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Books & ideals

2006-04-18 01:02:42.069683+00 by Dan Lyke 6 comments

rc3/ofinterest referenced this repeat of a question asked here, "what's the left-wing equivalent of _Atlas Shrugged_". They used the term "liberal", but the resulting discussion is more "left and right wing" than even what we think of now as "liberal and conservative". In thinking about my response, I realized that all of the books that I think of as having that political bent are reactions to the situations of their times, rather than statements of philosophical purpose, which, I think, is core to understanding some of the differences between those sides.

(Note: In starting whatever conversation may arise from this quick comment, I want to make it clear that I in no way think that the Bush administration or the current Republican party in any way epitomizes the ideals that Ayn Rand proposed, and that the current "graft and corruption are okay as long as they're done by big business" attitude is at least as much a part of the "looter" attitude as any cry of "for the people!".)

[ related topics: Politics Objectivism Books moron Community Philosophy Archival ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2006-04-18 14:32:47.268315+00 by: petronius [edit history]

You ask an interesting question. I can think of some philosophical novels of a leftist bent, but nothing so encompassing (or exhausting) as the works of Ayn Rand. Per haps the problem is that her viewpoint is so focused on the powers of the individual that all of them have one main character who embodies those ideals, ie Howard Roark or John Galt. Thus you have an individual character to play off against, and they are the most interesting parts of the book. Heinlien similarly makes the superior thinker his most interesting character, to rather better effect than Rand.

A thouroughly leftist main character tends to look like the lovelorn Stakhanovite, sacrificing all to storm the 5-Year Plan. Yes, Rand's characters are similarly wooden, but most of us still harbor individualist heroic wishes, which make us identify more with Hank Riorden, the self-made steel magnate than something from a Stalin-era movie.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-04-18 16:53:57.203002+00 by: other_todd

Yah, I never thought of Rand as being particularly right-wing; Rand's sort of off in her own direction. That doesn't necessarily apply to her latter-day followers, who seem to have perverted her position a bit.

The thing about Atlas Shrugged is that it's regarded as the apotheosis of the strong, capable individual ... yet her pack of capable individuals has formed a stable, happy group society at the end of the book and they are about to go back and reshape the world in their image.

But, throwing out left and right, if Atlas Shrugged really is "the individual above all groups," then its ideological opposite would be "the group at all costs no matter what the penalty to individuality," and we would need to find a book which glorifies a hive-mind society. Unfortunately, hive minds make me hiss and spit (remember, I am the one who regards the end of Spider Robinson's Time Pressure as five pages which ruin an entire book because I believe the hero should reject the groupmind), so I have no good examples of that genre. Perhaps someone else can offer an example.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-04-19 15:35:18.127771+00 by: petronius

Another interesting factor comes up when you look at the sites that originally asked the question. The suggested left wing books are old chestnuts like Upton Sinclair or John Steinbeck, or new chestnuts like Margaret Atwood's The Handmaiden's Tale, with a sprinkling of awful eco-utopian novels from the 70s. The only one missing is The Greening of America, the last and silliest creation of the 60s. Generals are often accused of fighting the last war; apparently leftists are still fighting the last revolution.

Say what you will about Ayn Rand, her books are still in popular after 50 years. Anybody think Al Franken will be read in 2055?

#Comment Re: made: 2006-04-19 17:03:22.655984+00 by: Dan Lyke

I think that's roughly the conclusion I was coming to: Most of the "anti-Rand" books I can think of aren't about principles, they're about situations. As Todd points out, it's not like Rand was anti-community or against communal effort, she was positing that there were some principles necessary to make such things work.

I think The Handmaid's Tale is a great cautionary parable, but it's about a reaction to a situation, not about the principles that a society might abide by to keep from that situation.

I also think it's interesting that a lot of people in those threads are bringing up the gospels...

#Comment Re: made: 2006-04-19 17:38:58.598468+00 by: ziffle

Funny, for me trying to slim the list of 'left' books down to one seems - redundant; a glance at all college curriculum, religious texts like the Bible or the Koran, high school history books, all the news media, including Fox, all the papers, all of it -- is anti individual, so zeroing down to one book is pointless, don't you think? (Ok, I maybe could vote for the 'Communist Manifesto' or 'Mein Kampf'.)

Of course 'right wing' is also 'left wing' eh?

I am reading some interesting books and will post some book reviews shortly.

#Comment Re: Why DUHbya Will Not Finish His 2nd Term as Our Decider 'n' Chief, made: 2006-04-23 11:58:07.838149+00 by: donovanpax

and we won't be here to enjoy it!