The Not-So-Forgotten Woman

 Posted by on 8 June 2009 at 11:01 pm  Objectivism, Politics
Jun 082009

This spring, I enjoyed reading Amity Schlaes’ new political history of the Great Depression, The Forgotten Man. Although I disliked the meandering, narrative style of the book, I learned much of value about the politics that created and sustained the Great Depression for it. I definitely recommend it.

Given that background, I was very interested to read this Bloomburg column by the same author on Atlas Shrugged: Rand’s Atlas Is Shrugging With a Growing Load. (It was published last week, but I only read it yesterday.) The column isn’t particularly deep: it reads Atlas on a purely political level. Here’s a sample:

Rand knew that government tends to drive the most- productive economic figures away even as it pretends to utilize them. Today’s shortage of primary care doctors serves as an example. Various administrations, Democratic and Republican, have tried to nudge more medical students into primary care. Young doctors simply haven’t complied. That is in part because of the higher compensation of specialties. But it is also because the great charm of being a primary care doctor — autonomy to work in a range of areas — has been removed.

Rand foresaw this: “Let them discover the kind of doctors that their system will now produce,” says one of her characters. “It is not safe to place their lives in the hands of a man whose life they have throttled.”

Long before managed-care existed, Rand was describing doctors’ frustration with it.

Back in March, Greg Salmieri wrote the following about the tendency to focus only on the political lessons of Atlas:

Most of the recent discussion of Atlas has focused on its political themes, creating the impression that the novel is essentially a condemnation of government intervention in the economy. However, its scope, its relevance to the current crisis, and the reasons for its enduring appeal go much wider and much deeper than this. Galt goes on strike not simply against high taxes and unjust regulations, but against the morality of altruism, which Rand identifies as the cause of such measures, and against the world-view of which this moral code is an expression–a philosophy that denies the efficacy of reason and the absolutism of reality.

Atlas Shrugged is a novel about the role of the mind in man’s existence. In it, Rand diagnoses not only political and economic trends, but also much of the frustration, injustice, and pain that we experience in our personal lives, tracing them all back to the mind-stultifying ideology that has come to dominate western culture and has replaced the Enlightenment ideals on which America was founded. As a prescription for the rebirth of America, and as a guide to anyone who seeks to make the most of his life, Atlas offers a revolutionary philosophy of reason and egoism.

First and foremost, however, Atlas Shrugged is a literary masterpiece: Rand presents her ideas in the form of an ingeniously plotted mystery, with unforgettable characters, heart-wrenching conflicts, and an inspiring resolution. The thousands who have picked the novel up as a result of the financial crisis are getting more than they bargained for, and they’re in for a real treat.

Dr. Salmieri recommends Robert Mayhew’s new anthology, Essays on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. I’ve not yet had a chance to read it, but based on the quality of the prior volumes and the contributors, I definitely recommend it to anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the novel.

In any case, I do not mean to complain about Amity Schlaes’ focus on the politics of Atlas in her column. Reasonably accurate and positive reviews — particularly of a book published 50 years ago — are always welcome. As Salmieri observes, most readers will find more to interest them in the book than just commonality with current political trends.

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