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Whittaker Chambers

Big Sister Is Watching You
From the Dec. 28, 1957, issue of NR.

Several years ago, Miss Ayn Rand wrote The Fountainhead. Despite a generally poor press, it is said to have sold some four hundred thousand copies. Thus, it became a wonder of the book trade of a kind that publishers dream about after taxes. So Atlas Shrugged had a first printing of one hundred thousand copies. It appears to be slowly climbing the best-seller lists.

The news about this book seems to me to be that any ordinarily sensible head could possibly take it seriously, and that, apparently, a good many do. Somebody has called it: “Excruciatingly awful.” I find it a remarkably silly book. It is certainly a bumptious one. Its story is preposterous. It reports the final stages of a final conflict (locale: chiefly the United States, some indefinite years hence) between the harried ranks of free enterprise and the “looters.” These are proponents of proscriptive taxes, government ownership, Labor, etc. etc. The mischief here is that the author, dodging into fiction, nevertheless counts on your reading it as political reality. “This,” she is saying in effect, “is how things really are. These are the real issues, the real sides. Only your blindness keeps you from seeing it, which, happily, I have come to rescue you from.”

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Since a great many of us dislike much that Miss Rand dislikes, quite as heartily as she does, many incline to take her at her word. It is the more persuasive, in some quarters, because the author deals wholly in the blackest blacks and the whitest whites. In this fiction everything, everybody, is either all good or all bad, without any of those intermediate shades which, in life, complicate reality and perplex the eye that seeks to probe it truly. This kind of simplifying pattern, of course, gives charm to most primitive story-telling. And, in fact, the somewhat ferro-concrete fairy tale the author pours here is, basically, the old one known as: The War between the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness. In modern dress, it is a class war. Both sides to it are caricatures.

The Children of Light are largely operatic caricatures. In so far as any of them suggests anything known to the business community, they resemble the occasional curmudgeon millionaire, tales about whose outrageously crude and shrewd eccentricities sometimes provide the lighter moments in Board rooms. Otherwise, the Children of Light are geniuses. One of them is named (the only smile you see will be your own): Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastian d’Anconia. This electrifying youth is the world’s biggest copper tycoon. Another, no less electrifying, is named: Ragnar Danneskjold. He becomes a twentieth-century pirate. All Miss Rand’s chief heroes are also breathtakingly beautiful. So is her heroine (she is rather fetchingly vice president in charge of management of a transcontinental railroad). So much radiant energy might seem to serve a eugenic purpose. For, in this story as in Mark Twain’s, “all the knights marry the princess” — though without benefit of clergy. Yet from the impromptu and surprisingly gymnastic matings of the heroine and three of the heroes, no children — it suddenly strikes you — ever result. The possibility is never entertained. And, indeed, the strenuously sterile world of Atlas Shrugged is scarcely a place for children. You speculate that, in life, children probably irk the author and may make her uneasy. How could it be otherwise when she admiringly names a banker character (by what seems to me a humorless master-stroke): Midas Mulligan? You may fool some adults; you can’t fool little boys and girls with such stuff — not for long. They may not know just what is out of line, but they stir uneasily.

The Children of Darkness are caricatures, too; and they are really oozy. But at least they are caricatures of something identifiable. Their archetypes are Left Liberals, New Dealers, Welfare Statists, One Worlders, or, at any rate, such ogreish semblances of these as may stalk the nightmares of those who think little about people as people, but tend to think a great deal in labels and effigies. (And neither Right nor Left, be it noted in passing, has a monopoly of such dreamers, though the horrors in their nightmares wear radically different masks and labels.)

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Brianna

05/10/11 16:47

An excellent comedy piece. I laughed the whole way through.

 wynguard

05/09/11 08:26

Another thing just in case you are a Rand fan and read this. What bothers me about books like this is when all virtue even competence is all on one side of the equation. There are plenty of competent people that would support and work for a Randian "looter" society. You would never get all competent people to agree to a strike. Isn't there a scene where Galt, I can't remember, tells his torturers how to fix the machine they are using to torture him? I mean come on! Plenty of technical people would love a looter society wouldn't they?

