Reassessing Atlas

Like many libertarians, I have a love/hate relationship with Ayn Rand’s books. There’s no doubt that reading them in high school was a transformational experience that, along with studying economics, put me on the path toward liberal ideas and political advocacy. But the books can be a little too transformational, luring inquisitive minds into the trap of ideology; I’d suggest that young people reading them do so with a healthy dose of criticism. Reading news like this, however, tilts the balance strongly in Rand’s favor:

The House voted this week to reauthorize and reform national service laws, which could open the door for compulsory national service. The plan will explore whether to establish a “volunteer corps” to see if “a workable, fair, and reasonable mandatory service requirement for all able young people” should be developed.

Translation: Think military draft, only you don’t get a gun and you still have to do it if you have flat feet.

At a time when the government is seriously considering coercing all Americans to toil in its service, I’ll take my doses of radical individualism wherever I can find them. Leo Grin captures what’s great about her books in an otherwise critical roundup of perspectives at NRO:

At base, Rand’s fiction is the stuff of fantasy and myth, in the best sense. Howard Roark and John Galt fill outsized roles once occupied by the likes of Achilles and Odysseus, Arthur and Lancelot. Impossibly brave and resourceful, towering in their loves and hates, they stand as sterling exemplars of treasured traits. The need for such larger-than-life heroes is evergreen.

How quickly we have forgotten the unutterable darkness of the shadows cast by various strains of collectivism throughout the 20th century! More than a hundred million dead, entire populations subjected to inhuman servitude: Against that monstrous, encroaching gloom, Rand crafted tales that sanctified freedom and individualism, burning away the saccharine happy-face of liberalism and exposing the fangs and poison sacs beneath. True, outside of Rand’s fevered imagination, Atlas is unlikely ever to shrug with such thunder and panache. But for more than 50 years, countless readers have been quietly transformed by the strength and resonance of her capitalist clarion call.

Still relevant in the Age of Obama? With all due respect to Whittaker Chambers, if we didn’t already have her, we’d have to invent her, double-quick.