Books for Teens (of all ages)

From Kung Fu Monkey:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

This makes a good point which is pertinent considering all the recent nonsense on the blogosphere about going Galt because the top tax rate might go up three points.

It often does seem that Atlas Shrugged is either followed religiously by fanatics or attacked as not having any value. Neither is correct. Atlas Shrugged is well worth reading, although I would recommend starting with Rand’s earlier books and work up to Atlas Shrugged (and be prepared for extensive discussions of political philosophy accompanying coitus).

Rand’s work must be read with understanding of her life, and seen as a reaction to the horrors she saw in the Soviet Union. While often extreme, Rand’s work was of value in providing a moral argument for the free market system in an era when there actually were many claiming a moral superiority of socialism.

Rand’s work provides both positive and negative lessons. Her personal life provides an explanation for her extreme devotion to capitalism over collectivism, as well as her devotion to individualism. Her later years show a bizarre contradiction between her support for freedom and opposition to religion while established what was essentially an authoritarian cult of personality around herself. Her most extreme followers similarly show the contradictory situation of people who claim to be individualists surrendering their ability to think independently.

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5 Comments

  1. 1
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I think you’re right that the best way to view Rand’s work is through the lens of attempting to rally European thought, which was already sliding into secularism, against Communism. It is very clear her goal was to develop a philosophical outlook that offered the same kind of moral certainties that Marxism claimed to offer. In that sense she was successful, as Objectivism is essentially the anti-Marxism: individual independence and self-sufficiency is the highest moral good and altruism or the need to accept charity or social welfare is the worst sin.

    Ultimately, of course, Objectivism is just like Marxism in that it claims to abandon God and faith for realism and rationalism only to commit itself to a rigid faith in its own dogma allowing little room for reason or rationality.  Both philosophies promise ‘freedom’ and deliver their own brands of ‘political correctness’ and authoritarianism instead. Objectivists like Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens were some of the strongest supporters of the very un-Randian national security measures connected to the ‘Global War on Terror.’

  2. 2
    Fritz says:

    Rand was a romantic — and that romanticism appeals strongly to teenagers.  And unlike Tolkein, she did not express that romanticism in racialist fiction.

    Eclectic — you are actually calling Andrew Sullivan an Objectivist?  Um… Wow.  Just Wow.  Does not compute.

    I’m rather fond of LeGuin’s _The Dispossessed_ for political futuristic fiction that teens would like.  And, of course, _Moon Is A Harsh Mistress_ would be number one.  Always.

  3. 3
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I have to agree with ‘Moon is a Harsh Mistress’, I’m a big fan of Heinlein. Not so much with inflicting Le Guin on teens.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Yes, Rand was a romantic. Her books were not intended to be taken literally as a blueprint for action, but were designed to make her points. Rand would be attacking the conservatives who cite her work and talk of going Galt if she was still alive.  I imagine that if people are going to take Rand’s work too literal we should be happy they are following Atlas Shrugged as opposed to The Fountainhead.

    I also do not see Sullivan as an Objectivist. I’m not saying either way whether he has ever described himself that way. I enjoy a lot of what he writes, but he is often surprising in terms of who he identifies with and who he bitterly opposes. His religious views, along with many of his political views, are not consistent with Rand’s beliefs.

    Moon is a Harsh Mistress definitely is the best teen political fiction–again for teens of all ages.

  5. 5
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Most of Rand’s ‘followers’ are terribly inconsistent these days. Her moral system has been appropriated by neoconservatives and declared appropriately ‘Christian’, despite the fact that is certainly and deliberately the opposite. His moral and economic system, as he describes it, is philosophically Objectivist even if his religious views and practical politics are not. I do have to agree he is certainly not a ‘good’ Objectivist in any way Rand would recognize it.

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