Last night, I had the good fortune of attending the world premier of Atlas Shrugged, Part 2, in Washington, D.C. I say good fortune because it was an absolutely awesome film. It had everything — action, adventure, suspense, great acting, wonderful cinematography, a fantastic cliffhanger, and, most important, a clearly drawn battle between the looters and moochers of the welfare state versus the creators and producers of a free-market economy.
When I was in law school during the early 1970s, I had to drop out for 3 months to attend infantry school at Ft. Benning, Georgia, as part of my Army Reserve commitment. I finished the school in October and, thus, had two months before I would return to law school in January. I took a job waiting tables in Dallas.
Since I was a lunch and dinner waiter, I had my afternoons free. One afternoon I began watching an old, black-and-white movie on television. It was entitled The Fountainhead, starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. I was absolutely enthralled. The credits mentioned that the movie was based on the novel by Ayn Rand, which I immediately went out and bought and quickly devoured.
Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to me to look for other works by Rand. After graduating from law school in 1975, I returned to my hometown of Laredo, Texas, as a committed liberal. I served on the board of trustees of the local Legal Aid Society, which provided legal services to the poor, and I also served as the local representative of the ACLU.
One of my best friends from high school had returned to Laredo the same year, after having graduated from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania. He gave me a book entitled A Time for Truth by William Simon, who had served as treasury secretary during the Nixon administration. The book defended the principles of economic liberty, the free market, and capitalism.
I recall saying to my friend, “I enjoyed the book, but I couldn’t understand why he kept harping so much on freedom” You see, at the time my mindset was no different from that of most Americans then and now. As an American who had attended public (i.e., government) schools, I knew I was free. I knew I had grown up in a free country. I knew that America has a free-enterprise system. So, why all the fuss about freedom in Simon’s book?
One day in around 1977, disillusioned with politics, I was looking for something to read in the Laredo public library. I walked into the political-science section and saw four little volumes of books entitled “Essays on Liberty” in different colors, which had been published many years before by The Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, an organization I had never heard of but which I ended up going to work for many years later.
I reached for Volume 1 and began perusing it. What I read absolutely bowled me away. Here was the pure, unadulterated case for libertarianism, which I had never before encountered. I immediately checked out all four books and began voraciously reading them.
The essays in those four books immediately broke through the lies and deceptions under which I had been living for some 27 years. America wasn’t a free society. It didn’t have a free-market system, at least not anymore. America had embraced a welfare state, managed-economy way of life, a system based on coerced charity and legalized plunder. While it purported to help the poor, the exact opposite was the case.
I was absolutely stunned. The scales were falling off my eyes. I realized that for the first time in my life, I was seeing reality for what it was. And I realized that I had been lied to from the first grade on up.
I discovered that I was a libertarian. I now understood what William Simon was talking about. I later realized that Ayn Rand had planted the seed of my self-discovery and my breakthrough to reality, thanks to the movie that was made based on her great book, The Fountainhead.
Of course, I later read Atlas Shrugged, and then read it again, and then read it a third time. It never bothered me that Rand was an atheist, while I was a devout Catholic. What attracted me was Rand’s uncompromising defense of natural rights, economic liberty, and free-market principles, especially from a moral and philosophical perspective. Fortunately, her pure defense of economic liberty comes through in Part 2 of the movie version of Atlas Shrugged.
I later had the good fortune of seeing Rand deliver her last public speech before she passed away. It was at an investment conference in New Orleans sponsored by a free-market, sound-money group called the National Committee for Monetary Reform.
Another fascinating and important part of the movie is its realistic depiction of how the government would use an economic emergency as a way to take away people’s freedom.
We’ve all seen how the government has done this with 9/11 and the so-called war on terrorism. Seizing upon people’s fear of WMDs and the terrorists after the 9/11 attacks, the president, the military, the CIA, and the rest of the national-security state assumed extraordinary emergency powers over the citizenry, without even bothering to ask Congress, the legislative branch of government, for permission to exercise such powers, as even Hitler did when he sought the same types of temporary emergency powers after the terrorist attack on the German Reichstag building.
We’re talking about the power of the military to take citizens into custody without judicial interference, cart them away to concentration camps or military dungeons, torture them, and even execute them, perhaps after some sort of kangaroo tribunal. Such omnipotent military power over the citizenry effectively carved out a terrorism exception to the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution without, of course, a constitutional amendment to authorize the change.
For all practical purposes, the changes to America’s constitutional order in the aftermath of 9/11 have been permanent, given the continuing nature of U.S. interventionism abroad and the resulting never-ending threat of terrorism.
Atlas Shrugged, Part 2, makes clear that the same sort of thing can happen with an economic emergency as it did with 9/11. As the movie unfolds, a lover of freedom cannot help to feel a sense of dread as the government implements a severe crackdown on the economic liberty and private-property rights of the citizenry.
An exciting part of the movie is when the scales start to fall off the eyes of some of the citizens. At Hank Rearden’s trial for violating the “Fair Share Law,” the spectators at the trial at first seem to side with the state. But as Rearden makes his courageous, principled stand against the looters and moochers, the audience turns in his favor and ultimately gives him a standing ovation. It’s an awesome scene, especially when you see the judges on the tribunal cower in fear.
As Rearden made clear, it was the government’s own welfare-state and managed-economy policies themselves that were the root cause of the economic emergency (just as they are today and just as it is the U.S. government’s foreign policy that is the root cause of the anger and hatred that brings the constant threat of anti-American terrorism.)
Of course, statists might argue that federal officials would never use an economic emergency as an opportunity to crack down on the citizenry or to fundamentally alter America’s constitutional order, as they did with the 9/11 attacks.
Oh? Perhaps they’ve never heard of President Franklin Roosevelt, who used the Great Depression, which had been caused by the Federal Reserve, not only to adopt dictatorial powers but also to permanently transform America’s economic system. Given Roosevelt’s fascist National Recovery Act and Blue Eagle campaign, it’s not surprising that even Adolf Hitler sent a letter commending him on how he was addressing the Great Depression. Also, let’s not forget that FDR’s Social Security program became a permanent part of American life despite the fact that the Great Depression ended almost 70 years ago.
Moreover, let’s not forget the military coup in Chile. On 9/11 in 1973, military strongman Augusto Pinochet took power in a coup, one that was fully supported and embraced by the Pentagon and the CIA. Not surprisingly, Pinochet used the crisis environment in Chile to assume and exercise the same powers that President Bush assumed after 9/11 — the power of the military to take citizens into custody without judicial interference, cart them away to concentration camps or military dungeons, torture them, and execute them. In fact, during Pinochet’s coup the CIA even participated in the execution of two young Americans who were denominated as communists and terrorists.
What was the difference between Chile’s 9/11 and America’s 9/11? The Chilean “emergency” that gave rise to those emergency military powers was economic in nature. The American 9/11 involved an act of terrorism.
As things continue to worsen for the welfare state and managed economy in America today, there is the increasing risk that Americans are going to find themselves being squeezed between the jaws of a vise — with one jaw being an economic “emergency” and the other jaw being a terrorist “emergency.”
Atlas Shrugged, Part 2, is a great movie with a profound message and a deep warning. It should be viewed and taken seriously by every American concerned about freedom and the future well-being of our country.