The White Pill: A Tale of Good and Evil
Independently Published, 2022
What a joy to open this book and find that whatever the author’s White Pill is supposed to be, it somehow involves Ayn Rand (AR). It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand (1971, by Jerome Tuccille) was the name of an actual book that came out when I was in my teens and going through my own brief Objectivist period. The book is a funny saga about the author’s time as a militant libertarian. I’m sure it meant a lot to people who came of age in the late 1960s and were getting tired of Randianism by 1971, but you may find it dreary and overly granular today.
Now we have Michael Malice, literally beginning the book with Ayn Rand! She disappears from view for long sections of the book, but she keeps bouncing back into the story. Her keen insight comes through in one of the early passages, when she’s asked to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee about Communist-tainted Hollywood films, and they want to focus mainly on Song of Russia (an anodyne movie with Robert Taylor, set at the period of the German invasion). But AR goes no sir; explicit pro-Soviet propaganda is not the issue here. The real problem is subtle, almost undetectable nuances in theme, plot, even set design. This is vintage Ayn Rand, as anyone who’s read her criticism (e.g., The Romantic Manifesto) can sense. Smoking cigarettes defiantly, enjoying illicit sex, breaking the rules for the hell of it — everything in the Rand universe is fraught with serious meaning.
The persistence of Ayn Rand in popular (and high) culture is impressive. About 15 years ago a relative of mine, a history professor, wrote a well-received biographical study of Rand, her Objectivist movement, and their effect upon conservatism and libertarian economics. I go to her website now, and by gosh and by golly, she’s still plugging AR on her website. “The leading independent expert on Ayn Rand,” she boasts . . . and then farther down the page . . . she mentions she’s a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution! She knows what she’s doing. “Ayn Rand” continues to be eye-candy for an awful lot of people.
And me. I went through my Randian period many, many years ago, gradually coming to the realization that her didactic manner served to hide the fact that her philosophy and precepts were pretty much flapdoodle. Oh, I still remember The Fountainhead fondly, Atlas Shrugged not so much (her idea of a heroic industrialist is a guy who runs a railroad), and I still hold fast to some of the crackbrained notions about economics that I learned from Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. And I will still defend Rand against all comers, while yet admitting her wacky errors in logic and literary criticism.
The White Pill has the look and feel of a young adult non-fiction read (“YA” literature being books actually aimed 12-year-olds). It is, however, not dumbed down in any way. What it’s largely about is the politics of terror, as utilized by the Bolsheviki. I emphasize this because a few years ago I was reading James Burnham’s The Struggle for the World (1947), and therein Burnham identifies and skewers that aspect of Communism. Terror is not some expedient, short-term solution to simplify operations; no, it’s the whole deal. And Communism is not some theory of economics — or, Lord knows, an idealized “humanist” plan to give people free healthcare and borscht.
George Orwell read and reviewed Burnham’s book just as he was struggling with the early chapters of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It gave him the golden key to the plot and backstory of his book. He practically puts Burnham’s words into O’Brien’s mouth. A boot stamping on a human face — forever. Of course, then and now, the Reds sell themselves to the gullible masses by denying Communism is a system of institutionalized cruelty; oh no, it’s a way or providing you with free healthcare, and, uh . . . kasha varnishkes!
Terror and torture figure bigly in The White Pill. When I was still in grade school, there was a scary book that was sometimes required reading: The Bridge at Andau (1957) by James Michener. It’s about oppression and atrocities in Communist Hungary during the post-war era, and I’ll tell you it is a real horrorshow. Fortunately, it’s very un-Michener in one respect: It’s not a ten-pound doorstop, in fact it’s quite slim. Persistent rumor hath it that the CIA hired Michener to crank it out as slick hackwork, based on some light research and heavy interviews with the 1956 refugees. Much in the same way that Dr. Tom Dooley and ghostwriters were supposedly ginned up to knock out torture-and-mutilation bestsellers about Indochina during the same era. I just don’t know. I do know the characters in the book are mainly composites, so much so that Wikipedia used to list the book as fiction.
