Atlas Shrugged The Movie

Actress Taylor Schilling

It was good.

It was not brilliant, but it was good. There were flaws — things I would have done differently and a few scenes that annoyed me — but the movie was sincere, and I thought that on a certain level it succeeded.

The left, meanwhile, is in a cold sweat over the impact this movie might have on the American people and on Barack Obama’s chances at reelection, and so the leftwing media has embarked upon a propaganda campaign: savaging this movie — and Ayn Rand — so severely that I had to see for myself what the movie was actually like. So I drove by myself eighty miles (one way) to watch it, and when it was all over, I didn’t regret it.

The real star of the show is the actress Taylor Schilling, who manages to make the not-entirely-convincing Dagny Taggart into a convincing and, from my perspective, entirely likable character. My leftist readers will be throwing up their hands over this, but that means nothing to me.

Let me also say, just for the record, that I am neither an Objectivist, nor a disciple or devotee of Ayn Rand. But I do have one very vital thing in common with her:

I do not believe that it is legitimate for any government or any person to initiate the use of force or aggression against any other human being.

The left is, as mentioned, in hysterics over this movie, though for no very intelligible reason. It is the left, you see, that traditionally prides itself upon tolerance and peacefulness, and yet it’s the left that finds itself in the horribly awkward position of having to defend now the indefensible notion that the initiation of force is okay: we may expropriate your property and we may take your money by force because, understand, it is for the good of the poor, and the state may enforce the morality that the state deems appropriate, agree or disagree.

But the initiation of force is not okay — ever — and Atlas Shrugged The Movie captures this.

As an addendum, let me say one final thing:

I’ve read now several accounts of this movie, and there isn’t a single one I know of that’s done an accurate or fair job of recapitulating Ayn Rand’s actual views. By far, the most widespread and misbegotten error in every recapitulation I’ve come across is the banal belief that capitalism caused the current financial crisis.

This popular piece of propaganda is so painfully easy to disprove that the only real wonder here is how anyone could actually believe it in the first place. The economist Dr. George Reisman demolished that rubbish in an article he wrote over two years ago, which article he graciously gave me permission to reprint in my book Leave Us Alone. His essay is a brief but unanswerable piece, and I reprint it here in response to all those journalists and bloggers out there who don’t have a clue what capitalism actually is, and who don’t have the wherewithal to find out:

The Myth that Laissez Faire is Responsible for Our Financial Crisis

by George Reisman

The news media are in the process of creating a great new historical myth. This is the myth that our present financial crisis is the result of economic freedom and laissez-faire capitalism.
The attempt to place the blame on laissez faire is readily confirmed by a Google search under the terms “crisis + laissez faire.” On the first page of the results that come up, or in the web entries to which those results refer, statements of the following kind appear:

“The mortgage crisis is laissez-faire gone wrong.”

“Sarkozy [Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of France] said ‘laissez-faire’ economics, ‘self-regulation’ and the view that ‘the all-powerful market’ always knows best are finished.”

“America’s laissez-faire ideology, as practiced during the subprime crisis, was as simplistic as it was dangerous,” chipped in Peer Steinbrück, the German finance minister.”
“Paulson brings laissez-faire approach on financial crisis.”

“It’s au revoir to the days of laissez faire.”

Recent articles in The New York Times provide further confirmation. Thus one article declares, “The United States has a culture that celebrates laissez-faire capitalism as the economic ideal….”

Another article tells us, “For 30 years, the nation’s political system has been tilted in favor of business deregulation and against new rules.”

In a third article, a pair of reporters assert, “Since 1997, Mr. Brown [the British Prime Minister] has been a powerful voice behind the Labor Party’s embrace of an American-style economic philosophy that was light on regulation. The laissez-faire approach encouraged the country’s banks to expand internationally and chase returns in areas far afield of their core mission of attracting deposits.”

Thus even Great Britain is described as having a “laissez-faire approach.”

The mentality displayed in these statements is so completely and utterly at odds with the actual meaning of laissez faire that it would be capable of describing the economic policy of the old Soviet Union as one of laissez faire in its last decades. By its logic, that is how it would have to describe the policy of Brezhnev and his successors of allowing workers on collective farms to cultivate plots of land of up to one acre in size on their own account and sell the produce in farmers’ markets in Soviet cities. According to the logic of the media, that too would be “laissez faire” – at least compared to the time of Stalin.
Laissez-faire capitalism has a definite meaning, which is totally ignored, contradicted, and downright defiled by such statements as those quoted above. Laissez-faire capitalism is a politico-economic system based on private ownership of the means of production and in which the powers of the state are limited to the protection of the individual’s rights against the initiation of physical force. This protection applies to the initiation of physical force by other private individuals, by foreign governments, and, most importantly, by the individual’s own government. This last is accomplished by such means as a written constitution, a system of division of powers and checks and balances, an explicit bill of rights, and eternal vigilance on the part of a citizenry with the right to keep and bear arms.

