Hollywood Shrugged

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One thinks of the Chevy Volt, dubbed “the car from Atlas Shrugged Motors” by Patrick Michaels last month at Forbes.com. Despite its plans to produce 100,000 such cars, GM sold 326 Volts in December, 321 in January, and 281 in February. Even the inducement of a $7,500 tax credit can’t get consumers to buy this electric car. The Volt makes the Edsel an automotive success story in comparison. The company/governmental agency will lose millions over it. But social responsibility, not profit, motivated, so the consciences of GM executives are clean. Like Eugene Lawson, their motives are pure.

The chief villains in Rand’s magnum opus aren’t political figures but businessmen who game the corrupt system, i.e., Looters. The recent experience of the U.S. government indemnifying the failed capitalists of AIG, Bear Stearns, and General Motors most directly evokes Atlas Shrugged. In a world where success is punished through taxes and failure is incentivized through bailouts, it is no wonder that there are so many capitalists who have made good despite bad performance.

Ultimately, Atlas Shrugged is a novel, not life. Its robotic dialogue, misanthropy, and Manichean neatness remind readers that they’re nose-deep in a fantasy, and a dark one at that. Anyone opening up Atlas Shrugged is sure to glean insight into the world outside of it. But Atlas Shrugged is an imagined world, not our world. What flesh-and-bones woman, for instance, swoons for the man who tells her, “I love you…as I love my work, my mills, my Metal, my hours at a desk”? Like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle or Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, its aim is not high literature but political persuasion. “Atlas Shrugged was a throwback to Socialist realism,” opines Rand biographer Jennifer Burns, “with its cardboard characters in the service of an overarching ideology.” The author’s proximity to the reader’s outlook gets mistaken for profundity. The book ultimately doesn’t transcend the political community that its cheerleaders called home.

Like other extraordinarily brilliant people, Ayn Rand exhibited deficiencies that seemed as extreme as her gifts. Socially retarded, she accepted votaries but not friends. As biographer Anne Heller observed, the dogmatic “Rand was Russian by both birth and temperament.” Her objectivism often displayed itself as a subjective rationalization of her personal likes (Hitchcock, bad; Charlie’s Angels, good) and wants (abortion, adultery, tobacco). Pumped up on an unbalanced diet of amphetamines, coffee, cigarettes, chocolate, and, worst of all, ego, Rand praised rationality on paper but rebelled against it in life. When your philosophy is selfishness, it’s hard to differentiate what’s selfish from what’s philosophy.

Atlas Shrugged is a warped vision from an unbalanced woman. Nonetheless, that the dystopian novel at all resembles the country in which we live suggests that the hour is later than we think.

Daniel J. Flynn is the author of A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). He writes a Monday column for Human Events and blogs at www.flynnfiles.com.


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  • David

    The writer is surely missing the point of the novel with his clearly subjective view of the philosophy. Rand's life and social aptitude has nothing to do with the book and should have been left out of this overtly biased article. Her philosophy is clear and concise in its reach and to be put simply: The pursuit of happiness. The point of this novel and the movie is to engage the reader in thought around the concept of rational self-interest and societies overwhelming need for forced altruism. Well, it is really more of the former than the latter.

  • brimp

    Atlas Shrugged should be required reading to get a high school diploma. Yes, the dialog seems unnatural but most movies made before 1970 are similarly unnatural. Yes, the end of the novel is a bit dense (I don't know how they will translate the soliloquy into a film that doesn't lose the audience). Yes, Rand's central premise of a rationality of the individual as the ultimate goal in life is flawed. Yes, Rand's own life choices seem not to be rational. But Atlas is needed now more than ever. In life, each individual is either going to use their own thought processes to determine their life choices or let others (the leaders of the collective) do their thinking for them. This is one of a few books that informs the reader that they have a choice.

