Posts Tagged ‘Ayn Rand’

Matt Zwolinski and John Tomasi have a thought-provoking piece entitled, “A Bleeding Heart History of Libertarianism,” in the latest Cato Unbound. They criticize postwar libertarians (specifically mentioning Mises, Rand, and Rothbard) for seeing property rights as absolute and, in their view, regarding the welfare of the working poor as irrelevant to moral justifications for capitalism:

In the remainder of this essay, we will discuss one particular way that neoclassical liberalism has a better grounding in the libertarian intellectual tradition than the libertarianism of Mises, Rand, and Rothbard. It is not the only contrast, but one of the clearest and most important differences between these two schools of libertarian thought has to do with the proper nature of concern for, and obligation to, the working poor. On this issue, the neoclassical liberal position is that the fate of the class who labor at the lowest end of the pay scale under capitalism is an essential element in the moral justification of that system. And this position, we will argue, has a far more solid grounding in the libertarian intellectual tradition than the justificatory indifference to which the postwar libertarians are committed.

They go on to cite John Locke, Adam Smith, and Herbert Spencer (yes, Spencer!) as classical liberals who would be more sympathetic to the neoclassical-liberal project of justifying markets partly on the basis of their consequences for the welfare of the least well off. However, they also argue, plausibly, that Rand and Rothbard in particular were not indifferent to the fate of the poor, simply that they viewed the coincidence of respect for individual property rights and a better life for all as a happy fortuity. (Mises was more of a consequentialist and perhaps after all a comfortable fit within neoclassical liberalism.)

I would stress that (more…)

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So I finally read Atlas Shrugged (I haven’t seen the movie yet). I’d heard about the novel in libertarian circles for a long time, of course, but I’d never read it. I had read some of Rand’s nonfiction, and I knew going into Atlas that I disagreed with Rand’s philosophy on several fundamental points. Indeed, Rand seems to have misread so much of the Western philosophical canon that I have had trouble taking her seriously as a philosopher. Nevertheless, I put aside my doubts and decided to find out what all the fuss was about.

First, the bad.

I agree with critics who say that Rand’s characters are one-dimensional and unrealistic. Especially by the latter half of the book, as sympathetic but not-fully-enlightened characters “wake up” to “reality,” all the good guys sound like clones of Rand herself, while all the bad guys sound like clones of each other. She is desperate to link together (what she regards as) intellectual failures, moral failures, and personality types – and even physical characteristics. (If someone has an angular jaw and cruel, blue eyes, he is definitely a good guy; paunchy guys with receding hairlines are invariably baddies. I don’t know why Rand chose to use these unfortunate Aryan motifs given their obvious potential to mislead, as evinced in Whittaker Chambers’ infamous “gas chamber” line.) If someone is (more…)

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We were lucky enough to get the opportunity to interview Atlas Shrugged movie producer Harmon Kaslow during the opening weekend of the film.  Here are his responses to some of our questions:  

1.         Who is your favorite Rand character?

Henry Rearden. He’s the focused, hard-working, innovator, visionary entrepreneur … and even though he has an imperfect life, he’s not going to compromise or sell-out.

2.         Are you an Objectivist?

I hold a great respect for objectivists. It takes an incredible commitment to adhere to the core principles of objectivism and I agree with much of what objectivism stands for but, I have a soft spot for loyalty.

3.         What inspired you to produce this film?

The chance to work with John Aglialoro on adapting such an inspiring and influential book was the opportunity of a lifetime and I simply couldn’t resist. I am grateful to Howard Baldwin for introducing John to me and supporting John’s decision to entrust me with this responsibility.  

4.         Taylor Schilling is a pretty controversial pick for Dagny, especially after the Angelina Jolie rumors.  What was it about her that made you think she was the right woman to portray the leading lady of the film?

Taylor is beautiful, smart, independent and courageous … not to mention incredibly talented … she was a natural for Dagny. Wait until you see her. Taylor was the right choice without question.

5.         How much did Part I cost and does Part II depend on the first one breaking even or actually making a profit?  

Although Part 1 cost less than $10M in total production costs, John Aglialoro has much more invested from the prior 18 years.  Proceeding with Parts 2 and 3 is John’s decision, and I can’t imagine John not finishing anything he’s started.

6.         Given that passenger rail is a creature of the state in today’s America, is the railroad in the film going to resonate with today’s free-marketeers?

