BOOKS: Atlas Shrugged

As cliche as it is starting to sound, everyone should read Atlas Shrugged. It is fair to say that Ayn Rand’s objectivism is inconsistent with the Gospel. That being said, the book is extremely relevant to what is unfolding before us.

Or, you could just play Bioshock.

:wink:

The Big Daddy doesn’t resonate with the current political climate like Dagny Taggart to tell you the truth…:shrug:

What do CAF members think about this book?

I don't like Dorothy Parker, but her words about Atlas Shrugged are absolutely correct: "This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be hurled with great force."

[quote="Hastrman, post:5, topic:143649"]
I don't like Dorothy Parker, but her words about Atlas Shrugged are absolutely correct: "This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be hurled with great force."

[/quote]

I've never read the book, but I'm sure Parker is right. All I know about it is that she used it (and all her other books) to promote her nutty philosophy. Just the fact that it was written by Ayn Rand is not a good omen about the quality of the book.

One of the most overrated books in the 20th century. The Fountainhead is way better. I enjoyed that one.

No, I don’t buy into her philosophy.

Literature wise, Fountainhead is better. Both have an inherently flawed philosophy that admires and accepts the logical consequence of subjectivism and places that in conjunction with the idea of an objective reality.

I liked Ayn Rand as a writer, though, I will have to admit. If only there were a Christian who wrote like she did.

:D

More seriously though, I'm not about to read it because of the poisonous philosophy.

Well, I couldn’t really avoid checking “loved it”, even though I thought the characters were impossibly wooden, much of the dialogue silly and a good part of the plot implausibly forced.

As a novel, it’s a mighty tough slog for the reasons I mentioned. But as a sort of polemic, one has to be approving, if for no other reason, that Rand focused on something pretty well that had not really been the subject of critical focus previously, or at least widespread reading of it. We can’t really judge the novel by today’s state of knowledge.

After all, back when the book was written, communism was in full flower, and there were a lot of overt sympathizers, not to mention many who weren’t quite so overt. Then there were the not-quite-that-socialist socialists who were, at the time, in the early stages of turning whole nations into peoples with no future who would ultimately be living on their patrimonies.

I admit to a perhaps inordinate admiration for A. Solzhenitsyn, who far better buttoned the lie of socialism, and not only it as a system, but of the underlying corruption of soul that fathered it and inevitably carries it to its logical extreme. Naturally, Harvard didn’t like him and recoiled from him, notwithstanding that he was one of the people whose efforts ultimately brought the Soviet system down. (a cynic might say “because of it”) But his novels and his “Gulag” books came much later.

Rand herself was born in Russia and, with great effort and personal peril, escaped the devil’s dance of the NKVD. She saw what “workers paradises” were very early on, and what a lie they were (are). The fact that she didn’t identify the underlying impulses and inevitable authoritarianism in it with absolute perfection does not take away from the fact that she saw things so few at the time really did. John Reed, after all, really is interred in the Kremlin wall.

The left abhors Rand, but not because her characters are paper cutouts; not because of her sometimes preposterous resorts to “Deus ex machina” to bring about denouments; not because of the often boring and silly dialogue, and not even because her individualism is overdrawn, but because she identified, however imprecisely, not only the faults of socialistic experimentation, but the character flaws underlying it.

She said something that needed to be said. Because someone else might say it better, and because people later did, does not take away from that fact. It really is ironic, and might be an appropriate cause for reflection, that many in this world still don’t get it.

Prophetic.

Just like all Ayn Rand books......nothing but atheistic propaganda hidden under the guise of new age philosophy.

Considering the deeply held Athiestic beliefs of the author I will avoid this book.

Pick up something that will benefit your soul instead like "Introduction to the devout life" or "Divine Mercy in My soul" that are holy and helpful books.

[quote="punisherthunder, post:12, topic:143649"]
Just like all Ayn Rand books......nothing but atheistic propaganda hidden under the guise of new age philosophy.

[/quote]

???

I've read quite a lot of Ayn Rand's works. 'Atlas Shruggged'; 'Anthem'; 'The Fountainhead'; 'The Virtue of Selfishness' etc. and enjoyed them. I have no idea where you're getting the above comment- particularly the new age philosophy. They are quite insightful on human behavior and motivations and the abuse of power by individuals who seek and acquire it. Especially those citing their justification as acting in the public good as their authority for taking from one group to give to another. Her experiences and knowledge of the effects of communism in Russia are simply extrapolated on a wider scale. Her contention primarily is more libertarian than anything else- people should have the freedom to exercise their free will and make decisions about the course of their lives, to make agreements with others with the expectation that each party will act in their own self interest.

I would say she's not the most talented writer, her writing style is wordy, repetitive, and meandering. I don't know anyone who got through John Galt's radio speech in one sitting, or without skipping a few pages- and frankly you don't lose much when you do, as she repeats the same points and themes over and over.

I take issue with her personal philosophy and moral values, but that really has nothing to do with reading and evaluating her works.

