Saturday, June 19, 2010

[review] Atlas Shrugged

The older a woman gets, the more likely she is to be set in her feminist philosophy. What is a woman's relationship with the world or herself as a woman? Does she care? The older she gets, the more settled she is in her own self-conception. Therefore she has more time to opine on Woman's Condition, since she isn't spending any time worrying about her own. The older I get, the more surprised I am at women's relationship to the world. In many ways, I don't think it's changed in the past 50 years.

Dagny Taggart, the central character with the moral [in Rand's point of view] force and business skill, is a woman yet she is also painted as not-feminine. That's fine and probably even panders to 1950s perceptions of women in executive positions. A real woman, after all, would be feminine and at home with her husband. But Taggart's ultimate choice of a relationship partner is [in my point of view] stupid and panders to the 1950s view of women being dependent upon a man's opinions. She only becomes truly fulfilled when she sees the light of economic reality given to her by a man.

Why choose fellow railroad magnate Hank Rearden, who obviously loves her, when she can choose some mythical, iconic man who doesn't love her?

Dagny Taggart & John Galt are no different than Cinderella and Prince Charming. Prince Charming saw Cinderella's physical beauty & didn't particularly care about anything other than her shoe size. Galt sees Dagny's economic power and doesn't particularly care about anything else. In fact, I don't recall if there's any mention of their relationship beyond Messiah & Apostle. I don't see why it makes any difference to the story that Dagny is a woman. This ought to be idealistic for rabid feminists - the central character is a woman who isn't a woman.

I am a rabid opponent of the idea of love at first sight. I like romance. Romance isn't love. Love can only be based upon knowledge. My cousin told his college drinking buddies at a bar one night, "see that beautiful woman over there? I'm going to marry her." That would be my divorced-dad cousin. The men crossing Dagny's life path are interesting, and at least one becomes her lover; but she breaks off the relationship when she realizes he loves her. How familiar does this sound? Then she meets some man spouting lovely things (okay, so they're lovely socioeconomic things, but still ...) and what does she do? Falls for an icon rather than a man who loves her. I think I roomed with this one in college.

Atlas Shrugged yields the quintessential self-perception of American Capitalism. This is, of course, not how we practice that economic theory, as AIG can vouch. But it is how Americans idealize it. The Marlboro Man of Business - this is why Republicans idealize capitalism with utterly no governmental regulation. They likely think they're Hank Rearden, while in reality they actually are Jimmy Taggart.

I read this while in high school & enjoyed it without realizing it was an economic philosophy treatise. Even at 15 I realized the personal relationship choices of the heroine really left something to be desired. At 44, I have lived long enough to have seen the myriad ways that people myopically view Love. And their equally unhealthy relationships with It. I'm also old enough to have seen the myriad ways that people myopically view Economic Reality; and their extremely unhealthy relationship with that, too.

Love of money and power are the central points, not love of a person. You can just skip the chapter entitled John Galt Speaks. The rest of the book is a pleasant story. The chapter entitled John Galt Speaks is the economic meat of the treatise, putting the whole story into the perspective of Objectivism. (... the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness or rational self-interest, that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights, embodied in pure laissez faire capitalism, ...)

Gohper rating:
I still think it's a nice novel, and can be read to partially understand the American
Conservative party conception of reality. The economic depression behind the story should be familiar; as should the deterioration of American industry into pathetic impotence.
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1 comment:

ccyager said...

You might find the movie about Ayn Rand, starring Helen Mirren as Rand, interesting in light of this review. Rand lived her philosophy, to the detriment of those who loved her. Although, I have often wondered how anyone could have loved someone so selfish and self-centered as she. The movie is "The Passion of Ayn Rand" and it's worth a rent. Eric Stoltz plays Nathaniel Branden, her disciple/lover, and I can't remember who plays her husband, but it's someone fabulous.