Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Atlas Shrugged: A Question About Race

Pardon the mess, folks. I'm reposting this because of a weird, finicky issue with the layout of the blog. Hopefully this will fix it, and I can quit deleting and re-adding things. ~MM

Yes, I'm finally reading Atlas Shrugged. Somehow I managed to overlook it during my brilliantly misspent youth. But, with all the talk about "Going Galt" in the wake of the last election, I decided to pick it up and see what it actually had to say. And I'll talk about that, just as soon as I finish wading through the last hundred pages or so.

Meanwhile, I have a question. It is, basically, this: where are all the black people? The hispanics? Maybe a Korean immigrant or two? Why is the America of Atlas Shrugged almost exclusively white?

I say "almost" because we do have Francisco d'Anconia, who comes from Argentina - but he's a foreigner, not a non-white American.

Atlas Shrugged is very much focused on the U.S.A. It holds up America as the only moral nation in history*. Plus, it is - at least ostensibly - laying out the argument for a new socio-political morality. Add to that the fact that the author seems willing - even determined! - to have her characters lecture, at length, on every conceivable detail of her new philosophy, and the fact that racial issues are a Big Deal in American politics and society, and I'd expect to see them addressed - at least in passing.

But failing that, I'd at least expect to see some minority characters. I mean, this is supposed to be taking place in near-future America, right? But as far as I can tell, all the workers on Taggart Transcontinental are white; all the Washington Men and their looters and thugs are white; even the faceless hordes are white. So what's going on? Am I missing something? (I'll admit, I skimmed a bit here and there, but that was usually when the characters were pontificating.) Is this a sign of some odd, unconscious racism? Is it just a product of the times - when the book was written, was the general view that everyone important was white? Was Ayn Rand painting the world to reflect her own circle of acquaintances (or, to put that another way, did she just forget that there were other races out there)? Seriously, what's going on here?

'Cause for a story that's supposed to be set in the real world - or some reasonable facsimile thereof - that seems like a pretty major omission to me.

* Because of the U.S. reliance on Capitalism and because the U.S. was not a product of historical circumstances, but rather an invention of the Mind. (Never mind that history in the real world doesn't even remotely support either assertion.)


  1. Anthem was published in 1938, The Fountainhead in 1943, and Atlas Shrugged in 1957. I think it's both a product of who she was and a product of her time, but she was opposed to racism: here's her essay on the subject.

    Incidentally, I wholeheartedly endorse your choice of following Bruce Schneier's blog.

  2. ::nods:: It makes most sense as an oversight, and I'm not surprised - given her *intense* focus on the Mind as a measure of virtue - that she'd be opposed to racism.

    And I have a huge man-crush on Bruce Schneier. Can't remember how I found his blog, but it's wonderful stuff.


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