A sign of anxiety and nostalgia?
Conservatives in a time of advancing liberalism are escaping into the “Galt’s Gulch” of Ayn Rand’s fiction. This at the Ayn Rand Institute website:
“The spike in sales of Atlas Shrugged more than a half century after its initial publication is truly remarkable,” Dr. [Yaron] Brook pointed out. “Annual sales of Atlas Shrugged have been increasing for decades to a level not seen even in Ayn Rand’s lifetime. Sales of the U.S. paperback editions averaged around 70,000 copies a year in the 1980s, and doubled to about 140,000 copies a year in the current decade. And the pace of sales has been accelerating recently, reaching an all-time high during the novel’s 50th anniversary in 2007, surpassing this mark in 2008, and on course to set another record in 2009.” Almost 7,000,000 copies of Atlas Shrugged have been sold since it was first published in 1957.
That first publication date of 1957, and the fact that Atlas Shrugged is more popular now than ever, might be a source of pride for the Ayn Rand Institute, but the fact that American conservatives are returning to this novel at all suggests to me a retreat from the 21st century—and a turning back towards the 20th century, and to an era in which white Baby Boomers have a lot of nostalgia. The antiquated gesture is akin to imagining liberals in large numbers, nostalgic for early 20th century progressivism, reading John dos Pasos during the Bush years. It wouldn’t have been a sign of liberal strength that such a novelist was being rediscovered, but a sign that liberals were oversimplifying, and withdrawing psychologically from the challenges and perplexities of their own era.