John Goedde, chairman of the Idaho Senate’s Education Committee, introduced legislation a couple weeks ago that would require every Idaho high school student to read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and pass a test on it to graduate from high school.
Why Atlas Shrugged? Goedde told a colleague that reading the book made his son a Republican.
Hearing of this in the hereafter, Ms. Rand might tell the good senator to “check his premises.”
Having government schools require the reading of a book that advocates freedom seems to be a contradiction. But I’m sure Senator Goedde has nothing but good intentions, and besides, he doesn’t intend to push the matter.
They must have plenty of time, paper, and ink to propose bills up in Idaho for merely publicity purposes. Which reminds me of the story Nathaniel Branden relates in his book Judgment Day: My Years with Ayn Rand.
After she finished The Fountainhead, Rand considered writing a nonfiction book on the morality of individualism. It is that positive moral case for free enterprise that Rand portrays which captures the imagination of so many people. She thought maybe she should spell it out clearly in a nonfiction format. However, she lacked enthusiasm for the project.
Laissez Faire Club author Isabel Paterson tried to talk Rand into writing it, arguing that it was her friend’s duty to mankind to write it. “Your message is so important for people,” Paterson pleaded.
But Rand argued that if people didn’t find enlightenment with The Fountainhead, if they don’t understand her message, then why was it her job to make them understand. Paterson said, “because people need it.”
“Oh, they do?” replied Rand. “What if I went on strike? What if all the creative minds of the world went on strike?”
“That would make a good novel,” Rand added as an afterthought, no doubt while looking skyward and slowly exhaling smoke after a luxurious drag from her distinctive cigarette holder.
That flash of inspiration lead to the book that the Idaho senator wants to force down students’ throats.
You notice that no one is proposing that Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath or some other classic novel with a leftist slant be required reading. For whatever reason, leftist literature and art sells itself. The idea that government is the savior to the oppressed is constant and popular theme. People love stories that feature the triumph of underdogs. Often, it’s government, via cops, lawyers, or politicians, that saves the day.
The wealthy are portrayed as wicked, selfish, and insensitive. Government employees have empathy and are selfless.
Rand turned this paradigm upside down. Those in government were moochers, whim worshipers, and second-handers. Capitalists and entrepreneurs were idealistic and heroic. The welfare of mankind depended upon the thought and creativity of the world’s creators. Standing in their way were those in government and those that depended upon and cheered on government force.
With her novels, Rand put a face on government stupidity and power that academic treatises could never do. At the same time, John Galt, Hank Rearden, Dagny Taggart, and Howard Roark were ordinary humans accomplishing extraordinary feats (if left alone to do it). These characters were people the reader wanted to be.
What Rand depicted so effectively is that it’s not altruism that makes the world go around, but instead rational self-interest. Jerome Tuccille writes in the Laissez Faire Club selection It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand that she “was not the first to advocate individualism and economic laissez faire, but she was certainly the first to elevate selfishness to the level of a philosophical absolute.”
Writing about ideas is a thankless and unprofitable task. Branden points out in Judgment Day that Rand struggled financially for years. The Fountainhead was rejected by 12 publishers for being “noncommercial” and “too intellectual.” Finally, it was published in 1943, and has achieved spectacular success, was made into a movie, and continues to sell hundreds of thousands of copies a year.
Fourteen years later, Atlas Shrugged appeared. Some most-influential book lists rank Atlas No. 2, behind the Bible. The book had sold 7 million copies by 2009. Sales ballooned after the movie Atlas Shrugged Part I appeared a couple years ago and the news came out that 2012 vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan required his staff to read Rand’s great work.
In rollicking fashion, Tuccille provides Rand’s allure, “her anarchism, her individualism, her revolutionary radicalism. Ayn Rand said to hell with conformity, to hell with sameness, to hell with Corporate America.”
But in real life, the novelist admired free thought and individualism only if an individual’s thinking agreed with hers. Her tight system, as Tuccille explains, encompassed everything from sex to cigarette smoking and everything in between, including literature and child rearing. She called her philosophy “objectivism,” and those who flocked to it, “found themselves trapped in a different kind of intellectual straitjacket — all the more mystifying, since it was unexpected.”
In and of itself, the idea of liberty is fascinating as well as inspiring. But the lives of these thinkers and the movement they inspired are just as interesting.
If you join the Laissez Faire Club for just $10 a month, you will receive immediate access to not only Ayn Rand’s Anthem and her friend Isabel Paterson’s The God of the Machine, but also Tuccille’s chronicle of the libertarianism’s early days, It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand.
Plus, you’ll receive over 40 other books on liberty and economics.
But that’s not all. Club members get 20% off our already low retail prices. You will want to read about Nathaniel Branden’s 18-year relationship, intellectual as well as physical, with Ms. Rand in his book Judgment Day: My Years With Ayn Rand. For people new to the philosophy, it’s an eye opener. Veterans won’t be able to put Branden’s book down. We sell the hardcover book for $12.95. But join the Laissez Faire Club today and your price is less than $10.
Senator Goedde’s heart (and mind) is in the right place, as was Rand’s. Thank goodness government can’t make us think a certain way or read specific books. Freedom of thought is one of the last freedoms we have. Instead of government force, we should appeal to students’ natural curiosity. Buying your student a Laissez Faire Club membership is a great way to spread the freedom message.
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