For many decades, Ayn Rand has been an icon of the libertarian right in the USA.  Novelist, philosopher, economist, commentator, critic, she argued for what became known as “Objectivism”.  In a nutshell (and if I’ve understood it correctly), she argued that if we all stick to the knitting and plough our own furrow, then everyone concerned — we ourselves, our associates, customers, supply chains and society in general — will do better than if we all go round deferring to the interests of third parties, and, by implication, put our own interests second.  Or to quote her own book title, she believed in “The Virtue of Selfishness”.

Perhaps those who agonise today about “Corporate Social Responsibility” would do well to read her work.  A corporation discharges its social responsibility by providing goods and services, creating jobs, paying wages and pensions, and paying taxes — not by running youth clubs and charities.

Ayn Rand’s greatest work was her last and longest novel, “Atlas Shrugged” . Just about every libertarian undergrad you meet in America will have read it.

So I was ashamed that I myself had never read it.  But I was gratified, during the holiday month of August, that at least I made a start.  It’s a big project.  I have the Signet anniversary edition from 2007, given me a couple of years ago by an American intern in Brussels.  It’s in paperback.  It’s in what looks like about eight-point type, densely packed.  No pictures!  And it runs to 1067 pages.  It’s a bit daunting as a holiday read.

So far I’m at about page 200 or so.  But already I’ve come across passages that resonate very loudly in 2015.  The story centres on a young woman corporate executive called Dagny Taggart.  (Whoever heard of a girl called Dagny?  Come to that, whoever heard of a girl called Ayn?).  She runs a railway, and is determined to use an innovative alloy in place of steel for her rails and bridges.  So of course she meets massive resistance from the entrenched makers and users of steel.  There’s a vicious smear campaign against the new technology, with rail unions threatening to boycott it.  It reminded me of the hysterical propaganda we’re seeing today against shale gas.

Two particular passages stick in my mind.  The CEO of the company making the alloy is visited by a slightly sinister bureaucrat from the “State Science Institute”.  He has no evidence against the new alloy, but he comes up with phrases like “The State Science Institute does not hold a favourable opinion of {the alloy}”.  And a little later, “The State Science Institute represents the best brains of the country, Mr. CEO”.  When I read those words, I thought immediately and with great affection of the IPCC.  Heaven knows why.

Our heroine Dagny then goes to see the head of the State Scientific Institute.  He prevaricates for a long time, but finally admits that he has not read his own Institute’s report, and accepts that he knows nothing to the detriment of the new alloy.  But he finally admits that has come under pressure from legislators, who in turn are responding to the interests of existing industry players who are threatened by the innovation.  He fears that he will lose the funding for his Institute unless he publishes a report rubbishing the new alloy.

Ayn Rand had an extraordinary premonition of the way in which science can be corrupted by commercial and political interests.  If she were alive today, she would be saddened but unsurprised by climate alarmism, and the way in which a small group of “experts” have been allowed to hi-jack the IPCC, and to cause many billions of dollars’ worth of economic damage to be done to Western economies.

I look forward to reading the rest of Ayn Rand’s masterwork (though heaven knows when I’ll get time).  She’d have been 110 this year, if she’d lived.

 

Photo by Elvert Barnes

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