Thursday, February 23, 2017

Book Review - Atlas Shrugged

It’s one of the most regularly referenced books on both sides of the political spectrum. By the author’s own words, it’s the crowning embodiment of her moral and political philosophies. It’s been made into movies, and theoretically forms one of the cornerstones of modern Libertarian thought. But until this year, I’d never actually read Atlas Shrugged.

It’s amazing how relevant this book is to 2017, despite being written over fifty years ago. The central themes of individualism, achievement, and objective truth fly in stark contrast to modern relativist philosophy that allows for everyone “having their own truth.”

One of my big reasons for reading Atlas Shrugged in the first place was that I’ve seen it referenced so often in political debates, usually by people whom I suspect haven’t bothered to actually read the 1100+ page tome. Dismissed by people on the left as a story with a point of “If we aren’t nice to big businessmen, the world will fall apart” and honored on by people on the right as “That story where capitalism is good, and government is bad” the truth is far more complex.

Yes, there are businessmen (and one very notable businesswoman, the heroine of the story) who are good. There others who are bad or incompetent. There is less a focus on capitalism and far more a focus on empowering people to be their best, and showing the choking effect that regulations, crony capitalism, and leveling the playing field in the name of “fairness” has on the best and brightest.

All of this comes built around Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, the idea that there is objective truth, and that the truth cannot be negotiated, rationalized, or changed, just because some people wish it to be so. There is no room for “micro-aggressions”, “alternative facts”, or “individual truths” in Objectivist philosophy. Either a thing is, or it is not.

Unfortunately, Rand’s Objectivism runs hand-in-hand with Atheism. An omniscient, omnipresent God beyond mankind’s finite reasoning violates one of Rand’s Objectivism tenants, that everything can be known. Lesser, finite gods can also not exist, because we could comprehend the evidence of their existence, and there is none.

As a Christian, I can’t accept that. To me, the order of the universe itself requires a Divine hand. However, I would argue that an infinite God is consistent with the concepts of Objectivism, provided you can accept His existence in the first place. When that tenant is in place, then the observed, Objectivist world actually falls more into place for me.

This is a powerful book. It suffers in places from being painfully slow, and some of the philosophical portions run far longer than they ought, but it’s an important read. For anyone looking for the “why” in the collapse of certain segments of modern society, Atlas Shrugged offers answers. The truth may be painful, but it is true, challenging, and showing a way forward.

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