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What Happened When Some Libertarians Went Off to Build Ayn Rand's Vision of Paradise

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Cross-posted from AlterNet

Hint: nothing good.

Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand
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The theme of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, according to Ms. Rand herself, is "what happens to the world when the Prime Movers go on strike." The prime movers are corporate executives -- "the motor of the world" -- and Rand imagines what would happen if they all just went away. To Rand this is nothing less than "a picture of the world with its motor cut off."

Ouch. Paging Dr. Freud.

In Rand's novel the great, throbbing "motor of the world" (it's made of executives, remember?) retreats to an Atlantis-like idyll known as "Galt's Gulch." Without their ingenuity and drive the nation descends into chaos, leading many long pages later to their triumphant return and anointment as leaders of a new libertarian order.

Which gets us to the fraud charges now swirling around a venture called "Galt's Gulch of Chile." Its website is currently down, but it's still being promoted as a real-world retreat for the world's movers and shakers. "Yes, you read that right," the organizer chirps cheerily. "Those who become one of GGC's Founders will be paid back ... within three years of the consummation of their Founders Club participation (please contact GGC for the fine print and T&Cs)."

In what should be an unsurprising outcome, it didn't turn out very well. That news comes (via Metafilter and Gawker) from a blogger named Wendy McElroy, who writes that she bought some property in Galt's Gulch with her husband and then learned that it never had legal rights to the property in the first place. A visit to Chile revealed that many of the area's local vendors had also been defrauded by the Galtians.

As Gawker's headline puts it, "Ayn Rand's Capitalist Paradise Is Now a Greedy Land-Grabbing Shitstorm."

It's possible to feel genuinely sympathetic to the McElroys' plight -- and I do -- and yet wonder why this outcome was the least bit surprising to any reader of Rand's work. Atlas Shrugged actually celebrates fraud -- at least against those whom Rand despises. These charges aren't an aberration. They're the inevitable outcome of Rand's own philosophy.

Atlas Shrugged opens with a question -- "Who is John Galt?" -- and then takes forever to answer it, clocking in at a weighty and tendentious 1,168 pages. One glance at its author's pinned eyes, immortalized in the photo on the back cover of the hardbound Dutton edition, and the book's interminable length becomes easier to understand. Ms. Rand is gazing slightly heavenward, as if locking eyes with some adored ├ťbermensch. She sits poised as if preparing for flight, one hand nervously clenched in a half-fist, like Mighty Mouse on methedrine.

How misguided, how downright strange, is Atlas Shrugged? Rand insists that the most sexually desirable human beings on the planet are wealthy male CEOs, a conceit which conjures up images of Charles Koch as Austin Powers, performing a mating dance to the sounds of "Let's Get It On" as a comely stranger reclines on a rotating sofa.

Do I make you Randian, baby? Do I?

But the auto-executive eroticism becomes considerably less amusing when one realizes that one of Rand's heroes is a rapist:

"He held her, pressing the length of his body against hers with a tense, purposeful insistence, his hand moving over her breasts as if he were learning a proprietor's intimacy with her body, a shocking intimacy that needed no consent from her, no permission.

"She knew that fear was useless, that he would do what he wished, that the decision was his, that he left nothing possible to her except the thing she wanted most -- to submit."

She wanted it, so it's okay, right? Except she never said she wants it, and the rapist ("Francisco") had already roughed her up in an earlier scene: "When she came home, she told her mother that she had cut her lip by falling against a rock."

Then there's Hank Rearden, the married man whose sex with the heroine leaves her bloodied and bruised the next morning. To wit: "She saw a bruise above her elbow, with dark beads that had been blood." The morning-after sweet nothings from Hank include, "I wanted you as one wants a prostitute -- for the same reason and purpose," and "What I feel for you is contempt..."

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Host of 'The Breakdown,' Writer, and Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

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