In my novel, The Genesis Generation, there is a scene in which the mentor of the story’s protagonist spells out what he sees to be serious flaws in Ayn Rand’s insidious novel, Atlas Shrugged, which has today become the bible of the Republican Party.
Below is an excerpt from that scene. However, should you not want to read the entire section, here is Ayn Rand’s philosophy in a nutshell, and in her own words:
‘When men live by trade, the degree of man’s productiveness is the degree of his reward. This is the code of existence whose tool and symbol is money. To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you.’
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER TWO OF THE GENESIS GENERATION by Lorenzo Hagerty
“Conformity is doing what’s expected of you, not necessarily doing what’s right,” Russ grumbled. “But I’ll tell you what’s really been getting to me today, and that’s all this bullshit talk about the world as seen through the lens of Ayn Rand. God, I’m really sick of listening to all that shit.”
“That’s where I’m afraid we’ll have to part company,” I said, “I have to admit that I really loved Atlas Shrugged. I read it in college and thought then, and still think now, that it’s a great novel.”
“You’re a geek, not a student of literature. What you loved was a terrific story. What you lack is the ability to think about that book in an objective way, which, by the way, is an ironic fault of Randians everywhere,” Russ said as he chuckled at his own joke.
“You can see her work bleed through everywhere,” he went on, “especially in today’s political speeches. Quotes like the one SK used today are universally appreciated, ‘Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own visions.’ Ole Ayn sure did have a way with words. But have you examined, really thought about, some of her characters? They were really fucked-up people, ya know.”
“Give me an example,” I challenged.
“OK. How about her heroine, Dagney Tagart. Remember her drug of choice? She was a chain smoker and proud of it. So score intelligence low. And Dagney was vindictive. Remember how she’d say things like, ‘it is now in your power to destroy me, I may have to go, but if I go, I’ll make sure that I take all the rest of you along with me.’ So score compassion and empathy zero.”
“How do you happen to be able to quote, or at least pretend to quote, from a book you hate?” I asked.
“Oh, I’ve made a study of Atlas Shrugged, read it five times in all. The first three times I thought about it just like you do. Then, just two years ago, I read it again in the hopes that it would fire me up once more like it had in the past. Only that time I began to pay more attention to the nuances of her characters, since I already had memorized the major lines of the plot. That’s when I began to notice the cracks in Dagney. So I decided to read it one more time but with the thought of writing a critical analysis. It took me six months and I ended up with over 500 pages of notes.”
“Holy shit!” I exclaimed. “So are you writing the critique now?”
“No. That’s as far as I’ve gotten. The truth is. Now that I understand for myself how remote her philosophy is from mine, I’ve kinda lost interest . . . but not my passion, as you can see. There are some really unsavory characters in that story.”
“Give me another example,” I said.
“OK, how about Francisco? He’s always thought of as this squeaky clean idealist. He’s the one who said that when he got to heaven he would be able to claim the greatest virtue of all—that he was a man who made money. Virtue! Money is a lot of things, but a virtue certainly isn’t one of them in my book.
“Francisco is also the asshole who said, ‘Dagney there’s nothing of any importance in life – except how well you do your work. Nothing. Only that. . . . It’s the only measure of human value.’ Now Francisco was a yuppie jerk, but he was a saint next to that steel mogul, Reardon.”
“I remember him,” I said, “He was the guy in the loveless marriage with a high society wife. Didn’t he have an affair with Dagney?”
“Yeah. They fucked. And every time they did the objective seemed to be the violent humiliation of Dagney. It was never pretty sex. And it takes two to make a loveless marriage, you know. At one point, Reardon said something to the effect of, ‘I’ve given Lillian none of my time for months – no, for years; for the eight years we’ve been married.’ Hell, he didn’t even know what her interests were. He was a rotten husband and partner. No wonder his wife became so bitchy.
“But the thing that really got me about Reardon was the time his ore fleet sunk in a storm. He never even expressed any concern for the lives that were lost. His only concern was for the time it cost him . . . and his lost profits,” Russ finished with a flourish.
“Wow. You’ve really got a hard-on for Ayn Rand, don’t you?” I asked.
“Yes I do,” Russ shot back, his eyes ablaze, “and I’ll tell you why. I’m pissed off at her for being such a good writer that she could conceal her hateful philosophy in that compelling story. She was really good at what she was up to, and now yet another generation is having their minds polluted by the subtext of a good story.
“The framing is perfect,” he went on, “the self-made men, and one woman, against THE SYSTEM. Hey, I’m all for it. The only problem is that fucking John Galt thought that the best way to stop the motor of the world was to get the CEO’s to quit. You know them, those all-knowing gods who are guiding our great ships of commerce through the storms of capitalism, those feudal princes, those MINDS, they are the ones he convinced to drop out.
“If you read Atlas Shrugged with a more critical eye you’ll see how she short-changes people like her trusty servant Eddie. Her whole fucking empire would have come down without him. But he’s not far enough up her hierarchical power ladder to rate as a creator. So to her, Eddie was still a second-hander. There was only room for one creator per enterprise in her world, and that’s just about the way it’s playing out in corporate America today,” Russ rambled on, seemingly unable to stop the torrent of emotion that Rand’s philosophy caused in him.
“Now if you’re a naive young college student, dreaming about one day clawing your way to the top of the corporate ladder and becoming a tycoon yourself, well, then you’re going to really identify with these guys. But just think of what they did when they dropped out. They abandoned all of the women, men, families, and communities that had provided the labor upon which their great fortunes were founded. So they all drop out and go to Galt’s high tech gulch and live happily ever after while their former associates descend into barbarism. Nice guys, huh?”
“Now Russ, you’re exaggerating. It wasn’t quite that way,” I asserted.
“No? Then go back and re-read it for yourself. You’re a big boy now. Read it with your eyes wide open, keeping in mind what’s going on in the world and on the environmental and poverty fronts. I think you should re-read it with new eyes and decide for yourself.”
“I think I will,” I said.
“Remember that pasty, slimy character, Balph Eubank?” Russ began again.
“Oh yeah. Who doesn’t remember him. He was that smarmy little bureaucrat who kept trying to regulate the steel industry and confiscate Reardon’s new metal.” I replied, pleased at myself for remembering this character.
“That’s the way he was portrayed. You’re right. But listen to Balph’s view of the situation where he says, ‘Our culture has sunk into a bog of materialism. Men have lost all spiritual values in their pursuit of material production and technological trickery.’ He sounds more like the Dali Lama to me, yet Rand gives him the hateful bad guy role.
“Here is Rand’s philosophy in a nutshell,” Russ continued. “ ‘When men live by trade, the degree of man’s productiveness is the degree of his reward. This is the code of existence whose tool and symbol is money. To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you.’ Or words to that effect. Now if that doesn’t sound like the rules of the game today, I don’t know what does,” Russ said as he slowly faded into sleep in the tattered recliner chair that dominated one corner of our room.
As I reached up to turn off the light over my bed, I noticed that someone had written something on the bottom of the bookshelf that served as my headboard. It was a quote from Christopher Morley that read, “There is only one success – to be able to spend your life in your own way.” I stayed awake thinking about that all night.