The Great Book Debate–Ayn Rand, Ron Paul, and Judith Levine

flower powerDear Reader:

Can you believe the size of this amaryllis? Four huge blooms burst open on a thick, green stem over the course of a week. When the last of the four reached its fullest I heard a SNAP! and looked over to see the poor stem broken under the weight of such beauty. I was sad, but placed the flower in a pitcher of water where it brightened my late-winter days for another week. What is more surprising and magical than a tropical flower blooming in the middle of winter?

As winter makes way for a surprisingly early spring here in the great State of Maine, I find myself drawn to opposites: salty and sweet foods, hot drinks and sitting in the cool air on my front step, bursts of activity followed by periods of curling up on the couch with blanket and good book. In the spirit of this month that comes “in like a lion and out like a lamb,” I’ve decided that my reading material should be a study in contrasts.

For months now, storms have raged on Capitol Hill regarding health care, bailouts, the role of government in our lives. We hear on one hand that the American people are mostly satisfied with their insurance plans; on the other hand, we learn of outrage over insurance price hikes in the double digits planned for next year. We know our national debt is so hugemongous there is really no way to comprehend the depth of the hole we’ve dug ourselves into. We also know the two biggest entitlement programs–Medicare and Social Security–are ones no one wants to cut. I’ve watched all this with growing alarm, wondering what is the best way out of the mess we seem to be in, wondering if there IS a way out. Wondering what steps my family and I should take as citizens of our town, our state, and our country. I want to be an active citizen, but I want to be sure I’m acting in a positive, helpful way.

So, small steps. First, before you can try to fix a national economy, it is important to take care of your home economy. This month, in an effort to conserve our personal resources, my family decided to relinquish cable television. The kind of programming I wanted to see wasn’t found on cable anyway. Here’s what I’d like: a daily, two-hour program featuring debate on world and national issues or round-table discussions on said issues. I don’t want to hear party propaganda, so no political party chairmen would be invited. Legislators, yes. Party poobah’s, no. It seems to me that the problems we face today are so vast, so important that partisan politics has no place at the discussion table. Next year’s elections are not as important as next year’s employment figures. I want some straight talk from people who have made it their life’s work to study economics, Contitutional law, sociology, world affairs, energy, natural resources, and history.

Since we can’t always get what we want (and apparently I’m in a minority as the television media tends to give the majority what they want and what we are getting is polito-entertainment masking itself as serious commentary), I decided that if I can’t watch a debate, I’ll create my own . . . with books. I’m embarking on a series of print-debates in the privacy of my own home.

So, last week I invited three thinkers (one of whom is dead) into my home via the magic of the printed page. With Big Government having its day in the sun, so to speak, I decided to give ATLAS SHRUGGED by Ayn Rand another look-see. In Rand’s hefty tome, we see an America that is at once familiar and alien. The economy is failing. Innovative thinkers are either hobbled by government regulations or quietly disappear, leaving chaos and crumbling infrastructure behind. A few stubborn, heroic industrialists hang on. They can’t quite wrap their heads around the “lack of reason” being displayed by their fellow man.

Ron Paul would agree with Ms. Rand on many points. His book THE REVOLUTION outlines Paul’s philosophy of a weaker federal government, less regulation, a free market Austrian economic system based on a gold standard, and more freedom in general. He postulates that government social programs have hurt more than they’ve helped. He wants to audit (and then end) the Federal Reserve, our central banking system. He’s for free trade, but not necessarily for free trade agreements. Thank you, Mr. Paul. And now, Judith Levine. What do you have to say?

Judith Levine is a freelance journalist who, along with her husband, decided to go an entire year without buying anything other than basic needs. No gifts. No movies. No books. No clothes. The idea was to use what they had, make do, or go without. She wanted to experiment with being a non-consumer. She didn’t really get into her politics much, but reading the resulting book, NOT BUYING IT, you get the idea that she’s liberal. Here is the interesting part for me: Levine and Paul have much in common even though they land on opposite sides of the political spectrum. While Paul says, “let the market regulate itself via supply and demand of consumers and producers,” Levine says, “stop mindlessly consuming and start realizing that your choices count.” Ayn Rand, from the great beyond, chimes in with her “Work so that you may consume, otherwise you are looting from those who produce.”

I listened to all of them with great interest and am deliberately refraining from coming to any hard and fast conclusions about the role of the federal government. There are many considerations, many questions. But on one thing, all three of these authors agreed: Individuals need to take responsibility for themselves and their choices. We need to take responsibility for what we value. Most importantly, if we are to continue to be a viable society, we need produce and not simply consume

I encourage you to click on the links provided and give these three authors at least a cursory glance. Everyone–liberals, conservatives, and those of us in-between–will find their ideas challenged by each of these books.

Have you read anything thought-provoking lately? Any ideas of two authors you might read who have wildily diverging views? Stop in and share. Perhaps I’ll chose them for my next great book debate . . . Outside the Box.

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