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Thursday, 19 March 2009


HerStoria is a fantastic new magazine. Highlights include

Jo Stanley ‘s history of women pirates, and her reflections on researching ‘outsider’ women.

Hockey sticks to the ready as Ju Gosling takes us on a journey to remember Girls’ School Stories and explains their significance to women’s history.

Fiona Hobden sheds light on some unexpected aspects of the lives and loves of Sappho and the women of ancient Greece.

Claire Jones asks was Bess of Hardwick a scheming social climber or woman succeeding in a man’s world?

Where is the women’s history in schools? Sue Johnson goes in search.

We also have an interview with Lesley Hall and an exploration of the Wellcome medical archives, a women’s history walk around Bloomsbury in London, reviews, news, listings and more.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged

In 1991, a survey carried out by the American Library of Congress declared Ayn Rand's novel, Atlas Shrugged, first published in 1957, as "the most influential book on American lives after the Bible".

Rand, who emigrated from the Soviet Union to the US, used her novel to express her right-wing political philosophy that she called "objectivism". Rand was a strong supporter of laissez-faire capitalism, which advocated the complete deregulation of business and opposed any form of state welfare. Noam Chomsky called her "one of the most evil figures of modern intellectual history".

With the collapse of laissez-faire capitalism and the election of Obama, one would have thought that it was time to chuck Rand's objectivism into the dustbin of history. However, Amazon reports increased sales of "Atlas Shrugged", and it has been outselling Obama's "The Audacity of Hope". It has now reached sales of 6 million.

Why is "Atlas Shrugged" so popular now? Why are right-wing Republican politicians such as John Campbell giving away free copies of this book? The answer is in the plot of the novel. It is set in the United States during a period when the country has a liberal president who is keen to promote the idea of the "mixed economy". Critics claimed that the government is reminiscent of that of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal" – of which Rand strongly disapproved. This is compared to the "pure" capitalism of 19th century America.

In "Atlas Shrugged", all countries outside the US have become – or are becoming throughout the course of the novel – "People's States", which survive mainly through aid given by the United States. The idea for the novel came from the implementation of the Marshall Plan. Rand opposed the idea of sending extensive aid to European countries, many of which implemented Socialist or Social-Democratic policies of one kind or another. Rand especially disliked the British government led by Clement Attlee (1945-51). In fact, one of the main hate-figures in the book is Gilbert Keith-Worthing, a British novelist who comes to the US and urges his American hosts to nationalize their country's railways.

According to Wikipedia:

"The main crux of the book surrounds the decision of the "men of the mind" to go on strike, refusing to contribute their inventions, art, business leadership, scientific research, or new ideas of any kind to the rest of the world. Each man of ability eventually reasons (or is convinced) that society hampers him with unnecessary, burdensome regulations and undervalues his contributions to the world, confiscating the profits and sullying the reputations he has rightfully earned. The peaceful cohesiveness of the world begins to disintegrate as each of these men of ability slowly disappears and society loses those individuals whose mental effort allows it to continue functioning. The strikers believe that they are crucial to a society that exploits them, denying them freedom or failing to acknowledge their right to self-interest, and the gradual collapse of civilization is triggered by their strike. This is not to say that they believed that giving the creators their due would cost civilization. Rather, the strikers believe that the current irrational altruist/collectivist culture impeded them and therefore the rest of society as well. As such it would serve no one's interest to continue to allow himself to be exploited, although the strike is not primarily motivated by the harm the current state of society does to others as well."

One can see why those intellectually impaired people who still believe in deregulated laissez-faire capitalism would be attracted to this book. It will no doubt be seen by them as a call to overthrow a president that intends to bring in measures that from their distorted perspective seems to be "socialism".