Arnold on Atlas: Where's He Right, Where He's Wrong
By Bryan Caplan
What I like is the “in your face” defense of businessmen and the unremitting attack on the “looters” of government. Rand is uncanny in her depiction of government involvement as a tar-baby phenomenon where “solving” each problem creates a worse one.
In that case, you might like my essay on public choice in Atlas Shrugged.
What I don’t like are three things.
1. The heroes are so humorless and self-absorbed that I cannot root for them.
What’s impressive about Rand’s story-telling, in my view, is that she is so good at convincing readers to root for humorless, self-absorbed characters. If you think this just shows that Rand was terrible at characterization, consider: She painted such vivid portraits that thousands of real people started acting like her eccentric characters.
2. The credo of “I will not live my life for any man nor ask any man to live his life for me” (I’m paraphrasing) sounds too much like a survivalist fruitcake holed up in a shack in the hills. Ironically, at the climax of the book, the heroes behave more in Three Musketeers fashion. Although of course they don’t say “one for all and all for one,” Rand is playing that tune on your emotional violin in the end.
Quite right. Her moral vision is more plausible than her official theory.
3. The villains are clearly villains from the beginning.
Not Robert Stadler. He’s portrayed so sympathetically at first that you keep expecting him to come to his senses and do the right thing.
What would be really neat, particularly in a movie version, would be instead to start out as if you were following a conventional Hollywood script, and get the audience to root for the crusading politicians against the greedy industrialists. Then…gradually…let it become clear that it’s the industrialists who are the heroes and the politicians who are causing ever-greater harm.
If you could pull this off, I’d be thrilled. But it seems like a tall order to give Atlas Shrugged an M. Night Shyamalan conclusion.