The Capitalist Fiction of Garet Garrett

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The
Ludwig von Mises Institute has reprinted the four novels written
by Garet Garrett (1878–1954), one of America’s leading financial
journalists and a libertarian. Garrett, who for unknown reasons
had renamed himself so that both parts sounded alike, was a writer
of distinctive ideas and a forcefully distinctive style. I have
had the pleasure of editing two volumes of his essays: Salvos
Against the New Deal
(Caxton, 2002), and Defend
America First
(2003). Caxton will bring out a third volume,
Insatiable
Government
, later this year. But none of his novels had
been reprinted since the 1920s, and they have been difficult to
find on the used-book market.

As I write,
abebooks.com is offering only two Garrett novels from those years:
one copy of Harangue
(1927) at a bookstore in Vancouver, WA, at $124.99, and one
copy of The
Cinder Buggy
(1923) at a bookstore in England, at $530.
No original copies of Satan’s
Bushel
(1924) or The
Driver
(1922) are available at all. A determined reader
can find these stories in bound copies of the Saturday Evening
Post, or in the case of Satan’s Bushel, in another old
magazine, called Country Gentleman. But then you have to
photocopy them on 11×17 paper or read them at the library.

I’m an admirer
of Garrett, and have long wanted his work to be easier to obtain.
The Mises Institute reprints – facsimiles of the original E.P.
Dutton editions, bound in new covers and offered at $18 to $25 –
now make his novels available once more.

Garrett was
famous as a journalist and essayist, but not today as a writer of
fiction, and there are some reasons for that. Still, his work should
be of interest to libertarians, particularly those who grew up on
the fiction of Ayn Rand. Many thought Rand was the only novelist
with capitalist heroes. Those people hadn’t read Garrett. Of the
four novels, one is about a railroad tycoon and another about a
pioneer of the steel industry. All four have messages about the
market and the essence of American capitalism.

I should note
that Garrett also wrote another book, The Blue Wound (1921),
that is ostensibly fiction. In this work, a journalist meets a time
traveler who gives him a tour of human history and a look 30 years
into the future. The story takes the form of a novel, but really
is an essay. And because it promotes a theme of national autarky
it will not be of great interest to libertarians.

Garrett’s
first real novel, The
Driver
, is the one libertarians tend to know about, because
of the argument that Justin Raimondo made in Reclaiming
the American Right
(1993). Raimondo supposed that Ayn Rand
had lifted her protagonist’s name "Galt" and the "Who
is John Galt?" device from The Driver. I don’t know
whether she did or didn’t. Raimondo may be right, though Garrett
does not use the "who is" device in the same way that
Rand does. Both The Driver and Atlas
Shrugged
have to do with running railroads during an economic
depression, and both suggest pro-capitalist ways in which the country
might get out of the depression. But in plot, character, tone, and
theme they are very different.

Read
the rest of the article

December
27, 2008

Bruce
Ramsey [send him mail]
is a journalist in Seattle and editor of Insatiable
Government
, Ex
America: The 50th Anniversary of The People's Pottage
,
Defend
America First
, and Salvos
Against the New Deal.

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