Monday, April 20, 2015

"Big Sister Is Watching You" -- Whittaker Chambers on Ayn Rand

Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal…

We struggle to be just. For we cannot help feel at least a sympathetic pain before the sheer labor, discipline, and patient craftsmanship that went to making this mountain of words. But the words keep shouting us down. 

In the end that tone dominates. But it should be its own antidote, warning us that anything it shouts is best taken with the usual reservations with which we might sip a patent medicine. Some may like the flavor. In any case, the brew is probably without lasting ill effects. But it is not a cure for anything. Nor would we, ordinarily, place much confidence in the diagnosis of a doctor who supposes that the Hippocratic Oath is a kind of curse.

Whittaker Chamber's review of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (first published in National Review in December 1957) remains a true classic.  I highly recommend it for three reasons: 1) Because so many people quote the book (and Miss Rand) with confident praise, thinking that she represented an enlightened libertarianism. In point of fact, she did not. 2) Because so many people think they know what Atlas Shrugged is all about, even though they have never actually read its 1,088 pages. And 3) Because Whittaker Chambers, one of the 20th Century's most profound, courageous, and effective critics of Communism, writes such an insightful review.

You can find the full text of Chamber's fine essay, "Big Sister Is Watching You," right here.