Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“All government, in its essence, is organized exploitation, and in virtually all of its existing forms it is the implacable enemy of every industrious and well-disposed man.”     H. L. Mencken

March 4, 2009

Still Some Hope in Libertarianland?

by Stephen Gordon

If book sales of “Atlas Shrugged” are any indicator, the Obama administration may have just given the freedom movement a much needed shot in the arm. From the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights:

Sales of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” have almost tripled over the first seven weeks of this year compared with sales for the same period in 2008. This continues a strong trend after bookstore sales reached an all-time annual high in 2008 of about 200,000 copies sold.

“Americans are flocking to buy and read ‘Atlas Shrugged’ because there are uncanny similarities between the plot-line of the book and the events of our day” said Yaron Brook, Executive Director at the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights. “Americans are rightfully concerned about the economic crisis and government’s increasing intervention and attempts to control the economy. Ayn Rand understood and identified the deeper causes of the crisis we’re facing, and she offered, in ‘Atlas Shrugged,’ a principled and practical solution consistent with American values.”

Better still, for those who might prefer other libertarian works of fiction, Glenn Reynolds reports the following from one of his readers:

Instead, bought the current slightly oversized edition of Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. I hadn’t read it in many years and was pleased (but not really surprised) at how well it holds up; the few technical anachronisms (and there are surprisingly few for a book written in 1966) are more than balanced by how very, very relevant it remains politically in 2009. I was surprised to rediscover how profoundly subversive a work it is, both politically and socially, likely outdoing all the “radical” literature that flower children and revolutionaries were inspired by in the 60s (most of whom considered Heinlein “fascist” — thus showing their profound ignorance of both Heinlein and fascism).

“The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” is still one of my all time favorites.

In the meantime, rumors of a major Hollywood production of “Atlas Shrugged” still abound.  From the book’s Wikipedia entry:

The film is currently in active development by Baldwin Entertainment Group and Lions Gate Entertainment. A two-part draft screenplay written by James V. Hart was developed into a 127-page screenplay by writer-director Randall Wallace.[26]

Angelina Jolie has been confirmed to play the role of Dagny Taggart, and there are discussions with Russell Crowe to play the part of Hank Rearden.[27] Brad Pitt is rumored to be cast in a yet unspecified role. Both Jolie and Pitt are fans of Rand’s works.[28] The role of the mysterious John Galt is likely to be played by an unknown.[27] Vadim Perelman (House of Sand and Fog) had been confirmed to direct,[29] but as of June 18, 2008 is no longer attached to the project.[30] Lions Gate Entertainment picked up worldwide distribution rights. The film was expected to be released in 2011.

Jolie’s 2008 pregnancy and Perelman’s departure has cast the project into doubt.[31] As of November 2008, the Internet Movie Database lists the film’s development status as “unknown”.[30]

As for me, I so thoroughly enjoyed David McCullough’s “1776″ that I picked up a copy of “John Adams” the other day. While killing time en route to a meeting last night, I was enjoying a few pages along with a pint of Guinness when the bartender informed me of a HBO miniseries based on the same book.  Chapter One opens with a quote from Abigail Adams which I find inspiring:

“You cannot be, I know, nor do I wish to see you an inactive Spectator…. We have too many high sounding words, and too few, actions that correspond with them.”

Perhaps some of us will become inspired by the recirculation of  “high sounding words” and follow up with the “actions that correspond with them.”

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17 Comments

  1. The John Adams miniseries is well worth a view.

    As for an Atlas Shrugged movie, I’ll believe it when I see it — these rumors have been around for years (since before Rand died actually) and nothing has ever come of them.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — March 4, 2009 @ 8:05 am
  2. I last spoke with Ed Hudgins of the Atlas Society around a year ago. He seemed to think the movie was a go at that point. Of course, Jolie and Pitt have two additions to the family to be concerned about these days.

    Comment by Stephen Gordon — March 4, 2009 @ 8:10 am
  3. I’m also a big fan of The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress — would love to see that brought into film. Unfortunately, I’d bet that any major studio would give it the “V For Vendetta” treatment, removing any allusion to anarchism.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — March 4, 2009 @ 8:20 am
  4. Stephen,

    Personally, I hope they don’t make it.

    I don’t think Hollywood would do the book right and I shudder at the thought of Jolie and Pitt being involved

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — March 4, 2009 @ 9:13 am
  5. First, to the comments of Brad Warbinay, there is a huge difference between anarchy and anachronism. Anarchy is the absence of government; i.e. lawless disorder. An Anachronism is an element that exists out of place in time; an example being a knight in shining armor riding down the streets of New York City or an F-16 in ancient Rome. If you reread the above article, you will note that the word used is ‘anachronism’ and not ‘anarchy.’

    Onward, I concur that ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ is a great work, though it has been over a decade since I’ve read any of Heinlein’s work. He definitely knew how to get people’s attention.

    I for one would like to see ‘Atlas Shrugged’ as a movie. It might help to awaken some our zombie-like citizens and it could help some of the ostriches get their collective heads out of the sand.

    Comment by John Evans — March 4, 2009 @ 10:09 am
  6. If they did make a movie of “Atlas Shrugged,” I would prefer to have actors who comprehend and believe in the book’s message. I have doubts that those who were mentioned in the Wiki entry qualify (personally, I like movies that don’t feature A-list or well known actors better anyway).

    Other novels I would like to see adapted into a movie (if done right) would include “The Fountainhead,” “1984,” “Animal Farm,” and “Fahrenheit 451.”