I am very sympathetic to Rand's anti-socialism/communism but her philosophy simply didn't describe any kind of real world.

Zed

05/09/11 05:13

Watched part of the Royal wedding. Ms Rand, there's your parasitic looters...

praglib

05/08/11 23:53

Chambers is brilliant in seeing the underlying problem with Rand's philosophy. You can't take Randism and just add God to make it better. It's not Jello. Adding a Judeo-Christian-Islamic God to this undercuts the main points of her beliefs. God is love. God is caring for those who are unable to care for themselves. God is about judgment and reward coming in the afterlife based on your works here on earth. I'm a fricking agnostic and even I can see this.

Rand was a compassionless woman. Rand believes that "weak" people do not deserve love. (citation: Mike Wallace interview) Rand's happy ending is a post-apocalyptic nightmare...that probably wouldn't come to pass if the elites all locked themselves in caves. It would give space for the 'looters'" (seesh!) social and economic mobility that was the heart of the 20th Century.

Watch Metropolis and you will see what is probably the sequel Atlas Shrugged.

Jim H

05/08/11 23:50

Please allow a leftist Looter to praise this review. Mr. Chambers was absolutely right about the totalitarian tendency in Objectivism. The simple tipoff: preposterous, idealized characters with as much reality to them as the Soviet Man in Socialist Realism. Why would one read 1100 pages of this kind of piffle? Because it reinforces a faith as unlikely as Scientology. Certainly not to understand real life.

 wynguard

04/26/11 04:12

@DennisT let me return the favor. The typical liberal/democrat can only see the world through simple lens of black and white in fact they can only see stereotypes of their enemies. Liberals are unable to see life as it really is, hugely complex with no simple answers. That is why the think smart government policy can just fix everything. They have zero real compassion for anyone less fortunate than themselves.

They trap people in government created ghettos that destroy family life and discourages work keeping a permanent underclass that will help keep them in power and they have the gall to call that compassion, how Orwellian.

They believe everything in the world is able to perfectly controlled and regulated by the government. It can’t.

On the other hand look at conservatives/republicans one of them has a disabled child or suffers severe injury in a car accident their friends become more compassionate and caring, faith in God sustains their spirits and the ties of family grow stronger. All a Liberal can do is call on some government bureaucrat to control their lives.
What makes my statements any less true than yours?

 wynguard

04/26/11 04:03

What I like about this review the most is how Chambers brilliantly points out Ayn Rand's dictatorship differs in no area from the current leftists desire for dictatorship. Only the criteria of who can be the dictators differs slightly. For instance Rand believes the dictators need to be atheists who accomplish or create something in the market economy.

Leftists believe the dictatorship should come from a an atheist class that is educated professionals trained specifically to run government programs and the like.

I also like that Chambers of all the people I have read actually addresses the problem that Ayn Rand has if everyone is pursuing naked self interest how do you keep them from becoming beasts? Rand's answer is make a fetish out of creating something but what if your new steel doesn't work? What if you management decisions flop, what if your art no one cares for, is there any other recourse besides suicide?

I understand the appeal of Ayn Rand today when you look at the situation superficially but her over all philosophy put into actual practice would be a most disturbing, even horrifying world.

larrytex56

04/25/11 13:02

Everything in Chambers's analysis is pertinent. Nothing is anachronistic or hard to read, if you make an effort to understand the man Chambers, his times, and what he stood for. If anyone needs a parallel thinker to relate to, read Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Eric Voegelin. All three men saw the turns and twists in Western civilization that have contributed to our current crisis.

