Skip to comments.Our First FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged
Posted on 01/15/2009 10:32:08 AM PST by Publius
Over the past few weeks, Ayn Rands classic, Atlas Shrugged, has been mentioned in articles in the Wall Street Journal and among conservative and libertarian bloggers. Two questions are being debated by those who have read the book.
Besides those who have read the book, there are FReepers with little awareness of Rand and her work. Some are turned off by the length of her works of fiction. Some of a more religious bent have problems with Rands atheism. Some wish she had left the few sex scenes out. Some just think shes a bad writer.
I would like to propose our first FReeper Book Club effort: A chance for a group of us to read Atlas Shrugged together, both old hands and newcomers to the book. Once this effort settles in, I or others might want to start FReeper Book Clubs dedicated to Forrest McDonalds States Rights and the Union, or Alexis de Toquevilles Democracy in America. I like the idea of an interleaved reading of both the Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalist Papers together in strict chronological order so as to see the point and counterpoint of the debate over the Constitution. Ive picked Atlas Shrugged for starters because its a hot topic and its fun. Once we get into the habit of reading and discussing together, we can tackle the heavier stuff.
The book is divided into 30 chapters. I propose to post a thread on one chapter every Saturday, which would make 30 threads over a period of 30 weeks to cover the entire book. Ill provide a short synopsis of the chapter, expound on certain themes and raise questions to stimulate debate. If FReeper Book Club members feel that a faster pace is better, we can settle on one.
Atlas and Me
I came to Atlas Shrugged via the usual method: I read it in high school. The bully who sat behind me and enjoyed pounding me at the Catholic prep school I attended in New Jersey exposed me to the book by hitting me on the head with it. Its weight made an immediate impression. Our sophomore English teacher was not teaching the book, and he suggested that the bully pound me with something of lesser weight, such as The Red Badge of Courage.
The English teacher panned the book, stating that it was the kind of book an immature person might enjoy, but a mature adult with experience of the world could not take Rand seriously. The solutions proposed by Atlas Shrugged were not realistic.
The vice principal, a priest from Brooklyn who believed in FDR, JFK, LBJ and God, in that order, excoriated Rand for writing an anti-Christian epic and broadly hinted that the bully was sinning by reading it. Better to hit someone over the head with it. The solutions proposed by Atlas Shrugged were evil.
I read the book anyway.
The Strange World of Atlas Shrugged
Rands book was written between 1945 and 1956 and published in 1957. During the postwar years, America saw massive changes in society and technology, and the shape of world politics shifted mightily. None of this is reflected in the book. Some of the differences between Rands world and our own are rather egregious and require comment.
The easiest way to explain these anomalies is to say that Rand lacked the scientific background to project technological change and simply dealt with the technology of her era while projecting political change. But then how did she project the use of ultrasound for Project Xylophone and the holographic projection that protected Galts Gulch? There is a strange mix of the old and the new. What marks a total departure from our reality is the change in politics and in the American character.
One can accept all this as artists license, but I tried to come up with my own logic for how Rands America came to this pass.
Alternative History: Trying the Harry Turtledove Approach
If one wanted to create an alternative history for the universe of Atlas Shrugged, one could start with the 4-way election of 1948. In this alternative history, Henry Wallace won the race, defeating Truman, Dewey and Thurmond, establishing a Labor government on the British model in America. The warning voices of Martin Dies, John Bricker, Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon were stilled.
Wallace wanted no cold war with the Soviets, and with the quick withdrawal of American forces from Europe, Germany was reunified under a communist Peoples State government. The Soviet Union, now the Peoples State of Russia, never geared up for war, settling instead for passive mediocrity. Britain never rejected Clement Atlee, and with the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a written constitution on the German model, the Peoples State of England replaced the United Kingdom. In France, De Gaulle never came to power, and the Fourth Republic morphed into the Peoples State of France.
In the Western Hemisphere, figures similar to Fidel Castro established the Peoples State of Mexico and other communist countries in Central and South America.
America did not go all the way to Peoples State status, however, although intellectuals worked hard toward that end. Instead, America became a gray, downtrodden country accepting an atmosphere of sad decay, much like England today. Americans accepted that things were hopeless and that nothing could be done. Feelings replaced facts. The very nature of reality was questioned.
It took only a decade of economic stasis, misguided politics and cultural pollution to create the hell described by Rand.
Some Thoughts on the Movie
A scriptwriter would have a hard time shrinking the story to fill a two or three hour time slot even if all the long speeches were eliminated. A miniseries for television would have served the book better.
This effort would be a production designers dream. I would point to John Vallone, who handled production design for Walter Hills 1984 classic, Streets of Fire. Vallone created a fascinating mix of Fifties and Eighties that had no parallel in real time. Something in the same vein would make the movie memorable, rather than setting it in the present or a future that looks like the present.
Lets Get Started
I will build a ping list for our FReeper Book Club, so sign in on this thread. Ill use the keyword freeperbookclub to mark these threads as they are posted.
Welcome to our first effort. Prepare to read and discuss.
The second time I skipped it, then went back to it, taking it apart line by line.
The last time I read it, I just skimmed it.
Do you want to join, or do you want to skip this effort?
This morning on my way to work, I saw an SUV with a bumper sticker that said, “Who is John Galt?”
ahhh .... Book Club Ping...
Wooo Hooo! Thanks.
The only book I have re-read multiple times. The only thing that breaks my heart is that Ms. Rand was an atheist. I would have found her company engaging forever. Fountainhead was good, but not Atlas Shrugged. We The Living was so horribly sad, I couldn’t take it.
Please sign me up. Thanks
I’ll check out Fontova on Che Guevara.
Proud owner of Liberal Fascism. Thought he could have been stronger with his closing case than basically “we’re all fascists.” That close made an apology for liberal behavior. On a funny note, I was reading that book next to Congressman John Lewis at the airport. I made sure he saw the cover. There was no doubt he knew what I was reading when I saw the look on his face. Goldberg could’ve devoted an entire chapter to the liberal fascist antics of John Lewis.
Are you in?
Reading the novel for the first time ever right now. Please sign me up.
The reason for the ideological hostility to the work is that Rand caricatured liberal platitudes and postures brilliantly - arguably the most potent thing about the book. Say what you will about it as a novel, and I've plenty to say and not all of it complimentary, her villains are drawn so perfectly it's almost painful to read them and a newspaper too close together.
And yes, a Streets Of Fire set would be perfect. An underrated flick, IMHO.
Are you in?
FYI: Fountainhead was made into a movie years ago. Very similar story but in Atlas Rand's philosophy is more refined and the characters are a lot better. If ever there was a must-read, Atlas Shrugged is it.
The film would become liberal crap
Are you in?
After Liberal Fascism,
read Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom”.
It wasn’t written about the USA, but about Britain, pre-WWII, and their embracing of “central planning”. The concepts are, indeed, prescient.
Don’t leave us hanging. What did you do to the bully?
I’m thinking about signing up.
we are in the preface when someone should be establishing a Galts Gulch .... so whats taking so long?