By Cal Thomas
Twenty-nine years after her death, novelist Ayn Rand is coming to a theater near you. After many failed attempts, her 1957 novel “Atlas Shrugged” has been made into a film.
In an age when overspending, overreaching, higher-taxing and overregulating government increasingly strangles the private sector, robbing us of our liberties and transforming the country into the model of a socialist state, Rand’s story reminds us how far ahead of her time she was and just how dangerous a time we live in now.
At least one member of Congress has recognized Rand’s intuitiveness. Rep. Paul Ryan, the author of the Republican budget proposal, reportedly directed his staff to read “Atlas Shrugged” back in 2010. Ryan, writes Christopher Beam of New York magazine, even credits Rand as “the reason I got involved in public service.”
“Atlas Shrugged” is a novel, but its plot is anything but fiction. In it, successful businesswoman, Dagny Taggart, the head of one of the largest railroad companies in America, struggles to keep her company alive in challenging economic times.
Searching for innovative ways to stay afloat, she teams with steel magnate Hank Rearden, the developer of an innovative metal alloy, thought to be the strongest metal in the world. Success seems assured. Then the federal government steps in. The government proclaims the Taggart-Rearden partnership “unfair” to other steel producers and passes a law regulating how many businesses an individual can own. The law is euphemistically titled the “Equalization of Opportunity” bill.
If the language and scenario sound contemporary, they should. President Obama, who plays at cutting spending and wants to raise taxes, is the embodiment of the philosophy about which Ayn Rand warned.
Just how smooth Obama is at this was even noticed by the Associated Press, which tends not to think in such cynical terms when it comes to the administration. In a headline about the negotiations that supposedly led to $38 billion in spending cuts, the AP wrote: “Budget Tricks Helped Obama Save Favorite Programs From Cuts.”
“Atlas Shrugged” is about those who would penalize individual achievement and subsidize “the collective.” It is the embodiment of Karl Marx’s philosophy, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” To put it another way, the collective believes that if you earn $2 dollars and I make $1 dollar, you owe me 50 cents to make things “fair.” This is redistributionist or, to paraphrase the president, “spreading the wealth around.”
Ayn Rand is not for everybody. Her philosophy is rooted in objectivism, which, Wikipedia says, “holds that reality exists independent of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception … that the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness or rational self-interest and that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights, embodied in laissez faire capitalism.”
Objectivism is a philosophy devoid of God and the opposite of what Thomas Jefferson rightly believed to be the source of our rights, that they are “endowed by our Creator.”
This religious vacuum does not mean Rand was not on to something, just as Dwight Eisenhower was when he warned in his 1961 Farewell Address against the dangers of the “military-industrial complex.”
Like a human body that is bombarded with viruses, some of which manage to penetrate the immune system, freedom, capitalism and entrepreneurship are under constant assault, not just from foreign enemies, but also domestic ones.
The film has some problems; chiefly it’s setting in an age when trains reigned supreme. Younger people will need some historical background before seeing it, or some context afterward. I had to explain it to my daughter, but once I did, she “got it.”
Some will inevitably conclude “it can’t happen here” and this is just more conspiratorial posturing from the Far Right. It can happen here and, in fact, with a country so much in debt to the Chinese and that no longer celebrates individual achievement, but seeks to punish, regulate and tax it to death, it is happening here.
Go see “Atlas Shrugged.” It’s in theaters, appropriately, starting April 15.
Cal Thomas writes for Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, N.Y. 14207. Readers may also e-mail Cal Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.