    • someguy

      absolutely not! Objectivism is both unrealistic and morally incorrect. The idea of freeing one's inhibitions to greed would become like acid upon our society. In a world free of regulation, what would keep a financial or corporate entity from simply turning on the people in order to achieve maximum profit? They hold no obligation to anyone outside of their employ and are thus inclined towards exploitation. The individual is necessary but so is the society they exist in, even if they may have to work around morality and prejudice, for only the society will propagate and maintain their successes. Now "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" that's not too bad

      • USMCSniper

        That post was the envious babblings of just another intellectual incompetent. If you don't understand Objectivism don't advertize it. A mixed economy is a mixture of freedom and controls—with no principles, rules, or theories to define either. Since the introduction of controls necessitates and leads to further controls, it is an unstable, explosive mixture which, ultimately, has to repeal the controls or collapse into dictatorship. A mixed economy has no principles to define its policies, its goals, its laws—no principles to limit the power of its government. The only principle of a mixed economy—which, necessarily, has to remain unnamed and unacknowledged—is that no one’s interests are safe, everyone’s interests are on a public auction block, and anything goes for anyone who can get away with it. Such a system—or, more precisely, anti-system—breaks up a country into an ever-growing number of enemy camps, into economic groups fighting one another for self preservation in an indeterminate mixture of defense and offense, as the nature of such a jungle demands.

  • guest

    A third rate movie for a third rate book by a third rate thinker. The trailer was so bad, I could barely make it through the one minute and thirty seconds. Very fitting.

    • Wesley69

      I beg to differ. Ayn Rand's works reflect very much so on what is going on today in our society. Granted, ATLAS SHRUGGED is a difficult book to read, but I would be patient with it. Might I suggest a very short book called ANTHEM. It delivers a powerful message as well. And you are right, Ayn Rand requires thought.

    • William_Z

      You just have a very short attention span do to an incurable intellectual problem; so just stick to the Cartoon Network.

  • tagalog

    Righties have attacked left-wing intellectuals for not living up to their ideas, too. Read Paul Johnson's "Intellectuals." There are other similar works written to criticize the left wing's great minds by criticizing their private lives.

    It's legitimate to criticize Ayn Rand for living a life that at times was at odds with her objectivist philosophy. It's even more legitimate to point out the harsher aspects of objectivism.

    I have read Ayn Rand's fiction as well as her non-fiction. It was a long time ago, I admit, so maybe it's just a flaw in my memory when I say that objectivism is derived from Aristotelianism, but Ayn Rand has not compared Aristotelianism with Kantian philosophy. Kant's ideas are well-enough thought out to deserve a respectful critique, and Kantian thinking is quite different from objectivism.

    • Jim_C

      Well put.

      I read The Fountainhead and Anthem way back, and it had a positive effect on shaping my worldview in terms of striving to produce, to do so originally, and to be wary of those who would imitate or otherwise try to ride the coat tails. Her basic message of individual vigilance vs. collective oppression rings true, especially to a teenager. However, the frankly, literally anti-Christian nature of her work bespoke (imo) a tremendous immaturity to her overall philosophy which certainly manifest itself in her dysfunctional life.

    • Reason_For_Life

      Rand considered Kant to be the most evil man in history because she believed that Kant attacked reason in order to preserve an altruist morality. Her arguments against Kant are extensive but in essence she argued that Kant's attack on reason opened the door for Hegel, Marx and other irrationalists to advocate various kinds of tyranny.

      Rand credits Aristotle with being the father of logic but parts with him on his theory of concepts, in particular with Aristotle's realist view of the nature of universals which are the qualities that makes one class of things different from another. This is a technical argument that is best understood by reading Rand's "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology".

  • Questions

    In all fairness to the would-be producers over the decades, "Atlas Shrugged" is a novel that doesn't really translate well into film, except as a mini-series or a set-up movie with sequels. There are simply too many characters and too much speechifying to compress into a two-hour movie.

    It is not out of "hostility" to Rand that a major studio declined to follow through until now; "The Fountainhead," after all, became a movie only a half-dozen years after publication. The logistics of moving a project forth are complex. You can't expect a movie to satisfy an audience's craving for agitprop-on-demand, whether Right or Left.

