Archive for March 10th, 2011

Ever heard of Ayn Rand?

No? Well according to a 1991 survey conducted for the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month Club Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was the second most influential book in the respondent’s life, just after the Bible. And Modern Library’s 1998 nonscientific online poll of the 100 best novels of the 20th century found Atlas Shrugged rated #1 although it was not included on the list chosen by the Modern Library board of authors and scholars.

So, who was Ayn Rand (1905-1982) and what is Atlas Shrugged about?

To put it simply, it is Ayn Rand’s fourth and last novel, first published in 1957 in the United States. The book itself explores a dystopian country where leading innovators, ranging from industrialists to artists, refuse to be exploited by society. The main protagonist sees society collapse around her as the government increasingly asserts control over all industry while society’s most productive citizens, led by the mysterious John Galt, progressively disappear. Galt describes the strike as “stopping the motor of the world” by withdrawing the “minds” that drive society’s growth and productivity. In their efforts, these “men of the mind” hope to demonstrate that a world in which the individual is not free to create is doomed, that civilization cannot exist where men are slave to society and government, and that the destruction of the profit motive leads to the collapse of society.*

So much about the mere story. But why has this particular book influenced such a great deal of people (about eight percent of Americans have read the novel)?

First of all, there is much to hate about the book. Quoting Harried Rubin, “Both conservatives and liberals were unstinting in disparaging the book; the right saw promotion of godlessness, and the left saw a message of greed is good”. The critics were very tough on Rand. In fact, she is said to have cried every day as the reviews came out. However, all these negative reviews induced equally strong statements in favor of Atlas Shrugged. To quote John A. Allision, former CEO of BB&T (one of the largest banks in the US), “I know from talking to a lot of Fortune 500 C.E.O.’s that Atlas Shrugged has had a significant effect on their business decisions, even if they don’t agree with all of Ayn Rand’s ideas. It offers something other books don’t: the principles that apply to business and to life in general. I would call it complete.”

A 2007 article by the NY Times called the novel a glorification of the right of individuals to live entirely for their own interest. Indeed, Ayn Rand was always very insistent with her arguments. The role of government she advocated was very limited, to say the least. In her view, pure capitalism was not just efficient but also ethically sound. In addition, she voted for a separation of state and economics just like the separation of state and church, suggesting this would lead to peaceful cooperation among individuals.

Personally, I am not sure whether to agree with all of her statements. First I have to read the 1,200 pages novel. But as a foregone conclusion I would suggest Darla Moore’s judgment: “She wasn’t a nice person. But what a gift she’s given us.”

PS. There have also been many efforts to bring Atlas Shrugged to the cinemas. However, every initiative failed until very recently. Thanks to Paul Johansson, the movie will be released on April 15, 2011.

*paragraph mostly copied from Wikipedia

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Right next to campus we’ve got a traditional Swiss farm with a beautiful sunset in the back. Admittedly, I should have used a real digicam and also been one or two minutes earlier for this to become a perfect picture. Quite a nice impression though.

Farm and sunset next to St.Gallen campus

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