Saturday, 29 December 2018

Ayn Rand denounced It's a Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life is a 1949 Christmas film that was a box office flop when it was first released, but whose popularity has slowly grown since then until it has become one of the most popular festive films of all time. It is one of the best movies I've ever seen. The setting is the fictional town of Bedford Falls in New York USA and the central character is one of its residents, a man called George Bailey, played by James Stewart. The plot follows his life from childhood to when he reaches maturity, in the contemporary late 1940's. By then he is married to the woman he loves and has four children. Despite this, he feels very dissatisfied with his life and bitterly regrets opportunities lost in the past, to travel the world and become wealthy. When a professional crisis strikes he decides to commit suicide, but the film ends happily of course. It is a very absorbing film and I find it very uplifting, as do many other people. It also includes the fascinating concept of parallel universes and alternate realities. This is the earliest story of that kind that I'm aware of. It predates by many decades other works with that conception such as Never Let Me Go, see: https://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2017/11/never-let-me-go-film-review.html, and my own books, the Roswell Trilogy, see: http://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.com/2018/12/roswell-redeemed-is-here.html. Therefore I was shocked to discover that It's a Wonderful Life had been accused of spreading communist propaganda during the Red Scare. What's more, the person who is believed to have denounced the film was none other than Ayn Rand. During the 1940's and 50's the United States of America was struck down by an hysterical fear of "communists!". That word had a very different colloquial use to that of today. It didn't necessarily mean an orthodox Marxist; it could be applied to anybody who was not a table-thumping redneck. With retrospect, it turns out that there was some justification for that fear. The Venona project was a counterintelligence operation by the Signal Intelligence Service, later the NSA, that exposed the Cambridge spies; Blunt, Burgess, MacLean and Philby along with the espionage ring within the Manhattan project to develop the nuclear bomb. Yet that was just the tip of the iceberg. The vast majority of Venona intercepts were never deciphered. The agents who sent and received them were never caught. Some may still be alive today and walking free. Even the man whose very name was coined for institutional paranoid suspicion, Senator Joseph McCarthy, has been absolved somewhat, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wljpYZ8wejA. Yet none of these facts legitimize the depths and extremes of the "anti-communist" obsession of that era. It was even suggested that Superman's red cape was actually a red flag in disguise. A number of films emerged at the time which capture that terrified mania. They are almost funny when viewed through modern eyes, for instance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KWHDNPdoCg, and: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8zhmCjV71w, and: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4alzh3. The only excuse I can think of was that this was the early Cold War and the threat of nuclear holocaust had just emerged; something so horrific that it caused mass insanity among the population in a way that those born under the shadow of the bomb could never comprehend. A number of cinema actors, writers and directors were subpoenaed by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. Most refused to testify and were found in contempt. The "Hollywood Ten" as they were called were blacklisted from America's famous movie industry. These included some household names such as Arthur Miller, Humphrey Bogart and Lionel Stander. This film is a good history of the subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQ-dKru9RWM.
I have taken an interest in Ayn Rand during the last few years, see background links below. According to her biographer Barbara Branden, Rand agreed to assist the HUAC because she was concerned about the threat from "communists!", but she was pro-free speech and so opposed the blacklist. As part of her testimony she attacked the film It's a Wonderful Life. Her suspicions were first raised because of two of its screenwriters, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. Neither were politically active "communists!", but they were acquainted with people who were "communists!". Even though that statement could apply to a good proportion of the American population, it didn't put Rand off. She claims that the principle antagonist in It's a Wonderful Life Henry Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore, was an obvious caricature of a greedy capitalist. Potter is indeed an off-the-shelf portrayal of a selfish and avaricious man. He is also a thief who does not return some money he finds that was lost by George Bailey's uncle; which causes the crisis that leads to George's attempted suicide. However, George's resistance to Potter's reign of terror is not one of organized socialism. In fact he runs a credit union that encourages people to become homeowners. He creates an entire housing estate of self-built leasehold properties for the people of Bedford Falls. This is not a story of the left triumphing over capitalism, but rather individual or small-scale capitalism triumphing over corporate feudalism. The film stresses the importance of family values, patriotism and community tradition; ones considered the core of mid-twentieth century American identity. It also has a distinct spiritual theme. The message of the movie is that people suffering from low self-esteem should think twice. You might be more valuable than you believe you are. Source: http://www.openculture.com/2014/12/ayn-rand-helped-the-fbi-identify-its-a-wonderful-life-as-communist-propaganda.html. Frank Capra was never accused of "communism!" and was not even a liberal. He co-wrote the screenplay as well as directing the film and he said himself about his masterpiece that he wanted "to strengthen the individual's belief in himself and... combat the modern trend toward atheism." That could be Lenin talking I'm sure you'll agree!... In his quest, Capra agreed to collaborate with Goodrich and Hackett, and indeed Goodrich and Hackett agreed to collaborate with him. They did so very successfully. That doesn't sound like a conspiracy of reds-under-the-bed to me. It's a Wonderful Life has been harshly criticized by leftwing pundits for its religious themes and Christmas culture as well as its promotion of private property and individualism. It is generally regarded as a very conservative movie. A dislike of inequity and structural violence is not exclusive to the left. This article by Theodore Dalrymple makes that very clear. It is an analysis of the Russian author Ivan Turgenev's story Mumu, see: https://www.city-journal.org/html/how%E2%80%94and-how-not%E2%80%94-love-mankind-12177.html. I think this strange negative fixation on It's a Wonderful Life supports what I've said about Ayn Rand in the background links below. She was highly intelligent and capable of fascinating insights, but she also sometimes suffered from very warped perceptions. Maybe this was a result of her self-imposed isolation. Her social life revolved entirely around her family and close-knit circle of ideological supporters. She refused to appear on television and radio interviews with any of her opponents and could dissolve into a fit of rage when she encountered anybody who disagreed with her. Her behaviour is reminiscent of the modern SJW. She spent her whole adult life living within her own safe space. She once even castigated Barbara Branden for admiring the view outside her home. I think in some ways Ayn Rand was an emotionally immature person. It's odd that the same individual was also capable of producing truly great pieces of literature, with skilful style, gripping plots and astonishingly thought provoking concepts.

