Scott Hambrick, founder of Online Great Books, discusses education, meeting Ayn Rand, and a new course to help participants read more easily in the Online Great Books courses with Marsha in his podcast here.
In this 2007 interview by Sara Pentz in The New Individualist (link above), Ms. Enright explains fundamentals of excellent education, the ingenious ways the Montessori Method gives students what they need, how we arrived at the dismal state of education we have today, the dire effects of Post Modernist influence on education, and how she is bringing the Montessori approach to higher education.
by Marsha Familaro Enright
Ayn Rand argued that “selfish” is the correct designation for a person living according to the Objectivist Ethics, that selfishness is a virtue.
The accuracy of this claim is examined along with the meaning of “selfish,” the wider implications for the Objectivist Ethics, and ethics in general. Alternatives to the term are suggested.
Originally published in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Volume 14, No. 1 (July 2014), pp. 38-54, this paper is available on Academia.edu at
For most of man’s existence on Earth, the universe has been anything but benevolent. Famines, floods, and earthquakes have destroyed whole populations. The plague ravaged Europe during the Middle Ages. Even in the nineteenth century, two out of three people died as children. On the frontier, starvation was not that uncommon after a long winter or a drought.And these horrors do not even begin to take account of man’s inhumanity to man.What is my point? That for most of man’s existence, he has had only a tenuous power over his life, physically and politically. Life was full of uncertainties and anxieties, which helped to give rise to religions promising happiness in this life or an afterlife. Religion gave people a much-needed sense of hope.
Power versus a Sense of Power
That largely unchanging situation underwent a revolution after the Renaissance. The rediscovery of the power of reason and the development of technology enabled men to bring about a vast expansion in their power over their lives, and they came to expect that the future would see still further increases. And, in fact that is what happened. In the twentieth century, medical technology lengthened the average life-span from four decades to seven. Today, in the free world, men are able to control much of the impact of natural disasters. From an economic and technological perspective, no one in a capitalist society need go hungry.At the same time, however, the Enlightenment took away religion’s assurance that a benevolent force would look over men in times of helplessness and hopelessness and would compensate them hereafter for their sufferings. We became responsible for our own happiness
What can we do to sustain a rational optimism?
And what has been the upshot? Evidence indicates that for many, man’s increase in power has not brought a sense of efficacy. If we consider those women born before World War I, those born around 1925, and those born in the Fifties (the Baby Boomers), we find that there is a quadrupling in depression from the first group to the second, and a doubling from the second to the third. Why should this be, if people have continued to acquire more control than ever over their lives in the twentieth century?
One reason, I suspect, is the nihilism of modern philosophy: the lack of answers about the meaning of life and human purposes; the moral relativity that says it doesn’t matter what you do; the draining away of the sense that human beings are capable and worthy. I think these ideas have infiltrated the culture to such an extent that they are affecting the psychological outlook of a lot of people. In this respect, you may personally have experienced Ayn Rand‘s ideas as a great antidote. Rand tell us that life has meaning and purpose and that living as a human being can be a noble activity. Through the story of The Fountainhead, Rand gives us one long argument against Dominique’s belief in the triumph of power-lust and toadyism over the true, the rational, and the beautiful.
Rand’s ideas, such as the efficacy of reason and the successful nature of life, certainly help us to be hopeful about our lives. But is there a specific technology of the soul that can increase our hopefulness and thus our motivation and our success? If so, how can we implement it in our daily lives? Are there specific psychological processes that we can adopt? Are there methods we can apply? And are there ways we can make those methods more permanent in our minds? I think there are, and I think the research of psychologist Martin Seligman, at University of Pennsylvania, helps provide some of that technology.
Seligman did some interesting experiments back in the seventies on what he called “learned helplessness.” He worked with two sets of dogs. One he put in a cage that they could not get out of. The other he put in a cage that they could jump out of. And then he shocked both of these sets of dogs. The ones that could escape their cages did so, and got away from the shocks. The ones that could do nothing to escape the shock became passive; after a while, they just lay down and took it.
You cannot directly change your emotions but you can change what you pay attention to.
Then, when he took the dogs who could not escape the shock in the first experiment and put them in a cage where they could get away from the shock, they still did nothing. And when he tried to teach them to get out of the cage, he had to spend a lot of time showing them they could escape. To be accurate, there were always some dogs who did hardly anything once they found themselves trapped, and there were some dogs who had been trapped but quickly learned later to escape. But the results I am talking about were averages.Seligman was fascinated with these results, because he thought the dogs had learned to be helpless, and a sense of helplessness is a key component of depression. So he asked if he could “immunize” dogs from this learned helplessness. He took a group of dogs and let them hear a tone before the shock went off. And he gave these dogs the opportunity to jump out of the cage when they heard the tone. The fascinating result was: these dogs never became passive. When they were put in a cage from which they could not escape, they never stopped trying, and they escaped immediately when they could.
Why? They had acquired a sense of efficacy with regard to the shocks.
Seligman thought this was an interesting model to apply to human beings because of the common feeling in depression that there is nothing that can be done that will make a difference. So, he asked: Could humans likewise be immunized against feelings of helplessness and hopelessness? To test this, Seligman put human beings in situations similar to that of the dogs: The subjects would get shocked, but some did not have control over it and some did. Fascinatingly, he found that some people always tried to get control and some did not. Seligman posited that the difference lay in the way the people explained the cause of their failure: whether they blamed it on themselves or on circumstances.
Out of this, Seligman developed a theory of explanatory styles. According to this theory, there are three dimensions to an explanatory style: the permanence with which you think a cause exists; the pervasiveness of the cause, in other words, how universally true or how limited it is; and whether the cause lies within you or outside. Seligman argues that these explanatory styles give rise to what we conventionally call optimists and pessimists. And he has developed an Attributional Style Questionnaire by which to test people. You can see more information about explanatory styles here.
In terms of the dimensions of these styles, I think the character of Howard Roark from The Fountainhead is a model of the optimistic attributional style. He does not believe that evil is permanent. He does believe that there are people he can reach by persuasion and by demonstrating what is good in his buildings. And he certainly does not think that failure is his fault.
You can pay attention to your possibilities. You can take an entrepreneurial attitude towards your life.
But I would like to examine one other aspect of the research in relation to the psychology of hope. In some experiments, people rated optimists and pessimists have been given tests in which they sometimes are and sometimes are not in control of an event, such as a light’s turning on. Pessimists, and depressed people in particular, tend to have a very accurate sense about whether they are actually in control. Optimists, however, consistently overrate their control. If the light does not turn on, they have some explanation for it; if the light does turn on, they think they did it. This suggests that optimists, if they are going to be rational optimists, must guard against a temperamental disposition to over-optimism.
