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When the revolution goes wrong
By Steven Martinovich
In Ayn Rand's massive novel Atlas Shrugged, a revolution of the productive occurs when they withdraw their services from a world that considers their talents to be public property. It's inspired countless readers to imagine a world where libertarian or Objectivist ideals reign supreme and some to actually try to bring it about. What happens, though, when the man heading the revolution is bringing about his utopia for reasons that are less than honourable?
That's the question that Keith D. Cummings answers in his novel Opening Bell. In the not too distant future Americans are greeted one morning with a simple message on their computers and televisions: John Galt Has Arrived. Thanks to technology and decades of planning, bond trader Marc Reid and his fellow conspirators manage to seize economic and political power in a bloodless coup. He announces to stunned president -- clearly based on a well-known senator from Arizona -- and his cabinet that the United States will return to the limited government model as put into place by the Founding Fathers and that libertarian and Objectivist principles will rule the day.
As unrealistic as those events are, it's hard not to cheer when it happens in Opening Bell. Reid and his followers begin dismantling entire departments and cut taxation to minimal levels, returning billions of dollars to the accounts of Americans. Although there is much complaint by those who benefited from decades of government redistribution of wealth the silent majority, the middle class, have few problems with the turn of events.
Cummings then takes his story back in time to a younger Reid where we get to see the genesis of the plot. Thanks to a series of tragedies and wrongs perpetrated on Reid and his family, Marc transforms from average youth to committed ideological soldier, quietly biding his time until he is able to carry out his plot. He begins recruiting other intelligent people who share his views and slowly they begin to insert themselves in key positions across the United States.
What is Marc's real motivation? Is he merely content with a constitutionally sound government and a society where the best rise to the top, or does he have his own dark reasons for assuming power? That question is answered in the last third of Cummings' story when it returns to Marc's present day. We gradually begin to learn that perhaps his motivation isn't as pure as his speeches to his peers would indicate. John Galt may have wanted a revolution of the mind but chances are he wouldn't have welcomed Marc Reid's vision.
It's hard not to like Opening Bell if only for the audaciousness of its vision. Bringing a wealth of knowledge -- Cummings has worked as an investment banker and at NASA and holds a degree in computer science -- the novel maintains an air of plausibility even when the events taking place strain credibility. Cummings also avoids hammering the reader with ideological nails, preferring instead to allow the politics of Reid's vision to support the story, not be the raison d'être.
Opening Bell's biggest problem -- outside of minor grammatical errors that should have been caught in proofreading -- is the pacing of Reid's intellectual journey during his youth. His transformation into a soldier for his cause seems forced in its abruptness with no apparent eureka moment. Granted the events of his youth would have provided more than enough motivation for most people to reevaluate how they view the world but for Reid it seems to occur while the reader is turning a page.
Despite that Opening Bell is an enjoyable novel with an important message. Although we may all want that revolution that will usher in a utopian age of freedom and a celebration of our best, Cummings quite rightly warns us to be wary of the prophet. Put it next to Atlas Shrugged on your bookshelf and remember that it's easier to dream of John Galt's vision then it is to bring it about.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario.
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