Mises Wire

Home | Wire | Ayn Rand and Garet Garrett

Ayn Rand and Garet Garrett

Tags Media and CulturePhilosophy and MethodologySubjectivism

In Justin Raimondo's fun and lively book Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, he makes an argument that I did not find convincing. He argued that Rand's 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged was clearly influenced by the 1922 Garet Garrett novel The Driverthat Rand never acknowledged this "source" and that if this was not quite plagiarism, then "Rand's silence on this subject amounted to a deliberate deception." I've never been convinced by this conclusion. There is no doubt that Atlas, whatever else may be said about it, is original. Even if Rand was influenced by Garrett, there is simply no case to made for plagiarism or deception. Yet the question of whether Rand did read The Driver is of interest. There are, as Raimondo points out, some thematic similarities between the novels. In Reclaiming, Raimondo he says that "the clearest evidence, albeit circumstantial, that Rand did indeed read The Driver" is a certain "stylistic device." That is, the question "Who is Henry Galt?", which is similar to Atlas's repeated line, "Who is John Galt?"Raimondo concludes, "From the overwhelming mass of evidence it is clear that Rand was influenced by Garrett. The similarities between The Driver and Atlas Shrugged are too numerous and too detailed to be coincidence." As noted, I find the deception/quasi-plagiarism charge to be completely unconvincing, but I was not even persuaded of the contention that Rand had even been influenced by Garrett (not that there would have been anything wrong if she had). But I just came across Garrett's Cinder Buggy: A Fable in Iron and Steel, a novel that

"chronicles the transformation of American industry from the age of iron to the age of steel." "The plot concerns an ongoing war between two industrialists, one the hero who is beaten in the first generation and the other who is malevolent but initially wins an ongoing struggle. The struggle continues through the second generation, which leads to the titanic struggle over whether steel or iron would triumph and why."

Hmm. A steel industrialist. Hmm. One of the major characters in Atlas is Hank Rearden (2):

Iron-willed inventor, and founder of the Rearden Steel empire, Hank Rearden is, with Francisco and Galt, one of the novel's three major heroes. Rearden's quest to understand and resolve his moral and emotional conflicts is central to the plot. His revolutionary new alloy, Rearden Metal, makes him a target of predators in government, industry, and his own family.

Yet another similarity? Maybe. I suppose—though I'm still not convinced—Rand may have read Garrett's novels, and the themes and use of industrialists (railroad; steel) may have influenced her. (I'm not sure I see any links, though, to Satan's Bushel, the third of Garrett's trilogy.) Food for thought. Update: Comments I wrote a friend about this:

I never read Garrett but from the way Raimondo described it, it was obvious that the argument for "plagiarism" is not only strained, but undefined. Ihis is  the problem with intellectual property and related concepts. As an IP lawyer there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that there is not a bit of a copyright infringement by Rand here. Even if she did read the driver even if she did adopt some of its motifs and even overall plot ideas. None. This is perfectly permissible. And I do not think she even read it. Why would she intentionally use the same name as the hero of that novel? It makes no sense. She wanted to be original. So all you have left is "plagiarism." But what is plagiarism? Another nebulous, undefined concept, bound up in the idea of IP. Real plagiarism is turning in a paper someone else wrote, with your name on it—that is, dishonestly pretending you are the author of something you are not. What in the world has this got to do with being influenced by others? EVERYONE is "influenced" by others. Rand's story is undoubtedly original. Therefore, it is not only clearly not copyright infringement, it is not plagiarism. You'd have to say Garrett wrote the story and she put her name on it. Rand obviously didn't do this. IP is influencing all this. For copyright we say you "stole" the other's work—"used it" "without permission". For plagiarism you "stole" someone else's work—put it forward with your name on it as if you wrote it; i.e., "stole" here means you LIED. All this mushy-mouthed reasoning, overuse of metaphors,imprecise use of concepts leads to equivocation. So all we have left is "failure to give attribution." But what clear ethical or scholarly rule requires the author of a NOVEL to drop fricking footnotes saying "I was influenced by XYZ on this theme/plot device"? I guess if you fail to drop a footnote to the right reference it's "theft" now?? If you are "influenced" by someone else, it's "theft." If you fail to drop a footnote admitting to your "theft," you are "deceptive" or a "plagiarist" to boot.
IP corrupts everything.

Appendix: Notes on Raimondo's Comments on Atlas and The Driver From p. 199 of Reclaiming the American Right:

"There is a second, and deper, level on which the assertion of Rand's utter uniqueness is a lie. ... The Randian claim to have given birth to a philosophy without antecedents, which amounts to an Objectivist version of the Virgin Birth, is proved false by the fact that Rand's novel, Atlas Shrugged, bears such a strong resemblance to Garet Garrett's 1922 novel The Driver, that there arises a real question as to whether Rand passed the boundaries of acceptable behavior in "borrowing" a little too much."

Raimondo alludes to "the clearest evidence, albeit circumstantial, that Rand did indeed read The Driver" is a certain "stylistic device." He mentions Rand's "intellectual and artistic debt to Garet Garrett". More:

"From the overwhelming mas of evidence it is clear that Rand was influenced by Garrett. The similarities between the Driver and Atlast Shrugged are too numerous and too detailed to be coincidence. This is not a question of plagiarism. What is really at issue is the authenticity of Rand's claim to stand not at the end but at the beginning of a tradition. The Driver proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that this is untrue. The only question is whether this was a conscious lie on Rand's part." "My own theory is that Ayn Rand knew perfectly well what she was doing, and did not regard it as appropriating anything. ... I believe Rand never acknowledged Garrett as a source for two reasons. ... she probably considered him to be a minor writer whom she certainly did not intend to imitate or plagiarize, but only to improve on. ... while not plagiarism in the legal sense, the unacknowledged and—in my view—conscious use of Garrett's work as a starting point for her own does, in this case, constitute intellectual fraud." Rand's silence on this subject amounted to a deliberate deception. ... this is not a case of word-for-word plagiarism." See also p. 322 (middle paragraph) of The Age of Rand: Imagining an Objectivist Future World. Sciabarra writes:
"4. Some of Walker's insights are original, including, for example, a unique, though improbable, thesis about the origins of Rand's chosen name (278). However, Walker too often reiterates points made by others: First, he mentions John Gall of the National Association of Manufacturers, with whom Rand corresponded, as a possible model for John Galt. Then he repeats Justin Raimondo's unsupported claims that Rand plagiarized Garet Garrett's The Driver. Neither Walker nor Raimondo suggest any similarity between the hero of Atlas Shrugged and the real-life John Galt, an "unusual type" of nineteenth-century "entrepreneur with talents in poetry and writing," who was involved in North American railroad investments. See Thomas E. Appleton's Ravenscrag: The Allan Royal Mail Line (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1974), 63-64. Rand, of course, may not have even been aware of her character's real-life namesake. Thanks to Larry Sechrest for bringing this to my attention."

Stephan Kinsella

Stephan Kinsella is an attorney in Houston, director of the Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom, and editor of Libertarian Papers.