Sunday, September 16, 2007

Who is John Galt these days?

Ayn Rand once referred to her novel Atlas Shrugged as a mystery, "about the murder -- and rebirth -- of man's spirit." If so, it's far and away the most plodding and preachy mystery you'll ever read. It's 1,200 pages long and the approximate weight of a Volkswagen. I burned as many calories just lugging this book from the parking lot as I did on the YMCA Stairmaster where I made myself read it over the course of a week.

Nevertheless, the book continues to sell well 50 years later. The New York Times revisits the tome in a weekend piece headlined "Ayn Rand's literature of capitalism." It will come as no surprise that the book's biggest fans today are corporate executives, who like the part about naked self interest but overlook the part about inventing things of public value. Let's just say Kenneth Lay was no John Galt.

As someone who experienced the Bolshevik revolution firsthand, Rand may be forgiven for her hatred of collectivism. She was unstinting in her contempt for parasitic mobs who preyed on the productivity of others. But all these years later, I wonder if the situation hasn't been reversed. Aren't today's hedge-fund managers, and others of their ilk, the biggest parasites of all?

Bottom line: Atlas Shrugged was an important book in 1957, and remained so for a couple decades. Now, along with the socialist absurdities it railed against, it just seems hopelessly naive.


Peter said...

I was a level-headed child -- I never read the copy of "Atlas Shrugged" that my mother had lying around the house. (I don't know if she read it, either.) But I'm familiar with the cliches about the book -- and I had heard the one about building things of public value. Now, years too late, I have a rejoinder for an old friend who liked Ayn Rand.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Dave K. said...

I'm still not sure what prompted me to read it 10 years ago -- some vague impulse about bettering myself through acquaintance with the classics, I guess. I won't make that mistake again.

Peter said...

The Rand-ies I knew were real blank-eyes zealots, at least when it came to their priestess. And I never liked Gary Cooper much, either (except for Sergeant York), so there's no reason for me to want to see the movie version of The Fountainhead.

A movie based on Ayn Rand. There's a thought to induce shudders.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

RossitzaTodorova said...

Do you have a comment about the book itself? How about its concepts Objectivism, selfishness, capitalism. What did you think of the book?

I am 26 year old Artist, far off from a corporate executive and this is one of my favored books. I love Rand’s ability to compeer socialism and collectivism compared to capitalism.

I find it frustrating that many philosophers, critics like to attack the person of Ayn Rand rather then dealing with the subject matter she discusses. They never seam to want to address the points that she makes about on selfishness, altruism, love, industry but rather they talk abouther upbringing, and her personal life chooses. Why? Why can’t they discuss the real issues? It’s always feel like they are afraid to present a real argument.

I was drawn to your blog because of the title of this article. However I am disappointed. I would love to see how you think the idea of John Galt applies in today’s world.

Why not actually answer your question “who is John Gult these days?”
For example, do you see a brain-drain in our current society? Are intelligent, capable people disappearing out of politics and industry? If so, where are they going?

Do you think that our present American society is moving more toward collectivism?
Is John Galt a terrorist, or a revolutionary?
Is opting out of society a positive or negative option in today’s globule market?

I would love to read what you thought of the issues and ideas presented in this book.

-Rossitza Todorova