On the other hand, I believe there is clearly a sense in which pessimists are also unrealistic. They may make accurate judgments about when they do and do not have control over an event, but I believe they make inaccurate judgments about when they could and could not get control over an uncontrolled event, because of their belief that their helplessness is permanent, pervasive, and personal. Unfortunately, I do not know of any laboratory experiments that have attempted to test this hypothesis.
The Real and the Possible
This brings me to the heart of my lecture. What can we do to sustain a rational optimism?
I think that fundamentally there is one important fact that offers us two keys. The important fact is that you cannot directly change your emotions but you can change what you pay attention to, at least to a large extent. This enables you to make yourself more alert for opportunity.
Thus, the first key is: You can carefully focus on the facts about your situation and yourself. Is this the way things have to be or is it just the way they happen to be? Is this the way of the world or just the way things are in my immediate surroundings?
The second key is: You can pay attention to your possibilities. Is this something you can change or not? You can take an entrepreneurial attitude towards your life.
Do not accept impossibility without overwhelming evidence.
To me, these are the two elements involved in having a habit of hope. Make it your habit to pay attention to exactly what is the case and what is not; what is good in your life and what is not. And make it a habit to ask: What are my possibilities? Be especially alert to whether there are possibilities for change which you failed to see before.
People can have a lot of limitations when it comes to what we would consider leading a normal life and yet have a very hopeful attitude. That has to do with what they are paying attention to. Are they looking at what they cannot do or at what they can do? Are they looking at what they do not control or at what they do control? In this respect, I think that success is: functioning up to your fullest capacity and being alert to all the facts and possibilities within your personal context. This means recognizing the barriers to your control: Are you a healthy human being or not? Are you living in a relatively free society or a relatively unfree society? In judging your success, you need to take these contexts into account.
To be sure, the conditions of success can be very complex. It is often hard to know what is possible, both positively and negatively. And this is one of the things that optimists and pessimists disagree about the most: the realm of the possible. The optimist says “I’m going to keep looking. I’ve got this idea and I think I can do it.” The pessimist has a million reasons why something isn’t going to work.
To say that is not to declare that the optimistic attitude is always the right one. As much as we want to have control and want to know that we can do things, it may be that we do not know-after all, we cannot know everything. But we can turn that truth around and make it an optimistic statement: “Well, yeah, I don’t know everything and I don’t know for sure I can do it. But I don’t know for sure that I can’t do it. And I know for sure that if I don’t try, nothing’s going to happen.”
Ten Habits of Hope
Following are some suggestions to help you develop a habit of hope:
1. Check your generalizations about the world for an “explanatory style” that is pessimistic, or unjustifiably optimistic.
2. Remember that, ultimately, you are in control of how you act.
3. When trying to determine a course of action, ask: What is the range of the possible? This is the most difficult judgment to make, especially when one is attempting something new. If the range is too restricted by one’s conception of the world, your hopes will be too few and too small, and your imagination and motivation curtailed: you won’t adequately explore the possible. If the range is too unrestricted by facts and reason, your hopes will be impossible and time will be wasted.
4. Do not accept impossibility without overwhelming evidence. For many, many situations, we do not and cannot have complete certainty about the outcome. But that alone is not reason to give up on a course of action. Develop a habit of looking for alternative means of achieving your goals.
5. Be alert to when you do not have control over external events, so that you can think of ways to get control.
6. Once you have a specific goal, identify obstacles to your success and the possibilities of overcoming them. Ask: What is the adversity here? What are my premises? Are they true? Am I making a pessimistic judgment or an unjustifiably optimistic judgment? Do not rule out a judgment just because it sounds pessimistic. Remember that you want to be “rationally optimistic,” not Pollyana-ish.
7. If you find yourself giving up, ask: What is my reason? Am I sure it is a good reason?
8. But ask about the chances of failure, too: What would be the true cost of failure? Can I bear it? Be sure to ask these questions early, before you have invested too much emotion in success.
9. De-catastrophize. Learn to judge the facts of your situation precisely and to take into account the available alternatives rather than leaping to the conclusion that all is lost.
10. Stop ruminating. If you fail, sit down purposefully and learn the lessons of the failure. Decide how to do things better. Then put the failure behind you.
Originally published in 1999 for The Atlas Society.
Written by Ronald Merrill and Marsha Familaro Enright, and edited by Enright, Ayn Rand Explained is now available at Open Court Books, Amazon, on Kindle, and in bookstores everywhere.
Ayn Rand and her ideas are in the news more than ever – 50+ years after her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, was published. What’s driving this rising interest and influence – even politicians like Paul Ryan and Barack Obama talk about her?
Who was this Russian fireball? Why do her ideas speak to the hearts of Americans generation after generation? How are her ideas giving courage to people of all walks of life, from business to art?
Ayn Rand Explained is an engrossing account of the life, work, and influence of Ayn Rand: her career, from youth in Soviet Russia to Hollywood screenwriter and then to ideological guru; her novels and other fiction writings, including the perennial best-sellers, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged; her work in ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics; her influence on—and personal animosity toward—both conservatism and libertarianism.
Merrill and Enright describe Rand’s early infatuation with Nietzsche, her first fiction writings, the developments behind her record-breaking blockbuster novels of 1943 and 1957, her increasing involvement in politics in the 1950s and 1960s, including her support for the presidential candidacy of Barry Goldwater.
Rand’s Objectivist movement was first promoted through the Nathaniel Branden Institute, headed by her young protégé and designated heir. The Institute advocated a complete worldview on politics, economics, religion, art, music, epistemology, ethics (“The Virtue of Selfishness”), and sexual relationships. For several years the Institute grew rapidly, though there were ominous signs as some leading members were ‘put on trial’ for their heretical ideas, and ignominiously drummed out of the movement.
In 1969, Branden himself was expelled by Rand, the Institute was shut down, and all members who questioned this ruling were themselves excommunicated and shunned by Rand and her disciples. Branden became a best-selling author of psychotherapy books, with a following of Objectivists who had dissociated from the official organization headed by Rand, and after her death in 1982, by Leonard Peikoff. One of Rand’s inner circle, Alan Greenspan, later went on to get his hands on the steering wheel of the American economy.
Objectivism offers a comprehensive package of beliefs encompassing the ethics of rational egoism and dedication to a consistently rational method of thinking and acting. This includes a rejection of all religion and outright atheism and a view of the arts as expressions of deeply held, mostly subconscious, philosophical views of the world. It also advocates personal freedom from political interference, a moral defense of laissez-faire capitalism, and radically limited government as a protection of the individual, positions deeply aligned with the project of the American Founders.
The last few years have witnessed a resurgence of Objectivism, with a jump in sales of Rand’s novels and the influence of Rand’s ideas in the Tea Party movement and the Republican party. While gaining membership, the Objectivist movement continues to be divided into warring factions, the two major groupings led by the Ayn Rand Institute (Yaron Brook) and the Atlas Society (David Kelley).
