Either-Or, A Review of Atlas Shrugged, Part 2

By Robert Gore

Atlas Shrugged, Part 1, did poorly at the box office. I was one of the few reviewers who gave it a favorable review (click here to see that review). Part 2 has already been savaged and it probably won’t generate much gross, since so few people saw Part 1. The movies should have a substantial built in audience. Ayn Rand’s books have sold in the millions, especially The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Say 20 million people have read one or the other or both since their publication in 1943 and 1957, respectively, and are still alive. Say another 20 million have heard of her and her ideas, but have not read any of her works. Both estimates seem conservative, but if curiosity compelled just ten percent of that 40 million to see the movie, at an average ticket price of seven dollars (again a conservative estimate) that would be $28 million gross, far in excess of what Part I generated or what Part 2 will generate. Curious.

If the Atlas Shrugged movies had a “name” director, $100 million budgets, an A-list cast, more sophisticated special effects,wide scale distribution, huge box office takes, and great word-of-mouth, they would still get panned. The root cause of the vitriol Ayn Rand’s work generates in Hollywood and the rest of the media, academia, and government is idealogical. An illuminating intellectual exercise is to turn the tables on those critics and ask them to define the premises of their political philosophies, and then, making the heroic assumption that they do so, have them defend the outcomes of their philosophy in practice. It’s like watching cockroaches scurry when the lights are turned on.

Ayn Rand meticulously defined her premises; that was the point of Atlas Shrugged. In her own words:

My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that:

1. Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.

2. Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.

3. Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.

4. The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.

Copyright © 1962 by Times-Mirror Co.

None of her opponents have produced either a statement of their own principals or a coherent refutation of hers. That’s not to say that their philosophies can’t be concisely stated; they can, in one sentence: The government can do whatever it wants to whomever it wants whenever it wants. This is statism, the philosophy of unchecked government power, and it’s the foundation of other “isms” that are just variations of statism. If that sounds extreme in the context of contemporary American politics, I defy anyone to find any plank in either the Democratic or Republican platforms that says, in effect: The government cannot, on principle: fill in the blank. What tax rate is so high that it’s prohibited? What private industry or activity can the government not regulate or tax? Are there any products that, unlike medical insurance, the government cannot force us to buy? What civil liberty cannot be denied to someone the government defines as a terrorist? What country can we not invade or subvert if our government decides that that country is acting in ways antithetical to our “interests?”

Statism is the philosophy that has produced the horrors of the 20th century: two world wars and countless smaller conflicts; communist subjugation of over half the world’s population and the slaughter of tens of millions; the worldwide Great Depression; hyperinflation and then Hitler and the holocaust in Germany; a world capable of destroying itself with nuclear weapons and at the brink of doing so during the Cuban missile crisis; and the latest violence-filled recrudescence of the thousand-year conflict between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. This is the record believers in statism get to defend, not some utopian vision that would surely happen if only people were different or if it could be forced on the entire world. I use the term “believers” because in light of that record, statism amounts to a religion, not a reality-based philosophy. It is the religion of our age, more devoutly believed, despite the horrifying litany, than many of the traditional faiths so many of its adherents disparage. Contrast that litany to the peace, prosperity, and progress of the Industrial Revolution, when the U.S. approached “full capitalism” (see “History Lessons,” January 31, 2012).

Statist acolytes fear Ayn Rand. Welfare states, including the United States, are buried under promises and debt they cannot redeem and a looming financial, economic and political catastrophe to which 2008 was a mere prelude. The Atlas Shrugged movies project present trends to the dystopian future and identify the statist principle that’s responsible for it. The statists’ greatest fear is that the movies may prompt people to read her works. Her argument, which they will not and cannot challenge, is that the proper role of government is either-or, it’s not one of their beloved “gray areas.” Either you own what you produce, or the government does. Either men deal with each other by voluntary exchange, or the government enables the favored to engage in force, theft, and fraud. Either government’s role is limited to protecting the rights of the individual, or it becomes a tyrant with unlimited powers. Either we are free, or we are not.

By all means go see Atlas Shrugged, Part 2 before it leaves the theaters and you have to buy the DVD. Bring your family and friends. It’s got a completely new cast (older than Part 1’s which makes the film more realistic) and a new director, but it continues Atlas Shrugged’s great story line and illustrates its vital themes. I liked it better than Part 1. Amidst the statist cacophony, any voice for freedom, capitalism, and limited government must be heard, even if few pay attention to it until after the inevitable collapse of our teetering house of cards.

This was first published on straighlinelogic.com, 10/16/12.

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