"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." – G. K. Chesterton

Yesterday I reflected on Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged.  I plumb forgot that it was Thursday, the day on which I post a Chesterton quote.  As it happens, even though Chesterton died long before Atlas Shrugged was published, he still had something to say about it.

 The last thing that can be said of a lunatic is that his actions are causeless. If any human acts may loosely be called causeless, they are the minor acts of a healthy man; whistling as he walks; slashing the grass with a stick; kicking his heels or rubbing his hands. It is the happy man who does the useless things; the sick man is not strong enough to be idle. It is exactly such careless and causeless actions that the madman could never understand; for the madman (like the determinist) generally sees too much cause in everything. The madman would read a conspiratorial significance into those empty activities. He would think that the lopping of the grass was an attack on private property. He would think that the kicking of the heels was a signal to an accomplice. If the madman could for an instant become careless, he would become sane. Every one who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of mental disorder, knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze. If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.

The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed specially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours. Or if a man says that he is the rightful King of England, it is no complete answer to say that the existing authorities call him mad; for if he were King of England that might be the wisest thing for the existing authorities to do. Or if a man says that he is Jesus Christ, it is no answer to tell him that the world denies his divinity; for the world denied Christ’s.

– G. K. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy

That seems to me like a succinct diagnosis of Ayn Rand’s problem.  She had a very logical mind that could logically connect any two things.  For example, oddly enough, she actually arranged to have a big-budget verson of Atlas Shrugged produced for theatres in her lifetime.  It had barely started filming, though, before she decided that Paramount studios was run my Soviet spies who intended to use the movie as part of a communist takeover of the United States.  She canceled the project.  A very logical action–after all, what better way for the Soviets to take over America than by planting subliminal messages in the movie version of Atlas Shrugged–but also a very wrong conclusion.

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Comments on: "Chesterton Comments on Ayn Rand" (2)

  1. Looking for stuff on Ayn Rand. Chesterton has her exactly, doesn’t he – the type of character she was.

  2. Ayn Rand had a lot of personal problems, but I’m reading Atlas Shrugged right now, and I can’t say I disagree with the principle economic view. I believe she took a swipe at G.K. because of his anti-“capitalist” views, but careful reading shows that he was referring to the one of the categories of industrialists she despised–those who lacked integrity and instead of relying on their abilities, took any sort of shortcut they could to get ahead, including lobbying for new regulations and laws against competitors.

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