Under laissez-faire capitalism, the state consists essentially just of a police force, law courts, and a national defense establishment, which deter and combat those who initiate the use of physical force. And nothing more.

The utter absurdity of statements claiming that the present political-economic environment of the United States in some sense represents laissez-faire capitalism becomes as glaringly obvious as anything can be when one keeps in mind the extremely limited role of government under laissez-faire and then considers the following facts about the present-day United States.

1) Government spending in the United States currently equals more than forty percent of national income, i.e., the sum of all wages and salaries and profits and interest earned in the country. This is without counting any of the massive off-budget spending such as that on account of the government enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Nor does it count any of the recent spending on assorted “bailouts.” What this means is that substantially more than forty dollars of every one hundred dollars of output are appropriated by the government against the will of the individual citizens who produce that output. The money and the goods involved are turned over to the government only because the individual citizens wish to stay out of jail. Their freedom to dispose of their own incomes and output is thus violated on a colossal scale. In contrast, under laissez-faire capitalism, government spending would be on such a modest scale that a mere revenue tariff might be sufficient to support it. The corporate and individual income taxes, inheritance and capital gains taxes, and social security and Medicare taxes would not exist.

2) There are presently fifteen federal cabinet departments, nine of which exist for the very purpose of respectively interfering with housing, transportation, healthcare, education, energy, mining, agriculture, labor, and commerce, and virtually all of which nowadays routinely ride roughshod over one or more important aspects of the economic freedom of the individual. Under laissez faire capitalism, eleven of the fifteen cabinet departments would cease to exist and only the departments of justice, defense, state, and treasury would remain. Within those departments, moreover, further reductions would be made, such as the abolition of the IRS in the Treasury Department and the Antitrust Division in the Department of Justice.

3) The economic interference of today’s cabinet departments is reinforced and amplified by more than one hundred federal agencies and commissions, the most well-known of which include, besides the IRS, the FRB and FDIC, the FBI and CIA, the EPA, FDA, SEC, CFTC, NLRB, FTC, FCC, FERC, FEMA, FAA, CAA, INS, OHSA, CPSC, NHTSA, EEOC, BATF, DEA, NIH, and NASA. Under laissez-faire capitalism, all such agencies and commissions would be done away with, with the exception of the FBI, which would be reduced to the legitimate functions of counterespionage and combating crimes against person or property that take place across state lines.

4) To complete this catalog of government interference and its trampling of any vestige of laissez faire, as of the end of 2007, the last full year for which data are available, the Federal Register contained fully seventy-three thousand pages of detailed government regulations. This is an increase of more than ten thousand pages since 1978, the very years during which our system, according to one of The New York Times articles quoted above, has been “tilted in favor of business deregulation and against new rules.” Under laissez-faire capitalism, there would be no Federal Register. The activities of the remaining government departments and their subdivisions would be controlled exclusively by duly enacted legislation, not the rule-making of unelected government officials.

5) And, of course, to all of this must be added the further massive apparatus of laws, departments, agencies, and regulations at the state and local level. Under laissez-faire capitalism, these too for the most part would be completely abolished and what remained would reflect the same kind of radical reductions in the size and scope of government activity as those carried out on the federal level.

What this brief account has shown is that the politico-economic system of the United States today is so far removed from laissez-faire capitalism that it is closer to the system of a police state than to laissez-faire capitalism. The ability of the media to ignore all of the massive government interference that exists today and to characterize our present economic system as one of laissez-faire and economic freedom marks it as, if not profoundly dishonest, then as nothing less than delusional.

Beyond all this is the further fact that the actual responsibility for our financial crisis lies precisely with massive government intervention, above all the intervention of the Federal Reserve System in attempting to create capital out of thin air, in the belief that the mere creation of money and its being made available in the loan market is a substitute for capital created by producing and saving. This is a policy it has pursued since its founding, but with exceptional vigor since 2001, in its efforts to overcome the collapse of the stock market bubble whose creation it had previously inspired….

*Please read the rest of this article here.