OP- A priori,

I think from a theological perspective it is a useful work to consider the role of government in providing/promoting social justice. Should a government force individiuals to cede property- physical or intellectual- for the greater good? How would you go about it? Should people be forced to produce and provide for others? If so, how much? Our current government, as every government, struggles with this in terms of what should a government provide for its people. Because whatever it provides has to be paid for by taxing others, if some get more than others have to pay more. What is fair? What is right? While charity is voluntary, taxes are mandatory and enforced by the government with threat of incarceration.

I don’t have any particular belief that Ayn Rand had any use for St. Thomas Aquinas’ works. But it is at least passingly interesting that one of the core points of “Atlas Shrugged” is the way socialism ignores the inherent distributive element of economics as set out by Aquinas and Augustine. Interestingly, Adam Smith ignored it as well, even though he was familiar with Scholastic economics. In his case, though, I think it was somewhat forced because he was a pantheist and wasn’t inclined to see human relationships to God in the way Christians do.

Very basically, inherent to economics of any society is the distributive aspect. People distribute scarce goods on the basis of love, if allowed to do so naturally. The love may be for themselves alone, but normally and naturally includes family in the next circle, Church, acquaintences, community, and so on.

Socialism skips that entire aspect of it and posits distribution on a notion roughly akin to “justice”. But as an entirely conceptual thing, it ignores the natural inclinations of humans, including their best instincts, and is an entirely artificial way of thinking. My idea of “justice” doesn’t necessarily square with anyone else’s, and probably doesn’t, because my natural instincts are to distribute according to love rather than to distribute according to some formula that’s the mental formulation of someone else, and likely goes against the human grain anyway. So coercion is a natural accompaniment of socialism; something Solzhenitsyn also addressed. The coercion is the inevitable consequence of trying to put natural square pegs into conceptual square holes. Because it goes against the grain of human nature, its adherents easily become self-seeking without being aware of it, coercive, and it generally fails to generate sufficient goods, because it fails to satisfy the distributive instinct and causes visceral rebellion due to its unnaturalness.

And Rand did see that, or at least she perceived it through a glass, darkly.

As we say in the hills: “Even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then.”

I don't give Rand that much credit for her criticism of socialism. If anything, I think she has a morbid fear of and obsession with it. I could see how living in the Soviet Union could do that to a person, and pity her for having to experience that, but her response to this experience is borderline neurotic. She basically rejects all concept of community, something which I would say is quite incompatible with Christianity and especially with Catholicism. She derides altruism, not just in the form of government programs, but the willing altruism of individuals as well. Her belief that society would function better, or even at all, if we all just behaved selfishly is, I think, quite ridiculous. Life is chock full of 'prisoner's dilemmas' where the interests of the individual conflict with the interests of the group or of society. Society would fall apart if people started adopting her sort of radical individualism. Personally, I think her thought appeals most to people who want a "philosophical" justification for their own selfishness.

Of course, I'm clearly rather biased against Rand, and haven't read her novels, so I guess i can't coment on their literary quality. I've read Anthem, however, and was not too impressed. It struck me as basically a political tract, and I didn't find much literary value in it.

The left abhors Rand, but not because her characters are paper cutouts; not because of her sometimes preposterous resorts to "Deus ex machina" to bring about denouments; not because of the often boring and silly dialogue, and not even because her individualism is overdrawn, but because she identified, however imprecisely, not only the faults of socialistic experimentation, but the character flaws underlying it.

I am actually surprised and bothered by the popularity Rand has gained among many conservatives. Rand and her followers (I can't believe they have the nerve to call themselves 'objectivists) were/are typically radically anti-theistic, extreme libertarians whose views only coincide with the Right on a few economic issues. And I'm sure the left does not uniformly abhor Rand. Her message of uterly unrestrained individual freedom (with no responsibilities), not only in a political sense, but also the rejection of all cultural norms, of tradition, and of moral obligation in general probably resonates with some on the far left .

Rand remarked that in the history of philosophy she could only recommend "three A's"—Aristotle, Aquinas, and Ayn Rand.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayn_Rand

Raskolnikov,

Thank you for refraining from criticizing works you haven’t read. Some folks are less reluctant to criticize. I would never, ever classify Rand’s works as examples of good literature. Their value is presenting ideas for consideration, not really the skill with which she does so. As pointed out above- Anthem is written as a novelette but really reads like a political tract.

Rand takes the one concept to an extreme. But I do believe it’s useful to look at the extremes of applying a concept in assessing it’s legitimacy. Ridgerunner hit the nail on the head about Rand’s works really boiling down to showing the extreme of one philosophy for distribution of resources. In fact, she states that an individual choosing to distribute his resources out of love for his kids/family/neighbor is not in fact a sacrifice. It’s a choice they should have, not really redistribution since the generator of the resources is making the choice of how it’s used.

I think the issue for us as Catholics, as I said before, is to contemplate what government’s role should be in accomplishing/facilitating that redistribution. Any allocation and redistribution of funds by the government ultimately is conducted under a threat of force. Rand’s point in Atlas Shrugged was that if those people who produce get to the point where they no longer feel they are benefiting, or are even appreciated for their accomplishments, they’ll quit. And if they do, what becomes of everyone who’ve been depending on them? She also paints the government characters making those decisions as extremely flawed, again taking the concept to the extreme- a corrupt government in charge of those decisions.

