After the Democrats stole the 2020 election, I was unable to listen to my usual political podcasts. Spending the days after “election day” listening to Ben Shapiro and Andrew Klavan rationalize the Democrats’ deceit just didn’t appeal to me. Likewise, listening to Rush Limbaugh’s guest hosts hope he gets better — when it’s clear he’s dying from cancer — was similarly unappealing. Hannity has always been likable but dull. There are many other hosts, and the cast of also-rans in talk radio are fine. I just didn’t feel compelled to tune in. Rather than subject myself to all that, I spent my work days following the election listening to The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged on audiobook.
I first discovered these books in college. An odd friend of mine gave me both paperbacks, saying, “I couldn’t get into her philosophy, but maybe you’ll like it.” The books looked dull to me, so I set them aside and forgot about them for years. Then the protagonist of another novel series, Jerry and Sharon Ahern’s The Survivalist, made a point of reading Atlas Shrugged in one of the stories. Intrigued, I dug out the books and read them for myself.
These two novels are the most famous works of Ayn (which is pronounced to rhyme with “pine,” not “pan”) Rand. The Russian immigrant who became one of the nation’s most prominent philosophers and pundits passed away in 1982. Her books have been adapted more than once for television and film, none to particularly compelling results. This is due, in part, to the fact that both books are immensely long. At turns preachy, melodramatic, and even overwrought, they’re not perfect by any means.
Rand was herself a deeply flawed person. She was an atheist whose particular flavor of humanism was at times a little silly. She had odd…er… romantic proclivities that expressed themselves in her writing as bizarre and even brutal fantasies. She was also childless, so she had little understanding of what it meant to be a parent. (Her literary world is almost completely devoid of children.) After carrying on an affair with her most prominent devotee, who was himself married, Rand would go on to alienate almost everyone she knew over the course of her life. Hers was not the noble existence of the idealized heroes about whom she wrote. Still, there is real value in her books.
The Fountainhead introduces the reader to the basic frame of Rand’s philosophy — that you don’t owe other people your time or effort. It’s a hymn to staying true to yourself as a capitalist and a free individual. Small wonder, then, that the libertarian political movement in the United States has been so heavily influenced by Rand. (Rand herself wasn’t fond of libertarians, because she thought they had appropriated part of her philosophy without embracing it wholly). The book’s greatest strength is in its description of the different types of people in the world — people who produce and innovate, versus people who use the power of government and social manipulation to take what they haven’t earned. (We call this latter category Democrats in today’s parlance.)
Atlas Shrugged amplifies on these themes while also portraying a world that is being choked to death with arbitrary regulations. These are particularly stinging when viewed against the various lockdowns and quarantines imposed by Democrats during the COVID-19 pandemic — petty exercises of power that have crippled the economy, even as the people in charge exempt themselves from their own restrictions. The book’s narrative, in other words, is eerily similar to what’s playing out now in the United States.
The book is not a happy one, as such; many characters suffer, even if they are basically good people, as the Democrats of the world choke the life out of the planet’s producers. Atlas Shrugged emphasizes the idea that you can lean on people only so much before they finally break. When they do, everyone pays the price.
I’ve always preferred The Fountainhead, of the two, because it is the more optimistic. Both books, though, paint a very vivid picture of the world in which we live. It’s a world where corrupt Democrat power brokers steal elections and guarantee their power while hypocritically ignoring their own dictates. It’s a world where jealousy and greed are the primary motivators for at least half the population… while the other half, the productive half, simply wants to be left alone (and never will be).
In other words, these two novels — one published in the 40s, the other in the 50s — describe with almost prescient clarity the world in which we now find ourselves. They are at turns soothing, then chilling, then amusing in a wry sort of way. They demonstrate that the ideas with which we now grapple on the political stage are nothing new. Rand saw it 80 years ago: nothing about what Democrats do has changed. That alone is enough to make these books required reading, even if they’re not perfect.
There’s no better time to familiarize yourself with these classic works. A country ruled by Biden, then Harris, is poised for the same fall as the America of Atlas Shrugged. As in both books, a lot of good people will suffer because of Democrats. As Rand teaches us, our nation has been this way for decades — and it will be up to us to do something about that.