Maybe Atlas Should Shrug
DECEMBER 19, 2011
In today’s document, Roy A. Childs Jr. opens his review of Leonard Peikoff’s book The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America with: “When the history of the twentieth century is written, one thing will stand out above all others: the growth of state domination over the lives of all mankind. The state has brought us wars, concentration camps, mass murder. Millions of graves are filled with the results.” And it is not by accident that these tragedies committed by the State occurred. Ideas can be a dangerous thing if taken in the wrong direction.
In his book, Peikoff, who became Ayn Rand’s intellectual heir, explains the parallels between America and Nazi Germany. This is not about the atrocities the Nazi’s perpetrated, but the ideas rampant in Germany that lead to the rise of National Socialism. The irrationalism and collectivism concerning the nature of man, knowledge, morality, and politics, in Peikoff’s opinion, all helped give rise to the terrible acts of the Nazi State and threaten America in a similar way.
Sadly, we have not improved. The Occupy Wall Street movement, while correctly seeing a problem, is mostly pointing their fury in the wrong direction, attacking the productive sector of our economy. In seeing evil in businessmen, they miss the point, and they fail to understand how wealth is created. It is true that much of Wall Street is in bed with the State, but is more government the correct solution to that problem?
This mistake made by the OWS movement should surprise no one. The movement is strongly steeped in collectivist thinking (sometimes creepily so). The movement truly believes it fighting for liberty. Individuals, in their eyes, seem to have a right to freedom from debt, freedom from need, etc. And it is the State that is to deliver us all from these chains caused by capitalism. But what they fail to see is that it is the State that is at fault in the first place, and giving more power to the State empowers it to perform the atrocities that Childs believes defines the history of the twentieth century.
If we continue down this path we may find that the stronger parallel may actually be to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, a parallel that is just as dangerous, if not more so. Businessmen will not take the antibusiness rhetoric forever; eventually the rise in State power will drive their production down more and more. In the novel Rand correctly shows how such a situation would be devastating. With the lack of business comes a desperate attempt by the State to set things right and to do so by force and planning, which sets us exactly on the road to serfdom that Hayek warned us about. But until we start to realize that the State is the negation of liberty and that freedom must be accompanied by self-responsibility, maybe the continuous growth of State power is exactly what we deserve.