38 comments:

Garry said...

Do you like inequality and cap doffing? I bet you would love a laissez-faire society, survival of the fittest and all that.

Garry

Anonymous said...

PP: OT, here's some interesting research demonstrating how UK military/establishment is promoting the .alt right across EU -

Inside the Integrity Initiative, the UK gov's information war on the public w/ David Miller (E32)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=695&v=doip79-pYn0

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Garry. No I don't.

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Anon. Thanks very much. I've already heard Neil Sanders' talking about this.

Adrian said...

I don't know why you seem fascinated by Rand. Her ideas were not original and moreover they are quite disgusting, appealing as they do to the most base human traits such as complete selfishness and greed.

I wonder was Rand deeply misanthropic as a result of her somewhat less than attractive appearance? It couldn't have been easy for her at a time when women had little more than beauty to get on in life. I'm glad times have changed, although Rand would have been at home as a Tory MP. Cheers. Ade

Clare said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Adrian. Yes I'm interested in Ayn Rand, but this is not because I agree with her every word. She was not a misanthrope and you've not portrayed her ideas fairly. She was not in favour of greed. She simply believed that enforced altruism was wrong. I agree, she was not very pretty and her voice was very grating. Despite a talent for languages she never lost her Russian accent. But she had a loving husband her whole life.

Adrian said...

So being against 'enforced altruism' means she was against any form of welfare and that is your value judgement to call it 'enforced altruism' whereas some see welfare as the hallmark of a civilised society. I suppose she preferred charity. Socialism doesn't work coz people are greedy, but hey charity works coz people are generous! That's the mentality. I think charity is generally a symptom of failure and should never be seen as an alternative to social welfare.
She was opposed to the rich paying tax and she saw inequality as a good thing. Just very right wing conservative ideology really.
I heard she ended up living on welfare herself. Oh the irony. If she were around now she'd see Trump and May as being too left wing. Ade

Adrian said...

Oh and didn't she call her philosophy "the virtue of selfishness"? Ade

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Adrian. That's a title. Have you read the lecture transcript? Next you'll be saying Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" got Thatcher elected.

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Adrian, as for your first post. I'll think over what you've said, but it's important to see both sides of the story. See the video "The Truth About Ayn Rand" by Stefan Molyneux.

Adrian said...

