Thursday, October 11, 2007

Atlas Shrugged (and So Did Some Readers, Apparently)

In yesterday's The Wall Street Journal, David Kelly wrote an interesting piece commemorating the 50th anniversary of Ayn Rand's novel, Atlas Shrugged. I saw Kelly's piece as a strong endorsement of Rand's view of the businessman/entrepreneur as an economic hero. Other blogs have commented on Kelly's thoughts. Some saw the characters in Atlas Shrugged as two-dimensional and the overall storyline as contrived. I will admit I preferred Rand's other major novel, The Fountainhead to Atlas Shrugged. But there were some interesting quotes that presented a philosophical viewpoint that can provide for interesting discussion when discussing economic systems or economic institutions in the classroom. Allow me to suggest a few.

"A truly selfish man cannot be affected by the approval of others. He doesn't need it." (Great to bring up when discussing Adam Smith - especially if you incorporate the "impartial observer" from The Theory of Moral Sentiments.)

"Self-sacrifice, we drool, is the ultimate virtue. Let's stop and think for a moment. Is sacrifice a virtue? Can a man sacrifice his integrity? His honor? His freedom? His ideal? His convictions? The honesty of his feeling? The independence of his thought? But these are a man's supreme possessions. Anything he gives up for them is not a sacrifice but an easy bargain. They, however, are above sacrificing to any cause or consideration whatsoever. Should we not, then, stop preaching dangerous and vicious nonsense? Self-sacrifice? But it is precisely the self that cannot and must not be sacrificed. It is the unsacrificed self that we must respect in man above all." (I think this asks, "At what point does self-sacrifice cross the line to selling out?")

"Men have been taught that the highest virtue is not to achieve, but to give. Yet one cannot give that which has not been created. Creation comes before distribution -- or there will be nothing to distribute. The need of the creator comes before the need of any possible beneficiary. Yet we are taught to admire the second-hander who dispenses gifts he has not produced above the man who made the gifts possible. We praise an act of charity. We shrug at an act of achievement." (A little supply-side oriented, but a good starter.)

"Men exchange their work by free, mutual consent to mutual advantage when their personal interests agree and they both desire the exchange. If they do not desire it, they are not forced to deal with each other. They seek further. This is the only possible form of relationship between equals. Anything else is a relation of slave to master, or victim to executioner." (The fundamentals of voluntary trade are here.)

If you've read the book and have passages that you think would add interest to a class, share them. Or share your comments on these.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cheers. Did you know that the hip hop group Psyche Origami sample atlas shrugged in their song Commercial Property?