Does the world need another amateurish review of Atlas Shrugged? Why try to write a review of a book that has already been examined from every possible political, literature, personal and critical perspective? Why write about a book that is of no interest to anyone who hasn’t already heard about it? Er, because I'm a blogger with nothing better to do just now. Not a good reason, I know, but it'll have to do.
Anyone who hangs around libertarian blogs hears references to John Galt, Ayn Rand, and the book. There comes a point where you think you might as well read it, rather than take your opinion of it from anyone who happens to comment on someone else’s blogpost.
Firstly, it is a very long and boring book. Very long indeed, and extremely dull much of the time. There is no real story, everything, every character, every conversation, every event, is driven by the need to make a particular statement, or to allow something to happen. As literature it is pretty much worthless. I don’t think it ever aspired to literature.*
It does, however, articulate its ideas very well. It is a refreshing, uplifting, dynamic read, reminding you constantly of how those with small minds and hearts drag down those who might contribute, albeit by chance, to the greater benefit of mankind.
The great problem of life is always other people. The leeches and moochers of Atlas Shrugged are a caricature, but they represent deeply influential currents of belief in most developed countries today. It is hard for many to understand that ‘sharing the wealth’, ‘sharing the jobs’, however good and just this sounds, requires that someone create the resources we are all going to share. If those who are capable of doing it don’t get the biggest share, or at least, if they are given no hope of getting a significant share, they simply won’t do it. And there is nothing to share out, fairly or otherwise. Wealth does not grow on trees and when the usual people stop its creation they look around desperately, wondering where it’s gone. The answer is that it was never there. They refused to let it exist, and they can’t make it themselves.
I say it is refreshing and uplifting even though it offers no solution to the problem. The book’s response to the situation is so fantastic as to be inconceivable. It wouldn’t work, even if it were put into practice. After all, in those countries where creators of wealth are not allowed to exist, they are still blamed for the resulting poverty. Even so improbable a strike as Ayn Rand describes would not change the minds of those who don’t want to see. In the current economic crisis, governments, with the help of the press, have successfully sold the myth that there isn’t any money because the banks have taken it all.
No, the book is refreshing and uplifting because it repeats, relentlessly and unapologetically, the message that some people create wealth, while others only consume it. The creators of wealth do not have to exist. In a sufficiently large and free society they will probably exist if they are allowed to. But it is a matter of chance.
*Years ago I read ‘We, the Living’. I read it as a novel, a literary novel, before I knew that Ayn Rand had any greater significance to some people than that of a writer who had lived the hell that was Stalinist Russia and could articulate the horror dramatically and poetically. I remember it as a novel that was good on its own terms, a story well told, regardless of the background which was, I now realize, the main reason for writing it.
I have also just read ‘The Anthem’, which has a political and philosophical message. The book is mostly that message, but it is told through a story, a genuine literary creation. It’s short, and worth reading for what it is.