The Libertarian Tradition Podcast

Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller

In this January 12, 2010 episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute’s online media library, Jeff Riggenbach discusses the important role played by novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand in the early libertarian movement.

Editor’s Note: A transcript is unavailable. This early episode was never turned into a Mises Daily article most of the others.

Here is a brief summary, however:

In light of then recently released books on Ayn Rand — Jennifer Burns’s Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right and Anne C. Heller’s Ayn Rand and the World She Made — Riggenbach discusses Rand’s role in the early libertarian movement. Along the way he highlights Heller’s defense of the quality of Rand’s writing against mainstream literary critics. He goes on to argue that Heller’s book is the better of the two and explains what mars Burns’s book. He plays a couple of clips of Rand herself explaining why she and her philosophy of Objectivism are not conservative, and challenges the coherence of Burns’s conception of the American Right.

If you’re unfamiliar with Ayn Rand and her importance in the libertarian tradition, this episode offers a good primer on the subject as well as on what differentiates libertarianism and conservatism.

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Goddess of the Market Ayn Rand and the American Right by Jennifer Burns

In this January 6, 2010 episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute’s online media library, Jeff Riggenbach takes us on a biographical tour of the life of libertarian novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand.

Editor’s Note: A transcript is unavailable. This early episode was never turned into a Mises Daily article like most of the others.

Here is a brief summary, however:

In light of then recently released books on Ayn Rand — Jennifer Burns’s Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right and Anne C. Heller’s Ayn Rand and the World She Made — Riggenbach goes on to chronicle Rand’s early life in Soviet Russia, how she got out and immigrated to the United States, her work in Hollywood and her Broadway play, Night of January 16th, and her marriage to Frank O’Connor.

Riggenbach then covers the publication of her four major works of fiction: We the Living, Anthem (a novella), The Fountainhead (adapted to film with a screenplay by Rand), and her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. He also discusses Rand’s relationship with Nathaniel Branden, the formation of her inner circle, the publication of Rand’s nonfiction works, and the growth of the Objectivist community.

All that in 20 minutes! Phew!

If you’re unfamiliar with Ayn Rand and her work and life, this episode offers a good overview.

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We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

In this episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute’s online media library, Jeff Riggenbach makes the case that Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian science fiction novel, We, belongs in the libertarian tradition.

You can also read the transcript below:

When we think of the libertarian tradition, we tend naturally to think of political philosophers and economists of the past. But surely one part of the libertarian tradition belongs to novelists and other fiction writers.

In earlier podcasts in this series, I’ve already discussed two such figures: Ayn Rand, whose 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged, is, arguably, one of the half-dozen most important libertarian works of the 20th century, and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, the professor of philology at Oxford whose giant fantasy novel, The Lord of the Rings, published just a few years before Atlas Shrugged, is arguably the most culturally influential single novel published in English in the 20th century.

This week, I’d like to talk about a writer whose level of influence has been much more modest, but whose indirect influence has nevertheless been considerable. Regular listeners to this series know what I mean by indirect influence. I gave an example of it just last week, when I discussed the life and career of Isabel Paterson. Paterson’s libertarian classic, The God of the Machine, has never reached a wide readership, but, thanks to the effort of her protégé, Ayn Rand, Paterson herself has influenced millions of readers who have never even seen a copy of The God of the Machine.

The writer I’m talking about today wrote a novel in which a citizen of a totalitarian state of the future meets a woman and becomes obsessed with her. He begins a forbidden sexual affair with this woman, meeting with her illicitly in a very old part of the city where the intrusive gaze of the all-encompassing government doesn’t seem to penetrate. Through his relationship with her, he becomes involved in the organized underground opposition to the all-encompassing government — an opposition he had never previously realized existed at all. Ultimately, he and the woman are caught, imprisoned, and tortured. In the end, he is sincerely repentant of his crimes and is completely devoted to the all-encompassing government that has done him all this harm.

A familiar story, no? Can you tell me what novel I’ve just described? Ah, I see a hand in the back of the room. Yes? “George Orwell’s 1984,” you cry out confidently. And your answer is correct, but only as far as it goes, which is, perhaps, not quite as far as you thought it would.

That is a description of the plot of 1984, which was published, as we all know, in 1949. But Orwell adapted the plot of 1984 from another novel, one originally published 25 years earlier in 1924. That earlier novel was entitled, simply, We. It was the work of a not-very-well-known Russian writer, Yevgeny Zamyatin. Zamyatin was not very well known outside Russia when We was first published, and he was still not very well known in the West 25 years later, when Orwell published 1984. He remains not very well known in the West to this day.

[Keep reading…]

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The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

In this episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute’s online media library, Jeff Riggenbach makes the case that the author of The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien, can be counted as a libertarian.

Editor’s Note: A transcript is unavailable. This early episode was never turned into a Mises Daily article like most of the others.

