October 25, 2007

Leave it to National Review to post Whittaker Chambers ignorant tirade directed at Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged on the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication. The accompanying note reads: “€œ2005 marks the fiftieth anniversary of National Review. In celebration, NRO will be digging into the NR archives throughout the year.”€ Well, yes, they”€™ve scraped the very bottom of the barrel with Chambers’s “€œreview”€ of Rand’s novel, which he doubtless did not even read with any degree of attention, if he read it at all. The evidence is his complaint that the world of Atlas Shrugged is “€œsterile”€ because it is “€œchildless.”€ He averred:

“€œSo much radiant energy might seem to serve a eugenic purpose. For, in this story as in Mark Twain’s, “€˜all the knights marry the princess”€™ “€” though without benefit of clergy. Yet from the impromptu and surprisingly gymnastic matings of the heroine and three of the heroes, no children “€” it suddenly strikes you “€” ever result. The possibility is never entertained. And, indeed, the strenuously sterile world of Atlas Shrugged is scarcely a place for children. You speculate that, in life, children probably irk the author and may make her uneasy. “€œ

But of course there are children in Atlas Shrugged, and not only that Rand portrays an idealized version of bourgeois domestic bliss that would pass the “€œvalue voters”€ litmus test with flying colors. Her portrait of Galt’s Gulch, the “€œutopia of greed”€ where the rational remnant has retired to wait out the world’s self-immolation, is her vision of life as it might be and ought to be, and there are cameo roles for various professional and personality types: the artist, the inventor, the philosopher, and … the housewife:

“€œThe recaptured sense of her own childhood kept coming back to her whenever she met the two sons of the young woman who owned he bakery shop. She often saw them wandering down the trails of the valley 00 two ferless beings, aged seven and four. They seemed to face life as she had faced it. They did not have the look she had seen in the children of the outer world “€“ a look of fear, half-secretive, half-sneerign, the look of a child’s defense against an adult, the look of a being in the process of discovering that he is hearing lies and of learning to feel hatred. The two boys had the open, joyous, friendly confidence of kittens who do not expect to get hurt, they had an innocently natural, non-boastful sense of their own value and as innocent a trust in any stranger’s ability to recognize it, they had the eager curiosity that would venture anywhere with the certainty that life held nothing unworthy of or closed to discovery, and they looked as if, should they encounter malevolence, they would reject it contemptuously, not as dangerous but as stupid, they would not accept it in bruised resignation as the law of existence.”€

This paean to the glories of childhood—or, rather, a certain kind of childhood—starts on page 784 of the hardcover edition and continues on to another closely-printed page, where rhapsodizes on about the young mother who declares that these children “€œare my career”€ “€“ surely a case of “€œfamily values”€ political incorrectness that would not pass muster today. There are also long accounts of the childhood of the main character, Dagny Taggart, but Chambers must have skipped those parts, too.

There are so many distortions in Chambers’s piece that it would become tiresome to go into them all: suffice to say that they include the unsupported charge that Rand “€œconsistently mistakes raw force for strength, and the rawer the force, the more reverent the posture of the mind before it.”€ This is an odd accusation directed against someone who so clearly opposed the initiation of force, and, indeed, advocated a society free of all coercion “€“ opposing taxation, government schools, and virtually every governmental initiative on that basis. He also misperceives her as a philosophical “€œmaterialist,”€ when “€“ again, quite clearly “€“ she opposed the mechanical materialism of the Marxists and others who carelessly subtracted consciousness from their view of human nature.

I would further argue that the Chambers piece is so patently dishonest and vicious that it represents one of the first evidences of what was to become the signature method of the neoconservatives, which is to so distort their opponents”€™ views that they are in effect transposed into their complete opposite. From Whittaker Chambers to David Frum is not that long a road to travel.


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