Today Atlas Shrugged is 50. Published 50 years ago today. Feels like it was written tomorrow. Rand called it, she called it all.
Atlas Shrugged defines me. I read the book in my early twenties when my dearest, singularly closest friend, whom I respected enormously, casually mentioned it was her favorite book. Bonnie, by occupation the Corporation counsel for the city of NY, had majored in philosophy (she passed away over 10 years ago, but not going there.)
It was the first thing of Rand's that I read (I have consumed everything she wrote and uttered since.) Why isn't Atlas mandatory reading in every public school in America? That it is not is yet another stark indication of the choke hold the left holds on our education system.
Atlas Shrugged defined my thinking. It perfectly articulated my epistemology. I was the quintessential "romantic realist" (man as he ought to be in the real - the low state - of the world.) And while it's been over 20 years since I read that tome, it is as fresh and as important and as relevant (if not more so) to me now as it was then.
Atlas Shrugged is a treatise delivered in a fictional novel to better understand Rand's philosophy. Rand is, IMAO, the greatest philosopher in human history. It is man's great failure that it turns away from reason and truth and romanticizes barbarism, communism, socialism despite the 100 million deaths outside of war under those failed systems. Like Rand, I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.
My blog is exemplar of A is A. That's what I deliver here ....A.
It's purpose is clearly defined by Rand's philosophy. Evil is made possible by the sanction you give it. WITHDRAW YOUR SANCTION.
A philosophic system is an integrated view of existence. As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation -- or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind's wings should have grown. Ayn Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It
What struck me was when I first read Atlas was living by the coda of moral values. Man's moral value -his value through his work. His value through his his achievement and the evil that seeks to undermine it and destroy it at every turn.
I live by the glorification of the rights of the individual. Self reliance. American greatness.
In celebration I shall pick up Victor Hugo and read, perhaps, Les Miserables, as a gift to me from Ayn.
Robert Stacey McCain ran a wonderful piece this morning in the The Washington Times on Atlas Shrugged, Atlas, at last, on the map . It's a must read and yes, I am quoted (which we love.)
That influence has gained a new life on the Internet. Pamela Geller's blog, "Atlas Shrugs" (AtlasShrugs2000.typepad.com), is named in tribute to Rand, whom she calls "the greatest philosopher in human history."
There's more, go!
I am not alone in my admiration for Rand's work. I find myself in excellent company.
Mr. Greenspan met Rand when he was 25 and working as an economic forecaster. She was already renowned as the author of “The Fountainhead,” a novel about an architect true to his principles. Mr. Greenspan had married a member of Rand’s inner circle, known as the Collective, that met every Saturday night in her New York apartment. Rand did not pay much attention to Mr. Greenspan until he began praising drafts of “Atlas,” which she read aloud to her disciples, according to Jeff Britting, the archivist of Ayn Rand’s papers. He was attracted, Mr. Britting said, to “her moral defense of capitalism.”Ayn Rand's Literature of Capitalism
Shortly after “Atlas Shrugged” was published in 1957, Mr. Greenspan wrote a letter to The New York Times to counter a critic’s comment that “the book was written out of hate.” Mr. Greenspan wrote: “ ‘Atlas Shrugged’ is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should.”
Rand’s magazine, The Objectivist, later published several essays by Mr. Greenspan, including one on the gold standard in 1966.
Rand called “Atlas” a mystery, “not about the murder of man’s body, but about the murder — and rebirth — of man’s spirit.” It begins in a time of recession. To save the economy, the hero, John Galt, calls for a strike against government interference. Factories, farms and shops shut down. Riots break out as food becomes scarce.
Rand said she “set out to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them” and to portray “what happens to a world without them.”
In this context, we can see the widest significance of Ayn Rand's literary and philosophical achievement. She was the first thinker and artist to fully grasp the meaning of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution and to give them expression both in literature and in philosophy.
