We the Living comes alive at Cato Institute

, Leonard Robinson, 2 Comments

Ayn Rand has been gaining more attention lately in literary and academic circles. At Accuracy in Academia, we recently interviewed Professor David Kelley, Founder and CIO of the Atlas Society on the influence of Ayn Rand and her work on people, decades after her death in 1982. You can listen to the interview here.

The Cato Institute was the most recent institution to tackle the challenge of bringing the work of Ayn Rand to a vast audience of admirers, foes, and curious observers. Scenes from We the Living, published in 1936, were recreated on stage there by Cato Institute fellows and interns.

Set in 1920’s Russia, We the Living is not only Rand’s first novel but the most autobiographical. The novel follows Kira, a young woman who descends from a once-successful family as she faces life in post-revolutionary Russia confronting societal changes due to communism. We the Living is not only a complete takedown of Marxism but also a passionate love story. Originally published in 1936, Rand’s novel struggled to sell and initially only brought Rand 100 dollars in royalty payments. In 1957, after publishing Atlas Shrugged, Rand’s publishers released a new edition of We the Living, which has since sold three million copies.

Those familiar with other works of Ayn Rand noticed a different tone in We the Living. John Jeffrey, a student at George Washington University, said, “ She seems to have really focused on building a strong plot with very relatable characters compared to some of her other works.”

After the theatrical reading, the Cato Institute hosted a panel discussion with Onkar Ghate, Senior Fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute; Sarah Skwire, Senior Fellow at the Liberty Fund and Literary Editor at FEE.org, and Cathy Young, columnist for Newsday and Reason and author of Growing Up In Moscow with moderation by Caleb O. Brown, Director of Multimedia at the Cato Institute.

In their discussion, they shared many similar viewpoints of the impact that We the Living and similar works had on painting a vivid picture of life in Soviet Russia and other Marxist-embracing nations. However, disagreement was shared on whether Rand’s later works such as Atlas Shrugged deserved similar praise due to their literary style and length.

Yet, despite disagreement, all agreed with Cathy Young, who reflecting on her childhood in Russia said, “Rand knew that the best way to defeat communism is to paint a very detailed picture of it and that is what she did.”