William F. Buckley Flogged Himself to Get Through Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged sold an estimated 25 million copies between its publication in 1957 and 2007. Early on, the book inspired a young generation of business leaders, and now, decades later, it holds appeal for a new class of conservatives. But it wasn’t always that way. Back in the 1950s, William F. Buckley, the enfant terrible of the conservative movement, launched the National Review and published a review by Whittaker Chambers — the Soviet spy who famously turned against Communism (and Alger Hiss), all while building a remarkable career at TIME Magazine. About Atlas Shrugged, Chambers wrote: ”I find it a remarkably silly book. It is certainly a bumptious one. Its story is preposterous.” And, what’s more, he adds: “Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal.”

Rand never forgave Buckley for the review. Persona non grata, he was. Years later, in 2003, Buckley revisited the whole affair with Charlie Rose and made known his personal feelings for Rand’s book. “I had to flog myself to read it…”

Related Content:

Mike Wallace Interviews Ayn Rand (1959)

William F. Buckley v. Gore Vidal (1968)

Ayn Rand Talks Atheism with Phil Donahue

Wealthy Donors Paying Universities to Teach Rand

via Roger Ebert


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Comments (18)
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  1. Sinjin Smythe says . . . | May 10, 2011 / 6:30 pm

    I have a great appreciation for both Ayn Rand and Bill Buckley. I don’t discount one because the other didn’t marvel over the other’s every accomplishment.

    I understand that Buckley didn’t like the delivery of Rand’s ideas in the novel form. As a literary critic it must have seemed too big to stuff in a novel.

    Ms Rand’s novel is hardly the first to challenge a person’s patience. That said it remains what it is and both Mr. Chambers and Mr. Buckley’s criticism fell short of the truth that Atlas Shrugged has been independently validated more than 25 million times.

    I read Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” and felt at times as though I had to flog myself to read it. I’m not about to say it wasn’t a masterpiece of modern scientific thought.

    Add too Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses”, or Homer’s “The Iliad” I was flogging myself on these too. Still good stuff.

  2. Billy Delaney says . . . | May 11, 2011 / 12:37 am

    I like Mr. Buckley and enjoyed watching him speak about topics of interest. I along with the 25 million others enjoyed Ayn Rand and her book. Because He did not enjoy her book, does not make me want to choose between them.

  3. Billy Delaney says . . . | May 11, 2011 / 12:37 am

    I like Mr. Buckley and enjoyed watching him speak about topics of interest. I along with the 25 million others enjoyed Ayn Rand and her book. Because He did not enjoy her book, does not make me want to choose between them.

  4. Ganeshaa23 says . . . | May 11, 2011 / 4:40 am

    25 million may have purchased the book but that does not mean that 25 million enjoyed the book. Buckley and I are at least two who didn’t.

  5. The Dude says . . . | May 11, 2011 / 5:32 am

    It is always reassuring to know there are others who have a genuine dislike of Ayn Rand’s philosophy: http://oppugno.com/blog/2011/05/11/ayn-rand-is-a-cunt-and-i-never-use-the-c-word/

  6. Sinjin Smythe says . . . | May 11, 2011 / 2:56 pm

    Exactly! Finally a fair minded person.

  7. Sinjin Smythe says . . . | May 11, 2011 / 3:15 pm

    Not so reassuring though is the number of those that dislike her philosophy for not really knowing or understanding it.

    You know the people who don’t like her for what she looked like, or how she spoke, or how they perceive her politics.

    She was ahead of her time and strong continued sales of her works generations after her writing testify to that. This is often the case with genius.

  8. 3988john39872wq says . . . | May 11, 2011 / 8:42 pm

    You know, I strongly disagree with her notion (and it is that, a notion not a thought out idea) that business practices are all that is needed for government and ethics, and historically, I’m right. Business has never been everything.

    On the other hand she was utterly right about the psychology of interpersonal relationships and how money is made, and how it is not.

    She’s a bit extreme but was on the right track in some ways in some directions that most others hadn’t the ability to go.

  9. Michael says . . . | May 15, 2011 / 6:58 pm

    There’s a great deal of hatred out there for Rand. Generally based on ignorance. Here’s something that would surprise some of the haters from her own lips: http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/charity.htmlhttp://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/charity.html

  10. InfoVulture says . . . | August 31, 2011 / 8:42 am

    All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace – Nailed it for me. Google/Youtube it.

  11. MDM says . . . | December 2, 2011 / 9:03 pm

    Actually it is the love of Ayn Rand’s work that is based on ignorance, and contempt for her that’s based on wisdom. There is nothing new about Rand’s so-called philosophy. It is only the latest iteration of the most failed philosophy in history. Rand’s creed is simply a rehash of the same dreary failed ideas espoused by the Nietzschean ubermensch cult, Social Darwinism, George Fitzhugh and Joseph De Maistre, to name a few. These cults come in religious and secular varieties – Rand was an atheist – but the elements are otherwise the same: the believer sees himself as part of a tiny elite ordained by God or nature to rule over the rest of humanity, to monopolize wealth and power, and to abuse, exploit, deceive and even slaughter their despised “lessers.” Dehumanizing others this way is crudely pleasurable and confers a delusion of superiority. But it also shuts down reason. It is likely related to the demented state of hysteria people go into when they commit genocide. Naming her creed “objectivism” was the height of delusional arrogance, because it is actually subjectivism at its pathological extreme. Psychologists who have actually studied business leadership will tell you Randians make terrible leaders. The failure to acknowledge others’ talents, contributions and rights is both delusional and inexcusable. Rand was a pathetic psychopath. She demonized kindness, compassion and cooperation because she had no capacity to understand them, and so they absolutelly terrified her, made her feel helpless. She had to tell a story that remade the world according to her own crippled terms. But her worldview is a lie, and the people who live by it live cramped, pathetic lives, so demeaned they have to reduce others to objects to feel good about themselves.

  12. PJ says . . . | May 12, 2012 / 8:40 am

    “The Fountainhead” was a masterpiece about ideas merged into an engaging story that exalted Howard Roark as brilliant hero. Rand should have seen it as her seminal achievement. “Atlas Shrugged” was an over-the-top one-dimensional fantasy that had a demented look at man’s quest for happiness in an evil world. When reading it I could not help but sense a background cadence of fascism belying human reason and logic.

  13. John K. Campbell says . . . | July 5, 2012 / 9:26 am

    What is in my best interest is moral. She makes me cringe.

  14. john says . . . | August 11, 2012 / 4:14 pm

    a professor of mine once called Ayn Rand “supermarket nietzsche”

  15. Victoria says . . . | April 17, 2013 / 10:04 pm

    This just slays me: “Rand never forgave Buckley for the review. Persona non grata, he was.” The reversed Yoda-syntax is just a bonus! Just kills! And the woman was a clown, with strong proclivities for vulnerable young men. And a philosophy that appeals to OCD/ Aspergers with blinkers and political hard-ons. Just sayin’, with hindsight.

  16. David M. Brown says . . . | October 24, 2013 / 10:08 pm

    Which part of the philosophy has that appeal? The acceptance of reason as opposed to faith or skepticism? The ethics of rational self-interest? The defense of a society in which men are free–in all aspects of their lives–so long as they respect the rights of others?

  17. David M. Brown says . . . | October 24, 2013 / 10:10 pm

    Your systematic distortion of Rand and her ideas sure sounds like reducing “others to objects to feel good about themselves” to me.

  18. David M. Brown says . . . | October 24, 2013 / 10:12 pm

    Where does Rand argue that “business practices are all that is needed for government and ethics”?

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