The most radical aspect of Atlas Shrugged is that it is a sweeping, serious novel of ideas that is based in the business world, the last place mainstream intellectuals would have thought to regard as the inspiration for epic drama or profound new ideas. What makes Ayn Rand distinctive is that she found drama, heroism, and profound philosophical meaning in the achievements of the entrepreneurs and industrialists who were reshaping the world.
Atlas Shrugged was written in an age of creeping global socialism. Extrapolating from the trends of the day, Ayn Rand projected a future in which most of the world's nations are collapsing into the poverty and oppression of socialist "people's states," while America itself is collapsing under the weight of increasing government takeover of the economy.
She saw the dramatic potential in asking a single question: what would happen if the innovative entrepreneurs and businessmen—after decades of being vilified and regulated—started to disappear? What if the men condemned as parasites who somehow grow rich by exploiting manual laborers—the whole Marxist view of the economy—what if those "exploiters" were no longer around? The disappearance of the world's productive geniuses provides the novel's central mystery, both factually and intellectually.
Literarily, she recognized the romanticism in the extraordinary feats of these business innovators. In Atlas Shrugged this is perhaps best capture in repeated references to the legend of Nat Taggart, the swashbuckling young adventurer who founded the railroad for which Dagny Taggart works—a character based, in part, on the real-life swashbuckling of Commodore Vanderbilt's early career.
Or consider this passage, from an early chapter of Atlas Shrugged, in which steel tycoon Hank Rearden reflects on the process by which he invented a revolutionary new metal alloy.
He did not think of the ten years. What remained of them tonight was only a feeling which he could not name, except that it was quiet and solemn. The feeling was a sum, and he did not have to count again the parts that had gone to make it. But the parts, unrecalled, were there, within the feeling. They were the nights spent at scorching ovens in the research laboratory at the mills—
—the nights spent in the workshop of his home, over sheets of paper which he had filled with formulas, then tore up in angry failure—
—the days when the young scientists of the small staff he had chosen to assist him waited for instructions like soldiers ready for a hopeless battle, having exhausted their ingenuity, still willing, but silent, with the unspoken sentence hanging in the air: "Mr. Rearden, it can't be done—
—the metals, interrupted and abandoned at the sudden flash of a new thought, a thought to be pursued at once, to be tried, to be tested, to be worked on for months, and to be discarded as another failure—
—the moments snatched from conferences, from contracts, from the duties of running the best steel mills in the country, snatched almost guiltily, as for a secret love—
—the one thought held immovably across a span of ten years, under everything he did and everything he saw, the thought held in his mind when he looked at the buildings of a city, at the track of a railroad, at the light in the windows of a distant farmhouse, at the knife in the hands of a beautiful woman cutting a piece of fruit at a banquet, the thought of a metal alloy that would do more than steel had ever done, a metal that would be to steel what steel had been to iron—
—the acts of self-racking when he discarded a hope or a sample, not permitting himself to know that he was tired, not giving himself time to feel, driving himself through the wringing torture of: "not good enough…still not good enough…" and going on with no motor save the conviction that it could be done—
—then the day when it was done and its result was called Rearden Metal—
—these were the things that had come to white heat, had melted and fused within him, and their alloy was a strange, quiet feeling that made him smile at the countryside in the darkness and wonder why happiness could hurt.
And in Part II (PAID SUBSCRIPTION ONLY) - Tracinski writes;
The central philosophical theme of Atlas Shrugged is Ayn Rand's demolition of the intellectuals' dichotomy between the high-minded pursuits of the intellect and the allegedly grubby, un-intellectual world of business and industry. Ayn Rand's answer to this is provided early in the novel by Francisco D'Anconia. A flashback shows us Francisco and Dagny Taggart as teenagers combing through the machinery of a junk yard, to the disapproval of a friend of the family:
Once, an elderly professor of literature, Mrs. Taggart's friend, saw them on top of a pile in a junk yard, dismantling the carcass of an automobile. He stopped, shook his head and said to Francisco, "A young man of your position ought to spend his time in libraries, absorbing the culture of the world." "What do you think I'm doing?" asked Francisco.
Later, Dagny's observations about the motors of a railroad locomotive provide a deeper explanation of this view of the products of industrial capitalism as testaments to the power of the human mind.
