This is a novel of some other kind. It aims at the mind with the force of a challenge, which you cannot refuse to take. It takes time to build up the story; the characters are clearly instruments in the plot, they have no depth other than the depth of the issues at stake. But this is no detriment to the story, as you will realize if you don't give up. And what is the story about? The story is a philosophical tract put to the test of real life by the use of an End-of-times story-line. Even though Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy is unabashedly atheistic there are many uncanny analogies with Christian eschatology. First comes to mind the sort of Second Coming of Christ in the shape and person of Rand's hero, John Galt, who comes down to the earth, not amidst clouds, swords and trumpets, but in the shape of radio sound waves, announcing his ultimatum to the world's inhabitants. Even more startling is the the apocalyptic outcome of the story with its end-of-times eschatology vividly present.
Ayn Rand's heroes have been accused of egoistic. How come? Haven't they read the book? Rand explains at length that egoism is the rational thing to expect from rational beings, anything else is sacrifice or hypocrisy. Now, are her accusers Christians? Nope. Read the “bad” reviews and see how their criticism stands on politics rather than religious beliefs. Which is not surprising at all. Me, as a Christian would not throw the first stone at Ayn Rand and her heroes. Why, they just act accordingly to their honest beliefs. And those beliefs are the ones that keep the world working, producing and allowing the most free societies ever in history. If you can come with a new alternative to Capitalism, let us know about it. (No, Socialism is not new). Follow me here: as a Christian you are supposed to love others and not be selfish. If we do, it does not mean a sacrifice for us because we voluntarily do so, or try to do so. It's implicit in accepting Christ as the Lord. So far Ok? Ok. Now, if you are not a Christian, then on what grounds should you be selfless, charitable, socially-minded and all those PC words that you hear so much about? Whatever answer you can come up with will have to involve coercion from others, whether from a majority of fellow-citizens or from the usual corrupt oligarchy. And I like too much the saying I heard in the South; “I ain't got to do nothing but pay my taxes and die.” That's right. That's more than enough. If charity is to be expected we would then have to ask ourselves, consequently, how much? And who is to say how much charity is enough? But most of all: who is to be charitable and who is to receive that charity?
But, honestly, there's no reason to accuse of selfishness Rand's heroes. Rand does not treat selfishness in the prejudiced sense we understand it. But, for the lack of a better word, she unabashedly makes use of it. See the characters act. It's the works that count, right, not the words. (Here more Christian analogies). Well, see Rand's heroes and anti-heroes and judge for yourself. Talk is cheap. Here is a quote from one of the villains in the story that shows this point clearly:
It's always the poor who lack humanitarian instincts. One has to be born to wealth in order to know the finer feelings of altruism.
Sounds familiar, right? You probably heard something like that said not long ago by one of those rich celebrities, Michael Moore comes to my mind. Caviar Socialists is what they are. But here's another quote that is so self-evident and clear out the author of any guilt thrown at her, whether from Christians or Socialists:
If a mother buys food for her hungry child rather than a hat for herself, it is not a sacrifice: she values the child higher than the hat. But it is a sacrifice to the kind of mother whose higher value is the hat., who would prefer her child to starve and feeds him only from a sense of duty.
When I read the above, to my mind comes the Bible quote that says something like this, if you love your loved one, your family members, what merit do you have? Your merit would be in loving those whom you don't know. (Another Christian analogy)
The book was written in the fifties but the story and issues -even though taken to extremes- are very present. A point that shows this is that power to foresee the stupidity of extreme environmentalist policies. Their fanaticism aiming to return the world to a pristine state, where industry and anything that “hurts” the environment must be sacrificed on its altar:
Their goal is not the era of pre-science, but the era of pre-language.
I give it 4 stars -and not 5- only because it is too long. Its sheer interest and social implications make it worthwhile, though. Those who judge it on purely literary grounds are missing the whole thing, since this is not a literary piece, but a philosophical tract dressed in a literary form, aiming at your mind, to test it.
Now, get out of my way!