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Comment on this entry

Atlas Shrugged: The Hidden Context of the Book and Film

David Brin

Contrary Brin

December 10, 2011

There was nothing else even remotely interesting at Blockbuster—so we rented ATLAS SHRUGGED.


Complete entry


Posted by CygnusX1  on  12/11  at  10:00 AM

Bravo! Bravo!

Pirates? Mr. Brin you are truly the Buccaneer of blogs! Swinging contrariwise with daring as you do, from the main mast, cutlass in hand, bashing and buffered with inflated windy sail, “laughing out loud with fear and hope” and excitement.

This is one of the best blogs this year, I will print it off and thoroughly commend it to friends, family and colleagues..


And there always is a but?

The mere mention or intimation of Ayn Rand here at IEET seems to result in a tizz and tirade of spiteful rhetoric and prejudice blasting from all quarters? Has Ayn really had that much affect on US economic politics to be despised so dearly? Is she hated so much for what is merely, as you have indicated, personal philosophical opinion? Despised for writing a book that many deem as cumbersome and heavy and discarded as mostly insignificant and vain?

And through all of this you fail to say whether you even enjoyed the book?

Although when reading the book myself, I cannot fail to notice the direct significance and influence this story and philosophy may have had on Thatcher, (friend of Reaganomics), UK conservative governmental policy, and the demise and destruction of not only the UK steel and coal mining unions, but the industries themselves, the creation of increased market competition and de-regulation, and the belief of Thatcher herself that society was an illusion? In some parts the book reads like a Thatcherite conservative manifesto?

Yet must I play the advocate for this book once more? No! Because you are fair and righteous enough to have done this yourself, and by far better measure than I could ever deliver myself. And so I reiterate Bravo!

Some excellent points raised indeed, and yes finally you submit to Rand’s more positivist philosophical viewpoints, and acknowledge that she was in fact a Romanticist ! yes indeed, praise b’Jeebers! Her single most dismal failure and flaw, to suffer the whims of the romantic who strives for that love, and that love of justice, that is greater than any blonde haired Viking can deliver. Use me, abuse me, and leave me, yes go if you will, as you always do, this despair of the certainty of disappointment is what has transformed these platonic ideals of the perfect into a bitter and twisted vile rejection of the human condition? What else is left but to objectify this Self and rationalise of an unrequited love never fulfilled?

Hmm.. we each read and choose books for different reasons and motives. We read books in different ways, some read between stops on trains and in short snaps between meetings, (huh? How do they do this? How does one get full value of a dense philosophical novel between metro stops?)

We subjectively take what we need, what we want, what we want to see and believe, and reject anything that we deem as superfluous, irrelevant or even truly insightful if it touches on subjects we deem too close to our own flaws and weaknesses? Which is why as I said in an earlier article, I cannot stomach pulp Sci-Fi, because the dialogue is so lame.

“Atlas Shrugged” is a masterpiece of dialogue and psychological insight of (a) human condition as self projected from the author, that for me, gives insight and intrigue into the author’s views opinions and philosophy. Plato, Marx. Nietzsche.. by heavens yes! And yet from page one, an author than is yelling out at us about her romanticism and search for true love, as plain as the nose on your face!

The chapters you highlight are special, and the dialogue is so, so good in this book, it can be lifted and scripted directly into movie format. The train journey you highlight above, is in the book tremendous and intensely moving and believable, (for me!), as is many other chapters concerning dialogue and human relationships.

Which leads me nicely onto your next point – kids?

Do I detect some Freudian dilemma of father/daughter, (or mother/son), relationship? Why do some humans not favour procreation or contemplate the notion of having kids? Are they different? Are they special? Are they mentally impaired or psychologically disturbed?

Are there any psychologists here at IEET that could help with this one?

To conclude, the proof is in the pudding. I recommend that the only true way of finding out whether this book “Atlas Shrugged” is of worth is to read it yourself! And I would recommend it as a deeply insightful examination of the “negatives” of selfishness, socialism, objectivism, the human condition, the passions and failures and honesty of the author, and a dire warning about the consequences of apathy!

Oh.. and if you like trains, (a lot), it helps.

Thanks for the excellent links!


Posted by advancedatheist  on  12/11  at  12:05 PM

>As evidenced by her passionately-admiring defense of the horrific murderer William Edward Hickman

Yeah, progressives never idolized sociopaths and murderers like Stalin, Mao or Che Guevara. Why, I bet you can’t even find a T-shirt with Che’s image on it.

Posted by advancedatheist  on  12/11  at  12:27 PM

Rand led a weird kind of parallel intellectual life which seemed to mirror real trends in academia, yet I haven’t seen any signs of influence or plagiarism.