Here is a brief summary, however:

Riggenbach argues that The Lord of the Rings is “both an allegory of the inevitable fate that waits for all attempts to defeat evil power by power and an allegory of power exerted for domination.” The story is a dramatization of Lord Acton’s famous dictum that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

After a delving deeper into Lord Acton and his dictum, Riggenbach reads a couple of passages from one of Tolkien’s letters to his son, Christopher, that were also quoted by Alberto Mingardi and Carlo Stagnaro in their Mises Daily article, “Tolkien v. Power” (February 21, 2002). I quote the passages below for your convenience, but the whole article is well worth reading:

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Robert Anson Heinlein (1907–1988)

Robert Anson Heinlein (1907–1988)

In this episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute’s online media library, Jeff Riggenbach discusses the life of Robert Anson Heinlein (1907–1988), author of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and many other wonderful novels and short stories, and addresses the question of whether Heinlein was a libertarian.

You can also read the transcript below:

When Robert Anson Heinlein died 22 years ago this month, in Carmel, California, at the age of 80, the wonder of it all was that he had managed to live as long as he did. Heinlein, who was born in 1907 in Butler, Missouri, a small town about 65 miles south of Kansas City, had been in poor health for most of his adult life.

His family had connections with the powerful Pendergast political machine, the outfit that later put Harry Truman in the US Senate, but Heinlein still had to spend his freshman year in a two-year Kansas City “junior college” — what today we would call a “community college” — before the Pendergast machine was finally able to wrangle him an appointment to Annapolis. After graduating from the naval academy in 1929 with a degree in mechanical engineering, Heinlein went to sea as an officer. But in his fourth year of active duty, he contracted tuberculosis and was honorably discharged — retired, really, with a small pension — after a lengthy hospitalization at Navy expense.

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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

In light of Ray Bradbury’s recent passing, it may be apropos to revisit an old episode of Jeff Riggenbach’s Libertarian Tradition podcast from 2010 in which he discusses why we should revisit Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 45.

You can also read the transcript below:

Ray Bradbury celebrated his 90th birthday this past Sunday. He was born August 22, 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois, a medium-sized town of around 20,000 people about midway between Chicago and Milwaukee on the western shore of Lake Michigan. Bradbury has depicted Waukegan fondly, even idyllically, in his fiction, most notably in his 1957 novel Dandelion Wine — even though the Waukegan conjured up in that book, which is set in 1928, is a bit larger than the Waukegan Bradbury was born into in 1920. The town’s population grew by more than 50 percent during the ’20s. By the beginning of the Great Depression, there were more than 33,000 people who called Waukegan home. The Bradbury family was not to be among these people for much longer, however.

They had already spent a year in Tucson, Arizona in the ’20s, for reasons having to do with Ray’s father’s employment. Tucson was where Ray attended first grade. And in school year 1932/33, when Ray was 12, they were back in Tucson again. Then, after a few months cleaning up loose ends in Waukegan, not long before Ray’s 14th birthday, they moved to Los Angeles, where they remained. Ray Bradbury himself is there to this day. It was in Los Angeles that he went through high school and in Los Angeles that he launched his extremely successful career as a fiction writer.

It is common to hear Ray Bradbury described as a “science-fiction writer,” but this is misleading at best. Only a minority of Bradbury’s total production is science fiction by any normal standard, and at least half of it is straightforward realistic fiction like Dandelion Wine. The fact is, however, that Bradbury’s second, third, and fourth books, his first three books to come to widespread attention —The Martian Chronicles (1950), The Illustrated Man (1951), and Fahrenheit 451 (1953) — were works of science fiction, or, at least, were widely believed to be. Bradbury was typecast early, you might say. He came to fame as a “science-fiction writer,” and a “science-fiction writer” he will therefore forever remain.

For our purposes here, on the other hand, Bradbury’s most important book is undeniably the third of those titles I just listed: Fahrenheit 451, his short novel about censorship, one of the most influential libertarian novels of the 20th century, first published nearly 60 years ago. And of all Ray Bradbury’s books, Fahrenheit 451 is probably the one most entitled to be called “science fiction.”

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Hunter by Robert Bidinotto

In a recent addition to the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute’s online media library, Jeff Riggenbach uses Objectivist Robert Bidinotto’s novel Hunter as a launchpad to discuss Objectivist subculture and fear.

You can also read the transcript below:

In a recent conversation with a younger libertarian, I heard something that I found somewhat surprising and somewhat disturbing at the same time. But later, on reflection, I realized that what I had heard should not have surprised me, however much it may still disturb me. My young friend had said, and I paraphrase here, that he was surprised to learn that I thought of Objectivists as libertarians at all. Based on what he had seen of the positions they took on political issues, especially foreign policy, he had concluded that they were just another kind of neocon.

I refer to this younger libertarian as “my young friend,” but the fact is, he’s no kid; he’s in his early 40s, which tells you how long the situation with respect to Objectivism that I’m going to describe and deplore has been going on — that a man in his 40s cannot remember a time when leading Objectivists didn’t talk in such a way about questions of US foreign policy (and about other questions as well, as we shall see) that they become hard to differentiate from certain kinds of conservatives and hard to see as any sort of libertarian.

But before I get further into that depressing theme, there’s a new book I’d like to commend to your attention. It’s a novel entitled Hunter: A Thriller, and it’s the work of the prominent Objectivist writer Robert Bidinotto. Now, a word of caution. What follows is not properly a book review, because what I’m really interested in talking about here is not Bidinotto’s thriller in its capacity as a novel, an entertainment, a work of “popular art,” but rather what it can tell us in its capacity as a cultural artifact.

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