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The Capitalist Fiction of Garet Garrett

by Bruce Ramsey
by Bruce Ramsey


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The Ludwig von Mises Institute has reprinted the four novels written by Garet Garrett (1878–1954), one of America's leading financial journalists and a libertarian. Garrett, who for unknown reasons had renamed himself so that both parts sounded alike, was a writer of distinctive ideas and a forcefully distinctive style. I have had the pleasure of editing two volumes of his essays: Salvos Against the New Deal (Caxton, 2002), and Defend America First (2003). Caxton will bring out a third volume, Insatiable Government, later this year. But none of his novels had been reprinted since the 1920s, and they have been difficult to find on the used-book market.

As I write, abebooks.com is offering only two Garrett novels from those years: one copy of Harangue (1927) at a bookstore in Vancouver, WA, at $124.99, and one copy of The Cinder Buggy (1923) at a bookstore in England, at $530. No original copies of Satan's Bushel (1924) or The Driver (1922) are available at all. A determined reader can find these stories in bound copies of the Saturday Evening Post, or in the case of Satan's Bushel, in another old magazine, called Country Gentleman. But then you have to photocopy them on 11x17 paper or read them at the library.

I'm an admirer of Garrett, and have long wanted his work to be easier to obtain. The Mises Institute reprints – facsimiles of the original E.P. Dutton editions, bound in new covers and offered at $18 to $25 – now make his novels available once more.

Garrett was famous as a journalist and essayist, but not today as a writer of fiction, and there are some reasons for that. Still, his work should be of interest to libertarians, particularly those who grew up on the fiction of Ayn Rand. Many thought Rand was the only novelist with capitalist heroes. Those people hadn't read Garrett. Of the four novels, one is about a railroad tycoon and another about a pioneer of the steel industry. All four have messages about the market and the essence of American capitalism.

I should note that Garrett also wrote another book, The Blue Wound (1921), that is ostensibly fiction. In this work, a journalist meets a time traveler who gives him a tour of human history and a look 30 years into the future. The story takes the form of a novel, but really is an essay. And because it promotes a theme of national autarky it will not be of great interest to libertarians.

Garrett's first real novel, The Driver, is the one libertarians tend to know about, because of the argument that Justin Raimondo made in Reclaiming the American Right (1993). Raimondo supposed that Ayn Rand had lifted her protagonist's name "Galt" and the "Who is John Galt?" device from The Driver. I don't know whether she did or didn't. Raimondo may be right, though Garrett does not use the "who is" device in the same way that Rand does. Both The Driver and Atlas Shrugged have to do with running railroads during an economic depression, and both suggest pro-capitalist ways in which the country might get out of the depression. But in plot, character, tone, and theme they are very different.

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December 27, 2008

Bruce Ramsey [send him mail] is a journalist in Seattle and editor of Insatiable Government, Ex America: The 50th Anniversary of The People’s Pottage, Defend America First, and Salvos Against the New Deal.

Copyright © 2008 Ludwig von Mises Institute

 
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