Less terrifyingly . . . the book has the oddest endnoting apparatus I’ve ever seen. Lower-case roman numerals are used. Like, you know, lxxiv instead of note 74. I’ve been reading the Kindle version, so they really stand out on the page, in bright orange. One of the advantages of Kindle editions and some other e-books is that you can flip back and forth from the page you’re reading to the notes in the back, then click again to go back to the text.
Villains in the book include many of the famous apologists for the Stalin era, including Walter Duranty, who spent years denying the famines and death squads in his reports to the New York Times. Harold Laski is here, too, crueler and snider than he’s usually portrayed. He has to be there; after all, he was Ayn Rand’s model for Ellsworth Toohey in The Fountainhead.
Upton Sinclair makes an appearance as a “democratic socialist” who loathes totalitarianism but praises the Soviet Union because, “I say that its record is pretty nearly perfect.” This is truly cognitive dissonance, or fear of being a contrarian, like people who sign onto the Global Warming hoax today because they don’t wish to be stigmatized as concave-brain weirdos. Like most of these villains, Sinclair pooh-poohed the idea that defendants in the Stalin Purge Trials were innocent.
Another “democratic socialist,” George Orwell, is a Good Guy who recognized the Trials for what they were. His eyes were opened for good when he went to fight in Spain in 1937, and found that Stalin’s Red brigades were more interested in shooting their “allies,” the socialists and Trotskyists and anarcho-syndicalists, than in fighting the “fascists” (as the Reds liked to refer to the Nationalist forces). Now Orwell goes back to England and tries to publish his new memoir of that war, Homage to Catalonia, but his usual publisher, Victor Gollancz of the Left Book Club, won’t touch it. You see, Orwell’s criticism of the Reds in Spain went against the ideal of Popular Front-style solidarity: socialists and Communists united against the “fascist” foe.
But there are minor Bad Guys, too, including the Algonquin wit Dorothy Parker, and novelist-critic Granville Hicks, who were among the signatories of a notorious 1938 letter published in The Daily Worker and New Masses. The subject was the Stalin Purge Trials of the previous two years, and these literary lights wished the world to know (or at least the world of literary fellow-travelers) that those culprits who had been tried and tortured, and imprisoned, and often shot — yes indeed, they were arch-criminals, guilty as hell.
A noticeably absent Bad Guy in the text is Joseph Davies, a lawyer and federal bureaucrat who served as ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1936 until 1938, about which he wrote a pro-Stalin memoir called Mission to Moscow. Davies had been a prosperous corporate attorney and Democrat Party fundraiser when he married the fabulously rich Marjorie Merriwether Post (General Foods and Post Cereals) in 1935. You don’t need to read Davies’ book, just look at the film version starring Walter Huston. Joe goes all goofy and goggle-eyed when he’s talking to Stalin, and Stalin explains why he was executing all his old Bolsheviks and trusted generals. Basically, these miscreants were plotting against the state, they were sabotaging factories, they were taking food out of the mouths of innocent babes. The film shows us vignettes of these arrests: people seized on the street, or at the factory they’re sabotaging. The important aspect of the Davies narrative is that he was not being devious or following some Communist Party discipline.
Bad Guy? Actually just a naïve simpleton, a stooge, of a sort that was not unknown in those days. Like another woolly-headed fool that we’re coming to shortly: Henry Wallace.
Michael Malice and I are generally on the same page when it comes to Good Guy/Bad Guy rankings. But there are some strange, surprising exceptions. Malice calls author Roald Dahl “one of the vilest people who ever lived.” Is this because of the sadistic violence and little brown Oompa-Loompa “pygmies” in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Not on your tintype:
A giant of a man, [Dahl] was quite vocal throughout his life about his racist and anti-Semitic views. Claims that “Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason” paled in comparison to his personal behavior.
Malice then goes on to suggest that Dahl pestered wife Patricia Neal for sex when she was partially paralyzed after suffering a series of strokes and a three-week coma. What he leaves out is that Roald enabled a near-100% recovery by forcing Pat through a rigorous physical therapy protocol at a military base. He also resurrected Pat’s career, getting her roles in films and TV commercials. (Ayn Rand sighting here! Pat’s role in the film of The Fountainhead gives us another opportunity to see the AR bobble-head bounce up again.)
