I first read Atlas Shrugged relatively late in life. After seeing continued references by conservative pundits to Ayn Rand’s final and most popular novel I decided it was time to finally have a look – or more precisely a listen. I was so impressed I picked it up a few months later and read it again, a rarity for me. At long last I understood why it has been chosen by readers as the 2nd most influential book of all time, behind the Bible.

When I heard a movie adaptation was finally being released, I was intrigued but didn’t expect much. I knew Rand’s penchant for overlong speeches wouldn’t translate well to the big screen and the novel’s setting – early 20th Century America coupled with elements of science fiction – would be difficult to capture. My low expectations were unfortunately confirmed and the first installment of what turned out to be a trilogy failed to impress.
I skipped the second installment, largely because the entire cast from the first movie was replaced. How many successful sequels do this? How can a fan become emotionally invested in Dagny Taggert if she is an entirely different person in each movie?
The third installment of the trilogy was released on Friday with yet another cast. Laura Regan is the third actress to play Dagny, and I care even less than I did when Atlas Shrugged II came out. I can’t imagine what led the producers to think any of this was a good idea.
So why am I talking about a movie I have no intention of watching? Because of a funnyreview in Salon by Steve Almond. He saw the movie but he didn’t need to in order to write the piece, hilarious for its misrepresentation of Rand, the themes of the book, Paul Ryan, Fox News, and any other boogeyman he can dream up.
Speaking of dreams, the first half of his review consists of a Rush Limbaugh dream sequence. Seriously. Why make this choice? Aside from ads that ran during his radio show, he had nothing to do with the movie as far as I can tell.
Almond wants to tarnish by association and many in the Salon.com fanbase consider Limbaugh to be the devil incarnate, so the more fat jokes and Oxycontin references he can make the better, even if those jokes have nothing to do with the actual movie he is ostensibly reviewing.
I sympathize with parts of Almond’s argument – once he gets to it that is. I have no doubt this third installment of the Atlas Shrugged trilogy is not a good movie. But to get to this argument you first have to wade through a waist high pile of bile and hate.
Instead of calling Ayn Rand "a woman with delusions of grandeur" or a "demented Cold War hack," an intellectually honest reviewer might have wondered how such an influential book, one that sold nearly 500,000 copies in 2011(is that enough to qualify for actual grandeur?), could be turned into such a crappy movie trilogy.
Almond doesn’t care, in fact I suspect he’s reveling in the fact that the movie adaptations aren’t well done. He, and a preponderance of the far-left, hates Rand and all that she stands for. He quotes Gore Vidal saying that Altas is "nearly perfect in its immorality" and quotes unnamed sources as describing the novel "as a narrative driven by hate."
This is where we get to the real purpose of Almond’s review. What Rand did in Atlas Shrugs is stake a claim of moral high ground for capitalism. Progressives argue that they occupy the moral high ground because they alone are looking out for the underprivileged, trying to help them get on their feet. Disagreeing with their policy proscriptions means you must hate the poor or the sick or you must be a racist or a sexist or some other kind of -ist.
Consider these mocking sentences from Almond’s review: "The pursuit of wealth…is a form of heroic purity. If only bureaucrats would get out of the way, our intrepid industrialists would beat a path to paradise and leave the moochers to rot. Rand’s mission – now taken up by Ryan and company – is to present capitalism not as an economic philosophy, but an impeccable moral system."
Jonah Goldberg is fond of saying, "Capitalism is the greatest system ever created for peacefully universalizing prosperity, but it doesn’t feel like it because it’s unnatural." The Cato Institute publishes an annual report on the "Economic Freedom of the World" illustrating that the most free countries are also the most prosperous. The work of Deirdre McCloskey on this question may end up being definitive. If you’ve never heard of McCloskey, consider the mainstream press’ treatment of her work compared to that of Thomas Piketty.
I find it interesting that we’re still having a debate like this. Like Francis Fukuyama, I assumed at some point everyone on earth would come around to the idea that liberal democracy and capitalism were inevitable. Wasn’t the defining theme of the 20th Century the economic, military and social triumph of free societies and free peoples over socialism and communism and fascism? Why is Almond still fighting this fight?
Because progressives need to believe they have moral superiority, that they care for people more than those cold, heartless free market conservatives and are better people as a result. Anyone who challenges this argument – especially in a popular and influential work of fiction – must be destroyed. This is why Almond psychoanalyzes Rand at the end of the review, calling her a "golem of narcissistic excess" motivated by "a kind of annihilating self-hatred" before ending the review with yet another misplaced Limbaugh reference.
Now that I think about it, I may end up seeing Atlas Shrugged: Who is John Galt?If only to annoy Steve Almond.
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