Those who saw The Globe and Mail last week would have read about Lululemon taking some heat from customers over the stocking of bags with ‘Who is John Galt?’ inscribed on them.
This question, and the character it refers to, comes from Ayn Rand’s influential and controversial work, Atlas Shrugged.
Atlas Shrugged depicts a dystopian United States in which the government encroaches upon personal freedoms. In response, many of the most productive and successful individuals refuse to participate further with society and disappear. As these people disappear, the country increasingly suffers. To me, it draws parallels (personal ones, in Rand’s case) with the rise of the Soviet Union and its impact on individual freedoms.
During my reading, I was reminded of Doctor Zhivago, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and even the more recent Fall of Giants, where Ken Follett does a great job in showing the euphoria surrounding the Russian Revolution and, toward the end, the horror as things start to turn badly.
It is good to see that a book can still create discussion and controversy 54 years after its publication. We have had some previous discussion in this space about banned titles during banned books week a couple of months back, looking at the issues surrounding specific titles.
Rand was not one of these. But she does inspire controversy.
Much of this, in response to Lululemon, seems to arise from the fact that she is seen as a darling of the Tea Party movement in the United States (and less about the actual content of Atlas Shrugged). This is forgetting the fact that, politically, she would most likely fall into the libertarian category. In addition, some of her beliefs about personal freedoms would be unpalatable for those of the Tea Party persuasion.
The philosophy at the heart of the debate is Rand’s Objectivism. It puts thought to humanity’s purpose, through discussion of happiness, reason, economics and art (among others). To keep things short, I will use a quote from Rand to provide a brief outline:
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.
My mere suggestion of this post, and the fact that I thought Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead were great books, was enough to ruffle some colleagues’ feathers. In spite of this internal opposition, Indigo did put Atlas Shrugged on its list of books that will change your life.
I won’t go into a detailed defence of her books, because you will either enjoy them or you won’t.
But no, she was not a fascist. And no, she does not preach about crushing the little guy. And yes, I find her books inspirational. But hey, that’s my opinion, and I know that I may be opening myself up to an onslaught for saying so.
But that’s not all bad. Controversy is not necessarily negative as it creates thought and discussion – and I think those are great things…just like Ayn Rand’s books.
For further reading:
Ayn Rand’s novels:
Ayn Rand’s philosophy:
- For the New Intellectual
- The Virtue of Selfishness
- The Romantic Manifesto
- Introduction to Objectiveness Epistemology