Ayn Rand and Reading Groups

Reading Part II, Chapter 10 in Atlas Shrugged: Why did Dagny stop the conductor from ejecting the aging tramp from the stalled train? "There was no astonishment in the tramp's face, no protest, no anger, no hope . . . The only gesture of concern he made was to tighten his grip on a small, dirty bundle, as if to make sure he would not lose it in leaping off the train. It was the laundered collar and this gesture for the last of his possessions--a gesture of a sense of property--that made her feel an emotion like a sudden, burning twist within her. 'Wait,' she said."

As the date for a paperback release of my book approaches, I’ll be visiting a number of reading groups to discuss Ayn Rand and the World She Made, Rand’s novels and essays, and her immense influence on our national discussion of everything from literature to religion to a building site for the disputed downtown Manhattan mosque. (More on that in a forthcoming post.)

The 18th-century Princeton home base of Korelitz's reading group, which benefits Housing Initiatives of Princeton, and of Korelitz, her husband, the poet Paul Muldoon, and their two children.

The first of these visits, which took place on September 14, was to a venerable reading group hosted eight times a year by novelist Jean Hanff Korelitz, in Princeton, New Jersey. Most of the group’s eighteen members–writers, publicists, parents, and teachers–had read my book and either The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged or both. (Since one of my goals for the book was to inspire readers to take a new look at Rand’s novels, this made me happy.) Members were especially interested in Rand’s celebration of individual achievement, but wondered, “Where is her empathy for those less able?” One reader thought she had spotted such empathy in Dagny Taggart’s favorable response to Jeff Allen, the tramp on the stalled and abandoned Taggart train in Atlas Shrugged; for those whose memory is hazy, Allen had worked for the Twentieth Century Motor Company and reveals to Dagny the identity of John Galt as a former Twentieth Century engineer and inventor. I pointed out that empathy is not a cardinal virtue in Rand’s universe; justice, as defined by John Galt, is:

“Justice is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake the character of men as you cannot fake the character of nature,” Galt says on page 933 of my copy of Atlas Shrugged, “. . . that every man must be judged for what he is and treated accordingly, that just as you do not pay a higher price for a rusty chunk of scrap than for a piece of shining metal, so you do not value a rotter above a hero. . . that to withhold your contempt from men’s vices is an act of moral counterfeiting, and to withhold your admiration from their virtues is an act of moral embezzlement–that to place any other concern higher than justice is to devalue your moral currency and defraud the good in favor of the evil, since only the good can lose by a default of justice and only the evil can profit.”

We also talked about private property as a basis of capitalism and at least one member’s recollection of Nixon’s final scuttling of the gold standard in the summer of 1971. She was in Europe and recalled that, within a day or two, her dollars bought ten percent less than they had. Of course, Europe was redeeming dollars for gold in that era of endless war and huge trade deficits, and she was reading Atlas Shrugged.

For a Knopf/Doubleday reading-group guide and suggested discussion questions about Ayn Rand and the World She Made, go to http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9781400078936&view=rg.

-Anne C. Heller