21 Comments

  • Maura

    April 20, 2011

    I’ll be honest, haven’t heard that it came out – must be the left media at work – However, upon furher review of not only what you have feverishly written, but others who have reviewed the movie as well, I can say that I am wholeheartedly for a film that has a message of freedom, be it to live our lives the way we deem fit or in governance. Thanks for the heads up!

  • Lara Mistler

    April 20, 2011

    You are not an Objectivist yet you accept her non-initiation of force principle. IMHO the least you could do is giver her proper credit her for her formulation of this principle.

  • Ray

    April 20, 2011

    Lara Mister, Ayn Rand did not “formulate” that principle. In fact, that principle is far older than she is, arguably going back to the Spanish Scholastics, and her politics are squarely in the tradition of Classical Liberalism. I quote to you from the 19th Century political thinker Auberon Herbert, a disciple of Herbert Spencer, with whom she was very familiar:

    Nobody has the moral right to seek his own advantage by force. That is the one unalterable, inviolable condition of a true society. Whether we are many, or whether we are few, we must learn only to use the weapons of reason, discussion, and persuasion…. As long as men are willing to make use of force for their own ends, or to make use of fraud, which is only force in disguise, wearing a mask, and evading our consent, just as force with violence openly disregards it – so long we must use force to restrain force. That is the one and only one right employment of force … force in the defense of the plain simple rights of property, public or private, in a world, of all the rights of self-ownership – force used defensively against force used aggressively (Auberon Herbert, The Principles of Voluntaryism, 1897).

    Here also is Herbert Spencer sounding so much like Ayn Rand that you’d think he borrowed this from her — were it not for the fact that he wrote this before she was even born:

    Those who hold that life is valuable hold, by implication, that men ought not to be prevented from carrying on life-sustaining activities. In other words, if it is said to be [ethically] “right” that they should carry them on, then, by permutation, we get the assertion that they ‘have a right’ to carry them on. Clearly the conception of “natural rights” originates in recognition of the truth that if life is justifiable, there must be a justification for the performance of acts essential to its preservation; and, therefore, a justification for those liberties and claims which make such acts possible (Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State, 1884).

    In the words of Thomas Jefferson:

    “The legitimate functions of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others” (Notes on the State of Virginia, 1782).

    Around the same time that Thomas Jefferson was writing those words, another erudite fellow by the name of Wilhelm von Humboldt independently came to the same conclusion:

    Any State interference in private affairs, where there is no reference to violence done to individual rights, should be absolutely condemned…. To provide for the security of its citizens, the state must prohibit or restrict such actions, relating directly to the agents only, as imply in their consequences the infringement of others’ rights, or encroach on their freedom of property without their consent or against their will…. Beyond this every limitation of personal freedom lies outside the limits of state action (Wilhelm von Humboldt, The Limits of State Action, 1791).

    Thanks for dropping by.

  • Ray

    April 20, 2011

    P.S. Government is not reason, it is not eloquence — it is force.

    Said George Washington.

  • Dale

    April 20, 2011

    Other than national defense and interstate law enforcement, is there any part of the federal government you would consider “conservative”?

  • Ray

    April 20, 2011

    Hi Dale. It’s a difficult question to answer because the word “conservative” is so slippery. It’s undergone a lot of mutations and permutations over the years, so that now it in many ways means the exact opposite of what it once did. But the deplorable admixture of religion and economics, as well as religion and politics, which both sides, to varying degrees, accept, is something I consider conservative. Religion should be a private matter, but the conservatives will not have it so.

  • Catch Her in the Wry

    April 20, 2011

    “I’ve read now several accounts of this movie, and there isn’t a single one I know of that’s done an accurate or fair job of recapitulating Ayn Rand’s actual views.”

    I’ve been anxiously awaiting this movie for years now. I haven’t seen it yet, but every review I’ve read is more a politically left tirade than a movie review, let alone offering a fair representation of Ayn Rand’s views.

    I also hate that the conservative right has appropriated the movie as an expression of their political views, when most of Rand’s philosphy is hard for a conservative to swallow. However, they are at least giving the movie some public exposure that it probably wouldn’t get otherwise.

  • Ray

    April 20, 2011

    Hi Catch Her in the Wry!

    “I also hate that the conservative right has appropriated the movie as an expression of their political views, when most of Rand’s philosphy is hard for a conservative to swallow. However, they are at least giving the movie some public exposure that it probably wouldn’t get otherwise.”

    I heard that.

    It’s very good to see you again. Thank you for dropping by.

  • M Kathy Brown

    April 21, 2011

    Ray ~
    I’ll keep this rather simple. What I thoroughly enjoyed about this entire post is your addendum. You got me laughing pretty good when I didn’t feel at all like even smiling. You are a delightful and true editorialist! Thank you :~)

  • Ray

    April 21, 2011

    Thank you, M Kathy Brown.

