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Ayn Rand and 'self-sacrifice'?! A DVD's 'oops' moment

atlas_300Ayn Rand is not only the goddess of the gospel of libertarianism but also the patron saint of really, really bad novels, and even worse film adaptations.One of the latter, a movie called "Atlas Shrugged," after Rand's best-known novel (well, Part 1 -- such bloated prose needs a second part, due out next year, with a third to follow), came out in April 2011 to less-than-stellar reviews or ticket sales.Who knew that the turgid political philosophy of political wizards like Ron and Rand Paul and Paul Ryan wouldn't translate into box office magic?Anyway, the DVD was just issued and, rather hilariously, features a cover with this astonishing promo line:

"AYN RAND's timeless novel of courage and self-sacrifice comes to life..."

Spot the heresy? It should be easy. "Self-sacrifice" is not a libertarian virtue. Followers are aghast. The producers are chagrined:

"It's embarrassing for sure and of course, regardless of how or why it happened, we're all feeling responsible right now." says Scott DeSapio, Atlas Productions' COO and Communications Director "You can imagine how mortified we all were when we saw the DVD but, it was simply too late - the product was already on shelves all over the Country. It was certainly no surprise when the incredulous emails ensued. The irony is inescapable."

A new version will read:

"AYN RANDs timeless novel of rational self-interest comes to life...

Run, don't walk...Well, no better economic stimulus than a glitch that creates an instant collector's item. And maybe the only reason to buy one. I mean, it's rational self-interest.H/T to the neo-distributists at Res Publica

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I think a really good movie could have been made of Atlas Shrugged. It would almost certainly have been immoral, but then again, almost all movies are. I remember Dick Cavett asking Glenda Jackson if she would act in a great fascist play. If memory serves me correctly, she was thrown by the question, but I think she eventually said that if it was really a great play, she supposed she would act in it.

David Bentley Hart had a pretty scathing review of this a while ago ... http://www.firstthings.com/article/2011/05/the-trouble-with-ayn-rand

Actually, self-sacrifice is NOT Randian a heresy. Having read most of Ayn Rand's novels and listened to many of her interviews (oughtn't this to be considered against my time in Purgatory?), she did not eschew self-sacrifice. Rand was against was FORCED self-sacrifice.In Randland, self-sacrifice means fighting totalitarianism and the mediocre, and working to promote excellence and reward hard work.Rand, I think, has an irrational mistrust of representative government and naive notions about capitalism. OTOH, liberals like me likely have blind spots in the same areas only in reverse.Her books are dreadful, and I watched Gary Cooper in Patricia Neal in "The Fountainhead" and that was the end of my interest in Rand on screen.

Rand was against was FORCED self-sacrifice.In Randland, self-sacrifice means fighting totalitarianism and the mediocre, and working to promote excellence and reward hard work.

I've read only one or two Rand novels, and only long ago. I remember them as depictions of a society of highly superior people, highly principled, extremely strong willed, beset by a society of weak-willed, sneaky, parasitic cretins. Comic books, really - simplistic and highly charged. Attractive enough, surely, if you're willing to enter into the spirit of the thing, but probably read best only as cautionary tales. As cautionary tales, though, they probably work well.

When I heard there were going to be three movies on Atlas Shrugged, I decide to the read the book since I knew it was a "timeless classic". I liked David Smith's take on it, and I agree it is "a cautionary tale." I also agree with Jean about "blind spots in the reverse." I thought of my compassion and realized there was little room for it in that novel. Any movie on the topic would be a difficult one to to sit through!

"I remember them as depictions of a society of highly superior people, highly principled, extremely strong willed, beset by a society of weak-willed, sneaky, parasitic cretins. Comic books, really simplistic and highly charged."I agree generally with that characterization, but I wouldn't dismiss the degree to which Rand's ideas have trickled down in some slightly diluted form to those whom I'll call "thinking right wingers." Rand once said in an interview that she didn't believe in altruism and viewed charity as a transaction. That is, the giver would reap some benefit, either in not having to see homeless people cluttering up his park or some more intangible satisfaction in helping move a worthy person up a notch.This is generally the conservative view of welfare as a "hand-up, not hand-out" and quid pro quo. I'm not against the idea generally, but it poses problems for Randians confronted with the profoundly disabled who need constant care and attention. Rand herself took a hardline pro-abortion stance. How could she not:"A piece of protoplasm has no rightsand no life in the human sense of the term. . . . Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives. The task of raising a child is a tremendous, lifelong responsibility, which no one should undertake unwittingly or unwillingly. Procreation is not a duty: human beings are not stock-farm animals. For conscientious persons, an unwanted pregnancy is a disaster; to oppose its termination is to advocate sacrifice, not for the sake of anyones benefit, but for the sake of misery qua misery, for the sake of forbidding happiness and fulfillment to living human beings."