Hi Ben. Yes I'm aware the Philosophy of Selfishness was a book title but it's true is it not, that she attempted to make selfishness into a virtue? Quite perverse really as by definition selfishness cannot be deemed a virtue but then she was essentially a solipsist. Western civilisation is founded on civic society and collectivism and the wreckers of this are people like Rand and Thatcher who uphold the rights of individuals to exploit others and moreover to undermine the fabric of social bonds. I studied social policy and philosophy at uni and on libertarianism and right wing economics people like Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, Freidman et al influenced modern conservative thought but Rand is like an oil stain on our culture even though she was neither original nor that influencial in terms of policy unlike the others I mention. Pernicious certainly and I amazed that people admire someone like that. The UK and the USA for 40 years now based on the kind of politics Rand would approve of and surely we need less of this lest we become the third world which is the logical conclusion of extreme right wing libertarianism. I'd be very interested to know what you admire about her Ben? Cheers. Ade

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Well Ade, according to her train of thought it is statism, not libertarian capitalism, that is creating a global Third World and she and her supporters bring some intriguing arguments to bear. Have you seen Molyneux debating Peter Joseph of Zeitgeist?

Adrian said...

Ben, you should know that corporations including global banking hold all the power and the nation state is always subordinate to global capital. Global capital is bringing the third world to Europe not government which only does the bidding. The military-industrial complex is something that is very real. The social democratic economies by the way from Canada to Scandinavia all rank as the most successful and specifically happiest in the world happiness survey (see Wikipedia on this) with lowest levels of income inequality. High income inequality is something akin to third world states and the trends are well established.
To answer your question, yes I'm familiar with Stefan Molyneaux but I think his analysis is always rubbish. Right wing libertarianism is all a bit hackneyed and it only seems to talk about further limiting government and increasing the power of capital. What can possibly go wrong!!

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Adrian, then you should know that this is not a fair judgement of capitalism. A society in which large corporations instead of smaller individually owned companies run the economy together with a state in which 40 to 60% of the capital in the economy is forfeit to them in taxes... how can you look at this and assess capitalism? Also Rand's views on altruism are correct. An absence of altruism is NOT an absence of kindness and charity. The problem with altruism is that if you believe it you have to go to your local hospital and shoot yourself because there are people waiting for organ transplants and you have working organs.

Adrian said...

Ben. Sorry but your last response makes no sense to me whatsoever. Are you saying that global capital is not more powerful than nation states? If you deregulate capitalism such as what happened under Reagan and Thatcher then you end up with global corporations concentrating wealth in fewer hands and manufacturing moving to wherever labour costs are lowest. You end up with high income inequality which always correlates with deregulation. That's why I made the point about regulated capitalism with a strong state akin to the social democracies where income inequality is lower and these places are demonstrably happier places as evidenced by the world happiness survey. On altruism, this is an individual concern. State welfare and health funded through fair progressive taxation should mean we are not subject to the whims of charity and altruism.
Cheers. Ade

Adrian said...

Further on your point of altruism, you are taking it to ridiculous extremes. The self preservation instinct is always going to be stronger than altruism but that of course is not to say that as social animals humans lack altruism. The problem with Rand and Thatcherite doctrines is that selfishness and greed are seen as healthy and altruism is seen as something weak and to be discouraged. This is because the economic imperative of free market capitalism is based on the values of greed, selfishness and social darwinism. The state and concomitant welfare should counter this ruthless survival of the fittest mentality, and work towards the common good. Capitalism under state regulation with nationalised public services and fair taxation etc can be made to work for the people as we have seen in certain countries. Ade

Adrian said...

How would you say Randian ideology differs from Thatcherism?

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Hi Ade, you've not addressed my point about the difference between corporations and sole traders. If you read more of my articles you will see that I regularly criticize social Darwinism very harshly; put it into the search box and see. I think you misunderstand the issues at stake. Also have you ever asked why it is statists who keep saying we need the state? Don't you think there's a conflict of interests there? This idea that the state is essential for human civilization is awfully convenient. It's a common false response to anarchism, that in such a society we would all run round beating each other over the head with clubs. Also the World Happiness Index does not tally with the nations you say it does. One of the highest is Bhutan which is an absolute monarchy. It's a very misanthropic idea that we need the state to save us from ourselves. Without it we gravitate naturally into conflict economics. This is the basis of Marxism.

Adrian said...

