It is a significant commentary on the present state of our culture that I have become the object of hatred, smears, denunciations, because I am famous as virtually the only novelist who has declared that her soul is not a sewer, and neither are the souls of her characters, and neither is the soul of man.
The motive and purpose of my writing can best be summed up by saying that if a dedication page were to precede the total of my work, it would read: To the glory of Man.
And if anyone should ask me what it is that I have said to the glory of Man, I will answer only by paraphrasing Howard Roark. I will hold up a copy of Atlas Shrugged and say: “The explanation rests.”
–Ayn Rand, “The Goal of My Writing,” from The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature (The World Publishing Company, 1969), p. 174
Every dystopia is a history of the future. What are the consequences of a literature, even a pulp literature, of political desperation? “It’s a sad commentary on our age that we find dystopias a lot easier to believe in than utopias,” Atwood wrote in the nineteen-eighties. “Utopias we can only imagine; dystopias we’ve already had.” But what was really happening then was that the genre and its readers were sorting themselves out by political preference, following the same path—to the same ideological bunkers—as families, friends, neighborhoods, and the news. In the first year of Obama’s Presidency, Americans bought half a million copies of “Atlas Shrugged.” In the first month of the Administration of Donald (“American carnage”) Trump, during which Kellyanne Conway talked about alternative facts, “1984” jumped to the top of the Amazon best-seller list. (Steve Bannon is a particular fan of a 1973 French novel called “The Camp of the Saints,” in which Europe is overrun by dark-skinned immigrants.) The duel of dystopias is nothing so much as yet another place poisoned by polarized politics, a proxy war of imaginary worlds.
Dystopia used to be a fiction of resistance; it’s become a fiction of submission, the fiction of an untrusting, lonely, and sullen twenty-first century, the fiction of fake news and infowars, the fiction of helplessness and hopelessness. It cannot imagine a better future, and it doesn’t ask anyone to bother to make one. It nurses grievances and indulges resentments; it doesn’t call for courage; it finds that cowardice suffices. Its only admonition is: Despair more. It appeals to both the left and the right, because, in the end, it requires so little by way of literary, political, or moral imagination, asking only that you enjoy the company of people whose fear of the future aligns comfortably with your own. Left or right, the radical pessimism of an unremitting dystopianism has itself contributed to the unravelling of the liberal state and the weakening of a commitment to political pluralism. “This isn’t a story about war,” El Akkad writes in “American War.” “It’s about ruin.” A story about ruin can be beautiful. Wreckage is romantic. But a politics of ruin is doomed.
–Jill Lepore, A Golden Age of Dystopian Fiction
What I find most fascinating about the concept of greed is how often we assume following our greed must result in the accrual of fame, power, and wealth. Greed, in Gordon Gekko’s estimation, “clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of evolutionary spirit.” This notion of the “evolutionary spirit” — the soft science of corporate Darwinism that reduces the kind of unethical practices that torched the economy in 2008 to an unavoidable expression of human nature — was, and is, a profoundly dangerous one. It positions Donald Trump as an übermensch; it suggests, by implicitly referencing “the survival of the fittest,” not just that nobody wins unless somebody loses, but that nobody is safe unless somebody dies. It’s a philosophy that bleeds through Trump’s economic policies — to the extent that he as any — and into his stances on race, immigration, and women’s rights. It may be the only unifying position he really has.
–Sarah Marshall, I admire rats. This has really helped me understand Donald Trump.
Nobody in movement conservatism, to my knowledge, has properly reckoned with the corruption that Reaganism, with its Ayn Randian philosophy of capitalism, wreaked upon the moral politics of the right. Reading Atlas Shrugged last summer was probably one of the best things I could have done to help myself understand the catenation of neoconservative orthodoxy and Trumpism. Once you’ve read Rand’s magnum opus, the apparent hypocrisy of ideologues like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity seems less like naked opportunism and more like their ideological train, belching its noxious effluence into the air and blowing its whistle with incessant, onanistic glee, clattering into its designated platform at the logical end point of its noisome and overheated journey.