For an instant, it seemed to her that the motors were transparent and she was seeing the net of their nervous system. It was a net of connections, more intricate, more crucial than all of their wires and circuits: the rational connections made by that human mind which had fashioned any one part of them for the first time.
It is a measure of the success of Atlas Shrugged that this message may not seem as radical today as it did 50 years ago. With the discrediting of Marxism and the rise of the "information age," it is now commonplace to recognize that knowledge is the engine of production—that ideas, more than physical labor or raw materials, are the primary source of wealth. Yet Ayn Rand originated this idea during the old industrial age, when the brute muscle power of union workers was still widely put forward as the source of America's industrial might.
It may be easier to recognize the central role of the mind when looking at advances in high technology. But Ayn Rand grasped the role of the mind in all aspect of business. Late in the novel, Dagny Taggart observes the reign of Cuffy Meigs—a kind of railroad czar empowered as chief regulator of the industry—and surveys the havoc that his arbitrary decrees wreak on the rational planning of private businesses.
She knew that no train schedules could be maintained any longer, no promises kept, no contracts observed, that regular trains were cancelled at a moment's notice and transformed into emergency specials sent by unexplained orders to unexpected destinations—and that the orders came from Cuffy Meigs, sole judge of emergencies and of the public welfare. She knew that factories were closing, some with their machinery stilled for lack of supplies that had not been received, others with their warehouses full of goods that could not be delivered. She knew that the old industries—the giants who had built their power by a purposeful course projected over a span of time—were left to exist at the whim of the moment, a moment they could not foresee or control. She knew that the best among them, those of the longest range and most complex function, had long since gone—and those still struggling to produce, struggling savagely to preserve the code of an age when production had been possible, were now inserting into their contracts a line shameful to a descendant of Nat Taggart: "Transportation permitting."
That the central "planning" of government actually consists of the disruption of rational planning by millions of private individuals is a point that had already been made by pro-free-market economists like Ludwig von Mises. Ayn Rand grasped that these economic principle were not dry, academic abstractions, but dramas played out in the real world—that the laws of economics are a matter of life and death, of triumph or tragedy. Here, for example, is one episode of the tragedy that plays out in the novel's later pages:
Six weeks ago, Train Number 193 had been sent with a load of steel, not to Faulkton, Nebraska, where the Spencer Machine Tool Company, the best machine tool concern still in existence, had been idle for two weeks, waiting for the shipment—but to Sand Creek, Illinois, where Confederated Machines had been wallowing in debt for over a year, producing unreliable goods at unpredictable times. The steel had been allocated by a directive which explained that the Spencer Machine Tool Company was a rich concern, able to wait, while Confederated Machines was bankrupt and could not be allowed to collapse, being the sole source of livelihood of the community of Sand Creek, Illinois. The Spencer Machine Tool Company had closed a month ago. Confederated Machines had closed two weeks later.
The people of Sand Creek, Illinois, had been placed on national relief, but no food could be found for them in the empty granaries of the nation at the frantic call of the moment—so the seed grain of the farmers of Nebraska had been seized by order of the Unification Board—and Train Number 194 had carried the unplanted harvest and the future of the people of Nebraska to be consumed by the people of Illinois. "In this enlightened age," Eugene Lawson had said in a radio broadcast, "we have come, at last, to realize that each one of us is his brother's keeper."
Atlas Shrugged is about more than capitalism, and Ayn Rand carried her observation about the role of the rational mind beyond economics into art, family life, and yes, even sex—where she rejected brute materialism just as thoroughly as she did in economics. To understand fully the lessons of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution, she grasped, required that one understand the validity and life-sustaining power of reason in human life.
The passage I quoted above also hints at a second philosophical theme that remains the novel's most revolutionary idea. Altruism—the notion that "each one of us is his brother's keeper"—is still regarded as practically synonymous with morality. Yet Atlas Shrugged concretizes the destructive impact of a moral code based on sacrifice and shows us the virtues of selfishness.
