“Elizabeth Stoker writes about Christianity, ethics, and policy for Salon, The Atlantic, and The Week. She is a graduate of Brandeis University, a Marshall Scholar, and a current Cambridge University divinity student. In her spare time, Elizabeth enjoys working in the garden and catching up on news of the temporal world.
Rarely does one come across such ignorance posing as intellect as that proffered by the writer at “The Week” Elizabeth Stoker. What is even more disturbing is that her academic background as noted above implies she is among the best and brightest!
Once, a woman, a graduate of Brandeis, a Marshal Scholar, and a Cambridge University Divinity student might have been expected to be a free-thinker. But no longer is that so. Alas.
Her essay touching on Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, political philosophy, Objectivism, and Christianity might have been expected to raise interesting observations, given her education. But, no: her massive educational expenses were wasted. A grad from the Community College might have written this.
It is hard to know where to begin the task of deconstructing this essay. And so when in doubt, begin at the beginning.
The first paragraph sets the jarring tone. If you haven’t seen Atlas Shrugged Ior Atlas Shrugged II, you’re hardly alone: both film adaptations of Ayn Rand’s novel fared poorly at the box office. The filmmakers evidently haven’t received the free market’s message.
“The filmmakers evidently haven’t received the free market’s message.” From such a paragon of academia it is surprising she counts popularity amongst the proles as conferring any imprimatur of quality. Odds are that her summer reading consists of those literary novels written by and for other literary novelists, and book reviewers. She would turn up the nose on her very young face at the latest Stephen King, David Baldacci or any other popular book. The cinematic summer blockbusters: Puh-leeze!
Liz has learned to evoke the bitter ironic tone of academia. Ron Paul does not just make an appearance in the up-coming third and presumably final part of the filmed Atlas Shrugged. No, “Ron Paul will be metastasizing from the small screen to the silver screen in his acting debut in the upcoming film.” She places “metastasizing” as a hyperlink. Not to something to do with cancer, but merely to a general article about the cast of the film. That is rather harsh, to liken Ron Paul to a metastatic and thus cancerous tumor! But when discussing older white males, with Constitutional constitutions, from fly-over America the venomous tone is quite acceptable, at least to Brandeis grads.
Adding Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck to Ron Paul she asks “why the sanguine agreement on the part of three outspokenly Christian political players to appear in a film so deeply and totally antithetical to Christian ethics?” Just as there is an initial difficulty in distinguishing individuals amongst a crowd of very foreign-looking tribesmen, these three individuals are indistinguishable to her elite eyes: SeanGlennPaul. The three men have very different beliefs. A Catholic, a Libertarian and a Mormon walk into a bar one day and….. . Sounds like a joke.
Ok, she has conflated them into a single dragon. That is merely her ignorance. But to the core of the issue she turns. And so must we.
To repeat her question: “why the sanguine agreement on the part of three outspokenly Christian political players to appear in a film so deeply and totally antithetical to Christian ethics?” Her answer: “A charitable person might chalk it up to ignorance…” Why that is mighty nice of her. Especially since I just gave her the same pass in her conflation of SeanGlennPaul. Here is where her parochial education shows through. Only one educated in a small, inbred intellectual atmosphere could be so wrong about the numbers of people who are extremely conversant with Ayn Rand, and who can discuss Atlas Shrugged in great depth.
She writes: “Atlas Shrugged is a clunky doorstop of a book so massive and exhausting one can imagine even its proponents are only dimly acquainted with it.” Does she really think that? I do not know which is more disturbing: that she lied and in fact can imagine proponents being deeply aware of the novel, or she honestly believes that which she claims. The frightening thing is that I believe it is the latter. It is becoming dangerous to presume that well-educated Americans share at least a common literature. Agreement on the meaning or quality of particular piece of the literature is not required. But a common acceptance of a certain canon, a common core if you will, of English literature may no longer be assumed. If a woman can graduate Brandeis and study at Cambridge and yet not have met many people who are well versed in Atlas Shrugged is stunning; and believable.
Ms. Stoker, Brandeis scholar that she is ably summarizes the kilo-page novel as “It’s a shrill thousand pages following the heroic adventures of wealthy, dashing, outrageously beautiful Dagny Taggart as she solves the “mystery” of why the world ground to a halt; without spoiling it, the solution has to do with the world-animating genius of industrial technocrats and their billions.”
How wrong must a reviewer be in her summary so as to raise the question of her actually having read and understood the book in question? Technocrats and their billions? It was not the “billions” of dollars that the Titans brought out with them on their strike. In fact they walked away from their billions. They walked away with only one asset. And that is the asset that cannot be nationalized, redistributed or made equitable… their minds.
But it is not our intent to debate Atlas Shrugged with Elizabeth Stoker.
She comes to the crux of her critique, (pun noted, unintended). “In short, both Christianity and Objectivism are mutually exclusive comprehensive doctrines; that is, each make claims about the nature of reality, moral goodness, and right action which contradict the other. And conservatives used to have the guts to admit it.”
She cites Whittaker Chambers and William F. Buckley as (at least?) having the guts to admit it. Although Ms. Stoker would be hard pressed to say a word of praise for either man, their critique of Atlas Shrugged is taken whole. I would be surprised to know of any work of Buckley that she has read. In an echo of the frightening question I asked above: what if anything about Whittaker Chambers does she know?
She uses Whittaker Chambers as a sock puppet. Yes, I suppose he did write those words in review of Atlas Shrugged. But does she know why? It is clear that she cannot, for she describes Whittaker Chambers as Buckley’s “fellow right winger”.
It just so happens, as these things often go, that I am reading “Witness” by Whittaker Chambers this past week. The phrase “fellow right winger” in regard to either man is ludicrous. It is so ludicrous that again it strains credulity that this woman knows a damn thing about either man. Certainly, she must be unaware that Buckley read the John Birch Society out of respectable Conservative discourse (for better or worse, though surely Stoker feels the former). She must know that Whittaker Chambers was the former Communist who had a Road To Damascus-like experience that converted him into an ex-Communist. Seriously, I believe it is quite likely she does not know the name Alger Hiss.
Of course Chambers who personally experienced a spiritual midlife conversion holds a strong critique for Rand’s atheism.
But her citing Chambers as “proof” that Conservatives must necessarily oppose Objectivist philosophy is a sophomoric argument. It merely demonstrates the lack of subtly of her thought: as if like Brandeis students, all conservatives are in lock step.
If she had known much or anything about Chambers she would have known that he believed that Communism was the highest form the human society could achieve without there being God.
In that he was wrong. It is the Objectivist Philosophy that would be the second-best.
Ayn Rand would be correct if there were nothing above Man. And if she had limited her Objectivism to the realm of Economics and Political Philosophy it would have been sturdier. However, there is nothing in Objectivism that forbids charity. She merely points out that involuntary, or forced charity is theft, and thus is immoral no matter its wrappings.
However this sort of reasoning, of shades, nuances and inferences escapes the stark Marxist Hegelian theocracy of which Brandeis is itself a shining light. Like its sister cloisters it is a magnet for aspiring and ambitious future Priestesses and Vicars (or is that Wiccars?)
This is our best and brightest???