As prophetic a novel as Atlas is, you have to remember that it was written as fiction – and, by some accounts, science fiction. Atlas is an incredible metaphor that still holds true today and it’s that message that ressonates throughout the film.

7.         Does the script for this adaptation deviate significantly from the novel?

No. The message of the book is, without question, faithfully adapted – which was always our goal. Not every scene in the book is in the film so some very minor changes had to be made during the compression to ensure cohesion. The important thing is that we stayed true to Ayn’s philosophy and words. The message is there is full.

8.         Do you think that capitalism depends on any particular moral foundations in order for it to work well?

Calling something “Capitalism” does not make it Capitalism. What we see most people referring to today as “capitalism” is not really Capitalism but a perversion of the system. Wealth through fraud and dishonesty is not Capitalism. Capitalism at its core requires the very simple idea of man being able to freely exchange value-for-value. Adherence to honor and integrity is the absolute requisite. If you’ve got that at your foundation, you’re ready for real Capitalism.

9.         What is the strongest argument against the notion that the rich should pay higher taxes given their greater ability to pay?  

The issue for me is accountability. Self-reliance and the acceptance of personal responsibility are the true keys to happiness. No man, or group of men, has the right to take from one man by force and give to another. The ability to fail must be as real as the opportunity to succeed. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is not the path to happiness – it’s a suicide pact.

10.       I think one could argue that Rand’s villains are better drawn than her heroes.  Do you agree?

Personally, I find all of Rand’s characters to be rich and full of real human depth. It’s one of those things that makes Ayn’s writing so appealing to so many. You miss the characters after you finish the book.

11.       And who is your favorite antagonist in Rand’s works?

Mouch … he’s the ultimate fraud … don’t believe anything he says or does.

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If the answer is no, here’s a link where you can help create an incentive for a local cinema to show the film.  In true Randian (and Smithian) fashion, it is not out of altruism that the typical theatre is going to show Atlas Shrugged but out of the self-interested desire to earn a profit (of course, in doing so, the theatre is also going to satisfy your preferences and everyone involved with the transaction will be better off).  So, please — out of self-interest or even out of altruistic feelings for the rest of us (I think the Objectivists will give you a pass this one time!) – give the theatre owner a reason to show Shrugged on April 15th by clicking on that link and asking for the movie to be shown in your area!*

* No, we haven’t forgotten about the collective action problem.  Nor do I promise the film will be great – I haven’t seen it and hold out hope that it will be wonderful.

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Given that the movie version of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is coming out soon and that it is Valentine’s Day tomorrow, I thought it appropriate to post Rand’s observation on love from her famous – and wonderful –interview with Playboy magazine (Caveat: link may contain advertising on the edges of the screen inappropriate for the workplace and other settings).  I also thought that Rand’s words might provoke some fruitful discussion of what romantic love involves (or ought to involve):

When you are in love, it means that the person you love is of great personal, selfish importance to you and to your life. If you were selfless, it would have to mean that you derive no personal pleasure or happiness from the company and the existence of the person you love, and that you are motivated only by self-sacrificial pity for that person’s need of you. I don’t have to point out to you that no one would be flattered by, nor would accept, a concept of that kind. Love is not self-sacrifice, but the most profound assertion of your own needs and values. It is for your own happiness that you need the person you love, and that is the greatest compliment, the greatest tribute you can pay to that person (emphasis added).

And here is the trailer for the much anticipated Atlas Shrugged film

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Back in July, I blogged about the coming film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.  So, where does the project now stand?

The plan is to release the film on April 15, 2011 – a great date given the themes of the book.  There isn’t yet a trailer available as far as I know.  However, a preview of the film was shown recently in New York City to a group put together by the Atlas Society.  Here is a description of the event by one attendee (though I have never heard of his Dallas-based group).  The film will be rated PG-13.

Some of the stills I’ve seen look great (see above for one of them found on the movie’s Facebook page).  In fact, they’ve got me pretty geeked up to see the film.  Funny that despite the movie’s launch being noted on IMDB and in the New York Times, etc, that I almost have trouble believing the film will actually appear in theatres until I see it myself given how difficult the road from book to film has been. 