Ayn Rand Explained is a completely revised and updated edition of The Ideas of Ayn Rand, by the late Ronald E. Merrill, first published by Open Court in 1991. It includes not only new information about Rand’s rocketing influence, but new stories about her personal relationships, and new analysis of her life and ideas.
Here’s what people are saying about it:
“Ayn Rand is in the news now more than ever—but the media consistently misunderstands her. Read Ayn Rand Explained for a thorough and clear introduction to her ideas!”—JIMMY WALES, founder of Wikipedia
“Ayn Rand Explained takes us on an exciting exploration of Rand’s provocative worldview and expertly traces its huge contemporary impact on politics, economics, art, and culture. Marsha Familaro Enright provides much new information and probing, in-depth analysis. A surprising, intriguing take on a controversial writer.”—CHRIS MATTHEW SCIABARRA, author of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical
“I immensely enjoyed reading Ayn Rand Explained. Packed with fascinating information, much of it new, the book is a real page turner—and a reminder of why Rand’s novels are continuously making their way onto best-seller lists.”—VERONIQUE DE RUGY, Senior Research Fellow, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University
“Co-authored by two thoughtful admirers of Rand’s, Ronald Merrill and Marsha Familaro Enright, this modest volume is full of new tidbits about her life, the evolution of her thought, under-recognized aspects of her ideas, the ongoing development of the Objectivist movement, and Rand’s influence on society. An updated revision of late entrepreneur Merrill’s “The Ideas of Ayn Rand”, educator-author Enright adds biographical details, sociological updating, and thoughtful summaries of Rand’s ideas to this little gem.
“Ayn Rand has penetrated our societal conscience. Deceased since 1982, her books continue to be best-sellers, decades after their original appearance. She is known to have inspired VP candidate Paul Ryan; a second movie based on her 1,000+ page magnum opus is currently in theaters; and she is even discussed in a current Rolling Stone magazine interview with the President. Her cultural presence is remarkably polarizing – she seems to inspire either deep-seated admiration or equally passionate resentment. The opinion-less commentator is as rare as the proverbial black swan or an independent voter. Love her or hate her, Rand continues to draw widespread attention for her passionate defense of rationality, self-interest, capitalism and atheism.
“For those interested in what “all the fuss is” about Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism — especially those afraid to commit to her ultralong novels — will find this concise summary of her life, ideas, and influence a godsend. Those who are already familiar with her life and work, but who are looking for a fresh perspective, will find that here, too.
“Enright is responsible for bringing novel material with the brand new first three chapters. They add excellent material on Rand’s life, her thought, and her impact on our society. This is especially helpful given that Merrill’s original book was published in 1991, so updating is welcomed. Also, Enright’s own experiences with the Objectivist movement from the beginning, including personal interactions with Rand herself, add intriguing material, interweaving these up-close observations with the development of the wider movement. The remainder of the book is a thoughtfully edited version of Merrill’s thoughts, intertwined clearly with Enright’s own insights, especially at points of disagreement, which are clearly delineated. It is a model of even-handedness.
“One welcomed aspect of this book, given the subject matter, is its consistent tone of critical admiration of Rand, her life, and her ideas. Too many books are either fawning, sycophantic cheerleading for Rand or harsh, condemning diatribes against her. This supportive volume, with a critical, independent touch where needed, is a welcome addition to the growing literature surrounding this unique Russian immigrant to America.” — William Dale, M.D., Ph.D.
By Marsha Enright and Gen LaGreca 11:32 AM 09/15/2011
Constitution Day (September 17) commemorates the 1787 signing of the document that established the United States of America. But like the victim of a terrible accident, the government that was formed that historic day in Philadelphia is hardly recognizable today, and the heart that propelled it — the principle of individual rights — is on life support.
Ironically, what started as a government of radically limited powers now mandates that the nation’s schools “hold an educational program on the United States Constitution” on the holiday of its signing.
In fact, the best “educational program” comes from James Madison, the man who scoured political thought and history to create the blueprint for our government, earning him the title “father of the Constitution.” He has a crucial lesson for us on property rights.
To prepare for his lesson, let’s contrast today’s treatment of our First Amendment rights with that of property rights.
People would be shocked if the president of the United States said: “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough speeches,” or “you’ve given enough sermons” or “you’ve authored enough books.” Virtually all Americans would protest such remarks and boldly assert that it’s a free country, so they can say, preach or write whatever they please.
Yet the president can get away with saying: “I do think at a certain point, you’ve made enough money.” And he can get away with seizing and redistributing our money in order to “spread the wealth around,” with only a minority shouting in disbelief at the outrage. These dissenting voices have been unable to stop a century-long growth of the welfare state.
Consider the onslaught against property in recent years: The city of New London, Connecticut can seize Susette Kelo’s house and land to sell to a shopping mall developer. Congress appropriates billions of our dollars and redistributes them to the companies of its choice, including failing banks, auto manufacturers and solar panels producers. And businesspersons like Warren Buffet blithely suggest that the wealthy be taxed more.
Are these attacks on our possessions accepted because the right to property is a lesser right, one that isn’t inalienable like the others?
In his article “Property,” Madison emphatically says no. He explains that our right to property is as untouchable as our freedom of speech, press, religion and conscience. In fact, he views the concept of property as fundamental, pertaining to much more than merely our material possessions.
In the narrow sense, Madison says, “A man’s land, or merchandize, or money is called his property.” But in a wider sense, “A man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them … in his religious beliefs … in the safety and liberty of his person … in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them.”
He then concludes: “[A]s a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.”
This statement represents a profound expression of the individual’s sovereignty over his possessions of every kind: spiritual, intellectual and material. According to Madison, a human being is master of his mind and body, his beliefs and possessions, his person and property. It is all the province of the individual to create and control.
Madison argues that there is no parceling of rights. Our rights to life, liberty and property are indivisible. The reason for this was explained with unusual clarity by Ayn Rand two centuries later: “The right to life is the source of all rights — and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life.”
Government, according to Madison, is “instituted to protect property of every sort,” and is judged solely by this yardstick: “If the United States mean to obtain or deserve the full praise due to wise and just governments, they will equally respect the rights of property, and the property in rights.”
But what does our current government do? Instead of respecting our material property at least as well as it does our other rights, its redistribution of wealth, strangling regulations on business and deeply ingrained entitlement mentality are blatant assaults on our right to property. As Ronald Reagan famously remarked: “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”
It’s as if Madison looked into the future as he observed: “When an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected.” That is precisely our current situation.
Today, the huge onslaught of regulations such as Dodd-Frank, Obamacare and the EPA’s controls on energy production has brought us almost to the point of economic paralysis. Buying and selling homes, as well as autos, has all but halted. Companies are hoarding cash and not hiring as they fearfully watch the latest attempts by government to control them. The stock market is epileptic, with seizures up and down triggered by the latest political and economic news. With these curtailments on our right to acquire, use and control our property in the economic realm, the very essence of our liberty — the right to free action — is lost.
