Atlas Shrugged - Try this video version that is less than 3 minutes! (VIDEO ELECTIVES)
You know how some authors tuck their messages away in subtle narrative layers, inviting you to tease them out through careful analysis? Well, Ayn Rand isn’t one of those authors. In Atlas Shrugged, her 1957 magnum opus, Rand thrusts her philosophy to the foreground, leaving no question as to where she stands on social values.
Having witnessed the Communist conquest that shook her native Russia, Rand had quite a bit to say about the merits of capitalism, freedom, and self-interest. Though she had already begun to outline her social theory in her previous novel, The Fountainhead, it was Atlas Shrugged that—through heavy symbolism and even explicit speeches—solidified the divisive ideology she called Objectivism.
Particularly in the wake of Paul Ryan’s now-famous endorsement, it seems like everyone has something to say about this controversial manifesto. Love it or hate it, Atlas Shrugged is likely to remain a staple of dinner party conversation for years to come. Don’t miss out on the fun—check out this TL;DR video and bring your own opinion to the table.
No time to read Atlas Shrugged? No problem! Let’s dive right in.
What: Ayn Rand’s final novel, published in 1957, and a source of controversy ever since. Derided by critics as “a homage to greed”; praised by fans as one of the most valuable novels ever written.
Where: A dystopian United States sometime in an unspecified but relatively low-tech future. It’s in a bad economic depression, and to make matters worse, the country’s best and brightest business leaders keep disappearing. For reasons unknown, a mysterious question is spreading among the hopeless masses: “Who is John Galt?”
Who: Our narrator and heroine is Dagny Taggart, Vice President of the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad. She’s smart, headstrong, and intent on saving her family’s company from the collectivist policies that are strangling the economy. Unfortunately her brother James, president of the railroad, is a total wuss.
There are some interesting men in Dagny’s life:
1. Her former lover, Francisco d’Anconia, the heir to the copper industry who appears to be recklessly destroying his family’s fortune. Spoiler alert: he has a plan.
2. Hank Rearden, the developer of Rearden Steel, a new metal that would be great for the company’s new rails. Although it’s risky, Dagny goes ahead with Rearden Steel—then sets out on a sexy cross-country road trip with its unhappily married inventor.
Dagny and Rearden stumble upon a sweet energy-converting motor that could change the world and rescue the economy. Dagny sets out to find the inventor, and a series of detours and clues eventually lead her through a “ray screen” to a secret valley called Atlantis. There, she meets bachelor number three: the handsome, brilliant inventor John Galt.
It turns out Galt has been leading the country’s top businessmen and innovators in a strike against their socialist government. The game plan is to post up in Atlantis until the economy collapses altogether in the absence of its great minds. These folks are sick and tired of handing over their wealth and inventions to support the country’s unproductive leeches. They aim to teach the government a lesson by, as Galt puts it, “stopping the motor of the world.”
Francisco sums it up by invoking Atlas, the mythical giant with the literal weight of the world on his shoulders. When the burden gets too heavy, Francisco asks, what’s a giant to do? The answer: “to shrug.”
Long story short, Dagny and Galt fall in love and the two go back to see about saving the railroad. Galt is captured and tortured by the government, but not before giving a dramatic radio address denouncing social responsibility in favor of individual freedom and rational self-interest—that is, Rand’s theory of Objectivism.
Dagny and her crew rescue Galt, and they hightail it back to Atlantis, returning only after the government and economy have completely crumbled—leaving the intellectual elite to build an individualistic society from scratch.
… And some of them lived happily ever after. Not exactly warm and fuzzy, but there you have it.
More about the Philosophy via Wiki:
The story of Atlas Shrugged dramatically expresses Rand's ethical egoism, her advocacy of "rational selfishness", whereby all of the principal virtues and vices are applications of the role of reason as man's basic tool of survival (or a failure to apply it): rationality, honesty, justice, independence, integrity, productiveness, and pride — each of which she explains in some detail in "The Objectivist Ethics". Rand's characters often personify her view of the archetypes of various schools of philosophy for living and working in the world. Robert James Bidinotto wrote, "Rand rejected the literary convention that depth and plausibility demand characters who are naturalistic replicas of the kinds of people we meet in everyday life, uttering everyday dialogue and pursuing everyday values. But she also rejected the notion that characters should be symbolic rather than realistic." and Rand herself stated, "My characters are never symbols, they are merely men in sharper focus than the audience can see with unaided sight. . . . My characters are persons in whom certain human attributes are focused more sharply and consistently than in average human beings".
In addition to the plot's more obvious statements about the significance of industrialists to society, and the sharp contrast to Marxism and the labor theory of value, this explicit conflict is used by Rand to draw wider philosophical conclusions, both implicit in the plot and via the characters' own statements. Atlas Shruggedcaricatures fascism, socialism, communism, and any state intervention in society, as allowing poor people to "leech" the hard-earned wealth of the rich; and Rand contends that the outcome of any individual's life is purely a function of its ability, and that any individual could overcome adverse circumstances, given ability and intelligence.