On a practical level, how much of a person’s resources should they be expected to involuntarily provide to the government for redistribution. In CA, at the top rates it’s ~40% to the feds, ~10% to the state in income tax, plus ~9% sales tax (except food items from a grocery store), plus gas tax, etc. etc. I don’t want to have people starving in my country, or not be able to get emergency care, or be homeless, etc. etc. etc. I would never advocate we should all be on our own, but how much do I demand from my neighbors to throw into the public till- and for what purposes? (And that also requires a discussion on expectations of individual responsibility).

While Rand dealt with government role in redistribution, which has moral implications. There are also the issues of a government enforcing moral values. There are examples of the consequences of theocracy’s and combining government with religion. Certainly there should be moral standards. But what? How should they be enforced. By whom?

One doesn’t have to agree with an author to see value in their works. The benefit of considering ideas which may be counter to our own helping us to more clearly define and understand our values. And respond.

[quote="Raskolnikov, post:16, topic:143649"]
She basically rejects all concept of community, something which I would say is quite incompatible with Christianity and especially with Catholicism.

[/quote]

This is off topic a bit, but what you say here strongly reminded me that in a DVD bio of Thomas Merton, Merton delivered a speech in South East Asia shortly before he died in which he stated that he was now convinced that Communism cannot work outside of monastic communities because it takes God to make it work.

I always wish I could find a transcript of that or if it was in Mertons writings someplace where he may have developed the idea more.

Rand takes the one concept to an extreme. But I do believe it’s useful to look at the extremes of applying a concept in assessing it’s legitimacy. Ridgerunner hit the nail on the head about Rand’s works really boiling down to showing the extreme of one philosophy for distribution of resources. In fact, she states that an individual choosing to distribute his resources out of love for his kids/family/neighbor is not in fact a sacrifice. It’s a choice they should have, not really redistribution since the generator of the resources is making the choice of how it’s used

She may be useful in that respect, but I think she steers clear of Scylla only to collide straight in Charybdis, rather than navigating between the two monsters of radical collectivism and radical individualism. “All things in moderaton,” as they say.

I think the issue for us as Catholics, as I said before, is to contemplate what government’s role should be in accomplishing/facilitating that redistribution. Any allocation and redistribution of funds by the government ultimately is conducted under a threat of force. Rand’s point in Atlas Shrugged was that if those people who produce get to the point where they no longer feel they are benefiting, or are even appreciated for their accomplishments, they’ll quit. And if they do, what becomes of everyone who’ve been depending on them? She also paints the government characters making those decisions as extremely flawed, again taking the concept to the extreme- a corrupt government in charge of those decisions.

On a practical level, how much of a person’s resources should they be expected to involuntarily provide to the government for redistribution. In CA, at the top rates it’s ~40% to the feds, ~10% to the state in income tax, plus ~9% sales tax (except food items from a grocery store), plus gas tax, etc. etc. I don’t want to have people starving in my country, or not be able to get emergency care, or be homeless, etc. etc. etc. I would never advocate we should all be on our own, but how much do I demand from my neighbors to throw into the public till- and for what purposes? (And that also requires a discussion on expectations of individual responsibility).

As far as picking on the government for being corrupt and inefficient, I think Rand picked an easy target, and one people generally like to take shots at and resent it remendously, until, of course, one day it’s not there any more. I think Rand, like many libertarians and especially anarchists, underestimate the need for organized (and often constrainting) structures to keep society functional. Rand subscribed to a distorted view of Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermench; the great, productive, intelligent people are burdened by the lowly regular people, and should free themselves from this burden. What I think Rand forgets is this type of view isn’t too much different the views of the fascists and communists, who also believed that they were the übermenschen or the “vanguard” and therefore not subject to morality like regular people.

The issues theat divide liberals and conservatives about the role of government I think is largely about which institions (government or church or private charity) should play what role in solving social problems, taking into account both the efficiency with which these institutions do so, as well as how fairly they do it. Even (or especially) the most anti-government conservative will admire acts of personal sacrifice and charity, or point to private altruism as an alternative solution to government intervention. However, the people who make such sacrifices, like “übermenschen” who donate their fortunes to charities or devote their lives to serving the poor or sick or destitute rather than to self-glorification, or soldiers give their lives on the battlefield for their countries and ideals have no place in Rand’s philosophy. I prefer the message Dostoevsky, that we can only overcome the problems of the world by becoming inexplicably and (in terms of self-interest) irrationally selfless, not by becoming calculatingly selfish.

As far as the government is concerned, I think the people who operate the government are often fairly Randian; promoting their own careers, trying to get their names in the paper; major elected offices provide opportunities for wealthy and powerful people perpetually flatter themselves. My father, a conservative, calls the Senate the world’s most exclusive country club. If anything is needed in the state today, I don’t think it is selfishness, but a sense of civic duty.

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