In celebration of National Towel Day a couple days ago, I would like to make a bold statement about the genius that I appreciate about the classic book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:
It is better atheist libertarian literature than any Ayn Rand book.
As a “give me Liberty or give me death” Libertarian, it would be the presumption of many that I would put Ayn Rand’s work on a pedestal and declare it the holy bible of libertarianism; but that is not true. While I thought The Fountainhead was a great story about an artist refusing to compromise one’s expression in order to appease the masses and sell out, it also runs against the very nature of what makes capitalism and a voluntary system work. Voluntary markets work by us changing our services and products to the demand of the people – basically, in order for anyone to make money and make a living for themselves, we have to be nice to others. Howard Roark, as much as I was cheering him on, in reality would have starved to death before he ever met up with Gail Wynand. This doesn’t mean that socialism wins in the end or that individuality is utterly lost, quite the opposite; it just shows that most of us in a capitalist economy voluntary change their business to serve others needs, which in turn will make them money; and there is still plenty room for us to approach these economic issues with our own individualistic flair, and in fact capitalism rewards individuality rather well.
But this isn’t the only reason where Ayn Rand’s literature falls trying to reach an audience and winning them over; ultimately Ayn Rand’s books are mostly devoid of humor and gets overly preachy; and that’s where most literature starts losing its audience. There is a fine line between telling a good morality play and taking a stand on the mound. The fact that it is so very dismissive, to the point of arrogance, to other philosophies can be very off-putting.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a lot of mainstay libertarian elements in the book – the intergalactic government is comprised of Vogons – slow-moving sloth-like bureaucrats that “wouldn’t even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters.” Vogons are soulless and function only to slow things down and make people more irritable. Both Arthur’s home – and the entire planet Earth – was destroyed not because of some evil crazy mastermind, but rather it was destroyed because of public roads, thus showing the direct connection between government’s public eminent domain issues here and the Vogons that kill over a billion people to put up an intergalactic byway. The Vogons simply cannot properly govern an entire galaxy well because the galaxy consists of millions of different planets, alien races and cultures – any type of federal public policy would be mean, impractical and ultimately futile. His description of them hilariously espouses the parodies libertarians put on government as a whole. The President of the Galaxy is nothing more than just a idiotic figurehead in a popularity contest that ultimately brings nothing to the populace anyway and winds up wasting time on a super space-folding ship.
In the movie, organized religion in the story is a very silly affair (with the religious cult Arthur and Zephod visit believing the galaxy was created from a great sneeze from a god), and in fact Earth was not created from any god, but rather it was created by free enterprise contractors, employed by people looking for life’s apparently-elusive meaning. Slarty Blartfast creates planets and worlds for a living, and despite his enjoyment of making the fjords in Norway, he was ultimately moved to create other parts of the world which he doesn’t like (but sticks with the job anyway, my guess is because it’s still better than working in other industries). And to satisfy the Austrian school of libertarian economic thought, the biggest most valuable thing in the universe is not mounds and mounds of fiat currency, but a commodity – the Towel, to which Douglas Adams articulately explains why in the book. The Towel is pretty much the gold standard for the galaxy.
The most crucial element Hitchhiker’s Guide has that Ayn Rand books don’t – it eloquently and humorously explains that in the grand scheme of things, we shouldn’t take life too seriously and we should laugh and enjoy ourselves while we exist. Even if we fail in that purpose, it is still a much more noble effort to try to be happy than try to be right all the time.
One of the many reasons why I prefer living in a free country than become a clog in the Vogon’s system.