Monday, April 18, 2011

David Bentley Hart Goes In on Ayn Rand

In the new issue of First Things, David Bentley Hart unleashes this excoriating piece on Ayn Rand and her followers, in light of the release of the Atlas Shrugged film. If you read my recent piece on Ayn Rand you won't find anything near as harsh, though Hart doesn't say anything that I disagree with. I would confirm her moral idiocy and that she was philosophically simplistic and naive, and would only apologize on her behalf when it comes to political and economic prescriptions, which Hart doesn't even touch on. And, to an extent, he doesn't need to because Rand held Objectivism to be a complete, closed, all-encompassing worldview that couldn't be partitioned. So if any aspect of it doesn't work, then the whole thing collapses, in a sense. And I would agree that as a systematic philosophy it does fail, I would only add that the political and economic aspects of it are salvageable. Though we could always get those by reading Burke, Hayek, Adam Smith, Milton Friedman etc. instead.

Perhaps just as interesting for me was that Hart included a paragraph of praise for Terrence Malick and the Tree of Life trailer--to contrast with the trailer he watched for Atlas Shrugged--which I share an obsessive love for (I've watched the trailer dozens of times).
Not long after seeing the trailer for Atlas Shrugged, I came across the trailer for quite a different kind of film: Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Malick is the world’s greatest living filmmaker, and this project has been with him for years. The two minutes or so of clips that have been released are far more beautiful, moving, and profound than anything associated with the name of Ayn Rand could ever be. “There are two ways through life,” a woman’s voice announces as the trailer opens: “the way of nature and the way of grace. We have to choose which one to follow.” That is arguably the great theme of all of Malick’s finest work; and I suspect that the deeper question the film poses is whether these two ways can become one. If what little I have heard about the film is right, moreover, the answer will have something to do with a love capable of embracing all things, and of both granting and receiving forgiveness. But we shall see.

Even though I don't quite loathe Atlas Shrugged as a novel, as a film it looks to be positively awful. So I would definitely reiterate the filmic prescription at the end of the piece: see Tree of Life and skip Atlas Shrugged.

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