Even worse, government’s violation of property rights isn’t limited to the economic realm. Because our rights are interconnected, it’s spreading to all aspects of life.
Consider the trial balloons we’ve already seen to limit free speech, such as the so-called “Fairness Doctrine” or “Net Neutrality.” Or consider the expanding government grip over deeply personal areas of our lives, such as regulations on what fats or sugars we eat, what physicians we see, what health insurance we buy, what treatments or drugs we’re allowed to have — and what our children may bring to school for lunch.
Because our rights can’t be divided, if we lose one, we could lose them all. That’s why we have to fight against government intrusion in the free market with the same moral certitude — and the same fire-in-the-belly — that we’d have if the government invaded our homes without a warrant, or forbade us to peacefully assemble. We have to treat the government’s encroachment on the economy as we would an encroachment on our opinions, beliefs and conscience.
On Constitution Day, let’s remember Madison’s lesson on the full meaning of property — and fight for our right to property as if our life depended on it, because it does.
Gen LaGreca is author of Noble Vision, an award-winning novel about the struggle for liberty in healthcare today. Marsha Familaro Enright is president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, the Foundation for the College of the United States.
Capitalism has brought more wealth to more people than any other system in history. In those countries that have adopted capitalism, the standard of living since the Industrial Revolution has far outstripped all the growth of the previous millenia. Yet capitalism is often reviled as evil or, at the best, amoral.
What are the facts? Is capitalism good or evil? How do we determine its moral status?
In this course we will consider the facts and arguments concerning these issues and examine the question “Is there a moral basis for capitalism?”
- Plato’s Republic
- Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Politics
- Plutarch Lives, “Life of Lykurgus” (of Sparta)
- Locke’s Second Treatise on Government
- Voltaire, Philosophical Letters on the English
- Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations
- Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto
- Mill, Utilitarianism
- Menger, Principles of Economics
- Weber, The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
- Croly, The Promise of American Life
- Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class
- Mises, Liberalism
- Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy
- Hawley, Executive Suite
- Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson
- Rand, The Objectivist Ethics, “What is Capitalism,” “Man’s Rights,” “The Nature of Government,” and Francisco’s Money Speech from Atlas Shrugged
- Rawls, A Theory of Justice
- Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia
- “The Call of the Entrepreneur” film by the Acton Institute
In addition to discussing these works in Socratic Seminars, the students have been assigned to interview four business owners about the owners’ view of their work, what value they are creating with it, and their moral view of themselves as business people. The students will give presentations based on their interviews.
It’s been a year since Stephen Moore’s article, “Atlas Shrugged: from Fiction to Fact in 52 Years,”seemed to ignite an explosion of interest in Ayn Rand. Sales of this prescient novel tripled; two Rand biographies have been selling like hotcakes; and references to her in the media have skyrocketed.
Yet, some free-market defenders continue to repudiate her and her ideas, as they have for decades. It used to be conservatives such as William F. Buckley of National Review trashing “Atlas Shrugged;” now the critics include libertarians, such as Heather Wilhelm of the Illinois Public Policy Institute, who penned “Is Ayn Rand Bad for the Market?”.
But in their rush to distance themselves from Rand, they succumb to a deadly philosophic trap. It results from their anxious desire to apologize for the individualistic, self-interested motives that actually drive free markets. This anxiety prompts them to defend capitalism on the opposite premise: that capitalism is good only because it is “other-directed”—i.e., that it grants certain groups, such as the poor, opportunities to acquire wealth and power.
Over the decades, this has led such apologists to launch unpersuasive and futile crusades, such as “compassionate conservatism” and “bleeding-heart libertarianism,” which are not defenses of capitalism, but embodiments of its opposite. For example, conservatives and some libertarians plunged headlong into the moral and logical pitfalls of collectivism when, led by “compassionate conservative” Republican president George W. Bush, they created Medicare Part D, then the biggest-ever addition to welfare entitlements.
Likewise, Wilhelm summed up what too many on the right think, when she writes that free markets are best “sold” on the premise that, above all else, they help society’s neediest. She adds that “Rand’s insistence on the folly of altruism, however, tends to overshadow and even invalidate this message.”
You bet it does—and with good reason. That’s because no one can defend capitalism and free markets logically and consistently without a moral validation of enlightened self-interest as the highest good.
After all, the left didn’t rise to power because they had facts and rational arguments on their side. The empirical case for the superiority of capitalism in bringing a better life to the poor is overwhelming, whether we compare Chile to Cuba, Hong Kong to communist China, or the fully communist China of the past to itself today. So, one has to ask: Why haven’t these arguments won over all those who claim to want to help the poor?
The answer is that the left’s ascendance to power wasn’t driven by economic fact but by a moral vision thinly covered with economic claims. This vision was accepted by millions only because of the moral philosophy of self-sacrifice that dominates our culture.
That morality claims that the highest good for each individual is to live for the sake of others—for society or the collective. Ultimately, it implies that each of us is a moral slave to someone else. Whether it’s Marx’s “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” or Hitler’s admonition to live for the German Volk, or Pol Pot’s belief that “since he [the individual] is of no use anymore, there is no gain if he lives and no loss if he dies,” the morality of self-sacrifice kills liberty because it subordinates the individual’s life to the group.
This is the morality that brought us the carnage of the 20th century.
The arguments of “compassionate” libertarians and “bleeding-heart” conservatives do nothing to challenge this ethic. They merely try to slip capitalism in under the tent of collectivist moral philosophy, telling everybody, in effect: “Don’t worry; even though sinful, individualistic self-interest drives capitalism, it is good because it can be harnessed to serve groups, such as the poor.”
In other words, these would-be defenders of capitalism merely “me-too” the collectivist moral claim that our primary ethical responsibility should be the welfare of other people. In this view, they march lockstep with those on the left who revile individualism and capitalism as being anti-poor, anti-caring.
Their view couldn’t be further from the truth. Free-market capitalism arises from a social vision that cares about the smallest minority of all: the individual. That vision recognizes the moral superiority of the right of the individual to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—the very vision identified by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence and fought for by the Founding Fathers.
What is this right, if not the right of each person to pursue his or her own highest self-interest? Remember, the slogan of the American Revolution was “Don’t tread on me.”
Yet, that “selfish” American Revolution established a social system that created the most productive nation the world has ever seen, with the highest level and broadest distribution of wealth. It was a system based on individual rights, limited government, and equal justice under the law, in which everyone could keep and enjoy the fruits of his or her own efforts.
This system was fair because it gave each person the equal opportunity—and the pride-enhancing challenge—to make the most of his or her life, poor and rich alike. In fact, only a capitalist society can truly serve the interests of the poor and the disadvantaged, as well as the rich and the capable, because it is at root based on justice for the individual. And justice for the individual is justice for all.
This is what makes capitalism morally superior to collectivism.
