This past December I had decided it was time to bite the bullet and read Atlas Shrugged. I had seen the book at the library and it looked rather tome-ish to me, so I had not really not wanted to take the time to dive in. Well, I had heard enough references to the book and enough criticism of the work to warrant my own perspective.
First, I did not really know what to expect when I started reading. The story is very compelling and I couldn’t wait to find out how the story progressed. It was not until a few chapters in that I got the full sense that Ayn Rand was writing a philosophy in novel form. Her writing is much deeper than one of my other all-time favorite novel with a similar “use a story to tell a philosophy” – Starship Troopers. I found out through after-material in the book that the philosophy system laid out by Rand is called Objectivism.
The most succinct summary of the idea of is in a quote from the main protagonist, John Galt – “I swear by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” – John Galt (Part 3:Chapter 7 – This is John Galt Speaking”) The value of people is derived from the value of the goods and services they provide to the society. There are two groups of people – producers and moochers. The moochers steal the goods and the pride and value from producers by using guilt – guilt through the moochers passive-aggressive suffering when they don’t provide for themselves, and guilting the producers into supporting them because it is the producers duty to support everyone else. John Galt organizes a strike of all the producers that keep society running to protest the confiscation of their wealth by the government and the false guilt laid on them by society.
Her belief of the role of government is right on – “The only proper functions of government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach and fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law.” – John Galt (Part 3:Chapter 7 – This is John Galt Speaking”)
The idea of government seems to be the only part of her philosophy I can really agree with. The other base idea motivating the characters in the book to the false guilt idea referred to previously. This idea is correct, but I think that Ayn takes it to the extreme – since a person is solely valuable based on the value that she provides to society, I think that in the final equation she would not choose to provide charity to those who can’t provide for themselves. While I agree that there is a difference between a 35 year old “moocher” and a 88 year old widow, I believe Ayn would advocate that charity should not be provided for the old widow. That stance is certainly in line with the dark and cold world without God that Rand paints.
To her credit, Rand thinks her philosophy out and follows it to a logical end. Sex becomes ugly and meaningless unless it is between two people who are equal “high producers” in her world, but as long as you only swap partners within the “high producer” group, it doesn’t matter. She paints a dark world when all the people who produce things and serve as the engine for global commerce decide they are not going to use their minds to their full potential any more.
Ayn Rand’s world and philosophy are contrary to truth and commands given in the Bible. The concept of a world where all the competent people stopped producing was fascinating and well thought out, but I was left hanging with this: John Galt achieved his goal of stopping the world – How would he have started it again? This most intriguing part was left out, and would have given a good deal of credence to the philosophy. If you can’t answer how to achieve your goal from this present time, then it is just a nice fairy dream that will remain in Never-never land.
“If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders-what would you tell him to do?”
“I . . . don’t know. What . . . could he do? What would you tell him?”
Francisco d’Anconia to Hank Rearden (Part 2:Chapter 9 – Chapter Nine: The Face Without Pain or Fear or Guilt”