What’s the difference between Ayn Rand and George Orwell?

I just finished reading Nineteen Eighty-Four.  (Yes, this was the first time. Yes, I picked it up in college and read about thirty pages before getting inundated with thermodynamics homework, and I didn’t like it enough to pick it up later.)  Linguistically and thematically, it was reminiscent of Atlas Shrugged, if it can be reminiscent of a novel that was written a decade later. Both Orwell and Rand spoke at length about the motives of those who promote socialism and collectivism, the need for precision in language, sexuality as it relates to the State, and what reality really means.  Neither believed that socialists are in it for the good of mankind; both believed that the trend towards eviscerating language is one way to control people.

Yet, Rand is reviled among the Left and Orwell is worshipped.  Perhaps it is because Orwell so strongly condemned perpetual warfare and means by which government finances the military.  (I find it a bit bizarre that he was so strongly anti-war in 1949.) Rand believed that a military is a fundamental responsibility of government; one must protect one’s nation against invaders.

Perhaps it is because Orwell wrote about snivelling people who struggled for any semblance of an upright life, while Rand wrote about heroes.  John Galt did not give away Dagny in the depths of his torture, but Winston Smith and Julia each sacrificed the other. Rand’s heroes expressed that the natural state of life is joy and freedom; 1984 is devoid of a single character who can keep alive the flame of the human spirit. It is not for their setting; We the Living is a novel about communist Russia, and Rand’s heroine, Kira, lies dying and thankful for her life, individuality, and dignity.

Perhaps that is the real reason why one dystopian novelist is revered and another routinely reviled: the latter sets standards for us as human beings – standards of work ethic, individuality, devotion to our chosen friends, and fire.  When Orwell shows us that it is hopeless, he gives second-raters an excuse, a cop-out, a reason to not be on fire for greatness.

 

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