Ironically, given the prevailing presumptions about self-interest, capitalist societies such as the U.S. are also the most charitable. Our individualistic system created a nation of magnanimity due to our unimpeded productivity, overflowing abundance, and benevolent sympathy for other individuals struggling for their own lives, liberty, and happiness.
It’s amazing that in all their talk of Rand’s “harsh message” and “confrontational language,” many free-market defenders haven’t asked themselves why her writings have inspired millions to become advocates of capitalism. They don’t understand that she completes the 18th century vision of the American Revolution by presenting a morality that fully justifies capitalism and individual freedom.
Rand’s morality of rational, enlightened self-interest defends the individual’s right to his own life, the power of his own liberty, and the glory of his pursuit of his own happiness. She said: “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive work as his noblest achievement, and reason as his only absolute.” Her message—that “man’s proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads”—is a message of the glory of the individual, unshackled and free.
We urgently need Rand’s vision of the moral nobility and greatness of a social system based on enlightened self-interest if we, the 21st century advocates of freedom, are to finally free the world from the death grip of collectivism. And that is a vision we must defend with “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
Marsha Familaro Enright is president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, the Foundation for the College of the United States. Gen LaGreca is the author of Noble Vision, an award-winning novel about the struggle for liberty in health care today.
Copyright © 2010 by Marsha Familaro Enright and Gen LaGreca. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the authors and inclusion of their byline.
Originally published at:
Ken Follett’s novels are not only inspiring and well-written, but also reveal thematic and stylistic choices similar to those in Ayn Rand’s novels. Could it be more than a coincidence?
I became hooked on British author Ken Follett through his most famous novel, The Eye of the Needle. It’s the gripping World War II story of a ruthless Nazi spy’s attempt to bring secrets of the British military back to Hitler, combined with a tragic love story and a dynamite heroine.
A wonderfully plotted, suspenseful story, a heroine of immense presence of mind and courage, and characters that act with strength and integrity — what’s not to like? Donald Sutherland starred in the movie version, but don’t miss the book just because you’ve seen the movie. There’s a lot more in the book.
After The Eye of the Needle, I ripped through many of Follett’s other novels, including The Man From St. Petersburg, Triple, The Key to Rebecca, and Lie Down With Lions. They were all spy novels, but so much more satisfying than many contemporary authors because of the dramatic originality of the stories and because their characters have a psychological depth and self-awareness often lacking in spy novels and thrillers. Simply put, Follett is a modern master of Romanticism.
I moved on from these spy stories to his historical fiction, including A Dangerous Fortune and A Place Called Freedom. The first dramatized the 19th Century banking world, the second, the enslaved life of 18th Century Scottish miners, one of whom escapes to build his life in the challenges — and freedom — of the New World. Their settings and themes, combined with the unusual level of Romanticism in his novels, began making me suspect that Follett may have been influenced by Ayn Rand.
Then I read a novel of his which was entirely different from the others — Pillars of the Earth. (See my husband John Enright’s 2004review for the Atlasphere.) This thousand-page tome recounts the lives and fortunes of 12th Century English men and women, involved in the century-long building of a cathedral.
My suspicions of an Ayn Rand influence soared! The heroes in this book were the red-haired builder of the cathedral and a woman who becomes a wool merchant. An architect and a businesswoman in Medieval times? And there was the author’s positive attitude towards business and the strong independence of his heroes and heroines.
However, I had nothing definitive — only a hunch due to a combination of factors about Follett’s writing. I set aside my speculations until this year, when I tore through his sequel to Pillars of the Earth, titled World Without End.
Set more than a hundred years later, descendants of Pillars’ hero and heroine are instrumental in remaking their medieval town of Kingsbridge into a Renaissance of architectural and business achievements.
Through his creative genius as an innovative architect, builder, and businessman, the red-haired hero, Merthin, achieves fame and fortune. He breaks through the straightjacket of the guilds and lives a uniquely independent life in a time when the church and superstition ruled most people’s thinking. The heroine, Caris, likewise bucks tradition, pursuing the work of a doctor with a very scientific approach, among many other defiant choices, and transforms the town by creating new markets and business methods. She insists on maintaining her personal independence despite tradition and tremendous social pressure.
Both Merthin and Caris habitually demonstrate the close observation of facts and their rational implications — one among the many values drawing them together. And both are de facto atheists in a time of religion’s dominion.
On top of this, the villains are veritable portraits of Attila and the Witch Doctor. Merthin’s brother Ralph is a brutish, power-mad knight, ruthlessly angling for social advancement. And the Priors of the Kingsbridge town Abbey, fearing reason and change, control others through shunning, persecution, appeals to their moral authority, and Ellsworth Toohey-like manipulation.
In addition to themes and characters that echo Ayn Rand, certain scenes also bear an uncanny relationship to scenes in Atlas Shruggedand The Fountainhead. For example, in one scene, Caris is treating a fellow townsman for the plague: “Dora handed Caris a cup of wine, and Caris held it to Mark’s lips. She found it strange to see a big man helpless. Mark had always seemed invulnerable. It was unnerving, like finding an oak tree that has been there all your life suddenly felled by lightning.” Remember Eddie Willers’s feeling when looking at the oak tree in the opening of Atlas?
However, the last scene of the book really did it to me — it parallels, in several ways, the last scene of The Fountainhead. I’ll refrain from describing it here, for fear of ruining a reader’s enjoyment. I’d love to hear what Atlasphere readers think, once they’ve read World Without End.
So what is Follett’s own backstory? Born in Cardiff, Wales, Follett graduated from University College, London with an Honours B.A. in Philosophy. He first wrote as a journalist in Wales, and later, in London for the Evening News. After a number of less-than-successful novels, he struck gold with The Eye of the Needle.
Brought up in a religious Welsh family, he began questioning his beliefs, which led him to philosophy for answers.
On this subject, he once said, “There is a remote connection between philosophy and fiction. When you study philosophy you deal with questions like: ‘Here we are sitting at a table, but is the table real?’ Now that’s a daft question because of course the table is real. When you study philosophy however, you need to take that sort of thing seriously and you have to have an off-the-wall imagination. It’s the same with fiction which is all about imagining situations that are different from the real world.”
Unfortunately for our purposes, this doesn’t reveal much similarity to Rand’s thinking other than that Follett is a realist. And his political leanings — the Labour Party — don’t indicate much affinity for free markets.
If you get hooked on Follett, you’ll be pleased to find many more novels than the ones I’ve mentioned. And in addition to Eye of the Needle, a number of his books have been produced as movies, such asThe Key to Rebecca and The Third Twin.
I was happy to read that a mini-series of Pillars of the Earth is in the works, produced by one of my favorites, Ridley Scott, who directed “Blade Runner,” “Gladiator,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” and produced the mini-series “Rome.”
