ayn'ers declared in the 80s that Michael Milken was the equivalent of Galileo. They kept at it, too.

- Much more along these lines - almost a confirmation of Kevin MacDonald's blackest nightmares - is found also in the books of her proteges, especially including this tome.

In short, Atlas Shrugged leads to the most racist and objectionable Jewish Supremacism - in fact, in reality, on earth (that's more lingo). The vector is the single, earlier premise about the human mind's being a "tabula rasa" (as she called it, cribbing from Aristotle), i.e., a blank slate.

Olave d'Estienne said...

'Jewish Ethnocentrism'...that's code for 'HBD' right?

Just keep posting, brother. It's a joy to read someone so far out of his league as you are.

David said...

That said (see my comment), Atlas the book is the victim of extraordinarily unjust, weird attacks. I want to clear up some negative myths about it. (Spoilers)

1. "Children don't exist in the world of Atlas Shrugged!" False. There's a young family in Galt's Gulch. Two boys, described at some length in radiant terms. Though they are tangential to the story, their mother is interviewed (yes, a speech) by Dagny on the subject of "rational motherhood." "But...the heroes have no children!" In how many novels, especially adventure novels, do the central protagonists have children? Quick estimate: fewer than half. (And Atlas's time frame covers, sans flashbacks, only five years.)

2. "Rand advocated mass murder!" False. Galt's strike, though spectacularly passive-aggressive, isn't violent: the heroes, as did Spartacus and Gandhi, rebel against working for their exploiters, and do so by simply withdrawing. The exploiters collapse on their own, not from murder. Innocent victims of that collapse (like good Eddie Willers, awkwardly black in the movie) are the exploiters' victims. "But...what about the tunnel collapse scene?" In this, Rand dramatizes the point that economic and industrial disasters don't occur in a vacuum: other things being equal, cultural norms are back of them; and the spread of vicious ideas is through mean-minded people. She shows what poor cultural norms lead to and to whom it happens. The scene is a classic of industrial psychology, and something all government officials should be required to study.

3. "Dagny is raped!" False. Her sexual activities with Francisco and with Galt are clearly consensual, though not much physical foreplay happens. With Rearden, things are edgy; he almost rapes her after slapping Francisco's face, but the instant he goes to grab her, she grabs back.

4. "Dagny is promiscuous!" Chiefly asserted by older, religious types. Her alleged promiscuity consists of having only three lovers in her whole life. If that's sluttiness, I have something to tell them about their daughters.

5. "It's a book about heavy machinery and economics." False. It's overly clear that the focus is on the spirits of the creators/managers, and that the few economic ideas are rudimentary and illustrate same.

These attacks are inarticulate swats at the book; but back of them is a genuine, honest unease. The best expression of this is

this screed. A tissue of lies, misreadings, misunderstandings, distortions, and self-contradictions... AND YET dude has a point. Even if he can't argue accurately for it, he, unlike other protesters, is effective at getting across the idea that the positive surface of Atlas conceals a dark side... that there's something very wrong with it.

David said...

>Jewish women had something extra: a kind of zaniess, madness, fanaticism, radicalism, and chutzpah that made their heads spin. Some might call it 'bad manners'<

I call it a big turn-off.

Atlanta Roofing said...

To my surprise, I quite enjoyed Atlas Shrugged. Although the story is a hymn to the over dog, this low-budget movie has underdog appeal. I soon started to root for the plucky filmmakers to pull off their high-wire act of making a movie that’s distinctive—not distinguished, but still very 1957 in texture—without having anywhere near enough of the dollars that Rand idolized.

Dave said...

"No. Rand champions the businessman/inventor, people like Alexander Bell, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford. "Capitalists", those who make money off money, are not praised by her."

Not everyone Rand championed was an inventor -- for example, the banker Midas Mulligan.

In any case, Edison and Ford were arguably more capitalists than inventors. Edison got a free ride off of a lot of Tesla's work, and there were hundreds of car inventors and car companies in the early days of Ford. Ford's chief innovations were cornerstones of 20th century capitalism, not tech: mass production, paying factory workers a living wage, and selling to the mass market.

Dave said...

"Alissa Rosenbaum's ("Ayn Rand"'s) philosophy has one main flaw, imo. She is a radical advocate for the "blank slate" theory of human nature. The central premise of her metaphysical view of man (those years of imprinting the lingo!) is that anybody can do anything, if he wills it and works hard..."

If you think that, you completely missed the point. As Will Wilkinson pointed out a couple of years ago, Rand's argument is that most people don't have the innate talent to be a Hank Rearden, which is why the economy depends on Hank Reardens and we should appreciate them:

By the way, Atlas buffs, the point of Atlas Shrugged is not that you are John Galt. The point is that you are not John Galt. The point is that you are, at your best, Eddie Willers. You’re smart, hardworking, productive, and true. But you’re no creative genius and you take innovation — John Galt — for granted. You don’t even know who he is! And this eventually leaves you weeping on abandoned train tracks."

