How conservatives should view Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
Font Size:

During a recent interview with “Atlas Shrugged” movie producer Harmon Kaslow, I asked if any of the criticism of the film had come from traditional conservatives.  After all, I reasoned, William F. Buckley and Ayn Rand famously parted ways after Buckley published Whittaker Chambers‘ devastating book review of “Atlas Shrugged” in Buckley’s National Review.

(On an episode of Charlie Rose, Buckley discussed the schism, calling “Atlas” an example of  “ideological fabulism” and noting that, “I had to flog myself to read it”):

… Kaslow told me that the recent attacks on the “Atlas” movie were all coming from the left.  But since our interview, things have changed.

Writing about the movie in today’s Washington Post, Michael Gerson has reinvigorated the debate over whether or not conservatives should applaud Rand.  Gerson notes, for example: “If Objectivism [Rand’s ideology] seems familiar, it is because most people know it under another name: adolescence.”

But Rand, of course, has also made significant positive contributions.  So where should traditional conservatives stand on “Atlas Shrugged”?

Morton Blackwell long ago nailed it:

[“Atlas Shrugged] is one of the most devastating critiques ever written of big government and the liberal media.  Rand’s moral indignation is contagious; after reading her, most readers are forever immune to the enticements of socialism.

It must also be said, however, that the militantly atheistic Rand had an unrealistic view of human nature and little appreciation for cultural values.  Most people, however mesmerized by her they may be in their youth, outgrow Rand’s philosophy, which Burke might have described as a theoretical construct rather than an application of the accumulated wisdom of mankind.

After reading Atlas Shrugged, read also The Fatal Conceit, by F.A. Hayek.  Hayek once told me, ‘I am not religious, but I have a great respect for religion.’  Hayek, along with Burke, who was a Christian, possessed an understanding of human nature much deeper and more realistic than Ayn Rand’s.

Matt K. Lewis