Tag Archives: ayn rand

Anthem by Ayn Rand

Anthem by Ayn Rand: Dystopia stories fascinate me because they say so much more about the social issues of the author’s own era than the future. Here we have a collectivist society, where the good of the many outweighs the desires of the one. Our hero is a street sweeper, so designated because when it was his turn for a job, what was needed most was another street sweeper. He dreams of being a scholar, but is shot down for thinking himself better than others by rising above his station. When this was written in the late 1930s, collectivism was a popular idea, though in its extreme eventually contributed to the rise of fanatical nationalist groups such as the Nazi party. This particular story is not an especially memorable tale, since it is just about a misfit in a repressed society who eventually escapes, sees the light, finds the truth, etc. Hurray for individualism. Sometimes I wonder if Rand’s vision of a dystopian future is so popularly maligned because she preached not just cultural individualism, but economic individualism as well. This book in particular emphasizes the importance of every man working in his own interest rather than for the nebulously-defined public good, though she tends to gloss over the drudgery of factory work and those jobs that don’t provide a living wage. Sadly, not everyone has the option of doing the job he wants, or even the job that might serve as a stepping stone to the job he wants. If they did, the world would have a whole lot more artists and a whole lot fewer waiters.

That said, I find Rand’s writings interesting because they represent such a different way of thinking from the norm. Yes, they are preachy, but I don’t find them offensive. After all, the biggest tenet of the philosophy put forth here is the right to choose one’s own path, rather than allowing it to be dictated by another. I can see why that would be an appealing idea, even if in many cases it is woefully unrealistic. After all, we aren’t all lucky enough to inherit copper mines or train companies.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand: It’s a shame that an opinion about this book is taken as a political statement, because the story’s actually really good. In a nutshell: the government decides that competition is unfair and starts regulating trade and production. In response, the producers disappear one by one, abandoning (or destroying) their mines, factories, and mills. Chaos ensues. Our protagonist is Dagny Taggart, head of Taggart Transcontinental Railroad. Objectivist women are evidently hard to find; she had so many admirers I almost wanted to rename the book “Everybody Loves Dagny.” But that’s neither here nor there (though the sex scenes were a touch disturbing); it is she who struggles to keep her railroad running as increasing government regulation and a decreasing population of competent people bar the way. At times I was reminded of Animal Farm, which is no surprise considering Rand grew up in Bolshevik Russia. What starts with good intentions rapidly devolves into a miasma of bribes, favors, and threats.

My favorite character was Francisco d’Anconia, CEO of d’Anconia Copper and childhood friend of Dagny. I just love his snarkiness. Everything he does seems calculated to piss off the looters (so the enemies of individuality are called) while remaining impeccably polite. As an aside, I also found it telling that so many of the looters had ridiculous names, such as Tinky or Chick.

I found this story fascinating from an intellectual and philosophical viewpoint. A lot of people seem to treat capitalism as a given (or as the enemy); I’ve never read such a detailed defense of it. And while I do not purport to completely understand Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, these are the nuggets I gleaned from this story:
* Logic and facts are paramount.
* You are entitled to nothing and must earn everything. Needing something – anything – does not entitle you to it. Even food and shelter.
* Government involvement in private enterprise screws everything up.
* The worst thing is to live a life without purpose.
* Every man working in his own self interest ultimately produces the most good for all.

I’m not going to go into my own personal philosophy here, but these views definitely made for some interesting reading. Certainly better than The Fountainhead. (Howard Roark struck me as petty.) Once again, this is a book that made me think, and that is always high praise coming from me.

I listened to this on audiobook, which I think was the only way I would have gotten through it. Not only is the book incredibly long, the characters spend a lot of time making speeches, most notably John Galt’s famous three-hour speech near the end. (Yes, you do learn the answer to “who is John Galt?” in the third section.) These speeches are unquestionably an integral part of the book, both the plot and the philosophical ideals, but they can get a little tiring. On audio they come across much more naturally.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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