Ayn Rand, Smoking, & Atlas Shrugged

by | May 19, 2000

Smoking a cigarette was symbolic to Miss Rand. As one character in Atlas Shrugged said, “I like to think of fire held in a man’s hand. Fire, a dangerous force, tamed at his fingertips. I often wonder about the hours when a man sits alone, watching the smoke of a cigarette, thinking. I wonder what […]

Smoking a cigarette was symbolic to Miss Rand. As one character in Atlas Shrugged said,

“I like to think of fire held in a man’s hand. Fire, a dangerous force, tamed at his fingertips. I often wonder about the hours when a man sits alone, watching the smoke of a cigarette, thinking. I wonder what great things have come from such hours. When a man thinks, there is a spot of fire alive in his mind–and it is proper that he should have the burning point of a cigarette as his one expression.”

None of this has changed, nor has the danger of smoking changed, nor even the knowledge of it; any honest smoker can tell you that his stamina and health are affected by smoking, and that it can be difficult to stop smoking. (Miss Rand smoked for many years, until her doctor told her to quit. She put the cigarette out in his office and never smoked again.)

What has changed is that today’s liberals have decided that they can build a more totalitarian government by attacking cigarette companies. By creating a “public awareness” about the dangers of smoking they create the impression that the government is more concerned with your health than you are, thus the need for Medicare and the FDA. By painting the tobacco company executives as manipulative crooks, they create the impression that only the government can control the “ruthless greed” of all businessmen, and so justify the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department. Through legislation and prosecution, they have empowered a generation of litigious, anti-business, anti-conceptual lawyers who will sue anyone for anything. (The lawyers behind the anti-tobacco lawsuits are also behind suits against gun manufacturers and HMOs, to name but two popular targets.)

All the while, the massive, punitive taxes placed upon all companies and citizens feed their coffers. There is even a resurgent Puritanism to which they appeal; after all, cigarettes are a pleasure — a luxury — and, today’s morality holds need is the standard, not desire or pleasure. The public outcry about cigarettes is less about health than it is about government expansion.

For all of these reasons, I suspect Miss Rand would even have considered — very briefly — the idea of proselytizing for cigarettes and expanding their role in her novels.

I say “briefly” because Miss Rand’s interest was always in literature, never in propaganda. Nor was she ever concerned about conforming to or upsetting widely held opinions. If, as I suspect, smoking a cigarette best represented the ideas she wanted to convey (and I can’t think of a better one, for the reasons mentioned in the quote above), she would have changed nothing in her writing. If some critic were to focus on that as a means of belittling her work (as I’m sure many would), that would only confirm the intellectual bankruptcy of that opponent. If, when confronted by radical, revolutionary philosophy that challenges the fundamentals of the Kantian, Judeo-Christian philosophy that shapes our culture, he targets her “glorification of cancer sticks,” then that is evasion on a massive and vicious scale.

Andrew Lewis is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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