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Ayn Rand, the Movies, and the Idea of America

Ayn Rand, the Movies, and the Idea of America

October 2, 2014

The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) has recently released a little-known monograph by Ayn Rand called "Textbook of Americanism."

The essay was written for an organization called The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. It was sent by Ayn Rand to FEE's founder, Leonard Reed, in 1946. Now, the full text is available online.

In my essay introduction for "Textbook of Americanism", called " Ayn Rand, the Movies, and the Idea of America ," I explain the essay's historical moment -- how the U.S. had just come out of the chaotic theater of WWII and nations all over the globe were redefining their boundaries and identities; how the trauma and tension of the times lent extra urgency and rhetorical passion to Rand's writing.

I also explain why the movie industry was so close to Ayn Rand's heart. Her first glimpse of the New York City skyline in the background of a film had inspired her. Her pursuit of screen writing formed the skills that would help her emigrate out of an oppressive Russia. And her love of cinema would enrich the story telling that defined her career. In a post-WWII "Textbook of Americanism," Ayn Rand sought to defend the art form she loved and plead with the movie industry to embrace the values of freedom.

I explain:

The tensions surrounding “Textbook of Americanism” are fascinating. It is written about the United States precisely at a time when the idea of the nation-state was crumbling from its own destructive methods, giving way to modern globalization. The essay calls for radical freedom during a dark American paranoia about speech, when communists were put on trial for their beliefs. It is Rand appealing in good faith to the movie industry she loved, at a time when Hollywood was deeply entrenched with the cronyists and communists she hated. It is Rand’s passionate advocacy of ideology while many intellectuals were blaming all systematic ideology for the genocide of the Jewish people. And it enjoins and participates in a propaganda war not long before the dawn of an Internet age that would democratize media and increasingly eliminate the power of propaganda.

While it's true that the information age has tempered the power of propaganda (and this is good), movies remain an important vehicle for the values that shape a culture. To that end, we are still making Ayn Rand's plea for the movie industry (and its cottage industry of movie commentary) to embrace the values of freedom, reason, individualism, and entrepreneurship. The Atlas Shrugged movie trilogy , recently completed, has been a major milestone in that effort.

Laurie Rice's essay at FEE.org, " Ayn Rand, the Movies, and the Idea of America "
Ayn Rand's essay, " The Textbook of Americanism "
Read about Atlas Shrugged movie trilogy  
Read about Ayn Rand's and Objectivists' efforts to end the military draft: " The Persuasion of Nixon "

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