Whittaker Chambers vs. Ayn Rand

by Crocker on April 18, 2011, 7:34 am

in Culture,Economics,Law,Philosophy

I note with interest the release of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged as a major motion picture. There have been some good reviews and some passable ones but I do plan to see the film at some point. I’m attempting to re-read Atlas Shrugged in dribs and drabs – mostly drabs. I’ve never been an Ayn Rand fan, although I’ve listened to my libertarian friends rave about her for years. While I think Atlas Shrugged is a decent enough – albeit superficial – parable about collectivism, envy and the overriding worth of the individual in our time, I shrink from the larger implications of her “objectivist” philosophy, which seems totalitarian to its core as was Rand’s own personal life and cult. Although some deny it (even Rand herself), her views on individualism seem more like a page torn from Nietzsche’s ubermensch than based on pure reason.

In his famous review of Atlas Shrugged, Whittaker Chambers denounced the book’s dictatorial arrogance and its contempt for those who might disagree with her:

In Atlas Shrugged, all this debased inhuman riffraff is lumped as “looters.” This is a fairly inspired epithet. It enables the author to skewer on one invective word everything and everybody that she fears and hates. This spares her the plaguey business of performing one service that her fiction might have performed, namely: that of examining in human depth how so feeble a lot came to exist at all, let alone be powerful enough to be worth hating and fearing. Instead, she bundles them into one undifferentiated damnation.

And in the end, the looters are consigned to the gas chamber:

From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: “To a gas chamber — go!”

And neither Chambers – nor Rand – were kidding. Consider the famous Winston Tunnel scene, where a whole train load of looters – described in lovingly contemptuous detail – are consigned to destruction without remorse or pity. Even the children in Bedroom D, Car No. 10:

As the tunnel came closer, they saw, at the edge of the sky far to the south, in a void of space and rock, a spot of living fire twisting in the wind. They did not know what it was and did not care to learn.

It is said that catastrophes are a matter of pure chance, and there were those who would have said that the passengers of the Comet were not guilty or responsible for the thing that happened to them.

The man in Bedroom A, Car No. 1, was a professor of sociology who taught that individual ability is of no consequence, that individual effort is futile, that an individual conscience is a useless luxury, that there is no individual mind or character or achievement, that everything is achieved collectively, and that it’s masses that count, not men.

The man in Roomette 7, Car No. 2, was a journalist who wrote that it is proper and moral to use compulsion ‘for a good cause’ who believed that he had the right to unleash physical force upon others – to wreck lives, throttle ambitions, strangle desires, violate convictions, to imprison, to despoil, to murder – for the sake of whatever he chose to consider as his own idea of ‘a good cause’,which did not even have to be an idea, since he had never defined what he regarded as the good, but had merely stated that he went by ‘a feeling’ -a feeling unrestrained by any knowledge, since he considered emotion superior to knowledge and relied soley on his own ‘good intentions’ and on the power of a gun.

The woman in Roomette 10, Car No.3, was an elderly schoolteacher who had spent her life turning class after class of helpless children into miserable cowards, by teaching them that the will of the majority is the only standard of good and evil, and that a majority may do anything it pleases, that they must not assert their own personalities, but must do as others were doing.

The man in Drawing Room B, Car No. 4, was a newspaper publisher who believed that men are evil by nature and unfit for freedom, that their basic interests, if left unchecked, are to lie, to rob and murder one another – and, therefore, men must be ruled by means of lies, robbery and murder, which must be made the exclusive privilege of the rules, for the purpose of forcing men to work, teaching them to be moral and keeping them within the bounds of order and justice.

The man in Bedroom H, Car No. 5, was a businessman who had acquired his business, an ore mine, with the help of a government loan, under the Equalization of Opportunity Bill.

The man in Drawing Room A, Car No 6, was a financier who had made a fortune by buying ‘frozen’ railway bonds and getting his friends in Washington to ‘defreeze’ them.

The man in Seat 5, Car No.7, was a worker who believed that he had “a right” to a job, whether his employer wanted him or not.

The woman in Roomette 6, Car no. 8, was a lecturer who believed that, as a consumer, she had “a right” to transportation, whether the railroad people wished to provide it or not.

The man in Roomette 2, Car No. 9, was a professor of economics who advocated the abolition of private property, explaining that intelligence plays no part in industrial production, that man’s mind is conditioned by material tools, that anybody can run a factory or a railroad and it’s only a matter of seizing the machinery.

The woman in Bedroom D, Car No. 10, was a mother who had put her two children to sleep in the berth above her, carefully tucking them in, protecting them from drafts and jolts; a mother whose husband held a government job enforcing directives, which she defended by saying, ‘I don’t care, it’s only the rich that they hurt. After all, I must think of my children.’

The man in Roomette 3, Car No. 11, was a sniveling little neurotic who wrote cheap little plays into which, as a social message, he inserted cowardly little obscenities to the effect that all businessmen were scoundrels.

The woman in Roomette 9, Car No. 12, was a housewife who believed that she had the right to elect politicians, of whom she knew nothing, to control giant industries, of which she had no knowledge.

The man in Bedroom F, Car No.13, was a lawyer who had said, ‘Me? I’ll find a way to get along under any political system.’

The man in Bedroom A, Car No.14, was a professor of philosophy who taught that there is no mind – how do you know that the tunnel is dangerous? – no reality – how can you prove that the tunnel exists? – no logic – why do you claim that trains cannot move without motive power? – no principles – why should you be bound by the laws of cause and effect? – no rights – why shouldn’t you attach men to their jobs by force? – no morality – what’s moral about running a railroad? – no absolutes – what difference does it make to you whether you live or die anyway?. He taught that we know nothing – why oppose the orders of your superiors? – that we can never be certain of anything – how do you know you’re right? – that we must act on the expediency of the moment – you don’t want to risk your job do you?

The man in Drawing Room B, Car No.15, was an heir who had inherited his fortune, and who had kept repeating, ‘Why should Rearden be the only one permitted to manufacture Rearden Metal?’

The man in Bedroom A, Car no. 16, was a humanitarian who had said, ‘The men of ability? I do not care what or if they are made to suffer. They must be penalized in order to support the incompetent. Frankly, I do not care whether this is just or not. I take pride in not caring to grant any justice to the able, where mercy to the needy is concerned.’

These passengers were awake; there was not a man aboard the train who did not share one or more of their ideas. As the train went into the tunnel, the flame of Wyatt’s Torch was the last thing they saw on earth.”

That’s some kind of justice you got there, baby.

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{ 1 comment }

Tyka December 20, 2015 at 6:40 am

At last, soeomne who knows where to find the beef

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