She popularized her notion of “man’s mind” as “his basic tool of survival,” around the time that academic economists in the 1950’s tried to quantify from empirical data the value of what they call “human capital,” which has become increasingly important in modern economies.

Her confused ethical notions bear some resemblance to virtue ethics, which saw a revival in academic philosophy in the same decade.

And her psychological notions, developed by her lover Nathaniel Branden, bear some resemblance to the cognitive psychotherapy developed by Albert Ellis & Aaron Beck, again dating from around the same time. In fact Ellis published a book in 1968 criticizing Rand & Branden’s writings because he wanted to differentiate his style of psychotherapy from what he saw as a seriously flawed competitor.

I suspect the inadvertent resemblances between Rand’s world view and some defensible intellectual developments in the 1950’s & 1960’s gave her message more plausibility than it deserved. She benefitted more from good timing than good philosophy.

Posted by Intomorrow  on  12/11  at  06:11 PM

Did read Atlas Shrugged, didn’t see the film- don’t want to heave up the popcorn and soda.

Rand isn’t a bad thinker yet she is a poor writer save if she had wanted to write dialogue for cartoons because, as you know, her characters are cartoonish. However Rand’s point is valid, similar to what Pastor Alex has been writing in various threads: refusal to grow up means transferring the responsibility to others. Rand, though, understood something Alex doesn’t, that the young-heartedness of religion also means immature-headedness,
The fleas always come with the dog.
BTW, the high water mark of virtue ethics was also its last gasp, in Goldwater’s 1964 campaign wherein Goldwater promoted his ‘The Whole Man’ philosophy, a call for wholesomeness; a bit out of place for 1964- the year of Ken Kesey, the Beatles, Stones, etc.
A conservative might say ‘right idea, wrong era’.

Posted by Linda MacDonald Glenn  on  12/13  at  04:36 AM

Bravo, David!  I thoroughly enjoyed reading your review here—and I think you are right on point about Ayn’s aversion to the discussion of offspring—it’s not just offspring, btw, it anyone is who cannot be ‘a productive member of society’—so children, the sick, the elderly, mentally ill, disabled people are absent from her worldview.  She advocated elimination of the “non-productive,” i.e., the non-wealthy— and that the “parasites should perish.”  They are not worthy of moral consideration.

It doesn’t take a shrink to figure that this is evidence of a lack of empathy.  And her weird idolatry of William Edward Hickman is evidence of that as well. Clearly, she did not see empathy as a virtue. 
This is not to say that the book is without merit, nor that her characters are lacking in kindness or even generosity—she regards goodwill towards others, or a generalized benevolence, as an offshoot of proper self-love, with no independent source in human nature.  Rand’s heroines are strong women will not sacrifice their interests, intellect, or principles for a man or children and very feminist in their nature.  (With the notable exception of scene of where Howard Roark “takes” Dominique in spite of her resistance—she would probably say that sex was consensual, not forced).

Thanks for the provocative read—what fun!  And the responses have been entertaining as well!~ 

Posted by Giulio Prisco  on  05/29  at  09:01 AM

OK let me play the contrarian.

I never cared much for Rand, I always thought of her as a second tier writer, a mediocre practical philosopher, and a very bad theoretical philosopher. I agree with Linda’s comment.


In our contemporary PC society where soon nanny-states armies of idiotic bureaucrats will tell us which hand to use to wipe our own butt in our own bathroom, I think we need more Rand.

Rand does not have all the answers (nobody has all the answers) but she does ask important questions, and she does offer some useful answers.

The effects of the dose of Rand that our society got in the 50s are over. I think we need another dose.

Posted by CygnusX1  on  05/29  at  11:22 AM

Or perhaps we need to incorporate the best of all philosophies and design/co-author a more relevant and enduring 21st century hybrid philosophy, using a methodology of scrutiny, “open-mindedness” and administered with a non-exclusive Utilitarian approach?

If you look to see what connects philosophies rather than focus on what divides and differentiates these, there may be hope? - you may also see Rand as a Neo-Liberal too, (not that this is necessarily a good thing either - as Thatcher was also a Neo-Liberal, renouncer of society in favour of individualism - her daddy was a green grocer, with his own shop and hard effort/works influencing her upbringing)?




Posted by Stefano Vaj  on  06/02  at  06:59 AM

Interesting how Brin’s criticism of Ayn Rand is the polar opposite of my own.

Hey, the Marxian and Nietzschean angles of Ayn Rand are *exactly* what makes her palatable, lending some greatness (and followers) to an author tragically and mistakenly hypnotised on the alleged virtues and the rhetorics of Markets, Individualism, and Adam-Smithian Capitalist Laissez-faire and its so-called “Open” Society.

Are they un-American? Sure. What is indeed strange is how she escaped revolutionary Russia thinking that in the United States she would find an alternative to conservative massification.

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