I emailed Follett through his website, asking whether he might have been influenced by Rand, as I had discovered of novelist James Clavell, of Tai-Pan and Shogun fame. (You can read my report on Clavell here.) But I haven’t heard back from him. If I do, I’ll let Atlasphere readers know. Until then — good reading!
Copyright © 2009 by Marsha Familaro Enright. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the author and inclusion of her byline.
“I came here with no friends, an old typewriter, and look what I achieved. It would have been impossible to achieve this in England.”
So said James Clavell, an Australian immigrant to America who learned the fundamentals of the American outlook on life in a horrific Japanese prisoner of war camp. In over four decades as a novelist, screenwriter, poet, playwright, director, and producer, Clavell added one lushly romantic, gripping story after another to his accomplishments. What’s even more surprising in this day and age, his heroes were often businessmen.
An English-educated Aussie, Clavell was born in 1924 as Charles Edmund DuMaresq de Clavelle. He became a captain with the British Royal Artillery in Southeast Asia during World War II. This position landed Clavell at the infamous Changi Japanese prisoner of war camp near Singapore for half of World War II, where he “collected material” for what would become his first novel, King Rat (1962).
Clavell had planned to be a Naval officer, like his ancestors going back at least to John Clavelle who fought at Trafalgar. But a motorcycle accident left him with a limp and out of the navy. After a stint as a salesman, he wrote a TV pilot that brought him to the U.S. in 1953, and launched a long career in the movie industry. His first screenplay was the 1958 version of The Fly. Watusi followed, along with Five Gates to Hell, which Clavell wrote, directed, and produced.
His remarkable range as a writer-director first revealed itself with Sidney Poitier’s 1967 film hit To Sir, With Love (also made into a TV movie in 1974). The Poitier film was nominated for three major awards, including the Directors Guild of America’s Outstanding Directorial Achievement. He penned the screenplay for The Great Escape, a factually based movie of Allied prisoners’ daring plans to get out of a Nazi prisoner of war camp, which starred Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Richard Attenborough, James Garner, David McCallum, and Charles Bronson. Clavell’s script was nominated for the Writers Guild of America’s award for Best Written American Drama in 1968.
Clavell finally won an award, a 1981 Emmy, for his TV mini-series Shogun. (I remember being so excited about seeing it that I ran out and bought my first color TV!) A later novel,Noble House, also was made into a mini-series starring Pierce Brosnan and Tia Carrera, along with many notables like Denholm Elliott and John Houseman.
But Clavell remains best known for his work as a novelist, which began during a Hollywood writer’s strike in the early 1960s. Almost twenty years after his release from Changi, he had just started talking about his experience when his wife said, “Why don’t you write a novel about it?” Unsure how to write novels, he seized upon Othello’s resentful, envious Iago as an inspiration, and King Rat’s first line spilled out. “‘I’m going to get that bloody bastard.’ And so, once I started, it came out in a tremendous rush.”
King Rat (1962)
In a 1986 interview, Clavell said that his experience in Changi was “as close as you can get to being dead and still be alive.” King Rat recounts life—so to speak—in this place between life and death:
- Changi was set like a pearl on the eastern tip of Singapore Island, iridescent under the bowl of tropical skies…[C]loser, Changi lost its beauty and became what it was—an obscene forbidding prison…[N]ow, in the cells and in the passageways and in every nook and cranny lived some eight thousand men… These men too were criminals. Their crime was vast. They had lost a war. And they had lived.
As are all his later books, King Rat is excellently plotted and highly suspenseful, its characters sharply and colorfully drawn, the details exact and realistic. What makes it singularly fascinating is Clavell’s picture of how different men faced this gruesome experience.
Clavell vividly depicts the squalid conditions and brutal treatment meted out by the Japanese. Preserving their dignity and refusing to be cowed by their captors are the British officers’ primary motives—in the face of awful enfeeblement from chronic dysentery, malaria, and a host of other ailments. Repeated conflicts between the Allied soldiers and their Japanese keepers, resulting in incomprehensible prisoner punishments, dramatize the clash between Anglo and Japanese values.
Also, through Peter Marlowe, a British flight lieutenant and stand-in for Clavell, the author explores British discomfort with the American entrepreneurial spirit, embodied by the book’s title character, Corporal King:
- They always shared what they could find or steal or make. Max and Dino were a unit. And it was the same throughout the world of Changi. Men ate and trusted in units. Twos, threes, rarely fours. One man could never cover enough ground, or find something and build a fire and cook it and eat it—not by himself….Only by mutual effort did you survive. To withhold from the unit was fatal, for if you were expelled from a unit, the word got around. And it was impossible to survive alone. But the King didn’t have a unit. He was sufficient unto himself.
Marlowe comes from a purely military English family. He knows almost nothing about trade and business; his life has revolved around duty and honor. So he finds “the King” fascinating. He’s not sure what to make of the American’s expert trading with the Korean guards and Chinese suppliers, offering Mount Blanc pens and diamond rings in exchange for the food, clothes, and medicine the prisoners desperately need. Without envy, but with growing wonder, he tries to understand King’s outlook and learn from it.
Is his wheeling and dealing in this “lifeboat” situation taking unfair advantage of the others? Or is King a life-saver, able to motivate others and cleverly acquire what they all need to survive? Is it wrong that he believes in making a profit in the process?
While Marlowe ponders the King’s ethics, he comes to respect the man’s ability to seize opportunities and make things happen while everyone else struggles on the edge of survival. “‘Damned if I know how you do it,’ Peter Marlowe said. ‘You work so fast.’ The King replied: ‘You got something to do and you do it. That’s the American style.’”
For his part, the King recognizes Marlowe’s difference from the first moment. “His face was craggy, and though he was Changi-thin, there was a grace to his movements and a sparkle about him…[The King] listened to the rich laugh and knew it was a rare thing. When this man was laughing, you could see that the laugh came from inside. This was very rare. Priceless.”
By contrast, Lieutenant Robin Grey, provost marshal of Changi, despises Corporal King, the American who somehow manages to be healthy, well-fed, and clothed while everyone around him can barely hang on: “‘I’m going to get that bloody bastard if I die in the attempt.’ Lieutenant Grey was glad that at last he had spoken aloud what had so long been twisting his guts into a knot.”
“Nobody gives me nothing,” King objects. “What I have is mine and I made it.” But Grey dogs the King incessantly, with bilious hatred for his rule-bending and his overflowing vitality—hoping, planning, scheming to catch him breaking this rule or that, so he can throw King in the Japanese jail and see him rot.
Unsurprisingly, Grey hates Marlowe as well. Coming from the lower classes, Grey personifies English class envy and social ambition, mistaking Marlowe’s self-confidence for mere upper class snobbery, yet secretly, jealously wishing to be like him. For his part, Marlowe despises the small-minded, vindictive, and senselessly bureaucratic Grey. “You’re such a goddam snob, Grey, when it comes down to it…[The Americans] think that one man’s as good as another.”