Aaron B. said...

David,

Good points. Other than the Bible, has any book ever been so authoritatively critiqued by so many people who appear not to have read it?

Rand wasn't personally very interested in the "little people," so they didn't get much time in the book; but as you point out, the Galt's Gulch crowd didn't intend to discard them either. That mother's speech about the importance of raising children would make sense to any homeschooler. Rearden talks about how he makes steel not just to trade with the mega-producers like himself, but also for the people like Eddie Willers, who may not be on his level of productivity, but will deal with him fairly and not try to leech on him. Eddie goes down with the ship out of choice; he was invited and would have been welcome at Galt's Gulch.

Race and immigration just don't enter into the book. Maybe Rand took positions on those things elsewhere, or her foundation did later on. I don't know; I've never gotten into the Randian thing beyond the books. But in the book, all other countries have preceded the US down the Socialist People's Paradise path, and are now living on aid shipments from the US. Everyone in the book who matters is white American, with the bare exception of the Nordic Ragnar and Francisco, a blue-eyed Spanish aristocrat who speaks English without a trace of accent. The money they print in Galt's Gulch has "United States of America" printed on it, so they really don't sound like aspiring globalists.

My impression is that Rand didn't think enough of other nations and cultures to bother including them in the book except as part of the background crowd of looters.

David said...

>If you think that, you completely missed the point.<

Study Objectivism and get back to us. Start with her Q&A response in the book "Ayn Rand Answers" in which she proclaims that IQ can be increased 50 points or more by sheer willpower - and that anyone who doesn't do this is a lazy evader.

Anonymous said...

This movie really should have been a period piece set in the 50s or in the early 60s in the latest. Though I aint seen it, it sounds like a ridiculous blend of MADMEN and LOR.

Aaron Baugher said...

"...she proclaims that IQ can be increased 50 points or more by sheer willpower..."

Yet her fiction suggests no such thing -- quite the opposite.

I've just read the books; I don't get the newsletter. But I get the impression that Rand was like a lot of artists: their art exceeds them somehow, and ends up smarter than they are.

It's like when you fall in love with an Agent Scully and then see an interview with Gillian Anderson and realize she's kind of a ditz. You think, how can she portray such a cool character if she doesn't have that inside her? How could Rand make it clear that Galt could leave his magic engine behind, knowing that no one else would be able to use it regardless of how badly they wanted to, if she really believed the above quote about IQ? Honestly, it seems like she just went kind of crazy once the cult started to gather around her.

David said...

>Yet her fiction suggests no such thing -- quite the opposite.<

It states both premises and doesn't resolve them.

1. Eddie Willers, the honest average guy, is presented as having less ability than do the top overdogs. Francisco, speaking to Rearden, cites him as an example of a person who simply "can't" match the latter's mind and achievements and yet is still good and worthy, someone to feel "tender" about.

(Nevertheless, Eddie is objectively not an average man. He has administrative and managerial abilities superior to those of anyone you're likely to meet. Omit the given estimates of him and look at the feats he pulls off. For example, he is sent to rescue the Western half of the railroad from civil war in California, and succeeds. In any other novel, he would be the hero. His ultimate failure to save the whole railroad is laid to his alleged "lower ability." If this is an average person, the average is high.)

2. Galt's speech advocates (among other things...) the radical "blank slate." In the section on Original Sin, even inherited mental "tendencies" are denied. The reason given is that, if free will isn't total, then morality is a dead letter. You are responsible for every aspect of your character, or none. "Man is a being of self-made soul."

But, how can Eddie be described as someone who "can't" match the overdogs and yet also be described as "moral"? The answer is supposed to be that he does the best he can with his mental inheritance (tendency). Yet, there is no such thing as mental inheritance (no tendencies). There is something stopping Eddie - and all of us - from turning ourselves into genuises, probably our viciousness.

It's worth adding that her explicit, official, non-fiction position is the blank slate. Eddie and all the tenderness expressed toward him seem like a sop to readers worried about the common man.

And yes, on race and immigration she ended up on the standard leftist line after having opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and racial quotas in a remarkably perfunctory manner (for her).

Mr. Anon said...

"Ray Sawhill said...

Hey, no one else adores the 1949 King Vidor version of "The Fountainhead"? Feverish, expressionistic, and fast -- overblown bliss. When Patricia Neal watches Gary Cooper handle that jackhammer, camp heaven is with us."

It was a funny movie, indeed. It clearly was about the artist-as-hero idea, which is amusing given that Roarke was an architect. Perhaps "The Fountainhead" has indeed been quite influential among architects, those "artists" who condemn us, mere dumb cattle that we are, to live in their "art", no matter how uncomfortable, impractical, ugly, or costly that art may prove to be.

Mr. Anon said...

"Aaron B. said...

David,

Good points. Other than the Bible, has any book ever been so authoritatively critiqued by so many people who appear not to have read it?"

Other than the bible, and a few other religious tracts, has any book so relentlessly been pushed on other people as something you just have to read because it will change your life? My inclination to read a book is often reciprocally related to how dogmatic its fans are, and how agressively they tout it.