    • Don from B.C.

      It's going to be a three part movie series, so they won't be compressing as much. I hope they keep it true to the book. The simple fact is if you don't "get it" by the time the soliloquy comes around, you really haven't been paying attention or you never will get it. They could probably skip that entire chapter or condense it down to a couple of minutes of dialogue. It's really just a summation of the entire book in Galt's words instead of the actions of all the other characters.

  • Alias Free

    Usually, as has been the case over the years, when I think of events similar to the events in Atlas Shrugged coming true in the real world, I think of the various encroachments of government in our lives. But the core of this article details something I hadn't heard before, namely, the spectacle of Atlas actually shrugging in the real world. Bravo! Ahhh, have we more hidden examples??? I'll be creating an e-mail from this with a pertinent quote and a link to the full article, and hope you won't mind that I act with "fair use" law in mind and being too immediately heartened and determined, to get actual permission.

  • Magnum44

    A difficulty in bringing AS to the screen is its lack of action. It's talky – a chick flick by a chick. My wife, kids and I saw Part 1 over the weekend. Not bad considering the limited budget. And I'm not a Randian. The writers comment about Rand being socially retarded sure hits the spot. I've always thought that.

  • Reason_For_Life

    "Atlas Shrugged" was a novel of ideas, and not just ordinary ideas but ideas that challenged the political, ethical and even the epistemological tenets of western civilization. The author comes at these questions in a way no one before her had so of course the dialog is stilted, the phrasing unfamiliar.

    So much of a film's power comes from the associations that the words have with cultural currents. A few words can conjure vast images and ideas in the minds of people who live within that culture. But what happens when an author goes against a culture and challenges its fundamental, core values?

    Novels of ideas are hard enough to bring to the screen when their roots are planted deep within a culture, but a novel of ideas that clash with most of what the audience believes is virtually impossible to bring to the screen and appear "realistic".

    If you've ever watched a foreign film you've probably run across idioms that have no equivalent in modern America. In a sense, Atlas Shrugged is a foreign film created in an alternate universe. No one complains that Tolkien's work is unrealistic because it is based in another world. The fact that there are no such things as hobbits and elves does not take away from Tolkien's stories.

    Complaining that "people don't talk like Rearden in real life" misses the point. He's a fictional character from another world, a world driven by ideas that only now are beginning to be seen to operate in our world as well.

    Take Atlas Shrugged for what it is, a tale of an alternate world and then just sit back and think about the ideas presented.

    • Liz

      Everyone on this thread sounds like a professor or attorney. I'm neither. Saw
      Atlas Shrugged Part 1 today. Producers did an excellent job. Acting great. Cinamatography great. Sophisticated presentation of Rand's book. Read Atlas Shrugged 40 years ago for the first time. Almost through my 2nd read. As someone said, it's more 2011 than 1957. I love the dialogue and do not find it stilted. One has to admit Rand's premise is not only creative but also brilliant. Perhaps those American businesses now overseas are the modern equivalent of a strike. Or maybe they are the moochers and looters and good riddance.

    • TTG

      Yes, RFL: In a nutshell – the whole of Atlas Shrugged is greater than the sum of its parts, just as Rand, for all her faults, is better than her critics. She was a force of nature, and you can't say that about many people in the world. Maybe she was a bit crazy, but she also was self-made, brilliant, and provocative. As for the book: It's not literary high art; it's not philosophy presented in neat academic fashion, and it's too long and talky with characters often hyperventilating essays at each other for dialogue (the Galt radio speech is unbearable after 10 pages!).j It’s a Gothic Romance potboiler with big ideas. But it's more than that, too. Despite all its failings the book delivers big chunks of truth, and given current events, I think it safe to say that Ayn Rand was prescient. I found the book exhilarating when I read it years ago, and I liked the movie, which could have been better, but which is better than its critics claim. In this regard, it is just like the book, which was panned, most notably by Whitaker Chambers in the National Review.