Some on the Right forget sometimes that we are capable of having our own totalitarians. While we attribute totalitarianism as a Leftist phenomenon, we occasionally forget that some strains of thought join hands across Left and Right. Ayn Rand is one such example. Murray Rothbard, the former Marxist turned fierce Libertarian economist (who had common ground and interests with Rand and Nathaniel Branden, Rand's cohort), is another. Chambers was absolutely correct in linking Rand's thought to Nietzsche. The uncanny likeness of modern times as they relate to what is in the book Atlas Shrugged is as much the product of Rand's emphasis on the justification and promotion of elitism and the (alleged) moral superiority of the "strong and heroic individual" as it is as much the product of Leftist "looter" ideology.

Jason Lee Steorts, going back to your comments on Chambers some months ago, you fail to understand the fundamentals of Chambers and his thought. The only hatchet job that has been done is by you on Whittaker Chambers, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

Miljana Mandich

04/23/11 22:10

Seeing this movie at this moment in history,with America in a seemingly sudden and surprising decline into a state of Greece,is like a bad dream(Atlas Shrugged)coming true(Obamaworld).Chilling.I am a traditional Catholic and therefore believe in helping those who need help.I also believe that nobody has a right to take the fruits of another's labor.It is what destroyed empires and democracies.Where is John Galt already?

DennisT

04/16/11 20:58

Ayn Rand is/was a typical conservative/republican type, in that she could only see things in very simple, black or white, stereotypical terms. They are unable to see life as it really is, hugely complex with no simple answers. They have zero compassion for those less fortunate than themselves. They see life as being completely under the individual's control. It is not. Let one of them have a retarded child, or become permanently disabled in an accident, and their outlook totally changes.

Roberta X

04/16/11 07:00

It's a hatchet-job, pure and simple; since Rand drew a bead on both Chambers' old god (communism) and his new one (that of Christianity), he felt the need to lash out.

BC Dean, science is generally not even pursuing the question of a Supreme Being; you'll want the theology department. There is, still, a reason they call it "faith."

...Which brings me to "vfm," who thinks today's largely (and overtly) Religious-Right GOP is somehow infected with Randian "power-lust." You don't pay a lot of attention to books or current events, do you? Rand had little affection for political power -- and the GOP has little affection for Rand. Mind you, the Dems have even less....

Melba Gant

04/15/11 17:10

Wow, what a tool. There is no way to capture every possible permutation of looter there is in this world. Further, this book was written when? I disagree with Rand's view on religion and like another commenter here, believe science is helping to explain the existence of a supreme being (not quite the same as religion, but you know what I mean). Anyway, I think the novel definitely oversimplifies and then amplifies the characteristics of both sides, but it is for dramatic effect. A "what if", as it were. I think it is quite possible that a future such as the one she paints could easily come to fruition. Either way, the book rocked and I can't wait to see the movie tonight.

v1m

04/08/11 17:20

Nice vivisection by Chambers of Randian fat
and gristle. Luckily for him, he didn't live to see the cult spread horribly, its devotees swarming across finance, tech, entertainment and government. Unluckily for us the technocratic landscape of her power-lust is ours to inhabit now. US conservatism has much to answer for in abetting this berserk choir; there is more of Rand in the American right wing than it dares to face.

BC Dean

03/28/11 16:02

I loved Atlas Shrugged when I first read it, although imperfect I still like it today. I think Rand was right on when she described the looters and free loaders that are very much the bane of Western Civilization.
I do disagree with her Atheism, and think that science is, ironically proving that God the creator does exist. However knowing her history of living in a Communist country where many of the churches were in league with these brutal dictators, her view on Religion is understandable. And that is what bothers me about this review from the ex-Communist Chambers. I can't help but think this is a personal attack on Rand and her religious view. Not just about an imperfect book.

Frank McMains

03/08/11 16:50

The first sentence of the third page, not the whole article. My mistake.

Frank McMains

03/08/11 16:48

This article is as hard to read as Ayn Rand herself, although for different reasons. Her work was just dull and clunky but I am not even sure that the first sentence of this article has a proper subject, essentially— unreadable. So, many, commas,.

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