King Rat was made into a 1965 movie starring George Segal as Corporal King and James Fox as Peter Marlowe.
Clavell followed King Rat with his blockbuster Tai Pan (1966), the next in his “Asian Saga.” That series included Shogun (1975), Noble House (1981), Whirlwind (1986), and Gai-Jin(1993). I also found a book called Escape, which appears to be the love story from Whirlwindas a stand-alone novel. Before he died in 1994, Clavell wrote two children’s books, The Children’s Story (1981) and Thrump-o-Moto (1986).
Except for the children’s stories and King Rat, these are all enormous novels, most over 1,000 pages long, and offering heaps of factual detail about the countries and cultures in which they are set. To achieve that level of accuracy, Clavell spent about a year researching each, reading histories and sociological accounts, and living in the settings. Many of his main characters are based on real people. The reader rips through Clavell’s stories, yet comes away educated and interested in knowing more about the cultures he reveals.
“I write short stories, they may appear big in size, but they’re four or five novels in one,” he explained. “In return for picking up one of my books, I’m trying to give [readers] value for their money. The goal of writing any novel is creating the illusion that you are reading reality and you are part of it.”
Tai-Pan follows the adventures of the British merchant Dirk Struan during the establishment of Hong Kong as a British Colony in 1841. By means of a blockade and other, more devious means, envious Chinese rulers had effectively curtailed the vast fortunes that British companies, using swift sailing ships, were amassing in China by trading Indian-raised opium. Inventively, the merchants enlist the British government and military to establish the empty, swampy, pestilent island of Hong Kong as British soil and a free trade port.
- As Struan walked along the main deck [of the 74-gun ship Vengeance], he glanced at the shore and excitement swarmed over him. The war with China had gone as he had planned…the prize—the island—was something he had coveted for twenty years. And now he was going ashore to witness the formality of taking possession, to watch a Chinese island become a jewel in the crown of Her Britannic Majesty, Queen Victoria…Hong Kong contained the greatest harbor on earth. And it was Struan’s stepping-stone into China….
Against the machinations of his life-time rival, Tyler Brock, Struan struggles to develop his business into the greatest trading company in the East. “In a company or army or fleet or nation there is only one such man—he who wields the real power…[Struan] was Tai-Pan of The Noble House.” “Tai-Pan” means “Supreme Leader,” and The Noble House is based on a real firm, Jardine-Matheson Holdings Limited, a multinational company based in Bermuda.
Struan not only navigates the South China Seas but the alien culture and cut-throat trading habits of the Chinese. Through him, his Chinese lover May-May, and their son Gordon Chen, the reader’s understanding of China and its relation to the West grows.
Clavell developed a fascination for the East, especially Japan, through his experience at Changi. Apparently, his family’s military background enabled him to respect the Japanese Samurai outlook and what some consider the ultimate warrior philosophy of Bushido, in which honor and duty reign supreme.
In Shogun, based on the real adventures of British navigator Will Adams, Dutch sailors searching for new trading opportunities and riches find themselves shipwrecked and then held captive in a small village on the main island of Japan. The sailors are squirreled away with low-caste prostitutes, remaining as filthy and vulgar as ever—all except the ship’s pilot, John Blackthorne, or “Anjin-san” as the Japanese call him. He is taken in by the Kasigi Samurai clan, where he begins his education in Japanese culture and values.
From the first, the Japanese are impressed by his moxie. Blackthorne is introduced to Yabu,daimyo or feudal lord of the region. An antagonistic Portuguese priest, Father Sebastio, translates while Blackthorne considers the situation:
- Look, the Jesuit’s very deferential and sweating a lot. I’ll bet the daimyo’s not a Catholic…you’ll get no quarter from him!
“The daimyo says hurry up and answer his questions” [said the priest].
“Yes. Of course, I’m sorry. My name’s John Blackthorne. I’m English, Pilot-Major of a Netherlands fleet.”
“Fleet? What fleet? You’re lying. There’s no fleet. Why is an Englishman pilot of a Dutch ship?”
Blackthorne decided to gamble. His voice abruptly hardened and it cut through the morning warmth. “Que va! First translate what I said, Spaniard! Now!”
The priest flushed. “I’m Portuguese. I’ve told you before. Answer the question.”
“I’m here to talk to the daimyo, not to you. Translate what I said, you motherless offal!” Blackthorne saw the priest redden even more and felt that this had not gone unnoticed by the daimyo. Be cautious, he warned himself. That yellow bastard will carve you into pieces quicker than a school of sharks if you overreach yourself.
“Tell the lord daimyo!” Blackthorne deliberately bowed low to the platform and felt the chill sweat beginning to pearl as he committed himself irrevocably to his course of action.
Unbeknownst to the Anjin-San, he is caught up in the epic conflict of rival Samurai clans which resulted in the domination of Japan by the Tokugawa Shogunate for centuries. The novel’s Toranaga is a thinly veiled, romanticized version of the real samurai Tokugawa, whose Shogunate remained in control from 1603 to the Meiji Restoration in 1865. As in all Clavell novels except for King Rat, a powerful, beautiful, brilliant love interest deeply figures in the plot. In this case, it is Mariko, a high-born Samurai lady turned Christian who interprets the Anjin-San’s speech while she captures his heart. In addition to valuing her translating skills, Toranaga finds her useful for her deep strategic wisdom, integrity, and bravery as well.
I came across Shogun after having made a brief study of Japan by reading such sociological classics as Ruth Benedict’s Patterns of Culture and Arthur Koestler’s The Lotus and the Robot. Shogun helped me understand far more about Japanese culture and values than anything I’ve read before or since. Not only does Clavell jam-pack his novels with information, he is an unusually clever teacher, as well.
During the first part of the book, I thought the main hero was the Anjin-San. Only about half-way through did I realize that Clavell had educated me about Japanese values through the eyes of the Anjin-San so that I could understand and appreciate Toranaga. For example, in one of the first scenes, Blackthorne encounters the violently bizarre ways of the Japanese when Omi-san, the samurai in charge of the village, interviews him. A Jesuit priest interprets:
- “Wakarimasu ka?” Omi said directly to Blackthorne.
“He says, ‘Do you understand?’”
“What’s ‘yes’ in Japanese?”
Father Sebastio said to the samurai, “Wakarimasu.”
Omi disdainfully waved them away. They all bowed low. Except one man who rose deliberately, without bowing.
With blinding speed the killing sword made a hissing silver arc and the man’s head toppled off his shoulders and a fountain of blood sprayed the earth. The body rippled a few times and was still. Involuntarily, the priest had backed off a pace. No one else in the street moved a muscle. Their heads remained low and motionless. Blackthorne was rigid, in shock.
Omi put his foot carelessly on the corpse.
“Ikinasai!” he said, motioning them away.
The men in front of him bowed again, to the earth. Then they got up and went away impassively.