As for those “racist and anti-Semitic comments,” they consist mostly of critical remarks about Israel. Dahl and “anti-Semitism,” if that’s what you want to call it, ranks somewhere south of Taki Theodoracopulos. The Forward, a very lively Jewish publication, listed a few of what are ostensibly the five most rancid remarks, but these are a pretty tame lot. I’ve known Jews who routinely said much more mordant or vitriolic things. Self-hating? As Larry David said, “Yeah, I do hate myself but it has nothing to do with being Jewish.” Move over, Ron Unz.
There are some valid criticisms that can be made about Roald Dahl, but Malice sort of drops the ball in this regard. While enjoying the hospitality of generous American friends in Manhattan, Washington, DC, Virginia, and Hyde Park, New York (wink wink), he was working as a spy for William (“Intrepid”) Stephenson of British Security Coordination, headquartered in Rockefeller Center. Malice tells the story of how Dahl purloined and copied a secret document prepared by Vice President Henry Wallace regarding post-war global strategy (and also control of international airline routes). This had a beneficial outcome for both Britain and America. Churchill was made aware of Wallace’s planned skullduggery, and America got to give the woolly-minded Wallace the boot as VP, thereby narrowly avoiding having him succeed FDR in April 1945. But still, Dahl’s actions were dirty tricks, literally crimes.
And not to be overly long-winded on the subject of Roald Dahl, Malice writes that Dahl was mainly known in 1944 for having been a Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot who got shot down and badly burned in a crash in Libya early in the war (not in Greece, as Malice says). But no, he had been publishing short stories that were well received, and he wrote a popular kiddy book called The Gremlins, which Walt Disney planned to make into an animated film (but didn’t, because of RAF oversight restrictions).
The second half of The White Pill is mainly about the last few decades of politics in Great Britain and America. I’m not quite sure what the theme is here, but it appears to be a big cheer for libertarian-conservative politics. Yay, Maggie Thatcher! (Cursed in the press a few years earlier as Milk Snatcher, when as Education Secretary she axed free milk at school for 11-year-olds.) Go, Ronald Reagan! Malice seems to like Thatcher more, and disapproves of the American invasion of Grenada in 1983. Grenada was a member of the British Commonwealth, but America clearly had a more vested interest there even if (as I vaguely recall) the Americans were mainly medical students who couldn’t get into a med school at home.
In discussing detente in the Reagan/Thatcher/Gorbachev years, Malice skips over an essential motivating geopolitical factor at work in the early 1980s: America was supplying Pershing II nuclear-tipped missiles to NATO to be positioned in West Germany, and Yuri Andropov (briefly General Secretary at the Kremlin from 1982 until 1984) pushed the story that Ronald Reagan intended to launch a nuclear war.
Actually, for some years Soviet propagandists had been trying to sell the world a chimera called a “Nuclear Freeze.” The propaganda boys gave this campaign a full-court press, something we hadn’t seen since the Popular Front days, or perhaps the immediate post-war years. In America people were encouraged to write SINCERELY, NO NUKES! for the complimentary close of serious office correspondence. You’d see people throughout Western Europe (and even America) wearing cartoon-sun pinbacks that said “Atomkraft? Nej Tak!” (For some reason I remember the one in Danish; readers are more likely to remember the German one, with “Nein Danke.”) And then there was the whiny German girl singer Nena singing “Neunundneunzig Luftballons,” because helium toy balloons, you see, signify nuclear fallout. Or something. Then there was an animated cartoon from Britain, When the Wind Blows, about living (and dying) in the aftermath of nuclear war. And some long, lugubrious essays by Jonathan Schell in The New Yorker called things like “How the World Ends” or “The Fate of the Earth,” all trying to scare you to death about the prospect of nuclear war, or even the use of nuclear energy!