  • Dale

    April 23, 2011

    Ray: “Religion should be a private matter, but the conservatives will not have it so.”

    The complexity and diversity of political issues – call it governing – make it difficult for categorical labels like conservative to have concise meaning. On that we agree; we hear things like “fiscal conservative” to narrow the scope.
    In fact, that’s what I meant, so let me take another tack. Consider “fiscal liberal”, which seems fitting to Pelosi Reid Oblabla.
    Fiscal conservatives want government to spend do and control less, so that the people can do more and prosper.
    Fiscal liberals wrap good intentions in the flag on a bankruptcy-or-bust platform, so that the people can be manipulated and controlled.

    Religion is present in the society and, as a philosophy, can have negative impact in economics and politics, agreed. I don’t see the legislative mechanisms, though. So, setting aside the fiscal emphasis, can you give me a specific example of how conservatives would use the force of government to invade the privacy of your religion?
    While a small example will do, I’m looking for something remotely similar to the “Health Care Affordability Act” which violates our rights, confiscates property, forces us to buy things we don’t want, limits the ability of the market to compete and create efficiencies. Clearly I think my medical treatment “should be a private matter, but the [liberals] will not have it so.”

  • Ray

    April 24, 2011

    The so-called War on Drugs, which at its roots is motivated by a middle-class religious morality that both the right and left tacitly accept, is a staggering waste of resources. It has also created a trillion-dollar underworld the violence and seediness of which are impossible to calculate.

    Then there’s these utterly absurd “Sunday laws,” which differ from state to state but which every state has some version of, that attempt to regulate the buying and selling of alcohol.

    Tobacco, gambling, prostitution aussi.

    There’s also this annoying Ten Commandments in schools and all that baloney, which is every bit as invasive as this leftist nanny-state travesty that bans, for instance, lunches brought from home.

  • Dale

    April 24, 2011

    Fair enough. I never really thought of the war on drugs as rooted in religious morality, but when I try to refute it, I come up short.
    That is, if I argue it’s a matter of lawful society, it back-chains to the morals of those Ten Commandments.
    Instead, a society based on protection of private property is void of judgmental moralities.

    To end the drug wars, simply end government involvement, let the people do as they please, and dedicate resources to protecting property rights, right?

  • Greg

    April 25, 2011

    Back to the film, which I took a half day off of work to enjoy. I agree with you Ray, I thought Miss Schilling made an excellent Dagny.

  • Ray

    April 26, 2011

    “To end the drug wars, simply end government involvement, let the people do as they please, and dedicate resources to protecting property rights, right?”

    Absolutely right.

    And, you know, this ISN’T [typo correction] just speculative: prohibition provides us with a real-life account of the freedom-to-choose versus government-involvement in the arena of drugs. Prohibition was an unmitigated failure by any standard.

  • Dale

    April 26, 2011

    “Absolutely right.” Now where’s the morality in that?

  • micky

    June 5, 2011

    I am John Gault

  • rachka

    November 7, 2011

    It’s not capitalism versus socialism.This is the problem.From a religious i.e. transcendent, not your typical religious perspective, but purely philosophical point of view capitalism and socialism are materialistic creeds – what material (empirical) goods to produce and who has the power to distribute them.There is no place for God here.These are creeds, political ideologies whose organized entity, its church is the state.All debates then point to things that r always opposing each other although they both exist simultaneously, like “individualism” – there r individual human beings, and “collectivism” – there is the society.This superfluous debates only fuel disintegration and therfore leads to confusion.The problem is always psychological and thus moral.As long as people see themselves as only material empirical beings in a physical universe without detecting with their hearts and minds a supreme transcendent being as their source of moral and attitude towards fellow beings there would be conflicts and stupid debates that always miss the point.

  • Dale

    November 7, 2011

    I cannot dispute what you say.
    Yes, there are individuals and societies.
    Yes, there’s no god in my wanting to keep what I earn, and no god and someone trying to take it for the sake of the collective.
    So, when those who wish to expand the collective in ways I find disgusting and immoral come after that which I earn through hard work over decades, what should I do?
    How do we stop the cycle?
    I mean it, please expand.

  • Jillian

    October 18, 2012

    Thank you for reviewing Atlas shrugged. Rand is a brilliant author and her message has been confused by many.

  • Ray

    October 18, 2012

    Hi Jillian! It’s good to hear from you. How are you? Where are you?

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