    I do find it encouraging that people are reading these novels, especially during these challenging times.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — March 4, 2009 @ 10:58 am
  7. John,
    I think the confusion is yours, not Brad’s. The lunar society Heinlein depicts is indeed an anarchist one — in the sense of “no rulers,” not in the sense of “no rules.” Anarchy is not necessarily “lawless disorder.”
    Yes, there is a UN-established warden and small contingent of jailers, but the people who have served their sentences yet cannot return to Earth generally carry on as if the warden is irrelevant. Without a formal government, they cooperate via a simple set of common laws formed by social consensus.
    The character “Bernardo de La Paz,” by the way, is a stand-in for Robert LeFevre, a libertarian anarchist who operated a “Freedom School” during the 1960s and 1970s which was formative for a great many libertarian activists and writers.

    Comment by Scott Bieser — March 4, 2009 @ 11:16 am
  8. Stephen,

    They did make a movie of Fahrenheit 451, back in 1966:

    http://tinyurl.com/aok9md

    And there’s a remake listed as “in development” at IMDB:

    http://tinyurl.com/gmtee

    Like the Atlas movie, this one appears to be in limbo right now though

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — March 4, 2009 @ 11:37 am
  9. John,

    I meant to use the term “anarchism” (related to the root of “anarchy”), not anachronism. As Scott points out, the society in question was essentially an anarchist society — while the “warden” was a ruler, he basically did nothing to enforce any internal order on the lunar society — leaving them to create a non-governmental law of their own.

    Stephen,

    There was also a movie version of “The Fountainhead”, which I embarrassingly have not seen.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — March 4, 2009 @ 1:08 pm
  10. It would seem that it is time for me to reread ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.’ That should keep me busy for a day or two…

    Comment by John Evans — March 4, 2009 @ 3:26 pm
  11. I saw the Fountainhead movie (and own a copy on VHS, just because I found one available). I can’t recommend it. Gary Cooper made a horrible Howard Roark. I believe Ayn Rand was connected to the project at one point but was very disappointed with the results.

    It seems like the most important part of an Atlas Shrugged movie would be the screen writer/director combo. I believe the success of the Lord of the Rings movies was due in large part to Peter Jackson’s visualization of it, and his commitment to keep the film true to the novels. A good director might even be able to get someone like Angelina Jolie closer to the character of Dagny (though I’ve often visualized Dagny as looking and acting more like a Jodie Foster).

    Also, the book is so long that translation to a single two hour film is probably infeasible. The screenwriter would have to understand the book well enough to select the most salient points and make sure they survive the process. Get the wrong screenwriter and you’ll have a movie about trains. Or a movie about explosions and car chases. Or a movie about brutish self-centered thugs with no conception of the voluntary interactions which foster production.

    If they could accurately translate the message and show how that message is timeless in its application, I’d love to see it happen. If it ends up another Ishtar, I’d just as soon see it continue to stay buried.

    Comment by Akston — March 4, 2009 @ 3:32 pm
  12. Braveheart rocks! However, Mel Gibson has gone over the deep end.

    Comment by ArmedPorkypine — March 4, 2009 @ 6:04 pm
  13. Sounds like you are promoting the end of days,the Rapture.

    Comment by VRB — March 4, 2009 @ 7:55 pm
  14. Akston,

    Interestingly enough, Rand was heavily involved in the production of The Fountainhead movie, and yet it still pretty much sucks

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — March 5, 2009 @ 7:49 am
  15. Rand wrote the screenplay for the Fountainhead movie and fought like hell to keep its integrity as a work of art consistent with the book. I think she was pretty well satisfied with it, considering how badly Hollywood could have mangled it. I’m sure she would be happy with the sales of her books. They’ve tripled this year from last.

    Comment by JackDoitCrawford — March 5, 2009 @ 11:27 am
  16. Researching further, I’d have to agree that Rand apparently did her best to make the film true to her books and did, in fact, approve of it.

    In this discussion a phrase got me thinking why I didn’t like the film, but liked the book.

    Rand, of course, had none of her director’s ambivalence, and so formidable did she make herself while her film was being created that she was allowed more influence on production than any other mere writer ever acquired in Hollywood. Vidor reported that “when actors wanted to change lines we had to telephone her and ask her to come over quickly and that helped stop a lot of actors changing lines.”10 Rand was even permitted to coach Gary Cooper (Howard Roark) for his performance as Roark in the impressive courtroom scene. Impressive, but perhaps not impressive enough; Cooper and Rand agreed that “he didn’t quite get it.”11 The Fountainhead remained, inevitably, a collaboration–yet Rand bears most of the responsibility for its outcome.

    (Emphasis mine)

    This adds another important hurdle for any “Atlas Shrugged” film: The actors would have to actually get it. Since Jolie is reportedly a fan of the books, maybe it’s possible for her to carry it off. I still can’t see her as this description:

    Few people liked her face: the face was too cold, the eyes too intense; nothing could ever lend her the charm of a soft focus. The beautiful legs, slanting down from the chair’s arm in the center of his vision, annoyed him; they spoiled the rest of his estimate.

    Still, I’d go see it of course.

    Comment by Akston — March 5, 2009 @ 12:40 pm
  17. I wonder who what is in the minds eye of women who read Atlas Shrugged. It was certainly not Angelina Jolie when I read it. Of course, that was before many of you were born. I always thought Patricia Neal Might have been physically similar to Rand, before I ever saw Rand. Dagny Target is Rand alter ego, something as a woman she never quite successfully pulled off. The actress must be somewhat androgynous. Hillary Swank could pull it off. The sexuality is male in Rands attempt to approach equality of the sexes. This the woman Dagney is, she is not the ideology. She needs John Galt to complete her, to give her status. There is an incomplete feminism, which is a consequence of the period. Dagney is not of the 21th century.

    Comment by VRB — March 7, 2009 @ 6:36 am

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