This mad fad all needs to be reviewed, sifted, and eviscerated, by someone who has the time and funds, but it’s significant that this propaganda campaign is nearly always ignored by present-day writers. We get maudlin drama and memoirs about po’ widdle commie writers in Hollywood 70+ years ago, as though the time between the Hollywood Ten and the height of the Blacklist was 50 years rather than 5. Nothing on the Nuclear Freeze campaign.
And intelligent people actually bought this Nuclear Freeze nonsense back in the day. My cousin in England was one of the originators of the Greenham Common Women’s Camp in the early 1980s, in a protest which pretended to be about encouraging a Nuclear Freeze. (The American military — with nuclear weapons, perhaps — had taken over part of an RAF installation.) Actually it was more of a kumbaya feminist encampment, along the lines of the late, lamented Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. My friend Andrew Paulson would have dinner with me and ask if I’d read the latest Jonathan Schell screed in The New Yorker. “It’s really serious. You must read it! Nuclear war is a clear and present danger!”
So long as I’ve mentioned Andrew Paulson, I’ll sign off with another insubstantial (but funny) story about our favorite bobble-head, the Divine Ayn. Back in the 1970s, my late friend Andrew, later to be a highly imaginative international entrepreneur (at least according to Wikipedia), dined out for months on his story of visiting Ayn Rand. He was about 19 at the time. One day, on a lark, he and a friend dropped by her apartment building (East 35th Street, I seem to recall). He buzzed her on the intercom, she answered immediately, and invited the lads up for a drink.
“She’s in pretty good shape . . . for a chain smoker with one lung,” Andy told me. Then, a year or two later, I happened to bring up that Ayn Rand visit, and Andy just roared with laughter. It turned out to be just a big fat shaggy-dog story that he had almost forgotten about. What actually happened that day was that Andy and friend did indeed buzz Rand’s apartment, and she did indeed answer, but in an angry tone. “Who are you?” So they gave their names, maybe their college. AR was having none of it. “Yes, but who are you?”
Like a line from Atlas Shrugged.
Yes, indeed, Andrew Paulson had quite an imagination . . . but I think I like the “true” version better. It just seems to nail Ayn Rand.
* * *
Like all journals of dissident ideas, Counter-Currents depends on the support of readers like you. Help us compete with the censors of the Left and the violent accelerationists of the Right with a donation today. (The easiest way to help is with an e-check donation. All you need is your checkbook.)
For other ways to donate, click here.
 A moment’s thought: Ayn Rand, who was married to Frank O’Connor, not only gave many of her Fountainhead characters Irish names, she even did that to the “Harold Laski” socialist villain, who was well known to be a Lithuanian-Polish Jew from Manchester in the original model, but now gets renamed Toohey! In fact, I don’t think AR had any Jewish characters in her novels. She was like Louis B. Mayer of MGM, intent on presenting a kind of sanitized Andy Hardy America (or maybe Mickey Rooney America?) to her audience. No Jews in Anthem, or in The Fountainhead, or in Atlas Shrugged, unless I missed something.
 The Communist ringleader in Barcelona who had Orwell and friends in his sights — and may well have been responsible for Orwell’s being shot in the neck and nearly killed — was Ramon Mercader, a wealthy Spanish Communist and NKVD operative. Two years after Orwell’s sojourn in Spain, Mercader went to Mexico City on an even bigger mission. He gradually befriended Leon Trotsky, posing as a sympathizer. After a number of months, he murdered Trotsky with an ice axe.
 The story of The Gremlins and Dahl’s spy-skullduggery is told in detailed narrative in The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington by Jennet Conant (2008).
Enjoyed this article?
Be the first to leave a tip in the jar!
Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose
Ich Klage an: Pro-Genocide Nazi Propaganda or Humanitarian Masterpiece? Part 1
Toward a New Spiritual Revolution
The Fear of Writing
Lamentations for a City
Jonathan Bowden’s The Cultured Thug
David Zsutty Introduces the Homeland Institute: Transcript
“A Few More Steps and We Were . . . On Some Edge of Things”: Staircases That Lead Nowhere, Part 2