Ben. No I don't think I do misunderstand it. Karl Marx once said that in theory capitalism works very well. Lots of capitalists compete which means wages increase and prices decrease. However, as he predicted the logical conclusion of capitalism is big global capital calling the shots. If we reduce so called state led 'red tape' as the Tories and UKIP call it then we deregulate business and finance which leads to monopolies, huge banking interests and corporations which are unelected yet are able to influence elected government to further reduce the state and further increase the power of capital.
Can you please give examples of how 'statism' is eroding quality of life more than capitalism?
Ayn Rand was yet another classical liberal (as it is known from the laissez faire days) and classical liberalism caused massive suffering for the majority, as in the working class.

You say you're against social darwinism yet you support Rand's somewhat bleak worldview. You may wish to read Thomas Hobbs' Leviathan which is a salutory lesson against the type of anarchism you mention, unleashing a 'war of all against all'. So how can you be for Rand and yet against social darwinism? Thanks. Ade

Adrian said...

Hi again Ben. So how would you say Rand's ideology differs from Thatcherism? Ade

Grant said...

Ben, do you like the Tories? If it was a straight choice between them and Labour I mean.

Grant

PS How can I get a copy of your new book?

Adrian said...

I also disagree on the state being only about protecting us from each other. As I have argued re regulated social democratic capitalism, the state should protect us from rapacious big business. If necessary nationalising at least parts of the banking sector as the Swedes did in the 90s. Ade

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Hi Ade. I'm not sure I know how to explain myself any further. I feel we're talking at cross purposes. I don't know what the difference is between Rand and Thatcher.

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Grant, no I don't like the Tories. You can buy my most recent three books on Amazon. There's a link on Ben's Bookcase, see the links column.

Adrian said...

OK Ben I'm sorry I didn't see your comment earlier re difference on Thatch and Rand. Please therefore please ignore my last question. I don't think there is much difference and I suppose the lovely Mrs T was a big fan of Rand! Cheers now. Ade

Grant said...

So by the nature of the question you like Labour more than the Tories then?

Grant

Ordering a book on payday.

Josh said...

Hi Ben. I think Atlas Shrugged is marvellous. I want to read more of her works. Have you read Camp of the Saints by Jean Raspail? Decades ago he predicted in his novel the invading hordes from Africa. I recommend it to you if you haven't read it. The left wing hate this book like they do Ayn Rand's work. They would have such books burned in a heartbeat I can tell you. Have you thought about writing a political thriller with perhaps a protagonist of the right? Perhaps with a sci-fi/dystopian twist. Sort of Lovecraft/Rand/Orwell influenced novel? It would be a smashing read I'm sure. Cheers buddy. Josh

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Ade, I don't know exactly. She may have read Rand privately, but it's not a part of her course in economics at Oxford that she did. I know MT was a fan of deregulation and the privatization of nationalized assets. The policies of privatization in the NHS have been a complete disaster and have cost hundreds of thousands of lives, with many more permanently maimed. To be fair they were not purely MT's policies. The Labour govt under Blair was far more radical in that respect. However, I can't see MT hiding out in Galt's Gulch with Midas Mulligan.

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Hi Josh. Yes, I've read Camp of the Saints. It's very over-the-top and unpleasant to read, but it was skillfully written. Yes, I am considering writing my own political thriller, although the main character may not be from the right. I could never write a rightwing polemic.

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Hope you enjoy the book, Grant :-)

I quite like Jeremy Corbyn, although I disagree with him politically. He seems to have courage, intelligence and principles... very rare in a statesman these days.

Grant said...

Ben, when you say you disagree with Corbyn politically, in what way do you mean?

Grant.

Josh said...

I look forward to your political thriller Ben. What is your opinion of the UK Yellow Vest movement that seems to be gaining support? I'm a great believer in street led populism. I note that when it's the right as opposed to far-left thugs, we quickly become demonised by the elitist liberal media. Maybe HPANWO TV can check out a demo? Josh

Adrian said...

Ben I thought Thatcher read chemistry at Oxford and obviously not economics?

Josh said...

Be great if you could at least do a blog on the UK Yellow Vest movement. J

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Josh, I have made HPANWO TV videos about the yellow vests.

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Grant, I disagree with him far more and have lost respect for him since he became a Remoaner.

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Adrian, duly noted...