On October 12, 2012, the sequel of the 21st Century Version of Ayn Rand’s controversial book Atlas Shrugged comes to American theaters and introduce her vision of capitalism to a new generations of Americans. Now obviously I have not seen the movie yet and I will see it because I am curious as to how the book will translate to the big silver screen with today’s movie making technology. Nonetheless I did read the book and several other pieces by her and I can give my opinion about her views in that respect.
For the most part I can honestly assert that I do agree with most of Ayn Rand’s philosophies in particularly her concepts about self-responsibility. To be more accurate I agree more with her intellectual apprentice and longtime lover, Nathaniel Brandon. His book, Honoring Thy Self played an influential role in how I constructed my book African American Healthy Self Esteem.
Coming from a challenging social economic background, this way of thinking was endorphins to my brain because it taught me that I am not a victim and I am responsible for the quality of my life. However as a historian and African-American man there are certain historical events that Ayn Rand and Nate Brandon left out when they proudly assert their affection for the individuality of Liassie Faire American capitalism. I feel it is only fair to point these inconsistencies out and generate a broader discussion about the pros and cons of their version of American capitalism.
1. Let’s put Ayn Rand’s psyche in context. She was a first generation survivor of the Bolshevik Revolution in the now defunct Soviet Union. Her father’s private business was nationalized by the communist government and she left for the United States. The America she got to know and love was a homogenized all-white society that promoted and perpetuated cultural white supremacy that was woefully un-diverse. In fact the ‘Jim Crow’ era was in full swing during her arrival to America in 1926. It is safe to assert that she most likely never saw a Black person or if she did it was only in the capacity of a domestic worker. She more than likely paid absolutely no attention to anyone who was not socially prominent. Therefore we can understand that being white in a proverbial fish in water natural habitat she had a Euro-centric perspective.
2. In Atlas Shrugged, she explains the evolution of American Capitalism in particularly through the lens of the ‘Industrial Revolution. She maintains that an individual is within their natural born human right to create something from their brain power and financially capitalize on their product. Nothing wrong with this assertion. However she was unaware or perhaps uninterested in the fact that America had a severely oppressive domestic policy against Black people. Just like her belief that Russia suppressed the intellect of her populace, America’s social order was so draconian against Blacks that it is not hard to hypothesize that perhaps hundreds of thousands of brilliant Black minds were unable to actualize during this epoch. Furthermore in her explanation of American she unabashedly left out the entire reality of slavery. In fact one of the real reasons America became so powerful in a short period of time was due to the lucrative economic practice of American Slavery. When one has access to unlimited free labor manufacturing products such as tobacco and cotton without the expense of salaries, one will undoubtedly become very wealthy under these favorable conditions.
3. The premise of Atlas Shrugged is too farfetched. I know it is supposed to be fiction but her writing maintains that like Russia, America in crisis will somehow devolve into a socialist society. Despite the loud howling’s of today’s extreme right conservatives this is not going to happen. Aspiring to become vice president on the Mitt Romney ticket, Paul Ryan is one of these voices that use fear of big government and not so cleverly hidden racism to scare white America into believing this. Problem is that the rhetoric does not match reality. In fact under President Barack Obama the job market for the private sector is thriving and the public sector is struggling. The President actually cut the federal budgets for many public sector type jobs. In addition, a vehemently anti Obama congress never voted on the President’s jobs bill which is speculated to create thousands of good paying infrastructure type jobs. This includes building highways and repairing bridges across the country. Yet they vote to repeal ‘Obamacare’ every single time they convene in session. Despite what the radical right pundits would like to believe, President Barack Obama is not anti-capitalist.
Finally, from the trailers of the movie it is very contemporary and appears to have a diversity of race and ethnic actors playing the roles of the various characters of the book. This in itself is in stark contrast to the world she saw herself in. The Black and Latino actors in the movie are more of a reflection of how far America has come in terms of race relations through the eyes of the writers and producers. It is not her narrow scope of cultural white supremacy.
In all honesty I am a fan of Ayn Rand’s work and it should be noted that I liked her second book The Fountain Head better. But like most white people of her time she lived in a white washed bubble that allowed her the comfort to view the world in a monolithic way. She did not acknowledge that Native Americans were extirpated for the benefit of the white race nor that the United States in her aggression for competing world domination violently took over Hawaii and the Philippians at the turn of the last century. I do appreciate American capitalism because of the opportunities that are now afforded to me. But I do not appreciate the omission of historical facts and outright lie that America was a land of opportunity for everyone at all times.
© 2012, Ramone Smith. All rights reserved.