One of the blessings of summer, even if no ocean is in view, is having more time for reading.
During the morning reads, I am plowing on through to the end of The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution by theologian Wayne Grudem and economst Barry Asmus. I started this book back around February, read a large portion of it, and then went on to other books. It got lost in the stacks until recently when I picked it up and began reading with an intent to finish it.
In the evenings, I have been reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I had several motivations for reading this book. First, I am teaching a government class next year and am trying to read more on political and economic philosophies. Second, in line with this, Ayn Rand has influenced quite a few political and economic leaders and commentators. She has inspired a whole school of thought and has impacted many conservative ideas regarding economics and liberty. Her views within the conservative camps are quite controversial.
In many ways, these two books, The Poverty of Nations and Atlas Shrugged, are quite different. The first is a book on economics, while the second is a novel. The first was written by two Christians, while the other was written by an atheist. The Poverty of Nations was published in 2013, while Atlas Shrugged came out in 1957. The first is directed primarily toward third world nations, while the second is a warning to first world nations. And, The Poverty of Nations is written in a clear, concise outline form, while Atlas Shrugged is a sprawling novel of some 1000 plus pages.
Yet despite these differences, the two books coincide on some very important themes: The importance of freedom, capitalism, the profit motive, and the results of these things. Ayn Rand would be absolutely livid about The Poverty of Nations because it is premised upon Christian presuppositions. The authors of The Poverty of Nations would be highly uncomfortable with Ayn Rand crashing their party, although they would appreciate some aspects of her work.
I will now discuss some parts of Atlas Shrugged. Don’t worry about me giving spoilers regarding this novel. I am now barreling through the second half of the book with still about 400 pages to go. I am avoiding reading all commentaries on the book and anxiously await the conclusion myself.
Ayn Rand was a brilliant woman who was born in Russiain 1905 and lived there during the time in which Communism took hold of that country. Her independent streak , self reliance, and sheer pluck enabled her to escape the world of Stalin and his successors. She came to the United States, mastered English, and developed a philosophy about life known as Objectivism.
She succinctly stated the major tenets of the philosophy as follows:
1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality
2. Epistemology: Reason
3. Ethics: Self Interest
4. Politics: Capitalism
Each of these tenets bears further elaboration, and Ms. Rand did so in the essay “The Essentials of Objectivism,” as well as in other writings. Of her worldview, she said, “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”
She was an able and powerful expositor of her views. One is not left wondering what she meant or how her philosophy was to be applied. Her great enemies were collectivist governments, statist controlled economic systems, coercive humanitarian ideals, and any system of thought that violated her concept of reason. She devoted her main energies to battling against socialism, communism, fascism, and state-directed tyrannies in the marketplace and in society. She was also strongly opposed to religion of all varieties.
Part of her philosophical gift was her practice of embodying her ideas in novels. Particularly in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, she taught her views. A short and great work of hers is the novella Anthem. Her method and execution were brilliant, but the same can’t be said for her writing style. Perhaps it was the language barrier, for English was her second language. Perhaps it was the lack of good editing. Both of her bulky novels plead for being lanced, pruned, and trimmed.
The biggest problem with the total lack of literary skill found in Ayn Rand. I know that one cannot argue with success. Her novels have been around for decades and are still read and discussed. While many Pulitzer Prize winning novels and Nobel Prize winning authors are relegated to a few college classrooms, Ayn Rand’s works still attract readers from all areas of life.
Still, I contend that the woman was devoid of literary abilities. Her characters are generally overdrawn. There is no complexity or ambiguity or real human traits in her pasteboard cut-outs of heroes and villains. Granted, I would like to possess at least some of the traits of a Randian male hero. These guys are strong, handsome, independent, brilliant, and usually unbending in their pursuit of their ideals. Their opponents are stupid, sycophants, slavish, hypocritical, and spineless.
Also, the strong women figures in Rand’s novels, modeled no doubt after her image of herself, are strong, beautiful, independent, ruthless, and totally unswayed by the moronic villains in her books. These are women who are happy to live without love until they meet the Randian male heroes who then typically force themselves upon these strong women. Trying to be discreet, and being thankful that Ayn Rand wrote in a time where sexual encounters in books were still veiled somewhat, the love scenes in her books are disgusting.
Ayn Rand’s descriptive abilities would be rated as great if she were writing comedy or parody. In serious fiction, her descriptive powers are tortuous, or as I said in a previous post, physically painful to read. Consider this description of her heroine Dagny Taggart as she appeared at a party: “The black dress seemed excessively revealing–because it was astonishing to discover that the lines of her shoulder were fragile and beautiful, and that the diamond band on her wrist of her naked arm gave her the most feminine of all aspects: the look of being chained.”
“The most feminine of all aspects: the look of being chained.” Hmmm. I suggest a counselor for whoever wrote that sentence or anyone who agrees with it.
I cannot count how many naked shoulders, naked arms, naked hands, naked necks, naked feet and ankles, naked index fingers, naked ear lobes, and, in some scenes, entire naked bodies appear in this book. But her descriptions repel rather than lure the reader. Except for those times when we wear gloves, our hands are naked. Writing with endless repetitions of exposed skin becomes quickly disgusting.
Then consider this: Atlas Shrugged is a one thousand plus adventure tale of a woman who runs a railroad who is in love with a man who runs steel mills. The reason why they are in love is because of railroads and steel mills. Had Dagny Taggart been a kindergarten teacher and Hank Reardon the local butcher, this story and the love affair would not likely have occurred. At least it would not have taken 1000 pages to line out.
And yet, I admit, the book has a certain appeal. This book is a ringing indictment against all governmental, economic, and social forces that suppress freedom, the free market, profit, and personal gain. I admit to thinking that the book resounds at points in our time. I recognize that our own worsening cultural and economic mindset needs a strong dose of the medicine Atlas Shrugged contains.
I want to finish the book. It is reinforcing my views of freedom. It is making me thankful for independent thinkers, of entrepreneurs of the mind and of the business world, and of people willing to defy the political correctness of our day. I wish more senators, congressmen, governors, and political operators would read and thoughtfully consider this book. It echoes my hatred of governmental overreach.
But a world of Randian heroes and heroines offers no solution to this world’s problems. This is where a quick strong supplement is needed to balance what Ayn Rand thought. The Poverty of Nations is just that sort of book. It is a carefully researched and clearly expounded case for less government (and no an absence of government), more freedom, a greater production of goods and services, and an increase in economic well being.
While Grudem and Asmus are not theonomic, they are well familiar with the specifics of the Bible’s prescriptions for economics. While they are not libertarian (or radically libertarian), they are aware of the many problems of government interference in economic life. While they are American, they are concerned primarily with how third world nations can implement programs that truly help.
The impoverished nations of the world have been helped, ministered to, subsidized, and rescued repeatedly through the years. If we could truly box up all the extra stuff we have and ship them to another country and see a real long-term transformation there, it would be worth the minor sacrifice. But many studies, Christian and otherwise, testify to the limited and often counter-results of American and missionary aid.
Cultures have to be changed and governments have to be changed.
This book needs to reach the leaders in poor countries. It also needs to be in the hands of teachers and mission workers in those countries. But, the same lessons need to be in our minds. Every member of Congress needs to read this book. (I don’t expect that to happen.) Pastors and teachers need to read this book. All candidates for ministry and Christian service need to be steeped in this work.
Freedom–political, economic, and religious–is always under siege. Reading is a means of liberation.