With the filming of Atlas Shrugged finally underway, a lot of libertarians are pretty excited to see their favorite heroes come to life on the big screen. Many people learned to value individualism and liberty through Rand’s books, and a well-done movie could certainly turn even more people into market enthusiasts.
In fact, even before Rand, literature helped people to envision a freer world. Libertarianism has enjoyed a rich literary history ranging anywhere from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World to Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, a history that seems somewhat unique to this world-view. And not only do we love our literature, but we tend to look towards highly imaginative work that stands on the fringes of normalcy.
So why do libertarians talk about John Galt as much as conservatives talk about Ronald Reagan? According to Brian Doherty from Reason Magazine, libertarians look to imaginative fiction because they lack living embodiments of their ideals. Conservatives, however, have already achieved concrete ideological recognition that supplies its practitioners with living heroes. Since libertarians still need heroes, and because few living people have achieved the necessary ideals, authors like Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein have invented them.
Doherty explains: “The major reason libertarianism has a firm base in literature—even popular literature—that conservatism lacks comes down to a purity of ideas and goals. Libertarianism is still a project, essentially, of the moral imagination, and one with a unity of purpose. Conservatism, meanwhile, has become a project of electoral wrangling.”
That’s what makes libertarianism so unique: it’s an attempt to build a world based on an understanding of the human spirit, an aspiration that requires the kind of serious introspection that literature demands.