Jean--I'm not surprised, as these were my thoughts as I read it. However, she was quite a feminist for her time and definitly a right winger in the strictest sense. My Granfather worked for the railroads (born 1896) and he was definitly a right winger. I know there was a time and a place for this novel. I think back to a Teddy Roosevelt biography I read about all of his trust busting. He was a blue-blood Republican, who in some senses acted as a "bleeding heart liberal". The problems TR faced seemed eerily similar to some of our problems in Congress today. However, he was able to make some "headway" because the gridlock was not as forbidding.

TR had sense enough to see that monopolies fostered plutocracy, not democracy and that they were bad except for the one percent. Yes, eerily familiar.I guess I'd quibble a bit about calling Rand a feminist. I suppose she was pushing a certain type of meritocracy which included women as well as men. But she was not a friend to feminists generally; those in what she called "Women's Lib" were simply tribalists looking for group protections rather than individual achievement. Perhaps these thoughts on her ideal of femininity help explain her views."For a woman qua woman, the essence of femininity is hero-worshipthe desire to look up to man. ... Hero-worship is a demanding virtue: a woman has to be worthy of it and of the hero she worships. Intellectually and morally, i.e., as a human being, she has to be his equal; then the object of her worship is specifically his masculinity, not any human virtue she might lack. ... Her worship is an abstract emotion for the metaphysical concept of masculinity as suchwhich she experiences fully and concretely only for the man she loves, but which colors her attitude toward all men. This does not mean that there is a romantic or sexual intention in her attitude toward all men; quite the contrary: the higher her view of masculinity, the more severely demanding her standards. It means that she never loses the awareness of her own sexual identity and theirs. It means that a properly feminine woman does not treat men as if she were their pal, sister, motheror leader."

Is it really so much to expect Commonweal to know the difference between libertarianism and Objectivism? There is nothing in libertarian philosophy that rejects "self-sacrifice." Libertarianism says simply that one shouldn't initiate violence against anyone else. Obviously no one on this site likes libertarianism, and the comments I've seen repeat all the standard (and long exploded) claims against it, but at least know what you're talking about.

"The comments Ive seen repeat all the standard (and long exploded) claims against it."I always thought I was kind of a libertarian sympathizer. Since we clearly have missed something, please enlighten us!

Tom --Now we know what you mean by "libertarianism". The Oxford Dictionary gives this definition and this description:"an extreme laissez-faire political philosophy advocating only minimal state intervention in the lives of citizens."Its adherents believe that private morality is not the states affair, and that therefore activities such as drug use and prostitution that arguably harm no one but the participants should not be illegal. Libertarianism shares elements with anarchism, although it is generally associated more with the political right (chiefly in the US); it lacks the concern of traditional liberalism with social justicewith the political right (chiefly in the US); it lacks the concern of traditional liberalism with social justice

Jean--Thank you for enlightening me on Rand's feminist views. I see now that individualism is much more important to her than the former women's lib movement.Ann--Thank you for the definition of Libertarianism. It's good to know where on the political spectrum it lies!

Here's a review of a new book about Nietzsche which is about his influence on various Americans including Ayn Rand. It is also about the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson on Nietzsche, a rather surprising fact when first you look at it, but on reflection not so surprising.http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2011/11/america-nietzsche-rand-rorty-a...

"... the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson on Nietzsche"Whoa! They never told us that about St. Ralph in UU Sunday School!

Yes, Jean, some brand=new scholarship makes their connection easy to see -- the emphasis on the individual as independent and as constituting his own values, the rejection of Christianity and all religious organizations, the rejection of common morality, criticism of the state, etc. We had to read some in high school, and I particularly disliked the man himself. Thought he was conceited. His unbridled confidence in individuals plus some of his mystical nonsense struck me even then as silly. Nietzsche to me is just a super-adolescent with super-brains. Constantly stamping his foot and calling names. Sad, sad case.

Hello. And Bye.

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David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.