Finally, here is a case for why actress Tilda Swinton should have been cast as Dagny Taggart.  It is a reasonable argument – though I picture Dagny more as a brunette (and I’m not sure if the text contradicts or supports my present image but I thought she was described as having brown hair) and a bit tougher looking than Swinton.  Swinton, though, is a stellar actress who would probably perform quite well in the part.

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A row has broken out in higher education regarding grants that the BB&T Foundation has made to some institutions, grants that typically require, as a condition of receiving the money, that Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged be assigned in its entirety. The grants apparently do not stipulate what else may or might be taught, nor do they stipulate what other courses might be taught by the funded professors or departments; it appears that the sole condition is that that one—albeit long and controversial—book by Ayn Rand be in the mix.

A series of articles has appeared discussing the matter. In the July/August issue of Academe magazine, which is published by the American Association of University Professors, there are two articles decrying the grants: one written by a psychology professor at Guilford College; another by a business professor from Western Carolina University. A third article, defending BB&T and its grants, is by Jay Schalin of the Pope Center.

The personage who is fast becoming Public Enemy Number One among the offended academics is John Allison, former chairman of BB&T bank. He is a strong proponent of Ayn Rand’s works, as well as of her philosophical, moral, and economic vision, and under his leadership the BB&T Foundation has begun combing the academic landscape looking for professors or institutions willing to let her work be taught.

I think the Academe writers are making too much out of this. Richie Zweigenhaft of Guilford College, for example, writes in his Academe article:

What are our students likely to conclude about Guilford’s endorsement of Atlas Shrugged as the only book now required in our entire curriculum and as a work worthy of being included as one of the three books given to every business and economics major?

My suspicion is that the students won’t think much of it at all, and will probably hardly notice. More striking to me is the admission contained in that rhetorical question that Guilford college doesn’t require any other books in its curriculum! That is far more damning, I expect, in the eyes of students (and parents), than that they give every student a book of Rand’s. The obvious solution would seem to be not to ban Rand but to add more books. Why aren’t there ten—or twenty or thirty—books required of all students in their college?

Professor Richie goes on to charge that the college has “simply sold a chunk of the curriculum,” from which he concludes that everything “is for sale, even the college curriculum.” Well, it is only one book—which can be a “chunk” of the curriculum only if there isn’t much else in it. He laments moreover that at his college “some faculty members will have to teach Atlas Shrugged (in its entirety).” But that makes it sound as if they had no choice. BB&T did not force anyone to take the grant, and I presume no professor opposed to teaching Rand will be required to do so.

In his Academe article, Professor Gary Jones quotes University of Chicago law and philosophy professor Brian Leiter as saying:

A course on the moral foundations of capitalism might include Atlas Shrugged, though it’s not an obvious choice—it’s badly written and simpleminded. […] There is a large contemporary philosophical literature defending markets by scholars like Robert Nozick, David Schmidtz, and Jerry Gaus. I would think at a serious university and in a serious course, you would look at this kind of work long before you get to Ayn rand.

Leiter continues that “interest in Ayn Rand is obviously self-serving rather than scholarly,” and he concludes:

The curriculum, the scholarly conferences, and the mix of students in a department should reflect scholarly judgments on the merits, not the fact that money is available for one topic but not another.

These are eminently reasonable sentiments. Yes: let decisions be made on the merits, not for self-serving, especially politically self-serving, purposes. Let only serious works and serious authors and nothing simpleminded or badly written be taught, and do not let an “ideological campaign,” as it is put later in Jones’s article, get a toehold in academia.

Yet . . . an awful lot of unserious authors, and unserious and simpleminded and badly written work, is taught right now on campuses across the nation. And there is a lot of self-serving, including politically self-serving, decision-making going on—about everything from hiring and tenure to curricula to the creation of centers, majors, and programs.

The complaints about the BB&T grants have, therefore, something of a hollow ring. If faculty wish to apply the standards Professor Leiter articulates—which I would wholeheartedly endorse—then they should apply them across the board. Open their entire curricula, all of their course syllabi, and every assigned and required work to public scrutiny; judge them all on grounds of scholarly seriousness, and revise or reject material that is self-serving, ideological, simpleminded, or badly written. 

That would require quite a measure of self-examination and scrutiny—and a lot of what goes on right now would, I fear, fail these tests. If faculty are not willing to submit to this level of scrutiny, then they might wish to reconsider just how much protesting of BB&T grants they want to make.


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