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Kakha Bendukidze. Source: Novaya Gazeta – The cover of the first edition of Atlas Shrugged (1957) by Ayn Rand

Suggested readings

To learn more about Ayn Rand's philosophy, watch her 1959 interview with CBS's Mike Wallace. The interview, posted on YouTube, is divided into Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Atlas Shrugged (1957) sets out Rand's ideology in 1,200 pages of prose. John Galt, the book's protagonist, captures Rand's philosophy in a speech praising selfishness as the basis of true ethics and explaining why justice requires small government:

"The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law." (p. 1062)

A survey conducted in the US in 1991 ranked Atlas Shrugged as the second most influential book in print, right after the Bible. With over 12 million copies sold to date, sales increased further in 2008 and 2009, owing in no small part to the onset of the financial crisis.

One expression of renewed interest in Atlas Shrugged is the publication of two recent books examining both the origins and the impact of Rand's ideas. In a 2009 book called Ayn Rand and the World She Made, Anne C. Heller ascribes Rand's hostility to liberal social programs to her years growing up in Bolshevik Russia. Jennifer Burns, in Goddess of the Market – Ayn Rand and the American Right, concludes that the quasi-religious energy pulsating through Rand's work helped her attract a strong following in the US:

"Rand intended her books to be a sort of scripture, and for all the emphasis on reason it is the emotional and psychological sides of her novels that make them timeless. Reports of Ayn Rand's death are greatly exaggerated. For many years to come she is likely to remain what she has always been, a fertile touchstone of the American imagination." (p. 286)

To watch Burns discuss Ayn Rand on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, please see: www.jenniferburns.org. On Ayn Rand's influence on wealthy Indians, please see "Howard Roark in New Delhi". Heller's and Burns' books were also the subject of a November 2009 discussion at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, featured here.

In 2009 the Wall Street Journal published an article by Stephen Moore entitled "'Atlas Shrugged': from Fiction to Fact in 52 Years." Moore praises the key libertarian insight of Atlas Shrugged:

"Politicians invariably respond to crises -- that in most cases they themselves created -- by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs … and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism."

And he suggests:

"If only Atlas were required reading for every member of Congress and political appointee in the Obama administration. I'm confident that we'd get out of the current financial mess a lot faster."

There are many American conservatives today who make comparisons between the events described in Atlas Shrugged and supposed dangers facing the US. Contemporary supporters of Rand's ideas, promoting her books to mass audiences, include libertarian Glenn Beck, who regularly recommends Ayn Rand on his popular show on Fox News:

"Americans are flocking to buy and read Atlas Shrugged because there are uncanny similarities between the plot line of the book and the events of our day, says Yaron Brook, executive director of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights. Americans are rightfully concerned about the economic crisis in government's increasing intervention and attempts to control the economy. No. Ayn Rand understood and identified the deeper causes of the crisis we're facing, and she offered in Atlas Shrugged the principled and practical solution consistent with American values."

Another fervent Rand fan is Rush Limbaugh, who commented on Barack Obama's election in December 2008 by describing the US as having arrived in the world of Atlas Shrugged:

"People who have proved that they can produce tens of millions of cars are going to be led, managed, and directed by people who have never manufactured a single car in their entire lives. People that have produced all of the energy our nation needs to survive and to grow are now going to be led by people who have never found an ounce of oil, drilled for an ounce of oil, refined a single ounce of oil. In fact, I think they're going to be led by people who have no idea where money comes from."

Of course, Ayn Rand is just one of many intellectual heroes of libertarianism, be it in the US or in Georgia. You will find more information on libertarian ideas and thinkers that are influential in Georgia today on the ESI website.

April 2010

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