  • bob maram

    while i have not seen the movie ""atlas shrugged"" and do not fully agree nor for that matter fully understand ayn''s philosophical writings i do believe that she has earned a placein the pantheon of twentieth century thinkers. her philosophy at times runs contrary to her personal behavior but as paul johnson soaptly shows in ""intellectuals"" politicalpositions and personal lifestyles for many artists have shown a lack of consistency. it has also amused and bemused me that the feminists have refused to include ayn rand, golda meir and margaret thatcher among their heros. it suggests that it is not genitalia but rather the liberal agenda that is really their criteria for greatness. bob maram

  • USAdecline

    I was one of a very small group to view the movie in Clifton,NJ, Sunday eve. The first 20 minutes were flat and I feared that the producers had failed to translate the book to the screen, but it gained momentum exponentially. Having read the novel in the mid 70s, its message seemed geographically remote, as it best related to the socialist Soviet Union/Eastern European countries. As we departed the theatre, my three friends and I all expressed the same disconcerting opinion- the U.S. is "Atlas Shrugged".

  • Catherine

    I don't think the point was well made that her personal life didn't reflect her novels. As she wrote in the intro -her books themselves are testament to the real life nature of her characters. And due to her popularity, I would say that she ranks pretty high on the achievement level. However, what many people seem to miss about her writings is that wealth is not always correlated to achievement. In We the Living, the man Rand admired (Leo) was ruined by the corrupt and overbearing Communist government. He lived in poverty and began to commit crimes to survive. Wealth is not a good in itself, and when gained by fraud is not to be admired. I think its important to get back to the basics of her writings, which is expressing human greatness, and selfishness is living out your dreams.

    • tagalog

      In my opinion, Ayn Rand's contribution to the ongoing debate between collectivism and egoism is to insist that acting for the sake of one's own conception of the good is the highest virtue. Her famous quotation, "I live my life for no man, and ask no man to live his life for me" is the distillation of objectivist philosophy.

      Ayn Rand was a sucker for cartoonish posturings. That's why she would say things like money is the highest good, when she actually was trying to say that people are at their best when allowed to do what fulfills them according to their own standards, whether that's profit from running Taggart railways or inventing and producing Reardon Metal, or running a halfway house for addicts. Ayn Rand's novels don't have any argument to make against those who are altruistic because altruism for them is the fulfillment of their own self-developed values. She simply says that the ego is the beginning and the end of morality, which is a defensible (inarguable, in my view) position to take.

      There are a small number of characters in her novels who have not seen their egoistic virtues rewarded, but who are still worthy of respect because they live according to their own conception of right and wrong and are not "moochers" or "looters."

      • Catherine

        Well said.

  • USMCSniper

    Read " Philosophy, Who Needs It" by Ayn Rand, as an introduction and then see the film "Atlas Shrugged" if you have not, you will get a greater perspective and insight."

    • Catherine

      Is there anything in that book that is missing from all her others? I have read all her fiction works, her biography, and other authors discussing her philosophy as well. Thank you for the suggestion though, I will look into it. Sidenote, the movie doesn't seem to be getting good reviews.. but then again its hard to turn a great novel into a movie.

  • transpower

    The reviewer is a "social metaphysician." No, Rand wasn't "socially retarded"–she simply didn't like being around the illiterate masses. Coffee and chocolate are actually healthful; cigarettes aren't, of course, but in Rand's time they were the main anti-depressants available, in addition to alcohol (which Rand didn't usually have). The movie is an excellent adaptation to the Big Screen of Rand's magnum opus. If the reviewer had a better understanding and appreciation of mathematics, science, engineering, and operations research, he would have a better appreciation for the novel–and the movie. The country is in very serious difficulty, and the only real solution is to get back to laissez-faire capitalism, a strictly-limited Constitutional republic, and a strict meritocracy. Look at the contrast between Jewish American capitalism–which constructs buildings and machines–and Islamo-Fascism–which destroys them. Shame on FrontPage Magazine for publishing that clueless review.