Ah, the blindness of youth. Who among us didn’t read Ayn Rand’s objectivist tome when we were teens, finding in it some validation of our me-centric world? Her dogmatic certainty is a perfect fit for the militant enthusiasm of the young. But most of us grew out of her bullies-as-heroes self-indulgence. Most of us… but not State Sen. John Goedde of Idaho. He loves the book – and Rand – so much that he introduced a bill to require all Idaho high school students to read it and pass a test on it before they can graduate. Why? To widen their vision, to give them more material for comparison? Nope.
“It made my son a Republican.” [Source]
Though he says he does not intend to push the bill or even schedule a hearing on it, the fact that he even introduced the idea is abhorrent. He called it:
“… a shot over their bow just to let them know that there’s another way to adopt high school graduation requirements.” [Source]
Apparently he thought he was sending a message to the Idaho State Board of Education, who recently had to repeal a rule requiring high school students to complete two online courses to graduate. I don’t see any relation between those things myself. In any case, since it was introduced as a bill, it received a number and was read in the Senate Wednesday morning.
Atlas Shrugged is popular among the Tea Party crowd (most of whom I would bet haven’t even read it) and Libertarians (who likely have). With its vision of a dystopia in which the government is the bad guy and the strong individualistic streak of its hero, John Galt, gave birth to Objectivism, it appeals to their particular world view. Paul Ryan is a strong proponent of this philosophy, basing his budget plan on it, drawing the ire of Catholics who prefer to follow Jesus rather than Rand. Most people grow and mature beyond Rand’s simplistic ideals. Even Neil Peart of Rush, who famously credited the book for inspiring their iconic 2112, has since repudiated that credit, saying that he “was young.” Weren’t we all? But most of us grew up.
I believe that the Tea Party and other modern Objectivists are actually trying to bring Atlas Shrugged to life. In the novel, the corporatists and industrialists lead a strike against the government which, deprived of revenues to operate, collapses. Galt and his “me first” cronies then take over. I don’t know about you, but that sure sounds an awful lot like what the Republicans and Tea Partiers are trying to bring about. Remember Grover Norquist’s stated goal?
“… to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
In Rand’s virtue ethics, the only ethical question someone needs to ask is “what’s in it for me?” But one thing that these modern Galts either don’t understand or conveniently forget is that Rand held reason as the ultimate attribute of man. There is very little reason in their current actions and words. Rand states that the ideal man “… must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.” (my emphasis). That last bit seems to have been forgotten.
As for Senator Goedde’s bill, as a statement to the State Board of Education, it lacks any sense. The Board was championing Proposition 3, which supported a new focus on online learning, calling for laptops for every student. It was part of school superintendent Tom Luna’s “Students Come First” school reform laws. These laws also called for killing collective bargaining rights for teachers and putting into place a merit pay system, so it’s probably best that it went down in flames. Idaho voters were on the ball there.
Goedde admits that it’s been 30 years since he read Atlas Shrugged but he seems to believe it imparted a “sense of personal responsibility.” Apparently not enough of one, given the Senator’s irresponsible showboating.
As for the book itself, I love this quote:
“There are two novels that can transform a bookish 14-year-old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish daydream that can lead to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood in which large chunks of the day are spent inventing ways to make real life more like a fantasy novel. The other is a book about orcs.” ~~ Raj Patel
T. Steelman is a life-long Liberal. She has been writing online about politics since 2007. She lives in Western Washington with her husband, daughter, 2 cats and a small herd of alpacas. How can anybody be enlightened? Truth is, after all, so poorly lit…