VITAL WORKS RECONSIDERED, #32
The Invalid Identification of Contraries With Contradictories

January-February 2013By Donald DeMarco

Donald DeMarco is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Crom­well, Connecticut. Some of his recent writings may be found at Human Life International’s Truth & Charity Forum (www.truthandcharityforum.org).

Atlas Shrugged. By Ayn Rand.

Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, might be the most perplexing and infuriating novel ever written. Its publication in 1957 was met with a tirade of scathing reviews from literary critics of diverse temperaments. On the Left, Gore Vidal described its philosophy as “nearly perfect in its immorality.” On the Right, former communist Whittaker Chambers, writing in National Review, said he found it “sophomoric” and “remarkably silly.” “Out of a lifetime of reading,” he wrote, “I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal.” Ruth Chapin Blackmun saw it as a “polemic inadequately disguised as a novel.” Writing in The Saturday Review, Helen Beal Woodward said she found it “shot through with hatred,” an opinion shared by Granville Hicks, who wrote in The New York Times that it was “written out of hate.” A review in Time magazine asked, “Is it a novel? Is it a nightmare? Is it Superman — in the comic strip or the Nietzschean version?”

Atlas Shrugged is 1,084 pages in length (small type, slim margins). It includes a bombastic, authoritarian, and tediously repetitious speech by the book’s hero, John Galt, that goes on and on for an astonishing 58 pages. The speech re-appears in Ayn Rand’s book For the New Intellectual, where it takes up 77 pages in slightly larger type.

Yet Atlas Shrugged has sold more than seven million copies. In 2009 its annual sales reached a high-water mark of 520,000. That same year it ranked #1 in Amazon’s “Fiction and Literature” category. It also took the top spot in a 1998 Modern Library poll. The Ayn Rand Institute donates 400,000 copies of Rand’s works annually, including Atlas Shrugged, to high-school students.

Rand’s book has had a decisive impact on a variety of influential people, including several prominent economists — Ludwig von Mises and Alan Greenspan among them — and an assortment of U.S. political figures. Of particular interest is Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, a Catholic who ran for vice president on the Republican ticket in the last election. Although the urban legend has been debunked that Ryan has required all his staff members to read Atlas Shrugged, there is little doubt that Rand has influenced his economic thinking. At a Washington, D.C., gathering five years ago honoring the author, Ryan stated, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”


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An excellent neo-con hit piece. Short on intellectual honesty and long on intellectual dishonesty. You’ll forgive me Professor if I hold you to the same standard by which you hold Ayn Rand.

So many distorted half truths and patently false conclusions are drawn that it would take an article at least twice as long to address them all. Instead I will address four items that represent the fallaciousness of your diatribe.

1. "Rand considered herself to be history’s second greatest philosopher. “The only philosophical debt I can acknowledge is to Aristotle,” she once said." Sorry Professor Demarco, but just because I say that "The only political debt I can acknowledge is to Thomas Jefferson", does not mean that I am saying that I am the second greatest statesman to have ever lived. For you to even make such an assertion is the height of mental masturbation. It merely means that he is in my opinion the greatest statesman to have ever lived and from whom I have developed my ideas. If you are willing to lie about this, what else are you lying about in your article?

2. You criticize Rand for stating "One side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil." I suppose you are prepared to criticize Christ as well: "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold, nor hot. I would thou wert cold, or hot. But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, not hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth." Revelations 3:15-16 (Douay-Rheims Holy Bible).

3. You are correct that extremes on either side of an issue are usually wrong and that the truth will often be found in the middle. But what you are wrong about is your failure or refusal to see that both extremes each fall on the side of wrong/evil/the black side of a black and white issue. The truth does not actuality fall somewhere in the gray middle of the extremes, it actually transcends both extremes and falls into its own category of right/good/the white side of a black and white issue. Any other view results in constantly compromising with the lesser of two evils. But evil, to whatever degree, is still evil. Even if you are foolishly willing to dance with devil.

4. You state: "Atlas Shrugged, as its author has described it, explores “the role of man’s mind in existence.” Rand does not see her characters so much as flesh-and-blood human beings but as carriers of ideas. The hapless train passengers, for example, were indistinguishable from their ideas. And since their minds housed the wrong ideas, in Rand’s view, they lost all justification for living. It is a perfectly legitimate part of philosophy to refute an idea. But when a character is seen solely as the embodiment of his philosophical ideas, refutation becomes equivalent to assassination."

Well I suppose you disagree with Christ again: "By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them." Matthew 7:16-20 (Douay-Rheims Holy Bible).

In addition, Rand was not saying that it was good for people to physically die. She was making an obvious statement about how those people were already philosophically and spiritually dead. I don't know how you could not know that. It's called symbolism, professor.

I could go on but I think these points sufficiently demonstrate the sand your house of arguments is based upon. Don't get me wrong, Rand was not perfect and I do not agree with all of her positions. But she was significantly more right than she was wrong. And at the end of the day, because her political and economic logic was so airtight, it ends up actually supporting Christian values, whether or not she intended it to do so.

I recommend you reread Atlas Shrugged and while you are at it: The Wealth of Nations, The Declaration of Independence, The U.S. Constitution, The Federalist Papers, The Anti-Federalist Papers, and Human Action.
Posted by: Lt. William J. Lawler II, M.Ed
February 04, 2013 03:07 PM EST
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