Sanction of the victim
The concept "sanction of the victim" is defined by Leonard Peikoff as "the willingness of the good to suffer at the hands of the evil, to accept the role of sacrificial victim for the 'sin' of creating values". Accordingly, throughout Atlas Shrugged, numerous characters are frustrated by this sanction, as when Hank Rearden appears duty-bound to support his family, despite their hostility toward him; later, the principle is stated by Dan Conway: "I suppose somebody's got to be sacrificed. If it turned out to be me, I have no right to complain". John Galt further explains the principle: "Evil is impotent and has no power but that which we let it extort from us", and, "I saw that evil was impotent ... and the only weapon of its triumph was the willingness of the good to serve it".
In Rand's view, virtue is subordinated to rational self-interest, defined as an exacting discipline of defining and pursuing one's best purposes, while refusing any deference of oneself to others or of others to oneself.
Government and business
Rand's view of the ideal government is expressed by John Galt: "The political system we will build is contained in a single moral premise: no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force", whereas "no rights can exist without the right to translate one's rights into reality — to think, to work and to keep the results — which means: the right of property". Galt himself lives a life of laissez-faire capitalism.
In the world of Atlas Shrugged, society stagnates when independent productive agencies are socially demonized for their accomplishments. This is in agreement with an excerpt from a 1964 interview with Playboy magazine, in which Rand states: "What we have today is not a capitalist society, but a mixed economy — that is, a mixture of freedom and controls, which, by the presently dominant trend, is moving toward dictatorship. The action in Atlas Shrugged takes place at a time when society has reached the stage of dictatorship. When and if this happens, that will be the time to go on strike, but not until then".
Rand also depicts public choice theory, such that the language of altruism is used to pass legislation nominally in the public interest (e.g., the "Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Rule", and "The Equalization of Opportunity Bill"), but more to the short-term benefit of special interests and government agencies.
Property rights and individualism
Rand's heroes continually oppose "parasites", "looters", and "moochers" who demand the benefits of the heroes' labor. Edward Younkins describes Atlas Shrugged as "an apocalyptic vision of the last stages of conflict between two classes of humanity — the looters and the non-looters. The looters are proponents of high taxation, big labor, government ownership, government spending, government planning, regulation, and redistribution".
"Looters" are Rand's depiction of bureaucrats and government officials, who confiscate others' earnings by the implicit threat of force ("at the point of a gun"). Some officials execute government policy, such as those who confiscate one state's seed grain to feed the starving citizens of another; others exploit those policies, such as the railroad regulator who illegally sells the railroad's supplies for his own profit. Both use force to take property from the people who "produced" or "earned" it.
"Moochers" are Rand's depiction of those unable to produce value themselves, who demand others' earnings on behalf of the needy, but resent the talented upon whom they depend, and appeal to "moral right" while enabling the "lawful" seizure by governments.
The character Francisco d'Anconia, indicates the role of "looters" in relation to money itself:
"So you think that money is the root of all evil? ... Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or the looters who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil? ... Not an ocean of tears nor all the guns in the world can transform those pieces of paper in your wallet into bread you need to survive tomorrow. ... Whenever destroyers appear among men, they start by destroying money, for money is men's protection and the base of a moral existence. Destroyers seize gold and leave its owners a counterfeit pile of paper. This kills all objective standards and delivers men into the arbitrary power of an arbitrary setter of values ... Paper is a mortgage on wealth that does not exist, backed by a gun aimed at those who are expected to produce it. Paper is a check drawn by legal looters upon an account which is not theirs: upon the virtue of the victims. Watch for the day when it bounces, marked: 'Account Overdrawn.'"
Theory of sex
|This section possibly contains original research. (October 2013)|
In Atlas Shrugged, the characters are sexually attracted to those who seem to embody their values, and characters who lack clear purpose find coitus unsatisfactory. This is illustrated in the contrasting relationships of Hank Rearden with Lillian Rearden and Dagny Taggart; by the relationships of James Taggart with Cherryl Brooks and with Lillian Rearden; and finally in the relationship between Dagny and John Galt. The first and predominant act is of Hank Rearden, who partners Dagny after the opening of the John Galt Line to celebrate their success. The affair continues until Hank's wife discovers it, but allows the affair to continue until Hank manipulates the judicial system to obtain a divorce, awaiting which Mrs. Rearden seduces Dagny's brother James (who is also married, and despises Hank). Having caught them, James' wife commits suicide.
Fictional technology and Atlas as science fiction
Technological progress and intellectual breakthroughs in scientific theory appear in Atlas Shrugged, leading some observers to classify Atlas in the genre of science fiction. Writer Jeff Riggenbach notes: "Galt's motor is one of the three inventions that propel the action of Atlas Shrugged", the other two being Rearden Metal and the government's sonic weapon, Project X. Other fictional technologies are "refractor rays" (to disguise 'Galt's Gulch'); a sophisticated electrical torture device (the Ferris Persuader); voice activated door locks (at the Gulch's power station); palm-activated door locks (in Galt's New York lab); Galt's means of quietly turning the entire contents of his laboratory into a fine powder when a lock is breached; and a means of taking over all radio stations worldwide. Riggenbach adds, "Rand's overall message with regard to science seems clear: the role of science in human life and human society is to provide the knowledge on the basis of which technological advancement and the related improvements in the quality of human life can be realized. But science can fulfill this role only in a society in which human beings are left free to conduct their business as they see fit".