Anonymous said...

"Other than the Bible, has any book ever been so authoritatively critiqued by so many people who appear not to have read it?"

Das Kapital by Marx. Incidentally, all three were written by Jews.

Anonymous said...

"...she proclaims that IQ can be increased 50 points or more by sheer willpower..."

10,000 hrs of willpower perhaps? Wow, who knew Gladwell got his ideas from Rand.

Anonymous said...

"If you think that, you completely missed the point. As Will Wilkinson pointed out a couple of years ago, Rand's argument is that most people don't have the innate talent to be a Hank Rearden, which is why the economy depends on Hank Reardens and we should appreciate them."

True, but your average Rand fan thinks he or she is made of special stuff, just like every Scientologist thinks he or she is member of some special breed meant for DESTINY.

And in a way, Rand cleverly made her books appeal to both winners and losers. Winners could read her stuff and think, 'yep, I'm successful cuz I'm great, like those super tycoons her in novels', but losers could also read her book and think, 'yep, I haven't succeeded yet and may never succeed cuz I'm pure and uncompromised, like Howard Roark the struggling architect in the first part of FOUNTAINHEAD.' For all her 'Objectivist' shtick, Randism allows for a kind of spiritual-sainthood, where even the poor and down-and-out can feel special about themselves.

Randism can justify any success on grounds that winners have proven their genius and mettle, and it can justify any failure on grounds that losers have proven their purity and unwillingness to sell out.

In this sense, she was both a fanatical and uncompromised philosopher-artist AND a snake-oil saleswoman who knew there was a sucker born every minute.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we can understand Rand better by considering other Jewish figures of her time. In a way, one could say she belonged to a group that might be called the triple-outsider-Jew. Jews, owing to their ethnicity and religion, were outsiders in the world of goyim. Modern Jews became double-outsiders for they rejected traditional Jewish identity yet remained apart from goy society. But certain Jews became triple-outsiders cuz they were also kinda alienated from modern Jewish community that happened to be urban and/or liberal.

Both Dylan and Rand were triple-outsider Jews. In America, the centers of Jewish cultural life was in NY. Though Dylan headed NY, he did have genuine roots in smalltown backwoods America. And though Rand settled in big cities, she didn't fit into the mostly leftist/liberal agenda/values of the modern Jewish community.

Two other such Jews that come to mind are Pauline Kael and Edna Ferber. Though both were more or less politically liberal--even leftist--, they were mainly known for their maverick personalities, mythmaking, and rodeo/cowpunching style. Kael actually had roots in the American West than in NY. And Ferber grew up in the Midwest and made her fame and fortune by mythologizing the West in novels such as CIMARRON and GIANT. In scope, reach, ambition, and vanity, Ferber was in every way a match for Rand. She loved to think, write, and pontificate BIG. One of her works was called SHOWBOAT, and she was a showboater alright. Though the CIMARRON the movie isn't highly regarded by critics, I think it's a great powerful mythology of the American West that idolizes the wanderlust frontiersmen who conquered and made this country. In a way, Ferber romanticized the pioneer hero(of the West)in much the way that Rand romanticized the capitalist hero(mostly of the East).
Though a perverse choice, we might even add Leni Riefenstahl to the list, what with a recent bio arguing that she was 1/4 Jewish. She certainly had the same mad obsessive and vain personality of a Ferber or Rand, or Kael for that matter. Interestingly enough, even though both Kael and Rand were known and admired for their powerful individualism, neither could brook any dissent among acolytes and followers. Sarris even accused her of 'cultural stalinism' in the 70s.
Get a load of this interview where Kael says, in effect, that she couldn't love her hubby anymore cuz he didn't like the music she liked!

http://paulinekaelstuff.wikispaces.com/Terry+Gross+interviews

This is weird given Kael often came across as an anti-snob populist. Maybe it offers a glimpse into the duality of Jewish mentality, how it can be, at once, intensely egalitarian and elitist, radically inclusive and ruthlessly exclusive.

In the audio discussion below with Macdonald and Simon, we get the OTHER Kael, the good-ole Kael, the people's critic. In this mode, she could be uh-shucksy and politically incorrect, as when she says Patricia Neal probably would have wanted to be 'raped' by Hud.

http://tsutpen.blogspot.com/2006/05/when-film-critics-gather.html

Anyway, Rand and Kael were strange even for Jews. Kael wasn't content to push buttons on goyim but on fellow Jews with their politically correct liberal pieties. Rand seemed both proud to be Jewish and eager to nag on fellow Jews and expose them as ideological frauds(and of course most successful Jews are, since they practice economic Randism while politically supporting welfare-ism, mainly I suspect, to control and socially engineer potentially dangerous goyim).
Jews like Dylan, Kael, Kubrick, Rand, and maybe even Ferber were different in their deviation from the official Jewish consensus of the united liberal popular front. Maybe Saul Bellow might fit in here too.