A few of my friends are avid fans of Ayn Rand, especially of Atlas Shrugged. As I’ve explained in this space and elsewhere, I am not. I’ve tried the book a few times and just couldn’t get through it. I did see the first two installments of the recent movie version and rather liked them, though I know I am not supposed to.
At bottom, I think that Whittaker Chambers was right about Rand in the devastating review he wrote of Atlas Shrugged in National Review shortly after the book appeared.
Yet Chambers was right not only about Rand’s shortcomings — that’s what people remember about his review — but also about what she got right. “[A] great many of us,” he wrote, “dislike much that Miss Rand dislikes, quite as heartily as she does.” That fact disposes “us” — i.e., us conservatives who share Rand’s belief in self-reliance and who dislike big government and the nanny state just as much as she did — to endorse some of what Rand advocates. Hence, for example, widespread popularity of Rand’s character John Galt and sympathy for “going Galt,” i.e., Just Saying No to the many violations of personal liberty perpetrated by an omnivorous, socialistically inclined state.
I’ve found that as I get older I become more and more libertarian, which I suppose means in part that I am more and more sympathetic to John Galt. Why? I’m sure there are several reasons. One is the increasing bureaucratization of life in this country, the progress of what Tocqueville called “Democratic Despotism,” i.e., the insidious proliferation of rules and regulations (and their concomitant rulers and regulators) that we’re told are being put in place for the commonweal but in fact are really put in place to squelch individual liberty and solidify state control over our lives.
Examples are too numerous to linger over: imagine a country in which legislators tell you can no longer buy incandescent light bulbs but must henceforth purchase ones that contain a toxic substance and give off a sepulchral, Eastern-European-under-Communism sort of grimy light. Imagine a country in which other legislators (or perhaps they’re the same ones) are proposing to fit all new cars with a “black box” that will record where you’ve been, how fast you got there, and perhaps even what you had to drink before you got behind the wheel.
Amazing that we put up with it, no?
And this is the proverbial tip of the iceberg.