By page five hundred, I understood Omi-san’s motives implicitly. When I finally “met” Lord Toranaga, the central hero of the book, I could sympathize with him instead of despising him. Had I been introduced to him in the beginning, I think I would have been revolted by his actions rather than appreciate his integrity to his own code of values.
I was so swept up in the tale, which I often read while commuting to and from Manhattan, that I frequently found myself muttering Japanese words on the Penn Station platform. And I haven’t been alone. In the Sunday New York Times Book Review section, a writer said:
- Shogun is irresistible…I can’t remember when a novel has seized my mind like this one…It’s almost impossible not to continue to read Shogun once having opened it. Yet it is not only something that you read—you live it…possessed by the Englishman Blackthorne, the Japanese lord Toranaga and medieval Japan…People, customs, settings, needs and desires all become so enveloping you forget who and where you are.
Noble House (1981)
While his other novels dramatize the clash between authoritarian cultures and individualist, Anglo-world heroes, Noble House most directly depicts the conflict between individualism and collectivism. The madly raucous markets and remarkable culture of Hong Kong’s unfettered capitalism during the 1960s contrasts sharply with the devious, totalitarian world of the Red Chinese and ruthless Soviet spies. A rush on gold, a wildly swinging, unregulated stock market, and opportunities galore abound for Ian Dunross, the sharp trader-descendant of Dirk Struan (depicted in Tai Pan)—as well as for people at every level of Hong Kong society, from cleaning ladies to jockeys and military officers.
“Dunross juggles international concerns for profit and protects free enterprise from the Soviets and the British Labour Party,” literary analyst Gina MacDonald summarizes. “He supports dependents, friends, and relatives, assures ‘Old Friends’ status with the mainland Chinese, and fulfills obligations assumed by Noble House a century before.”
Not only relatives from previous stories, but even Peter Marlowe and Robin Grey from King Rat return as substantial characters. Clavell also introduces formidable American entrepreneurs Linc Bartlett and gorgeous Casey Tcholok, who figure in Dunross’s struggle against perennial rival Tyler Brock, descendant of the original Noble House nemesis.
Of the thirty intricate plotlines in Noble House, one leads to Whirlwind, Clavell’s novel of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Descendants of Dirk Struan are once again at the center of the strife as they desperately work to protect the people and property of their branch of the Noble House, S-G Helicopters, which services the oil fields. Simultaneously, trading descendants of Shogun’s Toranaga strive to gain oil and gas concessions in the Persian Gulf. “Whirlwind” is the code name for S-G’s escape plan, taken from “whirlybird,” English slang for helicopters.
Whirlwind can deeply educate the reader about world events as much today as it did after the Iranian Revolution. However, where Japanese and Chinese readers were astounded at how accurately and positively Clavell portrayed their cultures, Clavell was not able to make the culture, values, and Islamic mind-set of Iran as comprehensible and sympathetic.
Regardless, it is still a worthwhile tale and garnered Clavell a $5 million dollar fee, selling four million copies in the U.S. alone. As in all his novels, Clavell expertly creates a complex, multi-layered plot, combining action, romance, heroism, brutality, tumultuous historical events, and a great descriptive style—all in the great tradition of the nineteenth-century romantic novel.
Clavell brings together elements of Shogun and Tai Pan, as well as King Rat, in his last novel.
Gai-Jin opens in 1862 with the shocking attack on a group of Europeans by zealous ronin—rogue, clanless, displaced Samurai—near the European settlement in Yokohama. The roninoppose the massive social change wrought by Commodore Perry’s opening of Japan to the West in 1854, and fanatically uphold the static, highly structured society of the previous 300 years. They seek to expel the detested “gai-jin”—foreigners.
Malcolm Struan, heir to the Noble House, struggles to keep his leadership while steering his company on a treacherous but exciting voyage through Japanese society. He strives to take advantage of the enormous trade opportunities between Hong Kong, China, Japan, and the West. Ultimately, his fate rests in the hands of a beautiful young French woman, Angelique Richaud.
Amidst terrorism, espionage, romance, and trade, Gai-Jin depicts the Japanese quandary at encountering Western culture. Since the Japanese had long believed themselves descended from the Sun god, and the highest culture on earth, they are shocked to find out that the rough, uncivil, filthy Europeans are their technological superiors. But they don’t waste time. Many ambitiously learn from the West so they can again dominate—especially the Shogun, Toranaga Yoshi, descendant of the original Toranaga. The reader of Shogun has an advantage here, being intimately familiar with Japanese culture, values, and thinking, while readers of Tai-Pan and King Rat will enjoy the way Clavell interweaves elements and characters from those books into this one.
Clavell in Context
Modern in many respects, James Clavell’s work echoes British adventure classics likeTreasure Island, King Solomon’s Mines, Robinson Crusoe, and Two Years Before the Mast,but with greater depth of character and lavish historical details. He specializes in the clash of cultures, while his individualist heroes learn deeply from their encounters by independently experiencing and judging foreign situations and people.
Business people are heroes of every Clavell novel. For that reason, I wondered for years whether he had been influenced by that famous literary champion of capitalism, Ayn Rand, who romanticized the lives and careers of business people.
Then one day I came across an online auction of books from Rand’s personal library. Inside a copy of his newly published novel Noble House, according to the auction description page, James Clavell had written this inscription to the author of Atlas Shrugged:
“This is for Ayn Rand/ –one of the real, true talents on this earth for which many, many thanks/ James C/ New York / 2 Sept 81.”
Further on the auction page, I found that Clavell’s editor had sent Rand a copy of The Children’s Story, also printed in 1981, with a note on the letterhead of Delacorte Press asking her to read the book and share her response.
So much made sense now!
Clavell’s genius at revealing the Eastern mind—and the similarity of some of his themes to Rand’s—has not gone unnoticed in academe. In 1996, Loyola University professor Gina MacDonald published James Clavell, A Critical Companion as part of Greenwood Publishers’ “Critical Companions to Popular Contemporary Writers” series. Intended as a teacher’s guide for high school and college courses, the book analyzes his novels in multi-leveled literary detail and includes a well-researched biographical section. MacDonald even compares Noble House to Rand’s Anthem and notes that Clavell’s books are not only adventures and romances but novels of ideas as well—through their repeated exposition of clashes between the individual and the collective and the conflict between capitalism and authoritarianism. I found the book to be a valuable resource, and I hope that it is used frequently in schools, which would bring more readers to Clavell.
That is important because far too many contemporary books for young people revolve around dysfunction, personal disaster, and ineptitude—if they have much of a story at all. Wouldn’t projections of life as a thrilling drama, with conflict, struggle, and triumph, offer far better food for their inchoate souls?
Meanwhile, here’s hoping that someone in the movie industry turns Whirlwind or Gai-Jininto a film, helping to re-ignite broader interest in this marvelous author.
Do You Love Atlas Shrugged And The Fountainhead? Would you like to Have More of Their Worlds In Your Life?
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