What is going on in 2020 America? We are experiencing the deleterious effects of the ratcheting up of government control on individual and personal life decisions. Financial repression via central planning of the money supply and government purchase of bonds and debt has advanced to unthought-of levels. Speech codes imposed by one class of people on the others are brutally enforced. There is high unemployment as a result of draconian interventions into and impositions upon economic activity, especially destructive for so-called “small business”, which until now has been the bedrock of employment. Churches are closed. There are riots and violence in our city streets. People outside the big cities feel detached.
These conditions did not come into being without any preceding history. It is important for us to examine the precedents available to us to help us understand current trends and occurrences. What are the stories from the past that got us to today?
We believe we have found one of those stories, and we’d like to invite Center For Individual readers to join us for an in-depth examination of its content and relevance and lessons.
It is no secret that Ayn Rand was a prolific and controversial writer and philosopher. To this day, her life’s story and work are admired by individualists around the world, and reviled by collectivists who merely know her name. Rand’s most well-known product is her greatest, and last, novel, Atlas Shrugged. Published in 1957, it is the defining, fictional statement of her philosophy of Objectivism. For a small sample of its principles, this column quoted Rand’s character, oilman Ellis Wyatt, on July 10th,
Only those who produce, not those who consume, can be anybody’s market. I deal with life-givers, not with cannibals. Here, we trade achievements, not failures – values, not needs. We’re free of each other, yet we all grow together. What greater wealth is there than to own your life and to spend it on growing? Every living thing must grow.
What is not well known is Rand’s uniquely important first novel. Published in 1936, We the Living described the conditions and despair that prevailed in 1920’s Soviet Russia, and from which Ayn Rand escaped as a young woman. On December 24, 2018, the Poetic Justice Warrior Spotlight Series explained,
We the Living was Rand’s opening salvo for her sense of life in the world of fiction. As an émigré from Soviet Russia in 1926, she could speak with authority about the life-sapping totalitarianism that held her country hostage. So it makes sense that she was shocked to find acceptance of Soviet style oppression among American intellectuals and politicians.
From this immovable platform, Rand launched a career that improved the lives of millions of people who are driven by the irresistible force of reason, purpose, and pride. As Rand herself wrote many years later, and re-published in the 60th anniversary edition of We the Living,
I had not read this novel as a whole, since the time of its first publication in 1936, until a few months ago. I had not expected to be as proud of it as I am. In regard to We the Living, I had felt that my means were inadequate to my purpose, and that I had not said what I wanted to say as well as I wished. Now, I am startled to discover how well I did say it.
Now, it is our turn to re-examine this novel of life-sapping totalitarianism that holds a country back. We’d like to invite our readers to re-examine this story from the past with us, and to reflect on what we can learn about the forces at work in our present day from the pages of We the Living. The Center For Individualism is embracing this opportunity by establishing a reading and publishing program over the next 13 weeks.
We’ll publish the analyses of some of our writers in a sequential order that follows the narrative of the novel. We invite fellow-readers to join us. Simply reply to the link below if you would like an invitation to join the We the Living Study Group on Facebook. You can obtain your own copy of the novel here and we invite you to comment on it. We’ll monitor the comments sections to keep them respectful and to avoid “spoilers”.
It’s our belief that this project is relevant to your life’s experience in 2020 America, and this will be revealed to each participant, on your own terms, as each chapter unfolds. Our online forum has been set up as a Private Group, so it is not searchable, and membership will not show up on your Facebook profile.
We will learn together about the virtues, vices, and motivations of each character, and the ethical and political context of their actions. We will also relate the individuals and political climate of the novel, 1920’s Soviet Russia, with their counterparts in 2020 America. For example, what is the dominant philosophy that drove the Soviets, and how does it manifest itself in our postmodern culture? Most importantly, what can we learn from the leading character, Kira Argounova, that could and should guide our personal conduct and culture so that every human being can live and grow?
Sign up for our discussion group! The online forum is private, and the conversation is meant to be engaging, polite, and productive!
Open signups for the CFI Study Group ended on August 1, 2020.