Atlas Shrugged Off

On Friday, Part I of the movie Atlas Shrugged opened in select theaters across the United States.  I have not see the movie yet, as theaters in Bloomington-Normal are not running it so far.  Nonetheless, I feel compelled to clear up some predictable lies and distortions that will no doubt fill the reviews this week.

First, repeat after me.  Ayn Rand was a champion of individual rights.  She did not advocate anything resembling Roger Ebert’s pathetic summary: “For me, that philosophy reduces itself to: ‘I’m on board; pull up the lifeline.'”  If you have not read Atlas Shrugged and are judging whether to see the movie based on tripe like this, you are being robbed of a splendid opportunity.  Try this review instead.

If you have read Atlas Shrugged and claim to disagree with its philosophical theme, please have the decency to get it right.  There is no crime in disagreeing with Rand, but it is criminal of people like Ebert to smear her by lying about what she represents.

While we are at it, let’s talk about what she does represent.  Ayn Rand was a breed apart for one simple reason.  She was willing to state boldly, forthrightly, and uncompromisingly the view that each individual person is an end unto him/herself.  She laid out the story of a country gone bad after adopting collectivist policies.  The main villain of Atlas Shrugged is not a bureaucrat, though there are plenty of those to go around.  It is rather a “businessman,” James Taggart, whose idea of success is engaging in crony capitalism rather than competing honestly.

Rand’s vision includes, for those willing to think even a little, an explanation of who starts, and can stop, the “motor of the world.”  Rather than apologizing for business, Rand celebrates it.  Rather than wringing her hands over the travails of the incapable, she sings the praises of the capable.  Rather than sacrificing her characters to the whims of the collective, she asserts through them the birthright of freedom.

For many years, I have puzzled over the vitriol directed at Ayn Rand.  What could possibly, in a philosophy filled with noble ideas of the sacredness of you, me, and every other human who graces the planet with his existence, be so objectionable?

I think Atlas Shrugged reaches deep into the soul of those who read it.  Some experience an epiphany, realizing that their uneasiness with the direction of our culture is spot-on and that someone, somewhere both understood what they were feeling and could explain it.  Others read it and refuse to admit that the lies they have been told about self-sacrifice are just that–vicious lies.  I suspect that a few, a tiny few, have actually read the novel, digested it, and still disagree.  I hope I meet one someday.

If you are one of the ones who objects, ask yourself what is so terrifying about asserting your own right to exist on your terms.  And don’t try to tell me you can’t bring yourself to act so “selfishly.”  Had you understood the novel, you would have known that a society that recognizes the individual as the basis for everything good recognizes such for all.  It is not helpful to anyone else to hide your own light under a bushel.  Were you genuine in your concern for mankind, you would stop pretending that you are not noble, that you are not capable, that you are limited by the standards of the lesser surrounding you.  Instead, you would open the deepest core of your soul to the light and start to live like a real human being.


About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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4 Responses to Atlas Shrugged Off

  1. Ebert’s comment is bizarre. Does he often say stuff like that without doing his homework?
    A critic’s first job is to get the basic facts right. I’m sure Ebert knows that. So was he just lazy/sloppy this time, or did Atlas Shrugged push his buttons so hard that he reacted with a smear?
    It’s hard to get inside the head of weirdness.


    • Terry Noel says:

      I wondered the same thing. I have not kept up with him since he and Gene Siskel worked together many years ago. I suspect it is the latter, given that jewel of a statement about the lifeline. It is absolutely unfathomable to me how anyone can come away from AS with that sense of the book’s major theme.


  2. Sue Fernandez says:

    Truly my favorite author. Great writer. Great thinker. No movie could ever convey her message, no matter if the people involved really get it or not.


  3. Steve Butterbaugh says:

    Rand is a powerful judge of human action. It takes something to process her thoughts and enjoy how life-affirming they are if one is afraid of being judged. The biggest threat to the insecure is to have a standard out there which they buy into at some level, yet remain unwilling to be called account by. It’s enough to make a person crazy.


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