The Case For Reading Ayn Rand


I liked this post, from Megan:

... I look to Atlas Shrugged more for conveniently totable beach reading than an economic blueprint. What's interesting to me, though, is how many details Rand did get right--like the markets in "unfreezing" Ukrainian bank deposits, so similar to the frozen railroad bonds of Atlas Shrugged. Or the cascading and unanticipated failures, with government officials racing to slap another fix on to fix the last failing solution. If only the people in her novels had acted remotely like actual people, rather than comic book characters, I, too, would be rereading the thing now.

She was able to describe these things so well, of course, because she'd seen what an economy looked like while it was being wrecked. All of Rand's writing is dominated by the fact that she lived through the birth pangs of Soviet Russia, and saw her family's business destroyed by Lenin's ideology, and extraordinarily incompetent economic management.  Her philosophy does not work, at least if by work we mean generate a framework by which a person or society can order itself. But she was actually a really very gifted observer, and she had a quite subtle understanding of how all the interconnected elements of an industrial economy fit together. It's a pity she didn't quite get how human beings worked, especially herself.

I've no doubt said this before, but Atlas Shrugged is well worth your time even if you aren't interested in the half-baked, Nietzsche-for-capitalists philosophizing. As far as pop-fiction apocalypses go, Rand's portrait of an industrial America buckling under the weight of worldwide socialism is up there with Stephen King's The Stand - it's mad, doomy and often riveting, with atmosphere to burn. (Just flip forty pages or so ahead when you reach John Galt's speech ...) Rand wasn't much on interiority, as Megan suggests, but her caricatured characters reveal an eye for certain American types, and her prose, however awful in patches, occasionally achieves the kind of grinding momentum that you get from bad-yet-somehow-good writers like Theodore Dreiser. Great literature it isn't, but if you start in you'll almost certainly get sucked in, which is more than you can say for quite a few thousand-page efforts.

(The less said about The Fountainhead, on the other hand, the better ...)

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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