Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"Who is John Galt?"

Ayn Rand is one of the few authors whose works can make something by Leon Uris look like a quick read. On my bookshelf, few works other than Boswell's, Life of Johnson can compete with hers for the breadth of their spine. I was, until sometime in 2003, what Stephen Moore calls below, a "virgin." That was the year that a friend recommended Rand to me. He would have been one of those who responded to the Library of Congress survey that her work had changed his life. He is, unless I'm mistaken, a subscriber to this blog, though he has never left a comment.

I must confess though, that my reaction to her work was likely colored by the lenses of an English professor. Her characters are all types. So much so that she almost may as well have given them names like those of Bunyan and just made it an allegory outright. As I remember it, the absolute purity with which each character represented his or her philosophical ideal frequently made the willing suspension of disbelief more challenging than necessary.

And yet, I also remember agreeing with the philosophy itself, with the ideas that Rand set out to expound. But I had forgotten how apt they were to our current times. It took Stephen Moore, writing in The Wall Street Journal, to remind me of that:

Some years ago when I worked at the libertarian Cato Institute, we used to label any new hire who had not yet read "Atlas Shrugged" a "virgin." Being conversant in Ayn Rand's classic novel about the economic carnage caused by big government run amok was practically a job requirement. If only "Atlas" were required reading for every member of Congress and political appointee in the Obama administration. I'm confident that we'd get out of the current financial mess a lot faster.

Many of us who know Rand's work have noticed that with each passing week, and with each successive bailout plan and economic-stimulus scheme out of Washington, our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that "Atlas Shrugged" parodied in 1957, when this 1,000-page novel was first published and became an instant hit.

Rand, who had come to America from Soviet Russia with striking insights into totalitarianism and the destructiveness of socialism, was already a celebrity. The left, naturally, hated her. But as recently as 1991, a survey by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that readers rated "Atlas" as the second-most influential book in their lives, behind only the Bible.

For the uninitiated, the moral of the story is simply this: Politicians invariably respond to crises -- that in most cases they themselves created -- by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs . . . and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

David Kelley, the president of the Atlas Society, which is dedicated to promoting Rand's ideas, explains that "the older the book gets, the more timely its message." He tells me that there are plans to make "Atlas Shrugged" into a major motion picture -- it is the only classic novel of recent decades that was never made into a movie. "We don't need to make a movie out of the book," Mr. Kelley jokes. "We are living it right now."
As always, the whole essay by Moore ("Atlas Shrugged: From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years") is worth the read.

One cannot but wonder who will be our John Galt.

Hat tip: JPL