Throughout most of mankind's history, moralists have warned that individuals driven by "greed" and left free to pursue their self-interest would plunge society into a destructive war of all against all, a system of brutality, plunder, and exploitation—precisely the qualities Marx projected onto the new capitalist system. Instead, capitalism produced a system of freedom, independence, prosperity, and super-abundant creative energy—while the societies most thoroughly dedicated to the sacrifice of the individual to the collective, the 20th century's Communist regimes, were guilty of the greatest crimes ever recorded.
The lessons of this history were not lost on Ayn Rand, who had escaped from the Soviet Union to America in the 1920s, experiencing in a brief span the most complete contrast between opposing social systems. In one of the novel's most powerful metaphors, a character describes the collapse of the 20th Century Motor Company, a once-prosperous firm that descended into rancor, petty tyranny, and economic squalor after its employees voted to adopt a "bold experiment" in egalitarian socialism. The tale's narrator concludes, "This was the end of the 20th Century." Literally, he is referring to the fate of the company; symbolically, Ayn Rand uses the story to sum up the moral catastrophe of 20th century socialism.
As her own answer, Ayn Rand offered a morality of self-interest in which the individual's central moral goal is the pursuit of his own happiness. As one of the novel's philosophical speeches expresses it:
For centuries, the battle of morality was fought between those who claimed that your life belongs to God and those who claimed that it belongs to your neighbors—between those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of ghosts in heaven and those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of incompetents on earth. And no one came to say that your life belongs to you and that the good is to live it.
Yet Ayn Rand's most radical idea is not merely her defense of self-interest—others have grudgingly accepted self-interest as a necessary evil, a "private vice" that makes for "public virtue"—but rather her redefinition of the moral meaning of self-interest.
Most intellectuals have accepted the old altruist caricature of self-interest as brute criminality, as if the only choice we face is between forms of sacrifice: sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others or sacrificing others to ourselves. Yet this caricature is thoroughly refuted by the history of capitalism, in which the most self-interested men are not looters or vandals, but creators who built railroads, steel mills, and computer networks. The philosophy of altruism gives us a choice between two moral models: Mother Theresa or Al Capone. Yet where is the room in this philosophy for a Bill Gates, a Thomas Edison, or any of the thousands of other figures who populate the history of capitalism, building their own fortunes through the creation of new ideas and products?
For the first time, Ayn Rand recognized the reality and significance of these men and drew a profound moral lesson: that genuine self-interest means, not the short-range conniving of the brute, but the creative thought and productive effort of the entrepreneur.
These philosophical insights were radical and new—but they were the only genuine, honest response to the evidence provided by the achievements of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. Ayn Rand's detractors sometimes dismiss her novels as "unrealistic," but it is today's mainstream intellectuals who seem like they are wandering around in a fog of unreality. Stuck in a battle between two pre-conceived conventional notions—the religious traditionalism of the right versus the secular collectivism of the left—they have missed the monumental lessons of two centuries of history.
The era of encroaching global socialism—the dominant trend when Atlas Shrugged was written—has since given way to an era of global capitalism. But the deepest meaning of capitalism and its achievements has still not been widely understood and embraced. Capitalism is beginning to transform the lives of billions of people across the globe, from Eastern Europe to India to China. But there is no one to help them understand what it is, its deepest personal meaning for their lives and values, and why it is good.
And that is why Atlas Shrugged is, if anything, even more relevant and more necessary today than it was when it was first published five decades ago.
This is a view of the innovative entrepreneur as a kind of crusader, driven by a profound commitment to moral excellence.
More than a century earlier, one of the most honest and insightful observers of America, Alexis de Tocqueville, had recounted the extraordinary exertions and risk-taking of American merchant sea-captains and concluded that "the Americans put something heroic into their way of trading." But Tocqueville never really took this idea seriously or followed its consequences. Ayn Rand did.
When she followed the consequences of this idea, it led her to two crucial philosophical identifications that Atlas Shrugged introduced to the world.
Running this Wallace interview again. Watch it over and over and over. love the cigarettes.
Kick back and watch Rand with Mike Wallace;
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.