Perhaps like me, your high school years were some of your most trying. Perhaps like me, your parent’s divorce only compounded the instability and uncertainty of growing up. In the midst of this, I was introduced to The Fountainhead. As a teenager watching the world of my childhood crumble The Fountainhead promised stability. Stability based on deliberate, individual effort.
The Fountainhead led me to Atlas Shrugged, Rand’s non-fiction work, Rand’s earlier work, her biography, and The Fountainhead movie starring Gary Cooper. Filling my bookshelf with the belief that deliberate, individual effort was the path to long-term stability and prosperity.
Yet, once I stepped out of the overly-melodramatic, highly idealized world of Rand’s fiction – I noticing cracks in Rand’s foundation. Cracks exposing banal human weaknesses. Some patched over multiple times with a salve labeled ‘Self-Interest’, others open to winter air. Others simply crumbling away.
After eighteen years of dust collected on my Rand library, I picked up a copy of The Forgotten Man by Amity Schlaes. The Forgotten Man retells the history of The Great Depression as much from a policy standpoint as a cultural standpoint. From The Forgotten Man I began to appreciate why communism was a threat to America, why the space race, why the Cold War, and why Ayn Rand’s work resonated with so many. For much the same reason George Orwell’s work resonated with so many. The same reason Aldus Huxley’s work resonated with so many. The same reason Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers resonated.
The Red Menace.
Unfortunately, by the time I completed my Rand library, the Berlin Wall had fallen and the fall of communism was well underway. Culminating in the dissolution of the Soviet Union just before my 17th birthday. As the Soviet Union dissolved so did the threat of a centralized committee controlling every aspect of every individual’s life dissolved as well.
Though I was enveloped in the warnings for a time gone by, I count myself lucky.
During the most challenging time of my life, while my peers turned to alcohol, drugs, and other self-destructive behavior, I found solace in a 45 year-old novel encouraging me to ruthlessly pursue my vision, to create, to celebrate my individual preferences, and to grow my capabilities.
Today, I group Rand’s fiction work into the same category as all other fiction – a compelling, engaging, entertaining, idealized world to visit.
If I were running for office and was to base my policy decisions on a life-changing, perspective-changing, fiction work I was obsessed with as a teenager, hands-down it would be Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
At least then we’ll have a space program interested in sending our expertise in telephone sanitization across the universe